Wednesday, May 01, 2013

What is a human being?


There has been so much going on worth writing about, but as is often the case when there is much going on, there hasn't been much time to write blogs about it.  How will the world bear the loss?  (That's a joke.) 

In May, I hope to contribute to this space more often.  Let me start by saying Happy May Day! 

One of the many stories I've been following, with sadness, is Buddhist-on-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka.  This seems to be based on ethnic rivalry more than theological differences or different spiritual practice.  I'm not about to get on my soap box about it at this moment -- and if I did, what could I say that you don't know? 

In our land we also have different religious traditions living side by side, often harmoniously but sometimes not.  In light of the bombing of the Boston marathon by two disaffected young men, islamophobia and even brown-skin-o-phobia have flared up. 

We might ask "how can human beings act this way," but if we don't fully understand what a human being is, maybe we're not ready for that question.


How do we take responsibility for violence in our world?  How can we help?  Do any of these numerous religious and ethnic traditions have answers that build bridges between us?

Zen Master Dae Kwang, one of my old teachers at Providence Zen Center, said this:

At one time, the citizens of Kesaputta asked the Buddha what they should believe. They were very confused by the many religions in vogue at that time. The Buddha said, “Do not accept anything by mere tradition. Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures. Do not accept anything because it agrees with your opinions or because it is socially acceptable. Do not accept anything because it comes from the mouth of a respected person. Rather, observe closely and if it is to the benefit of all, accept and abide by it.” This Sutta – the Kalama Sutta – is the root of Zen-style inquiry into the true self.

The Buddha says in the Diamond Sutra that in his whole teaching career he never spoke a single word. In Zen, we are admonished that understanding cannot help us. The wind does not read. So, what are we left with? Just before he died the Buddha said, “Life is very short, please investigate it closely.” We are left with the great question: What am I? What is a human being? In his great compassion the Buddha leaves us only with footprints pointing the way… in the end he cannot help us; we must find the answer ourselves. Zen, too, asks the question but does not have the answer. But you do, if you look inside.

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