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Justice Now or Later?

Reading is a pernicious habit because it has a way of catching you off-guard and challenging your hide-bound set of life rules.

When you run across a passage that calls into question your cherished beliefs, you first want to dismiss it as heresy or something akin to it, then as it simmers in your brain, you may find yourself re-reading the offending language to see what it was that grabbed you about it.

Needless to say, the demolition of long-held beliefs is powerful fodder for your secret journal, and one of the most powerful sources for unfiltered writing.

Of such mind-bending stuff is the famous historian of religions Huston Smith’s words in the foreword to the 35th Anniversary Edition of Philip Kapleau’s seminal work The Three Pillars of Zen.

We understand the specific attraction of Zen Buddhism when we realize the extent to which the contemporary West is animated by “prophetic faith,” the sense of the holiness of the ought, the pull of the way things could be and should be but as yet are not. Such faith has obvious virtues, but unless it is balanced by a companion sense of the holiness of the is, it becomes top-heavy. If one’s eyes are always on tomorrows, todays slip by unperceived. To a West which in its concern to refashion heaven and earth is in danger of letting the presentness of life–the only life we really have–slip through its fingers, Zen comes as a reminder that if we do not learn to perceive the mystery and beauty of our present life, our present hour, we shall not perceive the worth of any life, of any hour.


Even though I have grown up steeped in Christianity, from a Fundamentalist childhood, to a moderate mid-life, to an open-minded acceptance of multiple ways to seek the truth of my old age, I have to admit that I had never grasped Smith’s insight.

Having found it, I now see how the specter of heaven may create hell on earth. A legal proverb has it that justice delayed is justice denied.

When in the history of the United States has it been more important to focus on the now of justice?

And who would have thought that I would have had this epiphany while reading an introduction to the world of Zen Buddhism?

Is that the tinkling of enlightenment I hear in the distance?

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