Wednesday, June 6, 2012

teachers of the Buddhist past

The following is a lackluster, if rabid, response I wrote on an Buddhist web site. It concerns the views that might surround Zen teachers of the past and the topic got under my skin enough so that I thought I ought to put it all here as well ... so that some better-informed person might damp my fires or kick my ass:

SattvaPaul wrote: What I am then left with? Nothing. No ground. But something seems to be missing. I don't think the ancient Zen masters practiced in this way.
SattvaPaul --With all due respect ... horseshit! To attribute elevated capabilities and understandings to those who came before is to demean their achievements and, by extension, to reduce Buddhism to some sissy religion ... praising and blaming, extolling and denigrating, comparing and contrasting, wrapping gorgeous Christmas presents when December has not yet arrived. This is nonsense.

Naturally none of us can know to a certainty what another knows or has known. But to malign with imaginative praise is really too much. Buddhism is for human beings -- HUMAN BEINGS! -- and the uncertainties that afflict those human beings are not ameliorated with vast knowledge or living in a monastery or renting space in a pleasantly unpleasant cave in the Himalayas. Human beings have human uncertainties, human doubts. Are those who came before "just like us?" That too is imaginative nonsense.

"Something seems to be missing." Yes indeed. While it is historically true that many monks of the past donned robes in pursuit of "three hots and a cot," and while it is equally true that others among them seemed to come up with a bright realization, still it strikes me as both inaccurate and dismissive to suggest any of them had it any harder or any easier. "Something seems to be missing." That is a human sentiment ... human for one, human for all ... and what is human is what Buddhism addresses.

Of course Buddhism is not the only game in the human repertoire, so others may find other disciplines to help address the nagging sense that "something is missing." OK. Whatever floats your boat. But whatever the boat, no one ever sailed forth -- with or without some imagined grounding -- in perfect equanimity. The boat is invariably leaky and in constant need of attention. It is a HUMAN boat, a boat that no one ever sailed before, your boat or mine.

Praying for relief, in whatever form it takes, is really not enough. Imagining that something is missing is really not enough. The only thing that is enough is to find your leaky, creaky boat and set sail. Will you know where you are going or whether you will make it? Nope. Will there be consoling and diverting answers before the answer dawns on you? Sure. Same for you. Same for me. Same for those who came before.

Looking up, the sky is blue. Looking down, the grass is green. In this way the charted course lies straight ahead.

Just set sail!

And pray, if that's your style, that you don't end up in New Jersey.

No disrespect intended here. The topic just presses my buzzers obviously.

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