Original writings by Tereza Coraggio available by permission of the author.
Ask and you shall receive!
The Christ came to ransom some, to save others, to redeem others. He ransomed those who were strangers and made them his own. And he set his own apart, those whom he gave as a pledge according to his plan.
It was not only when he appeared that he voluntarily gave his life, but he gave his life from the very day the world came into being. Then he came first in order to take it, since it had been given as a pledge. It fell into the hands of robbers and was taken captive, but he saved it.
He redeemed the good people in the world as well as the evil.
Gospel of Philip 9
When we read that Christ came to ransom some, save others and redeem the rest, our human nature asks one question: which is the best category to be in? Where do we place ourselves?
The ransomed category looks promising. These are his own, and set apart. It fits the atonement theology that Christ's death ransomed us from sin. If we're given as a pledge, that makes us first and better. We're solid as gold, in like flint.
But the second category, saved, goes back to the day the world came into being. Then, the whole world had been given as a pledge, not just us. Either the order's screwed up, or there's nothing special about being ransomed.
Redemption looks good. We're generous people. We're okay with Christ redeeming the evil people along with us, right? But wait, that's not what it says. It says that he redeemed the good people as well as the evil. If we need redemption as much as the evil people, what kind of status is that? What's the point of being good?
I think that this is not so much a distinction between people as a progression in time. He ransomed those who were strangers. Who were they strangers to? Perhaps each other. By making them his own, he made them family to each other rather than strangers. Who did he set them apart from? Apart, maybe, from the illusion of separation. In connection to one another, they would rediscover the truth - eventually. This, at least, is the plan.
Are those who recognize their connection to all people set apart? Yes, set apart by their difference from a world that operates by the illusion of separation. Yes, by not making it their ambition to be set apart from suffering or an exception to universal condemnation. These people are the pledge that insanity is temporary, and that someday none of us will want to be set apart.
Heaven has no levels or it is not heaven.
Salvation gives no grades or it isn't salvation.
The price of moral superiority is despair.
The decision of the Mahayana Buddhists was "not one without all" - that no one would enter nirvana, cross the river, without everyone. And so they choose to reincarnate, again and again, as long as it takes to reach an inclusive enlightenment. They bring their light back into the world, voluntarily, to shine the way for others. Christianity has yet to catch up with this beautiful concept. I think this is because we're more tradition-bound - we have less faith in our own ability to innovate and renovate our religion. Buddhism has a built-in belief that it needs to be reinvented every cycle of 'the peace wheel', the great turning in time of the spiral.
What would the Mahayana enlightenment look like applied to Christianity? We don't believe in reincarnation. How would we make the same decision? This is how I think it would apply: I don't believe that Christ can come again because I don't believe that Christ has ever left. The Christ is a process of becoming that started with the beginning of time. The historical person, Yeshua, that we call the Christ was like an underwater volcano that finally breaks the surface of the water - the Christ manifested, but had been building invisibly all along. All of the people everywhere who've added to our love and understanding created the submarine mountain on the ocean floor. Yeshua happened to be the point at which it broke through and could see clearly. Under the ocean, we're living under illusion - we can speculate and refine our metaphors, but we see through a murky glass or murky water. Yeshua wasn't born enlightened but was the culmination of a community that was working towards enlightenment. He was, I believe, the first to be redeemed, because he chose to redeem. You are what you do, and you receive what you give. He was the Redeemer because he redeemed.
If heaven or nirvana is, in truth, an all-or-nothing concept, because we don't exist as separate people, then the Mahayana choice isn't really a choice. It's simply acting in accordance with reality. But our conscious choice makes a difference. In the end, I think it makes all the difference. Our desire to keep heaven exclusive keeps heaven out of reach. I believe that the thief crucified next to Yeshua came to a place of forgiveness, not to a belief that Yeshua was the Son of God. He was forgiven because he was willing to forgive. His enlightenment made him awake in this life, which meant that he could join with Yeshua in the next life to help the cause. Being "with me in heaven" is not a reward but simply a consequence. If he had not broken through the surface of the water in this life, he'd have no light to bring to us from the next life.
We may be good, but we're not redeemed until we make it our business to redeem all. If we're good by finding others evil, if we're saved by finding others damned, we're opposing the coming of Christ in the world. A gas-station attendant and I were once talking about the anger and judgment that he often saw, from people who seemed to be living pretty comfortable lives. He got a kick out of my theory that many people are trying to get into heaven by default, because hell's already overbooked. There's a grain of truth behind the flippancy - we don't believe we can possibly be innocent, so our only hope is to be relatively innocent by finding everyone else more guilty than we are. You don't have to run faster than the alligator, only faster than the person you're with. But we, in our willingness to sacrifice our brother, are the only alligator around.