This week’s readings are Genesis 3:8-13 and “Poem for Buddha’s Birthday” by Zen Master Man Gong.
Genesis 3:8-13 (NRSV)
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
“Poem for Buddha’s Birthday” by Zen Master Man Gong in The Whole World is a Single Flower
Very tired, so the dream is very complicated:
This morning a bird gave a Dharma speech to me.
Today is Tiger Year’s Buddha’s Birthday.
One hundred grasses understand themselves: yellow and red.
1. “This morning a bird gave a Dharma speech to me.” What does this mean?
2. How do “One hundred grasses understand themselves: yellow and red”?
3. Originally nothing-so how does Buddha’s birthday appear?
COMMENTARY: Put it all down. What do you see now? What do you hear now?
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 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?
A core teaching of Zen Buddhism as I have learned it is that humans ‘make something and enter the world of suffering.’ We differentiate between ‘me’ and ‘you.’ We believe there is a difference, a separateness, between ‘us’ and ‘nature.’ We divide up an indivisible, fully inter-dependent world into discreet things and then get attached to them. We believe that the thoughts in our head are ‘me,’ and then quickly get into arguments with others because my ‘me’ and your ‘me’ believe different things. We ‘make’ things which aren’t there, and then suffer because of this.
It strikes me that nakedness is the sign given that Adam and Eve now know the difference between good and evil. What is nakedness if not the belief in their differentiation from the world? Why would one worry about nakedness unless one is separate and apart? If everyone’s naked, what’s the problem? It’s like going to a casual outdoor wedding in June and being the only one in a tux or gown – you stand apart in your difference from others. After Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge they believe they are separate from the world. This belief causes their stumble.
Zen Master Man Gong, in his poem for Buddha’s birthday, nods to the Zen understanding of the problem in the world when he writes that ‘the dream is very complicated.’ The dream is the making of things, the suffering we enter when we start breaking off discreet chunks of the universe into individual objects. Unlike Adam and Eve, however, Man Gong finds his way back. He sees the singing of birds, the waving of the grasses, and the day of the year. He knows better than to live in the dream.
Adam and Eve could take a lesson from Man Gong. Instead of waking up from their dream, they descend further into it. First, instead of telling God what happened, they run and hide. Once they are found, the blame game starts. Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the serpent. What if Eve could seen what was going on while the serpent was talking to her? What if Adam had been able to see his desire and instead of being controlled by it? Would God have responded differently to honesty instead of hiding?
Zen asks me to come back to this moment. Am I honest with myself? Can I see my desire? I live in the Garden of Eden, and I have eaten from the tree of knowledge. The knowledge that I relish – technological advancement – brings about the destruction of my human relationships and also God’s beautiful creation. Can I see the ways that my desire for electronic toys, cheap airline flights and free flowing electricity are destroying the planet? Can I put some of these down and ask others to do so as well? Can I find a way of living which does not contribute to destruction?
Today is June 7th. Three questions:
1. This morning the flowers preached a sermon. What did they say?
2. Where can you hide from God?
3. What are you?