Gary Guinn

Literature of the Ozarks

Tag: Living Buddha Living Christ (page 1 of 2)

Thich Nhat Hanh: Anger as Hell

In Living Buddha, Living Christ, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Jesus did not say that if your are angry with your brother, you will be put in a place called hell. He said that if you are angry with your brother, you are already in hell. Anger is hell.” I like that. A lot. It is an intriguing reading of the passage from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. Jesus says there, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the fire of hell.” I have almost always heard this passage interpreted to mean that Jesus was ratcheting up the intensity of the law so that it would be impossible for a person to keep the law, and we would realize that only through grace can we escape the fire of hell. Not just murder will send you there, but anger and insults will, and of course none of us escapes both of those little numbers.

Here’s why I like Thich Nhat Hanh’s reading of Jesus’ words. I’m with C. S. Lewis all the way on this whole heaven and hell business. To oversimplify just a bit, Lewis saw heaven as the presence of God (Love, Light) and hell as the absence of God (Love, Light). Lewis says that we don’t just go to these places when we die, we are in them all along. So I understand Jesus, C. S. Lewis, and Thich Nhat Hanh to be saying that any time we step away from Love and Light (and by extension no longer communicate those things to others) we are in hell. And any time we experience Love and Light (and by extension communicate those things to others) we are in heaven. Lewis’s book The Great Divorce creates beautiful concrete metaphors for both those conditions.

Even Pogo, in the old comic strip, got got it right several decades ago when he said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” It would be hard to put it more succintly. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Our enemy is not the other person, no matter what he or she has done. If we look deeply into ourselves, we can see that their act was a manifestation of our collective consciousness.” He means that we all have violence, hatred, and anger in us, and it is manifested by some people in extreme ways. This all reminds me of something else Jesus said, that the judgment you use against others will be used to judge you. That is a hard one, as so many of Jesus’ little broadsides are, especially in a time like ours, when every day the violence and hatred are manifested on TV and the internet.

Solitude, Practice, and Becoming Christ

Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk, teacher (Thay), and lover of Jesus says, “When we look into and touch deeply the life and teaching of Jesus, we can penetrate the reality of God. . . . God made himself known to us through Jesus Christ.” In his book Living Buddha, Living Christ, Thay seeks the reality beneath the surfaces of both Buddhism and Christianity. For both religious systems, he says, “The practice is to touch life deeply so that the Kingdom of God becomes a reality. This is not a matter of devotion. It is a matter of practice.”

In mid-August, I spent a week in solitude at Saint Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas. My room at the retreat center was isolated from everyone else on the campus. Three times each day, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I left my room and attended prayers with the 24 sisters who came together to sing and read psalms, prayers, and praises. Sister Madeline shepherded me along the way, demonstrating the art and practice of Benedictine hospitality. During the services, I sat in the corner and listened to that group of women, who had devoted their lives to the service and worship of God, some from the age of fifteen, now in their seventies and eighties. I left the nave of the church each time feeling I had experienced a little touch of heaven, of the eternal angelic lifting of voices and hearts to the Divine. The feathery soft voices, the antiphonal call and response that anchors their days, year after year. The energy of the Holy Spirit lifted on soft wings.

The great desire of a Christian is to become a Christ. In its earliest use, the word “Christian” meant “little Christ.” Little Christs want to grow up to be big Christs. The great desire of a Buddhist is to become a Buddha. One meaning of the common Buddhist term “Bodhisattva” is simply someone who is on the path to enlightenment, the path to Buddha-hood. A little Buddha wanting to grow up to be a big Buddha. We have that in common. Little Christs, little Buddhas trying to grow up into big Christs, big Buddhas. Thay says, “We must practice living deeply, loving, and acting with charity if we wish to truly honor Jesus. The way is Jesus Himself and not just some idea of Him.”

Through this practice we “penetrate the door and enter the abode of the living Buddha and the living Christ, and life eternal presents itself to us.” For followers of Jesus, “Because God the Son is made of the energy of the Holy Spirit, He is the door for us to enter the Kingdom of God.” In the prayers of the Sisters of Saint Scholastica, Jesus is “the Beloved.” Three times each day, day after day, year after year, decade after decade. The energy of the Holy Spirit, the Beloved. The door for us to enter the Kingdom of God. Not a matter of devotion, a matter of practice.



Mindful Eating and the Kingdom of God

Here’s an odd sounding idea for you: Mindful Eating. Think of it in terms of the spiritual side of the Slow Cooking movement that’s been so popular the past few years. In Living Buddha, Living Christ, Thich Nhat Hanh describes the practice of being completely in the present moment when you eat. I can hear some of you, especially those with young kids, laughing  now. Thay says, “In Buddhist monasteries, we eat our meals in silence to make it easier to give our full attention to the food and to the other members of the community who are present.” For the monks, it is a practice of appreciating the pleasure of community and the beauty of food to its fullest, in every moment. So each bite of food is chewed at least thirty times, and the person meditates on the blessing of food, the goodness of it, and feels compassion for those who are hungry.

That’s an amazing discipline, and when I imagine trying to do it when our kids were little, I too laugh. But Thay’s larger point in that chapter is about living in the presence of God. He ties that idea to the practice of piety. “Piety” is a much maligned word these days, probably due to our misunderstanding and misapplication of the Puritans’ use of it. Honestly, it’s a word I don’t like because of its unloving connotations for me. But Thay points out the importance of the word “piety” in Judaism, “because all of life is a reflection of God, the infinite source of holiness.” Buddhism has a similar concept based on the “interbeing” of all things. In the end, Thay defines “piety” as “the recognition that everything is linked to the presence of God in every moment.” Okay, that is a definition I can love and work with.

The reality is that everything is linked to God in every moment. Piety is our recognition of that reality. Not a one-time recognition, like “okay, I agree with that.” Not “being a believer.” Jesus said something about the demons believing. The Buddhist concept of mindfulness calls us to orient ourselves each moment to true reality, to be aware–when we breathe, or eat, or touch someone–that the Spirit is there, that each moment itself is a gift from God. I think of mindfulness as the mind full of ness (ness being the true nature of things–God as reality in every moment).

Thay points out that in Christianity the best example of this orientation is the Eucharist. “When we celebrate the Eucharist,” he says, “sharing the bread and the wine as the body of God, we do it in the same spirit of piety, of mindfulness, aware that we are alive, enjoying dwelling in the present moment.” I would add that it makes me stop and experience incarnation, the presence of God in that moment, in this world.

I’m going to finish with one last thought from Thay. After lamenting that humans often, instead of eating mindfully, simply “ingest” our worries and anxieties, he says, “If we allow ourselves to touch our bread deeply, we become reborn, because our bread is life itself. Eating it deeply, we touch the sun, the clouds, the earth, [those things that nourished the grain] and everything in the cosmos. We touch life, and we touch the Kingdom of God.”

And so we come full circle, back to Mindful Eating. The Kingdom of God in bread, meat, water, fruit, vegetables, wine. I think that’s a pretty good place to start.


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