The different layers of my Judeo-Buddhist philosophy

My Judeo-Buddhist philosophy tries to connect the wisdom of Judaism and its monotheist God with the wisdom of Buddhism, teaching the need for enlightenment. Both, Judaism and Buddhism are actually very closely related in content. Jewish and Buddhist philosophy are bound to the respective religions of course, but religion and philosophy always share a close relationship, this goes even to those who are atheists, deists or agnostics, as their philosophical world outlook goes hand in hand with their religious beliefs. So life is more or less religion, and there is no life free from religion [cp. Timo Schmitz: Die Rückkehr Gottes als Friedensstifter. In: Timo Schmitz: Ist Gott nur für das Gute verantwortlich?. Berlin & Vachendorf: Graf Berthold Verlag, 2022; cp. also Joseph Ratzinger: Was ist Atheismus?. In: Werner Trutwin (Hrsg.): Theologisches Forum, Band 1: Gespräch mit dem Atheismus. Düsseldorf: Patmos Verlag, 1970, S. 13-16]. Next, we are limited beings as human-beings, which is opposite to God who is absoluteness, perfection, or as in Dzogchen All-Goodness, though we can say that the Neoplatonists and Al-Farabi were right that God is the first cause.

As limited-beings, our mind is also limited, but since we strive for wisdom and want to reason, we conduct philosophy, the highest discipline of all reasoning. And so, we reason of course also about how the world came into existence and how it will end, though this insecurity is terrible for man: because only if we know our beginning and ending, we can surely talk about our purpose of life. What is our reason for existence, why were we created? Philosophers and theologians of different times gave different answers.  Isaak Luria proposed, for instance, that God sent vessels filled with divine light down to the Earth. On their way, these vessels broke down as they were too fragile, and so the sparks rained down on the Earth. Therefore, human-beings were created to rectify the world, to find the sparks and repair what was broken. In the Jewish tradition, this is called “tikkun olam” [Jill Zimmerman: Isaac Luria’s Creation myth. Sefaria Source Sheet, 10 February 2015., retrieved on 29 July 2018; cp. also Rabbi Benjamin Adler: Introduction to Kabbalah: The Creation Myth. Sefaria Source Sheet, 2016., retrieved on 29 July 2018]. Jill Zimmermann (2015) proposes that this term is connected to the expression “mip’nei tikkun ha-olam”, meaning to avoid disharmony in society. In Buddhism, it is taught that our mind is defiled by three poisons which we need to get rid of to reach enlightenment. So we can see that both, Chasidic Judaism and Buddhism, have in common that they suggest a purification. Therefore, we can work on our defilements and open doors that were closed in our mind before. “Through our wisdom and post-meditation practise, we put our wisdom knowledge into our mind, we plant it inside the mind. In this way, we do not only think of ourselves anymore, thus our ego, but go beyond our own mental barrier” [Timo Schmitz: The analogical meaning behind Chalabhinna – the ‘Special Knowledge’ in Buddhism (21 August 2016). In: Timo Schmitz: A Divinely Way to Philosophy, Vol. 1. Trier & Vachendorf: Graf Berthold Verlag, 2022].

Furthermore, we have to realize that evil is no metaphysical reality, evil is in us, it comes from within through the three poisons. It is noteworthy that Early Christianity among others was influenced by Platonism, Stoicism and Neo-Pythagorean schools as well as Zoroastrianism. In the latter one, good and evil were thought more in a dualistic way. From time to time, the Church imagined that an actual Satan exists as a dualism to the all-goodness of God, but this is not really the Biblical notion of good and evil in my point of view. As Willett makes clear: “Within Judeo-Christian theology, evil is perceived more specifically as a taint or impurity that defiles an otherwise perfect creation. Christian theology even more explicitly goes on to argue that this defilement has emerged from the disobedience of Adam in the Garden of Eden as told in the third chapter of the book of Genesis in the Old Testament. […] However, this concept also means that, within Christianity, evil is inherently unnatural as it was introduced into creation by beings who were not the creator” [Sunder Willett: Evil and Theodicy in Hinduism. Denison Journal of Religion Vol. 14 Issue 1, 2015, pp. 40-53. Cited from p. 43]. Nonetheless, we have seen that a syncretization is possible, as I think that because God is not responsible for evil, evil is a human matter and therefore, we can improve the world for goodness, if we concentrate on our task to repair the world and make a better place out of it.

