Faith & Worship: All I really want

Published 3:34 pm Wednesday, August 30, 2017

So today, right now, what do you want?

– Zen Master Seung Sahn

The first of the Ten Commandments speaks about the importance of having no other gods besides God. It is good to be reminded of this, for very Buddhist reasons. Buddhism’s “First Commandment” gives a reason why there is so much suffering in the world. To put a Western spin on it, it translates like this: The reason you are unhappy is that you have made gods of everything.

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And we want everything. I know I do. Here’s how it works for me. On any given day, I am exposed: by a TV commercial, a colleague, or catalog, with the result that I start nursing a godless desire for something I don’t have. It’s becomes my new god.

It’s usually material: a new gadget, clothes, or vacation. I think, “How wonderful my life would be if I could have THAT added to it!” And so I plot, conspire, and strategize how I can have that new thing that will revolutionize my life.

Usually I slow-brew my desire by delaying my purchase, all the while fantasizing my sorry life with this new addition. The end result is usually the same: I get this new godlike thing added to my godforsaken life … and the thrill lasts exactly 60 seconds. Then I am at it again.

Ah, the wasted energy! Nothing has been made any better by my lust. And soon, I am at it again, a drooling puppet to my unbridled desire. Will I ever get to the point where I don’t lust, desiring only this desire-less state Buddhists call “Nirvana”? Never, as long as I neglect the First Commandment.

Once upon a time, goes a Buddhist story, a hermit was meditating by a river when a young man on a pilgrimage interrupted him. “Master, I wish to become your disciple,” said the man, excitedly.

“Why?” replied the hermit.

The young man thought for a moment, and then brightened his face, exclaiming. “Because I want to find God!”

Without hesitation, the master jumped up, grabbed our young pilgrim by the scruff of his neck, dragged him into the river, and plunged his big head under the water. After holding him under for a full minute, and enduring the kicking and struggling of the pilgrim to free himself, the master finally pulled him up out of the river, a truly baptized man. He coughed up water and gasped to catch his breath.

When he eventually quieted down, the master spoke. “Tell me, what did you want most of all when you were under water.”

“Air!” answered the man.

“Very well,” said the master. “Go home, and return when you want God as much as you just wanted air.”

The applications are obvious. Today, right now, what do you want? Good luck finding that One thing.

Marc Mullinax speaks the first Sunday of each month at the Thermal Belt Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Tryon. He is an ordained Baptist minister and Professor of Religion at Mars Hill University.