The subject of “Zuiho Bini” or teaching the law within the language of the people one dwells among has been much on my mind lately. The reason is that the more I research the origins of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the more I feel that those religions have their problems for some of the same reasons that Buddhists have problems. In other words, rather than arrogantly assuming that Buddhism has all the answers, that the various religions are wrong, I’m coming to realize that I’ve had things backwards and the various religions are wrong and right to the extent that my own spiritual development is wrong or right.
The key is to realize that the principle of upaya; talked about in the Lotus Sutra is talking at an esoteric level about esotericism. Nichiren also talked extensively and critically about esotericism, but then I realized he also used the methods and conventions of esotericism. This led me to think there might be an appropriate kind of esotericism.
This in turn led me to look at what esotericism is supposed to be about. Esotericism is the teaching of secrets. They are kept secret for a number of reasons, but when esotericism is appropriate, the reason for keeping “secrets” is simply that people won’t “get” the message if one reveals it. That is probably what half the folks reading this paragraph are thinking. “What the hell is this guy saying?” But if you feel that way about something in an esoteric religious teaching, that is probably why that religious teaching is esoteric. Once one gets that “ah-ha” moment, the teaching isn’t so esoteric anymore. Well when one masters what one is supposed to know, then many times people find that what one had been taught before was only part of the reality.
For instance, folks like me learn simple disciplines and teachings like “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so…”
Then some of us find out that Jesus is semi-mythical and that the bible is a compendium of rewritten works of myth, legend, fiction and a little history; all passed down orally through competing lineages until finally redacted by a committee of teachers in Babylon and Jerusalem. It can be most disconcerting, which is why such knowledge was once somewhat esoteric and then later those who knew these things in an unauthorized manner were burned as heretics and the books burned too. Getting hit with the truth is like getting hit by a brick. But when I look carefully, I find that the “teachers” may know some of this, but the teachers of the teachers, certainly knew these facts. And also knew other facts that led them to believe that it was okay to teach these things anyway. That is esotericism. It is meant to teach the teachers of teachers.
I find similar layers in Buddhism, Judaism, and I haven’t studied Islam enough to be sure, but I’m sure they are there too. The purpose of esotericism is to teach the teachers and to teach the teachers of teachers. Achieving Samadhi can awaken one to the oneness of all things. That in turn makes one realize there really is a mystical, spiritual, wild and yet natural, unity to all this reality we live in. The founders of Judeo-Christianity called this unified field of awareness “God.” The founders of Buddhism called this “Buddhahood” and didn’t want to name it and so called the first one to awaken to it “Buddha.” This mystical, experiential, subjective and often deeply insane field of experience and sometimes highly hyperaware way of living is the source for all higher religions — unfortunately in every case filtered through less able minds such as, well mine. The experience of Samadhi, of meditation, of life-time learning from others and from this field within — is the teacher of teachers, but those receiving or passing on the teachings have problems communicating their thoughts. Like Moses they end up relying on priests, and like Jesus they end up being interpreted by former enemies such as Paul/Saul, or by committees such as the Council of Nicea and the Emperor Constantine.
Such is life. But we can transcend these barriers. That is called enlightenment. And Zuiho Bini is the process of deepening the world’s shared “field of institutional memory” so that the core ideas that make sense, can be passed on.
Chris