I Must Decrease.
As far as I can tell, many religions will agree on this axiom. Whether meditating in accordance with teachings of the Buddha or the Christ, the spiritual disciple must decrease. His will, his credit, his appetites, his self-interest, and his self-image must decrease. The ascetic life is difficult, though, regardless of its depth. More so than most of us would like to admit, if we’ve even ever actually tried. For some, this reduction is a step toward selflessness and enlightenment – a fading into the universal presence instead of an individualistic personal presence. Reasonable disciples may certainly differ on the called upon level of asceticism, but most will agree that we must renunciate to some degree, whether great (monk) or small (lay disciple.)
For the Christian, however, the decrease is only step one. Step two is just as important.
He Must Increase.
As a matter of fact, in spite of the way John’s words are often quoted from Chapter 3 Verse 30 of his gospel, John even stated the idea in reverse order.
He must increase, but I must decrease.
ἐκεῖνον δεῖ αὐξάνειν, ἐμὲ δὲ ἐλαττοῦσθαι.
This is altogether different because it suggests that Step One is actually allowing Him to increase, and that would in turn facilitate Step Two, providing relief from some of the burden or difficulty of the renunciation. This goes nicely with the words of James in Chapter 4 Verse 8: “Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you.” and Verse 10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.”
As we are decreasing and He is increasing, there is another principle that Buddhism and Christianity have in common: the idea of a debt to be paid. Gautama explains that we have a karmic debt to pay off in order to move up the proverbial ladder. We pay that debt through the above renunciation. But Christ, on the other hand, pays the debt for us as we allow Him to increase and as He helps us to decrease.
ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἄμπελος, ὑμεῖς τὰ κλήματα. ὁ μένων ἐν ἐμοὶ κἀγὼ ἐν αὐτῷ οὗτος φέρει καρπὸν πολύν, ὅτι χωρὶς ἐμοῦ οὐ δύνασθε ποιεῖν οὐδέν.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.