AT THE INTERSECTION OF GOD & BUDDHA
In two of my prior Dharma Bytes, I explored the intersection of Science and Zen, illustrating my thesis that Zen occupies the middle ground between the extremes of Theism and Rationalism, but definitely closer to the latter end of the spectrum. This is because we do not see Zen as a belief-based system of dealing with the world in which we find ourselves, but as an experience-based method, which is closer to the evidence-based truths of Science.
In an interim piece, I explored the ramifications of climate change, an issue that science promises to address, but politics seems to trump - no pun intended - that possibility. And, typically, politics that is based on a theistic view of reality, in which Armageddon is prophesied, and apparently even considered a desirable outcome.
In this month’s essay I would like to take a closer look at one of the central questions that often comes up when discussing Zen with people of other faiths. It will often take the form of “Do you worship Buddha?” or “What do you believe in?”
RELIGION & ZEN
While it is easy to dismiss such a query as basically ignorant, or even unseemly and aggressive in proselytizing mode, I think it probably indicates something deeper. If we consider why people have beliefs in something they cannot prove, and for which the evidence is scanty, on a psychological level at least I think we can come to some common ground. Something like 25% of the American populace currently poll as not adhering to any particular faith, not identified with any one of the world’s major or minor religions. It is not lost on religious leaders that it is primarily the young, the millennials, who are looking for something else; and that many of them are gravitating toward meditation.
Freedom of religion in this culture is increasingly interpreted as including freedom from religion. Which causes the evangelicals amongst us no end of anxiety and handwringing. They may be genuinely concerned for the salvation of the souls of others, or simply needing to have the assurance of safety in numbers that their belief, or faith, is well-founded.
My basic thesis here is that we should not be too cavalier about or dismissive of the way others express their faith. There are teachings or at least implications of teachings in Buddhism that smack of similar concepts. Because I am not a scholar, I will not attempt to justify my comments with research and validation from respected sources. I only mean to suggest a more open-minded approach to the interfaith dialog, one that does not aim to convince others, but only to reconsider our own biases and prejudices, which may not be readily apparent. After all, as Master Dogen reminds us:
Do not suppose that what you realize becomes your knowledge
and is grasped by your consciousness
Although actualized immediately the inconceivable may not be apparent
Its appearance is beyond your knowledge
If even the most profound insight available in Zen is inaccessible to ordinary awareness, how much more so the subliminal views we may be harboring.