Once, long ago, in the midst of a Zen retreat, I stood in a darkened hallway and drank a glass of water.

That’s a lie.

The truth is: I stood in a darkened hallway and discovered that I couldn’t even drink a glass of water! Of course, I could lift the glass, open my mouth, and swallow the water. But I couldn’t perform this simple activity simply, wholly—with each gulp, my mind splintered into myriad thoughts of past and future, each one of them bearing its weight of self-consciousness, its little tag marked me, me, me.

For years thereafter, if anyone had asked me, “Why do you study Zen?” the answer would have been: I just want to be able to drink a glass of water. Still today, those words express both my greatest happiness and my deepest aspiration. Lately, I’ve discovered something quite startling within this aspiration, something that has helped me to understand the form of religion that has long seemed most alien to me: fundamentalism.

Here I’m defining the term in its broadest sense, as any form of religion that takes a particular interpretation of its historical doctrine to be the absolute and literal truth. What connection could there possibly be between such a rigidly dogmatic stance and the aspiration just to drink a glass of water?

Liberate this article!

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