I know very little about Zen philosophy. But what I do know is that they love little sayings called Koans. They are often paradoxical, unpredictable, and inexplicable. These sayings are designed as a kind of technique to set the mind off balance or aside long enough for something beautiful to emerge. Examples include, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” and “What moves? The flag or the wind.”
A few years ago I came across a Zen Koan that read:
“Zen is selling water by the river.”
I was struck by the remarkable humility of a religious tradition that would state so freely that it was unnecessary for its very purpose. Zen it seems is aware of the fact that the practices and dogmas it advocates are actually unnecessary for its goal. In other words, what you seek you already have. Zen claims to be a gateway to something that has no gate.
Upon reading this I was filled with envy. Envy that my tradition shared none of the humility or self awareness of Zen. It occurred to me that maybe Christianity is merely selling water by the river too? This is where the title of my new book Selling Water By the River: A Book About the Life Jesus Promised and the Religion that Gets in the Way comes from.
When I read the Bible and the teachings of Jesus I’m struck repeatedly by the impression that Jesus didn’t seem too interested in creating a new religion, nor was he too preoccupied with defending the one he practiced. Why then are we so bent on defending or preserving the one that bares his name?
I’m not here to denounce religion or Christianity, to do so would be like trying to get rid of the clouds in the sky. Nor am I urging us to somehow become more spiritual but not religious. After all, Jesus was very religious by most standards, and he never once talked about “spirituality.”
Instead my interest is in what Jesus taught. More than anything else he talked about something called “the kingdom of heaven” (in other places he calls it “eternal life”). He tells us that this reality is available in now, not just in the next life. And if we miss it, we squander our brief and beautiful existence.
Sometimes the religion that bares Jesus name has often built the biggest barriers to him. What if the life Jesus promised had nothing to do with religion? What if he could do his work with or without religion? If we could remove the barriers, what would remain?
(For a trailer of the book click here)