This morning I heard a Buddhist teacher give a talk that referred to a teisho (something like a sermon) on the Beatitudes given by Taizan Maezumi Roshi. So when I got home I looked for the teisho on the Web; here it is. You probably know (because you are smarter than three-fourths of the nation’s population) that the Beatitudes are from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Maezumi was an old-school Japanese Zen master. So it’s interesting (to me, anyway) to see what Maezumi did with the Beatitudes. He treated them very respectfully, and (while acknowleding that Christians might understand them differently) compared them to nearly identical Buddhist teachings. They’d make good koans, the roshi said.
As a human being, what is the difference between you and me, or between Buddhist and Christian? Even among Buddhists and among Christians there are different ways of approaching it. But what we appreciate should not be different â€” however, we say it â€” being one with God, or saved by God, or liberated by God, or even condemned by God. If we can really selfless feel the existence of that, I am sure we will know the savior.
By “savior” Maezumi did not mean Jesus, although he also did not not mean Jesus. And there’s another koan for you.
In today’s Seattle Times, Janet I. Tu writes about an Episcopal priest who recently converted to Islam, although she is also still an Episcopal priest. This is causing a certain amount of consternation among some righties. Scott Johnson of Power Tools sniffs that the priest couldn’t have been “a believing Christian” before the conversion, even though she has been a priest for 20 years and the conversion happened just 15 months ago.
I used to be what Mr. Johnson calls “a believing Christian,” and now I’m not. It’s not an unusual phenomenon. Sometimes as people grow and mature they find they need to move on to other things. And yet I don’t say that Christians are wrong. We religious people are all thrashing around trying to comprehend the incomprehensible in our own imperfect way. Religion itself is just an interface.
The Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, the Muslim-Episcopalian priest, says,
Redding doesn’t feel she has to resolve all the contradictions. People within one religion can’t even agree on all the details, she said. “So why would I spend time to try to reconcile all of Christian belief with all of Islam?
“At the most basic level, I understand the two religions to be compatible. That’s all I need.”
She says she felt an inexplicable call to become Muslim, and to surrender to God â€” the meaning of the word “Islam.”
“It wasn’t about intellect,” she said. “All I know is the calling of my heart to Islam was very much something about my identity and who I am supposed to be.
“I could not not be a Muslim.”
Zen generally takes a dim view of religion-as-identity and any sentence that includes the phrase “who I am supposed to be,” but even so I can relate to what she says. I’ve known people in a conversion process to keep a toe in both pools for a time. It’s common to meet people in formal Zen training who still considered themselves to be Christians or Jews and who practice a kind of fusion religion. Eventually some might experience an epiphany-kensho and choose to take just one seat or the other. Some might not. In any event, all such people I have known have been incredibly sincere, and they thought and worked deeply at their religious practices.
They didn’t just believe what they were supposed to believe out of tribal loyalty, in other words.
Yesterday I found a fascinating article at the Guardian Comment Is Free site. Chris Duggan writes,
In a world dominated by Middle East conflicts, it is more urgent than ever that words and creeds emerge from the trenches and dare to divest themselves of the armour that is designed to shore up a reassuring sense of identity, under the guise of religious faith. This process has always been a central concern of the mystical tradition of all the world religions: those who penetrate to the heart of their faith invite their coreligionists to go beyond words and concepts to a level of experience that escapes definition.
Exactly. And I recommend reading all of Chris Duggan’s article.
The Rev. Ms. Redding’s bishop is wise enough to give her space to follow her bliss and let whatever process she is going through play itself out. It’s true that there are some essential doctrinal conflicts between Christianity and Islam, and eventually she may choose one or the other. That’s something she needs to work out for herself. That kind of work is the essence of what religion actually is. Adopting a belief system dictated to you by a religious institution is something that passes for religion, but IMO that’s a tepid and watered-down imitation of the real thing.
I read in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy about Saint Anselm of Canterbury. Saint Anselm was â€œthe outstanding Christian philosopher and theologian of the eleventh century,â€ it says.
Anselm’s motto is “faith seeking understanding” (fides quaerens intellectum). â€¦ Faith for Anselm is more a volitional state than an epistemic state: it is love for God and a drive to act as God wills. In fact, Anselm describes the sort of faith that “merely believes what it ought to believe” as “dead.” â€¦ So “faith seeking understanding” means something like “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.”
I admit that the word epistemic gives me a headache, but it has to do with the validity of knowledge and belief. So Anselmâ€™s approach to faith is not about trying to get his belief system validated. Beliefs by themselves have no purpose. Faith is not an end in itself. Rather, Anselm says, faith is a means for seeking a deeper knowledge of God (or the Dharmakaya, or the Great Absolute Whatever). A religion that isn’t looking past the dogmas to a deeper truth is a dead religion. And I say people with dead religions shouldn’t throw stones.