You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.
- Isaiah 64:5-7
“Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha, ‘the enlightened one’, lived in India during a perio when religious and mythological accounts of the world were being questioned. In Greece, thinkers such as Pythagoras were examining the cosmos using reason, and in China, Laozi and Confucius were detaching ethics from religious dogma. Brahmanism … was the dominant faith in the Indian subcontinent … and Siddhartha Gautama was the first to challenge its teachings with philosophical reasoning.
“Gautama’s reasoning from the causes of suffering to the way to achieve happiness is codified in Buddhist teachings in the Four Noble Truths: that suffering is universal; that desire is the cause of suffering; that suffering can be avoided by eliminating desire; that following the Eightfold Path will eliminate desire. … The Eightfold Path (right action, right intention, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, right speech, right understanding, and right mindfulness) is in effect a code of ethics – a prescription for a good life and the happiness that Gautama first set out to find. … The dharma wheel, one of the oldest Buddhist symbols, represents the Eightfold Path to Nirvana. In Buddhism, the word ‘dharma’ refers to the teachings of the Buddha.”
- Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained
Okay, what on earth does the teachings of the Buddha have to do with “rolling on the river?” In a way, rolling on the Riverboat Queen, as the paddle wheel, that big wheel, keeps on turning and Proud Mary keeps on burning… That might give anyone the opportunity to reflect on life and meditate. Sorry, I saw the dharma wheel as being a big wheel, maybe a riverboat wheel, and my mind wandered to a simpler time in a simpler place and CCR singing a song (Creedence Clearwater Revival).
And reading what the book said about the Buddha, especially the dharma wheel, my thoughts were directed toward the countless theologians and pastors who have said that Jesus was a good teacher, and the philosophy is sound, but it is only sound with the understanding that Jesus is God. We have no ability to simply turn off our desire. We only have that ability with Jesus in our heart and the Holy Spirit working with us. And even then it can be a struggle. That grass over there, beyond our reach, is indeed greener than the grass beneath our feet. But then, once across the street, the grass that we just left seems to have become more green.
While Buddhism teaches us, with no belief in a god whatsoever, that we can become godlike ourselves. Yet, if the best that we can do is like filthy rags, that could never work.
There was an old The Big Bang Theory episode where Sheldon tries rock climbing, but the closer he got to the top, he passed out. He rambled on about ‘approaching an asymptote.’ Education.ti describes approaching an asymptote as: “Conceptually, an asymptote is a line or a curve that the graph of a function approaches. Vertical asymptotes occur where function value magnitudes grow larger as x approaches a fixed number. Horizontal asymptotes occur when a function approaches a horizontal line as x approaches positive or negative infinity.”
For those that did not understood that, may I give an old engineering professor’s explanation, instead of the mathematical definition. “Let us say that you have a particular behavioral quirk. You can only approach a goal by going halfway. You want to get across the road. On your first attempt, you reach the middle of the road, halfway. Now, you make another attempt with your starting point being the middle of the road, you go halfway between the middle of the road and the other side. You are now, three-quarters of the way across the road. You attempt again, you are now only one-eighth of the way to the finish line. With your next approach, you are only one sixteenth from your goal, then one thirty-second of the distance to reach the goal, but will you ever get there? NO. You can only go halfway each time and you will never reach your destination. Even though you may get so close to the other side that no one can measure how far away you are, you will never get there going halfway with each move.” In a way, approaching an asymptote is a method of explaining infinity in mathematical terms, but it can apply to our human behavior.
Isaiah says that we can perform nothing other than with filthy rags as our best effort, but we can try. We can wash the rags, but no detergent gets all the filth out. So, we try harder and the robes we are wearing get a little less filthy. Does it sound like the old professor and only being able to get halfway each time?
If reincarnation really existed, which it does not, and we had thousands of chances of getting it done better, we cannot clean the spot of sin. We will still be like Lady Macbeth trying to wash out the “damned spot!” Damned, indeed, for we are cursed with a sin nature.
And it is only by the cleansing blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ, where we can truly get the other half of the way.
Indeed, we can go halfway on our own, but only halfway each step. So, how do we get there? We allow, by our free will, to let Jesus carry us.
And that brings me back to a big wheel that keeps on turning, but maybe, we can ramp up the energy, with Tina Turner. We need to celebrate a Savior that will pick us up in His arms and take us where we cannot go on our own efforts.
If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.