Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"finished with the eternal"

Since I must have asked, Jack, an ex-Jesuit shrink who helped me along in the past, once said without rancor, "I have finished with the eternal." At the time, I was hip-deep in Zen practice and found the line extraordinary ... intellectually delightful and personally somehow disquieting.

"I have finished with the eternal."

When, at a later date, I reported this line to Tom, a Zen monk with 30-plus years of Zen practice under his belt in Japan, he sent back an email asking, "Yes, but has the eternal finished with him?"

As much as I valued Tom's observations and was grateful for the efforts he had made on behalf of something I took seriously, I was more taken with what Jack said and what it might imply. I had known Jack personally and I loved him, so perhaps weighting my curiosities and bias towards him was to be expected. But beyond that, Jack's observation seemed to go to the heart of things, whether or not I loved him.

"I have finished with the eternal."

As the Anglican writer Charles Williams noted in the words of one of his fictional characters, "People believe what they want to believe." I believed Jack and as with any belief, I was stuck with the farm: If you believe it and take it seriously, then you are nagged by doubt ... so what are you going to do that actualizes what you believe; what experience will you find that lays your belief-doubts to rest; lolling around in belief is really not enough ... what will you do that addresses the matter squarely: "Put up or shut up!"

And the only answer I know is to enter the delightful hellfire that is called belief. It is not enough to call it hellfire any more than it is enough to lollygag around in some longed-for relief. It is only enough to enter and find your peace.

I have heard Buddhists say -- and no doubt have said myself: "Shakyamuni Buddha was enlightened." There is sometimes an assurance and perhaps even a smugness that infuses the line. But how in the wide world of sports could anyone say such a thing and be at peace? It might be a nice thing to say. It might excite some agreement from fellow Buddhists. There might be all sorts of echoes and reverberations in the heart. And it all might be very encouraging and apt. I wouldn't call it wrong -- "people believe what they want to believe" -- but I might wonder if it were at peace. I don't know ... you tell me.

"I have finished with the eternal."

I loved Jack and chose his line as a compelling pointer in my mind, one I would be pleased to roast in hell for. What truth it implied in Jack's life doesn't concern me so much. I would just like to be at ease with my own, toasty hellfires. So as I roast deliciously on this spit ....

Last night, it occurred to me to put together another book. And although I dislike borrowing others' words, the subtitle that popped into my head was, "That was Zen. This is now." Who knows if I will find the energy or will or money for it, but I would have to find a title first, I imagine. Maybe "Finished with the Eternal" would be good ... but that has a weighty, club-foot feel to it somehow.

It's a minor matter -- putting yourself out their for others to find ridiculous or helpful. Another line I like a lot is, "it can't be helped." Things happen or they don't. Jack is finished with the eternal or he isn't. Shakyamuni Buddha was enlightened or he wasn't. I will put a book together or I won't. It can't be helped. Isn't that enough?

Pick your poison, chew it carefully, swallow, digest, excrete ... and begin again.

Toasty, toasty, toasty.

1 comment:

  1. In this eternal moment, have to wonder what i was supposed to do with the eternal. How do i know when i'm finished? And if it's finishable, when and why and what did i begin? It feels like spring is here, maybe i'll get something done today. And maybe i'll keep an eye on the clouds crossing the ridge.