Earlier this week, I visited a Zen Buddhist temple. As I sat there listening to Abbot Carlson lecture (along with the other students from my World Religions course), I couldn’t help but wonder, Am I a Zen Buddhist too?
The Abbot began his talk by tracing the history of Buddhism. Over the centuries, Buddhism, like all major religions, began to stagnate. Leaders were too dependent on political structures. The practice was getting lost in facades. It was the type of stuff that would never happen in Christianity. Because of this stagnation, some people decided they wanted to get back to basics. They wanted Buddhism to be free of the lust for power. They wanted a more pure and true Buddhism. I began to sympathize a bit.
He then said that Zen Buddhists are welcome to newcomers, but they try to steer people away from becoming Zen priests. They realize that being a priest is a great responsibility. It calls for a greater renunciation of goods. It calls for more dedication. It calls for a higher spirituality. Sound familiar?
Abbot Carlson went on to describe something he called dharma. The dharma, he said, is living life in deep harmony with what is inherently true. When you do it, it feels like you’re dancing. In the past seven years, I’ve had moments of dancing.
He then said that selfishness is hollow in the long run. Each of us needs to recognize that I am the problem of the world. G.K. Chesterton said the same thing as a Christian. The Abbot then said that evil is the degree to which we become entangled, disillusioned, or attached to things that aren’t important. We need to get beyond materialism and realize what’s worthwhile. We need to mindfully engage our lives. Once again, a nod of agreement.
Finally, he talked about living in balance. We mustn’t hold too tightly to praise from others or to good things. But, at the same time, we mustn’t hold too tightly to the bad things that happen and become embittered and angry. He said there is ease to be found in not grasping. Hm…
So my question is: Am I Zen Buddhist or am I a Christian? What distinguishes one from another?