Sunday, January 1, 2012

holy texts, holy teachers


During zazen, when I might have been doing zazen, one translation of some words of the Zen teacher Hakuin (1686-1786) came to mind:

But, if we concentrate within
And testify to the truth that Self-Nature is no-nature,
We have really gone beyond foolish talk.
It just floated into my mind ... a few words from "The Song of Zazen."

Everyone has heroes and heroines in the mind, heavy-hitters whose lives and observations are sometimes preserved in golden boxes, or locked on golden shelves, or illustrated with gold leaf. The Bible, perhaps, or the Torah or the Vedas or the Qur'an. Closer to home are wise and much-adored teachers ... so inspiring and worthy of respect and love and awe and a sense of melting surrender.

But what occurred to me today, when I might have been doing zazen, was that I doubt if there ever was, ever is, or ever will be an honest sage (text or human being, no different) who wouldn't be grateful beyond measure for the student who stood toe-to-toe with him/her. A really good friend.

The mind of a good friend is relaxed. A good friend knows that his or her good friend once puked on the mayor's cat or espoused wretched opinions that included a Yeti living under the bed. A good friend offered gimlet assessments of our flaws without for a moment forgetting what was important -- our friendship. A good friend does for a good friend. A good friend loves a good friend without any reference to a self-help book or holy text. Good friends are relaxed in each other's strengths and weaknesses ... it's just no big deal. Why? Because they are friends. Holy and unholy are minor matters. Elevated and debased are part of the scenery, but really it's more fun to remember the time one or the other or both of you could not refrain from farting in solemn surroundings.

In spiritual life, none of this has anything to do with smug ramblings about "equality." Friends are not equals. Friends are who they are ... and coincidentally they are friends.

A relaxed mind is a mind that may find some honest-to-god usefulness in gilded texts ... because a friend has suggested one course of action or another. Your friend may be more full of shit that a Christmas goose, but you listen and perhaps practice not because you are some drooling, adoring idiot, but because what s/he says seems to make some sense and you are willing to listen to a good friend who is as capable of puking on the mayor's cat as s/he is of dispensing pearls of honest wisdom.

Set aside the awe, set aside the we're-all-equal delusion, set aside the gold leaf ... just use a relaxed and friendly mind and see where it takes you. Your friends are rooting for you... or, if you insist, your spiritual friends.

Going beyond foolish talk is what friends do ... no sweat. And a relaxed and friendly mind stands better odds of completing the course rather than getting hog-tied by adoration or holiness.

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