Sunday, November 9, 2014

Vast Emptyness, Nothing Is Sacred, A dialogue Between Buddhism and Christianity, and a few Quotes by Merton

Bodhidharma, the son of an Indian king, is said to have brought the Zen teachings from India to China in the 6th century. The successor of the Master Hannyatara, Bodhidharma is considered in our Zen lineage to be the 28th patriarch after Shakyamuni Buddha and the first patriarch of Zen, which originated as Chan in China. There are many legends about Bodhidharma, who founded the famous Shaolin Monastery in northern China. One of the more celebrated stories involves his encounter with the Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty, who invited him to his court in Nanking not long after his arrival in China.

The emperor was a follower of Buddhism and had done much to support it and foster its propagation, building and helping sustain monasteries and temples in his realm. Having heard of this eminent Indian teacher, the emperor summoned him and asked what merit would be his in future lives as a result of his good deeds in this life.

Bodhidharma’s reply was succinct: “No merit.”

The emperor, somewhat taken aback, was nonetheless intrigued by this stranger’s seeming irreverence. What, he wanted to know then, is the essence of this most sacred teaching?

Again, Bodhidharma was relentless.

“Vast emptiness,” he replied, “nothing sacred.”  


When we think about buddhism, a spiritual practice, much of it is to awaken to the sacred, to meditate, to become one with everything. How then do we take BodhiDharma's words that nothing is sacred? 

At one time, I heard the words "vast emptyness, nothing is sacred" as a twisted brain teaser, a koan in buddhism with deeper meaning for the enlightened. But Bodhidharma's answers were simple from a simple man who had a simple truth. There is no sacred in his world. 

While much of buddhist teaching is to strengthen your spiritual muscles and awaken to a higher notion of living and being, in the end, it is always empty. A thinking bordering on nihilism. 

Buddhism is for many, a way to awaken. To wake up their spiritual juices. For many the only way, in a world so downtrodden and rejecting of the divine. 

But eventually, the soul hungers for more. It is not enough to see the moon in the dew drop. At some point you awaken to the sacred. 

A minister at a local church running down the worlds religions quickly dusted off buddhism saying, buddhim would say Jesus was not the son of god. In truth, Buddhism would simply say nothing is sacred. 

As a christian we say, how delightful, there is NOT vast emptyness, and perhaps, everything about our lives is sacred. Truly every thing is sacred. 

This open-ness to the sacred is a fundamental part of christian life (see Be Holy). It's as if the old buddhist is a blind man or a deaf man. And he does the best making sense of a world of great suffering. And finds a path to peace. And that is wonderful. But it is not sacred. 

“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us - and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. 
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.” 
― Thomas Merton
It is this experience, living not for God but WITH God, and with love, that separates the Buddhist and Christian experience. 

Vast Emptyness Nothing is Sacred. Is this simply a dumb answer for a dumb emperor? Is this truly what Bodhidharma thought? Is he laughing at us? No, he is a simple direct person sharing his direct experience. He is renouncing the false sacred false merit based religion of his day. And in that, it is a big step in the right direction. 

But we most find the sacred, the godHood, in our world, and in ourselves. 

Buddhism says, the end to suffering is to follow the eightfold path:
1. * Samma-Ditthi — Complete or Perfect Vision, also translated as right view or understanding. Vision of the nature of reality and the path of transformation.
2. Samma-Sankappa — Perfected Emotion or Aspiration, also translated as right thought or attitude. Liberating emotional intelligence in your life and acting from love and compassion. An informed heart and feeling mind that are free to practice letting go.
3. Samma-Vaca — Perfected or whole Speech. Also called right speech. Clear, truthful, uplifting and non-harmful communication.
4. Samma-Kammanta — Integral Action. Also called right action. An ethical foundation for life based on the principle of non-exploitation of oneself and others. The five precepts.
5. Samma-Ajiva — Proper Livelihood. Also called right livelihood. This is a livelihood based on correct action the ethical principal of non-exploitation. The basis of an Ideal society.
6. Samma-Vayama — Complete or Full Effort, Energy or Vitality. Also called right effort or diligence. Consciously directing our life energy to the transformative path of creative and healing action that fosters wholeness. Conscious evolution.
7. Samma-Sati — Complete or Thorough Awareness. Also called "right mindfulness". Developing awareness, "if you hold yourself dear watch yourself well". Levels of Awareness and mindfulness - of things, oneself, feelings, thought, people and Reality.
8. Samma-Samadhi — Full, Integral or Holistic Samadhi. This is often translated as concentration, meditation, absorption or one-pointedness of mind. None of these translations is adequate. Samadhi literally means to be fixed, absorbed in or established at one point, thus the first level of meaning is concentration when the mind is fixed on a single object. The second level of meaning goes further and represents the establishment, not just of the mind, but also of the whole being in various levels or modes of consciousness and awareness. This is Samadhi in the sense of enlightenment or Buddhahood.

