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Posts Tagged ‘Zen’

Not a Franciscan Friar

But there is a reason George Lucas dressed his Jedi this way.

All characters in a novel have to come from somewhere and I have read many humorous accounts written by novelists about where their characters come from.  No one who is friend to a novelist is safe, and I remember hearing a threat at a writer’s conference from the table behind me.  Someone said, “You’d better stop that, or I will put you in the next book.”

In my case I was thinking about Friar William, who is a major character in The Necromancer’s Grimoire, the sequel to Hermetica.  I am not a Catholic, so I have limited exposure to that culture, but I did have one very intense experience that was the genesis for William.  I will tell you what happened.

When I was nineteen years old I was in a crowded plane traveling halfway across the country.  I was in the aisle seat and in front of me I could see the top of man’s head.  A bald head.  All through the flight I kept having a strange feeling, and as a student of mysticism, I was acutely aware that something very interesting was happening…so I was paying attention.

After we landed, and everyone knows what happens, the passengers stand and get their luggage from overhead compartments, then wait impatiently for the crew to open the door and LET US OUT.  I stood, and the man in front of me stood.  That is when I saw that he was dressed in the traditional coarse dark brown cassock of a Franciscan.  He had the twisted cord around his waist and the hood hung low on his back.  He never turned around, so I never got to see his face, but that doesn’t matter.  I knew he was young, he had honey-brown hair over his ears below the carefully shaved tonsure, it was  almost blond, and he was shorter than I am.  I was pressed nearly up against his back by the other passengers behind me.  Our clothing was touching. This situation is one of the only ones in our culture that permits absolute strangers to stand this close to one another.  He smelled like soap.

A warm glow emanated from him and entered me, working its way up inside me, little round circle by circle from the base of my spine up to my throat making me almost dizzy with its intensity.  I had been feeling it as I sat behind him, but didn’t know it was coming from the man in front of me.  Those of you who have studied these things know what I mean.  When I was then squashed against his body, it was like a wave of heat.

I was shocked at first, because I had assumed that organized religions, especially those that have a history of unpleasant events could not produce such an aura in a follower.  This was my lesson that day.  I almost felt faint from this feeling, it was so full of love and compassion.  I wanted to throw my arms around him and squeeze!  Seriously.  I was making fists to keep myself from doing that.

There were tears in my eyes when we finally got to the gate and the crowd dispersed and he disappeared among the many bobbing heads crowding the exits.  I had to go sit down in one of those plastic blue airport chairs until I could walk steadily again.  This is what people mean when they speak with wonder about feeling the love of god.  It was seriously intense.

Now, you may ask why I did not rush to the nearest church and become a Catholic.  This feeling is not a thing specific to any particular religion.  Some years later the same feeling happened to me when I attended a performance of chanting by Tibetan monks.  I knew that even at nineteen, so the Catholics were safe from my heresy that day.

But I never ever forgot that moment, or that friar.  He appears again in my novel.  And the lesson I learned about making assumptions and prejudice about the sincerity of any particular religious adherant was one of the most important of my life.  Without letting those ideas go, I would have had no room inside my head for the many lessons that came after.  In fact, it reminds me now of the Zen koan about the overrunning teacup.  That day was the day I emptied my teacup of all the preconceived ideas I had about organized religion.

I would love to know what it was that happened to George Lucas…

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You see your world through the lens of your eye, but also the lens of your mind.  The images collected by the eye are interpreted by your brain and then filed and saved and linked as memory.  If you do not think about it, you allow your brain to do the filing based on the last software upload.  By software upload I mean belief-system.

For example, if you see a tree, you brain may interpret the tree as similar to the one that held a tire swing when you were six years old.  Or it may link the tree to a picnic you had with your first lover when you were eighteen,  or if you are a biologist, the poor tree may be reduced to merely Kingdom, Order and Phylum.  This system is all very good if you are not using your brain for much– if you are just cruisin’ through life lookin’ at trees.

However, if you plan on using your brain as the awesome tool that it is, you must have periodic upgrades.  You can’t play WoW on a Commodore 64.

It is as simple to reboot your brain as it is your computer.  Yoda, the Zen Master, said it:  “You must unlearn what you have learned.”   Remember that everything that you know is true, is actually just a belief about reality.  Even something as ubiquitous as gravity.  On a quantum level gravity does not exist.  You may argue that you don’t exist on a quantum level, and here I will have to tell you…you do.  How can you not?  Your body is made of molecules and atoms and protons and neutrons and quanta.  What is your mind made of?

Think about this for a while.

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

The old beliefs do not have to be destroyed, but they do have to be loosened up somewhat.  They WILL fade away of their own accord as they are gradually replaced with more productive and beneficial ones.

Empty your cup and be ready for tea-time.

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