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May 2006  Meetingbrook Dogen & Francis Hermitage Update

Theme: Unceasing inquiry -- Continual practice.

Faith without practice is unconceiving.

Practice, some say, makes perfect. Jesus said, "You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt.5:48). Practice, then, so that you do not fall into the habit of separation.

Christianity, if it is to rise from the ashes of its spiritual demise, must be conceived through the good auspices of Mary knowing Joseph in the loving of Jesus. (Of course it is a loaded sentence. It is May 1st: Joseph the Worker; Month of Mary; Eastertide of the Mystery of Jesus and Resurrection).

What is good news? What evangel (i.e. glad tidings) are we capable of hearing? Are we willing to practice?

Walter Kaufmann writes: The "justification by faith" seems to Nietzsche an inversion of Jesus' evangel. He never tires of insisting that the legacy of Jesus was essentially a practice, and he is convinced -- presumably by Dostoyevsky -- that "even today such a life is possible, for certain human beings even necessary: genuine original Christianity will be possible at all times." (A 39) The Christian religion, however, seems to him to be founded on Paul's denial of this proposition -- a denial which Nietzsche would explain by saying that Paul knew that for him such a life was not possible. Nor was it possible for St. Augustine, Luther, or Calvin. Paul is for Nietzsche "the first Christian" (M 68); the discoverer of faith as a remedy against the incapacity for what one deems to be right action; the man who made it possible for pagans the world over to persist in their own way of life while calling themselves Christians.
(pp.293-294, in Nietzsche, Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, c.1950, Princeton University Press)

"Pagan" is the usual translation of the Islamic term mushrik, which refers to 'one who worships something other than God'. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paganism)
(Pagan, from "pagus" -- "country-dweller," classically refers to someone with no interest in religion, especially monotheistic religion, but is likely to be polytheistic, or nature directed.)

Whether theistic, non-theistic, or someone attuned to nature -- there is a longing for what is true. The goal, or intention, we find ourselves considering, is: How practice what is true?

Practice is work. Likewise, and paradoxically, it is effortless.

South and north, sharing a single mountain gate,
Above and below, two temples both named T'ien-chu.
Dwelling therein is an old dharma master,
Built tall and skinny like stork or swan.
I do not know what practice he engages in,
But his green eyes reflect the mountain valleys.
Just looking into them makes one feel fresh and pure,
As if all one's baneful vexations had been cleansed.

- Su Shih (1073)

No static intellectual assent can suffice. No act of faith can penetrate the earth as lovers interpenetrate one another with longing for their true nature.

When they found him on the other side, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?"

Jesus answered:
"I tell you most solemnly,
you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs
but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.
Do not work for food that cannot last,
but work for food that endures to eternal life,
the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you,
for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal."

Then they said to him, "What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants?" Jesus gave them this answer, "This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent".

(from John 6:22 - 29)

(I have a suspicion an alternate translation of that final phrase could be: "...you must behave as the one he has sent.")

It has long been bane to hear excuse, rationalization, obfuscating explanation, or appeal to secret knowing beyond ordinary minds. I'd rather a clear, direct, and diaphanous act of compassion and courage than any rhetorical deflection.

Friedrich Nietzsche writes:

What the Gospels make instinctive is precisely the reverse of all heroic struggle, of all taste for conflict: the very incapacity for resistance is here converted into something moral: ("resist not evil !"--the most profound sentence in the Gospels, perhaps the true key to them), to wit, the blessedness of peace, of gentleness, the inability to be an enemy. What is the meaning of "glad tidings"?--The true life, the life eternal has been found--it is not merely promised, it is here, it is in you; it is the life that lies in love free from all retreats and exclusions, from all keeping of distances. Every one is the child of God--Jesus claims nothing for himself alone--as the child of God each man is the equal of every other man. . . .Imagine making Jesus a hero!--And what a tremendous misunderstanding appears in the word "genius"! Our whole conception of the "spiritual," the whole conception of our civilization, could have had no meaning in the world that Jesus lived in. In the strict sense of the physiologist, a quite different word ought to be used here. . . . We all know that there is a morbid sensibility of the tactile nerves which causes those suffering from it to recoil from every touch, and from every effort to grasp a solid object. Brought to its logical conclusion, such a physiological habitus becomes an instinctive hatred of all reality, a flight into the "intangible," into the "incomprehensible"; a distaste for all formulae, for all conceptions of time and space, for everything established--customs, institutions, the church--; a feeling of being at home in a world in which no sort of reality survives, a merely "inner" world, a "true" world, an "eternal" world. . . . "The Kingdom of God is within you". . . .

(from 29, "THE ANTICHRIST, by Freidrich Nietzsche, Published 1895, translation by H.L. Mencken, Published 1920. http://www.fns.org.uk/ac.htm)

Reading Nietzsche surprises.

It is curious to intuit that "hatred of all reality" is becoming standard tactic in government and religion. "God" (the supreme example of "resist not evil") is shackled and tortured by policy and power. "Christ" has identity stolen and is fronted by barkers who bait and switch. They offer their arrogance as template -- calling connivance "compassion" and misappropriation "our corporate mission, accomplished."

