Thursday, August 6, 2015

Three Pounds of Zen, Please.

It's the end of the Tassajara summer and the gripes are ripe. There are a lot of apprentices who left months ago, and a few more who will also leave early. Complaints range from there are no enlightened Zen teachers here to we eat too many carbs to the obvious, like it's hot.

It's also just hard some times, though I rarely hear that. Apprentices, true apprentices, seem few. I have a theory that the apprentice faces extinction. Most of our apprentices have college degrees, if not a few. Even at this moment there are two people in our kitchen from the ivy league- one professor from Princeton, one Harvard Divinity school grad. They're great apprentices, though. The zen students I'm referring to are the ones who sign up for the apprenticeship and expect to be consulted, collaborated with. You could hear the Fukuten say, "Hey, can you make the rice?" And an apprentice answer, "I'd rather not." or "I made rice yesterday." Or the worst, "I don't want to do dishes, give me a real cooking job."

And nothing is safe from critique- teachers and visiting scholars face students who wish unseat them. Work practice is considered some means of exploitation, the little Zazen we do is considered too diffuse.

Everyone wants "real Zen." Maybe three pounds of it, just to get started. What's funny is that these conversations persist like carts on a Ferris wheel going round and round!

This critique of what we're doing at Tassajara seems as old as the conversation between Baso and Nangaku, you know, the polishing the tile folks. You know the one:


Baso replied, “Recently I have been doing the practice of seated meditation exclusively.”

Nangaku asked, “And what is the aim of your seated meditation?”

Baso replied, “The aim of my seated meditation is to achieve Buddhahood.”

Thereupon, Nangaku took a roof tile and began rubbing it on a rock near Baso’s hut.

Baso, upon seeing this, asked him, “Reverend monk, what are you doing?”

Nangaku replied, “I am polishing a roof tile.”

Baso then asked, “What are you going to make by polishing a roof tile?”

Nangaku replied, “I am polishing it to make a mirror.”

Baso said, “How can you possibly make a mirror by rubbing a tile?”

Nangaku replied, “How can you possibly make yourself into a Buddha by doing seated meditation?”


What's my point? Well, I just think we're not doing anything special, and that's our teaching. We're not at Tassajara doing some great thing while the rest of the world sleeps. We're trying to practice not-doing. I think that point is missed by these apprentices who show up wanting something special. 

I often do feel special that Zen center is a special place. But I wonder if it's just some placebo effect- I really thought leaving New Orleans behind would be some practice deepening experience, but if that's what I tell myself, maybe that's what I believe. My three pounds of zen is make believe, I think. I won't change a thing, but I think that's how it is. And I guess that's my point with critique- with so much pointing at the external there seems to be little energy left for self truths. I'd rather just hear an apprentice say, "I don't like this. I'm leaving" than the long winded stories about what's wrong with Zen Center. 

Yes, there's lots wrong with Zen center, but I hate to see it reduced to a scapegoat for everyone's existential ennui. 

In other news, I've heard our babies heart beat. Our midwife held a little sonar wand thing on Lulu's belly and it was like putting my ear to the floor of the universe. Was that Lauren's heart? Was that the sound of darkness? Was that a dolphin? Then a very fast ticking! So fast. I guessed 120 beats per minute. Our midwife said, "No, more like 160, 170."  Tears! And very little thought- it was just this amazing thumping thing. We both admitted that this really drove it home that we are expecting. You know, when I think of baby I see these illustrations from our books. Baby is the size of my watch face right now. 

In more news, I've been given permission to sew an Okesa for priest ordination. 27 yards of fabric, about as many stitches as a night sky. 

And in more news, I'll be attending a ten day wilderness first responder training in August. I hope to catch up on the blog, and do some other writing of the creative type while staying with my inlaws. 

Well, time to head back. 

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on everything, BABY and OKESA!
    I remember the complaints at Tassajara - Kosho said it's the same every year. And it was funny how Paul patiently listened to the complaints in an all-women meeting, and then in the all-men meeting!
    Well, you know, you are doing good - just keep going...
    I will be in Wisconsin soon, Milwaukee Zen Center is having its 30th anniversary, and I will be installed as their new resident priest on the 20th of September! You will have to visit, with your family!
    Lots of LOVE - Reirin

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