Hello; welcome back...
One of the occurrences in public speaking is when you see an audience-wide reaction. Being Deaf, it very useful and easier to none. One can even take "straw poll" if they are alert. Of course, certain key topics or word have a pronounced effect.
Embracing the paradoxical nature of Zen allows us to make such statements as I made - "I am tired of religion". The reaction of the audience was increased attention, a glare or two, questioning looks. I felt I really had your attention! It would have been great to have 20 minutes to talk about that.
So, this led to the first (or was it second) question: "Why are you tired of Religion... What are you tired of..."
And here I am, up to my eyeballs, immersed in religious practice and training!
Recall the story about how religious searching was at the core of my childhood. I knew early on, the feeling of something is missing, or hidden. What is it, and what can I do to explore it? Naturally, others had gone before me, and being a kid or not, it's natural to ask for guidance. Religions and groups piled it on! I was blessed with a cornucopia explorations! Previously, I remarked that since I had taken up this quest freely, there was a lot of self-guidance and no much was stained with guilt and fear of the "truth".
So, I ducked in and out of Religions. by high school, I was at the feet of a man I still consider trustable, and a major player in developing what I think of as a healthy attitude as regards religion. One of the most influential teachings I took from the Home Christian group was about not harming the group through disparagement. People get hurt and have scars. They arrive in a group with their own hopes and expectations. When they are not met - what do you do? There is a tendency to split, take some people with you, and maybe get the new group cemented by lamenting the problems with old group. On a personal level, we may fight for what we want the group to be. The entitlement plague has not helped this tendency much. The suggestion that was so helpful to so many of us, injured by such schisms, was to learn to let go. If it's not a time to take a stand - if it's just not a good fit for you; consider quietly slipping out the back door (metaphorically). No need to disparage, complain, or influence others. We learned that was a kind of theft. the stealing of others freedom. So, I would enter a group. Explore, and ask. Practice the forms. If it was not for me, and it was safe to tell them, I did so, and left. Always, it was my choice, and not any fault of the group. But I'm getting off topic a bit here....
There are actually THREE prongs on the trident of Religion. Unlike a real trident - I have come to believe that they do NOT have to be connected at some point.
Religion as belief is the foremost one, for most people. And except for Zen practice, the other two probably cannot exist without it. In Zen we sometimes bracket "belief" either for the sake of just sitting, or for a time of transition into deeper Zen commitment. (But that's another article). Emptiness comes into play here, as will be described in just a bit.
Religion as Practice (form). Zen and most religions I know use forms for a framework. This is a bit self explanatory, up to the point of our attitudes and beliefs about the forms. Where do they come from? What is their function? How are they sanctioned?
Religion as Self-Identification. Maybe you're seeing where this is going now? I believe that Americans are flocking to Zen and other Eastern thought religions because we are a bit burned out, and tired of ourselves, as being central in the picture.
To say I was tired of religion was a bit of an understatement. I was ready to abandon all forms of religion. The problem here was that the institutional forms of Atheism and Scientific Skepticism bore a frightening resemblance to the forms that various religions employed! Needed ones such as organization, meetings and leadership. But there were also the equivalent of Creeds and and Dogma. While this was disturbing at first, it was also liberating. Somehow, this produces the idea; the belief, that it was OK to just be. And to allow that "be-ness" to move as it will.
SO the challenge has been be a part of these three religions without including the near enemies. Believe, Practice and Identify THIS way or you're wrong, going to hell, doomed to rebirth, etc. Zen for me, was the Last Stop. The final attempt at practice. Because of the path I have arrived here by, the term "Religion" is synonymous with the near-enemies of the neutral terms. We are doing the positive ones. We benefit from the forms. But that's not new to me. I had a lot of fulfillment in many of the paths I took. Stuff I'll keep and treasure - incorporating into my practice. No, it's the concept of EMPTINESS that saved the day. A group cannot offer this without quickly being seen as fraudulent, if they do not really embrace emptiness, or if they are just gilding things with glitter. Zen practices this to a fault, since emptiness is probably not 100% attainable. It's the journey that is the thing.
It's been over 10 years here now, and I still have not exhausted the practice. Probably never will, since we are always beginning again and again.
When you enter the Buddha way, things like where you are and what you are doing, are free to give way to nature of what you really are.
And that is...?
Well, you tell me!
You know that which is within you better than anyone else! This is the way we learn of that common thing that is within all of us.
See you around the Temple...