Seasonal symbols -- lilies and fronds, paschal candles and lupin seed -- are insufficient to penetrate the psyches of a distracted and distraught populace. Wombs and minds fall barren when they cannot conceive what is taking place. Artificial insemination with othering values takes place without full consent. Our will is weakened. We allow drunken leers into our privacy and they have their way with docile, compliant, and trusting ignorance. No abortion permitted. Offspring belong to men admitting no mistakes. Women are hidden behind screen of politesse. An unreflecting brood are glimpsed playing seesaw, up and down, captive imagination. Nietzsche went mad. God went dead. Power and will substitute for "hustera" -- Greek, for "uturus." Menopause, cessation of menstruation, is celebrated by our caretakers. Our enfeebled desire fails to bring out from us that which longs to find light. Virtue, for both men and women, becomes pseudocyesis -- an imaginary and false conception.

(With apologies for pun: A Meno-pause.)

So, we pause. For Meno and Socrates we turn to Plato:

Meno is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato. Written in the Socratic dialectic style, it attempts to determine the definition of virtue, meaning in this case virtue in general, rather than particular virtues (e.g., justice, temperance, etc.). The goal is a common definition that applies equally to all particular virtues.

The dialogue starts with Meno asking Socrates to tell him what virtue is. Socrates, in his usual style, professes ignorance. Meno suggests that there are many different types of virtues, for example, some are appropriate for men, some for women, some for slaves, others for children. Socrates does not accept this explanation, but instead wants to know what is the common quality that makes all these different things virtues.

The conversation continues, with Socrates and Meno able to list many particular virtues, but unable to find the thing which they all have in common and which makes them all virtues -- until Meno proposes desire for good (in the moral sense) things as the definition.

Socrates questions this definition, suggesting that no one knowingly desires evil, and thus the desire for good is common in all men. Meno adds that the good things must be obtained in the right way, so being wealthy would be a virtue if the wealth were obtained in a just way. Socrates spots a circular argument at this point, with virtue being defined as that which is obtained in a virtuous way. Meno gives up at this point, saying:

"For my soul and my tongue are really torpid, and I do not know how to answer you; and though I have been delivered of an infinite variety of speeches about virtue before now, and to many persons -- and very good ones they were, as I thought -- at this moment I cannot even say what virtue is." (80b)

At this point, Meno introduces an epistemological problem: "And how will you enquire, Socrates, into that which you do not know? What will you put forth as the subject of enquiry? And if you find what you want, how will you ever know that this is the thing which you did not know?" In other words, how is one to know when one has arrived at the truth when one does not know what the truth is?

Socrates suggests that all acquisition of knowledge is in fact a matter of anamnesis (sometimes translated as recollection, reminiscence, or recall). We never really learn anything; we already know it and only need a reminder. A famous demonstration of this theory ensues: Socrates, through gentle prodding of one of Meno's slaves, elicits a simple geometrical theorem from the boy, though the boy had not before even considered the matter.

Since no one really learns anything, there are no teachers or students, so virtue cannot be taught. This means Meno must redefine virtue.

Without defining virtue, the Meno concludes with Socrates saying:

"Then, Meno, the conclusion is that virtue comes to the virtuous by the gift of god. But we shall never know the certain truth until, before asking how virtue is given, we enquire into the actual nature of virtue [something that Plato doesn't discuss in detail until The Republic]. I fear that I must go away, but do you, now that you are persuaded yourself, persuade our friend Anytus. And do not let him be so exasperated; if you can conciliate him, you will have done good service to the Athenian people." (100b)


To conciliate means:
1. To overcome the distrust or animosity of; appease.
2. To regain or try to regain (friendship or goodwill) by pleasant behavior.
3. To make or attempt to make compatible; reconcile.


I consider religion to be the unceasing inquiry into, and continual practice of, what is true.

Authentic and aware individuals long to be loved, to be made love to, by what is true. Throughout history and mythology this "what is true" has often been called God, Holy Spirit, Word of Life. It has also been called Thusness, Suchness, Tat Tvam Asi, Beloved, Karuna (Compassion), and Prajna (Wisdom). The Holy One.



Love itself.

Conceive this.

Birth here.

Embody now.

Trust what is true.

No pause.


As Nietzsche might say: Practice what is true in you.


, Cesco , Mu-ge ,
and all who grace Meetingbrook,



Please see http://www.meetingbrook.org/updates/05SepUpdate.htm for continuing support.

Meetingbrook Dogen & Francis Hermitage is a Schola Gratiae et Contemplationis, i.e., a School of Gratefulness and Contemplation. Bookshop and Bakery opened 29 June1996. Hermitage was formed as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization in 1998 for the purpose of serving as a place of collation and recollection for the side-by-side practice and study of Buddhist Zen Meditation, Christian Contemplative Prayer, and the Engaged Service flowing from each. Central to Meetingbrook is its Laura Common – dedicated to a forum for individuals sharing practice with others, and its Schola -- dedicated to Interreligious & Interdependent Dialogue —Unveiling and Practicing Peace Between Ways. Donations are always gratefully accepted for the continuance and deepening of Meetingbrook.              

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