A Belief that Changes the World

What we believe matters.  Our beliefs project onto the world another world.  Belief can also affirm the world that is the world.  Some projections are helpful.  Other projections twist up reality.  In Zen practice we use belief to help us see both our potential as well as what is.

Gakudo Yojinshu “Guidelines for Studying the Way” says,

First you must believe that you are already within the Way.  You must believe that you are free of delusion, illusory thoughts, confused ideas, increase, and decrease and mistaken understanding.  Believe in this manner, clarify the Way and practice accordingly.  This is the essence of studying the Way.[1]

This is the starting point for Zen practice (not the end), and without disparaging the beliefs of my childhood, it runs counter to the belief in Original Sin, the idea that we need saving.  I bring this point forward because Original Sin is far more operational in our day-to-day lives, particularly if we were brought up Christian, then we might recognize.  Original Sin is a belief that is more powerful not because it’s truer, but because it’s one of those beliefs that has been internalized, and therefore rendered unconscious. 

To be fair, Original Sin has its place among the pantheon of religious teachings.  For those westerners with a Christian foundation interested in sincerely practicing Zen it also has a place.  In zazen we can look at how Original Sin operates unconsciously.  Because it’s unconscious we can’t get at it directly, but we can see its symptoms.  Original Sin is present and working when we see zazen as a means to self-improvement, or when we judge our zazen as “not good” or “not good enough.”

This feeling of “not good enough” or “I can be better” may solicit emotions of depression, anxiety, or shame.  In some cases, these feelings can be motivating factors for real transformation.  In zazen, however, we are not concerned about doing it better, or improvement of our mental state, not because our state of mind doesn’t need improving, but because we enter fully into the belief that we are already Buddha, that we have reached the end point (which is the start point).

This may feel totally anti-climactic if we don’t like what or who we are or have become, or how we feel in this moment.  But that misses the point.  It is really believing with great certainty that we are already within the Way of the Buddha.  No special ceremony is required.  No one needs to bless or save us.  There is a leap of faith required, however, and that leap compels us to have great confidence in our Self (notice that this is not the small “s” self, but the big “S” Self).  This is another meaning of taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.  We need the Buddha or a teacher to recognize that aspect in our self.  Zen is not a path of total self-reliance.  The Sangha or Buddhist community is there not to save us but to amplify the belief that we are already in the Way.

Original Sin, then, when recognized as operating in our zazen practice, can magnify for us a conscious movement away from self-loathing and into the belief that we are already in the Way of the Buddha.  No delusions!


[1] Harada, Sekkei.  The Essence of Zen.  Wisdom Publications.  Boston.  2008.  Pages 13 – 14.

Published by Daishin

Daishin Eric McCabe is a Buddhist monk. He teaches Soto Zen philosophy, mindfulness meditation, yoga, and calligraphy to people of all walks of life and spiritual paths. He was ordained in 2004 and given permission to teach in 2009. He is fully ordained in the Soto Zen tradition and is a recognized teacher both in the Association of Soto Zen Buddhists and in the Soto Zen Buddhist Association. Daishin undertook a 15 year mentorship with Abbess Dai-En Bennage of Mount Equity Zendo, located in rural central Pennsylvania. During this time he trained at various Soto Zen Monasteries in Japan. In France he trained with Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, practiced in California at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, and with Rev. Nonin Chowaney at the Nebraska Zen Center. He is a certified hatha Yoga teacher through Integral Yoga. Daishin has four years experience attending the spiritual and emotional needs of patients, family, and staff in a hospital setting, and three years experience giving spiritual direction and counsel to clients with mental health and substance abuse issues. He has ten years experience as a Guest Teacher and speaker at Buddhist meditation retreats, yoga centers, colleges, and multi-faith gatherings. Daishin studied at Bucknell University where he received a BA in Religion and Biology in 1995. He completed 5 units of Clinical Pastoral Education at Wellspan York Hospital in August of 2014, where he worked as a Chaplain in Behavioral Health, and in 2015 was granted by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification Incorporated the equivalent of a Master of Divinity. Prior to chaplaincy he taught meditation and yoga for two years to clients at White Deer Run, a drug and alcohol rehab in central PA. He presently teaches yoga at Broadlawns Medical Center to patients receiving mental health care. Daishin presently resides in Ames, Iowa with his wife and family.

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