Skip to main content

I am not this batch of mud.

Sho Myo.
Sho means “way of life,” and “the means of existence.” Right practice of the Way requires a regular, well-ordered, well-considered life and respect of duty…Concentrate on what you have to do with mushotoku mind, generous and altruistic.
-Deshimaru, on the eight fold path

The first job I ever had was cutting grass for an old Italian lady up the hill. I showed up once a week, headphones on, and sometimes I cut the grass and sometimes I cleaned out her basement. I remember cleaning her drainage ditches. At 11 years old, I made more money than I could spend on ice cream and movie rentals, so I spent some on Star Wars’ toys, models, and drawing supplies.

But I knew I only really needed the ice cream and the movie rentals. I bought the other stuff because I had no concept of saving. Save for what? The money was rolling in.
Eventually I quit. Ice cream and movies got boring. I just couldn’t think of anything to do with my money and I couldn’t think why anyone would want a job if they didn’t want money.
Around 15, I wanted money again. I wanted a car, I wanted tattoos, I wanted CDs, a girlfriend, and all of this meant I needed a job. After a 3 month stint in the fast food business, and another in a nursing home, I settled into a laborer position for a mason crew. In the beginning, I hated this job more than the previous two. You had to wake up early, it was an exhausting 12 hour day, and I worked with people who were toxic in a lot of ways. The worst part was how they were also nurturing me with swear words and beer cans, and they seemed impervious to the sun, the heavy concrete blocks, and to the beer. I really mean nurturing, too. There was much written on the wrinkled foreheads and marred hands of masons.

Whenever I failed on the job, I would revert to my resentments. It would start: They’re drunks. They’re red necks. They’re racist republicans. They don’t get me. I’m Buddhist. I’m a writer. I’ll be something. I’m not this fucking pail of mud.

On and on it went, for seven years. And I’d leave for college, swear never to be back. My parents bought me a beautiful Carhart for Christmas, which I took as an insult, and returned for a Navy issued pea coat; I figured that would lend some literary poise. I left this job in the spring of 2007, so I could go help the world and “use” my degree.

They were the crabs in the barrel.

I couldn’t see how laying stone or brick helped anyone. Listening to NPR about the teacher crisis in New Orleans, I reckoned I could really do some good there. I figured that right livelihood meant going into the places no one wanted to go.

As soon as I heard that term, right livelihood, my mind started slicing and dicing. Top three most altruistic choices were: Doctor, teacher, or priest. This was my top three. Therapist, social worker, and peace corps volunteer were next. But a mason? Spending one’s days laying brick in the sun while listening to the Knack’s My Shirona? Drinking beer and prattling on about guns, sex, and trucks? This could never, ever, be right livelihood.
Being a dogsled handler in Alaska couldn’t be it. Nor a writer. And eventually, after a year of teaching, that couldn’t be right livelihood either. Below the surface of everything was corruption, greed, and evil.

So work took a backseat to Zen practice. My relationship took a backseat too, right next to all the other delusions. Eventually, I moved into the temple to dwell in luminosity.

Then those black rakusu started looking so dark. And egos abounded. And everyone was way off, especially my teacher. I used to skip work to do samu at the temple. But where was I going to go when I skipped samu?

Uh, the bar. A girl’s house. My parents’ house.

I know, it all seems so clear, but I had to quit drinking to see anything at all.

A fellow blogger posted a story about Katagiri that really struck a chord. Really told my story. After reading civil disobedience, I wasn’t going to work hard ever again. But reading Dosho’s post really opened up a line of stirrings.

For one, I had actually skipped work on the day he posted. Secondly, I was preparing for my debut as tenzo. Thirdly, I am editing Deshimaru’s book on the Hannya Shingyo, where I found the epigraph to this post. The word “duty” stuck with me. Duty. Like my dad and the marines.
Deshimaru was an advocate of lay practice, and my teacher emphasizes this today. A real bodhisattva should have his feet in the mud of the world at all times. We’re not supposed to seek refuge in a hermitage or a monastery.

But who do I listen to? I still want to stay in a monastery.

I guess I listened to Dosho, and to Dogen, and to myself, when I really feel like I’m taking advantage of the system I work in. It’s real test to work in an indecent environment and remain upright. I have failed many times, and I see the marks of that failure on my students’ faces when they ask me where I’ve been.

Yeah, I have a drinking problem, but when I wasn’t drunk, I was skipping work because I didn’t care. I couldn’t see the point. I wanted to live in the problem, not the solution. Despite my efforts, it still happens.

I am trying to join my extended sangha in the work-a-day world. I drug myself today. I’m done trying to debate whether or not I am an English teacher; I am. I am those lesson plans. I am that chalk board. I am the failed lesson plans. I am the broken chalk board, or the chalk board that says, “Fuck Mr. Flyingpig.”


  1. When one says, "I am a Buddhist". How is that different from saying, "I am not this batch of mud"? Show me the I who is both or neither of these things...


  2. I, as in I farted, and you smelled it. I as it works in reality.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

How To Become A Zen Monk (or die trying)

"Now, if you have decided to become a monk because you think that life in this world is too hard and bitter for you and you would prefer to rather live off other people's donations while drinking your tea - if you want to become a monk just to make a living, then the following is not for you." -Kosho Uchiyama
So you want to be a Zen monk or priest? Unsui, which means clouds and water? Good on ya. Me too. 
Having googled that very aspiration for the first time in 2003, I was convinced it was impossible. I'll admit I am as thick headed as they come. I was also resistant to meet some figure in a robe. I heard my father's voice when I begged him to get my fortune read in Jackson Square, New Orleans, "I'm not paying some fat asshole in a bathrobe to tell you lies." Instead, for the first four years of my Zen practice, I committed as little as possible to my local sangha, left when they started chanting, and never talked to the teacher. I was so unapproacha…

Boredom and Buddhism

To say I feel bored feels disrespectful. How could that be? I have a three month old daughter, I'm training for a demanding job in the temple, I'm a wilderness medic responding to incidents every 4 days or so, and I'm sewing my priest robes for ordination. And I have this sense of disinterest.

I have a few theories as to why I feel bored. One could be the natural come down from having the baby and becoming stable in our schedule. Another come down plays out in the adrenaline crash after responding to a medical emergency or the general up keep work I do at the temple when compared to fixing something crucial to operations. When I hear there's a fire in the area I'm pretty excited to be mobilized for stay and defend duty. I feel pretty guilty about that, too.

So I read Beyond Boredom and Depression by Ajahn Jagaro and I was reminded to be careful about looking outward by this passage:

So what is boredom? It is a subjective experience that occurs when the mind is not i…

Vows and Compass

Being in new Orleans reminds me that my way seeking mind ripened here. Maybe it was the level of maturity my father's recovery actualized. Maybe it was the Ben Wren book I found at Beaucoup Books on my lunch break. Maybe it was my step mom's copy of things fall apart by Pema Chodron sitting in the bathroom.

Later I would witness the host of suffering post-katrina offered to a young public school teacher. How could I help? I took my first set of vows not really knowing where they would lead, like the old black metal compass my dad put in my Christmas stocking when I was about ten. Beautiful to hold, difficult to understand.

Now, years later, I feel a bit subdued as form,sensation, perception, impulse, and thought tag everything, beckoning some purchase for the price of belief. I'm home, but a home leaver. People wonder when I'll move back and being a home leaver means being ready to leave home again and again, which could mean coming back.

How will I actually engage all…