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Lions Roar : March 2018
systems and institutions that surround this longing. These religious structures can sometimes be attempts to control the inherent wildness and risk of the root religious impulse. Is it possible to stay true to that first meaning of religion without calling into being the empires of the second? The religious event at the heart of the koan tradition is awakening, which reunites us with the sacred, or true, nature of things. The revelation of awakening is of the universe as one undivided whole, simultaneously eternal and shimmering in and out of existence. Awakening deepens as we integrate that but I recognize the handwriting.” We don’t always understand why something’s happening or what it means, but we come to trust that we, and it, are part of the same sutra. Then our response in any circumstance begins with something like notice what happens, a deceptively simple, easily portable, and gor- geously subversive suggestion. This doesn’t require or deny God or any other form of divin- ity. We are constantly urged to see the radiance of each thing, galaxies to earthworms. Divinities, spirits, and mythological figures shine with the same light as everything else. Authority Installation photograph of the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, Rubin Museum of Art. PHOTO:DAVIDDEARMASPHOTOGRAPHY2015 revelation with our experiences in the everyday world of cause and effect, and in the nonlinear world of myth and dream. It’s an instantaneous reunion followed by a lifelong rebinding of our lives to the life of the world. The koan tradition of Zen supports this by way of a culture of awakening rather than through organized religion. Instead of infal- lible scriptures, there’s a body of conversations, stories, commen- taries, songs, poetry, and jokes—whatever has proven helpful in waking people up over the centuries. Quotes from Buddhist sutras are turned into koans, sometimes upending their traditional mean- ings. If there is a sacred text, it’s the world itself, which is called the Great Sutra, something we’re learning to interpret. Zhaozhou said of reading the Great Sutra, “When I come upon an unfamiliar word, I might not know the meaning yet, comes from how clearly the voice of awakening speaks through someone, regardless of title or position. Awakening is as likely to be sparked by a tree in sudden bloom as by a famous teacher. Interposing as few filters and preconceptions as possible between ourselves and our experiences, we become a welcom- ing home for all the moments of the day, including teachers and companions in whatever forms they arrive. Being crazy in love with awakening and committed to it for every being in the universe is a pretty strong religious impulse. Yet the koans and other traditions in the Buddhist big tent undermine attempts to solidify religion around that impulse. We don’t always succeed, but the fact that some keep trying is one of the powerful potentials of Buddhism: being deeply reli- gious, without religion. ♦ LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2018 57