Sawaki Kodo Roshi, a 20th century Japanese Zen Master, talked about Zen as the “Study of loss.” What I like about this is how unappealing this sounds on the surface. In a culture that values unending growth and gain, who wants to study about loss? Kodo Roshi, in fact, says in Japanese, “Son wa toku, toku wa son” = “Loss is gain and gain is loss.”
The Abrahamic faiths as well as Buddhism offer ethical guidelines for how to attain their respective goals – whether it be intimacy with God or Awakening. The Hebrew Bible talks about, among other things, Commandments. But just the word, “Commandment” can be problematic if we have not properly developed our ability to choose from an early age, prior to understanding right from wrong. The 10 Commandments are really an advanced kind of practice, in my view, once an understanding of choice has been well established. If choice has not been well established during youth, in other words if a young person is consistently denied opportunities to make choices, or even consistently given things that they would never choose, then that person will not be prepared to even consider living by the 10 Commandments. I think the same can be said of the Buddhist precepts. The flip side of this is that – considering that the mental factor of choice has not been well developed – then precepts or “commandments” will most likely be followed blindly without the ability to question them.
I was struggling with the fact that altars in my mind always had crosses on them, not Buddhas. When I approached altars in church, it was a sacred event, and it was almost always to receive the Eucharist from a priest, and to say a prayer to Jesus. Would God punish me for getting this close to a Buddha statue and a Buddhist priest? When I look back on this event today, it’s a totally ridiculous question to me now, but at that moment my fears were real and stemmed from teachings about not worshiping idols.
What is the Buddhist belief in God?