Chinese character for "nothing," wú (Japanese: mu)

Originally written for a course at Luther Rice University & Seminary in August 2011, under the title “Zen & The Art of Gospel-Evasion: An Interview with Commentary.”


  1. Preface
  2. Zen & The Art of Gospel-Evasion: An Interview with Commentary
  3. Postscript
  4. Notes
  5. Works Cited


On Thursday, 4 August 2011, the writer interviewed a priest and assistant instructor at a Zen center in San Diego County, California, where the writer resides. Because the interviewee shared some information the writer deems private, he has not included the interviewee’s name or the name of the Zen center in this paper. Instead, he identifies the interviewee as “Zen Diego” (from Zen and San Diego) and the Zen center simply as “the Zen Center.” The majority of the paper consists of an interview transcript with accompanying commentary. A postscript containing some final reflections follows the commented interview. Added to these is this preface, which covers such preliminaries as the paper’s layout and the writer’s interview preparation.

In the transcript and commentary, the interviewer (the writer of this paper, David Hodges) is identified as DH, the interviewee (“Zen Diego”) as ZD. The transcript appears here as block quotation, the commentary as regular text; horizontal rules further clarify the transcript/commentary distinction. The transcript varies somewhat from a verbatim record, having been edited for clarity and readability, slightly abridged, and (where possible) having the source of (or inspiration for) interview questions identified in footnotes.

DH’s main way of preparing for the interview was to read and reflect upon Zen source materials and Christian materials discussing Zen. He also viewed some video lectures and a documentary for general background. As the sources most influencing the interview are cited in the interview footnotes and listed among the works cited at the end of the paper, they will not be listed again here. DH also prayed before the interview, of course, specifically requesting that he would not say anything to dishonor God or misrepresent the gospel, and that the interview would in some way be of use to God’s purposes.

Preliminaries aside, on to the interview.

Zen & The Art of Gospel-Evasion: An Interview with Commentary^

DH began the interview with general questions aimed at giving him a feel for ZD’s thinking, his role in Zen and at the Zen Center, and so on.

DH. Please tell me briefly about the Zen Center, your role here, and how you got involved with Zen.

ZD. We’ve been here since 2000. My teacher studied at the Zen Center of Los Angeles, founded by Mizuni Roshi, a Zen Buddhist “missionary” from Japan. (Roshi is his title.) My teacher studied with him at the Zen Center of Los Angeles. Then she was the Abbot of the Van Nuys Center, which is a couple hours away. I was living up there, working and practicing, and she decided to move down here in 2000 to open a new Zen Center.

DH. So, what practices does this center engage in and how are they supposed to work?

ZD. We have basically a three part process. The first part is the meditation itself, literally just sitting quietly; the second is studying with a teacher; and the third is communication. We do a lot of communication practice. For example, the way of counsel is something we’ve incorporated into our regular practice; and we use nonviolent communication. We consider communication equally as important as meditation. So, that’s the foundation of our practice: meditation; studying with a teacher, for guidance and support; and communicating with each other, supporting community.

DH. The goal being? I mean, what is it you hope is going to happen for the individual involved?

ZD. Well, on a basic level, the goal is to end suffering. In Buddhism….Well, basically that’s what the Buddha taught, that suffering is caused by attachment to ideas, and to let go of the attachment is the end of suffering. So, naturally, what our practice supports….If I’m suffering because I have an anger or resentment against someone, and I’m holding on to it, how can I end that? The best way to let go of it is to communicate about it and to share about it from the heart. That is a process of letting go of that attachment to anger. Through that, I end my suffering, and promote the end of suffering for everyone else.

DH. So, the goal is to not be attached to anything?

ZD. In a sense. It’s paradox. One of the things I appreciate about Zen is that it really embraces the paradox of life. So, we are attached to ending suffering; we’re attached in a positive way. I have a desire to end suffering, and I hold on to that, as part of my motivation. But there’s a balance between holding on to it from an ego place versus holding on to it from a true self place. It can seem tricky, but it’s really embracing the paradox.

DH. Do you use koans at all?

ZD. Yes.

DH. Do you use those as part of communication, or meditation, or what? (In one of Kapleu’s books, he describes Zen practice in one center where koans were sometimes part of the meditation, the koan being what the meditator would focus on. These students were thoughtful, philosophical types who couldn’t “just sit quietly.”) 1

ZD. If you become a Zen student, it’s basically you tell the teacher, “Hey, I want to be a Zen student.” After you’ve practiced for a while, maybe a year or two, you can start your koan practice. So, your koans are things you work on with your meditation, but you also talk about them with your teacher. And that’s really the studying-with-the-teacher aspect of the practice.

DH. Would you care to elaborate on the concept of ego versus true self (which you mentioned)?

ZD. Obviously, there is a typical definition of ego, sort of the greedy, angry, ignorant self, grasping out of insecurities….Whereas the true self is inherently compassion and wisdom and giving and love. Of course, it’s a spectrum and there’s not an absolute distinction, but somewhere along the line through practice we develop the intuition….

ZD here seems to have realized that his initial clear distinction between ego and true self amounted to a dualism of the sort his belief system eschews, hence his modification of it into a spectrum. Of course, a spectrum, however finely gradated, would depend on the same hard dualism to define the left and right directions on the spectrum (assuming horizontal orientation). This did not occur to DH during the interview, however.

DH. Now, do you think there’s a true self for each individual, or just one true self that’s shared by all individuals, or….How does it work?

ZD. Well, part of the worldview foundation is that we’re all one. So, in that sense, everyone shares.

DH. Perhaps I could have you contrast it to another system, the Hindu or Vedic way of thinking about things. Does Zen differ at all from the whole idea of “Atman is Brahman” and “That art Thou,” or is it about the same? 2

ZD. Well, I’m not a religious studies expert, and I wouldn’t claim to be clear enough on Hindu belief to give you an accurate answer.

DH. Fair enough. How about this question….Christian writer Winfried Corduan identifies the message of Zen as just “to accept life as it is without overanalyzing it,” which he seems to equate with resignation to whatever happens, even absent any “assurance that the world is meaningful and coherent.” 3 This seems to make Zen trivial and is something I can’t square with the meditative discipline and rigorous efforts to change one’s way of thinking that I’ve so far read about. (The American slacker’s philosophy of “What-ever” seems equivalent.) What do you make of Corduan’s description of Zen? In what way is it accurate or inaccurate, sufficient or insufficient? What about the issue of “assurance that the world is meaningful and coherent”? Is Corduan right that Zen provides no assurance of such?

