“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34).
The cross is a symbol of sin in Christianity. What did Jesus mean by “take up your cross”? Think of it as a symbol of taking responsibility for yourself. In Buddhism, it would be “take responsibility for your karma.”
But is this what it really means? Then what about these words: “give up your own way” (Mark 8:34)?
Society and authority always say that we must be “self-responsible.”
After Judas betrayed Jesus, he told the priests and elders who had paid him to do it that what he had done was a sin, but they replied, “That’s your problem” and “That’s your responsibility” (Matthew 27:4). Judas then killed himself.
Society and authority use “responsibility” to control people; they hide their irresponsibility, saying, “That’s your problem.”
COVID-19 made some things clear, and it made globalization visible. We used to hear the word “globalization” with regard to the economy and economic policies, but COVID-19 makes us feel that people and countries are coming closer together.
COVID-19 started in China in November 2019, and in January and February 2020 we began to hear from China about a new virus that was spreading and the lockdown they instituted to try to stop it. We didn’t think it was serious then, but after a couple of months, the whole world was suffering. The world is more connected than I imagined. Ironically, it proved that the world is one.
The COVID-19 crisis also proves how vain the concept of borders is. Viruses don’t care about man-made borders! They easily breach borders: national, provincial, city, cultural, racial, ethical, gender, and age. Leaders are selfish and solely take care only of themselves, but viruses go beyond any border, without care.
For example, during a lockdown at the far edge of the city of Toronto, on one side of the street all the stores were open, while on the other side they were all closed.
People tend to act selfishly in times of crisis, maybe because society and authority try to educate people through messages like “That’s your problem” or “That’s your responsibility.”
This makes it easy for people to act selfishly when they feel threatened.
When Jesus was arrested at the garden of Gethsemane, “one young man following behind Jesus was clothed only in a long linen shirt. When the mob tried to grab him, he slipped out of his shirt and ran away naked” (Mark 14:51-52). I assume he thought no one was watching him, or he didn’t care who saw him naked, he just ran away. For him, at that moment, no one else existed.
The Bible describes symbolically the choices we make at critical moments.
This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. Joseph and Jesus’s mother Mary were engaged, but before the marriage took place, and while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18).
What would you do if you found out that your fiancée was pregnant just before you were to be married?
The Bible says that “Joseph was a good man and did not want to embarrass Mary in front of everyone. So he resolved to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19).
Sounds like he is a good guy, trying to do a good thing, like “Oh, you’re pregnant. I won’t say anything, we’ll just quietly break up. It’ll be good for both of us.”
But what about Mary’s point of view? She was abandoned by the only person she could rely on, the love of her life. He ran away from her.
Joseph’s actions said to Mary, “This is your problem. It’s your responsibility.”
Would this be your reaction?
The Bible sarcastically describes Joseph as a “good man.” The “good man” is dangerous; they tend to say “I’m right,” and is the type of person who starts wars by drawing a line between “us” and “them,” saying “we are right and they are wrong.”
Only God can judge right from wrong. It’s the beginning of disaster when humans pretend to be gods by saying “this is right” and “this is wrong.”
That night, while Joseph was sleeping, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, the baby that Mary will have is from the Holy Spirit. Go ahead and marry her. When the baby is born, name him Jesus — he will save his people from their sins.”
It was a miracle that Joseph took on a wife in this situation.
Joseph, who was just an ordinary man who tried to escape by putting the blame on Mary, now decided to accept and take responsibility for their situation.
Don’t you think it’s a miracle? An ordinary man became taking responsibility for all beings!
Even today this might be considered a problem by some people, but in the strict, law-bound Jewish society of 2,000 years ago, Mary gave birth not knowing who the father of her child was, and Joseph took this child on as his own. I think people around him probably said, “Joseph is really a stupid man.”
Society usually thinks that “taking care of what could be someone else’s responsibility” is a stupid thing to do. But it’s how the Bible story of Jesus begins.
And Mary is great, too! Suddenly, an “angel appeared to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you’” (Luke 1:28).
How would you react if you were in Mary’s shoes, soon to be married, then out of nowhere an angel came to tell you that you were pregnant. I know I’d say “Whaaat!?!”
But Mary said, “Let it be,” as it is the wish of the Lord. She accepted her circumstances.
This couple took on a risky, difficult situation and responsibility for something larger than themselves.
Society told them they were stupid, especially Joseph, people making fun of him by saying, “He’s a really stupid man, no matter how much he likes Mary.”
But if this stupid couple hadn’t existed, there would be no child of God in this world!
This is how the Bible’s New Testament starts, and it continues until the death of Jesus. The crucifixion of Jesus is another stupid tale, even stupider than the story of Mary and Joseph.
When Jesus was crucified, people, priests, elders, and law scholars made fun of him; they mocked him and laughed at him, saying, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself!”
People laughed at Jesus, saying he was stupid to work so hard for others, to die for others. People laughed at his ways and deeds.
And is it now any better, 2,000 years later?
People think it’s stupid to get involved with others because of the risk of infection. Instead of doing whatever they can for others, they think it’s much smarter to lock themselves in their houses, to stay home and protect themselves.
The current attitude in our world is those good leaders are those who say “I will protect only my own country.”
And many people think only of themselves, while separate from those who work for others. What kind of future will we have if this continues and spreads?
We now have a great chance to find our life’s real purpose.
At Tao Sangha, we want stupid people. We want those who will work selflessly to help others.
And this stupidity is contagious! If you come to Tao Sangha, you’ll enjoy being stupid!
This is Tao Sangha’s mission: “Create the kind of stupid people who enjoy working for others.”
Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34).
This attitude doesn’t follow a theory of self-responsibility. What does it mean to “take up your cross”?
In the first place, Jesus’s cross was not his own cross, was it? In other words, he saved others but not himself, so the cross that Jesus carried was the cross of all others.
In order to save others, Jesus had to take up my cross, your cross. His words, “you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me,” don’t mean that I have to take up my own cross, my own responsibility … because Jesus has already taken responsibility for me by having taken up my cross. So when Jesus says, “you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me” he means that you should “take up the crosses of others that have been given to you and follow me.”
But if you do this, people might laugh at you, say you are stupid, and ask why you are working so hard to carry someone else’s cross. They’ll wonder why you work so hard and take on others’ hardships. They’ll ask, “Why are you suffering while carrying someone else’s cross? Doesn’t this mean you are stupid?”
Smart people? Are smart people those who act the way Joseph was going to act? Those who would secretly get divorced to avoid responsibility? Those who laugh at people who work to help others?
By the way, there’s a theory about the guy who ran away naked, that he is the person who wrote the Gospel of Mark. So, he ran away naked, but he came back. The Gospel of Mark was the first Gospel written, and it was written during a very dangerous time, while Nero was extensively torturing and executing Christians.
Our spiritual roots are carried by stupidly selfless people, like that young guy, Joseph, and Mary, Jesus, and Shakyamuni — and all people who transmit our spiritual roots.
There’s no room here to tell you about “stupid Buddhists”; I’ll get to that some other time.
Would you like to join us in our spiritual roots of stupidity? Come and get contaminated, and create more stupid people in this world. Doesn’t this sound like fun? Or is it only me that thinks this?
Anyway, let’s be stupid and have fun!