The Urgency of Now: A Contemporary (Zen) Buddhist Meditation

Today an old friend cited that line often attributed to Karl Barth, that we need to preach holding the Bible in one hand, and a newspaper in the other.

It reminded me of a recent flurry of thoughts and comments on various contemporary Buddhisms in the West, increasingly called Buddhist modernism.

Among the critiques, as I read them, is that contemporary Western Buddhism too often is both dismissive and ignorant of the richness and complexity of the Buddhisms practiced in East and South Asia. Favoring instead what was at one time called a Protestant Buddhism, stripped down and spare, with none of the embarrassing bits.

Some of this is true. I’m sure.

But, I’m also aware that buried in the critiques are often subtle and on occasion not so subtle calls to the old time religion. They recoil at the new dialogues and seem really seem to want a Buddhism untarnished by the soiled hand of modernity.

Frankly, I find this either or question, a stripped down Buddhism or some particular cultural expression of sufficient antiquity not very useful. And, not particularly addressing what really are our choices.

I’m pretty much fully a part of the contemporary phenomenon, what I prefer to call Liberal Buddhism. Those I would characterize as part of this trend do indeed have a more focused perspective, seeing, ultimately, that the point of the project of seeing the hurt of the world, that clinging to a passing self is a large part of that problem, and embracing a path of meditation, moral harmony and a lodestar of nondual insight, all takes place in this, one life.

The issue is not whether there are supernatural beings, or heavens and hells.

The issue is rebirth, and how many of us see the whole deal all here and now. No extra. No next.

This is the radical at the heart of much of contemporary or modern or liberal Buddhism.

That one life is both a very small thing, and is a major game changer for how Buddhism is encountered. It rejects, if not as a possibility, as any major concern, the idea of rebirth as a postmortem life, and with that, a focus on or concern with future awakening.

If, and I’m confident enough to put all my eggs in the basket, there is one life, then the point of my practice and faith is focused entirely on what is at hand.

And it is more straight forward, and a bit stripped down.

The disciplines of sitting down, shutting up, and paying attention are not to be ignored.

Finding the harmonies of my actions and thoughts are critical. And that means now.

And, perceiving in flashes and as a growing depth of insight, that nondual reality is always before me.

So, yes. The Sutras (or, for me, the koan literature and other classics of most concern in the Chan and Zen spiritual world) in one hand. We need the wisdom of our elders.

And a newspaper, or websites and social media, in the other. Keeping in touch with the news of the day. The matter at hand. This. Always this.

The healing gift of our new vision of the Dharma. Always needful of enriching. And already healing many broken hearts.

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