The death of Jesus can be seen as either the atonement for man’s fallen nature or our at-one-ment with our divine nature. Unity chooses to see the positive side of it. As it says in Galatians, it is no longer I that lives but the Christ that lives in me.
In this era of religious pluralism, the question often arises: Is it possible to be Christian and still honor all paths to God? Doesn’t it have to be one way or the other?
If you follow the teachings of Jesus, rather than the teachings about Jesus, the answer appears to be yes.
If you study what Jesus taught and did, you see that he was, in the words of Bible scholar Marcus Borg, “radically inclusive.” He said to love one another, and he exemplified that by honoring and caring about people of all backgrounds.
Spiritual leaders through the ages have asserted that Jesus was not just the example and advocate for Christians, but for everyone.
Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, once said: “Jesus gave humanity the magnificent purpose and the single objective toward which we all ought to aspire. I believe that he belongs not solely to Christianity, but to the entire world, to all lands and races.”
(Gandhi also said, “If Jesus came to earth again, he would disown many things that are being done in the name of Christianity.”)
But the risen Jesus is not in this sense a physical/bodily reality. The resurrection stories in the New Testament make that clear.
The risen Jesus appears in a locked room (John 20). He journeys with two of his followers for a couple of hours and is not recognized – and when he is recognized, he vanishes (Luke 24). He appears in both Jerusalem (Luke and John) and Galilee (Matthew and John). He appears to Stephen in his dying moments (Acts 7). He appears to Paul in or near Damascus as a brilliant light (Acts 9). He appears to the author of Revelation on an island off the coast of Turkey in the late 90s of the first century (Rev. 1).
These texts are not about Jesus being restored to his previous life as a physical being. If such events happen, they are resuscitations: resuscitated persons resume the finite physical life they had before, and will die again someday. Whatever affirming the resurrection of Jesus means, it does not mean this.
Moreover, what would it mean to say that the risen Jesus is a physical/bodily reality? That he continues to be a molecular, protoplasmic, corpuscular being existing somewhere? Does that make any sense? How can the risen and living Jesus be all around us and with us, present everywhere, if he is bodily and physical?
Bible – Unity’s founders, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, considered the Bible to be history and allegory. Their interpretation of Scripture was that it is “a metaphysical representation of humankind’s evolutionary journey toward spiritual awakening.” While Unity calls the Bible its “basic textbook,” it also says it “honors the universal truths in all religions and respects each individual’s right to choose a spiritual path.”
God – “God is the one power, all good, everywhere present, all wisdom.” Unity speaks of God as Life, Light, Love, Substance, Principle, Law and Universal Mind.
Heaven, Hell – In Unity, heaven and hell are states of mind, not places. “We make our heaven or hell here and now by our thoughts, words and deeds,” Unity says.
Jesus Christ – Jesus is a master teacher of universal truths and the Way-Shower in Unity teachings. “Unity teaches that the spirit of God lived in Jesus, just as it lives in every person.” Jesus expressed his divine potential and showed others how to express their divinity, which Unity calls (the) Christ.
This is one of the Buddha’s most important quotes:
There is an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed. If there were not this Unborn, this Unoriginated, this Uncreated, this Unformed, escape from the world of the born, the originated, the created, the formed, would not be possible. But since there is an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed, therefore is escape possible from the world of the born, the originated, the created, the formed. https://www.budsas.org/ebud/word-of-buddha/wob4nt04.htm
Please compare the above to Shinran quoting the Chinese Pure Land master Shan-tao on the nature of the Pure Land:
The Pure Land is the realm of Nirvana, the “escape from the born, the originated, the created, the formed.” Shinran described the Pure Land as “the birth of non-birth,” just as the Buddha described Nirvana as “the unborn.”
The Buddha selected the name of Amida, Namu-Amida-Butsu, as a skillful device (upaya) for bringing ordinary beings like ourselves into the realm of Nirvana. Whether Amida is a literal historical being is beside the point.
Shinran understood the Pure Land to be the formless realm of Nirvana. This is why Shinran described rebirth into the Pure Land as “the birth of non-birth,” just as the Buddha described Nirvana as “the unborn.”
In the words of the larger Amitabha Sutra, “That Buddha-land, like the realm of unconditioned Nirvana, is pure and serene, resplendent and blissful.”
The name of the Pure Land itself, Sukhavati, means “ultimate bliss,” which is a positive description of Nirvana. (Usually, in other Buddhist texts, Nirvana is described in negative terms.)
If our future rebirth into the Pure Land is already assured through sincere trust in Amida Buddha, then everything we do in our Buddhist path, including reciting the Nembutsu, is in gratitude for what we’ve already received.