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Call Me Divided

"Thus inevitably does the universe wear our color, and every object fall successively into the subject itself. The subject exists, the subject enlarges; all things sooner or later fall into place. As I am, so I see; use what language we will, we can never say anything but what we are."

– Emerson

from whiskey river

That said, it’s been obvious to me for a while that there is definitely a split in topics on these web pages lately. On one hand, I’ve been focusing a lot on “love.” On the other, I’ve spent considerable time discussing zen, the philosophy/religion I feel I am moving toward.

Obviously, both of these are important to me or I wouldn’t have spent so much time thinking and writing about them. Nevertheless, I haven’t found an entirely satisfactory way to reconcile these two elements of my personality. To me, at least, they seem to pull in opposite directions.

Unfortunately, I think Ray Smith in The Dharma Bums may have been right when he sensed that there is a split that exists between the Christian concept of love for one’s fellow man and Buddhism’s concept of compassion.

I would guess that I’m drawn to Zen precisely because it does seem so “objective,” so rational. It’s more like philosophy than relgion. I’ve dabbled in Sumi-e, Japanese landscaping, origami, and haiku all of which tend toward the abstract. And meditation, through which I was originally drawn to all of these art forms, seems the ultimate abstraction. At it’s best, you are simply there, without distraction, hanging in the moment, infinite, yet finite. When I hike, particularly in the high mountains, in essence I am combining all of these elements. Hiking, for me, is a walking meditation. For a short while at least, I can live like a zen hermit in his mountain refuge.

On the other hand, the Christian religion that I grew up with and the one I have always felt part of emphasized Jesus’ love for mankind. One of the ways you manifested the godhood that is in each of us is through love and concern for others. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, I still believe that the most powerful force in the world is love. Simply put, it offers the best hope for a better world. Without love, life is meaningless; with it, even the worst conditions can be endured.

How, then, does one reconcile these two beliefs? Is it necessary to sacrifice one for the other? Must we become zen hermits or join a monastery in order to attain true enlightenment? Do the demands of love require us to sacrifice the time necessary to truly find ourselves? I know that I stopped meditating years ago because the demands of teaching and raising children simply didn’t allow me to do all that I wanted to do, and my children were always more important than meditation. Unfortunately, I have never gotten back into the pattern of regular meditation.

At times it almost seems that the math student in me is fighting the literature teacher. Zen is so rational and logical. And mystical Christianity it so intuitive and mysterious.

Hopefully this is a false dichotomy, one that I have not been able to bridge simply because I do not have an adequate knowledge of Zen Buddhism.