Sunday, February 15, 2004

ordinary mind is God

If you've never read the exchange between Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast (a transplanted Austrian who's been living at the monastery in Gethsemani, KY) and Robert Aitken-roshi, Zen master and founder of the Diamond Sangha, I highly recommend The Ground We Share: Everyday Practice, Buddhist and Christian, a book that re-creates their conversation as a transcript.

I don't want to talk about the whole book, but about the one very important thing I took away from it. It involves, for Christians, a significant reconceptualization of God that I find therapeutic. In Brother David's words:

Well, you interpret supernatural as above the natural, but that’s not the only way the word can be understood. Super may mean "above us," but it may also be simply an intensifier. We can say, for example, that one thing is fine and another is superfine, meaning finer than the first. In the same sense, one experience may be natural while another is supernatural. Natural derives from the verb "nasci," to be born. In the sense I intend, supernatural is closer to birth—to the source from which everything gushes forth—than the merely natural.

Those of us hailing from classical theistic traditions tend to imagine God as Other, assuming God is somehow at an ontological remove from the rest of us. Brother David, who trained under some of the same Zen instructors as Aitken-roshi, offers a different way to approach the God question by declaring God the most natural thing. God is nothing special-- he's the spirit of the valley, as the Tao Te Ching calls the Tao.

I say this is therapeutic because, if you take Brother David seriously, you immediately eliminate the urge to reach for God. Just scratch your ass. No reaching necessary.


No comments: