When I picked up that dusty Bible again, I rediscovered the lessons of Saint James. I am not in the position to debate whether or not these are the actual words and thoughts of Jesus’s brother, half-brother, or his cousin, depending on your religious affiliation. I have read several sides of the argument, and I can honestly say that it has no bearing on me one way or the other. What I do care about is how, if taken to heart, these common sense words, written many years ago, can change us. It is interesting, though not surprising, that some of James’s teachings contradict Paul’s, but none contradict the example Jesus asks us to follow.
When I read the Book of James now, I understand that he is not just teaching us lessons on how we should live our lives, but how we should live with good intentions free of hate, desire, and misconceptions. In Buddhist parlance, these lessons follow many of the percepts offered in the Eightfold Noble Path: right thought, right action, right effort, right speech, right livelihood, right attention, right concentration, and right understanding. If we live accordingly, we will suffer no karmic consequences, meaning we will bring no harm to ourselves or to other beings.
During the time when I had just begun studying Buddhism, I went on a very difficult bicycle ride. This was an eighty-five-mile excursion with over seven thousand feet of climbing with one very nasty three thousand-foot mountain in the middle. When I reached the peak of this mountain, I stopped to catch my breath, take a drink of water, and enjoy the panoramic view. A gentleman who was a couple of years older than I am and obviously, to my chagrin, was much stronger, was already at the summit resting and taking in this truly wondrous sight. Looking northwest on this clear early spring morning, the view stretched for miles over the Blue Ridge Mountains. He smiled at me, knowing what we had both just accomplished by climbing this wicked hill, and he said, “Very Zen-like, isn’t it?” I still hadn’t quite caught my breath when I answered him sarcastically, “Which part?” He smiled again as he looked out over the vista and said, “All of it.” At that moment, I understood just how right he was. There is no way I could have enjoyed or appreciated the beauty of this vista if I hadn’t also experienced the slow misery of the journey to the top.
Zen teaches us to live in the moment—to understand that all of our actions contribute to the whole of where we are and who we are. It’s about all that we experience each day, and as I studied the Book of St. James, I understood that following all of the lessons he offered with the right intentions and the right heart would make my life a complete circle. And that is very Zen-like, isn’t it?
Thank you for allowing me to share a portion of my journey with you……