Altered View: A Zen Interpretation of the Christ Story

The story of Jesus Christ is perhaps the most known story throughout the entire world, and has been for quite a stretch of time. It's arc wrought with love, wonder, fear, suffering and deep mystery still pierce the core of the human psyche to this day. Pieced together over an incredible length of time, the story is wondrous in that it can be read and interpreted on many levels.


One may see it as a highly symbolic representation of the nature of human life and suffering, while others might view it as a deeply psychological presentation of the human condition, whilst at the same time others may completely discard it as total nonsense.


Today, I will be looking at a rather poignant interpretation of the story, as viewed through the eyes of a Buddhist Zen Monk. The text referenced is Resurrecting Jesus by Adyashanti.




Hypostatic Union is the term used in Christianity referring to the union of Christ's humanity and divinity. You may notice a little difference between the sides of Jesus in this particular painting.

Eye of the beholder.

It's not often that we see our idea of what a Spiritual Master/Guru is turned upside down on it's head. It's hard to imagine Buddha angry at his peers, or Krishna furious at his circumstance. Often we may find ourselves believing these great sages to be of the purest appearance, acting in total perfection. This is not the case with Jesus. The man flips tables and gets mad at the religious folk of the time, drinks alcohol, cries out to his father in anguish when learning of his fate. The divinity of his nature is so evidently housed within his very real humanity. Herein lies the beauty of this interpretation: it is a man, realised of his divinity and his human nature, acting as a mirror to those near him. In this light, the story of Jesus (at least through this interpretation) serves as a roadmap of sorts to spiritual awakening or realization, albeit a highly symbolic one. The life of Christ was one mirroring the journey to the awakening divinity. It does so through the language of myth and metaphor - much in the same way as Jesus himself spoke and taught deeper truths though parable.

"Whoever has ears, let them hear.” The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them."

Beginning and end.

From early on in the story, we see Jesus baptized in the River Jordan where "...just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the spirit descending on him like a dove". When doing the inner work and glimpsing awakening, the veils from which we have been viewing the world dissipate, and a whole new reality is presented to us. Soon after, Jesus is met with trial and tribulation. He spends 40 days and nights alone in the harsh desert environment, where he encounters the temptations of Satan himself. Now, in this specific interpretation, Satan is representing illusion rather than the much more dogmatic definition of Hell's stay-in manager. We will likely face illusion in the form of temptation and old ways of being when we pierce through differing levels of conditioning and seeing the world with new eyes. Jesus then goes through a series of significant events that parallel those of stages of 'awakening'. I must at this stage stress that this is of course all conjecture, but it is interesting and insightful to at least view the differing parts of the story along this abstract curriculum. Jesus goes through a period of abiding in his new realisations throughout his teaching period, leading up to his deepening and fortifying of his insights in the Transfiguration - an event much similar to the revelation of Krishna's true face to Arjuna (from a previous post). This all leads to the tragedy that is the crucifixion of Jesus - or as the Adyashanti describes it, "the experience of the death of ego." Here, it is described a loss of the personal self, a loss of complete identity with the personal self, and relationship to the personal God. Death of ego is a trope frequently uttered throughout many wisdom traditions, but it is solemn expressed in such a human way, with Jesus on the cross crying out: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" All this culminates to the resurrection of Christ, a complete new orientation to the world from the view of all rather than I, from what is rather than from the individual. It is here that I would like to point out just how far removed we are from the origin and meanings of words in the Christian vernacular. Sin for example means to miss the mark - not some heinous act that requires us beg our God for mercy. And Christ, well, has been perhaps not misunderstood but rather never really pondered. I love idea put forth by great modern mystic Bernadette Roberts, who vaguely painted the idea of Christ as being the force that binds the divine and human.



Left: The Transfiguration of Christ. Right: Krishna reveals himself to Arjuna

I will leave this post with a quote from the Gospel of Thomas that I feel encapsulates the spirit of this post:


“There is light within a man of light, and he lights up the whole world. If he does not shine, he is darkness".

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