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
(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
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?"
"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
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
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
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
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
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)
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.
Trust what is true.
As Nietzsche might say: Practice what is true in you.
and all who grace Meetingbrook,
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
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.
send your donations to:
Bayview St., Camden, Maine 04843