“A patch-robed monk's authentic task is to practice the essence, in each minute event carefully discerning the shining source, radiant without discrimination, one color unstained…The reeds blossom under the bright moon; the ancient ferryboat begins its passage; the jade thread fits into the golden needle.”
Zen Master Hongzhi
“When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.”
The Gospel of Luke
I must live with the awkward condition of being a Zen Priest who has a mystical relationship with Jesus. I have tried to ignore this debilitating condition at times. At times I have tried to hide it. A few years ago I decided to come out of the closet with it, to live in solidarity with those others who have a debilitating condition that they must bear, and in the bearing of it face censure from others.
For it is debilitating. It seems at times to threaten the credibility of my vocation. And it jeopardizes my sense of self. (He who would save his life will lose it…Lest a seed fall to the earth and die it will bear no fruit, etc.)
And the price that Jesus paid in trying to show us the deepest truth of love--well, it sets my mind reeling.
So if there is a contradiction in being a Zen student who is passionately in love with Jesus, it is a contradiction that I must live, not resolve.
As a Zen student, my task is to cultivate the capacity to discern or apprehend—in other words, to contemplate--the shining source, the deepest phenomenological quality of what it is to be a living, conscious being. In this place, every little thing is radiant without discrimination; every little thing is provocative of wonder and awe. This is true. This is the truest nature of mind, and it is so easily missed.
As a disciple of Jesus, I contemplate with searing pain the purest human heart that ever lived, broken and bloodied and nailed to a tree.
Is there any place where these two contemplations can meet?
I have an example of the meeting of these two that I wish to share--but before I do, I want to say something about this mystical relationship with Jesus that I asserted above. To some, such an assertion may be alarming.
For a context, let me relate a little scenario from the Gospel of John:
Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus grabbed a basin and a towel and set to washing his disciple’s feet. When he got to Peter, Peter said, “No lord, I’m not letting you wash my feet!” Jesus said, “Unless you let me wash your feet, you have no part in me--you can’t really know what I am about.” Peter said, “Then not just my feet, wash my head and hands as well.”
Jesus then tuned to his disciples and said, “You call me your teacher. See what I just did? You should be doing it to each other.”
A few years ago I drove from Marin County to the Mission District of San Francisco to gather with some of my Post-Christendom Jesus loving friends. When I arrived, it seemed to me that most everyone there was busy sipping wine and trying to act hipster-cool. It all felt so superficial to me. I was suffering from a baseline low-grade persistent state of annoyance, and was getting mildly resentful for the long drive I had just made. Then I heard a quiet, gentle voice of rebuke inside me say; “Rick, you are not here to judge, you are here to wash feet.” My mood immediately and profoundly shifted, and I was able to have a pleasant time the rest of the evening, and to have a few meaningful encounters with my friends.
I don’t receive this kind of direct guidance often--but when I do, it is unmistakable. It has a trans-subjective quality. What arises is not something I am thinking, not something I am creating within my own subjectivity—it has the quality of something given to me, a spontaneously arising still small voice within.
The quality of this mystical relationship is well expressed by Marin Buber in I and Thou, where he says in a wordy yet profound way;
“What is it that is eternal: the primal phenomenon, present in the here and now, of what we call revelation? It is man’s emerging from the moment of the supreme encounter, no longer being the same as he was when entering it. The moment of encounter is not a ‘living experience’ that stirs in the receptive soul and blissfully rounds it out: something happens to man. At times it is like feeling a breath and at times like wrestling match; no matter: something happens to man. The man who steps out of the essential act of pure relation has something More in his being, something new has grown there of which he did not know before and for whose origin he lacks any suitable words. Wherever the scientific world orientation in its legitimate desire for a causal chain without gaps may place the origin of what is new here: for us, being concerned with the actual contemplation of the actual, no subconscious and no other psychic apparatus will do. Actually, we receive what we did not have before, in such a manner that we know: it has been given to us (italics mine.)”
Now, on to the contemplation of the Bright Moon and the Broken Christ.
Sam is a broad-shouldered guy. He seems to possess the jersey of every team in the NFL. Once, I was giving him a ride home, and he asked me to stop at the cleaners so he could pick up his laundry. Out he came with a stack of freshly laundered Jerseys. He is always spotlessly clean. I think he spends all the money he gets from his assistance check on his housing and his dry-cleaning bills.
He has no use for drugs or alcohol.
I know it grieves him to see his friend Billy smoking crack on the sidewalk. He has mentioned it to me several times. “Man, that stuff is poison! It’s eating him alive, from the inside out.”
One day, I heard Sam ask me for some scissors and bandage tape. I turned around to see him dressing Billy’s ankle. Billy had fallen asleep in the Victory Mission a few nights previously with his ankle up against a heater. It was badly burned and suppurated. When I returned with scissors and tape, I looked down to see Sam wrapping Billy’s ankle in gauze with such tender care.
Time stood still. The light in the dayroom shifted. Everything was bathed in a soft, radiant glow.
I knew I was witnessing a holy event.