June 25, 2010

Buddhism with God

norman fischer, religion & ethics newsweekly, san francisco zen center, meditation at google

Norman Fischer teaches meditation in lots of places—at San Francisco Zen Center, where he was once abbot; at the Googleplex, where he teaches techies "emotional intelligence"; and at Jewish retreats, where he practices the religion of his birth and speaks of God—not something we're used to hearing from a Buddhist teacher. Fischer, one of the leading Zen teachers in the United States, tells Kate Olsen at Religion & Ethics Newsleweekly,

Buddhism in general is not committed to God or no God. It’s committed to awakening. So taking this practice from Buddhism and applying it to Judaism, it’s a way to go deeper into our heart, our mind, our consciousness and in a Jewish context, when you do that I think, at the bottom, you find the divine. You find God, and there’s nothing in this practice nor is there anything in Buddhist or Zen thought that would deny this possibility.

The interview is worth the watch.

norman fischer, tricycleFischer, whose talents are many, is an accomplished poet, author, essayist and an occasional contributor to Tricycle. Here's  an excerpt from "Saved from Freezing," an article he wrote for Tricycle that, among other things, opens us to the imagination's potential to free the mind:

But imagination is tricky and wild. It does not play by the rules; it cannot be controlled or second-guessed. No surprise, then, that imagination is depicted as a goddess, a muse, who comes when she wants to and leaves without notice. From the point of view of the rationally organized world, imagination is dangerous, for it holds that world in supreme irony, as a mere backdrop for its colorful activity. No wonder Plato wanted to exclude the poets from his Republic. And no wonder religion almost always mistrusts and fears the imagination, which is forever evoking energies—sexual and creative energies—religion would just as soon forget: they are just so messy and hard to control, and they are not usually polite.

Imagination draws its energy from a confrontation with desire. It feeds off desire, transmuting and magnifying reality through desire's power. Fantasy does the opposite; it avoids desire by fleeing into a crude sort of wish-fulfillment that seems much safer. Fantasy might be teddy bears, lollipops, sexual delights, or superhero adventures; it also might be voices in one's head urging acts of outrage and mayhem. Or it might be the confused world of separation and fear we routinely live in, a threatening yet seductive world that promises us the happiness we seek when our fantasies finally become real. Imagination confronts desire directly, in all its discomfort and intensity, deepening the world right where we are. Fantasy and reality are opposing forces, but imagination and reality are not in opposition: imagination goes toward reality, shapes and evokes it.

You can read the rest of "Saved from Freezing" here.

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James Shaheen's picture

Hi Jason,

Norman Fischer certainly isn't obsessed with theism vs. monotheism. My guess is that he is using skillful means and speaking to people in ways they understand. As for God, I don't know what Norman Fischer's understanding of this is but there doesn't seem to be anything fixed about his view. As he points out, the Buddha didn't address this question, it wasn't his concern.

So, I agree--arguing about this is useless.



Jason Gosnell's picture

People who are obsessed with the issue of theism vs. non-theism need to grow up I think. Many Buddhists are fixed on this idea of comparing "theism" and "non-theism." There is really no such thing and no such problem. I think people might be stuck on this as a way of identifying with their particular religion...I don't know. As far as God as a fixed form out there in time-space goes...there is no such thing. The Christian mystics are clear on this point as are the Sufis. Both come from apparently theistic religions. To me, "God" is just Being. All-inclusive Being. Big Mind is God's Mind. It includes the all and lives throughout the all.

God, could also be called emptiness and luminosity. It's no fixed form.


Jason Gosnell