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Buddhist-Christian Dialogue in Action: Tacoma, WA 2000
3 1/2 hours
Highlights from the Working Group "The Interior
Dialogue" held at the 7th International Buddhist-Christian Dialogue Conference in
Tacoma, Washington, August 6-11, 2000.
As the Buddhist-Christian dialogue spreads around the world, it is taking on a new intensity. Not only are many Christians practicing Buddhist forms of meditation, but some Western Buddhists are expressing a new interest in their Christian roots.
At the International Conference of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies held in Tacoma, Washington in the summer of 2000, some of these Christians and Buddhists met as a working group on interior dialogue to share their own inner journeys.
Included are presentations by Susan Postal, Ruben Habito, Mitra Bishop, Robert Jonas, Jane Shuman, Maria Reis Habito, James Stewart, Myo Lahey, Ed Shirley, James Arraj and Tyra Arraj, and some responses from the audience.
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Susan Ji-on Postal
Clearly the message of Jesus and the message of the Buddha have offered us a medicine. Both traditions speak of being good medicine for what ails us as human beings, so it is very natural that we can get together and speak about the Dharma and the Good News as medicine. All of us has been through all kinds of woundednesses in our lives, and clearly our spiritual life is very much about healing.
There is this general theme about what is offered to help us live in a way that is whole and complete, and free of the suffering that we all experience. Probably all of you are familiar with the basic teachings of the Buddha: the four noble truths. The Buddha allows us to emphasize and begin to experience that our suffering has everything to do not with what happens to us, but with our expectation that it should be otherwise, and so practice is very much about noticing how I am so programmed in my mind of how things should be and how I am so determined to be in charge of how things should be, that when they are otherwise I really suffer. The path is noticing so clearly our expectations, our programming, our controlling self, and begin to let that release as we begin to see the emptiness of that controlling self and all those ideas, and therein lies what is called nirvana, or freedom. So there is that whole trust in the teachings of the Buddha about the nature of suffering. It doesnt mean that things wont be difficult. I dont read it that way. I dont think nirvana means the cessation of difficulties, but it certainly is a tremendous gift to help us deal with suffering, and with the difficulties because the difficulties will happen.
There is also another level of suffering and sickness, so to speak, that is healed in the Dharma, and I hope we can touch on that this week because Im getting old - 30 years of practice. After a while you realize you are just beginning, and looking back over my shoulder I am so aware of the habits of sitting down and saying, "Ah. I got that." And being somehow content, and seeing how that has happened with my Christian experience, too. And then something holds and freezes it, freeze-dries it, actually, and then we sort of have our story which has life and we share it, and then it also becomes kind of stiff and becomes history, and we have our own stories we tell ourselves, too. So I am very interested in the question of not only how the Dharma helps us clearly see the source of our suffering, but also in the kind of more direct way on our actual spiritual journey. For each of us thats different - where our sicknesses are in the journey, and how we collect our spiritual experiences. Maybe some of you heard me mention this, but when I was Glassman Roshis student, I brought him in this collection of all the wonderful things that had happened during my ten years as a Tibetan, and he said, "Well, youve drunk the medicine. Why are you showing me the bottle?" I didnt know I was showing him the bottle. I knew I had drunk the medicine, and all I knew was these were so important and I treasured my experiences, and I didnt know that the other part of the treasuring was the kind of clinging - owning and labeling - and I had done this whole trip on my head about the landmark things in my journey. And what a gift he gave me. It was like I actually saw these little bottles and it was like a wind came along the shelf of the medicine cabinet and whoosh. And then we do it again because we have new experiences with a new teacher, new koans, new whatever. So I am just fascinated by the degree of non-perfection, I guess is what I feel right now, and the degree to which our practice must be ceaseless. And there is a particular point which has struck me very much at this junction of turning towards old age, and thats thinking of what can I do now to keep cleaning up and dealing with my non-perfection because my habit, thanks to my very strict German mother, is that I always feel very guilty about my non-perfection, and its a terrible habit because in a split second can decide I am absolutely a failure and no good and I want to die. I mean that. And I am totally against myself because I have failed. But all I have tripped on is my intrinsic non-perfection. That habit is so strong and I see that others have inherited it, maybe from their parents, or from just the human way we are with each other, that we dont take criticism easily, and self-criticism becomes this terrible, terrible trap. So what can we do that isnt beating ourselves up when we trip on our non-perfection? Thats a real question for me because I need to do something. I dont want to beat myself up anymore. Im tired of it. Ive seen it too many times, and Ive seen its damage. So the things that are coming up for me today are things like renewing vows, all the time, vowing to serve all beings over and over.
And things like repentance. This morning we did the verse of atonement. Thats really important to begin each day for me. Thats something I can do - to clean up today so I dont carry this gunny sack of non-perfection for another 24 hours. What happened is gone. But of course that can be gone in this moment.
Zazen is also how we clean our bowls. Repentance is really interesting for me now. I never used to think of those things. I was a real zazen freak, and I just thought sitting is it. And in a sense it is. Maureen, my late teacher, said very strongly in our last face-to-face interview, and I was so full of fear and insecurity because I knew she was dying soon, and she said, "You dont have enough confidence in zazen as a teaching. You dont have to worry about what to teach people. Just sit with them." Thats all true, but suddenly now things like vows and repentance and cleaning are coming up very strongly for me. It is something I must incorporate in order to deal with non-perfection.
This brings me to the other IV and how it connects, because it has been such a puzzle to me. Many of you know that in 85 the other IV got inserted, and again the dung had hit the fan, and I was in a place of great darkness, and feeling like a failure. This darkness had to do with my relationship with my teacher. We had an impasse which seemed insoluble.
My feet took me into a church. They were doing vespers. It was an Episcopalian church, and that seemed right because the psalms were my cry because I couldnt do it anymore, so my entry into this Christian vein as a Buddhist had very much to do with a desperate woundedness that I couldnt solve. All I could do was ask, "Help. Please." That please was so deep my practice didnt help, my talking to people didnt help, nothing helped, and so I somewhere gave up in that little church. And because it was such an extreme situation the giving up was extreme, and Im sure it had a lot to do with years of practice, too.
But as we give up, new life is given, and so the ignition that came on the back side of surrender was - I cant really speak about it very well because I wasnt there - which sounds funny - but I can remember there were no places it didnt reach. It was consuming, and of a fire quality, and it wasnt contained in my heart. It was all-consuming. Thats a long time ago. What happens with this kind of thing, and how does this fit in now?
I had a difficult beginning in this year - not with this drama but other kinds of drama - and so where did I find myself? At Holy Cross Monastery, an Episcopalian Benedictine monastery, on my knees praying, "Please. Help." So I suddenly thought that there is a pattern here! There is something in me when I cant do it anymore. I seem to turn on the other one. Its very interesting. So then I feel guilty because Im in my Zen robes and Im turning to Jesus, and turning to this heart to burn again, which always simmers and somehow I can open. Its not something I do. I pray, and then it connects, and I feel guilty, and ask whether there is something deficient in Buddhism. I look, and the Dharma feels very complete, and my view of life is that of the Buddhas teaching. In some ways Im not a Christian because I dont have belief in the dogma and the doctrine. So I really feel like - I dont like the word "ist" or "ism," but I will say with a little squint of discomfort, I am a Buddhist and I teach Zen practice very cleanly without any of these problems I have about prayer - not problems. They are joys.
In a war when you are under the gun you start to pray. So I have been reflecting on that, and I bring this as my question. Part of the problem - joy - is that Zen in America by definition is going to be interfaith because obviously I had Christian roots that got watered by my zazen, and it wasnt out of some blank that took me into the church. I was somewhere raised in this culture and had that in me, and so all of us have something in us - Christianity, Judaism, or even just the culture of Western civilization. When the Dharma comes here we are two traditions whether we realize it or not. It is very natural that this happens. It is not a bad thing, and it is also very beautiful. After my baptism Maezumi Roshi wrote me this beautiful note and said that this is Buddhism coming to the West. Thats one side.
The other side is Im seeing that the Zen tradition as American Zen that I was exposed to was very much zazen-oriented, and very much oriented to "wake up!" and toughing it out, being strong, sitting, sitting endurance practice, and that was the thrust, with minimal emphasis on liturgy, on service. Buddhism is full of prayers. Dogan wrote on repentance: "Turn to the ancestors and the bodhisattvas and ask for help to repent." It is very clearly part of the tradition. But in America we have a slightly pulled apart Buddhism - for me - and was not the same as Asian Buddhism for sure, and didnt have the whole bodhisattva teachings as complete, and so it was very easy to become a Zen freak - put all your eggs in that basket - and then when life hits us hard, which it will do, I didnt pray to the bodhisattvas, I prayed to Jesus. This lets me reflect on the state of Buddhism in America. I think this is changing. I think there is a maturing in American sanghas.
What I do want to let you all know is that I find monastic Christianity quite comfortable for me. I am uncomfortable in the parish church. The Episcopalian monastery welcomed me to do a retreat as Zen priest, and so I sat five days in my robes, received the Eucharist in my robes, and did the whole daily offices with them. I was very scared at first, but it was so powerful. For the first time I was able to be in a Christian setting and accepted as Zen priest, and they said it was wonderful for them, too. They felt their whole community was stretching their arms to embrace that. This seems like an example of something that is possible now, and it wasnt even possible for me to think of doing that before. Things are shifting. These dialogues are allowing us to enter each others communities in the clothes we are really at home in, but worshipping freely. During my second retreat there this spring I didnt even notice it was interfaith. I just was home. It felt like it was just a place to be, and watch the river.
Now that I have all these wonderful sproutings happening in our zendo, not just a few students who are sitting are finding their roots being watered. They start talking about somehow finding their Christian roots being watered. For some it is a feeling of understanding the reading of the Gospel with new eyes, for others they are seeing their anti-feeling. There is a lot of what I call wounded or recovering Catholics who have pushed away, and they went to Zen because they pushed away, and all of a sudden they see the hands that are pushing. It is really amazing to me that without having any kind of intention of interfaith ministry, but just straight Zen, it is happening. This good man (a Catholic priest) shows up to sit, and you have no idea how much this means to people, that it is OK as a Catholic to sit. Then it turns out that Fr. James has a whole new ministry to the recovering Catholics in our sangha. Neither of us knew that. He came for his own spiritual life. It is simply true that the two traditions nourish us in ways that are fairly hidden, but there is this aspect of emotional crisis where my task now in Buddhism is to discover how I can surrender to Kuan Yin that vehicle. My hope is that the present American Buddhism can offer comfort and refuge.
