Li Po poem and Illustration for Listen, SDI publication, July 2018.
I have had a growing interest in Buddhism in this spiritual season of my life, which I describe as “Zen curious”. This freaks out some people I talk to, who likely think I’m losing faith or are threatened that I am challenging cherished sacred truths. Quite the opposite is true!
I’m not writing here as an advocate for Buddhism, nor can I offer good teaching on its tenets. I’m not interested in argument, or persuasion, or competing in a marketplace of ideas with my own individualized ideology. Zen is something I’ve recently discovered, and have barely scratched the surface with.
But I do believe in transformation over a long period of time, the way a dandelion pokes through a crack in a concrete slab, or glaciers carving rock. Zen offers a practice of transformation, if one is willing.
Buddhism offers right living through intentionality – approaching with sacred intention all the encounters and experiences of everyday life. It seems to me that all of the ascetic monasticism and ritual in Zen over the centuries is provided merely as aid to awaken to what is happening in front of you in any given moment.
Zen Buddhism offers meaningful practice of life to those who yearn for it. And it is not incompatible with Christian faith, because it does not operate on the metaphysical level of Christianity. I’ve now met several practicing Buddhists who also know Christ.
Thomas Merton wrote, “Zen is not theology, and it makes no claim to deal with theological truth in any form whatever. Nor is it an abstract metaphysic. It is, so to speak, a concrete and lived ontology which explains itself not in theoretical propositions but in acts emerging out of a certain quality of consciousness and of awareness.”
So yes, I am “Zen curious” which may sound dilettante-ish, but I hope it’s not. I’m trying to embrace being always a beginner, and incorporating a posture of humility and openness. Will God meet us in any other way?
My friend Jan Lundy describes well how God can appear in surprising ways, if we allow our hearts to open and be in the world without walling it off with our minds: “I was a person who found deep wisdom and meaningful practices in a number of traditions. I was not a dilettante or “New Ager.” I was not a dabbler. I was a contemplative who savored the scent of the divine in all things.”
Taking Our Places – The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up. By Norman Fischer
So with that, I was given the recommendation to read Fischer’s book Taking Our Places. Here, Fischer writes in a very grounded way the approach to “maturity” – how to be a mature spiritual being in the world. He does this through a series of chapters which outline a particular life practice based on experience. I’ll cover a takeaway or two from the first chapter here, and subsequent chapters in a later blog post. In this way I hope to process and apply myself to these teachings. To “chew on” the text.
Maturity: Fischer writes of a ‘bodhisattva’ – which is traditionally understood as an Enlightened One, or, one who is awakened. Awakened to…what?
The author quotes this dialog – “A monk named Hui Chao asks his teacher, “What is Buddha”? The teacher replies, “You are Hui Chao”. You are occurring right now – that is ontological fact. Your difficulties, your frustrations, your joys, your sorrows – to accept and embrace the wholeness of your life – it is very simple, and it is singularly unique. Acceptance of this fact is a form of spiritual maturity.
And thus being awakened, yearns to help others awaken as well. In fact, it is in awakening others that one finds self-awakening. Discovering the true self occurs through compassion and through relationship.