Zen Quaker

The Story of Quazee

Quazee’s Death

Quazee’s death was just like his birth except the opposite. It didn’t involve the pain of his mother, but the pain of his wife and child. It wasn’t physically painful for Quazee or his family. It was just emotionally painful saying good bye.

Quazee’s wife, daughter and grandchildren loved him and he loved them. So when he died they were sad and afraid. As he approached death he was also sad to leave them.

Quazee, at the time of his death, was enlightened. Death was another experience. He had no idea what it would mean for him. He suspected that it was something like the end, but he had no idea what the end really meant. Just like when he was born, he was at the cusp of existence. He had been at the cusp of existence for his entire life. Now he was facing his death and he was again and still at the cusp of existence.

Quazee was no longer concerned about his name. He was attached to it as he was attached to his life. It had been with him through his life. It had been a source of pain for him, but he had learned to accept it. Now that he was losing his life, he would also be losing his name. Quazee would be no more.

As Quazee let go of his life and his name and his wife and daughter, he was at peace. He had known pain and pleasure and everything in between. Now he was experiencing death.

An interesting thing about death was that he could see the tunnel. That was not the case with birth. He had imagined that tunnel after the fact. There was no pain as he entered that tunnel. He lived his entire life again as he passed. It was amazing. It began with his birth.

Quazee’s Birth

Quazee was born a baby boy. He began suffering at the moment of his birth. Prior to being born, Quazee had everything he needed delivered to him through a tube in his belly. He was never hot or cold, hungry or thirsty. He was completely content.

Although it was fairly cramped in the womb, Quazee never noticed. He didn’t really know that his legs, arms and head were supposed to move. Everything was perfect.

Then a terrible tragedy occurred, Quazee was born.

It wasn’t really such a tragedy. Quazee was born into a loving family. He was fortunate enough to be born a human. He was healthy, his mother survived the ordeal of birth enduring significantly more pain than Quazee.

Pain is relative though. Prior to being born, Quazee knew no pain. Traveling through the birth canal was his first experience of discomfort. It was quite uncomfortable. It was excruciatingly painful.

Quazee’s mother had known all kinds of pain prior to Quazee’s birth. She knew what pain was about. She knew she was in for a world of pain the moment she learned that she was pregnant, but this was pain she was willing and almost glad to endure. She was so prepared to experience the pain she opted for a natural birth and declined an epidural. Giving birth turned out to be painful as advertised. When Quazee came out, healthy and in his first pain ever, his mother’s pain gave way to exhausted joy.

Quazee was taken care of. He usesd his mouth and lungs for the first time and cried with all his might. He was cold and wet and alive. Seconds later he was suckling and warm. He forgot that he was ever in pain. Everybody was content.

Then Quazee’s parents did something cruel. They named their son Quazee. It caused him no pain at the time, but it would. Quazee was in for a world of pain.

"Wear It As Long As Thou Canst"

My favorite Quaker parable is the story of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, having problems with his conscience about wearing his sword. He asked George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, if he should get rid of it because it conflicted with Quaker pacifistic values. George Fox told him to wear the sword as long a he could.

This seems similar to Suzuki Roshi’s (the founder of San Francisco Zen Center), advice about controlling your thoughts. He said that the best way to control your thoughts is to watch them wander, like controlling cattle by giving them a large pasture to roam through. He said to control people, tell them to behave badly, give them free reign to behave as they will, without judgement and they will behave nicely.

If William Penn could wear his sword, it wasn’t really conflicting with his core values, he just had to watch his values without judgements. When he did, he found that his sword became uncomfortable to him and he stopped wearing it.

Once you identify a habit you want to change, watch it. See what happens.

Jesus and Buddha

Growing up as a Christian, I learned about Jesus.  As a Quaker, I thought of Jesus more as a person than as God. Quakerism teaches that there is that of God in everyone, so it seemed natural that Jesus was just very good at expressing that of God in himself and bringing it out in others.  If he had been allowed to live longer, he may have come up with a teaching more similar to the Buddha’s.  He was not allowed to live longer.  The story of Jesus’ death is absolutely horrific. The idea that he died to atone for our sins promotes a sense of guilt in people 2000 years after the fact. To this day, I cannot talk about Jesus without feeling a certain queasiness and holy pretension.

Buddha, on the other hand, poses no such problem for me.  Buddha, to me, embodies love and compassion. The peaceful Buddhist icons, depicting the Buddha in blissful meditation, are quite a contrast to the images of Jesus in his last living moments on the cross. Learning about Buddha and Buddhism gives me a much better understanding of Jesus. I can relate to Jesus as a buddha, an awakened person.  Jesus, Buddha, you and me all have the same potential.  Buddha, and Jesus realized their potential.

For me, Buddha’s teachings provide a more practical approach to awakening that potential in myself. Because I was raised Quaker, when I become enlightened through Buddha’s methods, I may just realize my Jesus nature.

My Quaker and Zen Life

I was raised as a Quaker in the Philadelphia area. That culture is a part of me. I attended Quaker schools. Meeting for Worship was always a part of my life.  Jesus and God to me were not a big part of the experience.  Sometimes people would stand and share messages about Jesus or God, but the messages were just as often about the spirit, or nature, or peace.

As a teenager, I enjoyed gathering with other young Quakers (young Friends) at annual gatherings.  These did not feel like religious gatherings, but youthful gatherings, where we would do youthful things like developing crushes on each other and hooking up. That is what I enjoyed most. We were pretty good kids.

After college, I became interested in Buddhism when I became depressed. I started reading Buddhist books. I was drawn to the kind and compassionate language and practical advice about how to work with your mind.  Although I was adept at sitting in meeting, in silent worship, for up to an hour at a time, I did not know how to meditate in the Buddhist way.  I dabbled with meditation and Buddhist literature for 15 years before I started to practice daily meditation. As I did in my 20’s I turned to Buddhism at 40 to help me deal with difficult emotions. After a couple of years of sitting daily meditation, a friend recommended a Zen temple to me. That is how I came to Zen. Now, I sit Zen meditation (zazen) in the morning and evening. I have a good relationship with my emotions.

Zen has taught me that I am a Quaker, and that my youthful Quaker experience with Meeting for Worship was good preparation for my Zen practice.  My Zen practice is good preparation for my Quaker practice. It is the same practice.

Quakerism

Quakers are generally nice people. Quakers are Christians, they believe in God and Jesus. Quakers are pacifists they work for peace. Quakers are activists. They are people of action.  They try to see the truth through personal experience and represent that truth to the world. In this respect Quakers are like Zen Buddhists. Although there are different types of Quakers, the Quakers that I speak about attend services on Sundays and meet in silent worship. That means they sit silently in a room with the intention of experiencing God. When somebody feels like it (moved by the spirit), they stand up and share a message with the rest of the meeting. I have posted a link to a Quaker information web site and the guide book to Quakerism, Faith and Practice. The official name for the Quaker religion is The Religious Society of Friends. Quakers are also called Friends (with a capital f).

Awakened Meditation Centre

Quaker Information - Faith and Practice