Saturday, December 02, 2006

The inner experience

I was up on the ladder today clearing out the rain gutters and while shoving a garden hose down the down spout, Bro. Juniper spotting me and shouted up, "You gotta read this!" My reply was, "Turn the faucet on ... yes, over there ... full blast!" And he did turn the faucet on full blast and after a bit of snaking the garden hose up and down, whatever was clogging the spout freed up and the water flowed down freely. "Turn it off!" When I look down Bro. Juniper was now seated on a wooden bench near his rock and cacti garden, seemingly lost in his book. "Turn the water off!" I didn't want to leave the hose in the spout and climb down the ladder and turn off the water and then climb back up the ladder to remove the hose, and I didn't want to pull the full-blast garden hose from the down spout and attempt to aim the blast away while climbing down the ladder, so I yelled, "Juniper! Turn off the water!" Finally he responded, looked up with a puzzled expression on his face, then looked at the water flowing from the down spout, then seemed to put it all together and hurried to the faucet and turned off the water. "Thank you!" and he replied, "You gotta read this!" So with hose on the ground and ladder stored away, I returned to find him still nose to page. And I have to admit, I was nose to page until he pulled the book away, and we agreed that I would read it when he has finished it. Oh yes, the title: Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master

And here is the excerpt that got Bro. Juniper's attention:

This discovery of the inner self plays a familiar part in Christian mysticism. But there is a significant difference, which is clearly brought out by St. Augustine. In Zen there seems to be no effort to get beyond the inner self. In Christianity the inner self is simply a stepping stone to an awareness of God. Man is the image of God, and his inner self is a kind of mirror in which God not only sees Himself, but reveals Himself to the "mirror" in which He is reflected. Thus, through the dark, transparent mystery of our own inner being we can, as it were, see God "through a glass". All this is of course pure metaphor. It is a way of saying that our being somehow communicates directly with the Being of God, Who is "in us." If we enter into ourselves, find our true self, and then pass "beyond" the inner "I", we sail forth into the immense darkness in which we confront the "I AM" of the Almighty.


Lifewish said...

If I understand correctly, in Zen, the ultimate aim is to destroy the inner self, and thus achieve union with reality. For a sufficiently twisted set of definitions, this is pretty much the same as the Christian goal.

In fact, one of my friends (a Quaker) has observed to me that the biggest difference between contemplative Christianity and Buddhism is that Christians do in groups what Buddhists do individually.

Make of that what you will :)

Bro. Bartleby said...

" destroy the inner self..."
would be one way to describe to be awaken, or satori. I would think the difference between the Zen approach and some Christian approaches is that Zen is about daily action with meditation as a method of 'clearing' the mind of thoughts, whereas Christians love words and ideas and thoughts and are forever attempting to 'construct' a whole with thoughts. The Zen is attempting to merge with the whole by shedding words and ideas and thoughts, for the idea that much cannot be explained with words. I suppose that is why science thrives in the liberal Christian environment, whereas is nonexistent in a Zen surrounding. In the Zen tradition one seeks simplicity in daily life, for it is in this simplicity that one goes about being one with the all; this too can be found amoung some Christians that seek to remove themselves from the ever complicated secular life.

As for Quakers and Zen Buddhists, in Buddhism group meditation is very important, and in Zen even more important.

Now all we need is for a real live Zen Buddhist to come aboard and explain it all to us.

Anonymous said...

"we sail forth into the immense darkness in which we confront the 'I AM' of the Almighty"
Why immense darkness? Why not immense lightness? And what happens when we confront God?

Bro. Bartleby said...

"Why not immense lightness?"

Yes, why not? I may not agree with each word of Thomas Merton, but I always find his writing worthy of more than a bit of pondering.

Lifewish said...

I suppose that is why science thrives in the liberal Christian environment, whereas is nonexistent in a Zen surrounding.

I hadn't thought there was much of a liberal Christian environment back when the Enlightenment hit. The (quite possibly misinformed) impression I got was that a lot of the driving force came from a general reaction against an autocratic Church. There's nothing like being told what they're not allowed to learn about to really p*ss off a community of geeks.

Why immense darkness?

Because we can't see where we're going until we stumble across the Absolute.


Bro. Bartleby said...

When you set aside the organization of religions and their very human imperfections and think of faith as personal and within (for the moment, I'm not dismissing same faith groups), then you might find why I have said that Christianity is a fertile field for science. The reasons are two simplified statements.
Jesus is active.
Buddha is passive.
Again, I am not arguing the history of the organized Church, what I am arguing is that Christianity as taught by Jesus demands activity, one is not to accept the world as is, but to be bold and go against the flow and feed and clothe those that have not. Whereas Buddhism seems to accept the material world as is and by turning inward one can escape (be free of) pain and suffering, and passivity is the route to attain this freedom from the material world. In Christianity the thinkers of the Enlightenment were up against the organized Church, but I dare say, they were not up against Jesus. I think Jesus as a young lad would have had a great time with a Gilbert Chemistry Set.

Lifewish said...

I'd have expected a young Jesus to have real trouble with a chemistry set. It would be rather hard to form any concrete conclusions about what was going on when burning hydrogen and oxygen together occasionally gave you ethanol.

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