As with some other of his queries, DH packed too many interrelated questions into this one. Such would only be an advisable technique, DH now realizes, if the opening questions were meant not to be answered, but only “put out there” so the interviewee might recall and reflect upon them later, or else (perhaps) be influenced by them at a subliminal level while consciously focused on answering the questions at the end of the set. The effect of excessive length in this case was that ZD ended up only responding to query content at or after the parenthetical mention of slackers, as will be seen.

ZD. This is a classic critique or criticism of Zen, which I understand; and it makes sense. And…I think he’s right. I wouldn’t say he’s wrong. But I think it’s in a context that doesn’t really serve the fullness of what Zen has to offer.

DH. Okay, so it’s either incomplete or inadequate. So, what would you add to it, if you were going to advise Corduan? A goal whenever you’re going to describe someone’s beliefs should be that you put forth a description that the person who actually holds that belief system will say, “Yes, that’s a good description.” But I’m gathering that you think Corduan’s description, though not really false, is not really satisfactory either. So, what would you offer instead if you were going to redefine it?

ZD. You know, sort of a classic or popularized idea of a Zen master communicates some of the idea….Basically, a highly meaningful life that’s very activated. You’d be hard pressed to find a Zen teacher that’s a slacker. It just doesn’t work that way. The idea that life has meaning is an idea. That doesn’t mean that it’s not true, or that it’s not real, but it is still an idea. Living a meaningful life and having an idea that life is meaningful are two different categories of being…ways of being. So, the practice of Zen, and the practice of studying Zen, is to start letting go of more ideas about what life should be and start to actually fulfill what life is. It’s more about living a meaningful life than about defining life as meaningful.

The question, DH reflects (though this did not come to mind during the interview), is this: In what sense can a life be “meaningful” if one has no idea (and cannot explain) how it is meaningful? It seems that what must be involved here is just a feeling that ZD and other Zen practitioners find pleasant. Zen practice makes them “feel good,” and that feeling-good they label “meaning,” so that the phrase “a meaningful life” unpacks in Zen usage to “a life that feels good.” Life-meaning in the Zen context, then, seems not to be an objective quality of life and living, but a subjective emotional state, a meaning-feeling identified by its ability to bring to the subject a certain type of enjoyment.

DH. Okay. I don’t know if you answered the question or not. I wasn’t comfortable with the way Corduan was describing Zen because it didn’t seem to fit….

ZD. Well, it’s part of the paradox. It’s easy to pick on Zen people and say, “Zen people believe that’s everything is empty. Therefore, they have no meaning in life.” But that’s a very simplistic way to pick on Zen. It is true, we believe that everything is empty, but what comes out of that is the opposite of meaninglessness. It’s actually a paradox. To let go of the idea that life is meaningful makes life even more meaningful. So, what he’s using as a critique, to criticize Zen, is actually missing the mark of what Zen is.

DH. When you say everything is empty, exactly what do you mean by “empty”—that it doesn’t really exist, that the concept identifying it doesn’t really identify it, or….What exactly are you getting at?

ZD. Well, what “empty” means is there’s really no inherent meaning. There’s lots of ways of looking at it. One example is the idea that people are different from me. I say, “you’re different from me.” That’s an idea about what you are. But what are you really? Your aren’t an idea. If I ask, “Who am I?” then say, “I’m a father” (which I am), then say, “I’m a priest” (which I am), and then go on defining myself, eventually I can make a long list of what I am, but what my true nature is is ultimately indescribable. It’s really a way of being which is always changing and can’t be pinned down, because as soon as I say “this is that” I’m just putting an idea on top of something that is really just itself. 4 Another way of looking at it would be if you started looking closer and closer at the molecules, until you’re looking at atoms, then that breaks down and you’re at the subatomic level, and then there’s nothing. The material world is more like a hologram than it is an actual something that’s really there, depending on how you look at it. The closer you look at it, the more difficult it is to pin down what is really there. That energy equals mass is not just a scientific principle; it’s also a spiritual principle. Matter is equal to energy, but energy has no mass. So, it’s a paradox where there’s form and emptiness, and form is equal to emptiness. But emptiness has no form, and yet it’s equal to form.

ZD’s appeal to such aspects of modern physics as are becoming known to the general public (via science documentaries, popular-level science writing, and so on) might have merited further exploration. One interesting thing about subatomic/quantum physics is that in it humans are presented with an aspect of reality they cannot directly experience and cannot accurately visualize or make good analogies for (because it does not sufficiently resemble anything in normal human experience), but which they can conceptualize rationally through the symbol system (“language”) of mathematics. 5 Thus, in direct contradiction of Zen, rational conceptualization with verbalization (in the sense of expression through a symbol system for purposes of communication, even if that symbol system is of a sort many people would not want to call “language”), proves more fundamental than direct experience (at least for humans).

DH. I don’t know if one should call energy emptiness. It seems to me if you have energy taking these shapes that you need some organizing principle or intelligence….Emptiness doesn’t seem like the right term for it. 6 In any case, you seem to have touched somewhat on the God question, since you’ve brought up matter and energy and how you get matter from energy, and how most of matter is empty space, 7 and all the rest. So, What do you believe about the nature of God? Does God exist? Is God a person or something else?

ZD. I don’t really know. That’s really my best answer: I just don’t know. I can imagine, and I mean I do imagine. I’m sober and I have the concept of a higher power, and I believe in a spiritual world. But I feel I know less and less what that really is.

DH. Do you think this is something important to know, or just not an important question?

ZD. I don’t really know about that either. I think it’s important to some people and not important to other people, and I don’t really give priority to either of those. I think people who are uninterested in God have just as much capacity to be moral and to be happy as people who do have that concept. I don’t really see a big difference in behavior or morality relative to that belief. That belief doesn’t seem to be a defining characteristic of people, of how people behave.

DH was surprised and perplexed that ZD, having noted his reliance on “a higher power,” could answer “I don’t really know” to a question about whether or not knowing what sort of being God might be is even important. Why one should expect help (rather than hindrance, hostility, or indifference) from a nondescript “higher power” is a mystery. DH was also taken aback by ZD’s shift from the question about the objective importance of “the God question” to a consideration of the subjective importance of that question to different people. The one part of the question DH thought he could grab hold of, however, was ZD’s use of his innate moral sense in answering the question. As is not uncommon, ZD measures the behavior of theists and non-theists against a standard of morality he simply takes for granted.

DH. Okay, so the belief and the behavior don’t seem to connect at all. People believe and they behave, but they can mix and match.

