Part two

III. To heal the roots
To heal a great evil, which is what today’s man suffers from, one must heal the roots first, because the roots are the deepest part of a tree, the deepest part of its visible body.
Many today place emphasis on the Christian roots of the European culture and civilization. In the Gospels, Jesus said that you will know a tree by its fruits. If the fruits of the tree called Europe which are gobbled up by almost everybody on earth today are rotten or poisoned, perhaps we should take a good look at the roots of that tree.
From a historical point of view, the early symptoms of the disease that is eating away at the heart of European culture cropped up around the XII century, when mysticism began to be mortified and was often persecuted by the Church. However the seeds of that disease must be searched for in the very roots of that culture.
In this search, we are provided valuable clues by the metaphor of the tree.
The Gospels say on different occasions and in different contexts that the good tree is the fruitful tree. It is true that Jesus often admonishes us not to seek material gain and not to take excessive pains to produce and accumulate. But he is even stronger in recommending us to put to good use, be it our talents or a vineyard, so that they bear fruits. We are told we must cut, uproot, and burn all that fails to bear fruits; the fig tree that fails to produce fruits in Winter, out of season, is cursed and let to wither. He who bears fruits will be rewarded with the heavenly Kingdom, he who fails to bear fruits is fated to eternal fire in Hell. This value set emphasizing productivity has affected European culture to such an extent that progress, growth, and quantity have ended up been regarded as its central ethical core.
Since the beginning of the modern age, the moral push that sustained the eschatological vision of the Christian world moved to sustain instead the realization of values that are, to be sure, supreme, like justice, equality and liberty, but belong to man’s history and to man’s world. In this way, the attention and commitment that had been devoted earlier to man’s inner life shifted instead to sustain man’s life in the world. Today’s dominant mental attitude has all but forgotten what was pivotal in the earlier mystical, spiritual, religious and philosophical mindset: again, with the words of St. Augustin, a mystic, philosopher and theologian: “Don’t go outside of yourself, get back to yourself: the truth lives inside man, and if you will find your nature unsettled, transcend yourself too” (De vera religione XXXIX). In modern times, the constant movement of man’s center of gravity outwards, climaxes in the search for value and for the sense of one’s life almost entirely in the world of relations that man entertains with the surrounding world.
In this situation, for the women and men of the third millennium, Buddhism can be a decisive factor in an authentic conversion.
Conversion in Buddhism is not conversion to Buddhism, it is not getting attached to a doctrine called Buddhism. Conversion is what was described by Dōgen in the Fukanzazengi with these words: 須らく回光返照の退歩を學すべし – subekaraku ekō henshō no taiho wo gakusubeshi – “it is essential to learn the backward step that turns light inward to make light in itself”.
Buddhism can perform the function of showing contemporary man, in the West and in the East, the only thing that really matters, because, as the Gospels say, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt. 6,19-21). This indeed seems to be the biggest problem of today’s man: not to know any longer where his treasure lies, and, as a consequence, to place his heart “where moth and rust … destroy, and where thieves … break in and steal”. Buddhism can teach Western man, who is pointing outside of himself towards a world of eternal progress that leads nowhere, to stop, to return to his senses, to enlighten himself and look into himself, and starting from himself, his own treasure.

