Tuesday, February 16, 2010

seeking wisdom

Out on the porch here, there are bookshelves I built in between the storm windows. It's about the only space available in a house with three kids to put the books.

Two of those shelves, perhaps five feet long, contain books about spiritual endeavor and understanding ... with a leaning towards Zen Buddhism, the persuasion I prefer.

The Blue Cliff Record, Mumonkan, Huang Po, Hui Neng, Dhammapada, Rinzai, Hui Hai, Dogen, and a bunch of others. There is also a bit of extra space where the volumes of the Shobogenzo once lived ... I gave those away. And upstairs, next to where I sleep, on a night table, is a copy of Ta Hui. There are more besides -- books from other traditions like Tibetan or Christian or Muslim or Jewish, but not so many of those. In the basement is a trunk full of books on Vedanta, including the complete works of Swami Vivekananda.

As anyone might note, I have been a fan of the 'old guys,' though there are some more modern authors gathering dust on the porch. Strangely, for all the affection I hold him in, I have no books by the Dalai Lama. Maybe that's because, in some old photo album, I have pictures of him that I took when he visited a Zen center I once attended ... perhaps that personal adventure and the photos are enough to satisfy whatever hunger I once appeased from between book covers.

To the extent that books betoken some serious interest, I guess you could say I had been serious about spiritual life. Or interested. Or suspicious. Or hopeful. Or believing. Or longing.

Whatever the case, I glanced at those books this morning with a kind of wistful I-remember-when and thought idly ...

You can't really say so out loud and expect it to have much effect, but perhaps the sole purpose of zazen -- the seated meditation encouraged by Zen Buddhism -- is to know for a fact that the wisdom whispering between book covers is none other than the wisdom in your heart. I mean honestly and personally -- no oozy-goozy wisdom nonsense.

How else could anyone recognize wisdom if they weren't already wise?

Books, of course, are for someone else, some reader or seeker. But Buddhism is not like this: Buddhism (or Hinduism or Christianity or Islam or...) is for you ... not someone else, not some uneducated or uninitiated boob ... Buddhism is for you, and zazen is just the means of proving it, of actualizing in your life what you already know and books or holy men or academics yammer about.

Somehow it's not enough to read and collect books, to quote and cite, to find friendship and love. Somehow there is the need to know in a deeper way, a more personal way, a way that brooks no interference ... and zazen is an excellent tool for learning what you already know.

As I say, it's pretty stupid to say this out loud. Those in the throes of belief, as I was when I collected all those books, may be smart enough to quote the observation that Zen practice is a teaching "beyond the scriptures" -- an observation true for any serious spiritual endeavor. But if you are collecting books and wisdoms and understandings, then you are not yet ready to relax "beyond the scriptures."

And it's OK. I look at the books on my shelves and a mind filled with "wisdom" from here and there, and it's as if I had been putting gas in the car before making a vacation trip. If you don't gas the car up, there's a good chance you'll never get where you want to go.

But there has to be a car -- something that actually moves -- in order to get where you're going. Zazen is a good car, a good means of moving from the wisdom you understand to the wisdom you know.

And it's impossible to tell someone who thinks or believes that wisdom is something else, is somewhere else, that the teaching outside the scripture just means you.

Zazen is a good tool.

All those books on my shelf begging -- begging! -- as a weeping child might beg ... saying the same stuff over and over and over and over again ... begging you or me to stop collecting books as a means of finding peace or wisdom ... begging you or me to get off our wise tails and actualize our relaxed and easy wisdom. Asking in a hundred hundred ways, "Don't you want to know?" and the piteous answer comes back, "Yes, I want to know ... but I wonder what book is on sale or what wise expositor may be giving a talk downtown or what wisdom lies beyond my ken."

No, posts like this are useless and perhaps arrogant. Believers need to believe. And it's OK. My books are OK (except for all the dust they are gathering -- dust I seriously do not want to clean). Belief inspires ... but I do wonder sometimes about those who insist on amassing more and more and more dust-catchers ... never acknowledging that there isn't s smidgen's worth of difference between those vast expositions and wisdoms and the dishes in the kitchen sink.

And perhaps some nitwit will think such an observation is incredibly wise and beyond their understanding ... or maybe even virtuous. Ick! Virtue is what is between book covers and it has its uses, but what lives between book covers or comes out of a guru's mouth is not an indicator of where you live...you know, beyond the scriptures.

Scriptures will point you to the bus stop, but scriptures and fifty cents will get you a bus ride. Don't you want to get there, wherever 'there' might be? So if you want to get there, don't forget your wallet ... it's your money after all.

For those inclined to Zen practice, there really is a time to get off your ass and get on your ass ... to admire what is admirable, perhaps, but to turn the ignition key on the car that will take you home.

Let's just pretend I never wrote all this. :)

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