Skip to main content

"Zen Priest, What For?"

I show up to my in laws in a samue and mala, head shaved and stinking of Zen, but it doesn't take long to find me in a V-neck t-shirt, tattoos on my arms and chest blazing, drinking wine, eating brussel sprouts fried in panchetta, laughing and telling stories, listening to our 94 year old grandma explore wikipedia for the first time. And the cards eventually come out.

I love playing card games with my mother and father-in-law, but I'm not particularly engaged by card games. I much prefer nerdy, strategy games. Actually, I never played cards before I joined their family. Now I'm not so bad! But what I love about the games are the conversations that arise.

Mother-in-law says something like, "Zen priest, what for?"

Father-in-law says something like, " You need to know what for."

I begin to reassure them, that I'll go back to teaching, that I'll focus on helping spread dharma to teenage demographic, as I see there's not a real place for teenagers in Zen temples I've been to, and, and, and...

Then we play another hand. While points are being tallied, I apologize for trying to reassure them- they sense an unstable nature of my nebulous path to ordination, and they're right to- I don't know where ordination will lead to, I'm almost positive my teacher doesn't know where it will lead to, and to put them on like everything's okay, that I'll come out of Zen Center in 10 years a fully ordained priest and jump right back into a teaching job is an insult to their wisdom. There's no guarantee.

And yet, I told them that the return is in the investment; that in turning soil, I'm turned, in meeting dharma, I'm met, that in sitting silently, I'm held in way I've never known. I tell them that I want to wear the O'kesa because I'm thankful for how this practice has helped me, that I've never felt more stable in instability then I do today. Besides, I say, I struggled a lot. They remember when I chased down a mugger in the streets of New Orleans. I couldn't help myself. I want to help, but I don't know what's helpful, but I think this path is helpful.

They nodded, they don't offer much advice- they're really good listeners! They say, you know, we're pretty conventional, and we know you guys aren't so conventional, so what can we suggest? Then we go see a beautiful Italian movie where a writer reflects on his life as he ages. Later on our way to dinner, I say I found it so inspirational. Mother-in-law says in what way, like to go to Italy to learn Italian? I say maybe, yeah, but mostly just pay attention to life and to tell the truth.

There's a part in that movie where the old Italian man sees a giraffe disapear, and the magician tells him it's not really magic, it's just a trick. I want to tell my mother-in-law that this part of the movie is Zen, but I'm sure that will ruin it for her and for me. But the movie was Zen. We all loved the movie, which had us in tears and laughter. I think that might happen when someone points at the fundamental point.

Later on, I let them know I love the hard questions they put to me. I really do.

And now, back at the temple, that han approaches the 2nd roll down. I need to get into my robes and start Rohatsu. 7 days of silence. See you on the other side, people say around here.


Popular posts from this blog

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…

Goodbye Green Gulch Sama! Hello Tassajara!

About two years ago I left Mid City Zen in New Orleans. I feared I was leaving something, and now I'm about to leave Green Gulch and that same fear has arisen. I imagined there was wealth, a sort of freedom, and a lot to "renounce."  I had a car (a fast one!), a playstation 3, many books, many articles of clothing, and as I look around our little cabin, that same perception has arisen- I have too much stuff! And I like it!

My book collection that I sold or gave away in New Orleans has somehow manifested out here. And I have quite the collection of farm hats and farm boots. Rubber ones, Redwings, Ropers, Bogs to the ankle, Bogs to the knee, a navy seal Solomon for the wet spring weather. Most of them are fit to throw away, glued back together and stitched with fishing line, and just so smelly, so smelly my wife won't let me keep them in the cabin, so I hide them all around Green Gulch.

So I started packing, and while that fear of renunciation has arisen, it's not …

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…