I’m down in Foley, Alabama this week. My dad bought a place out here a few years ago and he’s recovering from recent heart surgery so I came down to visit before heading off to my European tour (see below for details, all events are still open).
Last night we ordered pizza and I went out to pick it up. The woman who served me was young and blonde and bubbly. After I got my pizza and paid my bill she said, “Have a blessed evening!” She pronounced blessed in two syllables, bless-ed.
The older I get and the more I write about it, the more I realize I had a pretty weird childhood. In my books and blog posts I often say I grew up in Akron, Ohio. But that’s not precisely true. Most of my childhood and teen years I lived in a town called Wadsworth, which is about 20 miles west of Akron. And from age 7 to 11, I lived in Nairobi, Kenya, where my dad worked for the Firestone Rubber Company, during which time we traveled extensively through Africa and Europe. I also spent a big part of my adult life in Japan.
So I have this very rural side to my upbringing as well as a side that’s decidedly worldly. I sometimes wonder what sort of person I’d have been if I spent my entire childhood in Wadsworth or even simply just in America.
It’s occurring to me lately that when someone who really hasn’t been exposed to much outside of a very rural American environment says they’re a Christian, this might mean something very different from what it means when someone who has been exposed to a variety of other options means when they say the same thing. This would be true for other people in other parts of the world who espouse the religion predominant in their area.
Saying you’re a Christian in Foley, Alabama may not necessarily mean you’re a Christian as opposed to a Buddhist or Jew or Muslim, etc. Rather it may mean that you are attempting to align yourself with what you see as the more ethical, thoughtful and just generally decent members of your community rather that those elements who drink and curse and fight and generally cause a lot of problems for everybody else. Saying you’re a Christian in places like this usually means, I think, that you’re trying to be one of the good guys.
Thinking about it this way, I’ve learned not to fear Christians as much as I used to. I was once quite literally scared of people who said things like “have a blessed evening.” I felt like folks who said those kinds of things were fearful of people like me who were not Christians and that their fear could easily turn dangerous.
Now I understand why. People who have not been exposed to other religions than the one they grew up with don’t know what to make of those who follow different paths. To them, the only people who try to be decent are the Christians (or whatever other religion they were raised among, but I’ll stick with the example I’m most familiar with). They have the experience that those who proclaim themselves not to be Christian are often lawless and unprincipled, disruptive to society, dangerous. To say you’re not a Christian is sort of like saying you don’t believe in the law. That could mean you’re capable of all sorts of criminal behavior from jaywalking right on up to murder and mayhem. I can see why you’d be scared of someone like that. I would be too if I thought that way.
We are in a transitional period in our history. We’ve only recently begun to have to confront and make peace with people who follow religions we don’t really fully understand. I get why people might think that Zen Buddhists sacrifice babies at candlelight ceremonies in the woods at midnight. We do sometimes dress in scary black robes and chant stuff that sounds like backwards-masked messages from Beelzebub. It even sounds that way to me sometimes and I know what it means!
It will take some time before there’s a general understanding that there are a whole lot of different ways to follow a path of ethics, to try to be one of the good guys. We’ll have to live with each other for a while before everybody gets the idea. I think it will happen. I see it starting to happen already. I have a lot of optimism, even in the face of seeing a lot of very bad things still happening.
For many among us this is not an easy transition. Coming to terms with people you don’t understand is not an in-born skill. Our more animalistic side wants to know who is dangerous to us and who is not at a glance. That’s a survival skill we needed for hundreds of thousands of years and that served us pretty well for most of that time. But I really believe we can transcend it.
Until then, have a blessed evening!
August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT
August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE
August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR
August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY
September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany SCREENING OF HARDCORE ZEN MOVIE WITH TALK
September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY
September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT
September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT
September 20, 2015 London, England THE ART OF SITTING DOWN & SHUTTING UP
September 21-25, 2015 Belfast, Northern Ireland SPECIFIC DATES TO BE DETERMINED
September 26-27, 2015 Glastonbury, England 2-DAY RETREAT
October 26-27 Cincinnati, Ohio Concert:Nova
November 6-8, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY RETREAT
April 23, 2016 Long Island, New York Molloy College “Spring Awakening 2016”
All of these events will still happen each week while I’m away.
Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Beginners only!
Every Saturday at 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. Beginners only!
Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info
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I’ll make a bit of money while in Europe (I hope) but it usually only barely covers my expenses. So your donations are still important. I appreciate your on-going support!
There’s the path. Like it, love it, live it. Then die.^^ Gassho
Funny, for me, reading “young and blonde and bubbly” primed my interpretation to be that she was a New Ager. I guess living on the west coast for the last 25 years of my life has change much of the 21 years of programming from my small “Christian” PA town upbringing.
So true! Down here in the South it is easy to feel almost threatened if you do not participate in the religion show. I’ve literally been at corporate board meetings and had someone ask me “Well what church do you attend?”
I always kind of want to say that I attend that “Temple down in New Orleans”, you know, where we “wear the black robes and chant while inhaling the incense”.
But I keep that story to myself.
And still I sit Zazen.
Get yourself down to Lambert’s and have some throwed rolls.
Welcome to Alabama! Too bad you’re not doing a retreat here.
The last couple of times I’ve visited my sister who lives in the U.S., I’ve gone to church with her and her family. I’ve enjoyed it even though some of it seems a bit goofy. Their church has a really good sound system and a good band. Great choir. It’s actually fun. My sister and her husband are very devoted Christians, but the kind who support gay marriage and are very liberal in their outlook. (Why is that a “but”? It should be a “so.”) The first time I went to church with them, before we went I asked my brother-in-law if I would be required to bite the head off a chicken or anything. He thought that was very funny and said it was seldom required of first time guests. They’re not all Mike Huckabee, folks.
So these American Xians are Xian because it separates them from the criminals and deviants? These are exactly the people that their deity (Christ) hung out with and called them the most blessed. It suits the general tenor of this blog though: Brad is marketing his brand of zen for affluent white folks with whom he feels comfortable, just like these Christians: never mind what these religions actually TEACH: This is late capitalist America, and the market must be obeyed.
We know that you’re a true believer. And “transcend” sounds an awful lot like bless-ed.
@woken: You might be a troll (or not), but you do have a point about the general whiteness of American Zen. As far as I know there aren’t any Black zen students attending my local Kwan Um zen center. And this is in New York city, where most of the population is non-white. However, none of the people I know are what you’d call ‘affluent.’ They are mostly middle class.
Then again, maybe white people just need Zen practice more than others. Because karma.
What a f-ing racist thing to say.
I posted something critical about this post. Why does that make me a troll? I thought that Buddhism encouraged critical thinking. Anyway, it seems to me that affluence in the US today is a malleable concept. I think you’ll find that white (mostly male) college educated Americans are in general among the most affluent in their society.
This was certainly true up to twenty years ago and it was a big reason why Buddhists marketed their wares to this section of society. It’s become a circle: Western Buddhism (especially Zen) basically panders to the interests and obsessions of the white male middle class in the West. If one were to become a little more detailed about it, it probably targets the more disposessed/disaffected end of this group and is used as a passive aggressive way to obtain status and respect in said group.
In a way, it fits right into to the protestant Xian thing that rich white Americans love: It’s basically a religion that justifies being rich while others are poor. Forget what Christ or Buddha (allegedly) said or did: Forget the old Catholic notion of doing good works to enter heaven: If you’re a protestant, you can lie, cheat, and hoard wealth and power. Hell, you can basically do anything as long as you accept Christ as your saviour, hell, you’re a sinner, so just keep right on making money from your stocks and shares, etc. It’s the Xian version of zen Buddhism.
Having said that, the USA has become such a capitalist toilet that even this traditionally affluent section of society is getting hammered and indebted (hence the rise in people trying to make money from zen/buddhism, as opposed to being content just to practice it?), so the marketing model may change, or maybe not. There are still a lot of rich white folks out there.
“To say you’re not a Christian is sort of like saying you don’t believe in the law.”
I don’t believe in the law. I’ve seen the alternatives and found better options. The bias in favor of the law is the same conservative bias that favors the local religion.
That’s right. The law is how rich white people manipulate other classes of humanoid lifeform.
And the poor white people live in trailer parks snorting crystal meth and fornicating with chickens.
Have another piece of pizza, you’re going to need it out there on the trail.
Good luck with the voyage and the schedule, Brad, I know you’re out there for all of us. I will contribute again soon.
“Practice occurs”; is that the same as “it is possible to practice”?- not quite. I will pay for my blessed day, no doubt.