Another important influence is Seventh-Day Adventism and Chinese Christianity, though I am not Christian myself and do not identify myself with the Adventist view on salvation and resurrection. Yet, these influences especially play a crucial role in my try to understand the world as holistically as possible and also show me what we can learn from Christianity. The Seventh Day Adventism is very interesting, because it clearly emphasizes on the Jewish heritage of Christianity. Chinese Christianity is very influential for me, because it is different from Western Christianity and the traditional Chinese understanding of God and nature reflects itself also in the mentality of Christians in China, and thus, their perspective is more convincing to me than Christianity in the West. In my philosophy, I distinguish between Jesus as historical figure and Jesus as a spiritual quality. Both actually serve completely different functions.

As a historical figure, Jesus was a great rabbinical scholar of noble descent and it was not his intent to establish a new teaching, but to focus on the Jewish Law and “fulfilling” it, as we learn in the Sermon on the Mount. Therefore, Jesus was no one who wanted to split the community, he himself and his contemporary community saw themselves as being Jewish. We even have to go that far and doubt the Biblical depiction of Jesus as the final compilation of the Bible happened long after Jesus’s death. As such, Jesus often complained about the Pharisees who were strong defendants of the law and their literal understanding of the Scripture. Anyways, it is right that Jesus in fact chose another path: He wanted to teach the Jewish ideals to those who were not as well educated as the Pharisees: “Jesus […] also wants to address those who were ‘poor in mind’ as of the Sermon on the Mount and therefore those who were not that very well educated in Scripture. It is about the right way of living! Here, the religious and political component come together. The historical Jesus was a hope for many, because he most likely rebelled against the Romans and defended the Jewish nation” [Timo Schmitz: Only peaceful means will lead to a true change (10 November 2022). In: Timo Schmitz: Deep in The Ocean Is a Hidden Treasure. Manderscheid: Timo Schmitz, 2023, p. 187]. Therefore, it was rather a political conflict, in which different parts of the society stood against each other: those supporting the Jewish nation and those collaborating with the Romans. Jesus was supporting the common people, and he understood himself as an interpreter of the Law.

As spiritual quality, he stands for emuna. “The Son is understood as a reflection of the Father, so if we have seen the Son, then we have seen the Father (John 14:9): It seems to be a mirroring, a process of affirmation. Since God Himself resides in His own realm, we cannot grasp God fully. Yet, we wish to connect with God. So we build up a connection through our soul. But how can we be assured of Him? How do we know that He cares about us and that we are saved by grace? How do we know that He will forgive us for our sins? The answer is: we need to establish faith” [Timo Schmitz: Differentiating between Jesus as a historical figure and a spiritual quality (21 July 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 48]. I think that Jesus in establishing a faith in us closes the deep abysm between our immanent, materialistic world and God who is transcendent [Timo Schmitz: What does Jesus stand for? – A Non-Christian answer (after reading a Christian book) (22 July 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 50], since materialism as well as capitalism rather turn the people away from God, and so it seems that human-beings and God are quite separated though God never wanted to disconnect with us, and therefore, we are connected to Him through our soul. “Nonetheless, I do not want to disappoint my Christian friends, some of you who will say now how can’t you see that Jesus did – in fact and literally – die for all of our sins? How can you blaspheme the one who died for you and for everyone else in this world? Let me explain it to you: If you believe in Jesus and take literally what is written in the Bible, indeed Jesus must have a spiritual quality, right? Because how could he be God and at the same time a human-being, if he was not spiritually existent? So what counts is not that he was called Jesus, what counts is that he was spiritual perfection on this earth. Indeed, what we can say is that God is spirit/mind, because this benevolent creation cannot be the result of some blind coincident force” [Timo Schmitz: Why the spiritual dimension matters more than the confession to a particular denomination (23 May 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 28]. Thus, if you are ready for Jesus, the names vanish and the spiritual elaboration brightens, for God loves all human-beings, and not Christians exclusively. As a result, it is not necessary anymore to call this force Jesus, but any name which suits this spiritual quality is acceptable. I also think that Tangun, Xuan Yuan and the Buddha Gautama actually served this function in the East. “Now you will say ‘but Jesus was the Christ’ and Buddha just a preacher of some Asian religion. But the feeling of supremacy of adhering to one religion is not healthy: there is no simple reason why God should have only been active in one small area in the world, while ignoring the rest of it. There were prophets before the appearance of Jesus, and why should they only appear in one country or one area?” [Timo Schmitz: Is God wrathful? (31 July 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 65].

