Chapter 1: Never Pretend, Even about Skulls
So it depends on you which path you would like to choose. If you have a feeling for God - not a belief, belief alone won’t do, belief is just a dead thing - if you have a feeling for God, if, by hearing the word God, you start a subtle throbbing, you feel a trembling, you feel inspired, your heart starts beating faster, if the very word God gives you a great awe, then you can move on the path of prayerfulness. Then Zen is not for you, then Zen is to be simply forgotten, because then Zen will be a disturbance.
But if the word God has no meaning for you, if it has really died for you, if “God” is really dead, it provokes no feeling in you, no emotion in you, it does not vibrate you, it does not pulsate you, it does not whirl your being into the unknown, then Zen is for you. More and more people will have to be moving on the path of Zen because Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism - all, in a way, have been exploited too much. They have lost their appeal.
Buddhism is still unspoiled, still fertile, and for the modern mind particularly it has a very deep appeal - because the modern mind is made of a scientific attitude and Zen is absolutely scientific, super-scientific. It goes to the very roots of your mind and it does not ask you to believe in anything. It has no hypothesis whatsoever. It does not ask that you should believe in something, it has no superstition.
The word superstition is very beautiful. It comes from the Latin superstes, which means: that which survives, remnants of the past, things which have become futile but persist out of habit. You go to the church but you don’t have any feeling for going there, and every night before going to the bed you may pray also - but it is just an impotent gesture because there is no heart in it. You simply repeat with the lips; you pay lip-service to it. It is maybe just an old habit, an old conditioning: you have been taught from your very childhood to pray, so you continue. The mind goes on repeating the familiar.
So this has to be decided by you. Nobody else can decide it for you. You have to search in your own heart. If you still have that innocence which is needed for the path of prayer, if you are still like a child, if you still can trust, can believe, if you still can have faith, then there is no need to bother about Zen because it will be an unnecessarily arduous path. You can simply melt and merge into God.
I was reading one anecdote - I loved it.
One evening a priest who was visiting Ireland was walking along a country road, when he came upon an elderly gentleman. As they walked along enjoying the evening together, a storm suddenly arose and they took shelter. They talked for a while and then when silence came upon them, the old man took out a prayer book and began to pray.
The American priest, observing him, was struck very deeply by a certain kind of hallowedness around him as he prayed. Unintentionally he said aloud, “You must be very close to God.”
The old man paused, smiled and said, “Yes, he is very fond of me.”