Monday, June 23, 2014

A Zen Master's Guide to the Bible (video)

Ashley Wells, Amber Larson (eds), Wisdom Quarterly; Clark Strand (
COMING SOON: Wisdom Quarterly investigates the gay raping perverted Bible.

A Zen Master's Guide to the Bible
Short intro to world’s first Buddhist Bible study group
In the fall of 1999, my family and I were traveling aboard a commercial airliner out of Memphis, Tennessee, when the cabin filled with smoke and the plane suddenly plunged.
In popular cinema, the flight crew are all over such moments -- stowing trays, returning seats to upright positions, making announcements designed to get your attention but not cause undue alarm.
In real life, they’re nowhere to be found. It’s easy to follow a manual when the plane seems to be winning its battle against gravity. When it loses, suddenly the term “safety belt” is exposed for the lie it always was. At that moment, you feel it all at once -- I suspect everyone feels it. That’s when you start to pray.

Zen-Daddy, are we going to die?
As it turned out, that was also when my 6-year-old daughter, Sophie, reached across the aisle to hold my hand. “Daddy, are we going to die?” she asked. I’d forgotten that young children pray to their parents in such moments. Not knowing what to say, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and asked the same question myself, listening to see if anyone would reply. And, indeed, I did hear a voice.
Speaking in a whisper, with imperturbable calmness, it said four simple words directly into my ear.

“I don’t think so.”

I'm a Black Middle Easterner in the Bible.
Bizarre as those words were, coming from the one being in all the universe who ought to have been able to answer that question with a yes or a no, they calmed me down a bit, and I actually was able to relax. So I repeated them to my daughter, who passed them along to my wife, Perdita, who reached over to hold hands with my son, Jonah, who, like his biblical namesake who slumbered at the bottom of the storm-tossed boat, remained blissfully asleep throughout the whole ordeal. And 10 minutes later, we were safely on the ground.

“I don’t think so” wasn’t an answer you’d have gotten from the God I grew up with down South -- the one with an opinion on everything political and a punishment for every liberal act. That God was certain about everything, especially when it came to homosexuals, feminists, Hindus, and the Jews. He’d have killed a planeload of ordinary sinners to get one certified Christ-killer, or saved us all to his greater glory on a whim.

I’d run as far away from that God as I could get, which turned out to be a Buddhist monastery, and even that sometimes felt too close. But a God who admitted calmly -- serenely, even -- that he didn’t know for certain whether my family and I were going to die? That was another matter entirely. [We felt the same experience watching the cartoon God of Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis" and the man God of Alanis Morrisette's line in All I Really Want: "I am humbled by his humble nature."]

(History Channel) This is some of the literature cut out of the Bible like it never existed. Was it God's first draft, or did men know better [than the seers and composers of the very ancient Sumerian, Egyptian, Babylonian, Phoenician, and Bedouin texts, myths, and histories that became the Hebrew/Jewish and Christian Bible]?

"When Jesus was a boy, did he kill another child? Was Mary Magdalene a prostitute -- or an apostle? Did Cain [and Lot] commit incest? Will there be an apocalypse, or is this [a] trick to scare us? The answers to these questions aren't found in the Bible as we know it, but they exist in scriptures banned when powerful leaders deemed them unacceptable for reasons both political and religions. BANNED FROM THE BIBLE reveals some of these [back stories and explanations] and examines why they were "too hot for Christianity [to handle]."

It gave me the feeling that we would be taken care of either way -- that, in fact, we couldn’t lose as long as we surrendered [gave up, let go, islam, accept what is] fully to whatever came next. If God could relax enough to stay open to what the next moment would bring -- whether it brought a soft touchdown or a fireball of shrapnel -- then, God willing, so could I.

Meeting the God of My Understanding
Young bodhisattvas Jay and Sid (Mr_Walker/flickr)
That was my first experience of what the 12-step recovery movement calls “the God of my understanding.” That God wasn’t interested in theology and had a hard time telling Jains [vegetarian Indian pacifists from a teaching slightly older than Buddhism] from Jehovah’s Witnesses or jihadis [jihad= "struggle with oneself"] from Jews.

But he came when you called him -- even if he sometimes turned out to be a “she” or an “it,” and was so indefinable that, in most cases, you just gave up and let the matter slide. In relationship with that God, the emphasis was on realizing your dependence upon a power beyond the self.

Whether that power manifested in the laws of physics or in random acts of kindness mattered little, as long as you were willing to ask for help and wait for guidance, even if the help wasn’t always what you expected or the guidance turned out to be, “Relax and trust. And stay open to whatever happens next.”

Religion and Math are terrible things (Calvin & Hobbes).
That was a revelation that had eluded me for more than 20 years of Zen practice. By the time I found myself on that plane out of Memphis, I’d been a Buddhist monk, a senior editor for the largest Buddhist magazine in America, and a meditation teacher for more than a decade. But I still hadn’t learned how to live fully in the moment.

The trick is to believe in a power beyond the self, even if you couldn’t say exactly what that power was. I got on another plane the next morning, a different person than I had been the day before, although I didn’t know it yet. I should have realized that my days as a Zen teacher were over, but it took a while to grasp what had happened.

When I finally understood it, I did something very peculiar and started the world’s first Buddhist Bible study group.

A New Spiritual Community
You can't just invent your own user-friendly Messiah
That January, I posted a flier around Woodstock, New York, advertising a new kind of spiritual community called “Koans of the Bible,” after those paradoxical sayings of the ancient Zen masters [like Jesus, whom the BBC Documentary says was a Buddhist monk as does other evidence from Nicolas Notovitch, Swami Abedananda, and other researchers] that made sense only when you learned to stop making sense of them.
It read, in part: You are invited to participate in an ongoing study of the mystical teachings of the Bible. Participation in the group requires nothing more than a willingness to spend some time with the Bible’s more puzzling stories, parables, and sayings -- from Genesis to the book of Revelation -- reading them as a question, not an answer; cultivating openness...

Please note, however: This study group is ecumenical [welcoming of all traditions] and is, therefore, open to anyone of any religion whatsoever -- or no religion at all. These last words were meant to warn pious churchgoers that we welcomed atheists

After all, this was a spiritual study group, not a religious one. We weren’t out to convince anyone of anything. They could bring the God of their understanding to reading the Bible, even if that was no God at all. More
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The Bible is definitely not cool, but it is interesting...and sexist, incestuous, racist, violent, patriarchal, elitist, and re-written as well as heavily edited by humans. The great Prof. Elaine Pagels sheds light on the lost "Gnostic Gospels," texts that help explain the big Book.

ZEN LOVE: "From one's heart extend with compassion a kind word, for that one kind word the other person may change, and you yourself may change" (Ara Sensei/

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