At the end of this path though, I fear one does not find God, only oneself. One can have high consciousness and awareness of the enlightened vision of the world, interconnectednes, the diamond net of indra, yet still, it is the sense of God itself with a god absent. And therein lies the confusion. 

The Cloud of Unknowing

There is a medieval christian text which says the access to God is not through intellectual pursuit but through love. 

The book counsels a young student to seek God, not through knowledge and intellection (faculty of the human mind), but through intense contemplation, motivated by love, and stripped of all thought. This is brought about by putting all thoughts and desires under a "cloud of forgetting", and thereby piercing God's cloud of unknowing with a "dart of longing love" from the heart. This form of contemplation is not directed by the intellect, but involves spiritual union with God through the heart:
"For He can well be loved, but he cannot be thought. By love he can be grasped and held, but by thought, neither grasped nor held. And therefore, though it may be good at times to think specifically of the kindness and excellence of God, and though this may be a light and a part of contemplation, all the same, in the work of contemplation itself, it must be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And you must step above it stoutly but deftly, with a devout and delightful stirring of love, and struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens."

Finding God Through Despair:

“Only the man who has had to face despair is really convinced that he needs mercy. Those who do not want mercy never seek it. It is better to find God on the threshold of despair than to risk our lives in a complacency that has never felt the need of forgiveness. A life that is without problems may literally be more hopeless than one that always verges on despair.” ― Thomas MertonNo Man Is an Island
Despair is an odd path to god and salvation. It certainly is not what buddhism teaches. But sometimes you have to empty your cup that you might fill it. To reach the deep bottom of human existence, a place where life and death co-mingle, is a special thing. Or perhaps, being willing to reject life itself, one pauses to ask, OK, what is on offer what is an option to a person with no options at all? This is where Jesus has a special reach.

Rather than being the worst of all things, to be in such a situation is the most unique of experiences, and it can lead to something profound and holy.

But if you aren't quite there yet, don't expect to understand these words because no matter how much you suffer and struggle, that is not this. This comes from the very end of things. The very end of whispers. And a stepping away from the world with humble ness. A direct facing of ones life. Not through countless hours of meditation to quiet the mind. But simply to face it. One can reach for it in the sea of problems, and get great rewards and redemption, but still, this is something further still. When one finds these souls, there is often a quiet difference. A inner something. A different knowing.

Merton tells us:

“Life is this simple: we are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or a fable, it is true. ” ― Thomas Merton

This is not simple one-ness as a buddhist would coach. This is the divine shining through. A soul that has come from this level of despair returns with this grace, and finds god. God shines through everything and then shines through us. And the darkness is driven away.

For a time, being a buddhist was enough. It was open-ness to the secrets of the universe. It was a awakened level and way of living that was liberating. But all of that, nothing compared to the divine shining through.

We hear this echoed in the words of Iraneus
Perfect redemption is the cognition itself of the ineffable greatness:(Adv. Haer. I. 21,4)

Vast Emptyness, Nothing is Sacred. Don't you believe it. These were words of the great teacher, who was still in his own struggling, he had not yet answered his questions and he admits this thereafter when the Emperor, miffed at BodhiDharma's responses asks "Who is this that stands before me" and BodhiDharma replies "I do not know"

As a buddhist, we give great respect to that answer. But as a christian we would never answer that way.


And this is why they say, our lives are "with christ" never "for christ" our deeds are not "for an end or merit" but Unlike BodhiDharma's answer that they have "No Merit" we know, our deeds are reflections of our spiritual life walking with god. Living for others. Loving others. And so often, it comes back to love. Is there such love between the Buddhists? It doesn't seem so.

Merton writes
    "Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy"

Vast Emptyness, Nothing is Sacred

Words of great power and wisdom. And a rejection of so much that was utterly wrong with religion in the world. And so much, directed on the right path. But they weren't the words of arrival, they were the words of a seeker, a soul still striving, not arrived. But that is not how they teach it in Buddhism, for BodhiDharma was to have had the answers. His answers were to inspire one of the largest religions. A beautiful religion of peace. Only, twenty years later, there was more. And a need for more. And that would not be served by hokey ministers or sermons or TV or Ritualized christianity, which is vomit and garbage.

Finding the sacred requires first peace. And to first find peace we must accept the world. And to accept the world we must accept ourselves. After all of this, and only after all of this, can we love.

 52"Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering." - Luke 11:52

Sometimes having teachers who have not yet realized the truth is just a hindrance. So what do we use instead?