ZD. Yes, and I think you’ll find examples of both in both. 8

DH. Okay. Actually, I’ve got another question that’s related to that. What is the basis for human morality? Is it conventional and relative, or is there some absolute standard applicable everywhere and to everyone? If it is absolute, where did it come from? Who or what created it, or who or what makes it valid? It seems from your previous answer that you definitely are comparing the moral behavior of people.

ZD. Well, in Buddhism or Zen Buddhism, going back to the true self, we believe that what we inherently are naturally is compassion and wisdom (that’s sort of two arbitrary labels that we use more than others). And it’s inherent. It’s just that at the core of our being we’re inherently, naturally compassionate. And so really what our practice is is just being still and letting the ego and ideas drop away so that we can experience more of what our true self has waiting for us. Shifting that balance from being ego-based to being true-self-based is really about letting go of ideas and attachments so that we are free to experience more of what our true self is, which is really spontaneous compassion that comes out naturally. Not because there’s a mandate or an external expectation, but because it’s a spontaneous, natural expression of who we truly are. And we believe that everyone really is that way, and we all have different ways of tapping into that and defining it. So, everyone has that capacity, but not everyone is necessarily interested or motivated or taught to follow that.

DH. Then, is the reason that something is morally right just because it’s natural? I’m wondering….Just because you have a true nature that’s a certain way, why should you have to follow your true nature? I’d say I’m playing Devil’s Advocate here, but it just doesn’t seem to fit in the Buddhist context.

ZD. Well, then, Anti-Buddhist Advocate.

DH. Okay, we’ll do that. Going further with it: Though many people have claimed enlightenment and said, “this is what the true nature is,” how can we trust that it isn’t the case that none of them have been truly enlightened and that our true nature is really very evil and so evil is really what we should be striving after? If we don’t have any external standard, how do we set down actual moral principles?

ZD. Well, the foundation of our practice is about experience. These are really great questions; they’re great intellectual and spiritual and philosophical questions. I have a philosophy degree, so I spent many years asking these questions and trying to figure out the meaning, the answer to these questions, and I felt like philosophy had taken me as far as I could go rationally. Then I had an intuition that I wanted to follow a spiritual path that I felt offered the answer, and I didn’t believe in inherent evil and good, and so I chose Zen, because that correlates with my intuitive sense of morality. And through the Zen practice I have experienced this shift from being more ego-based to being more true-self-based. And I’ve seen it in my actions; I mean, I’ve literally become a better and better person over the years since I started Zen practice. I have fewer and fewer ideas about what I should be, and I have a lot more experience of who I am.

ZD’s thinking seems to be that he’s “been there, done that,” meaning he tried the intellectual/philosophical/rational path and found it led nowhere. Though DH opted to continue questioning ZD’s appeal to moral categories and standards after this response, he might productively have explored ZD’s thinking on the ultimate futility of intellect/philosophy/reason. Indeed, philosophy that is “after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col 2.7) 9 is ultimately futile. Failure to start one’s reasoning with reverence for God confounds pursuit of knowledge and wisdom (Psalm 111.10; Prov 1.7, 9.10), introducing ultimately irresolvable contradictions into one’s belief system. 10 No doubt this is why pragmatism, which as a matter of policy refuses to probe foundational or ultimate questions, is all the rage in contemporary thought.

DH. If you’re judging yourself to be a better and better person, you must have something you’re measuring against, some set of principles that allow you to say, “I’m closer to this ideal” and “I’m further away from this anti-ideal.”

ZD. When I say that I mean….Well, one meaning of it is that I’m happier. You know, my gauge is my experience. I’m of service more; I’m able to be more patient; I’m able to be more generous; I’m able to be less angry; I’m able to be less greedy. These aren’t written-in-stone moral virtues or values; this is just my experience that I feel better. I feel better about myself; I feel happier; and I feel like I’m a servant better than I was ten years ago, for example. You know, a lot of this is self-defining, and it’s coming out of experience.

The choice ZD is faced with is to either (1) reduce all his most dearly held moral values to matters of personal preference, entirely subjective and person-relative; or (2) admit that he is taking for granted objective moral truths that he, as creation and image of God, cannot stop himself from taking for granted.

ZD chooses (1). ZD’s response also lends support to the writer’s earlier suggestion that, in Zen, “meaningful living” means “feels good” living. As the moral probing seemed not to be getting anywhere, DH moved to a new line of questioning (for the time being).

DH. Have you made any effort to integrate Zen with your prior philosophical learning? I’m assuming you studied mainly Western philosophers, since that’s typical of philosophy programs. Are there Western philosophical ideas you find more in sync with Zen than others, or (alternatively) any Western philosophical ideas you find so out-of-sync with Zen that in order to be involved in Zen one would have to reject those ideas completely?

ZD. I think I followed a typical philosophical path. At the beginning I was really inspired by Kant, and by the end I was more inspired by Wittgenstein.

DH. The latter Wittgenstein? 11

ZD. Yes. So, following that train of thought, from foundationalism and fundamentalism, 12 absolutism, through to its logical conclusion that, the closer you look, the harder it is to see the separation, and if you go far enough you lose the separation, and then things become empty. This is something Wittgenstein struggled with and Hume didn’t struggle with. Things just happen. There’s nothing necessary or absolute about anything that happens. And so, what are we left with? Zen…once you lose that definition, that logical or rational definition. Zen looks like a free-for-all where everything is up for grabs, but in reality that’s the doorway to what Zen is offering as true self, which is: What if you do let go of the idea that everything has to be a certain way? Then what? How are you going to function now? How are you going to be moral now…now that you’ve let go of that absolute attachment, or an idea of attachment, or an idea of the absolute? What are you going to do after that? Well, Zen practice is the answer for me. I just do my best. I do my best to live a good life, and I continually work on getting in touch with my intuition, on communicating my emotions, and practicing letting go…letting go of attachments.

DH. Hmm. It still sounds like you have a definition of “a good life” floating around in the background.

As well, ZD is asking how questions after eliminating any why or what that could make how questions intelligible. Why, for instance, be concerned how to live morally when one has no standard for identifying what morals to live by or why to live by them?

ZD. Yes. That’s the paradox. Zen embraces the relative and the absolute. The absolute is where there are no differences; everything is one. The relative is where we do have distinctions. Just to survive and to make sense, we need to have clear distinctions and good boundaries. So, the paradox is that these two different worlds are one. There is oneness and then there’s relativity, and they are the same world, but they’re two different aspects. In the relative world I have lots of ideas about how things should be, and how things are wrong, and things are right. I have very clear ideas of right and wrong. But I understand that it’s part of my relative being.