IV. How?
Insofar as the matter at hand is concerned, Buddhism has a great advantage over other religions: it has never worked on the idea of God. It has never thought “God”. He whom Christians call God, for Buddhists is unthinkable. Buddhism does not need to free man from God, as advocated by the Christian mystics, because it has never lent substance and sustenance to the idea of God. Freed of God, man is also free from that part of himself that has been formed in God’s own image and likeness.
Since in Buddhism there is no space for a belief and a thought named “God”, and therefore there is not even a name for that object, we could say – using words taken from the languages of both Christianity and Buddhism- that what Christians call God, in Buddhism is perfectly empty, is there and is not there; in any event, it cannot provide a pretext to form an idea of God nor an idea of the “I” that confronts God. If we want to keep using the word “God” and want to keep using the Western philosophical lexicon, we can say that in Buddhism, God and man’s soul are already not-two, because man meets himself in the act of experiencing that clear void. Man meets his own soul empty of God and of himself.
In contrast with Western religions and philosophies, Buddhism does not fear emptiness. Because it has always conceived of emptiness as nothingness, Western thought has never seriously confronted it. Instead, it has lent being even to emptiness. Having represented emptiness as nothingness, it has understandably turned away horrified from it.
For Buddhism, instead, emptiness is neither a being nor a noun, but an attribute, the most critical attribute of each and all things. It is the property that makes it possible for every thing to be what it is, a miraculous emptiness showing up. Buddhism is dwelling in the empty nature of reality, which neither moth nor rust will wear out, and where nothing is there to be stolen, to be lost or to be gained.
Buddhism is not an explanation of reality, a cosmology or an hermeneutic philosophy. It is neither a utopia nor a social doctrine after which one may wish to mould reality. It is not a doctrine nor an orthodoxy. It is not a therapy against individual psychological malaise. Buddhism is the index finger pointing to the way in which one can realize the undifferentiated experience of man and of …, of the relative and of the absolute, of the conditioned and the unconditioned, of the finite and the infinite. This is the experience of a profound unity that can be lived only through faith, in complete surrender and in coming to understand that human thought alone cannot provide the seal of warranty to reality.
While faith in Christianity is above all a movement of the spirit, a thrust of the heart beyond itself, an unconditioned opening up to God, in Buddhism, faith is an experience lived with body and soul, an act of pure and serene trust, that does not need to build an object, which is always the first step towards owning it. In synthesis, this experience consists in sitting in silence, the act of body, mind and soul we call zazen. Zazen is the act of faith, the faith in action because it is the concrete way, the position of body and soul of man that realizes this non-dual relation in the simple sitting down. If we employ a Christian lexicon, we can say that in zazen God and man are not two, because in zazen we are free both of God and of ourselves.
Or, in Dōgen’s words:
自己の身心および他己の身心をして脱落せしむるなりjiko no shinjin oyobi tako no shinjin wo shite datsuraku seshimuru nari – “giving up our own body and soul and the body and soul of the other”. Here, the relation is not sustained by the idea of myself or of you, here relation is identity, and nothing obstruct freedom.
At least among the long time practitioners of Zen this is not difficult to understand. Much more difficult is instead the realization and the transmission of the quid, the quality that transforms zazen into the religious act of a religious life and prevents it from turning, as is already happening to some extent under our own eyes, into a path to power, a way to acquire power, and, therefore, in the end, into a form of life that sustains itself on death. This is the quality that requires the ability to be great while remaining small, to be teachers while living as disciples, without the foolish ambition to accumulate, to appear and to count.
In order to play a vital role in the historical process underway, beyond taking part in the ritual meaningless pageants which we attend by invitation or on our own iniziative “so that there may be some Buddhists too” at the more or less round table of the “interreligious” banquet, with the hope, perhaps, to be entitled to receive a slice of the cake, it is first of all necessary to reform ourselves from the inside out. We need to give up our own formalistic, hierarchic and ecclesiastic drift, which absorb so much of our best energies, give life again to the spirituality of simplicity and gratuity, and cultivate the innocent heart instead of fostering the will to exercise power. If we are not able to convert our own heart first, our supposed capacity to practice zazen will have no meaning; it will end up becoming another of the preys, the quarries that the world of accumulation and of the “I” will be more than happy to bag and to put to good use. There are already many signs of this happening.
Tradition is not like inertial motion, nor routine iteration of acts and gestures, and transmission is not the same as owning certain notions and practices and exhibiting certificates of achievement, and, finally, taking care of this and of the generations to come is not the same as consolidating the station already attained and protecting one’s own flock. The constant reform that makes the dharma wheel turn consists in going back to the vital emptiness every time it risks to get bogged down in computing profits.

