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Posts Tagged ‘Zen’

We have a lamp inside us. The oil of that lamp is our breathing, our steps, and our peaceful smile. Our practice is to light up the lamp.

Thich Nhat Hanh

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People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.

Thich Nhat Hanh

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Give a definite name to Deity, He would be no more than what the name implies. To [name] the Deity is to give him tradition, nationality, limitation, and fixity, and it never brings us nearer to Him. –Kaiten Nukariya in The Religion of the Samurai

An unfortunate side-effect of critical thought – one more prevalent in the Western world than elsewhere – is the tendency to “tidy up” the unknown by categorizing and labeling it. Though this has helped us gain an understanding of our physical reality – plants, animals, our bodies, the solar system, etc. – it has little value when applied to something intangible, like spirituality.

I’ve always struggled with how to refer to God. Creator, God, Father-Mother God, the Divine, the Goddess, the Source, the Great Central Sun…none of these have ever completely fit. Though it’s the most common and accepted label, “God” feels too patriarchal and has too many negative associations (Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps, et. al.). Of the other options, I find “Creator” too nebulous, “Goddess” too matriarchal, “the Source” too impersonal, and so on. It wasn’t until I read the passage by Dr. Nukariya above that it became clear why I feel this way. How can limitless Love be confined to a name?

Labels applied to things that can be observed and measured typically stick. Though I see bits of God everywhere, I can’t measure those bits. So where does that leave me? Without control – which is precisely the fear that drives us to label everything to begin with. Pagan and Christian, black and white, gay and straight – we fool ourselves into thinking that by assigning a name to something, we gain a measure of control over it. Perhaps this perceived control helps diminish our fear of the unknown?

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The [Buddhist] Scripture is no more nor less than the finger pointing to the moon of [Divine Truth]. When we recognize the moon and enjoy its benign beauty, the finger is of no use. As the finger has no brightness whatever, the Scripture has no holiness whatever. The Scripture is religious currency representing spiritual wealth… [It] is a mere substitute. What it stands for is of paramount importance. Those who spend most of their lives in the study of the Scriptures, arguing and explaining with hair-splitting reasonings, and attain no higher plane in spirituality, are religious flies good for nothing but their buzzing about the nonsensical technicalities. –Kaiten Nukariya

“Arguing and explaining” Holy Scripture “with hair-splitting reasonings” that stifle spirituality rather than nurture it is a challenge shared by many who claim a religion.

Religion is like scaffolding. Throughout history, people from all faiths in every corner of the world have climbed it for only two reasons: to get closer to the Divine or to control those still on the ground.

The trouble with religious doctrine – especially the Bible, the Torah, and the Koran – is that each claims to be the one and only way. To me this isn’t feasible, because though portions of each were surely written by those who climbed to get closer to God, others undoubtedly came from those who climbed to control. Though we’re given discernment to help us decide which is which, many have become complacent and are content believing anything religious leaders tell them, effectively absolving themselves of personal responsibility for spiritual health. The only “leaders” who seek and accept this responsibility are those who climbed to control.

To call any Holy Scripture “the inerrant word of God” is to deny human imperfection while at the same time giving these “leaders” the justification to direct religion and its followers as they see fit. Because their agendas are often self-serving (be they political, economic, to propogate personal bias, and/or to bolster their egos) these individuals are ill-equipped to bring anyone closer to God.

If you spend your days preaching and debating the small details of Holy Scripture to justify “hating the sin” or something similar, you haven’t climbed to reach God – you’ve climbed to control.

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At different points throughout my 31 years I’ve been immersed in Christianity, Paganism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zen. Masters who walk two of these paths have called me student. This might lead some to the conclusion that I’ve amassed a good deal of wisdom – but that conclusion would be incorrect. Recognition of the novice I really am has recently humbled me in a big way.

The Cup of Tea, a Zen parable: 

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era, received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Yesterday while reading an article on Deepak Chopra’s new book I was reminded of a concept I was introduced to several years ago. Deepak spoke of meeting a woman at one of his book signings who demanded a great deal of dedicated time while others waited in line behind her. Eventually he politely asked if she could step aside and allow the next person to come forward. Apparently this infuriated the woman, who proceeded to cause a scene. After the signing he was still shaken by her outburst and, knowing the truth of the spiritual mirror, asked himself what qualities this woman displayed that bothered him so much. After determining she was demanding, selfish, angry, and impatient, he immediately called his wife and asked if he behaved in those ways. His wife was silent…and he got his answer.

The spiritual mirror is simply what others reflect back to us about our own deficiencies. What has it shown me lately? It’s shown me that I’m often arrogant, self-righteous, and scathing in how I communicate my views – especially to those who disagree with me. Who has given me this painful but valuable lesson? Christian fundamentalists.

They infuriate me when they arrogantly claim their way is the only way. The self-righteousness they embody when they condemn anyone who doesn’t think like they do makes me see red quicker than anything. The scathing way they communicate their black and white view of the world is maddening, mind-boggling, and (thankfully) sometimes comical.  But instead of standing up to their spiritual tyranny with calm and reason, I’ve become a tyrant myself. That’s not who I want to be.

Perhaps being a novice isn’t so bad. After all, if my “cup” is empty of “opinions and speculations,” I’ll have nothing to defend…

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Nothing is more absurd than the constant dread in which religious men, declaring to worship God in truth and in spirit, are kept at the scientific discovery of new facts incompatible with the folk-lore [of the Bible]. Nothing is more irreligious than to persecute the seekers of truth in order to keep up absurdities and superstitions of bygone ages. Nothing is more inhuman than the commission of ‘devout cruelty’ under the mask of love of God and man. Is it not the misfortune, not only of Christianity, but of whole mankind, to have the Bible encumbered with [stories that sometimes] conflict with science?

–Professor Kaiten Nukariya in his book Zen: the Religion of the Samurai 

I consider myself neither an evolutionist nor a creationist, because science and Christianity have both failed to provide answers I find completely satisfactory. However unlike many on either side of the debate, I’m content accepting the unknown rather than insisting it be explained. But Dr. Kaiten is talking about more than just evolutionism vs. creationism – he’s talking about all instances in which the Bible is used to persecute those who don’t find satisfactory answers to their questions within its pages. Why should they be condemned for simply seeking their truth? In the back of my mind I hear an evangelical saying, “The Truth is already in front of them! The Bible is the only Truth because it’s God’s Word!”

Wouldn’t it be nice if everything really was as black and white as the Evangelicals seem to believe? Life would certainly be a lot easier… 

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