Tuesday, April 03, 2012

FREEDOM IS MORE THAN A WORD

I once attended a wedding in a large Roman Catholic church. It may have been a cathedral. I don’t know. But the spectacle was awesome, and the organ was loud enough to blow the hat off your head.

I was probably the only non-Catholic in the place, but I didn’t feel estranged.

I was simply there.

Word must have gotten around, because later, at the reception, several people came up to me and asked about Buddhism. From this, and from other similar experiences, I’ve concluded that some Catholics may be uninformed in regard to Buddhism, but most are not intolerant.

This is the exact opposite of the outlook of a different sort of church I once attended with a colleague who was a member of that church. Bart and I worked well together, and we enjoyed hiking and bicycling together. Then one day Ben turned to me and announced, “You and I can never be friends because you don’t belong to my church.”

I wasn’t crushed. I wasn’t upset. More than anything I was puzzled, and a little sad that religion could get in the way of companionship.


But organized religion can do odd things to people. Just look at Ireland’s Protestants and Catholics, Israel’s Jews and Arabs, certain Muslims and non-Muslims.

Contempt between faiths may be very old and very real, still it’s impossible to comprehend. Unfortunately, many people are held captive by a religion.

Zen is no better, no worse, than anything else. Zen has no buzzwords, no doctrine, no scripture as guidance, no acts of faith. Sounds like a good way to go, doesn’t it? But Zen is not for everyone.

You must come to Zen on your own and find yourself by yourself. You can’t rely on anyone or anything other than yourself.

I can tell stories, quote ancient masters, and give tips and cautions. However, I can’t and won’t chant, dance, or make arcane passes. Nor can I give you Zen.

I can bore you, challenge you, confuse you, and tangle your reason. I don’t do that out of wickedness but to lead you toward realizing your own being. Once you realize your own being, once you realize your own being, you are Zen.

If someone is a follower of Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism, they may find Zen unfathomable and confusing. That’s all right. This says nothing against the convictions of others, and it certainly does not blow Zen out of the water. My favorite color is orange. Yours may be blue or green.

So what? That isn’t grounds for us to deprecate each other.

Argumentative individuals, or persons who require seamless logic, or those who love to dissect and analyze may not find Zen to their liking. They have a tough time realizing that Zen shies away from analysis, and doesn’t require any leap of faith. All it asks is a perceptive mind.

Chinese Zen master Dahui said, “Zen is a matter of people experiencing it. That results in their ability to see each other’s vision and communicate tacitly.”

My Japanese Zen master liked to say, “A Buddha recognizes a Buddha.” That is not a statement of exclusion, such as, “You and I could never be friends because you don’t belong to my church.” Rather, it’s an assertion of connecting.

Everyone and everything has Buddha-nature. Buddha-nature is inclusive, not exclusive.

An old Buddhist text mentions that Buddha is not to be seen in one event, in one place, or in one person, but everywhere. Buddha means awareness always and everywhere. Seeing Buddha means perceiving one’s own Buddha-nature, which is present at all times and in all places, and it honors the Buddha-nature of other people.

There are ancient sayings that caution against drawing another’s bow, or riding another’s horse, or minding another’s business. Instead, one should look into oneself.

The study of Zen brings a quiet body, a tranquil mind, an attentive brain. This is mindfulness, and it brings freedom.

You have seen people who can’t sit still, physically or mentally. They drum their fingers, or scratch at themselves. Their mind is somewhere else, busy with plans for a time that is yet to be, and may never come.

As D.T. Suzuki says, Zen is discipline in enlightenment. Enlightenment means emancipation, and emancipation is no less than freedom. We talk about political freedom, economic freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and so on. But any of these freedoms may be taken away.

Real freedom can’t be taken away because it is the consequence of awakening. A Zen person knows that in whatever situation he or she finds him or her self, inner life is always free.

The Japanese poet Rykan was speaking of freedom when he wrote the following verse.

“The thief
“Left it behind—
“The moon at the window.”


Real Zen is neither planted nor transplanted. It is a matter of experiencing. Remember what I said earlier: Experiencing results in the ability to see the vision of others and to communicate silently.

Zen isn’t like LSD or marijuana. It’s not a quick and easy fix that raises you to a higher plane. When Zen is realized, you remain with the world but you are not of it. This is freedom.

There are no rituals, no tricks for saving time or effort. To paraphrase Master Dahui again, “When you have even a single thought of finding a shortcut to freedom in Zen, you have already stuck your head in a bowl of glue.”