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Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Personal Reflections ... Photo ... Religion ...

I’ve been practicing Zen with my local sangha now for a little over a year, and in this time I’ve swallowed down a big dose of Buddhism. But to be honest, I’m still having indigestion from it. Buddhism just seems so negative, and ultimately it seems quite un-Zen.

At the core of Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths — which are so very negative about the world. These 4 truths actually fold into 2 basic notions: life is pretty much all about suffering, but Buddhism holds the formula to attain some sort of deliverance from that suffering. This suffering is transmitted by the cycle of birth and death and karma transmission between lives. The deliverance is called Nirvana, and is not explained or described other than that the cycle of birth, death and karma are ended permanently once Nirvana is reached.

Sounds pretty grim, actually. Zen can seem grim too, with plenty of long, harsh, boring practices prescribed to attain “enlightenment” — whatever that is! It’s not exactly Nirvana, but it’s not exactly NOT Nirvana.

Yea, yea, more of that lovely eastern double-talk. For me, though, Zen has been something much brighter. My community and teacher seem to focus on the light more than the dark; we talk about the unseen perfection of the moment. We talk about breaking thru the illusion of incompleteness. We say that you already have it all, even as you continue to search and struggle. And we enjoy each other’s company while together pondering these great imponderables.

Last weekend I finally got out for my spring hike up in Harriman State Park. Just a quarter mile south of the Elk Pen lot is this little babbling brook. I stopped to take it in, of course, and it made me think — why do we need Nirvana? What would be so terrible about being born again into a world with babbling brooks like this?

Well yes, I realize that this is also a world of terror and misunderstanding and loneliness and betrayal and war and chaos and sickness and anxiety. But is that the rule, or is the world good at the core? Do we need to achieve Nirvana, freedom from re-birth; or do we need Zen enlightenment about the goodness made possible because of our birth? The Buddha promised deliverance; Zen promises “right here, right now, right in you”. I’m with those who say that Zen is more Taoist than Buddhist in nature. I believe that it’s Tao that can experience a stream like this and know that despite all the bad (bin Laden, the killing of bin Laden, etc), at heart all is good. The Tao knows that Nirvana is here and now — so, I’m hereby renaming this location “Tao Nirvana Falls”.

Well, unofficially, anyway!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:33 pm      

  1. Jim, First of all, once again, you capture the beauty of the “Tao Nirvana Falls” in your picture. Absolutely lovely.

    Second, You’ve got a good point. Why concentrate on the negative aspects of the spiritual path you are following? I like very much your statement that you and your group “enjoy each other’s company while together pondering… [the] imponderables.” You also ask a question that is one that can set a lot of people thinking–“Is the world good at it’s core?” I’d answer yes, but then there certainly is evidence that parts of it may not be good at their core.

    The older I get the more I realize that in the end one has to realize that the here and now is what life’s all about. (I can’t speak about it being Nirvana as I’m not a practicing Buddhist.)

    I do think that your choice of name for the stream is perfect, just perfect. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — May 6, 2011 @ 11:13 am

  2. Jim, Another tho’t:

    I found a book by Cynthia Bourgeault on Mary Magdalene. (Yes, I guess a feminist! Yes, I guess she takes an approach that is intuitive rather than intellectual.) I found a passage in it that may apply to your blog above. The one that applies to your thinking about the negativity of Buddhism is this:

    Speaking of the “Buddhist path of non-attachment”, she says that there is a way to take this negative approach to the world with a “distinctly different flavor”, one that is warm-hearted and has intrinsic “relationality” to it. (I tho’t here of your comment that you “enjoy each other’s company while together pondering these great imponderables.”)

    She says in explaining her approach that the direction of the flow of spiritual energy should be radiating outward so that it fills every nook and cranny of the world. So that while the “world may ultimately prove to be an illusion, the fullness itself” (of the spiritual energy that is radiated) is real. I must say I tho’t, isn’t this what you are saying?–only she’s using different words to say the same thing.

    Perhaps this is another way of saying enjoy the babbling brook and renaming it “Tao Nirvana Falls.” Then again, maybe it’s my way of trying to understand your point. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — May 6, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

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