Here, DH should have asked, “If those ideas about right and wrong and how things should be are just part of your relative being, what makes you hold on to them?” Had he asked this, ZD most likely would have again appealed to how doing so made him happier, how it felt right, and so on. But ZD might have benefited from one additional “seed planting.” Alas, DH didn’t think to ask that.

DH. Your remarks are very close to one of my prepared questions where I try to make an analogy with The Matrix. 13 It’s a question that occurred to me as I was trying to understand Zen teaching during some preparatory reading. It has to do with enlightenment experiences and their significance. (I realize I haven’t asked you if you’ve had an enlightenment experience yourself. I can ask that next, or you can just answer it with this question.) Let me see what you make of it. (It’s a very long question. I can reread portions if you want.) Returning to the idea of “accepting reality as it is,” it has seemed from my (admittedly quite limited) reading that when an “enlightened” Zen practitioner “accepts reality as it is,” he or she is not doing the same thing as an unenlightened person who does so. When an enlightened Zen practitioner says that “a staff is just a staff,” he or she does so (it has been my impression) in much the same way a post-awakened Neo, having returned to the Matrix, might say “a machine gun is just a machine gun.” Sure, what else would it be? But Neo would understand that he was speaking in terms of the Matrix frame of reference, in terms of a “conventional” reality that, as one realizes in zazen or when contemplating a koan, isn’t “really real” in the way an unawakened person assumes. 14 Is my understanding, with its pop-culture analogy, at all accurate, or am I reading too much of other forms of Buddhism, or even of Hinduism, into Zen?….Or was it just a confusing question?

ZD. To go back to your first question, whether I’ve had an enlightenment experience….I’d have to say my first enlightenment experience was…becoming a born again Christian. I consider that my first enlightenment experience. It gave me the experience of oneness with God, which sort of became contextualized….

DH. What context was that in?

ZD. Born again Christian….

DH. I mean, what was the church group, how did it come about, what was the environment, and so on?

ZD. Where I grew up, all our friends went to a Christian camp every summer. That was a popular thing to do. And somewhere along the line I had that experience, and it changed my life. I was thirteen.

DH. And you consider that an enlightenment experience on a par with others that you’ve had since, if you’ve had others?

ZD. That was clearly an enlightenment experience, experiencing the oneness of all things, in the context of relationship to God. I became a drug addict at about age thirty-five—well, maybe thirty—and I had another enlightenment experience using speed….

DH, admittedly, was entirely surprised by ZD’s “born again Christian” answer to the enlightenment experience question. Reviewing ZD’s remarks now, DH notes with interest how ZD has reinterpreted his youthful camp conversion as “experiencing the oneness of all things, in the context of relationship to God.” DH can’t help but suspect that ZD is engaging in some biased revision of his personal history. This isn’t to say that ZD has a conscious intention of doing so; rather, presumably, he is just trying to organize his past experiences and present beliefs into a coherent whole. The closest DH himself has gotten to “direct experience of God” is sensing a vast, looming, personal presence, an experience he’s had from time to time since he was very young. In contrast to ZD, DH has never at any point had a sense that he and this vast and looming Person are somehow “one.” 15 So far as he recalls, he never considered this “evidence” of anything, nor did he try to formulate any beliefs based upon it. It was simply a curious experience he happened to have from time to time. The point of this reflection, if it has a point, is to highlight the fact that experiences of this sort do not interpret themselves. Though DH’s past and continuing experiences of “the Person” can be nicely explained in terms of his Christian worldview, where direct experiences of God’s presence are perfectly plausible, perhaps even to be expected, no doubt other plausible explanations could be formulated, were it the case that DH had a worldview other than his Christian one, and so felt the need for other explanations. The worldview, the metaphysics, the philosophy of the person having the experience, whether ZD or DH, very strongly influences what the experience is understood to be and to mean. This fact would seem to rule experience out as the ultimate test of what one should believe in matters of the spirit. Yet, such subjectively-interpreted experience is exactly what ZD insists on appealing to again and again in support of his adherence to Zen.

DH. You were a Christian the whole time up to the drug problem, or did you fall away from that before then?

ZD. I wasn’t a Christian after reaching that logical conclusion about the absolute. I was a Christian for about five years, and then I couldn’t believe that anyone or anything was inherently evil. I just thought that it was always relative to circumstances, and that anyone put in that place could have done anything that anybody else has done.

DH. So, C.S. Lewis‘ idea (I think he got from Augustine) that evil isn’t a thing, it’s just an absence of good, wasn’t helpful to you at all at that point? 16

DH’s question misses ZD’s relativism and appeal to circumstances and focuses on the idea of “inherent evil.” DH seems not to have understood what ZD was getting at, which seems to be his rejection of absolutism in morality, such as one finds in Kant’s categorical imperative. On this reading, ZD’s “inherently evil” would mean “always immoral.”

ZD. No…no…no. It….There’s still separation there, separating what’s good from what’s not good…inherently.

DH. Had you been exposed any to Zen at that point?

ZD. No. I started looking for Zen after that, because I wanted to find something that fit my intuition. So, that’s when I started studying Zen….I’d also been an alcoholic from…well, from day one, since thirteen or fourteen years old. Then I started using drugs; I became a drug addict when I was thirty, and I had another enlightenment experience that was drug induced, in the sense that I was using drugs at the time.

It’s difficult to know why ZD chose to share the information he did. Is he just accustomed to relating this background information to those who inquire about enlightenment experiences? Could his point be to demonstrate how Christianity had failed to help with his personal problems, since he dates his alcohol use to the same age as his conversion experience? Or, might this sharing be his way of suggesting how essential it is that the Zen practice now “working for him” not be challenged, since his life is now “on an even keel,” thanks (in his view) to Zen?

DH. But it wasn’t with one of the renowned enlightenment drugs like mescaline, or LSD, or one of those?

ZD. No. It was like basic cocaine.

DH. Was it from hitting bottom…?

ZD. No. It was from hitting the top. I was so high….

DH. This is a little off-topic, but I was watching a history of India, 17 and it turns out that the sacred drink, soma, under the influence of which most of the Vedas were written, was a combination of like caffeine, and ephedra, and poppy (I think). So, it was a pretty potent stimulant. Anyway, go ahead.

DH may have meant to subtly suggest a connection between certain experiences deemed “spiritual” and drug intoxication, and thereby to suggest something negative about Zen spirituality. He would likely have done better to have left this aside out.

ZD. There’s a number of ways I’ve had enlightenment experiences: being at Christian camp, being on drugs, sweeping the floor. It’s an experience of grace, and it’s a blessing…that can happen to anyone at any time.