V. Conclusions
Perhaps one will ask: we are facing a global, momentous crisis, a crisis that threatens the future of humanity and all that Buddhism can offer is this? In a world always at war with itself, Buddhism does not propose an alternative solution, does not come up with the project of a new world? It only says to take a break, to return to ourselves, to light up our lives with the practice of zazen and to bring witness the preciousness of innocence for our soul and for our life in our small everyday’s world?
Yes, exactly. Buddhism can do for the world no more and no less than it can do for me, for each of us: and I can do for the others and for the world no more and no less than what I can do for myself. “Love your neighbor like you love yourself”.
We cannot go back. An old man cannot become young again, and a dead man cannot come back to life, neither an individual nor the world can turn back the clock. We cannot get back to when the process that has led us where we find ourselves now started, and begin all over again, but this time differently, to avoid the mistakes we have made. But, while to get back is impossible, to start from zero, instead, is not impossible. Get back to the zero and start over and over again. Our own conversion can convert the entire world. Buddhism, in the West as in the East, can perform this function and this function only. It is not a recipe for a better world; it is not a doctrine that promises to transform this world if only we put it into practice. Buddhism is not about deluding oneself over illusions or waking up from them. It is adhering in thought and action to the path of the middle, which invests neither into achieving success, because success provides but a short respite from the abyss of the world of desires, nor into the self-punishing and desperate renunciation of the common pleasures of life which is like waiting for death.
In history, these two extreme poles appear in ever different forms. Today one of these poles seems to consist in the myth of the individual and collective growth and progress, while the other in the destruction of the self and in the rejection of this world exemplified by the many ways in which we benumb ourselves, such as ideological and religions fanaticism, drugs and overwork. Going back over and over to the middle way, as Buddhism suggests, is a never ending work, because the stake is eternal life.
In a world that exalts the unrestrained enjoyment of the here and now and the satisfaction of every conceivable wish, the lifestyle of Buddhists is the only valid proof of their commitment to the way they are witnesses to. In the West and in the East, Buddhism can furnish all the tools needed for this endless spiritual fine tuning but it should avoid the mistake made by Western civilization, and that is to transform the means into the end. Western Christianity has gradually transformed its churches from communities of persons helping each other travel along the road opened up by Jesus, into the Church, an institution that claims to be the repository of the thought and will of God, and that is therefore an end in itself, the aim. Buddhism must be very careful to avoid this kind of mistakes when it takes on institutional functions in Europe and in the USA.
The aim of Buddhism is the awakening that opens the path towards freedom from evil and towards peace. It is not to build one or more powerful and efficient religious institutions. A Buddhist institution, a small center, a convent or a centralized structure, does not betray its vocation only if it is at the service of the faith and of the practice of men and women on the path toward awakening. It is not charged with certifying the authenticity and value of anybody’s way, it is not charged with assigning offices, titles or diplomas, nor to supply a substitute identity, a role or a status, a new mask with Buddhist features.
The awakening from delusions which we call the experience of Buddha is seeing with one’s own eyes, that all forms are illusions and that it is supreme illusion to think that there is “something” that is not an illusion.

The same coming and going of the world,
Dependent and conditioned by something else, is,
Not dependent nor conditioned by something else,
nirvāṇa. This is the teaching

Jisō Giuseppe Forzani & Mauricio Yūshin Marassi, October 2009.
(Translated into English by Mr. Carlo Geneletti)

(1)Nāgārjuna, Mādhyamakakārikā, Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way, 25, 9.

2 Responses to “Which Buddhism. Why…..”

  1. senshin Says:

    This is excellent writing.

    To “cultivate the innocent heart instead of fostering the will to exercise power.” responds deeply within me.

    Writings like this, however make me doubt if I want ANY MORE formal training within the structure of the established soto-school; which I am supposed to do after almost two decades since Tokudo.

    And surely within the established forms there is a whole lot to learn.

    Anyway you write : “Because it cannot escape from itself, Western civilization cannot escape from the global crisis in which it finds itself.”

    Tragic is : there is lots of money spent on plans to colonize space. I am not kidding… I have been following the last development on space science and it seems like an awful lot of money is spent on developing strategies to escape earth.

  2. mym Says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Senshin.
    Yessir, when life has been established is… dead. This is the normal trend, it isn’t because soto school is bad. There isn’t a good school. Buddhism, or zen buddhism, is a lonely path. And, as you know, even if we could escape from earth we will bring with(in) us the “global crisis”

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