The Second Sunday of Lent

A favorite teaching concept of Zen Master Seung Sahn is “checking mind.” Checking mind is the mind that compares and contrasts, which measures “me” or “I” against something or someone else, which is endlessly competitive, which always wants something else. Checking mind is the mind which looks in the mirror in the morning and wishes for less gray and fewer wrinkles. Checking mind is the mind which makes judgements about other people to make itself feel better. Checking mind is the mind which thinks “if only I had that, then I’d be happy.” Checking mind is the mind of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence. Of course, seductive as it is, it’s almost never true. Happiness rarely comes while walking that road.



The First Sunday of Lent

This week we encounter Jesus while he is tempted by the devil in the wilderness. I imagine most readers have their own picture of what Jesus looked like, and it’s a safe bet most of us envision a human male. Likewise, most readers will have at least a rough idea of what the wilderness in Palestine/Israel looks like – perhaps fueled by Hollywood Bible epics. But how do we picture the devil in this story? Is Jesus arguing with a man with horns and a tail and dressed in a red suit? Was Jesus talking to a six-inch figure who stood on his shoulder and smoked a cigar like George Burns?



Summer has arrived, and with it summer camp, vacation and time with family. One Clear Thing will be on hiatus until the second half of August. Until then, I wish you warm days, cool nights, and lovely time with friends and family. See you in August!

Last Sunday I wrote about God’s response in the book of Job, a book at its core about human suffering. Yet In a week full of suffering locally (the Berkeley balcony collapse) and nationally (the white supremacist terrorist attack in Charleston), my own response to scripture followed an intellectual interest instead of addressing real suffering in the world. As a follow-up post this week I choose to sit with and consider the suffering caused by the atrocity in Charleston.



Some days it is easy for me to acknowledge that Christianity and Zen are two separate traditions, with two very different cultural contexts which speak very different truths to many different populations of people. Today is not one of those days. Job 38:1-11 sounds to these ears like a kong-an being posed to me by a Zen teacher. If Zen and kong-an practice are ways of closing off rational thinking and directly witness The Mystery, this passage is perhaps one of the greatest kong-ans of all time. God reveals Godself to be a Zen master par excellence.



Why is everything so messed up? Why can humans be so full of grace one moment and so horrible the next? Christianity’s go-to source to answer this question is often the story of Adam and Eve, of which one (but just one) interpretation is original sin and “the fall” of human kind. Buddhism teaches that that the basic nature of the world is suffering, and the four-fold path offered by the Buddha is a way out of suffering. Do these teachings have anything to say to each other?



Many of the stories in the recent weeks in the lectionary have to do with fantastical happenings. Jesus rose from the dead! He was fully embodied, yet passed in and out of locked rooms. After forty days he ascended to heaven. Now this week the Holy Spirt taking the form of tongues of fire, baptizes the twelve Apostles, and enables their speech to be heard by anyone in her or his own language. Amazing! Why don’t I get to see things like this happening each week?


The Ascension

It is evening and it is dark. Zen Master Man Gong sits in his room. His attendant appears, perhaps with a blanket or some cool water for the revered teacher. In this routine moment Man Gong poses a sharp dharma question to his attendant – “which is the true light, the candle or its reflection?” The student responds by blowing out the candle, returning the challenge to his teacher.



In this week’s gospel I am taken with the word “dwell.” In other translations (see the New Revised Standard Version and the King James) this word is translated as “abide.” Merriam-Webster online defines “dwell” as “to live in a particular place” but also “to remain for a time,” “to live as a resident” or “to keep attention directed (when used with upon).” The same dictionary gives us the following for “abide” – “to accept or bear,” “to stay or live somewhere,” or even “to endure without yielding.” There are many different shades of meaning, many options to consider.