Like so many others before me I chanced upon the path of Zen Buddhism, which precedes and influences Christianity in the opposite manner to Judaism. It was unfortunate, then, that my first experience with the sublime meditative philosophy was to have an encounter with a radical anti-Christian sect, which I found operating over the Internet in the name of ĎZení.
This chance encounter led to an inexplicable trial, which happened almost entirely by surprise following my introduction to the devotees of nothingness.
The chance occurred in hyper-space during a particularly quiet afternoon at work, when I engaged myself in the usual way by searching too hard for the meaning of life. I was fascinated when I came across information about the Zen-sect; because I had known no greater teaching on the subject, I considered them to be representative of the whole order.
Much of the writing on their website made perfect sense and I initially felt elated at the confirmation of some of my own views, gratified at the concordance with other mystical precepts. But shortly, and to my dismay, I read about the sectís fundamental and bitter opposition to Christianity, which I found intolerable at that time. (Any extreme view or anti-view would have been unacceptable, in case you are wondering whether Iíve got some fundamentalism of my own).
I was prompted to contact the sect in protest at the divisiveness of what they were saying on their website. I was surprised, the next day, to receive their response, which was inflexible, to say the least. I replied once more, feeling disturbed by now, but resolved to avoid all future contact with them. I am, after all, a defender of faith and will not entertain willful aggressors. This might sound silly, but it also happens to be true.
I was disconcerted by the brief interaction and didnít quite know what to make of it. When I went to bed as usual that night - neither early enough nor extremely late - it seemed that I was approaching sleep with suspicious ease - as if it were sucking me in and I wasnít naturally drifting towards it. This has always been a symptom, for me, that Iím about to have a very disturbing night. (See chapter on Possession)
Just as I was about to drift into unconsciousness I was rudely startled out of my prematurely relaxed state by a swarthy intruder. With great shockingness this personage pounced upon my dream self in what could only be perceived as a threatening manner. He had dark hair and a beard, black eyes, one or two gold hooped earring(s) and an angry expression; he looked a bit like a pirate.
In a flash I was wide awake and upright in bed, my heart racing wildly and my breathing out of order. Despite the shock I immediately associated the stranger with the dubious sect of ĎZení, although looking back, I may have been JUMPING to conclusions. I mean, he could have been a member of any culture or creed, masquerading as a Zen warrior in order to avoid detection.
Regardless of who the intruder was, I calmed down in a short time and decided to summon my strength in order to face what I knew would be a trial. This much was true, whatever the reason might have been and who my inquisitors really were. My attitude to such things may well arouse skepticism, but it is more easily understandable when seen in the context of individual commitment to a spiritual path in life, which can involve personal tests of a seemingly bizarre nature.
I lay back down and prepared to enter once again the radical plane between the waking and the dream worlds, which is often heralded by the manifestation of other spiritual beings, be they friendly messengers or challenging forces of opposition.
My entrance into the astral plane, usually quite difficult to achieve voluntarily, was predictably easy because of that which had summoned me into it. On this second occasion the bearded man appeared at a much greater distance (I could not make out his face), seated upon a high throne-like chair with another companion. There might have been three of them actually, but all appeared a bit hazy and cloud-shrouded.
I was determined to resist their interrogation (donít ask how I knew one was coming, it just seemed obvious at the time), but I didnít know exactly what they wanted to find out. I was aware that as a unity those beings would put up a concerted effort to draw me into that which was contrary to my extant system of belief. Or so I thought.
What ensued was exhausting and of an unexpected nature. The committee, in rigorously unyielding legal fashion, proceeded to question on every level the strength of my values and ethics. They were extremely pedantic and throughout the test I was given cause to discern, within myself, the distinction between professed and expressed belief.
After many hours of debate the inquisitors reluctantly dispersed in the welcome hour before dawn, and I was released from the voluntary struggle. They had exerted considerable mental force and I thought they would have gladly carried me off to the plateau of the empty mind. Unless, of course, they saved me from it, or otherwise deemed me unworthy of that state.
At that time I was very defensive. I believed if there was anything to be found beyond God, which I could not even conceive of, then it could only mean the absence of something. I perceived this as being negativity and had no desire to be in such a state, which I could not see serving a good purpose. The idea of rest never occurred to me.
The really unfortunate side to this overall challenge was that for almost two years I took great pains to avoid that particular stream of Buddhism, to the extent that I refused even to mention the word Z** when experiencing a heightened sense of consciousness. This paranoia continued until I modified a session of trans-zen-dental meditation to address my fear of nothingness. For it is by withdrawing into the self as opposed to directing all energy outwards that the divine force in existence generates space enough for there to be creation. Even now will a great artist retreat into their heart or mind in order to bring forth a masterpiece, fruit of the soul. This example describes the concept of 'tsimtsum', and even the very act of tsimtsum (see Glossary under 'Tsimtsum').
This experience highlighted how faith must be felt rather than just iterated. Many are they who consider themselves to be religious when in reality their hearts and minds are void of true belief. On the other hand, there are just as many who steadfastly claim to be agnostic or atheist but who are full of love and compassion for other living creatures and live their lives in a way that could rightly be called Ďreligiousí.
Better to be the second of these, for truly is God experienced by the heart in depths that the mind might never comprehend or even contemplate. It would seem to be true, furthermore, that a profound experience of Godís presence would have a Zen-like quality in that it requires, as a pre-condition, the suspension of all other thought-based and sensual external experience in order to make room for the divine force that would then fully inhabit the self. A personal process of tsimtsum. The annihilation of self takes place when the transcendent God becomes fully immanent in the person.