Susan asked me to describe how I see my woundedness in the light of dukkha, and original sin from Christian perspective. I just want to respond to Dai-en Bennages story she shared with us in 1992. She had been in Japan for a long time. When she came back to the United States she found she also needed to get in touch with her own Christian roots. She related a story of a lady who had been baptized Roman Catholic with her family. The whole family became ill who had been sociological Buddhists in Japan. They were ministered to by a priest in significant moments of their life, so the whole family was baptized. They went to church, and the grandmother also learned Catholic worship, praying the rosary, and so on. But in the later years of her life when she had Alzheimers and lost her cerebral functions and so on, in the last few days when she was about to die, the prayer that came out from the depth was not so much Roman Catholic prayers that she had learned as an adult, but NAMU-AMIDA-BUTSU . So what she was used to as a child is what came up and defined her religious identity in those crucial moments. Perhaps there is something we all need to look into in our own past that we need to reconcile ourselves with. We may find something very fruitful in this present practice, but yet there is just something in us that is calling to be heard, so this is just an invitation for all of us. I am finding this for myself, also. In Japan they call the 50s the beginning of old age - shoro - so I am just getting myself with that.
My central point of concern, as you can see me around, is parenting, and Maria, of course, would share this with me, my sense of joy when our first son, and then fifteen months later our second son, were born. The moment our first son popped out, and his whole body came out, there was just that indescribable feeling. I was wrapped there the whole day in that exhilaration and joy - forgetting my other duties. What came to me at that point was the passage from the Metta Sutra . Some of you may have read the Sutra on loving compassion that is one of the early texts of Buddhist scriptures whereby the person who is intent on living an awakened life is enjoined to consider all sentient beings as a mother looks at her only child and is willing to give her life for that child. And somehow that sense of seeing this child born out of my body, born out of my beloved wifes body, somehow made me connect with that passage, no longer in a theoretical way, but with something I could really understand from the depth. And yet, as one continues to raise a child, the tensions come where we say, "This is my child. That one is not." The division between that child that I love with my whole life and to whom I can give my life to to protect is different from that other persons child, and so that is where the I-me-mine begins to pop out again. The woundedness of the world we see around us, the ecological destruction that we are facing as we continue to live in this lifestyle that we do, through the violence that we perpetrate on one another through ethnic, racial differences, individual differences, and so on, in even family or school violence, and then the violence that we do to our own selves, really comes from the sense of the separation of the I as opposed to the not-I, and so when we see the world as what is other to me, then we create that rift within ourselves, and I see that rift as what we are all called to bridge towards our own and towards our worlds healing. And so where does parenting come in? That sense of being there in a way that is ready to give my life so that this child would live in the best way is also an invitation to see that the wounds of the world are also part of the woundedness of that child I am connected with. So somehow my sense of losing myself vis-ŕ-vis the child I was nurturing helped me also connect to the fact that all the woundedness of the world is something that also hits me as my own woundedness. I would like to offer this so we can see where we can continually sort out that line of difference that we make between what is mine, my child, my family, and my groups or my religion, vis-ŕ-vis that which is not I, not mine, and whether this is possible to bridge, or whether we will continue to struggle with this tension throughout our lives. So I have offered two very unconnected lines of thought here, but I would like to offer these so we can share as to how we can bridge these gaps in our lives, how we can heal our common woundedness. I did not go into any theoretical themes.
Original sin as I began to see it is that sense of separation from our source. What is original is not sin, but the blessedness that we all are. (Matthew Fox) We are all created with Gods loving affirmation in Gods image, yet somehow something happened that ruptured that, and that is where the sin comes in. It is not so much original as such, but we carry that separation in ourselves, we continue to understand ourselves as I-me-mine as opposed to the Other with a capital "O." So where then is the salvation from original sin in our lives? Where does Christ with a capital "C" come into our lives in a way that heals that rupture? These are some issues I feel we could all work to fill in some of the gaps in our own lives.
(From the audience)
I belong to Susans sangha, and I was going on a private retreat. I asked where I should go, and she said to go to Holy Cross. Its really great. OK. Sounds good. I go up to Holy Cross. Its Episcopalian. Im Catholic. Theyre the same thing, really. They have a meditation room, so I go down. Theres an altar. Im not really looking. I turn around, and say, "Jesus Christ!" And there He was. An icon. So I turn my zabuton to the wall, and Hes looking over my shoulder. Needless to say, we were doing mano-a-mano, and really struggling it out, and I hit a wall. I hit my Catholicism. I thought I had come to peace with it, another tradition, nice but I had mine, and they had theirs. Bull dung. It was overwhelming, and I went to the services, and I said OK, I can do this. Then came Mass. OK. I cant do this. I didnt do this. So I went downstairs to the meditation room with me and Jesus. It was underneath where Mass was going on. I was listening to the Mass, and sitting, and there was a direct line to Jesus and them - not to me - and I was really in pain. I was really suffering. There was a good ending to this story, but at that point it wasnt, and I left and I called Susan immediately. I said, "Hey, Susan, you didnt tell me about Jesus sharing my zafu!" and she said, "How could you not know?"
Susan did give me the way, as usual, and what she said was, we talked about surrender. Surrender to whom? I didnt know to whom to surrender. I was in despair. I had to do something. I didnt know who to call on because I didnt know the words. In fact, throughout the whole thing I was translating something and I knew neither language, which was difficult because I was nowhere. Well, in talking to Susan, I had to do and am still doing was surrender. I was caught in the structure of Catholicism. Thats what I dislike - the institutional aspect. The substance is beautiful. The form is beautiful. The institution, Ill just keep that to myself. The point is that I feel myself surrendering to my despair, and its helping. And whether I call it Jesus, or whether I call it Buddha, I have to surrender someplace. That feels good because it gives me a space.
I run the Empty Bell Center, and for the last six months we have been going through a discernment process, really paying attention to who we are and who we want to be as a community. I always paid attention to the unity that comes up in silence, and maybe youve had the experience of feeling an incredible bond of intimacy in the silence of people sitting, but you may have also noticed that as soon as people open their mouths sometimes the bubble is burst, and it is a completely different situation. You feel like youve walked from a warm room into an ice-cold room. Sometimes self-consciousness comes up, differences, and I think one of the great joys of meditative practice in action is to notice these opposites and differences, judgments and comparisons at work, and to ride with it and not get stuck anywhere.
Noticing the foibles of religion is good, but noticing the foibles of religion every day in every talk we give is bad. So I think it is really a wake-up call to stay in the middle and keep tacking in the middle. Probably another danger in spiritual practice is idealization and looking for the perfect story. The one good thing about telling our personal stories is to realize how different we all are. Susan asked me to talk about how Buddhist practice has helped me be a Christian. Ill keep that in mind as I tell my story, and I hope that as I talk about myself it will elicit something in you about yourself.
When I was little my parents were alcoholic and were gone a lot, and my grandmother raised me. She was German Lutheran, and taught me this prayer in German: "I am small. My heart is pure. No one lives in my heart but Jesus." So at the beginning of my consciousness I had a sense that there was Someone, Jesus, who lived in my heart, and who was Other, but not other than me. Someone who was always available in the middle of the night and the terrors - inward terrors and outward terrors. At one point in my life I would wake up and my parents would be drunk and fighting and throwing things, and I would hear thuds against the wall, and not know if they were going to live through it. I would pull the covers over my head, and Jesus was a resource for me. Jesus was always there for me, even when I got in trouble with the law and I was put in jail once when I was 10 years old - just briefly - because I was waiting for my mother to come and pick me up. And you know the terror that probably comes up when you know your mother is coming to pick you up in jail??? (laugh) You probably all know that experience!
When I wandered out of the jail this old Sgt. who was trying to tell me what a bad kid I was put me down in this room at the end during the final minutes of waiting, and it was a hearing room. There was a desk up in the front. I was sitting up on a terrace, and when he left the room I came down and riffled through this desk and stole a pair of sunglasses.
I was redeemed by falling in love with a woman in sophomore year of high school whose grandfather was a Lutheran pastor, and so after all these run-ins with the law, because she was getting straight As and going to church every Sunday, I started going to church again, and started getting straight As, and became a successful student, and went to Luther College for two years from 1965-7. The Vietnam War was heating up, and I decided religion was irrelevant. I stopped going to church again, and transferred to Dartmouth College.
At Dartmouth I was too small to play football - I had been the captain of the football team in the small high school in Wisconsin, and I played at Luther College - but I was too small there, so I took karate just because it was available. It turned out the karate teacher was a Taoist teacher, and so I learned Taoist meditation in 1967. For two years I worked at that every day - just totally got into it - and started reading D.T. Suzuki and Thomas Merton, and others. I have been interested in the East and feeling that I had a Buddhist monk within me since the 60s. I taught karate to inner city kids in Kansas City, Missouri near the Spaghetti Curtain near 12th and Vine. I was the only white in an all-black housing project. I worked to get the Italian kids and the black kids together doing karate. They wanted to kill each other with it, and I just wanted to teach it as a spiritual practice. It was an interesting introduction to the martial arts tradition and how Zen can be used for enlightenment or to murder someone cleanly - without any feeling. There is a fine edge there. Zen has always been associated with the martial arts, so I had an opportunity to really explore that line in my own anger and in working with the anger of inner city kids.
In 1973 I was living near a Carmelite monastery, and I fell into a kind of depression. I started being associated with the monks because I was managing an organic vegetable farm and they were doing organic gardening. This was the early 70s and the whole back-to-the-land movement - Stephen Gaskin and all that - and I had a painted truck with Leonardo da Vincis paintings all over it.
I found St. John of the Cross. St. John of the Cross for me was a bridging person - Christian and Zen, Christian and Taoist - bringing it together. I joined the Catholic Church and became a Third Order Carmelite. St. John of the Cross invites us to experience deep, mystical love with the Beloved, that we are the beloved, God is the Beloved, the love that flows between is the Holy Spirit, and his tremendous outpouring of love poetry. At the same time, he experienced this incredible freedom such as when he gets to the top of this mountain of love, in Spanish all he can say is, "Nada, nada, nada." "Nothing, nothing, nothing." That it is all let go, all free, so he is really living with open hands. Beautiful man. So I really entered into that tradition.
Then in the 80s I came off the farm and went to Harvard to get a doctorate, and ended up being in clinical psychology, so I was trained to be a psychotherapist. Simultaneously I discovered Vipassana meditation, my marriage fell apart, the woman I fell in love with was doing Vipassana - theres a theme - and then I also met Henri Nouwen who was teaching at Harvard. We became friends, and Henri helped me stay in the Christian tradition because when I heard Henri Nouwen speak at Harvard in 1983, I felt that I was in the presence of Jesus. He was on the tips of his toes with flames coming out of his hands, and it was not like Oral Roberts that I grew up with, it was something else - more grounded, more integrated with my reasonable mind. Henri was able to do that - be at Harvard and lift up into the charisma of Jesus presence. Thats very difficult at Harvard because you are kind of stripped of your spiritual life.
I was doing Vipassana, letting it all go, and then being with Henri a lot who was being charismatic Jesus. They were very different experiences, but in a way opposites that are right there in the tradition of John of the Cross and others.
