Though probably apocryphal, there is a great story about the founder of our fair state (Pennsylvania), a guy named William Penn. Penn was a wealthy man and a military type who became friends with a group of Quakers. The Quakers were famous for being a religious order whose members did not lie, and who were pacifists. Their way of life attracted him and Penn wanted to attend their meetings, according to legend he asked one of their founders “If I attend your meetings, should I still carry my sword?” to which the Quaker answered “As long as you can.”
Eventually Penn did renounce his warrior lifestyle and become a Quaker. He even spent some time in jail over it. Still once he had studied their way of life and found it to agree with what was in his heart he could no longer deny and could no longer carry a sword.
Some time ago I read a quote that said basically “Go ahead and study Zen as a Christian but be aware that if you study it long enough that you will question your Christianity.” When i read that quote it stuck with me because I had the same experience with meditation, my doubt came from the other side though. When I began meditating it was as a hard-core atheist and rationalist. What attracted me to Zen was the idea that I could use this meditation method to smooth out my life without having to believe some religious mumbo-jumbo. And so it was, for a while.
But Zen does some strange things if you pursue it long enough, you begin to find things which you believed in very deeply lose their luster and things you thought you opposed don’t seem so far-fetched anymore. I know a good friend who was well-known for his temper and quickness to fight, he believed that this uncompromising attitude and fierceness had helped him to get the success he had. Once he began meditating he found that he just couldn’t muster up the sense of outrage and offense needed to hurl insults at his coworkers or crack the whip like he had in the past. He told me he was afraid that he might lose his “touch” with out that anger. Perhaps he would, but Buddhism reveals that the things we hold as so important (like whether we can inspire fear in our coworkers) aren’t really as important as we think. It’s not that his desire to excel disappeared, it’s that his understanding of what excelling even meant changed altogether.
We carry a lot of stuff like Penn carried his sword. It once had great importance to us and yet the more we really see into reality. the less stuff we need to believe in. We get comfortable with the fact that none of the stuff in our lives, our belongings, our opinions, our beliefs, and even the idea of a ‘self’ actually matters in the way we use to think. This is a subtle but incredibly powerful change. The whole perspective changes and I was surprised to find that after a while I didn’t need to carry it around anymore. After awhile it became such a burden to carry my attachment to this stuff that I find I’m laying it down.