One of the important aspects to be remembered when we’re talking about Xianity, is the debate that was central in the 16th century: determinism or free-will?
Luther and Calvin opted for determinism. The Catholics for free will. The things they couldn’t fathom is that both options are f***ed up. Luther, with his pessimism, things that Man is, by essence damned, destined for Hell. But those who humbly accept this may get the Grace bestowed upon them. That’s a bit close to our concept of mushotoku (not expecting a reward), but a colleague Zen master asked me yesterday what was the difference then between Lutheran Xianity and Zen, and I replied that for the Lutherans, that’s mostly for AFTER death, and ours is for BEFORE death (“Is there life before death”, quote Monty Python).
Calvin had it that, God being all-knowing, It had to know whether people were destined to go to Hell or to Heavens. The trick being that this could incite people to display whatever behaviour that came up their heads, without any consequence unto their destination, someone came up with the “Yes, but one recognises those graced with salvation because they work a lot and earn a lot of money”. Which is why Calvinists despise the poor: it’s just a sign that they’re damned…
I’m a little shocked with the anti-Christian, anti-capitalist, and racist sentiments in the comments. I didn’t realize that Zen brought out that much hatred in people.
“I’m a little shocked with the anti-Christian, anti-capitalist, and racist sentiments in the comments. I didn’t realize that Zen brought out that much hatred in people.”
Hatred is your opinion.
These topics are just subjects. Why is countering the subject defined as hatred, other than that you are just trolling for a reaction.
I doubt that you are shocked, and who cares about whether you hate zazen.
Have a blessed day.
” I didn’t realize that Zen brought out that much hatred in people.”
If hatred bothers you so much, maybe you should change your alias from “iHateZazen?”
Trolling for reaction? You mean like, “And the poor white people live in trailer parks snorting crystal meth and fornicating with chickens.”?
I didn’t realize my alias would cause upset. I do hate Zazen. I hate it much like I hate heavy squats and deadlifts. It’s tough, especially when done day in and day out. I do Zazen though because I see the amazing benefits, but I still hate it.
Thanks for going over some of the twists and turns of 16th century Xtianity, Proulx Michel; determinism versus free will, and you say the Catholics chose free will. I’ve never read Paul’s part of the New Testament (I’m presuming here that the Catholics got it from Paul); maybe someday I should.
So, not expecting a reward before death. I should buy these lotto tickets simply for the act of buying the tickets, rather than with the expectation of a reward; good point.
This post interests me because in the past few months I’ve gotten back into working with practical plant alchemy, which I used to do years ago in connection with natural healing practices. These activities had an adjunct learning curve -built on an intense self-directed course in Christian mysticism that occurred earlier-including reading deeply in Jacob Boehme, whose visionary Christianity was built on alchemical terminology, and others, such as St. Martin and the radical Pietists. Partly this came from an unfolding understanding that this was part of my geneology, the first Anabaptist martyr was Heinrich “Bolt” Eberle, and some of my family had connections with the Ephrata Community in Pennsylvania.
My present focus is a return to some of these earlier pursuits that naturally accompany a newfound interest in working with plants to produce tinctures and elixirs and stones through Pennsylvania German Powwowing, a kind of magico folk faith healing. One of the essentials for this type of healing practice, no, The Essential ingredient is faith and belief in the Christian God, Jesus the Son, and The Holy Ghost.
Now, despite my meandering spiritual explorations http://hermetic.com/eberly/the-shotgun-approach.html I have absolutely no qualms or hesitations in now saying underneath it all I am also a Christian and do believe, although to sit me side by side with any stripe of mainstream Christian and attempt to find any similarities aside from this Essential ingredient, and in fact even there I would be surprised to find any true common ground.
I have always been open to wherever the spirit takes me, just like mercury running through a series of cracks in a stone, and do not close the door on any belief or practice -hence my many years here on this blog!- never being satisfied that “Eureka! This is it!” Now, I admit I have wanted that illusion of an absolute Whatever, but am rather coming through the other sides of many beliefs and practices now feel like they are pretty much going for the same things. What I used to seek in prayer for example, I’ve found in forms of meditation.
Anyway, I just wanted to throw in a little religious toleration and possibly open a mind or two: anything, Anything is possible, after all, right? Peace be with you. And have a Blessed life.
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