I had a kind of prayer experience in 1988 of sitting in a circle with teachers of different traditions who all loved one another and wanted to support each other to do their ministries, even though they were very different traditions - Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, whatever, but we were just the best of friends. It was a vision, really. I felt within me that I wanted to make it safe for all these teachers where the personality issues and the ego issues could finally be let go of completely, and there would be just this clarity of mutual support. I began to look for ways to embody that, and finally in 1992 my wife and I found a house with a carriage house behind, and I realized this was the place. So I worked with the carpenters to renovate this carriage house in the style of a Japanese zendo. I prayed through the construction process, and it was finally finished in 1993. This became the Empty Bell, and the Empty Bell - the name comes from a shakuhachi piece that I played the first night here. It is about 300 years old. When we are empty and life events strike us, we make a beautiful sound. If you fill a bell - fill with our own ideas, our ego, ourselves - you dont get a sound. The Empty Bell for me is a place for lay people to come to learn the Christian contemplative tradition, to be grounded there in Christ, and then in that freedom of Christ to welcome teachers of other traditions, especially Buddhist teachers. This year we have a Tibetan monk with us, Geshe Gendun will be with us for a year, and weve had Zen teachers. Norman Fischers been there, and Taigen Dan Leighton, and many others, George Bowman and others, Bernie Glassman. It has been a place to sit together in silence, love one another, listen to one another, learn from one another, but at the same time to stay rooted in our own tradition. For me it is always coming back to Christ, always coming back to that unknown of whoever Christ is, and that I am called to be that.
Struggling with fundamentalists turns out to be one of the big themes for us, and I dont mean just fundamentalists out there, but fundamentalists within us. We have found, especially during this last year of discernment, that just about all the folks who tend to come to the Empty Bell tend to be professionals, tend to be people who grew up Christian, rejected Christianity and became Buddhist or Hindu, and then are wondering, "Who is Christ? Who is Jesus?" feeling this call to come back, and then we sit together, we have silence, we have Scripture twice a week - Thursdays and Sunday mornings - and we have sharing time. It takes one and a half hours twice a week, and then we have special events.
We find that the name Jesus - Jesus is a very difficult name to say in Cambridge, Massachusetts - maybe where you are, too, I dont know. I think it is easier in the south. The name Jesus just brings up all kinds of mind associations in all of us from our childhood. I find that a lot of people who come back to Christianity are still carrying their 8-year-old or 10-year-old theology. They still have this idea that God is a being separate. Even though they dont think its true, they do. Every time we read Scripture - Christ mind associations, Jesus mind associations, God mind associations - and there is fighting, rejecting. "I like this, I dont like that in Scripture."
Maybe Ill end with this. Our basic approach to Christian Scripture is just a discovery process. Lately Im thinking that the Hebrew-Christian Scripture, with all the violence and alienation and joy and healing and rewoundedness and the separation from God and the reuniting - the whole of it - is like a Rorschach. The whole of Scripture is mirroring the whole of me, of us, and those people in our community who are more attracted to something like the Course in Miracles approach want to reject anything that sounds negative or violent or judgmental - expunge all those readings and then get down to the purity of only love. There is a love the includes not-love. There is a love that includes the violence - all of it that is in me, in us - and it is important that we stick with the Scripture, stick with the tradition, to get neutral about all of it, and neutral is the closest word I can come to having no reaction, because then I can really discover whats there, the depth of whats there. Ive got to get through the conditioned responses of my childhood and from the culture, from the stuff I see on TV. What is this, really? My struggle right now is how to be a faithful leader of a contemplative Christian community in this world, in this country, now, when there is so much anger against religion. The hatred toward Christianity right now is very, very strong, and I get it personally sometimes from fundamentalists in response to the web page and in person. Maybe this hatred will never go away because Jesus certainly suffered it. If He spoke only love, how is it possible that they killed Him? There is an innocent part of me that cant believe it, that if love is offered, how the hell can that bring violence? I dont get it. I have a very difficult time with it because I like being liked. I am attached to that. I dont know if you know that experience. It just really troubles me when people dont like me. Perhaps Jesus was able to empty Himself through that, and maybe thats what we are called to.
The frontier that I am sort of at is about judgment and comparison, how to step into the openness of including everything - unity and disunity, both - and the other is how to create a contemplative Christian community given the current atmosphere.
Ever since I can remember as a child I have been searching for something, and I didnt even know what I was searching for. I was brought up in the Presbyterian and Methodist churches in a fairly intellectual environment. My grandmother gave me a Bible when I was 10 with gold on the ends of the pages, and my name embossed on the front, and I was determined to read that Bible until I could find whatever I was searching for. I didnt find it at the time. I know its still there.
I was very active in the church. I taught Sunday School, I went to all the services, I even gave sermons, and was considering a career in Christian education. But there was still something missing and I couldnt put my finger on it. What I was in high school I went to the funeral of a school friend in the Catholic Church - it was my first experience with the Catholic Church - and it was miraculous. It was so inspiring, and I thought for some time quite seriously about becoming a Catholic nun, but my parents were so anti-Catholic it was in no way an option. I wasnt even allowed to date Catholic boys, and I would get grilled every time I mentioned a new boyfriend. Where does his father work, and where does he go to church?
I got married in the middle of university, and started having children. The thing was still with me. The last time I went to a Presbyterian church I was suddenly struck by how people would go and recite the prayers - there were responsive readings - and they were all asking forgiveness for sin, for behaving in inappropriate ways, and then people would go out and for the whole next week they would keep on doing whatever they were doing. I became quite disillusioned with that, and brought my kids up - when we did live in America, which we didnt most of the time - in the Unitarian church because that offered a range of possibilities. I didnt want the kids to grow up with any fixed idea of what they had to do in terms of spiritual practice.
We lived in Buddhist countries for years, and oddly enough we had the only Buddhist nanny in Burma. All the other diplomatic families were very proud of the fact they had Christian nannies in this Buddhist country. The woman who came to us and the children fell in love with was Buddhist, and she used to take them to the temples, and that was OK with me. We were part of many Buddhist ceremonies. We were always being invited to ordination and things because there was nothing else to do in Mandalay at the time - hardly a roaring city. It never occurred to me you could actually practice, and ironically, when we were still in Rangoon, the embassy driver took me to the gates of Sasana Yeiktha, which is Mahasi Sayadaw's temple, Mahasi Sayadaw being alive at the time - a highly respected Vipassana teacher, and I thought, "What is he doing this for? What is this all about?" I didnt even go in.
It took another ten years before I touched Buddhism. At that time meditation was getting big in America, I was in the States for a period, and I started thinking about taking up TM. My husband was transferred to Turkey on very short notice. The kids and I were not able to follow him immediately. We followed him three months later. I was delighted to learn Turkey had an international university, teaching in English, and I could complete my architecture studies, and so I enrolled in school and was welcomed there. The kids were sort of old enough to be on their own during the school day.
Then it all fell apart - every single thing. I felt strongly I had to leave my marriage, and I can only tell you that the karma vanished as far as being married. There was nothing wrong. We didnt fight, we were the best of friends, we had a very harmonious relationship, we had a great couple of kids, but something moved me to leave that, and I found I had no other choice but to leave it. It was dreadful, actually.
When I was a little kid I dreamed of growing up and having kids. I also dreamed of being a nun. Feet firmly planted in two different directions. So it was quite shattering that the marriage ended, and I was in pain over the pain that I caused my husband and my kids. At the same time I had done something rather irrational in terms of school. I leapt into a couple of technical courses that were over my head. I didnt have the proper background for them. So I started failing in them. One of them reverted to the Turkish language, and I didnt know Turkish at the time, and they rescheduled things so they were in conflict with some of my other classes. I finally threw up my hands and abandoned the school project.
And then my husband in his distress had asked for a transfer out of Ankara, and the only place they were transferring people to in those days was to Vietnam. Because the State Department would not pay for the education of the kids if they were living with me, and I could not afford that, the kids went with their Dad, and I never thought I would see them again in my whole life. It was a very agonizing time.
A few months before that when I first arrived in Ankara, I had gone to a party the Ambassador had given for all the new people, and there was a man there from the States who had said that he had done TM, so I went back to him and said, "Will you teach me how to do TM?" And he said, "No, I cant. You have to go to New York City and get a mantra. But I can teach you how to do zazen." At the time I said, "No, thanks. Ill wait until I can to go the New York and get a mantra." I thought that would be easier.
When everything crashed down I was quite deeply depressed, and I thought about killing myself. Then I realized I did not have the courage to kill myself, and that made me even more depressed. At that point someone handed me a book called The Wheel of Death. It was written by Philip Kapleau, and I soaked it up like a sponge. I read it cover to cover in one sitting - stayed up the whole night to read it - and in the morning I sat down and crossed my legs for the first time. There was something about the stories of those people in that book that spoke to me. How could they meet dying, death, pain, anguish in the ways they did with absolute equanimity? And I thought, "Ive got to get that, whatever it is." And so I started doing zazen. For many, many years it was quite painful because it begins to open up the deeper layers of your mind and all the stuff that is kind of lurking there begins to surface. Some of that can be pretty painful, but eventually I found my way to the Rochester Zen Center and started practice.
In the meantime, the Christian thread is still there. It has gone underground for a while, but it is still there, and eventually I came to live in New Mexico. In New Mexico I once again had contact with the Catholic church, again to my joy. It is not a regular Catholic church, it is a Spanish Catholic church, and in fact they still send missionary priests from Spain. But there is such heart in the people that is practiced in these churches. It touched me again. The devotion, the faith, are deeply inspiring to me and I cannot tell you why I feel completely at home in the Catholic churches up there. And I am completely at home in a zendo, and find no contradiction in my heart, although in the church dogma I find a contradiction.
I go to Mass with my neighbors, I take Communion, I take part in the ceremonies, and it is deeply supportive of my inner work, whether that takes form in Zen practice or in going to church. There is something I have come to trust inwardly which knows no name, which I am not even conscious of, but that moves. I gain sustenance to continue that through both the Zen practice and going to the church.
There are also some people in the valley who have deeply inspired me, and these are the Penitent Brothers. The Penitentes is a group of Catholic men in centuries past when there was a hiatus in terms of the provision of priests in the area, they began to take over the priestly duties in the sense of doing marriage and funerals and that kind of thing. These men basically do sesshin. They closet themselves during Holy Week and at other times, and their main practice is a kind of song. They sing. One of my neighbors told me when I first moved into the valley that after a few years I would be able to identify who they were. And I could. I would go to him and ask, "Is Leo a Penitente?" "Yes." Etc.
These men are clearly transformed by their practice. They are beautiful human beings, very low ego, immediately generous and kind, they can turn on a dime in their response to a situation, very supportive, very open, very embracing - all the things that one would hope to find developing out of deep spiritual practice, and these men have been my inspiration, as well. It continues to unfold.
