How to End Division

Division runs deep, it hurts, and we feel it in all kinds of ways. Whether it’s politics (2016 election anyone?), religious differences, or church division, or even division at home within families, it almost seems like it’s human nature for us to divide ourselves. Unfortunately, our capacity to divide ourselves along any lines also leads to all the conflict humanity has faced: wars, violence, hate, racism, etc. Division gives rise to an “us vs. them” mentality.

Fortunately, it is also human nature to reconcile. We seek unity. We realize that we are all in this together. It made for a catchy campaign slogan, but it is fundamentally true that we are stronger together.

Zen Buddhists would tell us that division is an illusion. A thought (and a self-destructive one!) that we create in our minds. Zen would tell us that our true nature is interdependence. There is no “us and them”, but we are part of one interdependent system of inter-being. So much so, that there is no line between you and me – while we can talk about our unique identities, we are also in fact one. In short, we are one with all things.

That sounds like a lot of new-age fluff, but it’s actually very practical, obvious, and frankly, critical awareness that we need to cultivate. Since it’s difficult to wrap our heads around, I like to use an image to help explain. And since I live in New Jersey and we love the shore here, I like to use the image of the ocean and its waves.

Waves can’t exist separately from the ocean in which they exist. The waves are the ocean, and the ocean is the waves. You could say there are no waves, just the ocean, and you would be right. Of course, you can point and say “look at that wave.” You can say that it’s a big wave, or a small wave, a pretty wave, or a threatening wave. You can compare it to other waves. In short, the wave has an identity. But in any case, the wave’s identity is not separate from the ocean. It breaks, and then you realize that there really is no wave, just ocean.

Just imagine that we are all waves in one big ocean. We each rise and fall, and have our own identity. But we are formed from and return to the same ocean, in which we all “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) . While in our lives we try to be the biggest, most impressive waves we can be, the truth is that we all are really one ocean.

Division is an illusion. Unfortunately illusions can have very real impacts on the way we interactive with each other in the world. So how do we end it? Well it should be no surprise at Zen Church to hear that the Zen answer is through meditation. Meditation is the way to cut through the illusion and see things the way they really are: that we are one with all things – one vast, beautiful ocean. This work has to start with ourselves (ironically realizing our “no-self”!). Only by being realizing that we are one with the people whom we think we are divided from will we be able to overcome division. A word of warning: this often means we have to come to terms with our one-ness with people we might rather not be one with!

The Church has a lot of work to do in being an agent to end division. We talk about ourselves as the Body of Christ – an image of how Christ unites us together, but even this body is exclusive. It divides the people who are part of it from the people who are outside. God does not work like that. And while most Christians have no problem suggesting that all human beings are children of God, we throw a theological flag on the play (or maybe even alarms go off!) if someone suggests that all human beings are part of the Body of Christ.

Theology is inherently wordy. Meditation is inherently not. It is time for the Church to challenge and expand our understanding of the one Body. Zen Church believes that we can’t turn only to our tradition, history, and doctrine (our words) to do it. We must stop, sit, and be open to the vast love of God that unites each and every one of us.

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