- Daybreak at the Desert Retreat House -
If you read the Christian Gospels, you will find many stories about various people who come to Jesus with questions they want answered. Sometimes these questions are asked in order to trap Jesus, attempts to discredit or incriminate him; but more often then not the questions asked are legitimate attempts to find something about the meaning of life - “Lord teach us the way,” teach us how to live happy lives, teach us how to find God. Show us the Way when we find that we are lost in life, teach us deeper wisdom, a more profound truth.
Interestingly enough, Jesus never gave clear-cut “answers” to any of these ultimate questions. Instead, he would often tell a little story or a parable, at other times he’d simply say, “come and hang out with me for a while- walk with me along the path, and we will find the Way together. Some people would get mad at him for his apparent obscurity. Why can’t he be clear? Why does he keep talking in riddles?
As I think about it, none of the teachers of the great wisdom traditions ever gave “answers” to their students who asked, “Teach us the Way?”
I am a big fan of the use of Koans (little riddles that essentially have no solutions). Koans were often used by the ancient Zen masters whose aim it was to teach their students that there is only one answer to the big questions about life: “There are no answers.”
The master would ask a student; “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” This would elicit a variety of thoughtful responses, none of which could ever be correct because our rational thought processes can’t answer a question like that.
And so it is on the Way to “enlightenment,” there are no clear-cut answers, only one question after another, and the shared “experience” of the deeper truth as it emerges by walking the Way together.
There is another Zen story that I like very much:
A student asked the teacher, ‘What is the true Way?’
The teacher answered, ‘The everyday way is the true way.’
To which the student replied, ‘Can I study it?’
The teacher sat quietly and then responded,
‘The more you study it the further you will be from the Way.’
Now confused, the student asked the master,
‘But if I don’t study it, how can I know it?’
And the master answered,
‘The Way does not belong to things seen, nor to things unseen.
It does not belong to things known, not to things unknown.
Do not seek it, study it, or name it.
To find yourself on the Way, open yourself wide as the sky.
To this very day people continue asking those same age-old questions about a “Way” through the wilderness of life. They continue to come to Jesus or to the Buddha, they seek out their various scriptures, go to their churches or their temples. They try to pin down their teachers and their gurus: “show us the way” – give us clear doctrine, teach us those 5 steps to successful meditation, the 7 ways to build a vibrant church, the 10 secrets of spiritual happiness…but the answers to all these questions still remain the same: There are no answers.
When it comes to the ultimate questions, life is a mystery to be experienced, not a riddle to be solved.
So, hand-in-hand, we walk the Way together - open as wide as the sky.
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