“The LORD is my light and my salvation.” – Psalms 27:1
“I am come a light into the world.” Jesus – John 12:46
“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.” – Quran 24:35
“Be a light unto yourself.” – Buddha
A fundamental difference between Buddhism and what are called the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is that while the three Abrahamic religions point to salvation through faith in a deity outside oneself, Buddhism points within our own consciousness for the source of salvation, and faith has to do not with a deity but rather with one’s own capacity to realize this salvation. All four religions share in common the acknowledgement of ignorance as the source of suffering in the world and have at times symbolized it as darkness while symbolizing salvation as light. But while Judaism, Christianity and Islam hold ignorance of the salvational power of God to be what will lead us to sin, Buddhism holds that it is ignorance of our own pure and true nature that is the obscurant that needs the light of the dharma (Buddhist teachings) to point us toward the Buddha (awakened Being) that resides within us all. All these religions use the image of light as that which can cast away the darkness, but as Buddhism teaches that separation is an illusion; there can be no separation of sacred source from everyday people and everyday life. How could there be? The light is within you, not in any deity or deity’s representatives outside you. Buddha’s teachings are to guide you to finding that light which is already within you, to the light that is you.
Although “sin” is not talked about in Buddhism, if it were, it would be used in the original etymological meaning of the word – from the Greek, “to miss the mark.” In other words, to be ignorant of your own pure nature arising within the purity of nature, missing the mark of the unity of all that is. The grace of no outside deity or prophet is needed, and while Buddhism does not speak of grace, if it did, it would say that grace fills all the world, including every human. While the Western religions require faith in a God that most cannot experience and obedience to the religion’s teachings, Buddhism simply advises us to look deeply enough within our own consciousness and into the consciousness energy that fills the world to give validation to that which we have already experienced, to that we experience when we are so moved by the beauty of a sunset across the mountains or a deep encounter with another person that we forget ourselves and become the purity of that moment stopped in time. While Christianity teaches that sufficient faith in God and Jesus will bring “the peace that surpasseth understanding,” Buddhism teaches that such peace has always been accessible to those who are able to penetrate the obscurant of the false self known as ego to realize themselves as consciousness witness to Creation.
Buddhism teaches that Creation, the Universe itself, is the Sacred Source, and grace fills every atom, born in the fire of the stars. It teaches that when the false ego-self does not hold center stage in consciousness, the world of Creation reveals itself in the light of consciousness and all the world is experienced in the timeless beauty of selfless awareness, the light that dispels the darkness of ignorance separating us from Creation. This obscuring ignorance is the belief in a self that is separate from Creation; but when awareness (the individual) turns inward, seeing consciousness (universal) recognizing its own source, and then directs awareness into the world, the realization awakens – that inward and outward are only perspectives within the One Reality.
A great Zen koan exhorts, “Not two!” but then goes on to remind us, “Not one.” We live in a spiritual unity that manifests as a material duality. This paradox realized shines the light of awareness that can never fail. Light fills the world for those with the eyes to see. Look! This is all that Buddhism taught and all that Jesus brought, and it is a tragedy that what Jesus brought was turned into darkness by those who taught humanity as fallen and separate, for we are all the sons and daughters of Creation. “In the beginning… the earth was without form and void… And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
Modern astrophysics tells us that the Big Bang began the Universe with pure photonic energy, the energy of light, and that the Universe, in its evolution cooled and expanded and atomic matter was born as hydrogen, then helium, and so on as matter complexified within the unity of the Universe, and brought forth stars and planets and life from the most simple, single-celled organism to humans with brains that are the most complex organization of matter in the known Universe manifesting the most complex consciousness. And the consciousness that brought forth the original light resides in every atom of this Universe and in the mysteries of Dark Energy and Dark Matter, and we need not look to mythical deities, for, as Zen teaches us, “Just This.” Nothing more is needed. The light is everywhere. You can call it God if you want to, but look no further than the stars in the sky or the miracle of your own opposable-thumbed hand that allows you to grasp the physical world or your own cerebral cortex that allows you read the squiggles on this paper and give them meaning, or the silent intelligence of your intuitive mind that allows you to grasp infinity. The light of intelligent consciousness fills the Universe, is the Universe, and is you and me. How could it be otherwise? In Buddhism, this is the faith that needs no miracles, for it is ignorance not to see miracles everywhere.