Why Zen


sand stone

(Draft Introduction for my book about AZC)


My spiritual journey had been long with many influences and changes of direction until I finally found my spiritual home at the Albuquerque Zen Center. My immigrant grandparents and parents were nonpracticing Catholics or atheists, and early on, I too was a weak adherent to that faith until at college I met and married my wife of fifty years, Sabina, a devoted Catholic. We practiced our faith while teaching English in the Middle East for 16 years, where I became influenced by two powerful forces:

1. The teachings of Zarathustra (Zoroaster), founder of the ancient religion of Iran, Zoroastrianism, and who taught such things as:”Turn yourself not away from three best things: Good Thought, Good Word, and Good Deed.”

2. Sufi poet Hafez, who said,”I have learned so much from God that I can no longer call myself a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew. The Truth has shared so much of Itself with me that I can no longer call myself a man, a woman, an angel, or even a pure Soul. Love has befriended me so completely it has turned to ash and freed me of every concept and image my mind has ever known.”

I finally began to understand these three truths:

  1. No one religion is the best or right path;
  2. All or most religions are heading towards the same goal; and
  3. Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Jainism, Confucianism, and Taoism are the first spiritual traditions of mankind that still exist today. 

Then in 2009, after Isustaining a near-fatal head injury at 60 and moved to Albuquerque, I found myself at the crossroads of two more powerful forces that raised my spiritual wellness: Roman Catholic Franciscan priest Richard Rohr and the  face of Zen Buddhism that I found at the Albuquerque Zen Center. I began to feel less anxiety, negativity, anger, and depression; and higher levels of mood, energy, compassion, and wellness.

I read Father Richard’s e-mail Meditations, practice contemplative prayer, and attend one of his monthly South Valley masses; and I do Zazen meditation every day, attend group sittings at the AZC every Saturday morning, continue my study of Zen Buddhism, and apply all Zen principles for reaching Dharma in all aspects of my life, including my support of my infirm wife, doing community service, making the best decisions when communicating with others, being active in politics, and spending time in nature.

So, at the time of this writing, I identify myself as a “Catholic-Buddhist” or a “Buddhist-Christian.” I also confess to be influenced by what a self-identified “Village Pastor” and old friend Rob McCall (who boosts simple love over “brocaded belief”)  calls “The Old Faith” that is found in villages and in the hearts of spiritual people all over the globe who want little to do with organized religion and who have a strong connection to nature.

In the end, I am a “spiritual pluralist,” with Zen at center stage. I now feel that Jung was right when he said, “The  privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” The dharma has proven to be a reliable source of joy and support for me.

Understanding Zen

The two main branches of Buddhism are the Theravada and Mahayana schools.  Zen is a sub-branch off of the Mahayana branch. The practice of Zen meditation or Zazen (za meaning sitting, and Zen meaning meditation in Japanese), is the core of Zen Buddhism. I think it’s correct to say that what distinguishes Zen from the other Buddhist schools is its simplicity in terms of its practices, traditions, and core beliefs.

Here are some fundamentals about Zen that helped me in my transformation:

  • It is a non-dogmatic  non-belief driven, “non-dual” faith. Zen is to popular Buddhism as Christian mysticism is to popular Christianity, Sufism to popular Islam, or Advaita to popular Hinduism. These four schools are the schools for getting the real experiential knowledge and wisdom. They are to experience the reality as it is – not as it is written or spoken about, not as it is theorized, philosophized or speculated upon.
  • Zen  isn’t a theory, an idea, or a piece of knowledge. It is not a belief, dogma, or religion; but rather, it is a practical experience.
  • It has a strong Japanese linage with two major schools: Soto and Rinzai. (Differences between the two schools will be explained later in this book.)
  • Zen is a practice that needs to be experienced, not a concept that you can intellectualize or understand with your brain.
  • (From Zen-Bhuddhism.net: ) “Defining Zen is like trying to describe the taste of honey to someone who has never tasted it before. You can try to explain the texture and scent of honey, or you can try to compare and correlate it with similar foods. However, honey is honey! As long as you have not tasted it, you are in the illusion of what honey is.

The Three Treasures of Buddhism

At the heart of Zen (and the AZC) are The Three Treasures, each of which I found at AZC. Here I will give a brief definition that will be expanded later in this book.

The First Treasure: Buddha 

The Buddha refers to the historical Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama Buddha (563 – 483BC).

Here are facts about The First Treasure that helped me understand my new faith:

  • The Buddha was not a god. Rather, he was an ordinary person.
  • Buddha isn’t a name, but a title, Sanskrit for “a person who is awake.”
  • Buddhism teaches that we all live in a fog of illusions created by mistaken perceptions and “impurities” — hate, greed, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt.
  • What a buddha is awake to is the true nature of reality, freed from that fog.
  • All Buddhist schools (there are thousands, each with its geographic, historical, or philosophical criteria) regard him as their  founder, guide and inspiration.
  • “Going for Refuge to the Buddha” means seeing him as your ultimate teacher and spiritual example and committing yourself to achieving Buddhahood.

Buddhahood is Awareness (Enlightenment) for the sake of all beings – which means that you aim to become someone who sees the nature of reality clearly, just as it is, and lives fully and naturally in accordance with that vision. This is the goal of the Buddhist spiritual life, representing the end of suffering for anyone who attains it.


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