Sunday, January 15, 2012

Living Buddha, Living Christ: Ch 3

Chapter 3: The First Supper

Hahn begins this chapter by recounting an incident that took place at a conference on religion and peace. He says a Protestant minister approached him and asked if he was a grateful person. When Hahn said he was, the minister said, "Since you do not believe in God, you are not grateful for anything."

I hope the minister wasn't as curt as Hahn recalls, because I do think he had a point worth making. As I said in my last post, "If the world around us is not the byproduct of God, any gratitude generated by our mindfulness will be homeless; there will no one to thank." Of course, we will always be able to feel gratitude toward other human beings, but when Hahn talks about mindfulness, he's talking about something that leads to gratitude for the things that only God can take responsibility for (i.e., the ability to draw another breath or the capacity to enjoy the taste of food - even existence itself).

Hahn thinks this objection is irrelevant because he feels grateful all the time. "Every time I touch food," he says, "whenever I see a flower, when I breathe fresh air, I always feel grateful." I'm glad Hahn feels this way, and I think he can feel gratefulness whether he acknowledges a personal God or not. I just think the gratefulness will lack an appropriate expression if God is never acknowledged. If the minister had been more tactful, he wouldn't have accused Hahn of being ungrateful but would have asked something like, "Do you think there is a personal God who is responsible for the things you are thankful for?" Then a meaningful dialogue could proceed from there.

This reminds me: I think one way of introducing people to God that is often neglected is to present God as the author and sustainer of every good thing. This approach is always relevant, because there is no one on earth who has not experienced some measure of goodness, light, and love, and to whatever degree an individual has experienced those things - those things that truly make life worth living - God is at the root of them. As it says in James, "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights" (1:17). Mindfulness can help us to realize the truth of a verse like this.

Mindfulness, I think, should not just lead to an awareness of the interconnectedness of things and the blessings we have received, but also to worship of the personal God who is there.

It's interesting to me that Hahn does not disagree with the minister's accusation that he "does not believe in God." Hahn has spoken as if he believes in God in previous chapters, but - as I mentioned in my last post - it's unclear what he means by "God." The fact that Hahn does not correct the minister suggests to me that my suspicion - that is, the suspicion that his concept of God lacks any of the meaning we normally associate with the word - is correct. It seems to me that if someone is using the word "God" but does not mean "self-existent being with a mind and a will," then a different word should be used.

In the rest of the chapter, Hahn talks about eating mindfully and then connects this practice to the Eucharist. He says, "Contemplating our food before eating in mindfulness can be a real source of happiness. Every time I hold a bowl of rice, I know how fortunate I am. I know that forty thousand children die every day because of the lack of food and that many people are lonely, without friends or family." With this I very much agree. In fact, this is exactly why I think the practice of saying grace before meals - however cliche and worn it's become in many people's experience - is a good thing.

When Hahn talks about The Last Supper and the sacrament of communion, I have a hard time following him. He seems to say that the practice is simply a special way of awakening mindfulness - that is, a practice of "eating deeply" that causes us to "touch the sun, the clouds, the earth, and everything in the cosmos." It's an interesting take, but it fails to acknowledge anything about Christ's crucifixion.

Hahn says, "When we are truly there, dwelling deeply in the present moment, we can see that the bread and the wine are really the Body and Blood of Christ and the priest's words are truly the words of the Lord. The body of Christ is the body of God, the body of ultimate reality, the ground of all existence. We do not have to look anywhere else for it. It resides deep in our own being." Hahn's meaning here is especially difficult to discern because we can't be sure what he means by words like "God" and "Christ," but it sounds to me like what he's saying is that the sacrament is a way of getting us to be mindful of the interconnectedness of things and the fact that we are a part of that interconnectedness. I don't think this is a bad idea or that the sacrament can't serve to remind us of this, but what about the relation of the bread and the cup to Christ's sacrifice? What are Hahn's thoughts on that?

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