Saturday, April 15, 2006

pre-Easter thoughts

Alan Watts, well-known Zennist and LSD-lover (according to one biography, he even did acid while staying at some Japanese temples-- I'm not sure how well-received such behavior was by the local monks), wrote a great little essay that appears in an old collection, The Gospel According to Zen. The essay is called "Wash Out Your Mouth," and I was happy to see that someone has placed the piece in its entirety online.

I've reprinted the essay below. Don't commit the genetic fallacy against Watts: the man himself wasn't a shining example of Zen-style living, but his words are still sound dharma.


Christian piety makes a strange image of the object of its devotion, "Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." The bearded moralist with the stern, kind, and vaguely hurt look in the eyes. The man with the lantern, knocking at the heart's door. "Come along now, boys! Enough of this horsing around! It's time you and I had a very serious talk." Christ Jesus our Lord. Jeez-us. Jeez-you. The Zen Buddhists say, "Wash out your mouth every time you say "Buddha!" The new life for Christianity begins just as soon as someone can get up in church and say, "Wash out your mouth every time you say 'Jesus!'"

For we are spiritually paralyzed by the fetish of Jesus. Even to atheists he is the supremely good man, the exemplar and moral authority with whom no one may disagree. Whatever our opinions, we must perforce wrangle the words of Jesus to agree with them. Poor Jesus! If he had known how great an authority was to be projected upon him, he would never have said a word. His literary image in the Gospels has, through centuries of homage, become far more of an idol than anything graven in wood or stone, so that today the most genuinely reverent act of worship is to destroy that image. In his own words, "It is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away, the Paraclete [the Holy Spirit] cannot come unto you." Or, as the angel said to the disciples who came looking for the body of Jesus in the tomb, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen and has gone before you...." But Christian piety does not let him go away, and continues to seek the living Christ in the dead letter of the historical record. As he said to the Jews, "You search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life."

The Crucifixion gives eternal life because it is the giving up of God as an object to be possessed, known, and held to for one's own safety: "For he that would save his soul shall lose it." To cling to Jesus is therefore to worship a Christ uncrucified, an idol instead of the living God.

Today is Holy Saturday. According to tradition, our sins are being expurgated as Jesus burns in hell for our sake. The Lord is off the cross and buried, out of sight. But is the idea of "Lord" out of mind, as it should be?

Not every one that saith unto Me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father who is in Heaven.
(Mt. 7:21, 21st cent. KJV)

Just live your life, and your life will be sermon enough. Leave piety-- especially public piety-- for the self-righteous.

UPDATE: Last year's meditation is here.


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