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?
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.
In this week’s epistle John gives us beautiful and inspirational language about the nature of God and the place of Jesus Christ in God’s plan for the world. To me the language is at once inspiring and uplifting, but also vague and bereft of specifics. It paints a wonderful of the cosmic order, but feels removed from the life and teachings of Jesus. How is it specifically that God’s love should transform our lives?
The Gospel of John is nothing if not cosmic about the nature of Jesus. From the opening of the book, when “He was with God at the beginning, and through him all things came to be; without him no created thing came into being” (John 1:2-3 REB) to Jesus proclaiming “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5a REB) to this week’s passage about the good shepherd, John identifies Jesus in many different ways and with many different faces.
This week we encounter Jesus and Bodhidharma, two central characters in Christianity and Zen, coming back to life. Jesus died and came to life again on the third day; Bodhidharma died and was seen alive three years later wearing only one shoe.