I sometimes think there should be a time limit placed on institutionalized Zen practice ... OK, you can practice for, say, 20 years, but after that, you are no longer welcome.Frank replied:
Should one stop practicing or move on to another place?I said briefly that I thought practice might be OK, but certainly you would not be welcome in any other center or place of practice.
It was all a bit of whimsey, but it seemed to continue running around in my mind like some frisky dog let into the backyard. Nothing saying you can't imagine a little....
Imagine: Built into the bedrock of institutional Zen, there would be an expiration date -- something along the lines of the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and ... an expiration date. After (say) 20 years, you either get it or you don't: Either way, you are better off and it's time to realign the energies. What good is anything if you can't give it away?
Frank and I were both well aware of the earnest tones with which anyone might describe Zen practice as "a lifelong endeavor." Both of us had, to one extent or another, expended considerable energy. Zen was not just some namby-pamby belief system -- it was pedal-to-the-metal experience and we had both done what we could to actualize an experience that brooked no doubt. From an outsider's point of view, we had worked hard, Frank more diligently than I, probably.
But now, with the new and improved Zen manual, it was time to move along. Our warranty had expired and we had both passed the "sell by" date. Naturally, like a loaf of bread, it still looked like a loaf of bread that held out the promise of nourishment. But looks can be deceiving and bread becomes stale, even as Zen enthusiasts balk and blither and say this is a practice that never grows stale... or if it is stale, it's all your fault.
An expiration date.
Just stop it!
No one who graduates from high school or college continues going to high school or college. Whatever usefulness or good the experience held is now planted and percolating within. First, the student needs the practice; then the practice needs the student; and finally it is time to cope with all this somehow overbearing and unwarranted neediness.
It's all just whimsey of course. But I note with some interest the Zen Buddhist acquaintances who have decided on a life of monk- or nun-dom ... how, with enough time, they wrestle with the problem of the expiration date they somehow know has come but is not yet entirely gone. In less polite moments, you can almost hear them begging: "How do I get rid of all this crap?" The crap that isn't crap and yet is.
The Four Noble Truths.
The Eightfold Path.
The expiration date.
Of course, the wide open spaces may seem incalculably daunting, but so did Zen Buddhism when it was first encountered.
Imagine: Stamp collecting, mountain climbing, picture painting, getting out to the race track, becoming an aficionado of shoes, singing at breakfast ... lordy! Zen takes care of itself and you are fine without Zen.
Just a dog frisking in the backyard.