Clarity vs. Certainty

by Susan Sensemann

photo by Susan Sensemann

photo by Susan Sensemann

I had the pleasure of dining with two brothers who love each other and appreciate their family of origin. However, they do not share political, ideological or spiritual points of view. The younger of the two is a practicing Catholic and political conservative. The older has a meditation practice, forty years of TM using a mantra, and is a liberal/progressive. As the evening wound down, the older brother initiated a discussion about religion.

I sat back for a moment as I considered each man’s body language and tone of voice. The younger brother smiled. I could see that he was breathing calmly. The older of the two leaned in. His voice rose as he dismissed organized religion, calling it hokus pokus, ridiculous, and naive. The younger did not pick up the rope to engage in a tug of war to defend his beliefs. He was clear about that. Clarity is a focused awareness that is paradoxically expansive.  He seemed to be breathing into his faith and breathing out loving kindness to his argumentative older brother whose opinion was fixed. Closed - not only in disbelief, but with an edge of contempt for the religion. 

It occurred to me that a certain view is a closed view. Fastened tight and shut off. Certainty is fixed and frozen with no wiggle-room for engagement. I realized that the brothers would not have a discussion to share ideas. I did suggest Bernie Glassman Roshi’s adage: “It’s just my opinion, man.” Lighten up, bro. Certainty is boring, opined.

I have been in recent dialogue with a Catholic friend as we have explored similarities and differences between Catholicism and Buddhism. He explained the literal, the situational and the aspirational aspects of the Trinity: God, the Holy Spirit and the Son as an embodied man. I shared with him the Three Kayas (Bodies) of Buddha: Absolute, Energy, and Physical Body. We agreed that God/Absolute, Spirit/Energy and Jesus/Buddha ring in harmony.

Our conversations are both probing and laughter-filled. We have agreed not to be right. Not to hold our views and beliefs in higher regard than the other’s. We did not have to agree to disagree, because we know that disagreement would shut down the conversation - each to his/her corner. We are sharing a dialogue that helps each of us gain a clearer perspective of our own beliefs and doubts relative to the other’s. It’s not all theology - we’re having fun.

My friend explained the purpose of the story of the New Testament Doubting Thomas, a skeptic who would not believe without direct experience. He wanted proof. He told me of various Catholic rites, pilgrimages and rituals that are steeped in embodied physicality.

I told my friend that direct experience is what Living a Zen Inspired Life simply is. Embodied. Direct. On the ground. Domestic. He wanted an example of being Zen and I told him: wash a plate. Is it that simple? Yes. The smooth white ceramic plate is in your left hand, you adjust the water temperature and notice that water is wet. This is called Prajna Wisdom - things are as they are. Notice that. You take up the soapy sponge and begin to exert a small circular motion that starts in your spine to shoulder and moves to your fingers. You notice the sudsy water drip from the plate and the small yellow smear of egg yolk floats on the bubbles and disappears into the drain. What’s to doubt? You wash a plate. 

Susan Keijo Sensemann

November 16, 2017