Friday, December 31, 2010

Great minds think alike (so why I am I thinking like they do?)

I recently browsed an issue of Shambala Sun.  Sometimes it has nothing of interest to me, other times it has a gem of an article that I need to keep and read over and over.  This one by "Jack Haubner", in the January 2011 issue, had a quote that talked about the importance of the tension between received tradition and ongoing (personal) revelation:

More important, watching Roshi in a non-monastic setting gave me new insight into just how seamlessly he had made the Zen tradition his own--and vice versa.  An uneasy tension had always existed between my free-spirited self and the hyper-disciplined, even militaristic conventions of formal Zen practice.  But that week in the hospital I began to see that the proper relationship between an individual and a tradition is one of tension--healthy tension.  That is what produces spiritual growth, both in the individual and in the tradition itself: not the individual's solo efforts nor the tradition's overarching forms, but the two locked into a single struggle/dance, from which a new kind of person--and practice--emerges.

With the full force of the tradition behind him, my teacher searched within himself (the "backward step," as Dogen called it) and eventually broke through, turning himself inside out and taking the outside in.  The tradition became personal and the personal universal.  As the religious historian Karen Armstrong has pointed put, the tendency in our age is either to reject the traditional and remain isolated, secular individualists, or cling to religious forms and ideals and become fundamentalists.  But the truth, like all truths, lies somewhere in between: We can't do it on our own, nor can the tradition do it for us.  When the individual and the tradition are perfectly wed, intermingled and indistinguishable, a spiritual heavy hitter--a genuine master--is born, and an institution is revitalized.

In short, the tradition must be dissolved within the individual, and the individual must dissolve within the tradition.

A month or so ago I had finally picked up the classic Being Peace by Thich Naht Hanh, and in Chapter Two I came across a passage which read, "Whenever I say, 'I take refuge in the Buddha,' I hear 'The Buddha takes refuge in me.' " That kind of phrasing seemed a tad familiar to me, although we took developed it in different ways.

I just finished reading Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism).  In it the author, Frank Schaeffer, talks about being comfortable with uncertainty and paradox, that this is liberation to true reality, that is how we find genuine faith and come to a more mature understanding of God, which happened to be a major theme for many of my entries to the blog this past fall. Here are some relevant excerpts.  The first set of quotes center on the teachings of St Maximo, who lived at the end of the Sixth and the beginning of the Seventh Centuries, while the second is a reflection on a series of "bad" choices and selfish behavior which led to a long and happy marriage which in turn brought several wonderful and unique people into the world.

On the views espoused by Maximos:

Maximos says that "lovers of God" are granted to see with inner eyes "the Word and God himself"... the spiritual understanding that is "immaterial, simple, immutable, divine, free of all form and shape."  In other words, authentic apophatic spiritual experience is the exact opposite of intellectually organized theology, and of "fact" and "history." And biblical "revelation" -- just as is mother love -- isn't about books on the subject but is expressed in those moments of tenderness that transcend description and are seen with inner eyes. (That is one reason why many of the Fathers of the early monastic tradition put forth the idea that true theology is prayer, rather than intellectual ideas.)


"[S]alvation is a journey dependent not on "right thinking," but on love, which is what the fear of the God, who cannot be described, is.

And on Mr. Schaeffer's finding his future wife (Genie), getting her pregnant when they both extremely young and prior to marriage, and in what most would consider the poor decisions made by several people involved in that series of events:

[W]hat would I change about our sexual activities, my parents' bizarre complicity, Genie lying to her mother and father, and an unplanned pregnancy at the worst time imaginable?  



How can this paradoxical, contradictory, amoral way of looking at life be okay? From the evangelical/fundamentalist point of view, what Genie and I did was sinful. From the rationalistic point of view of modern psychology, science, or just your average high school councilor, what we did was wrong.  What advice do you think Planned Parenthood what have given us?

Science? Reason? Planning? Rationality? Moral Behavior? Smart Behavior? Good choices? No. Grace, mystery, love and (above all) embracing paradox are what count.  And that paradox, that truth button, that grace, should humble everyone who thinks they have the correct ideas about the way things should be, must be, ought to be, have to be -- either "according to the latest scientific studies" or according to what the Bible says.  With all due respect to Dawkins, mystery trumps everything.  With all due respect to the theologians, every true story begins with the words "In spite of what I thought at the time..."

I don't know that I would agree with even most of what Mr. Schaeffer thinks about religion, but in this book he tends to remind me a lot of my own private reflections on religious and secular fundamentalism.

Of course, on this list of parallels we can't leave out my impression of the Heart Sutra and my subsequent discovery of a nearly identical interpretation given by the current Dalia Lama.

None of this is to suggest I am particularly clever, but it is just very interesting to have written something and then find out that someone with much more experience and reputation says the same thing.  Especially because in these areas I am an uneducated amateur.
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  1. May I please borrow Patience with God...? Sounds like something familiar in my faith journey.


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