Friday, February 24, 2012

in the world of Judas Iscariot

In Christian mythology, Judas Iscariot was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ and a man who betrayed the identity of his mentor to the authorities with a kiss ... that, and by accepting a bribe of 30 pieces of silver. Iscariot's sell-out is credited as the basis for the arrest and later crucifixion of Jesus. Needless to say, Judas is not a man who wins accolades when Christians hand out their Oscars.

As Wikipedia notes:

More broadly, a Judas kiss may refer to "an act appearing to be an act of friendship, which is in fact harmful to the recipient."
Yesterday, I spent a lot of time working on a short book that may or may not appear on the Internet. The book, "Remembering Nakagawa Soen Roshi," focuses on my Zen teacher's teacher's doings as recounted by his students. Bit by bit and page by page I was focused on the typographical errors, the font changes, the placement of text and a host of very petty details. It took hours and hours and required attention and more attention. By the time I finished, re-spellchecked it, said a prayer to the perfection gods, and sent it along for further transmission to the Internet, I was exhausted. But I had also been forced to read the book, entry by entry. It was not just commas that had to be right ... the substance needed attending to ... did it make sense ... and as a result, by the time I was done, my mind and heart were brimming with various bits and pieces of Zen lore, Zen appreciations, Zen joys, Zen sorrows, imaginative and elevating Zen mysteries ... it was all over me like halitosis.

Not for a nanosecond would I elevate Soen Roshi to some magical-mystery-tour heights of the kind sometimes accorded to Jesus. That would be disgusting and, worse, mistaken. But there was something to be heard in the book that was utterly human and touching -- people seeking their own peace and a man who did what he could to lend a hand. Utterly human, utterly humane. Soen did what he could to bring people around not to his truth, but to their own deeply-assured peace. That he did it from within a framework of Zen Buddhism was extraneous ... Zen Buddhism just happened to be his lot in life. The important part was the clear-headed peace and laughter that is any human being's birthright... a birthright that everyone senses and some make a serious effort to actualize. Right and wrong, good and bad are not so much the point. Peace is the point.

Not central and yet not peripheral to the appreciations of Soen's students and friends, there is a tale of betrayal. It whispers from between the lines... a disciple who sells out not just his teacher, but worse, sells out himself by taking his own version of 30 pieces of silver... sells out a peace that is verifiable for accolades and position that beckon so deliciously in spiritual endeavor. It is sadder than tears and yet ... which of us does not possess a Judas Iscariot or an Eido Shimano ... the one willing to offer what seems like a loving kiss when in actuality is merely confecting a twisted and self-serving heaven?

I am not trying to blame the Iscariots and the Shimanos of this world. And I certainly am not trying to excuse them on the basis that since everyone is blameworthy, their blame is less. I am trying to suggest that selling out, stopping short, finding a cozy nesting place from which to preach and prate, holing up in a world of belief and pontification ... it's very, very human and sad beyond naming. "Peace" simply is not peace. Blaming the war-mongers is not enough. Blaming and excoriating the snitches and poseurs is not enough ... any more than elevating and extolling the saints and saviors is enough.

Peace does not accede to such blandishments and refined corruptions.

To borrow from the book I was buried in yesterday and still stink of today, pure water is never impure. We may add pollutants of all sorts -- speaking of "virtue" and "enlightenment" and "compassion" and "emptiness" and "heaven" and "hell" for example -- but it is not the water that is impure. Water is just water no matter what the additions. Peace is just peace no matter what raiments we dress it up in. The additions are our own.

But the good thing about clothing something in one bit of finery or another -- or finding encouragements or discouragements -- is that what has been dressed can also be undressed. Waiting patiently and persistently beneath the refined or revolting add-ons is just the fact ... pure water and...


Take a sip. You won't regret it.

1 comment:

  1. "Take a sip. You won't regret it."

    Are you sure?