Monday, May 9, 2011

location, location, location

There is a Hindu prayer that I seem to have carried around for a long time:

Love and charity towards all beings,
Contentment under all circumstances,
Control of the senses and passions --
The practice of these virtues leads to God.
Setting aside the confusions that "God" can create, the suggestions all strike me as pretty good. They suggest, but don't insist, that a peaceful life is a matter of personal effort. There is no one else to ask or blame or praise -- it's just your business and mine.

Among the daydreams I have dreamed when it came to gaining a foothold in spiritual life, there was the matter of location. Boy, if I could just get to a monastery in the Himalayas, things would all smooth out and perhaps I would get a halo into the bargain! The "geographical cure" is popular among alcohol addicts as well ... if I moved to St. Louis, things would straighten out and calm down and the current fires would be extinguished.

Not everyone has the good fortune to act on the location daydream, but I did. I tried out a Zen monastery and fell, predictably, flat on my face. It was disheartening at the time -- weaving the location dream, moving to the location, and finding that -- d'oh! -- a new location is not the same as a change of heart and mind. As an internet chum used to be fond of pointing out, "wherever you go, there you are." If there are fires in the heart, moving to St. Louis or a Zen monastery just means there are new and improved logs with which to build up the fires.

But there is nothing like acting on the "location" dream to inspire a more sensible approach. I quit the monastery and was disappointed with myself, but the experience forced me to be more realistic about my Zen practice ... what it actually meant, what my responsibilities were, and how I might be more honest: I'm no monastic ... now what? Zen seemed so brilliant and I was such a klutz ... now what?

I guess it's kind of depressing, recognizing bit by bit that the job -- whatever the job is -- is a job no one else and no thing else can do for you. How much easier, how much more delightful, to stand in the throng and rise up with psalms offered in a great unison. How hard it is to grow your own wings, to be a determined klutz and, finally, to leave the klutz behind. But if location cannot bank the fires and group-singing cannot bank the fires and if beliefs simply do not fill the bill ... what other choice is there? OK, it's depressing. Now what?

So these days, together with the nudges of a Hindu prayer, I mangle the words attributed to Gautama Buddha:

Better your own truth
However weak
Than the truth of another
However noble.


  1. Great post today -- have been thinking along these lines lately and am glad to have it so eloquently articulated

  2. Just a guy without rank but with dirty socksMay 9, 2011 at 7:07 PM

    You write about your "failure" at a "Zen monastery" from time to time. Each time you write that you failed, it makes me cringe.

    I was wondering if you actually revisit that experience in detail and take into account what you learned about Shimano in the subsequent years.

    It seems to me that at the time you went to that particular monastery, Dai Bosatsu Zendo, at that particular time, there was little, real conscious support for your efforts either within or outside the organization.

    I would not say that you fell on your face, but rather, that the training at that center was not very good. Perhaps it was never very good. Perhaps there was something of the heart was missing. Could it be that your "failure" wasreally a healthy reaction to the circumstances?

    Know that you were not the only one not to stick it out.

    For example, one gentleman who later became one of Shimano's "dharma heirs" actually left the monastery for a while. The reaction of the Shimano's was not exactly supportive or even compassionate although in the end of course he was permitted to and did return.

    Let's not forget that it was Shimano's ethics that cause many other students, monks and layman, to leave that monastery. Some continued to train elsewhere and it seems that others stopped their Zen practice altogether. Those ethical issues, in my mind, go far beyond the string of sexual indiscretions and the financial wrangling and have bearing on how people are treated in general.

    Seems to me that while the procedural training at that monastery might have seemed very good, and with the nice buldings and grounds, the zazen seemed to go very well, but the emotional component, the humanity if you will, was lacking since the very beginning.

    So many things seemed to have been "off" that should have been apparent even to outsiders. Can you imagine? One guy with some ten years training and no experience in running a monastery, without much help from peers from Japan thought he was going to establish Zen training center in another culture not less. Even with the kindest heart and the best of intentions there were bound to be any number of problems that would have come up. What mechanisms were established to deal with any of the problems?

    So yes, "better one's own truth," etc. but truth is truth and no one owns it. It is important to consider that in many situations there is a real and reasonable limitation to personal responsibility.

  3. Just a guy -- Just for the record, I don't think I would have lasted in Shangri-La at that time in my life. I had no special knowledge of the sexual shenanigans going on at DBZ and elsewhere...that came later. My "failure" was in not being honest enough about who I was ... but that failure gave me a great education. I am grateful for my time at DBZ. It's worth something to know what you can't or won't do ... or anyway I think so.