Sunday, June 19, 2016

Leave Your Ideas at the Door

I was talking to a Protestant friend of mine and he said that in his faith there aren't any rosaries or crucifixes as there is in Catholicism; there is just you and God. Unlike in Catholicism, where saints can act on our behalf, his form of Christianity stresses a direct relationship between the worshipper and God.

I can relate to that directness--the lack of an intermediary--through Zen. In Zen, language and concepts are seen as intermediaries sometimes standing between us and our experience of unfiltered reality. Reality is always present, one unified whole that only appears fragmented because of human thinking.

"Buddha" means awakened one; it describes someone's state of mind who sees through the cultural and linguistic veils that make the world look conflicted and irreconcilable. Ideas and concepts can be useful, provided we don't confuse them with the reality they are designed to represent. Just as our thoughts of an apple aren't actually an apple, our thoughts about people are not who they truly are.

Thoughts are only thoughts. They are representations of reality, not reality itself. Trouble can arise if our thoughts about the Buddha, enlightenment, God, seduce us into believing that they are no longer thoughts, but themselves real. Then people argue, fight, and even kill to defend their ideas.

All labels are provisional. From a Zen perspective, it's just as preposterous to argue over what to call an apple as it is to quarrel over whose version of God is correct. None are--they're all just ideas! If you want to know an apple, smell or eat it. Cut out the intellectual middle man--names, labels, judgments, and so on--and experience reality unfolding right now. Not in some abstract future state, but right here, right now: what do you hear, smell, taste, feel, and see?

That's real.

In a sense, Zen is like my friend's Christianity, minus God. For me, there's no need for any intermediary like God--either as a creator or as an expression of the unified world that we live in. The heat filling my room on this early summer's day is enough. So is the white glow of my computer screen and the chirping from the birds outside. Introducing another idea--be it divine or prosaic--is like adding the peanut butter label to a peanut butter sandwich. Not only is it unnecessary, but it gets in the way of my lunch.

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