DH. Can you describe the subjective quality of an enlightenment experience (what it feels like and so on)? I mean, how do you identify it as an enlightenment experience? I’m guessing it’s more than just an “Ah-ha!” or “You know, that never occurred to me!” experience. I’m thinking it would have to be something more profound than that to count as an enlightenment experience. But, then, I could be wrong. I’m completely unenlightened, after all.

ZD. Well, I’ve since become unenlightened, progressively. So now I don’t value those experiences inherently, but see them as inspirational stepping stones toward a real path for me, which is just to be a good person 18 here in the present without relying on some ecstatic experience to validate that. And I teach that, too. I say, “Don’t look for the enlightenment experience. Look for the enlightenment that’s here, in the everyday.” This is where it’s most important. That’s an inspiration, but this is real. This is the narrative. The narrative of our lives is what defines us, not a single instance of realization.

DH. That has a very Aristotelian/Virtue Ethics feel to it.

ZD. Yes. Now, I’m trying to remember exactly what your question was, the last one.

DH. That was The Matrix question, which wasn’t really important. I just wanted to share my pop-culture analogy.

ZD. Well, it’s a good analogy. I think if you look at The Matrix as a representation of evil, then it’s probably not a good analogy. Otherwise….

DH. What I was trying to get at….Well, there’s an example in a text where a Zen teacher, using his staff to illustrate, relates how a Hindu will say that the staff is an illusion, but there’s another hidden reality behind it; a Hinayana Buddhist will say that the staff is an illusion, and that there’s no reality behind it; but, he tells his student, “you just call it a staff.” 19 What I was thinking is that when an enlightened Zen adherent follows these directions and says “the staff is just a staff,” he doesn’t mean the same thing as someone who hasn’t studied Zen would mean. It seems like in the case of the Zen teacher and his students, it’s more conventional. You know, you were making the distinction between absolute and relative, with the absolute having no distinctions….Anyway, I don’t think that Matrix analogy is leading anywhere, so I’ll move on. Here’s another bizarre question that’s very long.

ZD. I only have ten more minutes.

Only at this point did DH learn that the interview had to end by a certain time. This is probably something he should have asked about at the beginning of the discussion.

DH. In that case, let me jump to a question more related to your mentioning that you were a born again Christian at one point. So….What about Jesus? Is he who Christians say he is (third person of a three-person God, who died as substitute for humans to fulfill the requirements of God’s justice, whose perfect/sinless life can be credited to those who repent and accept him as Savior, and who rose bodily from the dead as proof that these claims are true)? If not, who is (or was) he, in your opinion? You have a background in Christian doctrine, though I don’t know how far along you got in your study of it, but….What about Jesus?

Admittedly, trying to summarize the whole gospel in a quick parenthetical is a questionable strategy. All the same, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

ZD. Going back to the idea of pushing the idea of absolutes to its limit, and then what’s after that….Jesus forgave the people who killed him before they asked for forgiveness…because they didn’t know what they did. That, to me, is the kernel of truth in Jesus. So everything that comes after that, the whole idea that you need to ask for forgiveness to be forgiven, I think is nullified by that act of absolute, unconditional love. So, that’s who I believe Jesus is. And to use his example to promote separation, I think, is a sin. To use Jesus, an example of unconditional love, to promote separation, is the only sin…in my eyes now. So, you know, I think Jesus was who Jesus was.

DH. Well, that doesn’t actually say who Jesus was. It just says that whoever he was, that’s who he was. But that’s not really an answer.

ZD. So where do we go with that, to say who Jesus was?

DH. Well, the Christian perspective, as you probably know, is that we have an infallible revelation, breathed out (“inspired”) by God, that covers exactly who he was. But I just wondered who you thought he was.

ZD. I think Jesus is the one who said, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That’s the Jesus I’m going with.

DH. So, do you think he was just a man, or that it’s just a mystery who he was? Or is it that you don’t know and don’t think it’s an important question?

ZD. You know, I think we’ve discussed enough to get to a point where we can see that it’s not beneficial to try and reach a definition to create an idea that’s going to promote separation.

ZD here refused to answer the straightforward question of whether or not he believes Jesus was just (was nothing more than) a man. He even refused to say whether or not be thinks the issue matters. His explanation of the refusal was that he does not want to “reach a definition to create an idea that’s going to promote separation.” This is a pretty radical way to avoid getting involved in a conflict. Rather than recognize the possible positions (Jesus was just a man; Jesus was more than just a man) and choose one, rather even than decide whether choice between the possible positions is important (and so meriting investigation) or unimportant (and so legitimately ignored), ZD rejected any effort to define the issue and any effort to separate one position on the issue from another. The “don’t confuse me with the facts” strategy seems conservative by comparison!

DH. Alright. Let’s see if we can fit in one more question before you run out of time. Some (I’ll call them verbalists—not herbalists, verbalists) would argue that verbalization, an ability to articulate one’s understanding in words, is required for conscious awareness, so that “inexpressible” or “indescribable” or “ineffable” awareness could not be true (conscious) awareness. Rather, it would only be feelings wrongly interpreted to be awareness. Oddly enough, the verbalists could find unintended support in an analogy one Zen master is said to have offered. This master said that words and concepts are like a finger pointing at the Moon, whereas the Moon in the analogy represents the Reality one comes to directly experience upon enlightenment. It would be silly, the master quipped, to continue focusing on words and concepts after becoming aware of the Reality. 20 “But,” respond the verbalists, “when you identify what you are aware of as ineffable, you are saying that there is, and can be, no finger. When you say Reality cannot be accurately described in words or organized in terms of logical concepts, you are saying that the Moon in your analogy, unlike the real Moon, is invisible, and its location unknown. If there can be pointing, then there can be words, even detailed descriptions and exact drawings.” How would you respond to the verbalists? (Another very long question; my apologies.)

ZD. I got it. I think Kant was a verbalist, and he pushed it as far as he could go. We read Kant as a reference for history now, but not as a spiritual guide to a rational spirituality. What he didn’t live through was the experience. The experience of pointing at the moon is the experience. You know, experience enlightenment for yourself, experience the inherent compassion and wisdom in yourself, experience non-separation. That’s what we’re going for here. Experience of non-separation which means, you know, that I can empathize with you. I do not see us as separate. I don’t think that either of us is going to a better place after life. I believe that we’re the same, we come from the same energy, and that we will go back to the same energy. So, that experience has brought peace to me.

DH. Maintaining or losing personal identity (when you go back to the original energy)?

