A friend of mine describes herself as a “Zen Lutheran”. I know what she means and I approve. I even considered jacking her phrase, but decided not to on account of a) I wanted to include other denominations, and b) I wanted to avoid the popular misunderstanding of the word “Zen”. I haven’t arrived at a catchphrase for what I’ma be on about here, but it’ll be something like “immediate Christianity”. First though, a quick primer on Zen:
The Buddha went to his reward around 500BC. Buddhism evolved for 1200 years or so, with a lot of local varieties, but with two main forms – Theravada and Mahayana. Theravada, “Ancient Teaching”, was the full-time, monastic form. Mahayana, “Great Vehicle”, was for everybody who wasn’t ready to quit the world. The general understanding in both forms was that one had to spend a long time – many incarnations – working up to Buddhahood. One was expected to spend numerous lifetimes in the Mahayana, lighting incense and contributing to the support of the local cloister, before one was reincarnated with the desire/ability to take on the rigors of the Theravada for many more incarnations, finally arriving at Buddhahood.
The fundamental premise of Zen was that all that waiting and reincarnating was unnecessary. One of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism is that everyone has Buddha-consciousness and just needs to realize the fact. So why wait? Realize it now. That’s what Zen is. Realizing, right now, your Buddha-consciousness.
Of course, that’s easier said, so Zen has monasteries of its own and a buncha monks and nuns sitting around with their legs asleep, working on koans and not yet realizing their Buddha-consciousness. But the point is – do it now.
It’s not completely incorrect to compare the founding of Zen Buddhism to the Protestant Reformation. In both cases, the religion in question had become rigid and stratified – the monks and nuns in one camp and the unwashed many in the other. The laity had little connection to the religion other than supporting the cloisters and participating in rituals led by specialists. No one had, or was expected to have, a direct, personal experience of the Infinite. Zen says “awaken now”. Protestantism says “have a personal relationship with God”. I would submit that these two messages are not dissimilar.
As with Zen, so with Protestants – many are unable or unwilling. The world is a very alluring illusion and dissolving entirely into the Absolute is a wee bit daunting. Even those who are really hepped up might be reluctant to go all the way in, especially when there’re some very nice institutions that allow a person to live quite comfortably in Heaven’s foyer – or Nibbana’s courtyard. The Messiah and the Tathagata were both homeless, wandering mendicants, after all, and who wants to do that?
So it’s pretty easy – and socially acceptable – to get real close and then stop. Take some classes, read some books, get a degree, put on the proper clothes and get busy feeding the local poor or writing about the various ways Scriptures can be interpreted. Maybe start a podcast. The danger is that one might become popular – I’ve long said that popular success = artistic failure, but I could just as easily say “spiritual failure” instead. You can serve God or mammon. Never both.
I’ma focus on Christianity now, ‘acause that’s where I live, and ‘acause I’ve made the point I was after with Zen. Buddhism has a lot of good to offer any Christian, but I’m not a Buddhist.
Immediate Christianity, then. The full, complete identification with Christ. The realization, here and now, that one is a Child of the Living God. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could peck out exactly how to achieve that? Jiminy Cricket, that’d sell a lotta books. Of course, I can’t and if I could, it wouldn’t do any good. Or maybe I already did, but it ain’t gonna do any good. Unless you get it, in which case you were about to anyway and I didn’t have nothin’ to do with it. I will say that, within the Christian context, the action of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that can make it happen. And I’ll go another step out on this limb and say that I’ve done it, which is just me repeating John 10:30.
“I and the Father are one.” Usually, I don’t supply the verse, but that one’s short. And pretty radical, really. That’s the statement that got Jesus nailed up. I don’t have to worry about that because I live in a society that is so secularized, nobody gives a tinker’s darn if I proclaim my personal identification with the Almighty. A friend of mine once went door-to-door telling people that he was the Second Coming of Christ, but he was having a psychotic break. I’m not. I’m not claiming to be the Second Coming of Christ – I’m just the first coming of me, but I am claiming identification with Him because, as I read it, that’s what we all s’posed to do.
I’m not going to put on sackcloth and go walkabout, begging and teaching. That is not my call, nor would that do any good. The modern Babylon has ways of neutralizing those who attempt a too-literal imitation of Christ. Christ is in me, just as Christ is in you and Christ is in everyone. It’s just a matter of realizing the fact.
The first step to realizing Christ is admitting the possibility. Being willing to imagine that one can fully become a Christ, now, is difficult because we’ve had it pounded into us that we cannot be Christ though we should try to follow Him and feel bad when we fail, but it can be done. It’s worth putting in a little effort. When one has imagined the possibility, there’s nothing else one can do. The Holy Spirit will fill in the rest when/if the Holy Spirit so does. After that, it becomes obvious.
How will the world respond? The way the world usually does – with apathy for as long as possible, then with destruction.
I’ma work on this concept, by which I mean I’ma do nothing and let the Father doeth the work. The Father and Christ are the same God in two aspects, you’ll recall, and the Holy Spirit is the third, so it’s correct for me to say “the Father” while also saying “the Holy Spirit”, meaning the One who moves and will move in me to peck things out here. More will follow, but I dunno when.
But first, ’tis nap time.