Reply to a Reader: On a Dialogue with a Christian Minister

Letter:

Dear Sunim,

Thanks for the talk during this morning’s livestream broadcast on gratitude and why we practice.

Last Saturday, my son J. and I had dinner with an American Christian preacher. The minister and J. went back and forth about God and praying. Listening to this, I was reminded in The Compass of Zen when Zen Master Seung Sahn was talking to a man who believed in God, and he asked the man, “You believe in God. But where did God come from?” The man could not answer.

Anyway, after some discussion with J., the minister looked at me and said, “What do you think about the existence of God?” I said that it didn’t matter to me because when I leave here and return home, before getting into bed I will chant and meditate and the next morning I will do the same thing: either way it doesn’t matter.

I said that the difference between Zen Buddhism and Christianity is like this: If for some reason the whole world found out that Jesus was really never here, or who he claimed he was, then their faith would most likely end; but if for some reason the world found out that the Buddha was never here it would be no problem, we would still chant and mediate everyday since it’s not based on a belief or a worship.

The next morning, as I sat in meditation along with your daily livestream from Zen Center Regensburg, and the young lady in your Zen Center who has been leading the chants started the Evening Bell Chant, it brought tears to my eyes. I had just an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the Dharma. I had prayed every single day for over 30 years and never really felt or received what I was praying for, so I stopped. And everything that I was praying for I got through meditation.

Thank you so much for all your hard work and for cloundpath108.

Your brother in the Dharma,

S.

Reply:

Dear Dharma brother S.,

How are you and J. and the rest of our Dharma family in Las Vegas?

Thank you so much for your kind and very very beautiful message. I was really touched by your story about the conversation with the minister. I read your entire message to our Zen Center family after breakfast as we ended the silent part of our intensive one-month retreat. Everyone was very, very, very touched by your sincerity and your pure gratitude mind.

You gave very good teaching to your preacher-friend.

Religion people can be very very strongly attached to their beliefs and stories and traditions. They get some strength or identity from believing in things, but they never truly ask where these things come from. If you really ask yourself, “Where does God come from?“, like Zen Master Seung Sahn asked, then thinking cannot go any further. Because thinking cannot go any further, belief cannot go any further. Any sort of faith cannot give you a true answer, either. All thinking is completely cut off. There is only don’t know. This is the point where religion ends, and where Zen begins.

Yes, everything can be gotten through meditation. The deep meaning of this is, we don’t get any “thing”. Not getting anything is already getting everything. But monotheistic people who are attached to their faith always want “something“, so they only sometimes get what they want -– the same exact possibility as flipping a coin. Nothing more than that! Recent scientific studies have shown that prayer does not have any appreciable effect on hospital outcomes – – it is exactly a 50-50 probability. That means, it is nothing really more than chance -– the “praying“ does not reliably move the needle in the direction they want. There have been several notable cases in the United States recently where some conservative Christian preacher promised that prayer would protect people from Covid. Then, these ministers themselves contracted Covid and died. Rev. Rick Wiles, Rev. Frederick K. C. Price, Rev. James Scott, Pastor Landon Spradlin, and many others, including dozens of Catholic priests and nuns.

The famous Nigerian preacher TB Joshua (one of Africa’s most influential evangelists) died of Covid. Yet he was able to cure people of other things through prayer! According to the BBC, “In April, YouTube suspended his account due to allegations of hate speech after a rights body filed a complaint over videos showing the preacher conducting prayers to ‘cure’ gay people.” His God could “cure” sexual orientation, but apparently not so good at Covid, because the good minister died from it. Apparently, even group-prayer wasn’t effective with this minister: “In 2014, one of [Rev. Joshua’s] churches collapsed, killing at least 116 people, including many South Africans.” (BBC) Be careful what you pray for, and to whom! If a building collapses on the heads of hundreds of people, killing over 100 of them while they prayed and glorified his name, it’s probably safe to say that this prayer-thing doesn’t work at all.

The situation is the same in Asia: According to a report just last month in Eurasia News, “Churches in Nepal are struggling to serve congregations with pastoral and spiritual care after a deadly bout of Covid-19 claimed the lives of some 130 pastors in the Himalayan nation.” A prominent statistician in Nepal, “B.P. Khanal, a pastor and theologian who tracks the deaths of pastors in a database, noted that besides claiming more than 130 pastors, the coronavirus has infected 500 pastors and their family members. […] ‘In the month of May, pastors were dying almost every day,’ Khanal was quoted by christianitytoday.org on June 30. ‘I have never seen something like that.’” In neighboring India, according to the Christian Barnabus Fund, “On 2 June some of Barnabas Fund’s Indian project partners reported that well over 2,000 pastors and other Christian leaders had already died in India.” Don’t you think that these people prayed to their god for protection, both before and after they became sick? Don’t you think that many hundreds, even thousands of their friends, family members, and congregants were praying for them to recover?

As the prophet Jim Morrison famously declared, “You cannot petition the Lord with prayer.”

And so what about meditation? Meditation means simply returning to our True Nature. It is not about “believing something” or “getting something”.

Sometimes, when people hear the words in the Heart Sutra, “no attainment, with nothing to attain,“ they become fearful or feel some negativity in that. But it is actually the truest, most positive statement about reality there is! The bird doesn’t attain anything. The flowing water doesn’t attain anything. Wind never attains anything. The empty sky doesn’t attain anything. Also, in its fundamental state, our mind cannot attain some “thing“ that can be kept or had or lost. This is the same point. It just means natural law. Becoming one with the infinite-now manifesting of natural law — attaining your just-now mind — is Zen.

Thank you very much for your pure gratitude and your “don’t-get-anything“ clear-eyed meditation practice. Through this, you already taste that you are already complete. This means, you have already gotten everything. Bravo!

These days, I have been quite busy filming some videos for an online course in Zen practice. People have been telling me for years to offer this kind of curriculum, but I have always resisted. Now, especially since the onset of the pandemic caused people not to be able to attend retreats for instruction, it is imperative that I put these basic instructions out there into the ether, and change the way that I am using my energy to teach people who need to learn these technologies, the world over. Filming these videos is very intensive work, and so that is why you might not have seen me on the livestream for several days. I hope to be back soon.

Very best wishes to you and J. Thank you so very much for your kind monthly support for the Zen Center Regensburg.

Yours in the Dharma,

Sunim

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