Maria Reis Habito (in response to Mitra)
My experience is very different from yours, but when I first met Buddhism in Taiwan I grew up as a Catholic, and I was attracted to this Buddhist monk because I felt what he told me was the truth even though I could not fully comprehend it, but he said I had to go back and learn more from him. And I asked myself, "Am I betraying Jesus by listening more to a Buddhist master than by listening to a priest?" And I was praying over this. And what came to me every single time was that Jesus said, "You go there and listen. I will be with you." And I followed that. I went to the Buddhist master and I never felt that I left Jesus behind. It was like Jesus was pushing me - go and go and go. I had a good friend who was a Catholic priest, and in the beginning I didnt dare tell him, "When I dont show up at your church on Sunday it is because I am visiting this Buddhist master," especially since he also knew my parents. One day I told him, and asked him what he thought. I was expecting the worst, and he said, "Its wonderful, and my best friend is a Buddhist, and we can learn so much from them, especially when it comes to spirituality, and if you want to pray to the Buddha, just take Jesus with you and pray to the Buddha. I think it will be fine."
(From the audience)
I grew up as a Methodist in a pretty fundamental style in southern Illinois, and had a conversion experience just before I was ten years old, and was completely unambivalently clear that I had experienced the actual presence of God. That remained for me a pivotal experience that I have spent the rest of my life still trying to come to terms with. It has never left me, and Ive been many things including an atheist and a relativist and everything else. I spent a number of years as a Christian pastor in the United Church of Christ and felt a need to go into what this was all about, and so I became a psychotherapist. Then everything fell apart in another way, and I discovered Zen.
As Ive gone deeper into Zen, during one sesshin I had this image of my Zen teacher and my teacher in psychology and religion getting married, and out of that a dissertation came. This stuff works.
I study Zen at Zen Mountain Monastery. If you have been there you know it was originally built by the Jesuits. It started out as a Jesuit monastery, and the back wall of the monastery has this huge statue of Christ, arms extended completely. When John Daido, the Abbot, started there he was told he should take this down because now it is a Zen monastery, and refused to do that. Daido happens to be an ex-Catholic, and he felt like it should be kept where it was. Recently we got a picture that he took of this statue. The statue is on the outside back of the wall of the monastery, and inside that wall is the altar where the Buddha is, so there is this picture of Christ strung out on the cross, and he has inscribed on the picture: "Jesus facing East, Buddha facing West: In the two directions wisdom and compassion." Thats a pretty good symbol for me of the stuff that we are dealing with.
Fr. James Stewart
The focus of our sharing was, and is, how we get stuck in our practice. The second part is, what is the medicine inherent in our practice that brings the cure. The medicine is in the sickness, the vaccine is actually being injected with part of the virus that is potentially going to inflict the person.
Very briefly Ill share my own story. My parents separated when I was very young, about six years old, and I remember during that time it was very, very turbulent as a little child, and it was very important to me in first grade Sr. Esther - who was a wonderful woman - teaching us how to make the sign of the cross, and the blessed Trinity, and that God is our Father. That stuck well with me because shortly after that teaching in school my mother was putting me to bed, and my brother and I would say our prayers, and we listed everybody: "God bless mommy and daddy, Jimmy and Danny, Nonna and Nono, Uncle Pietro, Uncle Gino, President Kennedy, Pope Paul, and God bless everybody." And there was the kiss goodnight and the tuck in. My brother was still in the crib on the other side of the room, and my bed was by the window. What was my practice, I guess, as a 6-year-old, I would open the shade, and I remember that night seeing all the stars, and thats when I would talk to God. I was laying in bed looking at the stars, and I remember what Sister had said at school that very day, and I remember praying in my heart, "God, my fathers gone and I dont know where, and Sr. said, and Sr. is always right, that You are our Father, so will you take care of us?" It was audible and it was inaudible - I cant explain it to this day, but there was a resounding, "Yes" on the other side. I remember taking it as just the course of things. The next day I remember my mother feeding my brother, trying to get him to eat, and Im getting ready to eat my Cocoa Puffs before going to school, and I said to my mother, "Mom, I talked to God last night." "Uh, huh, thats nice, honey." "I asked Him, seeing that Dads gone, if He would take care of us." She just stopped and looked at me. I remember the look on her face. It was sort of a look of, does this kid need psychological help? And I said, "And God said, Yes." I carry that with me to this day, obviously, but part of the blessing of that powerful experience that I carry into my life at the present time also brought with it a dark side, and the dark side was that in my young life, the first half of my life, because relationships were so painful and scary to me, and keeping them at a distance, I allowed religion as a means to keep that distance. God was locked in a heaven close to me, but I related to the stories as I got older of the lives of the saints, and wanted to be like them, wanted to do anything to be numbed to the pain that I was experiencing in my life, of living in a very Italian, Irish, Catholic environment. I needed to be perceived as a "good" friar, "good" priest, because I didnt want to earn the anger of my father, that is, Father Provincial, or the anger of Mother - Church. So I found myself about ten years of age with my world disintegrating quite rapidly - my inner world - and for the first time in the midst of that rubble a phoenix began to arise. And in the midst of all of that was a tremendous assurance that this God that I adored in the tabernacle, this God that I had read about and prayed to fastidiously every day began to become palpable, and the medicine for my healing - and when I had started therapy I remember very early on in that relationship, my therapist said, and I was talking about some very painful things from my youth, from my adolescence, "What did those experiences mean to you?" And I didnt even want to look at them. And the first word that jumped up was "connection." I just wanted to be connected. Something got broken, and I wanted to reconnect.
Now that everything had fallen apart, I found myself in a situation where I had to, for my own survival, and not that I looked for it, but a couple of my brothers, my friars, reached out to me and I clasped on and there was connection.
My practice of prayer of which Zen is a very important part at this point in my life keeps me connected in my life. The pain in my knees after sitting for a while reminds me that at least I feel the pain and am not numbing it. The pain in the bottom of my back at times reminds me that I am connected. The frustration I feel in my ministry at times as a hospital chaplain reminds me and connects me with those who are in pain. And to me thats where Jesus is for me, and I dont mean just to be morbid, that you should suffer for some unknown sin or some sort of thing like that, but its a constant invitation to let go, to empty oneself, and to pay attention to the poverty within, and I become sensitive to the poverty without - outside of me, as well. In a nutshell, my spiritual journey has brought me to this place.
Hundreds and hundreds of Zen stories bring forth some aspect of our life and turn it around for us to look at, and there are a number that have to do with this topic of being stuck. You might say they all are in a funny way. You might way that each of those stories is an inoculation. They are a little bit poisonous. Some of you may have read Frank Herberts book, Dune - a remarkable novel (science-fiction) and theres a part in there where Paul Atreides mother is out in the desert with these nomads, and she has to take this poison, and it depends entirely on her skill to turn it into what is actually a mind-expanding drug, and gives her access to all the other Reverend Mothers who had been before her. And she cant do that. You die, and thats your test. Zens a little like this, not quite so dramatic or bloody, but these stories are a little like poison.
Theres this one story that is about these characters Gresham, Neil and Davro who were studying for a time with the same teacher. There are a couple of stories where they turn up. Davro is the elder. They used to horse around with one another, and from time to time somebody would think it was pretty cute, so they would write it down. In this one story Davro has been gone for a while and he comes back to the monks hall, and Gresham says, "Where have you been?" And Davro says, "Ive been tending the sick." Gresham says, "How many sick were there?" Davro says, "Well, actually, there were the sick and the not-sick." Gresham says, "Well, surely, the not-sick one is you, Mr. Ascetic." Davro says, "As to that one, wellness and illness have nothing to do with him at all." He grabs Gresham and says, "Say it! Say it!" And Gresham takes his arm back and says, "Even if I could say a word, it would have no bearing." So this is one of these little gems which is raising for us the prospect of - wait a minute. Am I sick, or not sick? What is this, exactly?
I have maybe some feeling of trouble, difficulty in my life, Im struggling and Im stuck, am I sick or not sick? Is there "one who isnt sick?" And who is that one? This story says to us, "Say it, just say it!" Bring your whole life forward and speak from that moment. You for that moment are not stuck. At least for that moment you are moving.
I dont know about you guys, but I get stuck a lot, and I need these shoe horns, or cattle prods, whatever they are, not just in the form of these stories, but whatever life hands me. Usually I go, "Oh, yuck." - to remind me to get up and get going, and as the old saying says, "It is necessary to swing the sword directly. Otherwise the fisherman stays in the nets."
This is constant effort for me. Who is it? Who is the one who is not sick? Say it, over and over and over again. And the minute I get comfy, I am happy to say, something comes along and reminds me, "Oh, no, no, no. Not yet. In fact, not ever. But certainly not yet." So this is a constant theme in my practice life, and it can be anything which is in some ways quite encouraging, and could also be a little bit daunting. It could be any of the little humiliations that come up during the day, it could be frustration of desire, it could be recognizing that - well, you know, when I was 15 I had these goals, and by golly, I havent hit one of them - this kind of thing which is a signal to me that - guess what? Theres attachment somewhere.
Buddha said, "Do you hurt? Look where you are attached. Its very simple." This is the exposure and embodiment of the four Noble Truths in your own life over and over and over again. Im not trying to preach to you guys, but I am saying this is the cutting edge of what my practice is like. At Zen Center where I practice down at Tassajara Springs, the community has been through this big upheaval in the early 80s with the departure of the Abbot under a cloud, and with our having to be confronted with the fact that we had done kind of the same thing to him that a lot of us did to God, namely, "Youre taking care of everything, right? And youre perfect. Good. So well just roll along here for a while." And when it turned out not to be quite like that, it was a big problem. It was a big problem for him, and Im one of the people who, at least I insist, on seeing that I had a part in that. "Oh, he was an evil man." No, no, no. Thats not true. I helped put him in that situation where this kind of bending, this warping, could happen. So now there is a kind of democratic thing going on in the atmosphere which in some ways I think is very healthy and in some ways is one of the places where the modern West is going to contribute a whole lot of Dharma.
Another area is psychological sophistication, which can be overdone, but perhaps had been way underdone in some respects, at least from my perspective in the past, and these are areas where I think Dharma is really going to thrive with input from the West. So if I ever start feeling like if I forget Unmons dictum, "You know what? There are no teachers of Zen. And dont ever forget that." If I start to forget, someone reminds me. Usually they are nice about it, and they not even have to say. Sometimes when I notice someone is relating to me, "Oh, Teacher, Teacher," I feel sick. Thats great. Thats good.
I thought for months about medicine and healing and listened to all of you speak so wonderfully about pain and abysses and Christianity and Buddhism. Ive been trying to figure out for a long time what the medicine is because I knew about this topic for a while.
Ill tell you something I said to the sangha while the cat was away in California for a while. I said that if you have a really, really fine Zen master, the way we have in Rye, she wont tell you where you are stuck. She wont suggest what to read or where to go or what to do about it. She wont try to get in the way of your experience. What shell do is shell be patient, patient, and she will wait months and years and probably lifetimes in my case, until I come up with it out of my own experience. And then shell be sitting beside me and say, "Wonderful. I knew you knew. I know you had it." So Im grateful.
I think yesterday I found out what the medicine was and where I was stuck about this whole thing because everybody who I know here has heard me say for the last - as long as theyve known me - I dont have anything to say. Right? I dont even have Christianity. But thats where Im stuck. I found out yesterday. Things always seem to happen to me at the last minute when Im not looking.