 7'I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart - Jeremiah 24:7

 All Judah rejoiced concerning the oath, for they had sworn with their whole heart and had sought Him earnestly, and He let them find Him. - 2 Chronicles 15:15
Vast Emptyness Nothing is Sacred? Heck no! Not even close. It has to begin with the transformation of the heart.

The word Saviour  is derived from -  soter - meaning healer, or bestower of health. From this is derived the word today translated as salvation, i.e., soteria, which originally meant healthiness, deliverance from imperfection, becoming whole, and preserving one's wholeness.

The sickness of the world and its equivalent human illness both have one common root: ignorance. We ignore the authentic values of life and substitute unauthentic ones for them. The unauthentic values are for the most part either physical or of the mind. We believe that we need things (such as money, symbols of power and prestige, physical pleasures) in order to be happy or whole. Similarly we fall in love with the ideas and abstractions of our minds. (The rigidities and the hardness of our lives are always due to our excessive attachment to abstract concepts and precepts.) The sickness of materialism was called hyleticism (worship of matter) by the Gnostics, while the sickness of abstract intellectualism and moralizing was known as psychism(worship of the mind-emotional soul). The true role of the facilitators of wholeness in this world, among whom Jesus occupied the place of honor, is that they can exorcise these sicknesses by bringing knowledge of the pneuma (spirit) to the soul and mind.  - A Gnostic for All Seasons, Stephan A. Hoeller 

Valentinus writes in the Gospel of Thomas
When you make the two one, and when you make the inner as the outer and the outer as the inner and the above as the below, and when you make the male and the female into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female not be female . . . then shall you enter the kingdom.
Now we can swing back to Buddhism, because this unification principle, this unification of awareness, is the profound statement of Satori, commonly referred to as enlightenment. It is a seeing beyond our words that discriminate and slice and dice the world into a trillion trillion fragments.

As Above So Below are confusing words in the Bible. But they are best traced back to this Hermeneutic writing "The Emerald Tablet". Sir Isaac Newton offers us a translation currently housed in King's College Library, Cambridge University.[8]
  1. Tis true without lying, certain & most true.
  2. That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing
  3. And as all things have been & arose from one by the mediation of one: so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation.
  4. The Sun is its father, the moon its mother, the wind hath carried it in its belly, the earth is its nurse.
  5. The father of all perfection in the whole world is here.
  6. Its force or power is entire if it be converted into earth.
  7. Separate thou the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross sweetly with great industry.
  8. It ascends from the earth to the heaven & again it descends to the earth & receives the force of things superior & inferior.
  9. By this means you shall have the glory of the whole world
  10. & thereby all obscurity shall fly from you.
  11. Its force is above all force. For it vanquishes every subtle thing & penetrates every solid thing.
  12. So was the world created.
  13. From this are & do come admirable adaptations whereof the means (or process) is here in this. Hence I am called Hermes Trismegist, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world
  14. That which I have said of the operation of the Sun is accomplished & ended.
Line 6 is quite interesting given our new knowledge of the potential and power of energy converted to matter.

Focus on lines 5 and 9. This is the key point. It is a point on self transformation. "The father of perfection of the whole world is HERE  ... by this means shall you have the glory of the whole world"

We get "AS Above So Below" in our new testament. It is not simply outside of our teaching even though it is a older Hermenutic text.

Our Father in heaven,Reveal who you are.Set the world right;Do what’s best—    as above, so below. (on earth as it is in heaven)Keep us alive with three square meals.Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.You’re in charge!You can do anything you want!You’re ablaze in beauty!    Yes. Yes. Yes.  - Matthew 6:7-13

We can find a earlier call out to this in the old testament in Joshua:
As soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no courage left in any of us because of you. TheLord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below. - Joshua 2:11

We find a description of this, let's call it the human potential for Grace, deep in our oldest writings, from the prophet Hermes Trismegistus, a Egyptian prophet of Moses time (6th century BC. during the Persian period)
Seeing within myself an immaterial vision that came from the mercy of God, I went out of myself into an immortal body, and now I am not what I was before. I have been born in mind! - Corpus Hermeticum XIII.3
We get more direction on this point:
Thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt, the great master alchemist Hermes Trismegistus, believed to be a contemporary of the Hebrew prophet Abraham, proclaimed this fundamental truth about the universe: “As above, so below; as below, so above.” This maxim implies that the transcendent God beyond the physical universe and the immanent God within ourselves are one. Heaven and Earth, spirit and matter, the invisible and the visible worlds form a unity to which we are intimately linked. - As Above, So Below: Paths to Spiritual Renewal in Daily Life (Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1992
“‘As above, so below’ means that the two worlds are instantaneously seen to be one when we realize our essential unity with God. . . . The One and the many, time and eternity, are all One.”2 (ellipsis in original)  - Sufi scholar Reshad Field:
In Christianity, we accept Christ as our path into that unity, and call it Fellowship. Buddhism has parts of this enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature. But as Christians we get our concepts of Mercy, Healing, and Grace. The Hermenutical writings made a revival in the Renaissance with avid readers like Giordano Bruno, a early astronomer.  But the church has violently rejected them as heresy. The path to salvation through Christ remains the central key belief. But is our re-birth as Christians so different from HT saying "I have been born in mind". We are not so far from the emerald tablet as we think. 

