I thought this week of the Zen Buddhism saying, “Don’t mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself.” This has a lot to do with mistaking myths and rituals for Truth. On the heels of that, and not entirely unrelated, I thought about the assertion “Everything belongs.” That’s like shiny, full, weighty moon True. But how do we live into that?
I don’t always know what to do with such sweeping statements. I’m guessing most of us believe in belonging or want to, but we don’t necessarily know how to go about the work of making it so. This is, I think where the finger comes in.
It’s hard to stay focused on rituals and practices when the moon feels so huge and uttainable. Even NASA thought the moon unattainable at one time until it wasn’t. A timely metaphor for the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing. The truth is, though, I am feeling a lot of despair about our social world right now.
I want to believe in the possibility of unity, and I “know” that unity is at the heart of the universe. What I mean by it in this way is all things work both autonomously and in unison to perpetuate motion and creation. It’s a beautiful concept. “Thou canst not stir a flower without troubling of a star.” This is so on every level of existence. So why do we humans have such a hard time grasping it? The flower and the star are objects. One could argue they are living objects capable of a certain kind of cognition, but they live - as far as we know - without self consciousness. We think humans are the first creatures to embody reflective self consciousness. We can make art about our experiences, write stories, pass them on to future generations...we can keep some part of ourselves alive in more than just DNA. What can it mean to be human, then, to actually live as if there is unity at the heart of the cosmos?
A woman I have come to know and respect through ProjectCURATE, Dr. Jessica Davenport, pondered out loud as we were talking the other day, “Is unity the goal, though?” I must say I really don’t know. For unity to know itself, disunity also has to exist, so perhaps absolute unity is never possible. And what do I even mean by social unity? On the human level, I believe equity precedes unity. We cannot even touch social unity without a commitment to equity.
It’s so tempting to paint a harmonious picture in our minds and bypass all the pain and suffering writ large by systems of oppression in favor of love. It’s so tempting to hold fast to Rodney King’s plea, “Can’t we all just get along?” while ignoring he made that cry as he was beaten by Los Angeles Police in 1992. Mr. King, I would very much love to all get along. And yet, black men still get beaten by police, children still suffer in poverty, the finger still mistakes itself for the moon.
In Zen Buddhism, the finger represents teachings, and there is a danger of losing our way in them. Bill spoke about myth and ritual last Sunday. These are also the fingers, and if we take them to be absolute truth we miss the brightness of the moon. Myth and ritual are the ways in which we are invited to participate in community and uncover the brightness of our true self. We are all capable of reaching the moon, which means we are also all capable of its dark side. As I write, I recall Edward Edinger’s analysis that being able to hold this tension of opposites within - light with dark, unity with disunity - is the mark of individuation and integration. When we can see that we are both, or all, then we can truly understand what it means to say, “Everything belongs.” This is not a kumbaya statement dripping with rainbow flowers; it’s tougher than that. I know I want to reflexively turn away from the darkness and lean only toward the light, but this is not wholeness. You can’t point at the moon without the finger. The light can’t know itself without the dark.
So if I were to come up with a definition of what it might mean to live in unity, I would not necessarily say we are all holding hands around the proverbial campfire. I’m too much of a skeptic for that, though I love s’mores as much as anyone! I would say, however, that we get to show up autonomously, as our truest self, without a domination system managing our behavior. If we show up as this, just as we are, if we take others just as they are, without fear or judgement, then we are participating in unison, in the ritual of community. It may get sticky, and we may not all like each other. We may not even all be singing the same tune, but out of that I hope a beautiful cacophony will emerge. Any one of us who has a family knows how hard this is! Nevertheless, I hope our fingers point at the same moon. It is, after all, the only one we have.