ZD. Well, that’s another experience. I hope to experience that with you. You know, maybe we can experience that together. It’s not here, and it’s nothing we can experience, so why point to it? It’s not about pointing or not pointing; it’s about experiencing. It’s the verbalist who’s defining pointing and not pointing and making a big deal out of it. The experience is the non-separation between the moon and the finger.

DH. What I think is bothering my fellow verbalists is that when it comes to experiences, until you can verbalize about them, you really don’t know what they are. So, how do you know a true and worthwhile experience from, like Ebenezer Scrooge said, an odd experiences caused by something strange you ate for dinner? It seems to me that if an experience is a true and worthwhile experience you should be able to verbalize about it in a way that people who haven’t had the experience can understand what the experience was.

ZD. I’m trying to explain the experience of oneness and non-separation to you, and you’re hinting at the experience of connection with God through Jesus as the ultimate spiritual experience. We cannot tell each other which of these experiences is valid.

The real issue, of course, is not which experiences are valid, but whether subjective interpretations of private experiences are good grounds for beliefs and practices. If (insofar as) experiences contain uninterpreted information, they may be useful sources of data for supporting or questioning belief systems, but unquestioning trust in one’s own interpretation of one’s own experiences strikes the writer as unwise.

DH. Well, for some Christians, and I think I’m one of them, it’s more that we have an objective revelation and we know we’ve done certain things in accord with that revelation, and so we have a hope we can verbalize, but we don’t have any mystical experience we can point to and say, “that’s why I believe.” We’re just non-mystical people slogging along.

“Made certain commitments,” or the like, would have been more fortunate wording than “done certain things.”

ZD. I think the experience of oneness with Jesus is a mystical experience. I’m suggesting that. And I’m suggesting that you use this information to understand the Zen enlightenment experience. You’re closer rather than farther from the Zen experience.

DH. So, your youthful experience of oneness with Jesus was actually an experience of oneness with everybody, and Jesus just happened to be one person in that group?

ZD. He was the energy and the personality and the figure that I connected with, and I took refuge in him. That’s what we say in Buddhism, “take refuge in the Buddha.” It’s a similar experience. You take refuge in it, meaning you use it as a guiding light. You know, use this as a guiding light to help you along the path. We’re more similar than dissimilar, and if you try to drive a wedge between people, that is sin…in Buddhism. The only sin in Buddhism is to create separation or to be separate. To let go of the separation and to invite and encourage oneness is a blessing.

And, roughly there, the interview time ran out. Obviously, ZD’s identification of “The only sin in Buddhism” is self-defeating, since sin/non-sin is yet another dualism/dichotomy/separation the Zen Buddhist thought system cannot support. Alas, expiring time required that issue remain unaddressed. Additionally, a number of prepared questions remained unasked at the end of the interview. For the reader’s reference, here are those questions:

  • The same Christian writer [Winfried Corduan] asserts that one common theme in all forms of Buddhism, including Zen, is a “pessimistic approach to ordinary existence.” He further asserts: “What distinguishes the Buddhist understanding is that existence itself is the problem of life. As long as there is existence at all, there is suffering (the first noble truth).” 21 Do you think this depiction is accurate for Buddhism in general?…for Zen? Why or why not?
  • Another set of Christian authors (Kurt Van Gorden, Paul Copan, and Jill Martin Rische) also make a number of accusations about Zen. Let me get your comments on a few quotes of such accusations (keep in mind that these are not my accusations): 22
    • “For [Zen adherents, which they call ‘Zenists’], reality is not objective correlative truth, but subjective, egocentric reflection, which becomes reality if they deign to participate in its manifestation.”
    • “Zen wants to rise above logic; Zen wants to find a higher affirmation, where there are no antitheses.” Though not an accusation, this statement confuses me, and I hope you might make some sense of it. An “affirmation,” even a “higher” one, is an assertion of antithesis (it affirms rather than negates, says yes rather than no), so finding a “higher affirmation, where there are no antitheses” seems simply impossible.
    • Zen, they claim, first, is “a philosophy that negates a personal God. Second, it denies the reality of sin due to the absence of an absolute standard of revealed law and holiness. Third, it rejects the necessity of personal redemption from the penalty of sin revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ….”
    • Finally, they make the following (pretty hostile-sounding) accusation: “Zen Buddhism, in our opinion, is the most self-centered, selfish system of philosophy that the depraved soul of man can embrace, for it negates the two basic principles upon which all spiritual reality exists: ‘[You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…and your neighbor as yourself]’ (Gospel according to Matthew 22:37, 39). 23 For Zenists, it is love of self first, last, and always. This is the core of Zen, which releases one from spiritual responsibility and substitutes intellectual enlightenment for conversion, and the absence of concern for one’s fellowman for peace with God.”
  • Do human beings need salvation? If so, what is salvation and how is it obtained?
  • What do you make of the Bible’s claim that all humans (except Jesus, who was, in Christian understanding, both true God and true human) “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” so that “none is righteous” (book of Romans 3:23, 3:10) so that all need Jesus to save them if they are to be saved?

With that listing of unasked questions, the transcript with commentary ends.


Those who have thought themselves converted and spent time as members of the Christian community, but then lost what they thought was faith, can be very resistant to the gospel, as the writer knows from having once been such a person. ZD, it seems, is at present wholly unwilling to reflect critically on his belief system, having apparently decided that all critical reflection, all rational argument, is vacuous and that subjective intuition and subjectively-interpreted private experiences alone merit his trust. Though the writer debated whether it would be worthwhile to email PDFs of his papers for this course to ZD, no future meetings with ZD being planned, he ultimately decided not to do so. Nevertheless, the interview, and the analysis and reflection that have followed, should help prepare the writer for future interactions with adherents of anti-rational religions. To maximize such benefit, the writer will conclude this paper with some final reflection on the interview and its implications.

One disappointing thing about the interview is that the writer’s query about the subjective quality of ZD’s enlightenment experiences, interpreted by ZD as revealing “the unity of all things,” was never answered. If it is the case (as may be possible) that these experiences were deliverances of ZD’s innate sense or awareness of God, one might be able to show through inquiry that the monistic and pantheistic qualities ZD attributes to them are his own interpretive overlay, not qualities of whatever (whomever) he was experiencing. The writer would never question the validity of the experiences themselves. After all, even hallucinations are valid experiences, just valid experiences of the productions of one’s own mind. Even the fact that ZD had at least one of his experiences while under the influence of drugs (amphetamines or cocaine or both) does not call into question his claim to have had the experiences. All that is at issue is whether those experiences should be interpreted as ZD now interprets them.

