Friday, February 18, 2011

my own confusions

Amorphously, and with a nod to the Tooth Fairy, I wonder in wispy sorrow about the directions of Zen Buddhism in America. It's another version of white whining -- oh how I wish people would just see things my way -- but I can't deny the wisps and tendrils. It feels like watching a candle that gutters in the darkness, getting smaller and smaller until, somehow, it goes out. Whine, whine ... as if it could actually go out and it's serious. Shit, solemnity is such an intrusive habit.

Feeding this nose-picking are things like the Eido Shimano miscues, the disrobing of the Soto monk Genpo after a relatively open admission of sexual straying, and the letter posted below suggesting that the magazine, Shambhala Sun, was less than forthright in a piece recollecting Aitken Roshi. There are also the weak-tea defensive bulwarks being erected by 'authentic' teachers who demand respect even if they have a hard time commanding it. To imagine that these specific adventures do not affect Zen Buddhism as a whole -- that it is "not my problem" -- is a ridiculous sort of blindness to my eye.

It occurred to me, white-whine fashion, that perhaps the temples that Eido Shimano had helped to construct (Sho Bo Ji in New York City and Dai Bosatsu Zendo in upstate New York) would simply implode ... go bankrupt and simply disappear in the wake of unpleasant revelations. Just disappear, while remaining as an object lesson to those who followed in its wake. Sho Bo Ji is beautiful and I for one would miss that beauty and the effort I once expended within its walls.

But the beauty of Sho Bo Ji, like the beauty of Zen practice in general, seems to me lately to be defended and upheld by -- I can't help myself -- stumble bums. I can't nail it down better than that and realize that my finger pointing invariably puts me in front of my own mirror ... just another stumble bum.

 The bright light that I once lit is dimming in wispy, sputtering complaint. Where are the bright lights? Where are the ones who do not connive in such pretty voices? Where are the ones who will speak out and speak up, and air out what is currently dirty laundry but, for my money, just needs a good, open-air washing? Who are these cretins who dolefully defend and assert and have perfect creases in their perfect robes?

Today, I had a note from an old friend who is anguished about a dwindling relationship with a woman. He spelled it out for me, though, given his reticent temperament, I doubt that spelling it out was easy for him. How I admired him -- his effort to speak whatever truth he could find, baring himself, not trying to conceal his complicity or failure in the matter. Now that takes balls and my guess is that arousing the courage and confusion and tears has a good chance of planting a smile on his face in the future.

Sputter, sputter, sputter. I sound like some aroused and illiterate teenager railing at the stars. I'll fess up, but I need to get over the notion that others might fess up as well. For them, there is too much at stake, too much suffering that deserves their nostrums, too much True Way that needs to be kept on track.  No one smells their own rancid body odor, I guess.

I'll fess up. My wispy, Tooth Fairy whispers are my problem. And I cannot lay claim to anything like the wisdom Lao Tse exhibited when he fled what he saw as the corrupted social order and left behind his vision of what might be better ... a superlative rant called the Tao Te Ching.

What would be better in my white-whine mind? What would clear away the stumble bums of my imagination? I guess I think it would be better to simply lay things out -- openly. Let them breathe and be nourished by their own honesty. Start from the beginning like some gazillionaire on Nantucket who tears down an existing house that might bring millions and builds a new multi-million-dollar home. Go bankrupt, if that's what you are, and get on with it using the cautionary tales of the past to guide you.

Ah well ... it's just a bit of barfing here. Not specific enough to be quite credible, but I have no energy for the specifics that whirl and whisper. It's just my own confusion and sense of sadness ... with a dollop of crankiness for flavor. Nothing will be lost, but I feel the loss.


  1. I try to be grateful for the stumblebums, of which i'm doubtless one. Being bums, we don't attach too much importance to things; and stumbling is perhaps the most honest way to travel. Each stumble is a lesson and learning should likely never stop. I suppose i'd be suspicious of an accomplished master who was never taken by surprise. I'd be checking his toes for bruising. I'd look for some pain in his/her eyes... pure and constant joy strikes me as a ride on the deluded train.

  2. This is stunning. I can only offer what my teacher reminds me and what his teacher, in a lineage of pure-blood, under the bridge stumblebums, reminded him: Practice is the only refuge. The establishment always falls.

  3. Wisdom from The Onion:,19170/

    As Time Goes By:

  4. "I wonder in wispy sorrow about the directions of Zen Buddhism in America."

    Me too. Though I think I'm at least finally over my rage. Over the years your slogan has apparently become "just don't YOU do that"; I've come away with the simple realization that obviously not everyone can be an excellent teacher.

    So I think I'll just stop following this thing called "Zen Buddhism in America"... I think I've now learned more than enough about how not to practice. There's no stopping anyone from making mistakes, but a refusal to own up to them, even years later?

  5. Interesting and thought provoking post.

    I'm guessing by Zen Buddhism in America you mean the organized institution that manifests itself as Zen Centers with teachers, abbots and so forth? I don't know where that's headed either. If that's what zen is, it looks from my distant and very outsidery viewpoint that it's either going through some significant adolescent growing pains (shaking off some Japanese cultural trappings perhaps) or kind of falling apart.

    But if zen isn't limited to a butt on a cushion facing a wall under the guidance of a recognized teacher, but is, as in my case, seeking mindful awareness in each moment in life, as completely and wholly as possible in each moment, whether sitting or working -- it's not disappearing.

    My practice of shikantaza was given to me by a very fine sensei many years ago at a still-strong Zen Center. I'd be sad if that center disappeared, yes, although I haven't been affiliated with it in years. But institutions come and go, typically because they become more interested in self-perpetuation than in their original mission over time. Not a Buddhist cite, but Gurdjieff maintained that spiritual schools -- and truths, for that matter -- have lifetimes. This seems to me to be observably true.

    Yet something persists and keeps practicing, yes?