Thursday, September 9, 2010

serious become solemn?

Although I am not sure what, exactly, is peculiar about it, still there is something peculiar in it....

I suppose there was an element of seriousness and determination involved when I built the zendo in the backyard in about 1998. A permanently split left thumb nail gives enduring testimony to the nail-pounding that more than once went awry. I spent the money for the lumber. I consulted with better-informed carpenters about how to create the foundation and, hardest for me, got the angle on the roof beams right.

Anyway, at some point, the place was as good as it was going to get and I could begin putting the place to the use intended -- zazen or seated meditation. Some people came to join me, but mostly they did not ... no matter, this was a place for zazen.

Then yesterday, as if my efforts here represented some institutionalized accomplishment, I got an email from a local college inviting me to join them as they counseled their students in spiritual matters. The letter was full of wording that suggested my thumb-bashing little hut had turned into something serious ... in the less serious, more institutional sense. I could send my representatives to meetings at the college. I could fill out a form and be on their volunteers list. I couldn't cuss up a storm because that's not how things were being organized.

Since I don't have any 'representatives' and since this small house in the backyard hardly resembles the intricacies of some Vatican, I sent a polite note saying that if individual students wanted to talk over their spiritual endeavors (with or without the Buddhist overlay) I'd be happy to lend a hand, but otherwise I was basically small potatoes.

And the idea of going to meetings made me remember Richard Feynman's response when asked what winning the Nobel prize (physics?) meant to him. "It means," he said, "that I don't have to go to meetings." I guess some meetings can help solve some problems, but I also think it can help confuse them worse ... and they sure are boring.

In zazen, you sit still and straight and confer with ... no one, more or less. It's true that that stillness will have to venture out if it hopes to come to fruition, but in the meantime well, just nourish the buds. No beard-stroking sincerities can do as much, but maybe you have to stroke your beard for a while before that becomes clear.

Anyway, it felt sort of weird that this putt-bang zendo would receive a wink and a nod. True, I did write a letter to the local newspaper when there was a story about the college's planning to cut back on its religious component, but that was some months ago and it was just an expression of my opinion ... it wasn't trooping down from Mt. Ararat to people the plain.

It makes me feel a little like Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels who observed aptly that if you said anything often enough, people would come to believe it. If the zendo sits there long enough, someone will get up a head of solemnity: It must be true, it's been sitting there, making its statement for 10-12 years.

Ah well, it was all a small matter. Peculiar. And made me titter a little.

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