Monday, October 14, 2013

dressed in robes

In the meeting hall, a studied silence greeted the Zen teacher Soen Sa Nim's observation that giving a talk was much easier when someone asked a question. No one wanted to be caught with his pants down, asking some question that was not solemn enough or profound enough or holy enough.

The silence lingered and lingered. You could feel the mental fidgeting gather steam -- everyone had come for a lecture from this Korean fellow and now he seemed unwilling to honor his part of the bargain and give the damned talk. It all took place a long time ago.

Finally, some brave soul raised his hand and asked, "Why do you wear those robes?"

And things were off to the races. I can't imagine that Soen Sa Nim really gave much of a hoot what the question was. Any starting point is a good starting point ... who cares what the question is? And, more than that, it really is nice when spiritual discussions are just that -- discussions between two interested parties ... not some graven-tablet speech by one while the other writhes in awe.

I can't remember all of what Soen Sa Nim replied but I do remember he said something like, "Look. Suppose you go to the beach. Everyone is wearing a bathing suit. But then something happens and suddenly you need a cop. It helps if you can spot one."

The response, while a bit disingenuous, was close enough for folk-singing. You knew what he was talking about even if someone wearing robes is no guarantee of a helping hand or a well-armed response to some violent upheaval.

Who knows whether a person dressed in a robe can shoot straight? But when everyone else is dressed in string bikinis that make a fig leaf look excessively modest, it's a starting point... a point from which to start a discussion, perhaps.

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