Becoming “churchless” doesn’t mean that someone has given up the search for meaning in life. Quite the opposite.
Speaking personally -- as if I had a choice -- I don’t feel that the intensity of my quest for ultimate answers concerning the nature of the cosmos has lessened a bit since I turned away from organized religion and spirituality.
All that has changed is the style of my search. I’m more open now to wandering in the open fields of mysticism and philosophy, being less concerned about staying on a well-defined path.
Still, I enjoy learning about how other pathless (or semi-pathless) wanderers look upon reality from their vantage point. I don’t want to follow in someone else’s footsteps, but it’s nice to meet up with like-minded travelers for a friendly get-together around a literary campfire.
These days, when I walk into a bookstore or browse through my own library I usually head for the Taoism and Buddhism sections. This is where my churchless soul finds the most Yes, Yes, Yes resonance.
So Ray Grigg’s “The Tao of Zen” is right up my reading alley, since it features a discussion of both philosophical systems.
I’ve read the book several times. Each re-reading offers up new insights, with some thoughts popping out of a page with much greater vigor than before.
Browsing through “The Tao of Zen” the past few days, I’ve been struck by the distinction Griggs makes between (1) Zen, and (2) Zen Buddhism. I’ve tended to see these terms as being virtually synonymous. But there’s good reason to argue that genuine Zen has little if anything to do with Buddhism.
And a lot to do with Taoism.
Makes sense to me. I’m a big fan of philosophical, as opposed to religious, Taoism. I also enjoy Zen literature, unless it is heavily tainted with the religious side of Buddhism.
Grigg’s notion is that Zen minus Buddhism equals Taoism. Or at least is virtually identical.
As much as I’m attracted to Buddhism, the most churchless world religion, it’s other-worldly aspect often leaves me with a Huh?
I mean, Buddhist meditation practice emphasizes mindfulness in the here and now. Yet much of Buddhist philosophy stresses the goal of detaching from this illusory world of maya, getting off the wheel of rebirth, and experiencing some sort of transcendent reality.
This reading time around, some previously non-highlighted passages in “The Tao of Zen” got a heavy dose of yellow.
...For Buddhism, however, enlightenment creates a metaphysical disconnectedness; for Taoists it creates an earthy reconnectedness. At a superficial level the two forms of awakening seem similar. Both cultivate an attitude of separation, of detachment, but at a deeper level they are quite different.
For Buddhism the separation is an objective; for Taoism it is a means. Buddhism separates from the world to transcend it; Taoism dissolves back into the world to become one with it. Later, in Japanese Zen Buddhism, this difference is clearly expressed in the distinction between Buddhist and Zen attitudes.
I’ve always liked the Buddhist adage, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” So nicely non-fundamentalist. You won’t find many Christians advising, “If you meet Jesus, kill him.” They’re eager to have Jesus return, not to get rid of him.
Griggs, though, writes:
Why is it important for Buddhists to kill the Buddha? Or for Christians to kill Jesus, for Muslims to kill Muhammad, for Jews to kill Moses, for Taoists to kill Lao Tzu, for Sikhs to kill Guru Nanak, or for adherents of any other religion to kill the founder or current leader? (metaphorically, of course -- this is a killing of outwardly directed devotion and intellectuality, not of a body)
Because natural reality doesn’t have well-defined boundaries, whereas human belief systems do. So if we want to know what’s real, we have to kill the artificial concepts and forms that obscure our universal vision.
Much of Taoist literature is an admonishment against becoming caught in any system, whether moral, political, philosophical, linguistic, or religious. With such freedom, belief is replaced by experience. A traditional Buddhist dialogue reflects the same principle:
The Buddha was asked, “Are you God?” “No,” he said.
“Well, then, what are you?”
“Awake,” said the Buddha.
To become a pure Buddhist, a Buddhist must ultimately renounce Buddhism just as the Buddha renounced self and all attachment. This principle pervades Taoism as well. Taoists cannot live Taoism if they hold to the system called Taoism.
Individuals who practice either Taoism or Buddhism are inevitably inclined toward inconspicuousness and, finally, invisibility as the system that contains them dissolves itself.
Churchlessness isn’t viewed as a movement away from “divinity” in Zen and Taoism. Rather, it is a necessary step toward it. Which in the end is realized as being exactly where each of us is now.
But wandering can teach us a lot. Mainly, I’ve found, that no matter how many different places I go to, I always find the same person there.