I do have a story. Ill tell you now that what the medicine is for me is the medicine is telling this story. The medicine is that I do have something to say because what Ive heard here is that my story is not special in a negative or positive way, and thats holding on and being stuck just as much as my story is wonderful. Of course! Zen is so full of great lessons like that. Of course! It was there!
The beginning of the story is kind of old, but still has life today. If you scratch a Zen student not too deep you are going to find a really, really religious little kid who couldnt find whatever it was there they were looking for. My parents practice Judaism very minimally, and I know my mother felt nothing of it, and my father maybe feels some of it, but I found no God there. I was raised in a very Christian environment. My school was loosely affiliated with a Presbyterian church, and we had required chapel even though it was an independent school. These days they would never get away with that, but in those days they did. The head of the school was a minister, actually. So I had a little of everything, but not too much, which I consider a great blessing right now. But I had a lot of trouble with God because right from the beginning I couldnt understand who this guy was, and why He was judging us. And He was in the sky?? It just didnt make sense. So I spoke to trees, like some of you probably do, and spoke to my dogs because they had some sort of divinity in them, and did a lot of looking around.
When I was still quite young in the late 60s at a time when there was a lot of turmoil in the country but not particularly a lot of turmoil inside of me, I had an experience in a church where I felt what I could only describe was the presence of Jesus inside of me, and that was perhaps my one cataclysmic event, positive or negative, ever. It was very joyful, but I didnt have a lot of worlds for it, but the word "Jesus" was the word. Thats what I knew it was, and His teaching, and Him fitting kind of bodily into me. I still dont have a lot of words for that. There was such gratitude for it that I had my thoughts, too, like Mitra, about being a nun, but I didnt think you could be a nun if you were a Jewish kid, so I didnt go that way. I found out when I was 40 or so that I could have.
I just wanted to serve this experience somehow, and I didnt know how. It was one of those things that just happened. This is the third time Ive shared this story. One was two days ago and one was a couple of years ago because I dont know what to say about it. But all I know is there was this great gratitude, and so I went on a search, and I looked first to the Catholic church because I decided Jesus was Catholic. This is real ignorance of the shell, as a friend of mine calls it, and I loved it, but I didnt find Him there. What I found was beautiful. I loved the incense and the music, but it didnt match my experience, so I went on to Protestant churches, and I found a mosque in Westchester County, and even orthodox synagogues. Nothing worked with it.
I tried to be helpful and loving and having that presence in me and live through it, got into a wonderful relationship which is now 25 years old, and eventually have a house in the suburbs and the two cars and the dog, and everything was going OK. I was pretty happy.
And then one day in my own hometown I walked past a little church and it said, "Zen," and I walked in. I was surprised there was a zendo in there. When I walked out that night I just knew that was the home of my heart. That was where I found the teachings that I felt were the Jesus teachings. Its where I found a place to serve the joy in the silence. I felt like His words were manifest, are manifest, and I feel this was just given, just the way earlier experiences were given.
I guess as a person who really doesnt consider herself as a Christian, what I feel about Christian teachings, I feel what we need to do is go back to the original teacher and not forget the original teacher. I guess a lot of my friends who were brought up in Christianity really felt the institution, and they almost cant go back to the original teaching. Its so hard, and there was so much overlay and there was so much told to them. I understand that. I think that sitting and going inward is really helpful in that, and then maybe you can listen carefully enough to hear what your original teacher said, which is so beautiful. And the Buddha, too. In the Buddhas teachings there is all this cultural overlay from all the years that Buddhism has traveled, and its wonderful, and the Zen stories are wonderful, but sometimes we, too, forget to go back to the original teacher, and if we sit as He did in silence I think we can find it.
The one other little part of this is that when I found out I was coming to Seattle, somehow it came serendipitously together with my college mentor whom I hadnt seen in 25 years who happens to have a house on Puget Sound and happens to be there this week. I went there yesterday to see her. It was a wonderful meeting, and what I got to do was thank her. Thats when I thought of all this. Our medicine is thanking people. Our medicine is gratitude. Thats the healing. Speak out. I want to express my gratitude to you all for listening and sharing all this.
Maria Reis Habito
I must confess I was pretty stuck before I came to this conference because I really didnt want to come. We had to bring the boys, and I didnt think it would be a vacation like I had hoped, and so I called Ruben one night and said, "Cant you just cancel all this? I dont want to go." I was stuck. And then that same night I heard this voice that told me, "Just go." So I called him the next day and said lets just go and take the children, and he was very surprised. I have to say I am grateful I am here. Two nights I shared with Jane over the dinner table, and we said we really dont like to share in front of people, and we really dont have much to say, but then we had a lot to say to each other. And then this morning she said much more than she had promised me she would, so Im very encouraged.
Im Catholic. I grew up in Germany in a Catholic family, and I must say loudly and clearly, it was a very happy childhood. My mother was a very tradition Catholic from Australia. She took the Scriptures quite literally, and you have to go to Church, you cannot do this or that, but my father was from the south of Germany, and they are the mystics. So every Sunday we were brought to church, and I think the greatest teaching I got was from my father because when it came to singing the Psalms, he sang with such a beautiful voice that it moved me every time. And when it came to the sermon, he was soundly asleep!
For me as a child I didnt like to go to church, but his teaching was that God has not to do with the sermon, and maybe God does not have much to do with the priest. God has to do with the music and the love expressed in those Psalms. We grew up as traditional Catholics, we had all the beautiful celebrations. Our name day was almost more important than our birthday. In May I would bring flowers to Mary every single day. During the Lenten season we didnt get any sweets. Easter was the most, most wonderful experience because we had as many chocolates as we wanted. I must say, it was a very happy and healthy upbringing, and it is only now that I realize how grateful I am for all of it because people have had a different experience. I must say it is possible to grow up being a Catholic and be happy and grateful.
I came to Taiwan after I finished high school because my parents knew a Taiwan priest and had a mission there, and he invited us to go and see his work and meet China for the first time. I was so impressed. I fell in love with the Chinese, and said, "I have to go back and study Chinese," and thats what I did. I was there not very long when another student in the dormitory came and said, "Arent you interested in Chinese philosophy? Well, I know this Buddhist master and wouldnt you like to come with me and visit him?" And I said, "Sure, why not?" We came there and I didnt speak very much Chinese, and there were other students who came to the Master with their questions, and so I just kind of kept quiet. Its my nature anyway. I dont have to say anything.
Towards the end he came to me and said, "Well, there is a very deep karmic connection between the two of us." I didnt understand. The others explained it to me, and it shocked me. What else he said, which I did understand, was, "You are like a tree and you can bring much fruit, but I want to plant you into the right soil." That scared me terribly because I thought, "What is he talking about? Ive been raised in this Christian Catholic soil for so long, what does he mean?"
I was scared, but I went back, and we had many dialogues. Just to give you an example, I started reading books about Buddhism - and of course what you find most easily are books about Zen Buddhism - and you read that in the Zen tradition the monks try to do away with idolatry, they threw out all the statues, and the Sutras our of the temples and burned them. With this new knowledge I came to the Master. It happened on that day he had a beautiful Kannon statue, just like this one, and I had brought some food. He took my food and put it in front of the Kannon statue, and lit some incense and bowed. I said, "Master, what are you doing? Who is that?" It was like, is this some kind of idolatry, bowing in front of a statue like that? He just looked at me and said, "Dont you see? This is you." I said, "What do you mean?" He said that what we worship, this is just the form for the formless truth, and the formless truth is in yourself. What we worship is not something outside. It is inside yourself. We have to learn that.
Not much later he talked about - there were some other disciples there - and he talked to them about how you can become a Buddha, how there is no difference between you and the Buddha, just to put it very simple, and again I got very upset, and I thought I had to teach him something. I said, "Master. Look at this tree. There is a tree and there are many apples. Now if the apples think they are the tree, they are just simply wrong. They are just the apples, but they are not the tree." He just looked at me very quietly, and then he said, "There is something in your thinking that needs healing."
I went home and of course I thought about these things. My Catholic God was still somewhere there in heaven, but the teaching that my Master gave me was that I keep God apart, or it is too much in my intellectual thinking and it doesnt help me very much. There was not a major crisis, I would say, but a very small crisis. One morning I woke up crying, crying, crying. I had this dream where God dropped out of heaven. The world was still there, I was still there, but God was not in heaven anymore, and I didnt know where he was. So I was desperate, but I still thought this must be a teaching. If I cannot find God where I thought He was all the time, I may be able to find him somewhere else.
So after two years with Master Hsin Tao I went back to Germany to study Chinese-Japanese studies at the university, and remembered what he always said. He said, "Its wonderful you want to study Buddhism and you write one book, and you may even write dissertation, which means you make one book out of 20 books, and you will still not be able to understand anything about Buddhism unless you sit down and practice.
So it was only in Germany that I started to sit every morning for 20 minutes, half an hour, and was very fortunate - again through guidance - to go to a retreat with Fr. Hugo Enomiya LaSalle who is a Jesuit priest who had trained in Japan with Yamada Roshi, and was teaching Zen at a Franciscan monastery at the time. I shared the first day that the sesshin for me was a most humbling experience because somewhere I was very proud. I thought there is a Chinese Buddhist master who is very interested in me, and thinks we have a deep karmic connection, so I must not be that stupid. Maybe Im even more enlightened that even the people around me, and all this crashed on this cushion. I saw everybody in their black robes, sitting perfectly still, and I almost died of my pain. It was so humbling, and so good.
I continued sitting with Fr. LaSalle and was just reminded about being stuck. Really, there are times when you sit on your cushion and say, "I cannot take it any longer, and you storm into dokusan and you have to blurt out about your woundedness and how nothing makes sense anymore. I did that one day to Fr. LaSalle. I came there very agitated, and I talked to him. He looked up, he just looked up and said, "I forgot to put on my hearing aid. Would you say all this again?" I cant tell you in that moment how joyful I was because all of this garbage just fell out, and now I said, "Enough!"
I finished my studies in Munich and received a scholarship to go on for my dissertation in Japan. In the meanwhile, I went back to Taiwan to see my Master again who had been a hermit in a small place, but he had moved up on a mountain, and slowly and surely the monastery up on the mountain started developing. At the time there were five disciples instead of one, and I would have been the first one if I had stayed. The Master said to me, "Well, I think it is about time you become my disciple." I said, "What do you mean by that? Ive been your disciple all these years." He said, "Yes, but I want you to become formally my disciple, which means you take the refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and you acknowledge me as your teacher." I was terrified. I said, "Master, Im Catholic. I dont think I can do this." And he said, "Oh, I know that you believe in God, but this is no hindrance whatsoever, and all this means is you take refuge to your true nature and it will create a karmic bond between us. Even if you never come back to see me, there will be something thats in the future. You need Buddhism or you want to get in touch with Buddhism you may be able to." That made sense to me because I didnt want to throw out everything Buddhist and just keep the Christian part. I wanted both. But still I was terrified. He said, "Just go and rest, and tomorrow we might or might not do it, depending on how you feel." That night I had a terrifying dream for me because it was a very dark sky and there were five very brilliant moons turning around each other, and it was so intense that I was totally terrified. Next morning I went to the Master, and sure enough he said, "Did you dream something?" And I said, "There is one moon in the world, but I dreamt about five that were turning around each other." He said, "Thats a very good sign. Lets just do the ceremony." And we did. Here again like in dokusan with Fr. LaSalle, when I spoke my refuge to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and recited the prayers after my Master, he was very gentle. He said, "Can you bow? Remember the Buddha is not some idol. Its just the truth in yourself. If you want to bow you can do it." So I did. And there was this tremendous joy about having done the right thing. There was no doubt in my mind that - Ruben tells me now I am a sociological Buddhist because I did this and he is not - but at that moment I felt it was the right thing to do.
