toxic thought waste site

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Zen of Christianity

In discussions of zen literature there is the wonderful description of a teacher pointing to the moon and the student following the finger instead of looking at where the finger is pointing. I'm a few sushi rolls short of satori, but I understand the tradition of zen koans as a way of distracting the mind from looking at the finger. Think of it as a fake punch to the face that forces you to flinch and look in another direction. If you are lucky you might even end up looking at the moon. Anything is better than following the finger around.

The standard koan is purposely paradoxical and any attempt to apply standard forms of reasoning will fail. Presumably the intention is to force your mind "off the rails". Whether this puts your mind in a desirable state is another question, but its a fascinating technique.

I've been pondering of late whether this is how the Bible works. Clearly to believe it *is* what it says it is (the direct communication of an omnipotent being) seems like a non-starter. Perhaps instead it is the oldest and most powerful koan. If you follow it literally and try to understand it as actually true and consistent with history you'll end up with apologetics. But this is like taking the koan "where does the fist go from the unclenched hand" and analyzing the semantics and physiology of the statement. You've missed the point. You've reached out and grabbed the finger and put it under a microscope.

Instead you should take, for instance, the conflicting genealogies of Jesus and just accept that they contradict each other and yet are also at the same time both true. Perhaps once you've attacked enough of these Christian koans you will see the truth. Or perhaps you will be insane. Or perhaps something beyond truth and insanity. But, most likely just insane.



Blogger Seth Brown said...

I think you've hit on the right idea. The Bible is God trying to get his message through. The people writing the book don't always get the idea how he wants to say it. But that's all part of the process, flawed as it is. There is a great message in that as well. God is so eager to talk to us that he accepts the possibility of the message getting screwed up by us, just so some of it gets through. In Isaiah, he says 'my thoughts are higher than your thoughts'. But still he invites us to search for him. 'I did not say to Jacob, "Seek me in darkness"'. The idea is that in working it out, we will come to some understanding of what he is trying to say. That is why the Bible is such a great book. It speaks to all of us on so many levels. It does not try to water things down. It challenges us to find the God hidden behind the imperfect words of man.

At some point, the difficulty of understanding the message fades away and you become aware of God standing there patiently waiting for your understanding to wake up, to grow towards him. So, the koan aspect is almost intentional.

Mon Dec 25, 04:43:00 AM  

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