The Two Great Seeds
*** This writing comes after a two hour meditation on the trinity of Prajna (Sanskrit) which means wisdom, Shila (Sanskrit) which means morality, and Samadhi (Sanskrit) which means mental discipline or concentration. This is the path that has opened up in my life through deep consideration, meditation and internal debate. This in no way is supposed to be a critique of your personal beliefs or faith, although I am sure some will take it that way. I hope you’ll understand if you read it fully with an open heart that I mean no disrespect only an expression of my journey. ***
I am not vain enough to claim there is one way to truth, but this is a record of my intimate experience. Each of us is born with two great seeds: the seed of spiritual contemplation and the seed of doubt. Which of these, if either, takes root determines the path, the trajectory of your spiritual path. I was born into a Christian family, mostly Presbyterian and for many years, as with most people, all my answers were written in the text I was raised with though as with most I never read it cover to cover. The turning point where the seed of doubt overwhelmed me was when I was sixteen, the year of my great trauma. The details of that trauma do not matter, what matters is the seed of spiritual contemplation took root at that moment.
I took the challenge of reading the Bible cover to cover for the first of four times in my life in search of an intimate truth, in search of the answers only my heart could question, questions I couldn’t fathom asking out loud. The solace I sought was not to be forthcoming, instead more questions were germinated in my heart. I did not have the words to put it in at the time, but I had already given up on the notion of moral relativism that is so prevalent to this day especially in academic circles and liberalism. For example ethnic cleansing, genocide, infanticide, filicide, etc. are always on the wrong side of morality. Always. What I found reading the Bible was a God that embraced all those things.
I was living in a spiritual void, if I could not believe in the faith of my fathers where did I have to turn? For several years I embraced the quote, “Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned.” Logically I started in the Western tradition with Socrates and Plato. I devoured them reading them much too fast for their arguments fully to be realized. Through my high school years I systematically worked my way through to Nietzsche and Marx. While there were concepts I could incorporate into my own life, there was not a philosophical system that answered all the questions which plagued my heart.
Beginning my freshman year in college I decided to slowly expand my search to other religious traditions. I had taken a class on Indian Philosophy my first semester and the obvious became clear I had ignored the eastern traditions. I recognized the serenity my Christian friends found in their faith. I felt I owed the faith of my fathers one more investigation again reading the Bible cover to cover, medieval commentaries such as those of the Christian mystics such as Saint Catherine of Siena, Hildegard von Bingen, St. Teresa of Avila, etc. I was finally able to vocalize my question that could not be answered, what is the meaning of our existence? Is it to simply move from one pleasure to the next: birth, food, wealth, sex, marriage, family, etc.?
The answers I sought must be elsewhere, after all I was not the first to ask these questions. I burned through the Talmud, the Koran, the Vedic religions of India, the Bhagavad-Gita, Hinduism, and finally to Buddhism. Here I found a man 2500 years ago asking the exact same questions that plagued me. It brought me back to the central crux I have of all faiths, oral tradition. The Buddha was not written about for nearly the first 500 years after his death. The gospels of Jesus some 70, 80, or 90 years after the death of Jesus. Our human history is dotted with sages who after their passing go through the process of their lives becoming legend, then, myth, and finally faith inflating their words and deeds. We don’t need to go back to the time of Jesus or the Buddha to see this in action we can look at the case of Mother Teresa. To become a catholic saint you must perform two miracles, her first was to cure a Bengali woman of a stomach tumor when she gazed at a picture of Mother Teresa. This miracle has come under great scrutiny as doctors have come forward who treated her and claim that it was not a tumor at all, but a cyst that was cured through a drug treatment she underwent. For most this first miracle is already legendary and not questioned and the further we pass from the actual events the more legendary it will become. Had her canonization not been expedited, a process which on average takes 181 years, who knows what evidence would have come forward. My intent is not to denigrate Mother Teresa, but to illustrate the legend to myth to faith process occurs to this very day.
My introduction to Buddhism came through reading “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind.” It spoke to me in ways that no other tradition had in the past. The answers were not outward in some ancient text, but could only be realized by turning inward. There are innumerable Buddhist texts to help you along your path, point you in the right direction. Two new questions plagued me could I believe in the concepts of rebirth and karma that are so integrated into Buddhist tradition? Could I believe in an orthodoxy of one of the Buddhist traditions steeped in ritual, legend, myth, and faith. Did the Buddha really live? It was the same question I had about Christianity and Jesus. The answer I came to in meditation that unlike Christianity it did not matter. Christianity falls apart without the actual act of Jesus dying for your sins, but the Buddha whether simply legend or real man it does not matter. The Buddha showed the path to enlightenment, to the answer to the question that had plagued me since I was a teenager, was this all there is to life.
I needed guidance of some sort in my spiritual awakening and living in Montana at the time there were not a lot of options. I desired a teacher to posit my questions to, to guide me right when I was veering left. I found my teacher in modern texts of the Zen masters, YouTube, audio books, etc. I was embarking on what I term DIY Zen Buddhism. It was not the choice I wanted to make, it was the option that was forced upon me. I still very much rely on DIY Zen Buddhism, although I have had several teachers from such places as Seattle, Paris, and Jacksonville Florida as I’ve moved around. Over the years I have practiced both Soto and Rinzai Zen. Am I any closer to enlightenment than I was when I was sixteen and only knew of Buddhism by name I’m not sure. I do know I see the compassion and comfort in the answers to their spiritual contemplation in the dharma talks and writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, John Daido Loori, and other Zen practitioners. The questions still plague me and the seed of doubt is strong in the notions of rebirth and karma. I do not know if I will ever be completely satisfied with my spiritual contemplation. I know that in my life I have learned deeply from asking the same questions a simple man asked 2500 years ago. He found comfort in the answers he discovered and it is my hope to eventually do the same. I find more comfort in the life of a mere human than I have been able to find in the dictates of the innumerable gods humans have worshipped throughout our history.