You shall have no other gods before me. （Exodus 20:3）
Can Christians believe in Buddhism? For Christians, it is undoubtedly not possible. As Communist Party members were instructed that they couldn’t have a religion. The reason is clear: there is only one Sun in the sky, and men cannot have two masters. So you can only have one “father”, and cannot look for two.
However, although there aren’t two suns in the sky, there is also the moon; although people can only have one father, it seems that people should have a mother; even though the “Ultimate reality” (God) is the only one, the “Ultimate reality” needs a vehicle to show itself symbolically in the phenomenal world, and this vehicle is the projective form of unconscious and conscious materials.
In religious questions, a very primary problem must be clarified: we need to clarify the relationship between religion and faith. Humans feel that there is one thing that exceeds our own empirical situation (Let’s call it “the Transcendent”), and consider that its existence has a significant meaning for their own lives. This is the starting point and purpose of religion. Humans need to compose words to describe that Transcendent within their historical environments, and therefore form a set of narrative and ritual systems, which is religion. Humans can reach the Transcendent by making use of religion, but the Transcendent is not bounded or defined by religion.
Christianity exalted one “true God”, and the “true God” cannot be defined by religion (This is the fundamental belief of Christians to “deny theology”). But we can discover the “representation” of the “true God” in our own mental world, and this “representation” is the “subjectivity” that cannot be taken by others. Because of this “subjectivity”, the virtues of love and righteousness have a foundation to rely on, and it is the source of the living waters of wisdom. We can describe this subjectivity in Buddhism through the concept of “King of the heart”. Buddhists may not believe in the existence of “God”, but “subjectivity” for them is real. If subjectivity is stronger, people will obtain a higher degree of freedom, if the opposite, they will be enslaved either by humans, or by maerial objects. The nature of atheism is to put an extreme emphasis on subjectivity but deny the transcendental origin of subjectivity (Just like people who believe in software in computers, but do not believe that software is downloaded from a terminal). Therefore atheists are not able to get to the end. Subjectivity without headstream will run out (just like the downloaded software will collapse without updates), in the end, the depletion of subjectivity will make people become slaves of men or objects again. So atheists will finally become idolaters.
By observing human nature in-depth, we find out that there is not only “subjectivity”, but also unconscious and conscious materials (To use the Buddhist term it is “the place of the heart”.) If we imagine subjectivity as “Light”, then the unconscious and conscious materials are those lightened by light. Just like it was mentioned in the “Book of John”: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not comprehend it.” Unconscious and conscious material are those we deal with everyday, but subjectivity is not always noticed. For Christians, “to hold God up high” means to always let the “light” of subjectivity shed light on those unconscious and conscious materials in the spiritual world by trusting God. In a sense, “Light” is our “Father”, and things that are lightened by “Light” are our “Mothers”.
All things that exist in the spiritual world are inevitably projected onto the outside world and we can find a symbolic form of expression for them. When we come to the Catholic Church and see all kinds of statues, such as Jesus, the Virgin Mary and other Saints, or when we see countless Buddha gods in Hindu temples, we might think: “Are these Gods real or not, do they really exit?” Actually these “Gods” are all in fact too true. Essentially they are the symbolic forms of expression of the unconscious and conscious materials which are lightened by the “light”.
Protestants abolished all “Statues” and only retained the Cross and the picture of the “Bible”. What does this mean for the representation of the operation of human spiritual world? I am afraid that the majority of Protestants never thought about this in-depth. “Remove statues” in Protestantism and “Remove images” in Zen Buddhism are somewhat similar in their intrinsic motivation. This motivation is: the unconscious and conscious materials which receive light will be projected to the outside world, and their symbolic forms of expression will alienate or be worshiped as the “light” itself (This is as if we recognized “mother” as “father”.) To remove idols is to restore the true face of the “Light”. The symbolic expression form of the unconscious and conscious materials is just like the “Parable of the Raft” in “King Kong Gene”, “the Law should be shed, and illegal”. The symbolic expression of the unconscious and conscious material is “giving witness about the light”, but it is not “light”. When the “witness” covers the light, the “witness” is no longer needed.
