This morning I was reading a contemporary description of monastic life in Japan. It depicted a very-strict atmosphere, a very-strict discipline. It was almost inconceivable ... the longing for kindness and release coming head-to-head with the fine-print of practice. Why did the situation seem so filled with unkindness and rigor and lack of smiles? Couldn't anyone get where they hoped to go in an atmosphere that was more 'compassionate?' As someone who had flunked out of an American monastery, I read with interest the description that included the following:
I couldn’t believe my ears. The man had broken his leg! Was it necessary to go so far? That was when it finally sank in. This was indeed Eiheiji -- the premier Zen training center in Japan, famed down the centuries for the rigor of its discipline. Nothing here, including meditation, bore the least resemblance to the fanciful pictures my mind had painted before coming. I was forcibly reminded that once a man sets foot in this holy place, he must devote himself to the discipline truly as if his life depends on it. At the thought my blood buzzed, and sweat trickled down my back.
But what occurred to me this morning was that no matter how unkind the training ground may be -- no matter how the psychobabble-mind dissects and reproves it -- still there is an unkindness and uncertainty and confusion within that is tougher and more resilient than any boot camp. With or without a trip to a monastery or some distant and dank cave, there comes a point where each individual has to put up or shut up. This is w-o-r-k and it is work that some understanding within acknowledges. A top-sergeant from the outside is nothing compared to the top-sergeant within ... the one who feels the unhappiness or uncertainty and is determined to overcome it. And trying to fend off our own uncertainties with powder-puff charities ... hell, that doesn't work either.
I'm not trying to excuse or elevate or even deride the hard-ass monastic approach. What I am trying to say is that each person will have to confront the fine-print of his or her own aspirations. It may feel good to read about or describe or dissect the directions required by those aspirations, but the hardest part is to actually do something ... whether monastic or lay ... that will assure some actualization.
Serious students are, in one sense, screwed. Entering a spiritual endeavor from the kindness side invariably leads to a need for razor-sharp clarity; entering a spiritual life from the clarity side invariably leads to the need for kindness. Of course all of this depends on determination -- the willingness not to stop, the willingness to keep going, the willingness not to nest in the precincts of kindness or clarity.
And where does that determination come from? It certainly doesn't come from the hard-ass top-sergeants or warmly-avuncular saints of spiritual endeavor. It comes from within and it is unremitting. The toughest, kindest guy in the neighborhood is not some crack-the-whip instructor or some Dalai Lama. The toughest, kindest guy resides within ... and is worth investigating and worth taking instruction from.
No is not enough.
But then, neither is yes.