Zen is not a religion, although it most closely follows Buddhist principles.
It is not a religion in the sense that one cannot claim to be a “zennist”. There is no formal doctrine of zen, nor is there a zen priesthood. Neither does one worship zen gods, zen masters or zen spirits.
Rather zen is an approach to life — a way of seeing — of looking beyond the illusions created by the mind, of awakening to reality, of enlightenment. And this is achieved not by a strict adherence to any dogma or set of rules, but simply by being increasingly alert and aware of one’s thoughts, feelings and actions. The individual seeks that inner center that is unchanging and undisturbed, capable of seeing life as a mysterious and great adventure, a grand theater, a delightful journey that has no other purpose than to enjoy and celebrate each step (or misstep) along the path.
Zen is not about emulating a messiah or a buddha. It is about becoming a buddha. It is about the full flowering of the love and compassion within all of us.
At least, not in the traditional sense that people have of prayer — of verbally talking to a god, whether to ask for something or to praise or adore. Being brought up in a Christian background, I was taught that prayer is powerful and that it can move mountains. I read about great men of prayer who would spend hours on their knees each day. I learned to pray for great things and small things, for healing a relative from disease to asking for an Atari game console (my generation’s equivalent of today’s Xbox or Playstation).
Over time, I’ve had a few of my prayers were answered but many more went unanswered, and I began to ask questions. But then I was told that I had to pray “by faith”, and that prayer had to be “according to God’s will”. And then I thought, well, if it’s God’s will, why should I pray about it then? It’s going to happen anyway because, I mean, who can thwart God’s will, right? But still I was told to continue praying because God loves it when we come to him and ask in prayer.
And for a long while I just accepted that.
But then I thought, why would God want me to keep asking him for things that aren’t his will (which I only have a vague idea about)? I mean, what if I had a relative who was dying of brain cancer. And so I pray for healing. But then it is actually God’s will for this relative to pass on. Will he now change his will (as they say, his “good and perfect” will) just to give in to my request? That would seem silly, especially since his will is already perfect. So why bother praying? Because he just wants me to ask? He wants me to keep looking and feeling like an idiot? He wants me to keep making excuses for him about why my prayer isn’t being answered?
This made me shift my attitude towards prayer, and to life. Instead of looking at life as a constant struggle between good and evil, for which I have to keep battling by praying for the good forces to win, I have come to accept life as it comes.
Everything is good, even if it doesn’t feel good at that time. The universe gives us what we need from moment to moment, and the way to live is to be grateful for each moment. Prayer is not a ritual, not a grocery list of petitions, nor fancy-sounding words of praise. The best prayer is not made with words, but in living life head-on, without regrets, always learning, always thankful.
For the longest time, I have used zenbananas as my little repository of stories and anecdotes that have inspired me, made me think or made me wonder. Most of the material I have shared were retellings of someone else’s stories that I have made my personal stories as well. For some reason, I chose not to write in a straightforward manner as I am now.
However, as my few faithful readers may have noticed, I have hit a wall that spanned around 8 months. You may be wondering what has happened to me, whether I’m still alive or if I have taken to the mountains. The simple truth is that, well, life happened — got busy, got too lazy to write, lost inspiration, and wondering what else to do with this little blog of mine. And so like your computer does from time to time, zenbananas hanged.
So this is a reboot of sorts. In this incarnation, you’ll hear more from me in this tone. Oh, there will still be stories, quotations, posters and all of that other stuff that you enjoy. But I’ve also decided to make zenbananas my personal journal instead of just a hangout for stories. I hope to share here my dreams and my struggles as I journey through life.
To all those who have left comments in the past, I appreciate those and I thank you for taking the time write them. To those who simply enjoyed reading, thanks for enjoying my writing. Hope you will like what’s coming soon.
I remember a few years ago when the Vatican abolished “limbo”. Limbo is supposedly a permanent state for the souls of infants who die without being baptized, but who haven’t been cleansed of original sin.
This was major news in the Philippines which is a predominantly Roman Catholic country. Several people were interviewed by a TV station about what they thought about it and one of the responses amused me. The woman said “I’m so happy the church abolished limbo because now I know my baby is in heaven.”
We need to open their eyes and wake up. Our little beliefs and doctrines do nothing to reality. All these years, this woman has harbored despair in her heart over her dead baby because of a belief perpetuated by a religious authority. Now, when this authority relented on its decision, she suddenly feels relief. What will happen next time if some other doctrine is created? Is my peace of mind to be determined by a group of people who have absolutely no experience of the reality they are espousing?
We like to live in the comfort and stability of their beliefs. That is why when something comes along to shake that belief, the first instinct is to try to explain it away. Failing that, the next move is to look for a cleric (pastor, priest, imam, theologian) and pass the burden of explanation on them. When they explain, we are expected to nod our heads in assent. After all, aren’t these the specialists of the field? Haven’t they spent more years studying and reading books, studying the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud, the Vedas, the Sutras?
Sometimes, some of us still go further and question more. That is the time that others begin to look at us strangely — begin to whisper and say that we are asking strange questions, that we should just accept what is taught and not be such a bother, that we are sounding like heretics and unbelievers.
At this point, most people retreat back into the confines of their belief. After all, most people are not really after the truth. What they want is reassurance. What they want is safety.
But truth is seldom safe. And reality is hardly so reassuring.
Do we then live in fear? Of course not, because fear is an illusion as well — an expectation of things that may or may not happen.
We live with eyes open, in the moment, in the now — realizing the wondrous nature of ourselves and of reality. Life must be savored in all its sweetness and bitterness, in all its highs and lows, in all its tenacity and fragility. The search for truth is a climb up a never-ending staircase. Each step you leave behind falls away into deep nothingness.