-- Yesterday, I read -- or kind of read -- a bit of writing on "How to Prepare a Zen Dharma Talk: Thirteen Points." The points were written by Peter Shireson and passed along in his blog by James Ishmael Ford, both men who are part of the Zen Buddhist tapestry in America.
I can see giving pointers about public speaking in general -- how not to be boring, how to stay on topic, how to overcome the fears, etc. And I can imagine preparing a talk around "the wonder of spark plugs" or "how to build and IED" or "how to raise a yak."
But "how to prepare a Zen Dharma talk?" It felt like rug burn on my brain -- faithless, somehow, and mediocre. It felt as if someone had written an essay that would fit nicely on the bookshelf, right next to something like, "Buddhism is Your Buddy" or "Compassion Made Easy" or "Better Metta in 10 Days" or "Unexcelled Clarity and You."
I'm just chewing my cud here. I guess the nut of what slowed me down was the old joke:
Q. What's the best way to catch a rabbit?In my mind, there were people reading thirteen points and seriously imagining that they could hide behind a tree and make a noise like a Dharma carrot. That the right words, lovingly organized and delivered with conviction, might somehow tame and contain the Dharma ... and coincidentally rain down glory on the expositor.
A. Hide behind a tree and make a noise like a carrot.
But that's probably just an indicator of my own mediocrity and faithlessness.
-- Yesterday, I was batting emails back and forth with Janet Asimov. We were talking about reading and the old days when books could be exceedingly long and occasionally delicious in their languorous proceedings from page to page. In passing, I mentioned the book I had considered as a follow-up to "Answer Your Love Letters: Footnotes to a Zen Practice." It was a book I would never write, I said, but Janet liked (as I did and do) the title: "That Was Zen, This Is Now." She encouraged me to write it. I demurred -- money for self-publishing and energy were not all they might be. But, having mentioned it, it now niggles and jiggles at my mind once more: What happens when what was once a beloved endeavor slips softly away? Cap pistols and spiritual life ... Gawd they were important in their time ... sorta like getting laid after you first got the hang of it!
When I started out on what might qualify as a spiritual path, I went after it with a vengeance: 1. I wanted to know if it were bullshit or not ... not according to anyone else; just according to me. And 2. If it turned out that spiritual endeavor found its foundation in nothing more than books or temples, I wanted nothing whatsoever to do with it. If spiritual life weren't apparent and dancing in a barroom brawl ... well, fuck that! It was with these two yardsticks that I set out. I was s-e-r-i-o-u-s.... or, more likely, solemn, but everyone has to get through their solemnities.
And now it's 40-45 years later, so to speak, and, like cap pistols, spiritual endeavor just seems to slip away. It's nothing as slick as forsaking the raft that took anyone across the rushing waters. What's to forsake? There's nothing deliberate or meaningful in it ... it just slips away and the best I can say of spiritual life is not that it is good or bad, sensible or senseless, elevated or foolish, wise or ignorant... the best I can say is that, for my purposes, I don't feel that I wasted my time.
No more barroom brawls.
It's a good thing I don't drink, I suppose.