The Passion of Jesus: a Buddhist and a Gnostic Point of View

| by Jagath Asoka

( April 06, 2012, Washington DC, Sri Lanka Guardian) If you read the etymology of the word “passion,” you will find that the word “passion” originates from Medieval Latin passiōn, which refers to Christ’s sufferings on the cross. So, passion is any of the four canonical Gospel (Mark, Mathew, Luke, and John) accounts that describe the sufferings of Christ from the Last Supper to his death on the cross. As scholars and many textual critics such as Bart Ehrman have pointed out, when you compare Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels in the New Testament, according to Mark, Jesus died on the day after the Passover meal was eaten; according to Luke, on the day before the Passover meal was eaten; however, all four Gospels in the New Testament (Mark, Mathew, Luke, and John) agree on one very clear point: Jesus was really, really dead. In Mark, Mathew, Luke, and John there is no narration of resurrection itself, but the stories about the resurrection in the Gospels tell us that Jesus’ disciples with absolute conviction saw him again afterwards; it was not a ghost; Jesus asked his disciples to touch him and feel him to assure that he was not a ghost. In Luke, Jesus eats a piece of fish to demonstrate that he is real because ghosts can’t eat fish.
All human beings would probably agree that crucifixion was one of the worst forms of punishment. I know that most people—I have to admit that I am one of them—avoid going to the dentist because they feel uncomfortable with the dental procedures and have a very low tolerance for pain. So, imagine for a moment, when an innocent man, who is young, healthy, and full of life, is nailed to the cross; he suffers for several hours; his constant, indescribable, excruciating pain exacerbates continuously until death approaches him slowly through suffocation. His crime was that he was a threat to the Roman power. Any challenge to Roman authority was met with a swift and violent response. 
According to Mathew, when Jesus was put on trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judea, declared that Jesus was innocent, and to show Jesus was innocent, Pilate washed his hands in front of the crowd and said: “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” (New International Version, Mathew 27:24-25). 
So according to Mathew, the Jewish crowd took the responsibility of the death of Jesus. Over the centuries people have used this and other verses from the Bible such as “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire (John: 8:44),” for anti-Semitic purposes. 
When you compare Mark and Luke, you get two different stories of how Jesus faced and dealt with his indescribable suffering and death. According to Mark, from the moment Jesus was arrested to his death, Jesus spoke just a few words. After Jesus was sentenced for crucifixion, everybody mocked Jesus—the Roman soldiers, the crowd, the Jewish priests—but Jesus was silent; he did not utter a single word of anger or hatred during this horrific ordeal. Then, after suffering in silence—with exacerbating pain—just before his death, Jesus said, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:33). 
According to Luke, Jesus was not silent throughout this ordeal: As they led him away, large numbers of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.” When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him. The other said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Just before Jesus died, he called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 26: 1-46). So, according to Luke, Jesus was in control, and he knew exactly what was going to happen to him.
After reading Mark’s and Luke’s stories, I just thought: “What would have happened, by some ominous, miraculous event, if Indians had crucified the Buddha?” I know, according to the Buddhist teachings, nobody could harm the Buddha, let alone crucify him. But to my hypothetical, sacrilegious question, I think, the best answer is found in the words of the Buddha himself when he said, “Monks, even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his heart get angered even at that would not be doing my bidding. Even then you should train yourselves: Our minds will be unaffected, and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading these people with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will—abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will. That’s how you should train yourselves.” (Majjhima Nikaya, Kakacupama Sutta: The Simile of the Saw, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu).
If Jesus, like the Buddha, had lived a peaceful life and died of natural causes in his ripe old age, would Christianity have become the world’s most popular religion?
Orthodox sources interprets Christ’s death as sacrifice redeeming humanity from guilt and sin, but when you read Gnostic Gospels (a collection of about fifty-two texts, written from the second to the fourth century CE, found in Nag Hamadi, Egypt, in 1945) which are not part of the standard Biblical canon of any major Christian denomination, or the Gospel of Judas, crucifixion and resurrection stories of these non-standard gospels tell us a different story. For example, The Gospel of Truth, one of the Gnostic Gospels found in Hag Hamadi, envisions Jesus on the cross as a new fruit of the tree of knowledge that yields life, not death. The Gospel of Judas, found in the Egyptian desert in 1970, tells Judas’ side of the story. For nearly 2,000 years Judas has been reviled for betraying Jesus, but according to the Gospel of Judas, Judas was a favored disciple who was given special knowledge by Jesus to turn Jesus in at Jesus’ request.
The image of Jesus on the cross is not a manufactured symbol; it is a real image of suffering, which has become the symbol of human suffering. Unless you have been nailed to a cross and suffered like Christ and others who were crucified during the Roman rule, our human imagination is incapable of imagining such unbearable pain and suffering of those who died of crucifixion, and those who are dying every day of unbearable pain. 
If you are a Christian, you already know a lot about Good Friday and Easter; however, if you are not a Christian, every year, on Easter Sunday, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Western Christianity, Easter is always celebrated on the Sunday immediately following the Paschal (Passover) Full Moon—Passover is a Jewish festival that commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. The death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion is commemorated on Good Friday, always the Friday just before Easter. As Diane Osbon said, “You can also celebrate Easter as release and renewal, leaving the Earth Mother to go to the Father Spirit.”

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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