Every now and then a book stumbles into your life that speaks to your soul. Oftentimes, at least for me, that book sits on the shelf marinating for weeks or months or years until you (or it) are finally ready to consume. I recently read such a book, “The Raft is Not the Shore: Conversations Toward A Buddhist-Christian Awareness” by Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan. I don’t remember when I first heard about this book but it has been on my shelf for quite a while. I read the whole thing in less than three days (partly because it is short and easy and partly because I loved the book) and it is now filled with highlighted sections and comments in the margins. In fact, it had such an impact on me that I’ve decided to do a short series of blog posts about the sections that sparked my interest. I hope you enjoy these posts and will consider purchasing the book for yourself.
Chapter 1: Memory, Eucharist, Death
“the future always belongs to the remnant which has come out of slavery.” – Berrigan
Slavery, trials, tribulations, facing evils strengthen us and allow us to be present in the future. Those that live a privileged life struggle to be a part of the future because they grow weak and egotistical, and they are pushed aside by stronger people. When you are on top you are destined to be pulled down.
“the culture is almost totally bankrupt of a vision of what a good life might be. We’re ridden by consumerism, fear, violence, racism – all these terrible mythologies which forever put off any real vision… War becomes the continual occupation and preoccupation in the minds of people who are purportedly trying to get a better life.” – Berrigan
This realization is what originally drew me to Stoicism and Buddhism. There is a lack of “philosophy of life” in today’s society. The good life is seen as little more than getting things or abs or having more sex. There is no analysis of whether that is true or good for the soul. The American mythologies of what is “natural” or “good” are even more flawed than the mythologies that have stood the test of time. America isn’t all bad but any culture that gives rise to such racism, war-mongering, death, and waste must have some problems as well.
Note: Despite growing up in a Christian environment I had to look up the word “eucharist”. It is just Communion, we never called it eucharist. I didn’t find too much in this section about the eucharist interesting or ground-breaking. Maybe I would if I had more knowledge of Catholicism.
Chapter 2: Religion in the World
“I was struck by two things. First, in Israel and elsewhere, the people who were thoughtful were antireligious. And the religious people we met were very closed in the suppositions about the state, in obedience to the state, and in violence.” – Berrigan
I imagine the same could be said of Americans today. There is a certain American evangelicalism that has wed itself to the state instead of Christ and supports all kinds of offensive and defensive wars (not that we’ve had a truly defensive war in several generations). This is all despite Christ’s teachings and example which involve things like “love thy neighbor”, “turn the other cheek”, “blessed are the merciful”, “blessed are the peacemakers”, “blessed are those who are persecuted”, and other Christian teachings like “Repay no one evil for evil… for it is written, ‘Vengence is Mine, I will repay’, says the Lord”. But, in our culture religion has decided to ally itself with the state (which is at all times a violent institution), they traded their cross and soul for a flag and power.
“By organizing violent resistance, they might have preserved something that is called Buddhism, but they might not be Buddhist at all in substance.” – Nhat Hanh
“I thought that it was quite plain that if you have to choose between Buddhism and peace, then you must choose peace. Because if you choose Buddhism you sacrifice peace, and Buddhism does not accept that. Furthermore, Buddhism is not a number of temples and organizations. Buddhism is in your heart. Even if you don’t have any temples or monks, you can still be a Buddhist in your heart and life.” – Nhat Hanh
Ditto for much of modern American Christianity. They have decided to use violence against immigrants, women, and people abroad, and they think they are somehow living sin-free because they are laundering their support through the state.
“I think there’s a wave passing over the world – a wave of blood, of utter irresponsibility toward others… the mainline religions have joined this effort to make killing acceptable and normal – at least through silence. Usually there is some kind of an obsession with their own well-being.” – Berrigan
“If you are in power, they will try to bring you down. So, you make a compromise in order to be able to continue. You compromise to the point that you become like those whom you opposed before you came to power.” – Nhat Hanh
This is simply a political reality, whether it is in a democracy or after a revolution. If you seek power then you want to keep it, it is easy to justify this desire but the desire exists. To stay in power you need to sacrifice your morals and become what you once hated. There is no such thing as getting “the right people” in power.
“We don’t look for a world in which murder will not occur; that seems unrealistic. But we don’t want murder to be looked upon as virtuous and legitimate.”
Put a uniform on a person and pay them with tax dollars and all of the sudden all sorts of atrocities are “legitimate”.
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Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”