While the interview failed to get past ZD’s Zen Buddhist interpretation of his enlightenment experiences, it succeeded in bringing out the stubborn irrationality of Zen. Any person, but especially such sensitive individuals as typically care most about spiritual matters, can suffer a great deal at the hands of today’s secularized, harsh, numb, and benumbing culture. With that suffering as motivator (and as excuse), and with humanity’s inborn sinfulness (rebellion against God) as guide, some such persons seek illusory escape through intentional assault on the rational, reality-oriented mind given them by that God whose image they are. Though not so obvious as mutilation of one’s physical body (Mark 5.5, 1 Kings 18.28), this mutilation of one’s mind is more dangerous. For one thing, assault on the mind may not bring the immediate pain typical of assaults on the body. In fact, it may bring euphoria; or it may lead to other equally desirable, though less extreme, emotional states, such as happiness and a sense of peace; or it may lessen or remove undesirable emotions, such as shame and awareness of guilt. True, there are many things it does one no good to think about, such as past sins for which one has repented and to which one is not tempted to return. But surely disabling one’s ability to think at all is too radical a way to prevent one thinking about the wrong things.

A particularly pernicious effect of Zen’s assault upon the mind is its confounding of moral reasoning. Prominent throughout the interview was ZD’s unwillingness to label actions or decisions good or evil in any absolute, non-person-relative sense. By conceptualizing all known reality and normal experience, including moral values, as aspects of a relative world that must always be understood in terms of (and balanced against) an absolute reality where no distinctions or division obtain, Zen has drained all power from ZD’s sense of right and wrong, leaving him with no strong sense of justice and making repentance impossible. (ZD’s personal narrative suggests that this is what ZD wanted and is why he sought out and embraced Zen.) Christianity demands that one honestly recognize when one has done evil or unjust or immoral things, and that one accept that—whatever influences may have made wrong action easier and more natural, or made right action more difficult and unnatural—it was finally oneself who chose to do as one did. In Christianity, one must own up. Christianity, thus, is a mature, adult religion in a way Zen seems not to be, at least if ZD’s expression of it is typical. Seeking forgiveness from God for wrong actions one accepts responsibility for (as in Christianity) differs a great deal from saying that wrong/right is a dualism with no ultimate reality to it and that, anyway, anyone would have done the same thing had they been in the same circumstances (as in ZD’s expression of Zen). On that last assertion, which the reader will recognize is based on ZD’s own statement, it should be stressed that even if it were the case that every other human would choose the same wrong action in the same circumstances, this would not remove moral responsibility from the acting individual. So long as one could have chosen otherwise, even if in fact no human would have chosen otherwise, responsibility remains. 24

Accepting this reality, as Christianity does, has incalculable importance for individual moral betterment. If one does not accept that one could have done otherwise, how is one to sincerely believe that one can do otherwise going forward? After one accepts responsibility for and repents of past wrong actions, if one finds oneself in the same circumstances again, one knows that one is, as before, free to choose one way or the other. If one does not accept responsibility and repent, but instead attributes one’s wrong actions to the circumstances, how can one hope to do any better if one finds oneself in the same circumstances again? Blaming wrong actions on circumstances allows one to feel good, but only by accepting responsibility and repenting can one hope one day to be good.

Lest the writer be mistaken for a Pelagian, he must emphasize that God-given new life (regeneration) is prerequisite to any fully good, God-pleasing action by a human individual (Heb 11.6). But this is not because the individual without such new life (the unregenerate) lacks freedom to choose or is prisoner to circumstances. As Jonathan Edwards and such of his students as Samuel Hopkins recognized, unregenerate persons’ inability to choose good owes to a corruption of desires or preferences (“moral corruption”), not to any loss of decision-making power (they retain their “natural” ability to make free choices). 25 Even if that corruption of desires is so total as to guarantee that every unregenerate human will always fail to choose the good, so that even their apparently right and good choices will always have some wrongness to them (being wrongly motivated, for example), the reality that they could have chosen rightly, that they were free to do so, remains. Humans need “a higher power” to stop making wrong choices, not because they lack freedom or natural ability to make right choices, but because they want to make wrong choices: they desire wrongness (James 1.14-5). It is a hard saying, no doubt, that even those who attribute their wrong actions to harm done them by others (or to deprived or desperate circumstances) are in fact using the wrongs done them (or their deprived or desperate circumstances) as excuses to freely choose wrong actions. Hard, yes, but also true. Christianity has the maturity, rationality, and realism to accept and apply this truth; Zen does not.

Of course, teachers of Zen do not consciously intend to enable moral laxity. No doubt Zen teachers in general, like ZD in particular, take for granted (when not pressed) a set of moral values largely in accord with the innate moral sense God has given them. It is also possible that ZD’s moral relativism and shifting of responsibility from individuals to circumstances owes more to morally decadent trends in American thought than to Zen. Contemporary decadence holds, for example, that the loving thing to do is to help people figure out how they are not responsible for their own actions. Guilt 26, which warns against loss of moral integrity as pain warns against loss of bodily integrity, is thereby anesthetized, but the underlying injury goes untreated. 27 Moral cripples result. This desire to free individuals from guilt, even at the cost of moral disability, could well contribute to ZD’s thinking. Whatever the primary source of ZD’s relativism and responsibility-shifting, and however moral Zen teachers may intend to be, the fact remains that Zen beliefs and practices not only fail to support effective morality, but undercut the convictions and weaken the faculties essential to such morality.

Zen, all the foregoing makes clear, in no way measures up to Christianity either rationally or morally. Adherents seem to find it appealing because it promotes positive feelings, in part by weakening or disabling faculties of rational and moral judgment. The question is how best to commend the Christian faith to persons who have committed themselves to such a subjective and anti-rational religion. At present, the writer can think of no better strategy than to point out how Zen fails to comport with the moral and other values that adherents such as ZD continue to take for granted. This strategy, of course, did not meet with success during the ZD interview, but perhaps the seeds planted will someday bear fruit.


1 Philip Kapleau, The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment (Boston: Beacon, 1965), 130, is the pre-interview reading DH had in mind here. By the way, this text provides a technical identification for the objectless zazen referred to in the writer’s “Zen: Accepting Reality As It Isn’t” (paper completed for current course, submitted previously): shikan-taza (Ibid., 126, e.g.). Zazen using a koan is there identified as koan zazen (Ibid.). Kapleau’s text also relates how such methods as counting breath are sometimes used in zazen to help build the focus required for genuinely objectless meditation. DH had also read portions of Idem., Zen: Merging of East and West (New York: Anchor, 1989), hence his reference to “one of Kapleau’s books.”

