Tuesday, April 19, 2011


A fierce devotion. A fierce attention. A fierce willingness to sacrifice.

Fierceness is interesting.

A delight in its time, fierceness wears away like a camp fire that runs out of roaring brightness when the campers decide to get some sleep. As it dies, there are occasional jets of flame that spring up, but they are a shadow of the conflagration that came before.

Love, hate, anger, confusion, delight, belief, devotion, the wonders of chocolate, and the vileness of anchovies -- all have brightened and warmed the woodland of this life. But it takes energy to maintain fierceness -- new twigs and branches of flammable stuff. And when it comes time for anything as natural and sensible as sleep, expending energy dwindles and is the last thing from anyone's mind.

Reflecting on the flames of fierceness that have touched my life, I have to admit to an interest in spiritual endeavor. Sometimes it was very fierce and I look back on that fierceness with approval -- it was what I needed to do at that time. It wasn't necessary, but it was what I needed at the time. Something to kick my listless ass into action. Spiritual sissies -- those satisfied with half measures and smarmy belief -- are a dime a dozen ... and I didn't want to get caught in that trap.

And I was lucky. Zen practice (and for all I know, a lot of others) defies the nesting instinct, the willingness to say things are this way or that. Lucky.

But nowadays, as the campfire dwindles, one of the jets of fierce flame that can pop up here or there and reassert a fierceness of old, is this: What good is any spiritual endeavor if you cannot surrender that too? No need to force it -- campfires go out all by themselves. It is when they don't go out that the promise of spiritual endeavor is not yet realized. What the hell did anyone invent Buddhism (or whatever) for? Was it to elevate something called "Buddhism?" Seriously, what they hell did anyone invent it for? What was its honest promise and why did it make that promise? Was that promise just some snake-oil shill looking to burnish its image?

A million minds may burnish the scene. "Buddhism is good," they may proclaim. Or if not good, well, "it sure beats kicking baby robins." Walking in the Buddhist (or whatever) door that is marked "entrance," the fierceness arose and lighted the night skies. It suckled its adherents as the wolf suckled Romulus and Remus -- an origin myth that, although mythological, told a tale worth heeding. But at some point of practice, of fierceness, of suckling, the way becomes clear ... back to the door marked "entrance" on one side and, with an equal clarity, "exit" on the other. How could the promise of any spiritual endeavor ever be realized without the sine qua non imperative of stepping into the light ... of drifting into a soft and sensible sleep as the fiercest of fires burned out without a whimper?

And of course as soon as you mention sleep, some fierce view will caterwaul, "Sleep! Ha! You're just dozing in delusion!" Dimwits! No one can sleep "fiercely" or "virtuously" or "with great determination." Just get a good sleep. You can be a Buddhist (or whatever) later if you insist.


  1. Lately I'm starting to wonder whether Zen is really as great as I've always imagined it to be, or whether all the Nonins out there are in fact actually practicing "true" Buddhism and I'm the one who's got it wrong after all. In a sense I'm no better than those Muslim or Jewish intellectuals who just choose to ignore all the bullshit parts of their particular sacred book -there seems to be more and more evidence that even Zen has plenty to offer those simply looking for another spiritual solution.

    I'm thinking perhaps I should just give up and let the real Buddhists deal with dependent origination and all that other crap. I'll just sit here and think about nothing every once in a while.

  2. My take is this: Part of what is confounding about the mediocrity of Zen merchants is that we too have taken part in or fallen prey to the blandishments. We too have been encouraged and induced by the salesmanship and babble. It drew us forward, inspired us, built fires under our asses. And in this sense we are complicit: We recognize our own propensity for such salesmanship and other attending bits of ick.

    But the discomfort any of us might feel when looking in the mirror -- how can I be so disgusted with what I have taken part in yesterday and may again take part in tomorrow? -- is based on a lingering sense that we would like to have company, to be part of a clear-eyed fraternity/sorority, to drink beer with the people who have their heads screwed on right...and not get mixed up with a bunch of nitwit Buddhism merchants. Get thee behind me, Satan!

    It is at this point that your ass and mine come in handy. Pay attention, take responsibility, use the cushion you paid good money for. And a little at a time, the merchants become less fearsome, less disgusting, less important. Speak your piece when your piece is required. That's enough. No need to get dispirited by the overwhelming evidence of nitwittery. Save the energy that expectations require.

    A bit at a time, things get clearer: There is nothing but bullshit, but that doesn't mean any of us need to fret or grow sad. Grow something ... something like a smile, perhaps.

  3. I've been re-reading the middle discourses, a perverse sense of getting to the source I suppose. It wasn't until page 92 (2-7) that I recognized something as being zen. The Buddha did his best to put into words what words couldn't encompass.

    He clearly knew this as he continually urged folks to sit and see for themselves or answered a question with "does not apply". In any case, our species being inclined to jabber rather than observe have allowed the big brain to burn a lot of calories in deciphering the teachings. In the original scriptures I see a lot of therevada with occasional hints of zen.

    Had we just sat as he urged it might have been a great relief to him. But we want explanations, the monkey mind wants a map to navigate; and i imagine ol'buddha man did his best to do no harm in satisfying that misdirection. Just sit, and eventually we will shed all the dead ends he visited and find the path he plowed. There's no quick-n-easy, just the frustration with the present understanding and the yearning to shed that.