In the end, I come to a new understanding of Buddhism and Christianity and the experience it is describing, that people seek. "By this means shall you have Glory".  

Let's finish by returning to Romans:5

Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
and patience, experience; and experience, hope;
and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost who is given unto us.

We access BY FAITH into this GRACE. The Gnostic schism is a question on this process by faith. Is it all didactic-ism and word fighting? Or is the process by faith simply Christianity's best understanding of how to describe this? The love of God is in our hearts. And then we become free beings to love others. 

In the end, the Catholic (the Universal) christians supressed the Gnostics, who had invented an elaborate system of Archons and actors which truly were utterly pulled form thin air. In Iraneus' book "Against Heresies" we learn some of what the Gnostics were discussing, in particular Valentinus who lived in the time of a.d. 180. 

There is acertain Proarche, royal, surpassing all thought, a power existing before every other substance, and extended into space in every direction. But along with it there exists a power which I term a Gourd; and along with this Gourd there exists a power which again I term Utter-Emptiness

What is this Gourd? 

There exists a certain royal Pre-principle (pro-arche), pre-unintelligible, pre-immaterial, and pre-spherical. And this is the principle which I call Gourd (cucurbita - Cucumber - Fertility). 

Iraneus is mocking Valentinus. He reduces the terms to melons and cucumbers. He doesn't take it seriously. 

Vast Emptiness

And we are back again. Valentinius pooled dual concepts from the Platonic world of ideal forms, or fullness (pleroma), and the lower world of phenomena, or emptiness (kenoma, κένωμα). 

As Above,         So Below
    (Pleroma)     (Kenoma)

Our world of concepts and knowing sits ontop of a world of emptiness

Pleroma (Greek πλήρωμα) generally refers to the totality of divine powers. The word means fullness from πληρόω ("I fill") comparable to πλήρης which means "full",[1] and is used in Christian theological contexts: both in Gnosticism generally, and by St. Paul the Apostle in Colossians 2:9 (the word is used 17 times in the NT

Ephesians 4:13New International Version (NIV)13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
We must first become fully empty, to be filled fully, to attain the whole measure of fullness. The widow fills her empty oil jars completely.

Colossians 1:19New International Version (NIV)19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
When BodhiDharma says "Vast EmptyNess Nothing is Sacred" he is at the first step. He is showing only the first step of truth. Not revealing everything. Buddhism begins with emptyness. Christianity lauds the fullness. They are not the same, neither are both worthless.  I leave two quotes for reflection:

Tao is the source of both fullness and emptiness. But it is itself neither fullness nor emptiness. Chuang Tzu

Bloodstream Sermon

The mind is Buddha, nirvana or enlightenment. This is the reality of self-nature. The mind is Buddha-nature. Whoever sees his own nature is a Buddha. It is useless invoking Buddhas, reciting sutras, making offerings and keeping precepts, if you don’t see your own nature. Running around all day looking for a Buddha is a thorough waste of time. Just realize your own nature. There is no Buddha outside your own Buddha-nature. The nature of this mind is basically empty, neither pure or impure. This nature is free of cause and effect. This Buddha-nature needs not practice or realize. It does no good or evil; it does not observe precepts. It is not lazy or energetic. It does nothing. A Buddha is not a Buddha. Without seeing your nature, you cannot practice thoughtlessness all the time. This mind or Buddha-nature is not the sensual mind. It never lived or died throughout the kalpas. The mind has no form and its awareness no limit. “ A tathagata’s forms are endless. And so is his awareness”. Our mind is the same as the mind of all Buddhas. “Everything that has form is an illusion”. “ Wherever you are, there is a Buddha.” We’ve always had our Buddha-nature. Our mind is the Buddha: don’t worship a Buddha with a Buddha. Once a person realizes his mind or Buddha-nature, he stops creating karma.
 Your mind is like space: you cannot grasp it. It has no cause or effect. No one can fathom it. This mind is not outside the body, which has no awareness. It is not the body that moves; it is the mind that moves.

This sermon speaks of the Buddha-nature, which is empty and has no form. We always have had the Buddha-nature within us, and this sermon also describes in detail what is the Buddha-nature. But it does not teach us how to see our Buddha-nature.

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