Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Zen teacher teaching Zen?

Yesterday, in an effort to find a specific date in a decades-old past, I wrestled a box of old journals out of the basement. The box and the amalgam of spiral notebooks within it had that dank feeling that basement storage seems to impart ... not exactly wet, but somehow softened by wetness.

In order to find the specific date on which I had spray-painted both the Zen teacher's stoop and the Zen center's doors, I was forced to skim-read page after page of hand-written entries made during 1981 and 1982. Of course, each of those entries had once had a heart-felt meaning and importance ... confusions, relationships, activities, sorrows and delights. But yesterday, each entry rose off the page as if from afar and sometimes I was captured by some small interest.

Kyudo Nakagawa
One of the passages that diverted my attention was an entry about Zen teachers.

My good friend Frank and I were once Zen students together. We went out for food now and then (Frank's Sicilian grandmother had been fond of saying, "Eat slow, but eat a lot") and gabbed as good friends will -- work, relationships, confusions. And at a time later than the time I was perusing yesterday, Frank and I once created what was one of the high points of my Zen training ... a day on which we  decided to do an all-day meditation sitting in his living room. We began with the morning chanting we knew from the Zen center we attended. But when we got around to the Kannon Ten Clause Sutra -- a chant with a lot of energy and a lot of speed ... we both broke down laughing. I don't mean tittering, I mean laughing our asses off. Each time we tried to serious-up, the laughter overtook us again. I honestly don't know how we ever managed to stop laughing. There was no explanation ... it just happened.

What I ran across yesterday was how Frank and I diverged on the subject of my Zen teacher, Kyudo Nakagawa Roshi. It wasn't a right-wrong divergence. It was a divergence of taste.

After Frank and I had left the center headed by Eido Shimano, we both did some practice with Kyudo. But as a 1982 journal entry indicated, Frank was not entirely happy. He did not like Kyudo's approach. Kyudo, he noted according to the entry, tended to talk in the zendo about television shows or about himself or about other bits of information that had recently caught his attention. Frank said he missed the references to the lineage and historical past and philosophical positions taken in the wider realms of Buddhism. Kyudo was not a man to dwell on "emptiness" or "compassion" or "enlightenment" when speaking. If a peanut butter sandwich had the capacity to gum up your mouth or constipation had ruined your day, that was something that might have so-called spiritual links without going all 'spiritual' about it.

I knew then as I know now what Frank was talking about. The arabesques, the grounding, the history of Buddhism can help to mortar a firm and determined practice. But now as then, I always had some half-shaped wish and sensibility ... somehow I had to get through this tra-la-la and get back to washing the dishes and being confused and laughing out loud... and be at peace with it. It was just a wispy, half-spoken sense ... and Kyudo played well in that regard. At least for me.

Frank and I did not disagree: That would have been like going into some greasy spoon and arguing about whether fried eggs or scrambled were somehow better. It was just a taste element.

But yesterday, the journal entry seemed to sharpen the focus a bit: I was content with the appreciation (however mangled) I had had; and I hoped that Frank is likewise content.

Scrambled and fried eggs, after all, are both capable of providing good nourishment.

1 comment:

  1. I remember Kyudo mostly talking about cockroaches and washing his undershirts. And peeing.