Notes from Theology on Tap

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Zen is steeped in Buddhism, which means its roots are in pantheistic monism: God is the world and all is one. The same spirit (Brahman) occupies everything. All is Brahman: I’m Brahman, you’re Brahman, that chair is Brahman. If you think you perceive a distinction between you and the toilet, you are caught in illusion.

Zen seeks to crash through all distinctions. No subject-object, no me-you. There is just being.

“If you meet the Buddha, kill him.” If you see something distinct, especially something that seeks to convey meaning, you’re experiencing a mistake.

Put aside the theological error. That doesn’t concern us tonight. What is more important, what makes Zen relevant to a Christian, is its approach to smash through the illusion (or, more accurately, what it thinks is illusion). Its approach answers in large part those three mentally tricky examples I started with tonight.

Again: If you meet the Buddha, kill him. Zen doesn’t want you out there, looking for the Buddha. If you’re looking for something, you’ve impliedly fallen into the trap of thinking you’re not the Buddha and the Buddha isn’t you. Again, no subject-object.

Zen doesn’t even care much about pantheistic monism. To think about it is to get caught in the subject-object. Many commentators say Zen isn’t metaphysical at all – not religious at all. It’s just an ethic, a way of living, an attitude, a school of psychology. It’s many things, but it’s not religious, many argue. I tend to agree with them.

The Zen approach is: “Just.” Just look. Just enjoy. Just see.

Have the eyes of the little child: The little kid never thinks about the enjoyment . . . or rage or whatever. He just is. We know that, starting about age four, children start to understand themselves as separate beings. I think it’s called the process of differentiation, but I’m not sure. Regardless of the term, for the Zen master, it’s a kind of an existential disaster. The Zen master doesn’t approve of the narcissism that necessarily accompanies a person in whom differentiation isn’t properly developed, but his goal is to bring back the eyes of the toddler . . . but without the narcissism . . . without the ego.

The ego is the biggest, baddest, gorilla in the zoo of subject-object. The Zen master wants it dead . . . without looking at it long enough to stick a sword through it. He wants you to kill it by neglect . . . don’t look at it. That is the first step . . . The purgative step, if you will.