Tuesday, March 11, 2014

the Zoltan factor

Yesterday, I had a nice note from Bram, a fellow who came here several times in the past to practice zazen or seated meditation. He was pretty serious and occasionally brought with him his enormous,  160-pound Malamute, Zoltan, who would wait patiently in the yard while there was sitting in progress. I kept wanting to get Zoltan and his good vibes into the zendo for sitting, but then realized it would probably offend Bram's sense of Zen practice.

Anyway, Bram's note said he would not be coming on Sundays any more:
I am sorry I vanished this way.... Not only am I moving to Greenfield on April 1st, but my Gurdjieff Group has begun doing Movements (sacred dances) on Sundays in Greenfield and that is a higher priority for me (they are bringing up teachers from NYC).
Something about Bram's note elicited a whisper within: "Now THAT'S more like it ... that's more like Zen!" The thought came up unbidden and carried with it something of a sigh of relief ... and how different that was from earlier times in my life.

At other times, I had gone through the phase of thinking that anyone who wanted to get their lives on track -- anyone who wanted a little peace -- would surely have to practice Zen Buddhism. And even when I got through that phase, there was still a kind of internal translation machine -- some knee-jerk, lock-step translator that ingested life's happenings and laid on a 'Zen Buddhist' meaning and implication. It was as if, because I was interested in and convinced by Zen Buddhism, all circumstances had to be fed into a Zen Buddhist wood-chipper with its "ego" and "attachment" and "compassion" and "clarity" and "emptiness." Zen Buddhism was all-encompassing, wasn't it, and I seemed determined to make everything 'fit' ... even when it didn't. My Zen Buddhism woodchipper would spit out little Zen Buddhist chips, whether or not the people or events involved cared one whit (or needed to) about "Zen Buddhism." Everyone was a Zen Buddhist although they might not know it yet: How's that for arrogance?

All of this quietly unspoken effort seemed to fall away with Bram's note. And it was a nice relief. All that churning and translating on behalf of some imagined Zen ... was it really necessary? More important, how true could it actually be ... getting life in some half-nelson and flinging it to the Zen Buddhist mat ... victorious ... correct ... moral ... disciplined and even (oh shit!) virtuous. How exhausting, not to mention silly.

When I once asked him what the purpose of zendos (meditation halls) was and what his role was within that framework, my Zen teacher said simply, "I encourage (people) for zazen." Yes, zazen -- a discipline that takes some time to smell the bedrock roses of any life. From where I sit, it's a good idea to take that time, but how much more fun and realistic it is to just to make more room ... to open the doors and let in some fresh air ... to know that sometimes a daisy is just a daisy and that that really is scrumptiously, perfectly fine. Since woodchippers don't really tell the story, employing them loses its usefulness. Zoltan was never that stupid.

Movin' on. Going to Greenfield. Gurdjieff training. It's not for me, but because it is for Bram, it brightens my day.

Call it the Zoltan factor.


  1. Zen people are fond of saying how in Zen there are no beliefs, no preconceived notions, concepts, etc. But that whole way of thinking is a headlock in itself, as you say.

    Some people are dogmatic, others have Zoltan.

  2. Harley-Bear likes Zoltan!