I saw the painter at our (nearly finished!) house before he saw me. His hat read “Bikes not Bombs.”
I complimented his work and he talked about how painting was like baking bread, his previous job.
“It is so easy, it’s hard,” he said. I made an unusual step for a Christian apologist and said,
“But you’re finding your Zen, right?” He looked up appreciatively.
Zen is a practice of being present always, noticing everything.
Not a bad mantra. Sort of reminds me of Jesus command “Don’t worry about tomorrow, today is enough to worry about” (Matt 6).
Zen Buddhism heavily draws from the ancient Chinese philosophy of Daoism or Taoism. In Cha Dao: The Art of Tea, Tea as Way of Life by Solala Towler I learned that Daoism is “a way of living in the world–being intensely engaged with life yet not being attached to the outcome of any endeavor. People who follow Dao have chosen to develop naturally rather than be programmed by anyone or any group.”
Not a bad mantra either.
In today’s spiritual climate I can see why the most attractive aspect of Zen is the “non-reliance on scripture.” Zen is doing the thing, not studying ancient texts or adhering to a creed (For a practical example read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance).
Zen Awanas would never make it.
Zen is about being in the present, welcoming the distractions because it’s far better to meditate in activity than to meditate in stillness. Zen reminds me of Father Lawrence worshipping God through scrubbing the pots and pans.
And yet, I cannot be totally Zen about Zen.
For instance, take these Daoist/Zen mantras:
- Let things take their course (How to blend this with fighting for justice? Micah 6:8)
- To yield is to become whole (or to yield is to become a victim of abuse)
- Give deep reverence and fierce attention to the moment at hand (Where does this put the future-oriented virtue of hope?)
- Find the path of least resistance (How to blend this with “Take up your cross and follow me”?)
Every religion has good mantras, even “boutique spiritualists” have their mantas (read more about designer spirituality in Chapter 1 of my book, Coffee Shop Conversations).
A few secular mantras I love “Always kiss me goodnight,” and “Live well, love much, laugh often.”
Such good ideas.
But about as helpful as a placard that says, “Get a million dollars.” Also a good idea, but a little more clearly unhelpful.
Because we don’t know how or we would get a million dollars.
We humans all want the same things, but we all find it’s harder than the mantras make it look.
How do you have the stamina to want to kiss the man you married every cotton-picking night?
How do you love much when you feel the day is best spent in bed with chocolates and 30 Rock reruns?
Daoism teaches us to find beauty in our world of woe and worry, rather than push beyond it as illusion (as Buddhists teach).
Lots of good ideas here, but where do you get the energy to follow all these mantras.
Daoists recommend meditating on nature. But what if you can’t even get out of bed?
I Don’t Get It
Each religion has recommendations for making life better and suggestions of how to get there. Meditation, wisdom, comparisons to water or grass appear in both Laozi (or Lao Tzu, author of the Daoist text Tao Te Ching) and Jesus’ words.
But how do you make good on all these maxims?
Remember Jesus’ last words, “I’m with you all the time, even when this world has frosted over and you have to ski to hell.” Okay that’s my paraphrase of Matthew 28.
Laozi cannot be personally present with me nor can Buddha. Allah must remain transcendent from his worshippers. Followers of Baha’i do not worship Jesus of Nazareth as any more Godlike than Moses or Mohammad.
Jesus said we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless he bears us into spiritual life (John 3). That’s more than good, wise mantra talk. Jesus is fully invested in the moments of our lives, he’s not dead, he’s not pre-occupied with managing the rest of world history or enjoying nirvana. Jesus is not “Embracing the One” which leaves him free
at our elbow.
Jesus isn’t in us like as our Buddha self. Jesus is distinct as the second person in the Trinity, but he’s as near as our earlobes. His work in us is as engaged as a painter running the fourth coat of porcelain white on my bookshelves.
That’s Zen involvement in us.
That’s the part of Zen that makes the most sense to me.
Instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.
I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.
Jesus, Matthew 28:19-20, The Message
And for a sneak peak, our home is nearly finished. A few pictures for you to savor the anticipation with me.