The religion before religion
“Zen has been called the “religion before religion,” which is to say that anyone can practice, including those committed to another faith. And that phrase evokes that natural religion of our early childhood, when heaven and a splendorous earth were one.
But soon the child’s clear eye is clouded over by ideas and opinions, preconceptions and abstractions. Not until years later does an instinct come that a vital sense of mystery has been withdrawn.
The sun glints through the pines, and the heart is pierced in a moment of beauty and strange pain, like a memory of paradise. After that day, at the bottom of each breath, there is a hollow place filled with longing.
We become seekers without knowing that we seek, and at first, we long for something “greater” than ourselves, something apart and far away.
It is not a return to childhood, for childhood is not a truly enlightened state. Yet to seek one’s own true nature is “a way to lead you to your long lost home.”
To practice Zen means to realize one’s existence moment after moment, rather than letting life unravel in regret of the past and daydreaming of the future.
To “rest in the present” is a state of magical simplicity… out of the emptiness can come a true insight into our natural harmony all creation.
To travel this path, one need not be a ‘Zen Buddhist’, which is only another idea to be discarded like ‘enlightenment,’ and like ‘the Buddha’ and like ‘God.”
― Peter Matthiessen,
Nine-Headed Dragon River: Zen Journals, 1969-1982