Thursday, 27 February 2014

Going Over the Wall

In the tales of the Desert Fathers, a young monk complains to his teacher that his brothers are going over the wall. They're diluting the sanctity of the cloister, he says, and obstructing the pursuit of saintliness.

The old abba listens, and after a silence, says: "You know, when I was your age, I went to town every day." The student is scandalised. His own teacher, so wise and holy!

"Every day," repeats the abba. "When I was tired, I went. Even when I was sick."

"But Abba! Why?"

"To relieve myself of the burden of never having been to town."

That a Christian – a scholar of forgiveness – authored this koan is significant.

I was a horrific prig as a young man. I blamed others – everybody, to be honest – for disappointments large and small. Eventually I fell afoul of other prigs, and saw my error. Now I'm happy to be more often hurt by these people than to hurt others along with them.

But pride is a hard habit to break. Zenners often belittle Christians, their practice, even Jesus himself. It's easy to do; few Christians even seem to try to walk their Tathagata's path. (Indeed, it's a heresy: Jesuism.)

Yet our Christian brothers and sisters have no monopoly on hypocrisy. If they run too often to the messianic well, and mock up Gothic intrigues, we too have made Pauls of our predecessors and saviours of our sages. Our "don't-know-mind" is arrestingly contingent. The day we look at our neighbours and see ourselves, we will set these delusions down.

It's not as if our own religion is illiterate to forgiveness. Or, hell: just honesty.


(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson.)
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