Chinese Christianity is fascinating, because the Chinese people have a special connection to nature, they do not see nature as static as Europeans do, but they have a dynamic image of it. As Alan Watts pointed out: “[T]he Chinese do not think of nature as something made. They look upon it as something that grows” [Alan Watts: The Myth of Myself – Part 1. Alan Watts Organization. 19 April 2019., retrieved on 29 January 2022]. In fact, we had this view in Europe, too, in the past: God created the world and caused an autopoiesis, once the seeds were in the earth, they could grow themselves after God’s plan. But the Industrial Revolution changed our perception of nature and we lost the deep connection to Mother Earth which we had before. “The Chinese people realized as well that all reason (li) comes from a divine principle, and they assumed that everything flows out of the very principle which can hardly be named, and to which one can give the name ‘dao’ to have a name for it at all, and anyways, the Dao remains difficult to name. Thus, the beginning of the universe has no name (Daodejing, Chapter 1). By giving a name to it, we try to grasp that very principle as everything which we do not name remains ungraspable for us” [Timo Schmitz: Everything has a deep meaning for us!. In: Schmitz, 2023: 24 f.]. Of course, for Chinese Christians, God is transcendental as well, He existed before the Heavens and Earth were created, and He will still exist after the universe will cease to exist. Yet, the transcendental God is not separated from immanence without having any immediate influence on the latter, and this is the problem if we put God and the cosmos in contrast: “God, called Shen or Dao in Chinese, cannot be set apart from the cosmos, because God is the source of everything and therefore, nature follows immediately out of God, because nature in Chinese understanding is a ziran, or as Germans call it a Selbst-so.” Nonetheless, the cosmos does not equal God, so God and the cosmos are not identical, but there is no cosmos without God, and therefore cosmos and God are strongly connected [Timo Schmitz: The problem of putting God and the cosmos in contrast (13 November 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 196]. What the Chinese people have well understood: “Nature acts naturally by doing what nature ought to do (and thus nature is just in a Platonic understanding), so nature cannot act differently, because it is well ordered and in harmony and cannot be in a state of chaos or disharmony out of itself – since God ordered it in this way. And while God is transcendental in our Western understanding (and also in my understanding), the Chinese see God in accordance to immanence: God exists naturally and as nature flows out of God, it is inseparably bound to God” [ibid.]. So it is no surprise that Paul Hattaway, who served as Christian missionary in China for a very long time, comes to the conclusion that the Kingdom of God is not that far away as we think, but we can actually almost grasp it with our hands [When Christ Jesus sets you free you will be free indeed – Testimony of Heavenly man Brother Yun. Tamil Christian Sound Doctrine Resources-King of King’s Christ Jesus Vision Inscribed In Touch, uploaded on 27 January 2014., retrieved on 18 January 2023]. To put it in a nutshell, we have a dynamic nature in which everything has its order according to God’s plan [Timo Schmitz: Unequal religious rights lead to a disconnection (12 November 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 191]. So we ought not to imagine God as a static, but dynamic active being, which goes in accordance with the Judeo-Christian perception of a personal God. A personal God cannot be passive and static, as otherwise God would be a machine, which He is – of course – not. “So just because the attributes of God are unchangeable, this does not mean that God Himself cannot be dynamic, because He is absoluteness” [Timo Schmitz: Immanence and transcendence again (Part 1): The universal God, nature and the philosopher (14 November 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 208]. I, personally, think that God’s existence and His attributes are everlasting, they are not object to change. Anyways, God Himself is not unmovable, static, ‘dead’, but dynamic and alive, and though this creates a paradoxon, it can be explained by realizing that all dualisms vanish in God’s unity.

Both ontologically and epistemologically, I take a Platonic view tied together with Buddhist philosophy. As such, I believe that there are forms (Plato calls them ideas) which are ideal, while our world is only a manifestation, and as such every graspable thing shares part with the ideal form, so the thing is the thing due to its share with the form, but we also are only able to recognize things due to their form. Anyways, every graspable thing does not only consist of its form, but also has accidentals attached to it. So while the form, the idea, is nature itself, and nature itself exists in the realm of the ideas and not in our immanent world, the thing in this world is never perfect, but only ki-tov, a term which I took from Genesis and therefore from the Jewish Creation Myth. We are never able to recognize the pure form, thus the idea is not completely graspable in the sense that we could perceive it through senses. But our defilements lead to the fact that we often get wrong images about things, so we need a purification, we need to get rid of wrong beliefs: “Emptiness, or shunyata, helps us in demasking the defilements, because too often we take things for granted and thus see something in the things which they are not […]” [Timo Schmitz: Emuna as a form of experiencing God (4 October 2023). In: Schmitz, 2023: 128]. So emptiness is the absence of defilements, though we are never perfect. Therefore, the realization of emptiness means nothing more than getting rid of our own ignorance which hinders our process of purification! [Timo Schmitz: Dhyana: The contemplation of right concentration (19 December 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 248 f.] That shunyata helps us in conceiving the form within the things, and therefore supports us in not mistaking things for something which they are not, is also taught through the Heart Sutra: “[F]orm does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form” [Seung Sahn (Ed.): Chanting with English translations and Temple Rules. Cumberland (RI): The Kwan UM – School of Zen, no date, p. 11].

