A Buddhist monk was spending considerable money guzzling beer and whiskey in bars at night instead of practicing zazen - sitting meditation. His teacher was concerned about him. He asked him to stop, but the monk continued.
The teacher asked the monk to come to his room. The monk entered, and his teacher screamed, "Get out!" The monk jumped. He did not expect the scream. He thought, "This is a good chance to escape this ridiculous temple life." He gladly said, "Yes, sir."
The monk was about to open a door to leave. The teacher said, "It is not your door through which to get out." He tried another one, and his teacher said, again, "It is not your door to escape." He tried three doors, and each time the teacher said the same thing.
Finally, the monk became enraged. He said, "What should I do?! You said to get out, but how can I get out?!" The teacher said, "If you cannot get out, stay here."
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I think most among us who take the Way seriously feel we were chosen to do so. We might act out to resist it, to escape, but we seem unable to leave the Way. If we try to get away, wherever we go becomes the Way. We did not choose it, not consciously, and it seems to have us in its grips, clutching us tightly to itself. Whether we say God chose us, or fate, or destiny, or otherwise, the experience is the same.
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I see the teacher saying, "If you can get out, you need to get out. If you can't get out, you belong here. If you belong here, stop your acting out, trying to sabotage your wish to be here."
This is somewhat like my advice to a young man. I was a religion professor in college, and he was a ministry student of mine. He came to me in my office. He shared with me of possibly accepting his God was calling him to be a pastor. I said, "If you can do anything else, do something else." I meant it. I was saying, "If you can be content doing anything else, that means your God is not leading you to be a pastor. If you can't say 'No' and be at-peace, say 'Yes.'"
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We, finally, settle in. We accept the Way is home. We did not decide to get in; we could not find a door to get out, even as there was no door by which we got in, so we stay. The struggle against it is over. We yield: "Have me! You already do anyway." This feels really good to our surprise. We relax. We feel relief.
And we come to see the Way is not other than us, yet it is everything else, too. Like Katagiri Roshi said, "Buying an ice cream cone can be a very deep ritual." And eating that ice cream, we are glad it is part of the Way, not just something to consume for pleasure. Not escaping, everything becomes holy - everything. Even our trying to find a door out becomes holy. We see the Way everywhere - we feel it.
Why did we want to escape this glorious adventure? We did not. Even our resistance was our effort to ward off the brilliance of it. We had not planned to try to run away. Yet, we had to try, for we were so much in love with it. How can a person hold so much beauty in her arms? And if we had not tried, how would we have come to see how much we were in love with it?
So, now we can bless those closed doors. All those closed doors kept us home, the same closed doors that let us in. They were never ours to enter or leave. They never will be.
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Now, can you see that monk at the bar, guzzling down alcohol? Can you see it was because of love? Can you see it was out of awe of the Way given to him to walk? Can you see how we are so much like that monk - running from a path we feel we are not worthy of, or that we may not be able to embrace, for so wonderful it is?
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A saying attributed to Jesus, in the Gospel of John 6.44, relates to the above - "No one can come to me unless the Father - who sent me - draws her to me." The saying reflects profound insight framed in the worldview of this first-century Jewish rabbi. The principle, however, is universal. There is always a mystery as to why anyone feels drawn to the Way. No one can say why she chose it or that she did in any real sense. At most, she can say, "I chose the Way in reply to being chosen." Then, later, she can say, "I've stayed; it seems I couldn't have done otherwise."
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*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2020
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book is a collection of poems based on mystical traditions, especially Christian and Sufi, with extensive notes on the teachings and imagery in the poetry.
*Quote from Katagiri Roshi, Dainin Katagiri. Returning to Silence.