The Self

In my last post, I quoted the Buddha and the Apostle Paul on evil. In case you missed it, they said,

“Desire is the root cause of all evil.” — Siddhartha Gautama

“The love of money is the root of all evil.” — The Apostle Paul

So which is it? If you read my last post, you know I tend to side with Paul. But I think there’s more to his statement than meets the eye.

The Greek word translated “love of money” is philaguria. A more modern term would be avarice, or extreme greed for wealth or material gain.

But we miss something if we forget that Paul was Jewish. He thought like a first-century Jewish teacher because he was one. Another first-century Jewish teacher spoke of evil too. Jesus said,

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness.” Matthew 6:22, ISV.

It may surprise you to learn that Jesus and Paul were speaking about the same thing. In fact, Jesus’ Jewish audience would have understood his reference to the evil eye idiomatically to refer to greed.

So we shouldn’t be greedy. That doesn’t sound like new information, really. But wasn’t it greed that caused the first sin? Of course, Adam and Eve wanted knowledge, not money. But don’t we still say “Knowledge is power,” and even “Money is power?” And isn’t that what they really wanted?

If you could sit in a room with Jesus and Paul and have an good midrash, I think the conversation would at some point hit on selfishness as the root problem.

The Buddha spoke a lot about the concept of self. “Very basically, the Buddha taught that ‘you’ are not an integral, autonomous entity.” According to Buddhist teaching, it should be your goal to see yourself not as an individual person, but as merely a part of the vast universe. One who does so escapes desire (greed?) and the evil that results from it.

Maybe these writers agreed after all. What do you think?

Whatever its cause or results, I think we can all agree selfishness is a bad thing. Buddhism tells us to abandon the concept of self entirely. But Christianity holds the individual as infinitely valuable, so much so that for the salvation of the individual (and at the same time, everyone) Jesus gave his life.

The Buddhist practice of seeing one’s self as part of the vast universe has great value. It enables the follower to gain a rich perspective on himself and others. It causes him to see the bigger picture and his part in it. But something very valuable is lost in the process — the concept of self-worth.

Only in Christianity does the individual regain the true value of his soul. If the God of the universe would sacrifice his own Son for my sake, for your sake, what then is our worth?

In my mindfulness meditation practice, I also focus on my place in the universe, as the beloved of God whom he rescued from a world of evil and brought into the kingdom of his beloved Son. And I see you too, whatever your background, lifestyle, race, or religion, as equally valuable to him. To harm you for my gain is to sin against God’s beloved. That’s what makes spiritual abuse one of the worst manifestations of evil.

In my next post, I will share my story.

Photo Credit: laura6,


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