I have been asked to share some thoughts on my recent exploration and my personal understanding of the interface between Zen Buddhism and Christianity.
At the beginning of my sixty-ninth year I am wondering if there has ever been a time when the desire to know God wasn¹t my motivating life force.
I began my religious life as a Christian in the Cradle Roll Department in a Southern Baptist Church in Mississippi. When I left the church in my mid-forties, I was the Chairperson of the Board of Deacons in a Presbyterian Church in Virginia. And I was discouraged, disillusioned, disappointed, and angry with a church that, from my point of view, had failed me in spite of my dedicated efforts to be a good Christian and church member. I always thought if only I tried harder I would find what I was missing, that there would be something more.
For about nine years I dropped off "religion" in favor of "spirituality". I began a meditation practice, tried New Age explorations, Course in Miracles, yoga, etc. which I pursued just as seriously. Then came Buddhism and shortly thereafter, I began Zen practice with Sandy here in North Carolina. By that time, being thoroughly burned out on God, I dropped the desire for God in favor of the desire for Truth.
Imagine my surprise, then, when a couple of years later in my first private interview with Joshu Sasaki, Roshi, at Mt. Baldy, he said, "You have come here to see God." God! He used the word "God"! Astonishing! Over time God koans followed. "God" became clear to me. To paraphrase Meister Eckhart, the eye with which I saw God was the eye with which God saw me. But what about Christ?
Last fall I participated in a retreat with a Catholic priest who is also ordained as a Zen roshi. How could a person be both? I went looking for healing from the wound suffered at the hands of the Christian church only to discover there was nothing to heal. Somehow in that retreat things came together for me in a way that is difficult to describe and loses everything in the telling of it. It was like this:
The priest/roshi had said on the last night he would be offering the Eucharist. Never having been Catholic, I had never taken the Eucharist and I knew that generally it was closed to outsiders. I didn¹t go to the service until one of the retreatants urged me.
"He's not going to give the Eucharist to a Buddhist," I declared.
She answered firmly, "He said he would." I went.
I was first to receive. As I sat in zazen, "The body of Christ. The blood of Christ. The body of Christ. The blood of Christ" played over and over in my mind until I understood that the whole thing is perfectly plain. Everything is the body of Christ, the blood of Christ. Not good theology or doctrinally correct, none of this is, but a powerful experience of my own.
When I came home, I read Elaine Pagels, the history of how the church did not choose, say, the Gospel of Thomas, which sounded like the teachings of the Buddha to me. I no longer retain much of what I read, but my understanding was that the church for political reasons had selected among the writings of the early followers of the man Jesus those that supported their chosen agenda. They discouraged the dissemination of texts that taught the authority of the individual, placing all authority in the church.
Last winter I made a trip to Mexico and visited many Catholic churches. In fact, to be in Mexico felt like being in a church which is permeated by La Virgen de Guadalupe. Sitting in the churches, gazing at Mary, and being a mother myself, as we all are, knowing and grieving the suffering of all my children, I recognized Mary, Kanzeon, Kwan Yin, Avalokiteshvara, all as the same manifestation of compassion.
And looking at the bloody body of Christ on the cross, in the glass coffins, in Mary¹s lap, I wondered what kind of God requires the death of a son in order to save me, to save all of us. Suffering to end suffering? Was it all a lie?
The Buddha¹s first noble truth is the truth of suffering. Life is suffering. The Buddha points the way out, the way of freedom, of liberation. The first bodhisattva vow which we chant is ³Sentient being are numberless. I vow to save them.²
So who or what is it that must die to save and be saved?
Christ dies to save us, to save all sentient beings. Christ, the physical manifestation of God. When we notice the coming and going of the self, we realize the dropping off of our body. We realize the activity of death and rebirth. This is what Zen practices shows us.
I really have to laugh--a big hearty ha ha ha.
T. S. Eliot expresses it this way:
......the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Dan Glaser took the Five Practices on June 20th, first placed the wakesa around his neck and shoulders, and was given the dharma name Dan En which means Peace at Home. It is wonderful to experience his commitment to this practice and the center.
In regards to fund raising, Lisa Richey and Stefano Ponte have offered to loan the center $15,000 if other sangha members will match their loan money with contributions. If the total $30,000 is raised we will be able to finish both the staff and bath houses.
The following two stories were gathered by Barbara Gordon during the
annual spring sitting weekend at Flattop:
A person asked Kyozan Joshu Roshi, "Tell us about your enlightenment."
Joshu responded: "When I came to the United States in 1962 the plane landed in Hawaii, and we went through customs. After we took off to continue to LA I looked out the window and saw that the plane was flying upside down.
I was nervous and looked around for a stewardess. Then I looked out the window again and realized that actually we were flying right side up."
A person asked Kyozan Joshu Roshi, "What is life like after enlightenment."
Joshu responded: "I am very fond of Scotch, but my doctor told me I should not drink it anymore. It may sound shameful to say this, but I often carry a small flask of Scotch in my robes. Even though the doctors said I should not drink anymore, it is a great comfort just to have it there."
As always there is a long list of people to thank for their support of the center. Some have contributed money, some time, and some materials (and of course there are some who have contributed all three).
Thank you all. The bathouse and staff house are both ready for tiling and drywall finishing and the kitchen has some fine new equipment.
Sandy Stewart, Kenny O¹Hara, Chee Hoe, Greg Grieve, Matt Young, Lisa Richey, Stephano Ponte, Linda Campany, Jennifer Armstrong, Andrew Ekblad, Lamar Proctor, Jeannette McKenzie, Dennis Lennox, Anna Madden, Bill Stephens, B. J. and Dina O'Brien, Bevan Suits, John Iler, Pam Berger, Melody Ivins, Jennifer Armstrong, Roxanne Henderson, Walter Pharr, Andy Bell, and Alan Haskins.
Upcoming scheduled retreats are:
September 2- September 5th work weekend is scheduled for Thursday through Sunday. Full time, part time, a couple hours or all weekend - no special skills necessary and any and all help is needed. Call the Center at 919-542-7411.
September 10 - 11 Nashville Zen Group. Contact Nat Brown
September 24 - 26 Cornish Flat, New Hampshire. Contact Chas Meyers,
firstname.lastname@example.org; PO Box 60, Cornish Flat, NH 03746.
October 14 - 17 Brooks Branch Zendo
October 21 - 24 Mountain Cloud Zen Center, Santa Fe. Contact Susan York and
Chris Worth, 1215 Lujan, Santa Fe, NM 87501 email@example.com
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