Monday, December 12, 2011

with thanks to Zen Buddhism

This morning, I feel fortunate to have run into Zen Buddhism. This is easy to say, but not so easy to say-why.

In my time, the term "Zen" has been everything from the butt of a comedic or ethereal joke to a scowly-faced solemnity worn as a badge of spiritual flamboyance. "Zen" is the ooooeeeeeooo of things -- an aspect anyone might recognize in their lives when ordinary explanations fail or the jaw drops or, well, there is a need to blame someone or something. Pin the tail on the "Zen" donkey.

But this morning I feel fortunate in none of those senses. I guess I feel as fortunate as any man or woman who may have come across something in their lives and then put some determination towards getting to the heart of it. I don't say this lightly: Literally, anything will do ... anything at all. Model airplanes, stocks and bonds, farm machinery, soldiering, skate boards, philosophy, sex, numismatics, toilet repair, gardening, politics, teaching, bank robbery ... my interest in Zen was on a par with, but honestly not more profound or skilful than, those interests.

A part of what I think of as good fortune is the fact that Zen Buddhism has an actual-factual format. To an outsider, it may seem zany to sit down, erect the spine, shut up, sit still, and focus the mind. But having a go-to exercise -- a meat-and-potatoes exercise, a practical way in which to express determination -- is a lot easier than having to search-and-stumble when working to clarify what is strangely unclarified. Or maybe I'm wrong ... maybe search-and-stumble is the way anyone leads his or her own horse to water.

At first, of course, your search or mine is the "most important" or "most valid" or "the one true way." This is true, but not for the sometimes chorusing and holy reasons adduced. It is true because, at first, I am of supreme importance... no matter how many layers of philosophy or holiness are laid on top. Gently ribbing, it's a little like the old ditty

I love myself
I think I'm grand.
I go to the movies
And hold my hand.
I wrap my arm
Around my waist.
And when I'm fresh,
I slap my face.
Those who recognize the trip wires and snares of so-called ego may bridle at the admission that they are of supreme importance, but I think it is both understandable and forgivable: What better place to start than with that which anyone imagines s/he knows best -- me?

I'm not sure if Zen practice can be credited with revising or reorienting this approach to life. Maybe it's just a matter of getting older and, with luck, a little less stupid. But, as I say, the actual-factual format -- sit down and shut up -- is a nice bit of support system. Still, if an altruist travels long enough and far enough, s/he is bound to discover how laughable -- if understandable -- the notion of "altruism" is.

Anyway, I woke up this morning and felt grateful. I wasn't on some hosanna kick -- ah, sweet mystery of Zen life! -- but rather felt a soft warmth: Your 'Zen,' my 'Zen...' how nice.

Dontcha just hate it when the reality turns out to be as simple as a zippy bumper sticker or the Dalai Lama saying, "Everyone wants to be happy?"

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