29 March 2013

Bodhisattva Night Out

Last night I took part in Holy Thursday mass at a local Catholic parish.  It was good for my practice.

The liturgy of Holy Thursday evening has always spoken deeply to me of things I know to be most true: that the self has to be broken and die, that healing and life lie in that brokenness, and that that brokenness becomes in turn nourishment for the life of the world and the liberation of all. 

Now all that gets packaged in the commemoration of Jesus' last meal with his disciples, and during the liturgy, the washing of the disciples' feet is reenacted.  The standard script is that the priest washes the feet of twelve men, as a picture snapshot of the events of 2000 years ago.  But last night, everyone washed everyone else's feet.  Stations with chairs and bowls and pitchers of water and towels were set up, and one by one, we all got our feet washed then switched places and washed the feet of the next person in line, on and on until all those who wished had washed and been washed.  Small words were exchanged, smiles, looks of both awkwardness and appreciation.  Old feet, kid feet, teen feet, calloused feet, feet with bunions and toenail fungus – all feet were attended to.

I was choked up and on the verge of tears the whole time.

Earlier in the service, Psalm 116 was sung.  I sometimes refer to that Psalm when explaining my ordained name to my Christian friends.  "Shodhin" means requiting, returning good for all the good received; Psalm 116 begins, "How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good He has done for me?"

Of course, the answer to that question and the meaning behind my name both point in the same direction: always – even if you're going to die the very next day – the most important thing is to be of compassionate service to others.

I won't stop sitting on a mat and facing a wall, but I can certainly use a few hands-on reminders of that every once in a while!


  1. Hi Shodhin,

    I hope all is well with you. I have a question related to this post. I was wondering if you might -- for this former student -- explore the difference, as you see it, between Zen Buddhism and Christianity with regard -- and this is already a mouthful -- to Nietzsche's philosophy. I was rereading parts of Nietzsche's _Ecce Homo_ the other day, after teaching parts of _Beyond Good and Evil_ in my PHI 100 course; and Nietzsche makes a passionate defense of Buddhism in that text, with which he actually identifies his own practice of living, meanwhile attacking Christianity in the same text, which he claims is based on "ressentiment," etc. He argues that Buddhism is a profound discipline invented by a sensitive man for avoiding the messiness of the world (so as to avoid getting hurt; Nietzsche says at one point for him "everything" hurt); and not only does he connect Buddhism to "Russian fatalism," he also connects it to his own withdrawal from society -- which he implies is akin to what he calls Buddha's "hygiene." Meanwhile, though, he attacks Christianity, and claims, as we know, that the idea that we should serve others -- at least as a universal value -- is life-denying.

    Anyway, so I was wondering where you might see your own Zen practice in light of Nietzsche's comments (if we want to take him seriously at all). It seems to me in your post above -- and perhaps your practice in general, as you desribe it in the blog? -- you both attempt to withdraw, in some sense, from what you argue is the ego-driven messiness of the world -- you don't want to stick your fingers in a bunch of pointless pies -- but on the other hand, you want to retain a "compassionate service" to the world. Nietzsche would endorse the former, it seems to me, but not the latter, at least not as a universal value. I'm interested in whether you would accept this judgment. . . . If you think that his critique of Christianity in the context of his praise of Buddhism works; and if your own Zen Buddhism practice is different in a fundamental way from what at least he sees as problematic about Christian practice; or if Nietzsche is just plain wrong about Christianity and its universal value on service. (I'm guessing the answer here might be centered on the difference between "compassionate service" and Nietzsche's purported Christian "pity," but who knows.)

    Briefly: One idea I had is that one could fit Nietzsche's practice as one point of a triangle that would include Zen and Christianity as two other points. Nietzsche's practice is like Zen, in some respects, except that he's committed to a "revaluation of all values," that is, a kind of "creative" project (in the classic Western sense), at least within the limits of philosophy. So in the same place that Zen and Christianity might put service to others (?), Nietzsche would put his "task" of the revaluation of values (?). So everybody has a "task" of sorts; they're just different.

    Anyway, I hope that's not too long a question or too out of place.

    Take care,


  2. Nietzsche has all the insight of someone who only ever read books. If for one day he'd have actually put the book down and lowered the mast of his ego, he might be worth a hearing. As it is, it's all mental, and hence hits quite wide of the mark.

  3. Hi Shodhin,

    I agree with you about the ego part.

    But Nietzsche's view of life is far from being all mental, at least if we accept his own testimony from _Ecce Homo_. His wrestling with physical ailments was a key factor in the development of his thinking (again, if we accept his report; and I see no reason not to).

    Note what he says, too, about books in _Ecce Homo_ (though admittedly I'm leaving out some context; he says a lot of very positive things, too):

    "Perhaps it is not my way to read much, or diverse things: a reading room makes me sick."

    And later:

    "The instinct of self-defense has become worn-out in [scholars]; otherwise they would resist books. The scholar -- a decadent. . . . Early in the morning, when day breaks, when all is fresh, in the dawn of one's strength -- to *read a book* at such a time is simply depraved!"

    I do think Nietzsche's worth a hearing. He's wrong about some things, but in my view, there are few philosophers who more deserve (and repay) the time spent with them.

    Take care,


  4. Still not reading between the lines, better: noting subtle hints, I see...