Living From The Inside Out

LTC-brjohn-clean

Jesus said: “Amen I say to you there is no one who left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or land for my sake and for the gospel’s sake who will not receive now in this age a hundredfold houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and land, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Mark 10:29-30

Following Peter’s assertion that the disciples, unlike the rich man, have left everyone and everything behind to follow Jesus, Jesus declares that those who do relinquish all will receive a hundredfold in return and, finally, eternal life. Is this teaching of Jesus for all or only for some? How can this teaching apply to all of us who are born into families and who must have some possessions in order to care for our own families? Clearly this teaching of Jesus does not mean to live without human relationships and without meeting our responsibilities to others.

Many years ago, a formation director of mine once said that he remained a member of the community because of the quality of the relationships he had within it. Now, even as a very young man, this posed some problems for me. First of all, as I was experiencing with this person, relationships were quite problematic and often manipulative for him. Secondly, I couldn’t quite figure what there was about community relationships that could make them equal in significance to relationships in marriage and family, to the experience of generatively that was involved in loving and raising one’s own children. Jesus even said that these richest of relationships, as sibling, parent, child were subservient to following him. So, however good or problematic one’s community relationships may be, it did not seem to me that they were adequate explanation for a celibate life.

In our life in the world, as participants in the shared culture of what St. Paul terms “the present age,” we tend to see our existence, the meaning of our lives, in light of the identity which the world gives us. We tend to take our “selves” to be ones who are defined by our families, our cultures, our work, our wealth, and our position in society. The self we are as constituted in these ways is inherently a very fragile reality. It is largely dependent on how others see us and judge us. It requires success and productivity as our “worlds” define them.

Who are we in the middle of the night? What is our experience of ourselves at moments of failure and shame? What is left when all the external foundations of our lives are shaken? What are we worth when our work is not successful and our friends reject us? If our own reality is essentially social, what happens to us at the moment of rejection and “persecutions”?

The teachings of Jesus are not merely effective social ethics. At the core of his teachings lies the command to “love our enemies and do good to those who hate us” (Matt. 5:44). We are to love not only our families, our tribes, our fellow citizens, but also the stranger and the outcast. Clearly Jesus calls us to fundamentally change our sense of relationship, and he teaches that we cannot begin to understand the life he has come to offer until we relinquish every sense of entitlement and demand that we have toward those who are closest to us. When we leave off our privileged place in our house, and with our siblings, our parents, our children, we shall receive a hundredfold in return. We shall realize that we are “at home” everywhere and with everyone.

At such a point we, in all likelihood, will find ourselves wondering, as did the apostles, “Then who can be saved” (Mark 10:26). This teaching is not something that we can follow by dint of our own wills. It requires a total conversion of heart and mind. We must come to realize our “selves” apart from the one whose identity has been socially constructed and is outwardly ratified. It is this self which we come to know only in entering “the palace of nowhere” that we find how we are truly related to others and two he world from “the inside out,” the way that Jesus tells us is “eternal life.”

Doing Zazen is living out the reality of the life of the self, without assuming that “I” is determined by some relationship with other people and things. When we enter the world of Zen, we enter the world of practice where we live out the reality of life. Actually, this world of practice is nothing special, but it probably sounds unfamiliar.

Ordinarily, we live just as an “I” related to the world, an “I” that has only a social appearance and only a market valuation. In other words, we find the value of our existence only in the midst of others. We assume, on the one hand, that what is called “I” is an ordinary sort of thing, and on the other hand, that living a life of practice as our real “self” must be something special.

Kosho Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought, p. 31

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