Zen Dreams on the Destruction of the Temple

I forget precisely, but as I recall it, in one of his novels, perhaps the Journey to the East, Herman Hesse suggests near anything might become our sacred text worthy of deep reading, pointing the way for our wandering hearts. My recollection was that he recommended Don Quixote as a good example.

I’ve noticed some truth in this, although perhaps not for quite “near everything,” although perhaps even Hesse didn’t say that and was more cautious about what might make a real and helpful spiritual text.

Even with the caveat it is interesting what can be worked and pushed and stretched, and reexamined in helpful ways. Particularly if the inquiring eye has been sharpened by hours and days and years pursing the quiet heart…



Attending to the matter at hand.

At which point it is amazing what becomes sacred writ.

Or might be…

For instance I see in Wikipedia that somebody marks today as the day in the year 70, the 10th of Loios, the 9th or maybe its the 10th of Ab, when Titus unleashed his army and destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Pretty much what we today speak of as the Fall of Jerusalem.

The destruction of the gate of peace.

The destruction of certainty.

The fall of heaven.

To shift the image just the tinest, within some schools of Buddhism, the dawn of the degeneration, that time when all things fall apart, when things are so fallen that it is impossible to awaken by one’s own effort.

As an aside, this is the age of world religion, where we are now able to and in some ways forced to see correction and guidance and challenge from the deep insights and even on occasion the off hand remarks from others. Buddhism informs Christianity informs science, informs philosophy, informs, well, informs us all. There are no private religions anymore. No way to cut ourselves off from the rest of the world…

The lid is blown off.

The doors to the way are exploded, the way lies open.

And what do we see? Everything collapsed.


And, yes, Dogen, the great Zen sage and theoretical writer, for one, said there is no such age.

I find myself thinking of the fall. Of that time when heaven is lost, and we are cursed, and we, not we, you, me, we must wander and struggle, and hope seems lost.


We’re cast into the great wandering.



And hope, doesn’t seem able to come from our actions.



If so, if we find ourselves cast out in the outer darkness, then what?

After the destruction of the temple then what?


Or, as someone else asked, after the fifteenth of the month, then what?

That line, the fifteenth of the month, alludes the the full moon, the great image of awakening in Zen Buddhism.

What about collapsing temples and awakening?


What about nothing to hold on to and waking up?

I suggest there’s something juicy here, if we’re willing to baste in it a bit.

Where’s the difference between the wilderness and heaven?

Many of us dream

of waking.

But, the gate, the door, is closed.

It’s closed in my experience, to my observation, by our certainties, by our comfort with what is, whether that what is, is good or ill. We are closed off from our heart’s desire by our sense of our place in the world, whether at the top of the heap or at the bottom or somewhere in between.

The call here is to let the temple fall.

We need that temple to fall.

And then, to walk out into the darkness.

And, then…

Well, who knows?



Our own efforts?

Some merciful hand from heaven?

We don’t know.

You don’t know.

I don’t know.

And then…

Well, then its up to you…

Of Kings and Priests: An Idle Aside With No Discernible Conclusion
On Being a Religious Liberal: A Small Meander Through the Fields of the Heart
There’s No Crying in Baseball
A Pause While Preparing for the Soto Zen Buddhist Association Board Meeting
  • pennyroyal

    Come let us make meaning together and together find new or renewed purpose!
    The destruction of temples is a ‘creative destruction” but I don’t use it in the economic sense. Each one of us needs to become both creator and destroyer.

    Thank you James, fine piece.

  • pennyroyal

    “Half The House” is a memoir of child sexual abuse and then telling as an adult and then healing. It’s by poet/writer Richard Hoffman. The “evil house” where three girls-unto-women were held captive and tortured was torn down this week. Old churches have lost their way and as an old Catholic said to me this week, ‘they are in a state of apostasy.’

    There are many ‘houses’ that need to be half or fully torn down. I’m sure each of us has her or his own list. Once the destruction is over, a la Watts–or Detroit now in bankruptcy. Also Gerry Sandusky wrote from prison that he is good with God. We must ask, do we have the heart and courage to replace it with new structures based on human integrity and human decency?

    Here’s the poem by C. P. Cavafy, a Greek poet, from which Hoffman got his title. .

    Growing Strong

    He who wishes to strengthen his spirit,
    must abandon reverence and submission.
    He will honor some laws,
    but mostly he will break both law and custom,
    and he will stray from the accepted, inadequate straight path.
    He will be taught much by sensual pleasures.
    He will not fear the destructive act;
    half the house must be torn down.
    This way he will grow virtuously towards knowledge.