2 This question was influenced, in part, by DH’s viewing of Buddhism, taught by Malcolm David Eckle, The Teaching Company, 2010, DVD lecture series (24 lectures, 4 DVDs).

3 Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1998), 248.]

4 The ultimate implication of this line of thought would be to rule out all predication, all assignment of objects to classes, it seems to the writer.

5 This is the writer’s understanding as an interested layman, not an expert assessment of the situation.

6 The writer’s understanding of Zen sources on emptiness suggests that ZD’s identification of energy as emptiness errs, perhaps under the influence of New Age thought. The “correct” Zen view would seem to be that both matter and energy are empty, matter-energy and space arising alike from, and alike returning to, indescribable emptiness.

7 Actually, it is not clear that ZD had in mind the idea that most of matter is empty space, a reality at the atomic level (except in the case of atoms inside a neutron star, at the center of a black hole, and so on). DH was here guilty of some guessing.

8 DH took this to mean that one could find examples of moral and happy, and of immoral and unhappy, behavior among both theists and non-theists.

9 Scripture quotations are from the Authorized (King James) Version, unless otherwise noted.

10 Cornelius Van Til held, quite plausibly in the case of Zen, that unbelieving systems always end up holding impossibly to both rationalism and irrationalism as ultimate, arbitrarily switching from one to the other as a given claim or explanation requires. See: Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 3 ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1967).

11 In youth, Wittgenstein produced work that initiated the ill-fated movement of logical positivism; in later years, he helped set in motion “the linguistic turn” of more recent philosophy (general background knowledge; no specific source consulted).

12 ZD’s use of “fundamentalism” here seems a bit of free-association.

13 The Matrix, dir. Andy and Lana Wachowski, Warner Bros., 1999, motion picture. [Update 04 June 2014: As I’ve mostly stopped following popular culture, even bothering less and less with films old enough to be available on DVD at my public library, my references to movies and the like will only rarely be up-to-date.—DMH]

14 Cognizant of the excessive length of the question, the writer opted to omit the following parenthetical from his reading at this point: “(One can bend the spoon that is just a spoon by realizing that, really, ‘there is no spoon.’ If I recall the scene, the reality that self and spoon are not separate but one is what allows one to bend the spoon, since one can of course bend oneself, one’s own mind, at will.)”

15 As well, he has always had the impression that this Person he is sensing has not just arrived at a given location, but was already present, though not noticed.

16 DH probably had in mind C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, which he did not read or consult in interview preparation.

17 The Story of India, written and presented by Michael Wood, PBS, 2007, television miniseries (from Amazon Video on Demand).

18 ZD’s innate moral sense again!

19 Incompletely (perhaps inaccurately) paraphrasing a story of master Ummon related by Corduan, Neighboring Faiths, 234 (who in turn quotes from D. T. Suzuki, Zen Buddhism, ed. William Barrett [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1956], 23). Notably, the master in this story tries to draw a distinction between his own “just call it a staff” view and the emptiness view of “Bodhisattvas.” Since both the interviewee here and the sources for the writer’s “Zen Buddhism: Accepting Reality As It Isn’t” (paper completed for this class, previously submitted) make clear that emptiness is the norm of Zen teaching (or the normal belief behind its practice, whether or not that belief is expressed in teaching), the writer suspects that Ummon saw the problem with the Bodhisattvas’ view as lying in their use of “emptiness” or “empty” as though these were labels describing a substantial quality or entity. Ummon’s idea seems to be that, if emptiness is true, the only way to show one takes it seriously is to not try talking about it, since talking about it shows one believes emptiness is not really empty. This attitude is consistent with Zen, but not the universal approach of those Zen sources the writer has consulted.

20 Inspired by: Corduan, Neighboring Faiths, 234, which does not actually attribute the illustration to a Zen master.

21 Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths, 245-6.

22 Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, rev. and updated ed., eds. Ravi Zacharias, Jill Martin Rische, and Kevin Rische (Bloomington, MN: Bethany, 2003), 305-311. The writers mentioned in DH’s introduction to the question are those identified by the text as having researched, compiled, and edited the chapter.

23 DH paraphrased the Gospel text and expanded the citation format for greater clarity, in case the interviewee turned out to be unfamiliar with Scripture.

24 If Jesus is taken into account, of course, there is always at least one human who would have chosen otherwise. “What would Jesus have done?” can therefore serve as a standard for judging such actions.

25 Hopkins writes: “Man has not lost any of his natural powers of understanding and will, etc., by becoming sinful. He has lost his inclinations, or is wholly without any inclination to serve and obey his maker, and entirely opposed to it. In this his sinfulness consists….and in nothing else;…and the farther he is from any inclination to obey, the more blamable and inexcusable he is” (Samuel Hopkins, Works, vol. I, 233, quoted by Frank Hugh Foster, A Genetic History of the New England Theology (New York: Russell & Russell, 1963; first published 1907).

26 In accord with popular usage, the writer identifies as “guilt” what would more precisely be called “feelings of guilt.” This subjective “guilt” should not be confused with objective guilt, which is an objective status, the opposite of innocence.

27 Though the writer believes he just thought up this analogy between bodily pain and guilt, it has a familiarity to it that may suggest it originates in a source he does not remember reading.

Works Cited^

Buddhism. Taught by Malcolm David Eckle. The Teaching Company, 2010. DVD lecture series (24 lectures, 4 DVDs).

Corduan, Winfried. Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1998.

Hodges, David M.. “Zen: Accepting Reality As It Isn’t.” Paper completed for current course, submitted previously.

Foster, Frank Hugh. A Genetic History of the New England Theology. New York: Russell & Russell, 1963. (First published 1907.)

Hopkins, Samuel. Works, volume I. No additional bibliographic information available. [Quoted by Foster, A Genetic History.]

Kapleau, Philip. The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment. Boston: Beacon, 1965.

__________. Zen: Merging of East and West. New York: Anchor, 1989.

Lewis, C.S. The Great Divorce. [Not consulted or cited, hence the lack of bibliographic detail, but the likely inspiration of one question.]

Martin, Walter. Kingdom of the Cults. Revised and updated edition. Edited by Ravi Zacharias, Jill Martin Rische, and Kevin Rische. Bloomington, MN: Bethany, 2003.

Suzuki, D. T. Zen Buddhism. Edited by William Barrett. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956. [Quoted by Corduan, Neighboring Faiths.]

The Matrix. Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski. Warner Brothers, 1999. Motion Picture.

The Story of India. Written and presented by Michael Wood. PBS, 2007. Television miniseries (from Amazon Video on Demand).

Van Til, Cornelius. The Defense of the Faith. 3rd Edition. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1967.