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Zen, Pure Land, Paganism, and Prayer

February 28, 2010

The sangha I go to meets in a small room on the campus of a Brethren Church. In the middle of this church campus is a semi-circle of trees, a few large stones, and 2 cement benches. It looks like a little pocket of Paganism to me.

As I don’t know much about Zen yet, I haven’t learned about Zen’s connection with nature, but I am guessing there is one. Zen gardens are beautiful (although it is certainly an orderly, controlled beauty). I watched an Alan Watts video about Zen some years back, and most of it was scenes of nature with Mr. Watts narrating over these scenes.

I bring up nature because it is important to me. Rather, I should say Important.

Each time I’ve gone to a Zen meeting at that church, I’ve looked over at the trees, the stones, the bench and the ground, and thought.. “hey, there is where the truth is, or at least, some truth can be found there.” Is this a pagan sentiment? Seems that way, I suppose. I imagined myself sitting on the bench amidst those trees and stones, communing with nature, and even had an impulse to lay some flowers at base of the middle trees.

I don’t believe in pagan gods. Zen Buddhism appeals to me because of the lack of gods. Although, I heard an offhand comment from the head priest quoting someone else saying “The Buddha works through you.” What?! Now, if this were a Pure Land sangha, not Zen, that comment would make sense to me.

Pure Land Buddhists believe in the Amitabha Buddha (pardon me if I got that spelling wrong), and that Buddha is believed to be living in a heavenly realm, and as far as I can tell, that Buddha is prayed to, and is a deity, or sort of a deity or supreme being. Please correct me if I’m wrong on this, or not explaining it well..

But anyway, that’s why I’m not into the Pure Land Buddhism, because I don’t believe there’s anyone to pray to, or at least, I should say, I have serious doubts. I don’t believe in any interventionist deity, and it seems to me, Amita Buddha is an interventionist deity who can be prayed to and who answers prayers.

This is all very confusing, and sorry if this bog is not nearly as clear as some of my others. Sometimes I write just to get the ideas out.

Ok, in the Zen service, one of the people chants.. “And we offer these flowers and incense for the benefit of…” and then we say people’s names. This is a form of prayer, in a Zen service.. so how does this work?

I’ve heard it explained that doing this sort of thing influences energy in such a way that the people whose names we mentioned are helped somehow. Who manipulates the energy? Us? Or is there some sort of cosmic Buddha? I don’t know the answer to this question, but I am believing it is us, using the Buddha’s teachings to positively use energy. This influence of energy is what pagans call “magick.”

I am also wondering about Bodhisatvas which are mentioned in one of the chants. Is a Bodhisatva someone still walking the earth who has reached enlightenment, but who has forgone nirvana ’til all beings are liberated? Or is a Bodhisatva a spiritual being that is not walking the earth in human form, but is some sort of invisible being that can and does help us when we do prayers and chants? Sort of like Buddhist saints who can be appealed to, to come to our aid?


Obviously I still have a LOT to learn. I am guessing even different Zen practitioners will have differing answers.

I’m into Zen because I want to get my mind functioning better. Even a little bit of enlightenment is a good thing!

But, I do appreciate the Pagan connection to nature. I consider myself a pantheistic. As stated earlier (or sort of stated) I don’t believe in a personal god.. However, I do believe “god” is made up of all things, and nature is a big part of all things – actually, nature is all things and in all things. Humans cannot make something out of nothing. Even something sythesized in a lab is made up of elements found in nature.

So, as “god” is made of all things, and nature is in all things, then “god” is nature. Ok.

But.. I don’t make nature out to be a “person.” I don’t see the earth as being a goddess. That’s too pagan for me.

I guess I’ll just be a Buddhist and a pantheist (Buddhists might be pantheists anyway, or is all perceived phenomena illusion, including nature? Hmm..).

You know, there really isn’t anything stopping me from being both Buddhist and a little bit pagan. The Japanese are Shinto as well as Buddhist, and Shinto is in some ways like European paganism.

Although I believe Buddhism will be very helpful for me, I  just feel like it is not enough, and it can feel nihilistic.  I need a little bit of paganism too – maybe a little bit of shamanism as well, if I learn more about that.

I suppose I can believe whatever I want.

Whatever that is.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2010 9:33 AM

    “I don’t believe in pagan gods. Zen Buddhism appeals to me because of the lack of gods.”

    just labels and conceptions.

    “Although, I heard an offhand comment from the head priest quoting someone else saying “The Buddha works through you.” What?! ”

    Labels and concepts require a point of origin, When you have that you can look out, in, around, up, down… but you won’t find anything until you get out of the way.

  2. tomschronicles permalink
    February 28, 2010 2:19 PM

    “point of origin” – meaning labels and concepts need to come from somewhere.. which give us a place to navigate from, but this place to navigate from is also illusion, and that’s why we don’t find anything.. hmm.. I’m trying to understand.. and won’t find anything until I get out of the way because it is my own mind looking for things – up down, and etc. but it is my own mind getting in the way..and if nothing is getting in the way, this is what Zen teachings call “no-mind.” Nothing to get in the way. Am I getting it, Doug?

    Something to do with avoiding dualistic thinking.. the kind of thinking that says, “if it is this, then therefore it cannot be that.” But, dualistic thinking vs. non-dualistic thinking is still applying a label and a concept, so perhaps, like in Taoism, the true Zen cannot be spoken of at all, because to apply words is to delineate – and the result is “this and that.”

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