The Journey Home is a Catholic television program in which the guest speaks and viewers can call or email questions which the guest will then answer.
In a program aired on May 17, 2004, the guest, Father Terry Kraychuk of Canada, a priest in an Orthodox Catholic Order, related the adventures he had as a young man with drugs, friends, and Harleys. Disgusted finally with the emptiness of his life, he turned to Christ and found the joy and peace of salvation. His was a common tale of our ordinary world of “overrated pleasures and underrated treasures” (to quote a 1942 Jimmy Dorsey song). To one degree or another most of us misspend our youth while we wait for our brain to develop sufficiently to deal with our ordinary world.
A caller, Michael of Virginia, asked how he should respond to a problem he had. As a young man he had spent years partying, drinking and using drugs, etc. “I’ve given the drugs up,” he said and then clarified the statement, “except for occasional use. My problem is that whenever I look back on the times I partied with my friends, I look back fondly. I recall it as a time that was a lot of fun. How can I be honest with myself and say I repent that lifestyle when I still look back on it fondly? How can I look back and call it bad and repent it?”
Father Terry answers by stating his belief that the joy and satisfaction Michael felt about such events were not true joy and satisfaction. In fact, such party-and-drugs behavior was a form of slavery in which Michael was entrapped. They constituted a false rebellion that didn’t answer the desire of the heart. “Only in Christ,” he asserts, “can true liberation be found. The world is constantly trying to enslave us, and our broken nature is geared to that enslavement. Christ comes to set us free. And so you really have to look inside yourself and ask, ‘Am I still attached to these things? I really need to ask Christ for the grace to repent and turn from them, and really discover the treasure of Christ and discover that only in Him – Saint Augustine put it perfectly – ‘God has made us for Himself. Our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.’ ”
In Zen, we can acknowledge that certain past behaviors were harmful, and we certainly regret any harm we caused others, but our attitude towards the past precludes judging actions as bad because they did not conform to the codes of the righteous. But the requirement that we repent, i.e., show contrition for having done something wrong, and, in a sense, condemn that behavior, is not a Zen requirement. We see all our past behavior as part of the whole and know that we cannot single out any act and judge it. To condemn our past actions as “bad” is to condemn those who in the present moment are acting in a similar way.
As we understand Karma, one cause can have many effects and these, in turn, can create many causes. Our goal, whether consciously stated or not, is to get ourselves into such a good place spiritually that if we had to relive our lives, we would make the same mistakes again – since making even a small change might lead us to another destination, and we would not risk that. Life lived in the Spirit is as near as we can get to Perfection; and this is a position that only a fool would jeopardize.
In Zen as in Christianity, connecting with our interior Buddha Self and living out the life of that Self is to be reborn in the Spirit. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we find, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
Father Terry requires that the one who indulges in reckless behavior repent it and detach himself from these activities. Ceasing to act recklessly is a given in Zen, while detachment is left for the more serious problem of severing our emotional ties to people. This requirement is illustrated in a famous old Zen mondo:
The master tells the novice that he must ‘kill’ all those to whom he has attached himself. The novice is shocked. He asks, “But my parents? Must I slay them, too?”
The master responds, “Who are they to be spared?”
The novice sadly looks at the master and says, “And you, Master… must I kill you, too?”
And the master smiles and says, “There is not enough of me left for you to get your hands on.”
It is not necessarily jejune to ask, “If we have never sinned, how would we be saved?” We were primed for our misspent youth by our genes and our formative childhood years, which, in turn, were influenced by parents who had their own genes and formative years. How far back must we go to explain our “entrapment” or “enslavement” to reckless activity? We all knew kids who did not indulge in “bad” behaviors; and more than a few of those poor devils were so goody-goody that they actually went through life assuming that their righteousness evidenced some kind of exalted spiritual life. They never knew more than the religious life; and, as we all know, there is a big difference between these two lives.
Of course, we strive to be more considerate, more useful, reliable, truthful, and humble. Of course, we shun alcohol and drugs; but we don’t judge the immature who indulge, or the adult victims of addiction, or even those who tempt fate by thinking that they can freely use amy substance they want without succumbing to any captive effects. Zen sets its example which we hope others will willingly emulate without being forced by shame or castigation to change.
It surely is correct to say that to live without “resting in God” is a restless life, and that we should seek our rest in our Buddha Self. But we cannot look back in anger and contempt at our past actions. If we are safe in the Spirit, we know that for good or ill, our past actions contributed to what we are now. Changing even one small event in the past may alter the course of our life. If we are privileged to know the Buddha’s grace, we would not risk another outcome. That is basic Karma.