I continued my sesshin with Fr. LaSalle, and I also sat with another master in Japan before I finally met Yamada Roshi, and I remember one sesshin with Fr. LaSalle was very powerful because he had given me the "mu" koan, and I was doing mu, mu, mu. And the more I "mud" the more I got angry, and this whole business with God came up again, and I said, "What does it mean God is love? Bullshit. God is love?" (Excuse me). I dont know why I got so angry, it was like I had to poke God, or something, and say, "You are not love. If You are love, come and show it." It was like when my little boy says, "I hate you." And I say, "I love you anyway." So I was sitting there and struggling with "mu" and struggling with God and being very angry, and I dont know, I just describe it as grace that something very warm and very delightful embraced me in a way I had never experienced before. I was so repentant. My tears started flowing, and I thought, "How could I ever doubt God is love?" I had no idea what love was before. It is so powerful. And it was not only enveloping me, but enveloping the whole zendo, and the whole world. I had to force myself not to become crazy. I felt like jumping up and telling everybody in the zendo, "Dont sit there like this! Dont you see? Dont you feel?" But I went out to Fr. LaSalle and he could see what was happening, and he said, "Yes, I think you should see Yamada Roshi from here on," which I did.
So I guess that was the solution to that first koan "mu." I dont know if people are familiar with that. In Zen practice you are given some koans, so-called questions that help you overcome your intellectual notions to come to some deeper experience. The first question is, "Does the dog have the Buddha nature?" And the answer is "mu." Then you have to tell the Zen master what does "mu" mean. Obviously thats not very easy. When I came to Yamada Roshi I had passed part of that koan because then it goes on and they want the answer to, "What is the origin of "mu"?" Here, again, I was stuck. The origin of "mu." Isnt it enough I experienced God is love? What else do you want to know? For me Im set. Im fine. What is the origin of "mu"? I didnt get it. So one day Yamada Roshi looked at me and said, "What is the origin of "God-do" (God)?" And here, again, it was so hard to describe in words, but it was as if God was saying, "Why do you keep me so far away and you can think about my origins somewhere out there? Let me get closer." And again I started crying, and I saw what our mind was doing. We like to think about Gods origin and about Gods attributes and how we can describe God to others, and how we are angry with God, but we keep God away as far as we can. I just cried, cried, cried until I went to dokusan, and I told Yamada Roshi, "The origin of "mu" - Im not supposed to say - but I was crying and he was just smiling, and he said, "Yes. And why are you crying?" And again there was this immense joy.
So I thought I was on the right path, and had met Ruben in the meanwhile. When we first met I said happily to him, "Im on my first koan." And he said, "Yes. I am on my last koan." Eventually we got married, and I thought, "There is guidance in this. You marry a Zen teacher and you will go on in your Zen path and will become enlightened before everybody else." I was all set in the right direction.
Then we had the Zen group at home, and people were talking about nothing but Zen, and then we had children, and people were still talking about nothing but Zen, and slowly but surely I felt I needed something else. I had to stay home anyway when Ruben went to the Zen Center, and once when Florian was small there was this very generous disciple who said, "I will watch the baby so you can go and sit." It seemed to everyone that sitting is the most important thing in the world, and you have to do this even when your baby is three months old. So I took the baby and went to the Zen Center, and Florian was screaming all the time. So that was the only try that I had, and left it at that.
I must say having young children - some people say the young children are practice, and I am sure they are, but they are not in the way we want them to be, or expect them to be. It was very difficult.
What can I say? I saw the other disciples who were continuing in their koan practice, and then I thought to myself, "Maybe after all I am a bodhisattva because everybody passes there before me. Maybe its not so bad." But about my practice. Obviously those two experiences in Japan, being enveloped in love, and having God come to me and never leave again, have changed my whole life completely. Now when I read the Scripture it sometimes almost hurts because it is so clear. If I look at nature, it hurts because it is so beautiful. You really see the universe in a different light. Not on all days. It doesnt cure everything. For instance, I had a big struggle with insomnia after the children were born. I used to blame myself. If you were meditating every day of course you would sleep as soundly as my husband who sleeps like a baby. But it didnt work that way. It was very helpful for me to find out there are other Zen practitioners who are very advanced in their practice and were hurting, were not sleeping at night, so meditation is not a cure for everything.
Again, about my practice. Am I a Christian or a Buddhist? I wrote my dissertation on the mantra of the Compassionate Heart Mantra. It is a very long mantra - 80 syllables - and is sung in Japanese temples, Chinese people, everybody knows it. I wrote this long dissertation on it. One day my Master came and said, "Well, have you ever memorized it?" "No, I just wrote a dissertation on it." So I decided to memorize it. Its very beautiful. (She sings it.) I found, "Hey. This is becoming my practice because I could sing it while I was doing something with the children, could sing it while I was sleepless at night, and it has a very soothing melody. So now it is very interesting. I dont even have to think about it. It comes up naturally. It soothes me and sings itself in me, I should say. But then when I have questions, and if I want to decide something, I recite the Dai-Hishin-Dharani, and then I say, "Jesus, are You still there? What should I do?" Its very easy for me to talk about, "I, I, I," and our practice is to let go of this "I, I, I," but again, maybe its helpful in some sense.
Fr. James Stewart
Part of my stuckness was keeping my life at bay. The fruit of our practice, whatever that practice might be, is compassion. If its not manifested in creating communities that are safe for people to enter into, it doesnt work. Its self-serving. And I know that we suffer from this tremendously in the Church: those who are in, and those who are out. Where my Zen practice has been very helpful is I look at the Gospel in a whole different way. I have a lens I didnt have access to before. The only requirement, it seems, the only thing thats necessary to approach the table of the Eucharist, to approach the gathering of the faithful, is that you are hungry. We act out negatively because theres a hunger inside that consumes us, and if we are not careful it eats us up and everyone else around us, ecologically as well as morally and in our relationships. So I just think it is helpful to be mindful of what this is all about this week. How do we suffer with one another as we sit in our own suffering and become sensitive and embrace our suffering, and not have to do this to it, but to hold it and allow it to gestate within us, and to give birth within us, painfully at times.
I find this in my ministry at the medical center after nine years - I was supposed to be there for four months - and the power as I sit more and more, and practice more and more, I find I am able to be with other people in tremendous pain, whether its patients, themselves, or their loved ones who are at a loss, and I hope that that ability to be with others in compassion is the fruit of wisdom, is the fruit of the depth of this encounter of the sacred that has infused itself into us and is mixed into us.
I am thinking about some of the Catholic priests, Rectors, who are in charge of parishes, and how much suffering there is among priests, and I think thats one of the reasons I feel a very strong judo kind of reaction, protection for religion, because I hear some people attack religion.
In the Cambridge area, for example, religion is bad. Spirituality is good - any kind of spirituality. Religion is an evil, and the attacks on religion come through NPR (National Public Radio). For example, Christopher Lydon has excellent shows, especially on science and religion, but the call-in folks who are scientists and scientifically oriented, New England transcendentalists, etc., they are just ugly on their attacks on religion, but I see it from the inside, and see how much beauty and suffering there is in the church, and I have great compassion for Catholic priests.
When I used to go with Henri Nouwen on some of his retreats, he really hated to give retreats for Catholic priests, and he was often invited to do so, and the reason is he found it very difficult to deal with the level of suffering among priests. I think he wasnt separate enough from it to be able to have some perspective. He would be so full of this love that is available, and the priests would just be sitting there, kind of like not there, not getting it, not responding, maybe 3 out of 100 would come forward and say, "Wow! How do we do this? How do we make this available to people?"
As a lay person in the contemplative Christian tradition I find myself bringing forward this question more and more. How can we who see the beauty make it more available and help the priests instead of attacking them? How can we work together? How can we help the priests see we are allies? And that Jesus is not owned by the institution. That the mystics who were overflowing with the love that is available are not owned by the institution. They are free. They are out of the box. They belong to everybody.
comment on the suffering of priests
Myo Lahey (audience)
There is something about the role, job, of a clergy person that is very isolating, and based on what people are saying I am inspired to ask that we all - "clergy person" and "congregation" - not forget that, and somehow find a way to approach each other, have the students draw the clergy person towards them somehow and not let that weird wall go up. There are times when I walk around Tassajara and the students greet me, and I can just tell they think I some something! That lets them do this thing: "One day Ill know what he knows and it will be so great!" Dont do that to me. Its really sick. Thats what we did to our Abbot. Some day I probably wont have all of the strength I need, and I need others to come forward and say, "Its all right. Step out of that "crap." We dont mind." You need to get up on that high seat and proclaim the Dharma, and then get down. And if you cant get down, thats a bad sickness.
Having been raised as a Catholic, I had as a teenager the problem of does God really exist, what is all this Catholicism, what is the saints, the whole thing. I was in a high school where I was studying existentialism, which didnt help, and figuring out, well, theres no meaning in life, everything is nothing, and I cant live like this. This is not feasible for me, so I didnt know what to do. This agony actually went on for a year and a half. I wrote a list of 64 questions, all the way from Does God exist? to Do dogs go to Heaven? - a very important question for me. My mother took me to a priest and I gave him the list, and he looked at it. He didnt give me any answers to these questions. He gave me books to read, which is not what I was looking for. So I was going around and asking people what does it mean to be really real? What does it mean to be a man? Why are we here? What is it all about? And then there was that moment where I had a 180 degree turn around, and I received the gift of faith. It was as simple as that. That became my ground zero. This is where I stand and everything else came from that moment.
The next level I want to talk about is, we have the ego, and then what I call the psychological unconscious. When Jim and I got together he decided that instead of taking me to the movies, since he had read a little bit about Dr. C.G. Jung, he was going to tell me - for the first date - about the anima and the animus. I like him anyway, so we started to go into the psychological unconscious. Its a long, involved story, but I started doing dream work. I had a dream.