However, the injunction to “remove statues” will also face a problem: when the unconscious and conscious materials lose their symbolic expression, the shining of the light of subjectivity will increasingly become poor and weak. This phenomenon is particularly evident among many modern European Protestant pastors and well-educated, smart Protestants. (Refer to the movie “Winter Light” directed by Bergman and the description of Jung’s father who is a pastor in his literature). Protestants removed the Virgin Mary and Saints from their worship “list”. It seems reasonable at a doctrinal level, but at the psychological level, the unconscious facts that were refused the right to be expressed will inevitably turn into vicious reflections form rather through the lack of benign reflection form. The “Virgin Mary” that is not worshiped will become “Devil”. This is why the Protestants made more massacres (in the Two world wars) than the Catholics.
In essence, religion is nothing but a reflection of inner spiritual processes; Christianism and Buddhism provide different forms of projections against different cultural backgrounds and in different linguistic systems for souls in their respective cultural environment. Therefore, the question ‘can Christians also be Buddhists’ essentially comes down to the following: can people seek two or more different modes of project for their own spiritual life? Obviously, this is a false proposition.
First of all, as far as the spiritual world is concerned, there is no unified mode of projection which we can call “Christian” (and the same is true of “Buddhism”). The way protestants in a big city and monks in a desert understand Christianity is not identical; a Christian addicted with the reality of suffering and a Christian obsessed with fathoming the mystery of God have a very different understanding of Christ.
Secondly, people inevitably come across the question of whether the light of subjectivity can illuminate unconscious and conscious materials, and whether these unconscious and conscious materials will find a mode of projection suitable to them – this is the case for Christianism, as well as for Buddhism.
Third, for most people, unconscious and conscious materials can only be expressed in a set linguistic system (which will inevtably lead to idolatry), and they become ‘orthodox theology’ Christians (or Buddhists of ‘Pure Land Buddhism): for them, Christians believe that Buddhists are undoubtedly crazy (and vice-versa). But for people who have an insight into the true nature of religious belief, the ultimate reality of their faith cannot be bound in some fixed form of religion. They will not call themselves ‘Christians’ or ‘Buddhists’, They only know that there must be a “light”, that the “light” must illuminate “the darkness”, that the illuminated “darkness” will “be revealed”, and “witness the light”. And this “witnessing the light” is just the appropriate for of projection for the unconscious and conscious materials which are illuminated.
Fourth, any form of projection of unconscious and conscious material will inevitably lead to alienation,and this is the essence of idoloatry. Christian and Buddhist forms of worship are not free from this risk. However, the main form of alienation for people today is not that of religious worship, it is the alienation that results from the fetishism of capitalist commodities. Therefore, if a Christian recognizes “two fathers”, their second father will not be “Buddha”, but “Mammon (i.e. capitalism)，and the Bible teaches us: “you cannot serve both God and Mammon”. Some Christians say that Christians following Buddhism are “promiscuous”, but this is a totally empty word. It is impossible for ordinary believers to select two or more unconscious modes of projection for themselves, and so it is very likely that ordinary believers will lose themselves in worldly benefits （i.e. the sweetness brought by fetishism) , and unable to extricate themselves
The Bible teaches us: “You shall have no other God before me”, “the light has no second”. The “agency” of “light” in individual lives – subjectivity has no second. This “light” takes the form of “the Virgin” and of “the Holy Child”; it takes the form of Christianism and that of Buddhism. And any time you mistake the projection of unconscious material for the light, whether in Christian or Buddhist forms, that is idolatry.
Therefore, in a sense, all true Christians are originally Buddhists, and all true Buddhists are originally Christian, because their spiritual worlds have always operated in similar ways.