The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream.
Seeing in a New Light
How do we bring to light and address those items lurking within each of us that can cause fissures in a spiritual community? Let me offer a way of looking at this in a roundabout way, recalling an experience related by Thomas Merton. This is based on an account in his journals dated March 1958, which he revised and published in the book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.
“It was like waking up from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. Not that I question the reality of my vocation, of my monastic life: but the conception of “separation from the world” that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion: the illusion that by making vows we become a different species of being.
“I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun…
“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If we could see each other that way all the time, there would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…”
As we are able to see one another in this light, that is, in the light of this wondrous vision whereby each living being is recognized as a bearer of infinite beauty and truth and holiness, the way we relate to one another in our day to day existence will inevitably be transformed.
Written by Ruben L.F. Habito and originally published on the Maria Kannon Zen Center website, as Spiritual Practice for a Global Sangha.
Ruben L. F. Habito served as a Jesuit missionary in Japan from 1970 to 1989 and taught at Sophia University for many years. He now serves as Teacher (Roshi) at Maria Kannon Zen Center (Dallas), and is on the Faculty at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. His books include Experiencing Buddhism: Ways of Wisdom and Compassion (Orbis, 2005), and Living Zen, Loving God (Wisdom, 2004).
Image: Seek, by Hartwig HKD, CC by-ND 2.0, from Flickr.Com