I was on the second story of a building looking down into the first story of the next building, and there was a girl who I had known in college, but didnt know her very well. She was painting a picture of half an arc, and there were six men in the arc with medieval collars, and it was like the jack in the cards where you saw only the half, and each of these men were looking at a point in the arc, and they each had a blue eye. As I was looking at this painting it was like I zoomed into this painting, and those eyes became alive. It was very startling. When I told Jim, hes going, "Yes, yes, yes." And then he realized that this was, for a woman, the animus figure. The thinking function of a woman is in multiple figures, and this was a picture of my animus. And so that led us into - I ended up writing up a series of 300 dreams and trying to figure out what We did it typologically, so am I more introverted or extraverted? Is my feeling function stronger than my thinking function? So we went through that whole thing, and it took a lot of time to figure out what we were, what types we were. But the other part of all that work was what we called, what I came to call, feeling sessions where I would go into my past, and I would think of a memory. For instance, when I was a teenager I went to a girls high school, and I was invited to a party. And I was really excited because this was going to be cool. So I finally got to the party, I was all dressed up, and these gorgeous guys came to be with us. Well, what I didnt realize was all the girls knew all the guys, and they immediately paired up, went to their corners, and I am playing ping-pong with the younger brother. So this was, for me as a teenager, a disaster. So I told Jim the memory, and I got all upset. And he said, "Well, tell it to me again." So I told it to him again, and I got all upset. "Well, tell it to me again." Well, by about the fifth time what I had done was I had worked through those feelings, and then I could step back and say, "Well, this is what happened and I can understand this, and it can go." My point in all this is that the psychological unconscious became very real for us, and when we got further and further into studying Jungian psychology, we got to the point where we said, "Well, how does this relate to our Catholicism?" because we knew people who knew the reality of the psychological unconscious, and they became Jungianismed. They took that as their religion. This was really real for them. I couldnt do that because, again, I started from my ground zero, and so I realized that my faith belonged to some other area inside myself. It was a wonderful freeing feeling to know that I could go into dreams, I could go into these feelings, I could go into the psychological unconscious, and still be a Catholic.
We were also doing a lot of work about mysticism, especially John of the Cross, and what I dont know about personally is infused contemplation. I havent experienced the union with God in the way John of the Cross talks about. The nearest thing I can remember is when I was 8 I was in the car with my mother driving home at sunset, and when I saw the sun, all of a sudden it blotted everything out, and my heart was filled with so much joy it was painful. I believed in what I called the mystical unconscious, the kind of union with God, the experience that John of the Cross and a lot of the mystics talk about.
So then we got interested in Zen and sitting, so what I dont know about again is the experience of enlightenment, but I do know - we sat, we dealt with the monkey mind, and did all the things that you try to do when you are sitting. So you figure you have the psychological unconscious, the mystical unconscious, and then what we started to think of as the metaphysical unconscious. So when, from what Ive read and heard about, when youve gone down and you are sitting and finally have that moment of enlightenment, that moment of shifting of awareness where you are sensing that other reality that takes you over, that is your reality, is just fascinating to me because I know its really real.
But what I did begin to experience was not from the Zen direction, but what we call the intuition of being from our own Catholic metaphysical background where there is a flower, and there is a tree. Fine. Big deal. But what do they have in common? They have is. The flower is, and the tree is. So what is this is? I would be sitting in the house and the sun would be coming through the window, hitting a daffodil that we managed to grow up in the forest, and the flower became totally luminous, and you got a sense of - it wasnt just the flower. It was the isness of the flower, coming out, radiating out.
I was walking down the path the other day, and my hand was cupped as usual, and I managed to trap a bee, and for a split second my whole hand was vibrating with the flutter of the wings, and it was like, its like a nano-second, just a little split second of a touch of the other. Or Id be sitting there with my coffee cup, and the sun, again, would come and illuminate the cup so that what is normal, natural, and often overlooked jumps out of normalcy into the vibrant existence, this isness, and so as a Catholic I say, "Well, this is a fabulous experience, but whats behind it?" The isness, the connection of the isness, where is it coming from? What is the source? And so it is like being able to not have a mystical experience like the saints do, but have a sense of who is the author of all this isness that is being put into all these containers.
A few years ago when I started doing video work, there I am behind the camera - my favorite place - this is not my favorite place - I would got to zoom up on people and they would be telling their stories, and sharing their innermost selves, and it was like a very privileged place where I could practically enter into them and try to see reality like they see it.
When I hear stories about some of the people who are practicing Zen and then they think about their childhood religion or their - almost their flight with religion, or their stuckness about what to do about Jesus and God when theyve already had this sense of the wonderful enlightenment experience that they cant seem to talk about, and yet they come to their backgrounds, and its a fight. But my feeling is when I have my little isness experiences, thats a way out. Its like I can experience is, and I can love God because that love is relational - theres a person there, something really real there, but it doesnt take away from the isness experience, and my one thought is, can people who have the enlightenment experience also, without taking away from either one, also turn and have a relationship with God? And then go back. The two realities dont fight each other. Its sort of like I can be psychologically aware, and not have any kind of sense of any other levels. For some people that psychological numinosity and the depths are everything. Fine. And I know that there are people who have the enlightenment experience, and it envelops them, and it fulfills them, and they dont look anywhere else. But there are some of us who have to have more, and I dont see, really, where the conflict is.
I must have left my talk laying out, and she took it and gave it, so Im afraid I dont have anything to say.
Let me try to say really what is the same thing from a different point of view. When I was growing up in New York City, I sort of grew up asleep. I spent my time on the subway going into school, underground there, in the crowds, and sort of totally lost. I wasnt anybody. It was too overwhelming for a little introverted kid.
Then one day I met this girl, and I fell in love with this girl - she didnt know at the time - and so this was great. Painful, but great. Then the character of this began to change because it was as if for the first time I began to wake up. This was the most real thing that had ever happened to me, and I would look at this girl, and there was kind of a radiance there, a kind of light shining there, and after a while I began to see that this radiance, this light, wasnt her. It wasnt like her ego, she didnt know how lovable she was. She didnt grasp this radiance that she was, and I saw that the light that she had was like a reflection from something else, and when I got to this point, I began to get kind of concerned because it began to sound like religion, and that hadnt been my intention. I had decided I was going to be a physicist and I was going to know something about the world, so this was really disorienting. I was about to start on this intensive physics program and all this stuff, and so this was very - the words of religion just resonated with my Catholic childhood, which was good, but it had never taken in any personal way. I went to church and did this or that, but it had never taken. It never occurred to me you look there for the meaning of life.
Now I began to see that there had to be some source for the beauty and light and love and being that I experience in this girl because it was there. I knew it was there because I experienced it moment by moment, but I knew she wasnt the source of it. So this was sort of like my doorway into what I think is at the heart of the Christian metaphysical tradition. Unfortunately, this tradition is so overlaid with so many concepts that have been passed on lifelessly that it is very difficult to get back to its intuitive roots, to the mystery of being, to the mystery of existence. I didnt know any of those words anyway, when this was happening. I had no formal Catholic education.
So this happens, and as painful as it was to now try to make friends with this girl, and all this stuff, but after a while something else began to happen which was much more challenging. I began to realize that what in my own Catholic faith when they talked about Jesus and they talked about God, they were talking about the very source of this great beauty and being that I was experiencing in this girl. So the question posed itself, could I go somehow and find this source? I say in a sense that, it had to be Someone, but the word doesnt carry right, but because she was someone, and this was the source of whatever we are calling those things. So it precipitated a very deep crisis of faith because the faith I had had never been mine, and now I saw that if I were to believe, it would change my life. I couldnt go live in that unconscious way that I had been living all this time.
So this struggle went on for a long time, and whereas the first part of the experience was sort of in the deep part of the mind, opening up to a certain kind of wisdom, this second part of the experience had to do with the heart, and I discovered that my heart - it was like the doors of my heart - were rusted shut. They had never been used. I didnt even know hot to begin to open them up. But that was what was sort of being asked. To go on that second journey is to open up the heart and to go in faith and to try to find that source of love. Later I realized that that was really about the Christian journey of prayer, or the Christian mystical journey.
This morning we had Mass with Fr. James, and one of the readings was from the Canticle of Canticles, which is really a love song that has been taken up in the literature, and then Fr. James read something from St. Claire, and she also in that passage seemed to be evoking that Canticle of Canticles, but is was like John of the Cross writing in his poem, "Where have you hidden yourself, my Beloved?" And it goes on that way. And so it is not just a few people who are gifted with certain kinds of experiences, the heart of this journey of faith is faith and love that everyone can do. But it is so difficult to believe that there is actually the Beloved who is calling to us, and is drawing us. These two experiences are so intimately connected to each other so that I cant say they are different things because the very radiance that I experienced in this girl is the radiance that I am trying to go out and meet, to find the source of this radiance. But I cant say that you do them quite the same way. Its like you are using different parts of yourself.
Ill sort of fast-forward this story, but when we came together, and Tyra told you we discovered the psychological unconscious, and so we were faced with these three realities, which we knew all three were true. Im not talking about accomplishment here, or how great we did in dealing with them, but simply it was a great gift to recognize that there is this vast interior universe, and there are these - call them - dimensions in this universe which we are called to explore.
Part of the problem, though, is that, two things. One, oftentimes we live our life in such a way that we dont have the time or freedom to explore. The United States is caught up now in such a frenetic lifestyle that what people dont have is not possessions, not money, but its time, and I think thats where we get to another take on the whole thing on simplicity. Can we craft a lifestyle that actually allows us to respond to these inner journeys we are called to? When seen in that light, much of what goes on is just noise that we dont need. It doesnt make us happy. We have it and we dont pay attention to it. The one flower sitting in the sun, or the bird singing, or really connecting with one other person is worth much more than all that kind of running around we end up doing.
The other part is when we start on these journeys we have these conceptions of how they should be. Sometimes we make walls, for example, the psychological unconscious is so beautiful, and also terrifying and so important that people who have devoted themselves to it like Jung, himself, they become kind of fixed on it. And so sometimes without even realizing it, they create a wall that prevents them from exploring these other dimensions.
On the other hand, even if we are spiritual practitioners with experiences and have really tried, whether in the Buddhist tradition or the Christian tradition, that does not make up for a lack of psychological knowledge. It has been disastrous in Christianity and in Buddhism where we kind of grant to whoever is leading a kind of psychological integration because of their spiritual practice, and the results have been terrible. We need to deal with psychological things psychologically. There are, of course, good psychological benefits coming from Zen practice or Christian contemplative prayer, or wherever, because it begins to loosen and bring up this world within. But we cant think that just practice alone will allow us to deal adequately with these things.
When we get to Zen and what we are called the isness of things and the mystical realm, we make walls there, as well. There are many Christians who feel somehow really threatened that if they were to really look at Buddhists and listen to Buddhists, they would somehow lose their Christianity. It would somehow just evaporate away. Its for Buddhists to say, but Buddhists can do the same thing, sort of say, "I am a Buddhist and here I am. The door begins to open to other dimensions and do we go through, or do we say this is not really Buddhism? I dont want to go through the door." So we need to drop these walls. Im not claiming that what happens in Zen and in what happens in the kind of sense of the isness of things that I talked about with this girl, or what Tyra was talking about, are identical. There are certain differences there, and neither am I claiming that we should not both philosophically and theologically reflect on these things. I think we should, but within this context of living journeys so it doesnt become sterile conceptualizations.
