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Not One, Not Two: Zen Between the Christians and the Buddhists

Not One, Not Two: Zen Between the Christians and the Buddhists June 27, 2021

Some time in the mists of the past, before Covid was a thing, I was invited to be a presenter on a panel sponsored by the Society for Christian Buddhist Studies. It was about being spiritually “in between.” For the most part the panelists were Christian academics specializing in Buddhist studies. All professed to stand somewhere within that in between. While I protest that I am not a Zen Christian as is sometimes believed, I had to agree that I mostly fit the bill for the panel. As it happens I was also the sole non academic.

Time has rolled around. And it turns out the various presentations are being gathered and will be posted in the SCBS’s journal. An honor. But, they also asked for abstracts of our talks. As a non academic I’ve never been asked to produce an abstract for something I’ve written.

It is a humbling experience.

For me it led to this:

Attending a mass conducted by an Episcopal priest who is also a Zen teacher raises a question for me. What part of this moment is Christian and what part Zen? My own path is one between. With a tip of the hat to Erasmus, I often speak of having a Buddhist brain, a Christian heart, and a rationalist stomach. As a Unitarian Universalist minister, I consider my part of the liberal religious tradition. Liberal religion brings a this-worldly and rationalist bias as it engages the ancient traditions we’ve received as our religions. This approach arises in the Enlightenment, and has spread and deepened, and now, among other things informs inter religious dialogue. The core Buddhist teaching for me is found in the radical nondualism of the Heart Sutra and the three bodies of the Buddha: boundlessness, history, and a dream world that erupts between the two poles of boundlessness and history. That mass celebrated by my Episcopal priest friend showed to me the connections of the dream world in the same way as a celebration of morning liturgy conducted by a another friend, a Japanese Zen priest. The raising of the bread and the raising of a stick of incense, when given the same full presence, revealed the intimate as boundless, as historical, and as the dancing dream. Not two. But neither is it one. Instead, a “just this” that heals the world.

Beyond revealing I kind of wander around before I get to the point, I’m still weighing what this means in any deeper sense…


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