Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Guest Post from Kris Maloy

My friend Kris Maloy read the exchange between myself and Wade Burleson here. He offered this comment which I asked if I could post. I will paste a little more back and forth we had in the comments section.

I've enjoyed reading your blog posts. I thought I might add my 2 cents to it, but then I thought I'd just send it here, and you can post it if you like, or not:

It is just these considerations that you and Wade have discussed--of the reality of and nature of Sin, of Salvation, the Problem of Evil, the Foreknowledge of God, the problem of Penal Substitution, the confluence of the issues of religious diversity, religious evangelism, and positive conduct (i.e. your question about a single mom doing her best and living well and rightly, but as a Hindu)--that have led me to become a practitioner of Zen. (Just to be clear, I am not a Buddhist and one need not be Buddhist to become Zen).

Zen, at least my particular brand of it, would answer those questions in the following ways (grossly oversimplified for brevity):

"God" is really a concept of being. God is not a creator being, or a being at all, but the very force of creation, the ground of all being in the universe. One should meditate, pray, or whatever, to try their best to see the universe from this vantage point.

Thus, appeals to a God who can act for or against us are futile. (There is no problem of evil if "God" is not a being who chooses whether to act.)

The concept of "sin" is really a concept of the health of the soul, both individually and collectively (for a Zen person seeks to realize that all is really one and we are all connected to each other and all things). To "sin" is not to defy any set of "rules" or doctrine or the "will of God"--a false construction--but to act in such a way that one's spirit is diminished rather than enriched. Acting in such a negative way diminishes the collective spirit of all things and increases disharmony in all things, but centrally in one's own existence. There is no problem of sin, or of evangelism and religious diversity, if the measure of our conduct and beliefs is simply whether they are enriching or diminishing given the situations in which we find ourselves.

the Problems of Evil, the Foreknowledge of God, and Penal Substitution are also "solved" inherently if one does not believe in a God who chooses and acts: There is no choice on the judgment of all based on the sacrifice of one, there is no discussion of whether God answers prayers or allows children to die of starvation and brain cancer if God is simply not a being who makes such decisions, and there is no need to believe in foreknowledge, since such a thing is impossible. This only comes into conflict with the doctrine of omniscience if one chooses to believe in a master and creator God.

Instead, "evil" is really the manifestation of the fact that we are all connected, and some act in ways that are diminishing and/or misguided. We all make choices that effect all of us collectively and all of us together determine the path the world takes (at least in so far as we have an effect--in the great cosmic scheme of all things, we don't have much of one[!], other than our effect upon one another).

It is my belief that the Christian solutions to the aforementioned issues are much like the argument for the Geocentric model in the 15th century--the equations worked, but only with quite a lot of complicated contingencies, whereas the Heliocentric model was elegant, and simple...but very uncomfortable for many. Similarly, I have found Zen to be simple and beautiful, and enriching...but lacking the god concepts to which many are accustomed and feel that they need, whatever intellectual tap-dancing may be needed for them to avoid calling into question their cherished beliefs and traditions.

Interested to hear your response, should you like to make one.


  1. Thanks a million Kris! I love your essay here. Would you be OK if I published it on my blog sometime in the next week or two? I have had several guest posts over the last couple of years about people's interpretation of what the word "God" means to them. The idea is that "God" as a sound is an empty crucible - how do you fill it up? I like your way.

    I am pretty much in agreement with you in every way. I have always liked the "ground of all being". Of course if the ground of being produces persons, and since we are persons, it may be quite right and fine to conceive of the ground of all being in terms of personhood - even if this is metaphorical ultimately. I consider metaphor to be powerful - it's a sign that something is too great to be described in everyday, vernacular speech.

    All is definitely connected. I identify sin with our level of awareness - which is a very Buddhist idea. Unwholesome acts are natural desires interpreted and enacted in ways which bring about too many negative results. This occurs when our awareness is lacking.

    I think we are quite similar in our approaches.

    Are you familiar with process theology? It makes us partners with God, and makes us all a part of God. Panentheism.

    Are you sympathetic to the "new atheists"? I know that Sam Harris while disliking religion is more sympathetic to "spiritual practice" than other new atheists.

    Can't wait to discuss it more,


  2. Kris,

    I would be really interested in learning more about your concept of Zen:

    Is there a practice involved?

    How is it different than Buddhism?

  3. From Kris:

    To answer the question of the primary difference between Buddhism and Zen quickly, I think the primary differences are probably 2:

    1) Buddhists believe in a very particular set of practices that are designed to help them remove themselves from the material world, whereas Zen meditations are designed to absorb the here and now completely.

    2) Buddhists are committed to the concept of reincarnation, while Zen is so committed to full awareness of the moment that thoughts of other lives or after-lives are not present. Reincarnation and afterlife are neither affirmed nor denied, but considered immaterial when one is entirely in THIS moment. (One of my favorite Zen stories illustrates this point: A young man asks the master about the afterlife, and the master replies "I don't know." The boy asks "But aren't you a Zen master?!" "Yes," he says, "but not a dead one.")

    One of the great Zen quotes pertains to the second question of "practice": "There is no need to translate the ancient Chinese texts, not if one is really serious about Zen. The sound of the rain needs no translation."

    I've borrowed this passage from Zenspace.org:

    "Zen is a practice of direct, unmediated awareness. It is not an intellectual exercise to develop a philosophy or theology. It is not belief in the contents of written works. It is not following a code of conduct. It is not an emotional catharsis. It is not performing good works. Fundamentally Zen is being present here and now with what is here and now just as it is. It involves taking the energy of body and mind that we habitually use to create and maintain the "self" and focusing it on the present just as it is without interacting with what is going on. Our principal approach to achieving this focus is through Zen meditation. While reading about meditation and Zen may be helpful, reading and other activities are secondary to practice. In our practice we develop direct awareness, and we attempt with great calm and patience to bring this awareness to every moment of our life."

    While some form of meditation and reflection are, I think, necessary in the pursuit of a Zen attitude, the essential "practice" is whatever serves the pursuit of a mindset that is at one with all things and with the present, focusing not on the past or future as we are prone as humans to do, but always on the present and the reality that is.


  4. I think those are good distinctions, but isn't Zen usually considered a form of Buddhism? A tradition like Mahayana or Theraveda, etc..

    OK, just wiki'ed it and Zen is technically a form of Mahayana Buddhism - but yes, it focuses more on direct insight than other Buddhist traditions.

    I think American Buddhism draws from all these traditions. Joseph Goldstein brings this up in his book "One Dharma". It's kind of a new synchronization. Relatively "new" anyway. For instance, I think reincarnation is an aspect of Buddhism with a wide variety of interpretations in America. Many see it as literally real. Others see it as rebirth rather than reincarnation, meaning that all the matter in your body will be reborn into a different form when you die. Others may see the doctrine as more metaphorical for this one life.

    I think your take on it Zen is right on. The here and now. Have you read "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle? I find his authorial voice to be a bit annoying, but he does take a few aspects of Eastern thought and really put it in ways that Western audiences can understand. I"m a little hesitant to recommend his book to anyone, cause of the cheeseball nature of it, but I can't deny that it was a very, very important book for me to read.

    I love that Zen quote. I actually just read that myself a few months ago in Jack Kornfield's book "First the Ecstacy, then the Laundry".

    Thanks again for a great essay.