Saturday, March 21, 2009

your rowdy uncle Ikkyu

I have probably got the story flummoxed four ways to Sunday, but it's just my fairy tale and I am too lazy to correct it ... the man called Ikkyu and the delight he can inspire is former and latter-day Buddhists. The source of that delight, I think, lies at least partly in the fact that Ikkyu is remembered as someone who was not a goody-two-shoes. In a world of virtue, what is apparently not-virtuous really is delicious.

Wikipedia, my concession to 'research,' says this about Ikkyu:

Ikkyū (一休宗純 , Ikkyū Sōjun?, 1394-1481) was an eccentric, iconoclastic Japanese Zen Buddhist priest and poet. He had a great impact on the infusion of Japanese art and literature with Zen attitudes and ideals.[1]. He was also one of the creators of the formal Japanese tea ceremony.

"Eccentric," "iconoclastic" ... Ikkyu was part of the world of Buddhism, but he hung out with hookers and seemed to be constantly sticking pins in the "Buddhism" doll. People loved him because he was naughty and bruised and on-the-street and ... was a lot like me. Not someone who made a profession of being good ... not a monk or nun or other elevated being. He was a rowdy uncle, somehow, and it was hard not to love him for anyone seriously interested in Buddhism. What a relief he was.

Isn't it funny how, whatever choices we make, eventually those choices surround us like some increasingly tight corral? Even if they were or remain good choices and provide a more-or-less rich life, still, eventually, they grow somehow old and 'usual' and ... it's hard if not impossible not to seek out the other side of the corral fence, the other options, the iconoclasms.

What other choice is there for someone who is serious in his or her pursuits? If discipline is good, how could that discipline be complete without returning to a world of indiscipline? Without such a return, the fetters remain. Don't we all need to include our rowdy uncle in this life's mix? Don't we all need to become our imagined Ikkyu?

But the discipline of our choices cries out at the prospect: No, no, no! It's too risky, too dangerous, too anti-social. I must keep to the disciplined path ... the path of good choices, the path of agreement and established effort, the path of success or comfort or religion or ... well, whatever the good choices have been.

Let's remember, as our Ikkyu's come calling, that the man who was called Ikkyu studied his ass off before he set out on the path that others later delighted in. He was a monastic. He worked very hard to fulfill a virtuous course. He entered the Buddhist mold and yet is remembered with delight for having apparently broken that mold.

Aren't we all like this? -- enfolding ourselves in what may be very good molds only to run head-on into our rowdy uncles, the ones who tousle our hair and talk loud where others speak in hushed voices, the ones who will not be denied ... or will be denied at our very real peril? Is it really enough that we have worked hard to be 'good?' Is it really enough to delight in people like Ikkyu -- the "iconoclasts" of this life? Isn't there a time when recognizing and activating our own Ikkyu's is the last, great imperative? Isn't there a time when breaking the mold requires us to consent and delight ... mold? what mold? Our chosen molds may be very good molds indeed and their lessons will always be with us, and yet .... It may seem like an terrifying leap of faith ... but what other choice is there?

Will we be content to love and elevate our Ikkyu's?

Or must we, instead, simply BE them?

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