Thursday, August 14, 2014

Pilgrimage to New Mexico with my clergy group - Aug. 14, 2014

Our time at the Upaya Zen Center has been very rich. We meditate with the community once or twice a day for 20 to 40 minutes at a time. Equally, if not more, powerful have been our conversations with Joshin Brian Byrnes.

Joshin is a student of Roshi (teacher) Joan Halifax who founded Upaya. We've learned a lot about the structure of Zen Buddhism. A roshi or teacher is the highest rank. He or she is fully qualified to teach the dharma (way of Buddhism). The roshi also "confirms" a person who accepts the precepts of Buddhism. Roshis also ordain to the priesthood, and a roshi may also "invest" (my word, not theirs) a person with the rank of teacher or roshi. Joshin received his name when Roshi Joan made him a priest.

The Buddhist priesthood is not sacramental. The priests are in charge of the ceremonies in the temple. They also wear three distinctive garments - a long black outer robe and two inner garments that are white. Joshin told us a funny story about a priest who asked his teacher about the meaning of the priesthood. The teacher had a very heavy Japanese accent, and his student thought he said, "Priesthood is about love." That seemed to be a great answer, so the younger priest went around telling that story for years. But some time later his teacher heard him telling the story, and corrected him. "Not love," the teacher said, "Priesthood is about ROBE!"

Yesterday we spent about 90 minutes talking with Joshin about the similarities and differences among Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity. A lot of our conversation was around the idea of "original sin."

I think original sin is a useful concept, but as a phrase, it has probably outlived its usefulness. I would prefer to speak of "fundamental alienation." A lot of Christians (and others) think original sin means "original guilt," that is, we have somewhat inherited the guilt that Adam and Eve incurred when they ate the forbidden fruit. That's not right at all.

"Original sin" or (better) fundamental alienation means that we are all born into a network of alienation or estrangement. It helps to use a musical analogy. We all begin to sing our song just a little flat, and if we don't get some help, we get more and more out of tune. One way to think of salvation is to see it as reminding us of our original melody and helping us to sing it.

Yesterday Joshin used the phrase "our ancient twisted karma." I think that's pretty close to what I mean by fundamental alienation.

We did get hung up on the Cross and atonement. For me, the Cross is the symbol that God is present in the midst of suffering and that God's grace is available to us to help us overcome estrangement and "repair the world." I think there may be a connection here with the idea that bodhisattvas (awakened or enlightened souls) choose to be present in the world to help others overcome suffering. But we didn't talk about that.

There was also an interesting dharma talk (somewhat like a sermon) last night by Fleet Maul, a Buddhist teacher who is a former felon. Fleet spent 14 years in a penitentiary and became a monk while in prison. He came and talked with our group this morning.

It's not all been high level theological conversation and meditation. Last night we went to the Santa Fe Opera to see Donizetti's Don Pasquale. It was one of the best operas I've ever seen and was greatly enhanced by the translations of the libretto that were displayed on small screens in front of every seat. The singing and acting were absolutely first rate, too.