Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Of Ignorance and Gratitude

I learned something surprising about JW over the past few days: he was actually a practicing Catholic, not a Zen Buddhist. He took five precepts and practiced for some time—I don’t know how long—but felt more at home in the Church than in the Zendo.

Margaret says that he was doing what true Christians do, turning the face of Christ toward everyone he met without any kind of fanfare.

This does not mean that JW was not a Bodhisatva (or kind of Buddhist saint) because clearly he was motivated by a spirit of selflessness and a desire to help everyone who crossed his path, without judgment or distinction.

The priest yesterday affirmed his hope and his belief that JW was living in peace with Jesus. That’s a very comforting thought.

From a Buddhist doctrinal point of view JW is in bardo, a kind of purgatorial state which he will pass through for forty-nine days. The bardo, as I understand it, is confusing, sometimes blissful, sometimes terrifying. It offers opportunities for enlightenment and into Nirvana or re-birth. I suppose that’s comforting, too, in a different kind of way.

In truth, nobody knows where JW is. We can speculate. We can deny one point of view and affirm another. But no amount of thinking or writing or arguing can change the fundamental fact of everyone’s ignorance. All we can is continue to try to put everything down—our opinions, condition, situation, as Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say—and be present moment to moment, offering to help when we can, accepting what help is offered. This is how JW seems to have lived most of his life. For that, I am grateful.

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