Overnight, I found myself missing my Zen teacher, a man who once told me that if he were not the abbot of a monastery in Japan, he would like to run a noodle parlor ... the work was easy, customers left satisfied, and the mark-up on the ingredients guaranteed a good income.
Kyudo Nakagawa died at 80 in 2007 and I realized last night that the reason I missed him was that I missed my trust in him. Not necessarily that that trust was warranted in some overarching, impersonal sense, but just the fact that I trusted him ... credited him as a man of sand and substance. Trust, warranted or otherwise, is so delicious.
What set off this wispy sense of missing Kyudo was the matter of what might be called "spiritual breakthroughs." I wanted to hear his point of view, not as if it were some etched-in-stone tablet brought down from Mount Sinai, but simply as a matter of his experience ... something that might be true or untrue, but in any case was worth considering.
There is no doubt in my mind that spiritual breakthroughs or bright openings or shazzam moments exist for those who decide to take their spiritual lives seriously. Such moments are possible ... which is not the same as saying they are somehow necessary.
Imagine being a chick in an egg, peck-peck-pecking at the circumscribed world around you when all of a sudden, something lets go and through the resulting hole, the entire universe is revealed or announces itself. This is way beyond religious woo-hoo story telling. It is in your face and all over your being. It is your being and yet only a jackass would claim to own it. Well ... whatever else it may be, it's a surprise that has been described as joyful, though that strikes me as pretty self-centered. In the past, you might have struggled and strained and believed and hoped for such a moment, but all that is just eyewash when the shell is suddenly cracked open.
Kensho ... satori... blah-blah-blah.
Never mind all that! This is WOW!
Those who have never experienced such a thing may feel left out and bereft and second-class somehow: I can't be much of a Zen student if the bright-lights didn't go off for me. This, to my mind, is a mistake, but it's part-and-parcel of a believer's take on spiritual experience: How can I know that spiritual life is important if something important doesn't happen to me? All that effort, all those years of hard work and you can bet your bippy that I long to be as ecstatic as some damp young female waving her panties at an Elvis concert!
I wanted to talk to Kyudo about breakthroughs... those bright-brighter-brightest times when the world became new. I wanted to talk to him because I trusted him not to do some Zen Buddhist shuck-and-jive on the topic. The fact that his experience had a Zen Buddhist context was irrelevant... that's what I trusted about him. What did he think in a noodle-parlor context? Kyudo was not some Zen Buddhist coward, cinching his robes tightly about him, toeing some hemmed-in mark.
My own feeling is that where the brightness blazes and the joy consumes ... this is a time bearing both good tidings and a stern warning. The good tidings are that life is bigger than a breadbox. The warning is that excitement is extra. Yes, a eureka moment can change the world forever. But forever is just forever ... no need to make too much out of it.
I would be interested to hear what Kyudo thought. I never will, but I would like to hear in the same way a friend might like to hear about an acquaintance's recent vacation: It's the friendship that counts.
Friendship ... and perhaps a bowl of noodles.
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