Basically I think we all need the freedom to sort of knock down the walls and explore these dimensions because the God that Christians believe in is no different than that radiant emptiness that Buddhists experience. They may be different modalities that you couldnt take the practice of one and immediately convert it into the practice of the other. I dont think you can. I dont think you can identify the experiences, even, of what happens in the life of prayer and what happens when you are sitting on the pillow. To make these distinctions is not to believe that this vast emptiness is walled off into little rooms where you cant get to. Its as if we could flow from one to the next. Its almost depth calling to depth. If you really sit, why is it so surprising that the whole question of Jesus and the mystical life would appear? Its not really that surprising. And if you really practice the Christian path, why should it be surprising if you find this real yearning and inclination for the kind of sense of the ground of being that Zen has expressed so well? I really want to say that we really need to give ourselves the freedom to do this, and let the walls fall down. And it doesnt have to be complicated. Were complicated, but the things, themselves, are simple. Its sort of like if you are hungry, then go bake some bread, or if you dont have a home, get a hammer. Or if you begin to sense this ground of being, this ground on which we all rest, let the body and mind fall and try to be there with it. And if you sense Jesus knocking on the door, then open the door.
My mother was told that she could not have children. She and my dad had had one child die at one day old. This was about seven years before I was born. My mom was told she could never get pregnant again. So when she became pregnant with me, it was quite a surprise, and I never thought about this because nobody ever told me, I was a miracle child, but I think I picked it up because my mother considers me a miracle child because she had two others after me. I was due on Dec. 1st, but I stuck around for about 3 1/2 more weeks and was born on Christmas. I will mention, by the way, that when Good Friday of my 33rd year passed, my wife said, "Well, we can put that one to rest!"
Every time people find out I was born on Christmas they say, "Oh, how unfortunate. You probably didnt get any birthday presents." Growing up I considered it the most fortunate of birthdays because I didnt know we really dont know when Jesus was born, and I thought, "Jesus and I share a birthday." Now I knew a boy in 4th grade whose birthday was on the same day as Hitlers so I thought I had the better portion.
I grew up Catholic. My family is ecumenical. My mother is Southern Baptist, and my dad was Catholic. I was raised Catholic. My dad worked a second job so my mom could stay home with us. My dad and mom would go to church with us on Sundays, but when Lent came it was my Baptist mother who took us to Perpetual Help devotions on Tuesdays and stations of the Cross on Fridays. In fact, she ran the parish school of religion at our Catholic parish. She didnt start going back to the Baptist church until I was in junior high. I say that just to say I grew up with a sense of tolerance. I dont know that my Southern Baptist mother knew how tolerant I would get, but I did grow up with a sense of tolerance.
When I was in high school I started questioning a lot of things. When I was growing up my first love was science. My second love was justice, and when I fell in love with justice sometime in high school I decided I was going to go off, become a lawyer, join the ACLU, and be thrown in prison when the Fascists took over. I now wonder if I was just off in my timing.
I intended to become a lawyer. That was when I was looking at a lot of social problems, and eventually it occurred to me there were problems that were much deeper than simply giving people a good education, changing social structures, etc., and this coincided with some of my own spiritual searching. I was reading political philosophy, which got me reading philosophy, which got me reading religion, and I was delighted to discover the concept of pure being, and all of that.
I had two experiences very early in college which set me on my way and really informed my practice of Christianity and my experience of Buddhism. I remember writing to a friend when I was a Freshman, and I just had this intuition. I had never really read anything about Buddhism, but I said, "The Buddha did not intend to be worshipped. The Buddha wanted to teach people how to become Buddhas. And likewise, Christ wanted to teach people how to become Christ." And with a sense of arrogance, or naiveté, I said, "My goal in life is to become Christ." That has sort of informed my journey since then.
There were different philosophical and theological questions I was struggling with - I tend to be in the intellectual realm - and I had a couple of experiences that I can now only describe as something like satori, and I didnt know the word koan, but I was given a couple of koans. I was really working on the relationship between God and the world, and the other one was this whole Trinity thing. Three persons, one God. How do you deal with this? I remember sitting on my bed and really trying to figure these out, and it happened, kaboom, and then a few weeks later, kaboom. I felt like my mind was short-circuited and I saw it fit together. And then it goes away. But the experience stayed with me. Those are the two theological foundations, if you will, of my life. I had this insight. And when I asked, "Gee, what happened there?" I thought my brain stopped functioning for a bit, and I thought Ive got to learn meditation because I knew meditation helps one slow the mind down. The only game in town was Transcendental Meditation. I went, paid my $40, got my mantra, gave a piece of fruit. I sat down to meditation for the first time, and thought, "Wow, this is what I have been looking for." I didnt make a whole lot of distinctions back then - Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, whatever - and I think in some ways I was a Christian who was seeking Buddhism by practicing a Hindu form of meditation because I discovered I was using a lot of Buddhist terms.
I started reading works of different Hindu and Buddhist teachers, and they started referring to people like John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, and I said, "Who are these people?" So I found the Cloud of Unknowing and it offered a little method, and I said, "I can do that." So it was really an experiment to see if it worked as well as TM did. I found it did, so I just sort of stuck with that. That was my first entry into larger realms of consciousness, if you will. It has been said, though I dont take it literally, that Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, two very good friends, but that Teresa is a Christian sponge full of mysticism, and if you squeeze out the mysticism Christianity remains, but John is a mystical sponge full of Christianity - and Im not saying its true - but if you squeeze out Christianity mystical structure stays. I realized from very early I resonated with that description of John of the Cross. To me the mystical path was my path, and I was simply trying to find out which mystical path I was going to explore. Needless to say, I did not become a lawyer. I would have been a very, very bad lawyer. I would have gone in and said, "Your Honor, lets sit." So I ended up getting degrees, etc., but that was my first encounter with Buddhism.
There were some other places in my life where I had some shifts. One was when I went to doctoral studies. Here you are at sort of the height of your intellectual exploration, and I found the intuition exploding. So here we are, trying to analyze, and my intuition going --- In that explosion of intuition I also found myself opening more and more to other people, and I came to realize that I had had an attitude that I was here to help others, but I didnt need any help. Or maybe I didnt deserve any help. Or maybe people were too busy to actually help me. Whatever it happened to be, I had not really allowed myself to be vulnerable. I went to therapy for a while with a counselor at Fordham, and talked about my mother, and this kind of stuff, which we all do. What Ive come to realize in between is that my mother was really only a factor, and that had it been a completely different situation, I still would have had that sense of alienation. I think weve talked about that primal sense of woundedness that we all have, and I have come to realize that people may add to that, but they didnt cause it. Its there, that sense of alienation, and thats part of what the spiritual path helps us to heal.
In my doctoral studies for the first time I had a community that I felt I resonated with. There were people who were in doctoral studies. We resonated on an intellectual level, and we would sit and meditate together. We did centering prayer together. There was a person in particular I resonated with, and I found that we brought a lot of healing and challenge to each others lives. That was a very significant time of my life, which sets the stage for later.
In my spiritual life I had always had an apophatic thrust. One phrase that stuck with me was, "Beyond, beyond, the great beyond." The other phrase was, "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us." Around 1991-92 the apophatic dimension of my journey got very, very strong, and I literally lost a sense of God and of self. I really began to sense my radical contingency. Ive always been a kind of general person. I like treeness, but I discovered that tree. I like rockness, but there was that rock. I came to realize that that rock was making me who I was at this moment. And this tree was making me who I was at this moment. This was exciting for me. A lot of people get upset when God disappears. This was cool. God has disappeared. Ive disappeared. Maybe Im getting a glimpse into what Buddhists have been talking about of emptiness. Part was I wasnt necessary. I didnt have to be. And a friend of mine got very worried because she got suicidal when that hit her. I said, "Oh, no. This is very exciting. It takes a lot of load off my shoulders. Im not necessary." But then, I wondered how apophatic does God have to become before there is no God, so I just say OK, and I am a Buddhist?
So I came to the 1992 conference and decided to try to find someone. I heard Susans stories, and asked her to teach me how to sit. She was very gracious and gave me some guidance, and it was just wonderful. For several years after that I tended to ignore the question of was I Christian or was I Buddhist. I trusted the journey. I went to my spiritual director and said I was an agnostic. I dont know if there is a God. He said, "Thats great!" He was a Holy Cross brother, and he said you have to go through that. I call this period my intellectual dark night.
As I came out, I came out with a different sense of God. Was I a Buddhist who sort of believed in God, was I a Christian who was experiencing emptiness, was I a Christian dreaming I was a Buddhist, was I a Buddhist dreaming I was a Christian? The response came, "Wake up!"
So I went on sabbatical in 1995 and visited a few Buddhist centers, and I decided I was going to leave behind all vestiges of Christianity while I was exploring this. So here I am in a Theravada monastery, and all of a sudden Christian archetypes started coming up. I didnt know if I believed them, but the archetypes were there, and the idea of crucifixion and resurrection and the Pascal mystery, the idea of unity and distinction, there were all these different archetypes coming up. Then I said, "Well, thats interesting. Here I am in a Buddhist setting." Ash Wednesday came, and there werent any services, so I found some incense ashes and did the Ash Wednesday thing on my own.
I ended my Buddhist sabbatical by going to the Camaldolese Monastery at Big Sur, and that was my reintroduction back into Christianity. After that I was soaring like an eagle for a couple of years, and then I hit rock bottom. This was in 1996, just in time for the next International Buddhist-Christian conference. I had developed a very intense and intimate friendship with someone, and I had never been this vulnerable with someone ever in my life. One week before I was scheduled to come here, that friendship fell apart, and there was nothing I could do about it. It was not my decision to end the friendship. It ended, and there was no discussion. I came a very, very wounded person to this conference. So this conference seems to come at specific times.
This person had for me incarnated Christ so fully that when the friendship fell apart, I felt abandoned by God. I would rather be an atheist and believe there is no God than to think there is a God who is unconditional love who doesnt happen to like me. For the first time in my life, I didnt give it serious consideration, but I could see why people chose suicide as an option. And I faced that. The way I got through it, it wasnt through sitting, and I would say, "Gotta let it go," when the anger or hurt would come up. I learned to run and embrace it. I would say, "Im going to feel it!" And I would feel it intensely, and then it would ease off. And I started thinking, I wonder if this is what I was talking about about embracing the Cross.
When I came through that, I no longer felt like an eagle soaring on the wings of God, because I had crashed and burned. If I had to come up with an image, it was more like I was fish swimming in the ocean, and somehow that felt a little deeper.
So here we are, four years later, here I am at the conference. I have no idea what transition I am going through, but I must be because Im at this conference. I have found that Buddhism and my dialogue with other religions, because this is not my only alternative path, I found that this has informed my own journey. I found I tend to draw from not only personally but in my teachings from the variety of wells of wisdom, and I can only say its been a hell of a ride, and I cant wait to see what comes next.
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