Finally, we can see a disruption in the usage of the term nature here. On the one hand, I pointed out that it flows out of God, and on the other hand, I pointed out that only the ideas are true nature. “What is clear is that the ideal world is nature in itself: it contains the whole world through the ideas, while our perceptual world in contrast is just a copy” [Timo Schmitz: Immanence and transcendence again (Part 1): The universal God, nature and the philosopher (14 November 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 205]. When we say that the Creation flows out of God, we have to understand that it is not an immediate creation in which everything is just copied through God’s thought alone, but the Creation takes place by going through different realms. So everything which is possible to exist has an ideal state in the world of the ideas, while that which we perceive is not really true as it is not ideal; we can sum it up in Plato’s formula: “καὶ τὰ μὲν δὴ ὁρᾶσθαί φαμεν, νοεῖσθαι δ’οὔ, τὰς δ’αὖ ἰδέας νοεῖσθαι μέν, ὁρᾶσθαι δ’οὔ” [The Republic, 507b]. Anyways, we know from Hegel that mind/ spirit is divine, and I made already clear that reason altogether is absoluteness as a whole, so man inherits mind/ spirit as a connection with God. The spirit is of course dynamic, and therefore we can imagine the dynamic Dao too well, while the idea is not changeable at all. Integrating the idea in a dynamic process, the idea itself does not change, but we receive a model, which is the reflection of an idea by a non-Divine Being (such as human-beings) and thus an exchange between the thing as an existent thing and our imagination of that thing in accordance with the idea. Therefore, the model is an intermediate in which human-beings can shape and reshape concepts. Through the model, we are able to share our visions or to create a particular object out of an imagined object. Now I also proclaimed: “Everything around us is nature, and if we destroy our nature, for instance through climate change, then we cannot survive on this planet. We can culturize everything and yet, we cannot get fully rid of nature. We have a deep bond to our environment, a quite personal one. If we return to seeing nature as it is, and not as a means of industrialism and consumption, then we can realize that most of the time in daily life, we only live on the surface” [Timo Schmitz: Philosophy enlightens our path to realize God’s Creation! (7 November 2022). In: Schmitz, 2023: 183]. We seemingly have a contradiction here, unless we speak of two forms of nature, so both terms are not identical. And indeed, I have to admit that this is a tricky thing. If nature is only in the ideal world, then there is no nature around us in the immanent world. But I clearly stated: There is nature all around us. So the emanation which has no nature has nature. Something went wrong here in the argument, this is evident, except if the term has two meanings. And this is the case. The thought behind it is as following: if the world is an emanation of nature then it contains nature, while also being an illusion, since it is not nature itself. On the other hand, already the Ancient people thought that we are “imbedded in nature” [Henri Frankfort & H.A. Frankfort: Introduction. In: Henri Frankfort, H.A. Frankfort, John A. Wilson & Thorkild Jacobsen: Before Philosophy. A study of the primitive myths, beliefs, and speculations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, out of which grew the religions and philosophies of the later world. Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1954, pp. 11-38. Cited from page 12], and indeed, this must be true as well, and as such nature was seen as the given creation of the entire cosmos in which we find all the cosmic forces. Nonetheless, as it is an emanation, the Creation only unfolds nature, but is not identical to nature!!! So we can say that by going through the different realms, the cosmos unfolds out of God and becomes immanent, so by manifesting step by step it loses a part of its nature, but it is still natural in some sense, isn’t it? (Nonetheless, it accumulates illusions through losing nature.) And through connecting with the cosmos, we make a wholesome unity, so there is no disconnection with the Creator. So our environment, one meaning of nature, reveals the actual nature behind it which is found in the realm of ideas, which points to God. Thus, by distinguishing between environment and nature itself, we can solve this very problem. Therefore, the Creation is a kind of nature, it is natural, but it is not nature itself, it is the result of the emanation, but nothing in this emanation is artificial, despite that the ideas are brought together with accidents, yet, they are in no way unnatural but not nature itself, thus the immanent nature is illusory, as the true nature is only the idea. So nature in opposition to culture is that which is natural, but that which is natural is not there on its own but due to God’s creation, so through the dynamism of God, everything is in a constant flow and the cosmos is always subject to change, in contrast to the ideas which are not changeable. (Though God is dynamic, He is not illusionary, since He is the first cause, and the first cause must be true for everything else, even the ideas, to exist!)

Timo Schmitz, 26 January 2023


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