Thursday, 8 May 2014

Hermits Wanted

Katskhi Pillar

We need hermits. OK, it's a self-serving point. But trust me: leave it to the priests and temples alone, and they'll botch this thing.

Corporate religion always warps the founder's teachings, which invariably urge individual atonement and transcendence, into a trophy-collecting expedition. Hence the uniform, the command structure, and the litmus.

That last conjures enemies. Collective religion needs these, and it needs them everywhere.

That's why we always live on the brink of Revolution, the great cosmic victory, prophesied of old, that will literally change the universe. (And will somehow be brought about by us microbes, through our thunderous obedience.) Every generation, in all ages, lives in the End Times.

At least our Zen jihad is usually a personal one. We've resisted second-comings and arhats, and at least in the West, our politics are generally not diametrically opposed to the Buddha's. But dungeons and dragons lurk even here. In Zen centres I've heard praise of "relics" (including "relics of the Buddha", a phrase my hermit tongue cannot pronounce), and breathless accounts of what must honestly be called sainthood, attributed to Thich Nhat Hanh, Seung Sahn, Suzuki-roshi, and any number of local gurus. These teachers would, I am heartened to think, quash such talk, yet the craving for deities remains. Can charisma be far behind?

The danger is real. One has only to consider Christianity, now so buried in augury, Bible-babble, and gothic conspiracy that Christ himself has lost all credibility in the larger culture. In such times a Christian hermit, churched by the Spirit alone, might preach at risk of his life.

Thankfully we Zenners do little scripturalising. We seldom declaim verses on one another, even when we work violence on one another, and since World War II have not lawyered obscure sutras into cynical stratagems.

But we do live constantly on the verge of "enlightenment", which state we could immediately reach if only we would submit more completely to another person's will. We kick others for eating meat, for having sex, for breaching the latest liberal shibboleth. We kick ourselves, too: for not sitting enough, or right; for losing our temper, or our faith; for giving – or bearing – too little. And most wretched of all: for honouring our own nature over ordained authority. And in that we are precisely identical to every other church on this blue planet: turning away from our liberating practice, and embracing comfortable conventions.

And so we need hermits – a sunburned dervish, a naked fakir, a hemp-haired Hebrew prophet – to remind us what practice really is, and the true nature of enlightenment. Therefore (one sec while I pull on some sackcloth…) say I unto ye:

Hear me, O Zion! It happens when it happens. You can't make it happen, you can't predict when it happens, and you probably won't even know when it happens. But happen it will. On its own and by its own, with you or without you, because of you and in spite of you, whether it vindicates you or shows you for a fool.

And let's cut the crap: it's gonna show you for a fool.

All peace and success to the Nation of Seekers.

(Photo of Katskhi Pillar courtesy of ლევან ნიორაძე and Wikimedia Commons.)
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