Thursday, August 11, 2011

all in good fun

Looking back, one of the things about I admired about my Zen teacher, Kyudo Nakagawa Roshi, then-abbot of Ryutaku-ji monastery in Japan, was that I could never say with certainty that he was an abbot ... or even a Zen teacher. He was just too plain, somehow, and simultaneously too full of expansive laughter to be button-holed. He didn't actively disdain the labels anyone put on him. It was just that, somehow they simply didn't work or fit very well.

I wanted to be like that.

I once saw the Dalai Lama on TV giving a talk to an academic gathering that had bestowed on him an honorary Ph.D. A mortarboard accompanied the honor and he wore it during his address. The hat kept slipping and he kept ruefully repositioning it on his head. There was an apologetic look on his face as he did this ... as if, yes, he was willing to play the game but he really wasn't very good at it ... but it was all in good fun.

Kyudo was just Kyudo.

The Dalai Lama was just the Dalai Lama.

What the hell else could they possibly be?

Ikkyu, a monk who centuries later can still excite oooh's and ahhh's from adoring Buddhists, once commented, "I am not a Buddha. I am just an ordinary fellow who understands things."

And I once heard that the Bedouins, a nomadic tribe of the Middle Eastern deserts, had a greeting they would extend to strangers ... and for all I know they still do: "I salute you and I thank you for your life."

It's all in good fun, right?

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