Quakers (aka the Religious Society of Friends) stand at one end of the Christian spectrum, while Zen Buddhists also stand at one end of the Buddhist spectrum.
As I’ve been discovering, Greek Orthodox (and the other Eastern Orthodox churches) stand at the other end of the Christian spectrum, much as Tibetans do in the Buddhist world.
Has me recalling a comment by Gary Snyder when he noted, arms outstretched, how one branch starts at one end and, as a practitioner advances – raising his arms in an arch overhead – they eventually pass each other to end up at the opposite end.
That said, let’s look at the Quaker/Zen starting point and what they have in common.
- An ethereal ascetic. Strip away distractions, down to a stark black-white dichotomy. Maybe with distinctive Quaker dove gray.
- They’re both minimalist.
- Use of questions to guide aspirants. Queries, for Friends. Koans, in one branch of Zen. No easy answers, in either.
- Worship as “just sitting.” OK, few Quakers focus on their breathing and most are sloppier in the posture. Even so …
- Emphasis on the here-and-now, rather than the afterlife.
- Concentration on daily practice and awareness.
- A practical outlook. As they teach in Zen, “Before enlightenment, chop firewood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop firewood, carry water.”
- Direct personal experience focusing on the inner self. As in experimental, by trial and error.
- Sin is not discussed. Well, among Quakers, rarely, as in “missing the mark” rather than a human defect.
- Both originated as reform movements and are open-ended.