Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The real deal.

Over the years that I’ve been poking here and there, examining a host of religious and spiritual paths, I’ve noticed that from the perspective of each and every discipline, the adherents nearly without exception, claimed that their chosen discipline alone was the truth at the exclusion of others. And another unavoidable observation was (and is) that each adherent could quote chapter and verse from their holy texts to support their claims but revealed their ignorance by claiming to likewise know about other disciplines. Apparently they differed with Mark Twain when he said, “The easy confidence with which I know another man’s religion is folly, teaches me to suspect my own.”

These observations cast doubt over the entirety of the whole lot and motivated me to dig deeply into various disciplines to not make the same error. I may be a fool but at least I try to keep it to myself. I agree with Mark Twain who also said, It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

I would be the first to admit that I don’t know in depth about all spiritual and/or religious paths but I do know about mystical paths (particularly Zen and Gnostic Christianity) as well as the orthodox version of Christianity. I can make that statement, without apology, since I have a formal degree in Theology from one of the finest seminaries in the world and have been practicing, as well as studying, Zen for more than 40 years at this late stage in my life.

I must confess that I get a bit testy when someone, after spending at most a few minutes with Google, claims to know, what has taken me many years to understand. And what annoys me even more is when a pastor, rabbi, guru or other religious figure (who should know better) claims knowledge of matters they know nothing about, yet makes unfounded claims and leads their “flock” into ignorance, either intentionally or not.

Now let me address what I said I would do some time ago: differentiate Zen from religions (particularly Buddhism) and I must start with an acceptable definition of religion. The broadly accepted definition is: “A communal structure for enabling coherent beliefs focusing on a system of thought which defines the supernatural, the sacred, the divine or of the highest truth.” And the key part of that definition that is pertinent to my discussion here is, …a system of thought… While it may seem peculiar to the average person, Zen is the antithesis of …a system of thought… because Zen, by design, is transcendent to thinking, and plunges to the foundation of all thought: the human mind. And in that sense it is pointless to have an argument with anyone about this, rooted in thinking. That’s point # 1.

Point # 2 is that Zen, as a spiritual discipline, predates the Buddha (responsible for establishing the religion of Buddhism) by many thousands of years. The best estimate, based on solid academic study, is that the earliest record of dhyāna (the Sanskrit name for Zen) is found around 7,000 years ago, whereas the Buddha lived approximately 2,500 years ago. The Buddha employed dhyāna to realize his own enlightenment and dhyāna remains one of the steps in his Eight Fold Path designed to attain awakening. Thus to pin Zen to the tree of Buddhism, is very much akin to saying that prayer is exclusive to Christianity and is a branch on the tree of that religion.

While it is stimulating and somewhat educational to engage in discussions regarding various spiritual and/or religious paths, the fact is we have no choice except to tell each other lies or partial truths. Words alone are just that: lies or partial truths concerning ineffable matters. That point has been a tenant of Zen virtually since the beginning. Not only is this true of Zen, it is true of all religious and spiritual paths. Lao Tzu was quite right: “The Way cannot be told. The Name cannot be named. The nameless is the Way of Heaven and Earth. The named is Matrix of the Myriad Creatures. Eliminate desire to find the Way. Embrace desire to know the Creature. The two are identical, but differ in name as they arise. Identical they are called mysterious, mystery on mystery: the gate of many secrets.” In the end none of us has any other choice except to employ illusion to point us to a place beyond illusion.

I leave this post with two quotes, one from Mark Twain and the other from Plato. First Twain: “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.” And then Plato: “Those who are able to see beyond the shadows of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed, by the masses.”  When I make statements, know that I am lying and I am stupid to argue. It makes both of us more stupid. That’s the real deal and should make us all a bit more humble and less sure that our truth alone is the only one.
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