One can be religious without a God. In fact, how can one be religious with a God? That is the question Zen asks, a very disturbing question. How can a man be religious with a God? – because God will destroy your freedom, God will dominate you. You can look into the Old Testament. God says, “I am a very jealous God and I cannot tolerate any other God. Those who are not with me are against me. And I am a very violent and cruel God and I will punish you and you will be thrown into eternal hell fire.” How can man be religious with such a God? How can you be free and how can you bloom? Without freedom there is no flowering. How can you come to your optimum manifestation when there is a God confining you, condemning you, forcing you this way and that, manipulating you?
Zen says that with God, man will remain a slave; with God, man will remain a worshipper; with God, man will remain in fear. In fear how can you bloom? You will shrink, you will become dry, you will start dying. Zen says that when there is no God there is tremendous freedom, there is no authority in existence. Hence there arises great responsibility. Look…if you are dominated by somebody you cannot feel responsible. Authority necessarily creates irresponsibility; authority creates resistance; authority creates reaction, rebellion, in you – you would like to kill God. That’s what Nietzsche means when he says God is dead – it is not that God has committed a suicide, he has been murdered.
He has to be murdered. With him there is no possibility to be free – only without him. But then Nietzsche became very afraid himself. To live without God needs great courage, to live without God needs great meditation, to live without God needs great awareness – that was not there. That’s why I say he stumbled upon the fact, it was not a discovery. He was groping in the dark.
For Zen it is a discovery. It is an established truth: there is no God. Man is responsible for himself and for the world he lives in. If there is suffering, you are responsible; there is nobody else to look to. You cannot throw off your responsibility. If the world is ugly and is in pain, we are responsible – there is nobody else. If we are not growing we cannot throw the responsibility on somebody else’s shoulders. We have to take the responsibility.
When there is no God you are thrown back to yourself. Growth happens. You have to grow. You have to take hold of your life; you have to take the reins in your own hands. Now you are the master. You have to be more alert and more aware because for whatsoever is going to happen you will be responsible. This gives great responsibility. One starts becoming more alert, more aware. One starts living in a totally different way. One becomes more watchful. One becomes a witness.
And when there is no beyond…. The beyond is within you, there is no beyond beyond you. In Christianity the beyond is beyond; in Zen the beyond is within. So the question is not to raise your eyes towards the sky and pray – that is meaningless, you are praying to an empty sky. The sky is far lower in consciousness than you.
Somebody is praying to a tree…. Many Hindus go and pray to a tree, many Hindus go to the Ganges and pray to the river, many pray to a stone statue, many pray towards the sky or many pray towards a concept, an idea. The higher is praying towards the lower. Prayer is meaningless.