This is the final part of a short series where I reflect on one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read, “The Raft is Not the Shore: Conversations Toward A Buddhist-Christian Awareness” by Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan.
But first… a very quick question from my Sarahah page. If you’ve got something on your mind feel free to submit it and I’ll respond here. As you can see from my AMA page, I enjoy discussing all types of subjects that most people consider off-limits.
“How do you pronounce your last name?”
🙂 I have definitely had this question before in my life. Whenever people find themselves in the unenviable position of pronouncing my last name (Neiger) there is always an awkward pause. I actually had a drill sergeant in the Army who refused to say my name and a squad leader who just called me “Peanut Butter” (because, apparently, I looked like the type of guy who would put peanut butter on my dick and have a dog lick it off). *le sigh*
Anyway, I’ve done some research into my name. My family told me it was German in origin. While it follows the German pronunciation rules with the hard “g” and “when two vowels go a walkin’ the second one does the talkin'” I’ve found my last name is likely Jewish and is more common in Israel than elsewhere in the world. (Note: my research is very elementary and shouldn’t be taken as fact).
The easiest way to pronounce my last name is to remember that it rhymes with Tiger, which actually happens to define my attitude (in bed). Rawr.
Now, on to “The Raft is Not the Shore”.
Chapter 8: Jesus and Buddha
“As the Buddha says, ‘My doctrine is only a raft helping to bring you over to the shore, not ultimate reality; you shouldn’t worship it.” – Nhat Hanh
This teaching, which is clearly the source of the book’s title, is something that I never really saw growing up. There was no sense of modesty in how Christ’s words were taught to me. Jesus was shown to me as a god to be obeyed (sort of) and not a guide on a path. His word was the shore, not a raft to find the shore. I should re-read the red letters to see what impression I get from his actual words now that I have been away from church indoctrination for over a decade.
“I always try to be aware of the fact that when the Buddha or Jesus said something, they were saying it to someone or some group of people. I should understand the circumstances in which they spoke, in order to get into communion with them rather than merely take their saying word for word.” – Nhat Hanh
This view of the big picture, this nuance is sorely missing from a lot of religious teachings. Instead of looking at patterns of love or tolerance or forgiveness, many churches get stuck on specific words or rules. I think this is truer when you read Paul than Jesus, but Paul’s impact on the church shouldn’t be understated. He may have more influence on modern American Christianity than Jesus.
“I thought one reason for the deep trouble among the students at the seminary was that there was no atmosphere around them inviting them to become Christians. Rather, the atmosphere was urging them to become experts in Christianity. And the two are very different things.” – Berrigan
I don’t have any particular knowledge of the seminary (obvi), but if this is true I find it troubling. Samual Clemens old saying, “Don’t let schooling interfere with his education,” applies to seminary as well as secular education.
Chapter 9: Communities of Resistance
“One should not be idolatrous or bound to any doctrine, any theory, any ideology, including Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought must be guiding means and not absolute truths.” – Nhat Hanh
This mindset has become increasingly appealing to me. It is like Huxley’s “The Perennial Philosophy” or even Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” and Jung’s “Collective Unconscious”. Our species uses stories, mythologies, and religious teachings in the pursuit of an absolute truth that is larger than any of the individual means of attaining that truth. All are different paths up the same mountain, and no path has all the experience or knowledge to fully understand the mountain. I think this is why pagan practices and the Unitarian Universalist church both appeal to me so much. They are seeking truth and justice and peace without ideology.
“And resistance, at root, I think, must mean more than resistance against war. It is resistance against all kinds of things that are like war… resistance means opposition to being invaded, occupied, assaulted, and destroyed by the system. The purpose of resistance, here, is to seek the healing of yourself in order to be able to see clearly.” – Nhat Hanh
Resistance to sexism, racism, bigotry, emotional attachment, animal abuse, pollution, government… all things that invade, occupy, assault, and destroy our bodies and minds and others.
“the invasion, the loss of soul, loss of self-understanding on the part of many modern people. In the form almost of madness, one is invaded by demonic values of this world, and runs with them.” – Berrigan
We are a culture of damaged souls.
“If in many monastic communities people are praying and meditating but do not resist, maybe it’s because they do not pray and meditate properly… meditating and praying should be in the context of life. And if you isolate yourself from the reality of suffering, I think that something is wrong.” -Nhat Hanh
It is easy for me to scoff at religious people who fall back on “thoughts and prayers” for every tragedy or ounce of suffering in their community. But I’m just as bad. My time is often spent in relative luxury while others suffer and I just hope/think someone else will take care of it. Is that better or worse than just praying about it? I don’t know.
“Do not judge each other too easily, too quickly, in terms of ideology, of point of view, strategies, things like that. Try to see the real person, the one with whom you live. You might discover aspects that will enrich you.” – Nhat Hanh
And this ends my reflection on “The Raft is Not the Shore: Conversations Toward a Buddhist-Christian Awareness” by Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan. I highly, highly recommend picking up a copy and flipping through it from time to time.
Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?
Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions: pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”