Monday, February 16, 2015

What Use Devotion?

I never got the devotion angle.  I just never understood it.  Like everyone, I hear about it all the time.  Japanese Zen masters talk about devoting 30 years to studying under a "master".  The idea of "loyalty" is paramount in Zen.

In all traditions, actually, teachers speak this way, about the importance of commitment to the tradition.

When I first walked into a monastery, I had never sat before.  That is why I went, because a bell is rung in the morning, and it is an easier thing to sit with others, this way, than to do it on your own.

I wasn't very interested in the teachers.  But it wasn't "arrogance".  My reasoning was simply that I understood I had no "insight".  For me, that was fine.  What good would it do to speak with a "master" if I had no means of communicating intelligently?

Could I "learn" my true self?  Could I "learn" what I was (am) before my grandfather was born?

No, of course not.  That is what the cushion is for. 

Back then, I had assumed that everybody thought the way I did.  I assumed that they would just walk into dokusan for a chat, because they didn't like staying silent for so long.

But I have learned that this is actually an extremely rare view.  In fact, I don't know anybody else who sees it this way.

So I will take the time to explain:

Even if you assume all Zen masters are what they claim they are, you have to understand the reasoning:

If  you don't know how you come to see out your own eyes, you have no basis of communicating about these matters with someone who has.

So what use is the "teacher"?

And, even if you say "inspiration", "motivation" and so on, then what if you are already motivated, and inspired?

Looked at another way, is it a satisfactory feeling to have your "motivation" come from someone else?  What does that mean, actually?

Where does "devotion" fit?

More on this later...

Now, let's say you are looking at things from the opposite shore.  Let's say you have come to see how you see out your own eyes -- you have had a real kensho.  If this is the case, you can speak intelligently, and sincerely, with others who have.

So, you are now in a different position. 

But regarding this one thing -- the subject of this post -- devotion -- have things really changed?

Think about it -- why would they?

What you would be interested in, now, is someone who could speak clear truth.  You would be interested in spontaneous argument, and debate.  Above all, you would be most interested in finding someone who could "best" you in such encounters. 

This would be all that you are looking for.

That's not "devotion".

If you are a chess player, you look for challenge.  You seek out players that will give you a workout.

That's not "devotion" either.  It is simply a love of chess.

 In time, through experience, you might, in fact, come to distrust "masters" who adhere to set traditions  and methods.  If they have truly seen for themselves, there is no reason to use the words of others, right?  If they have truly seen, they would welcome the "unplanned", the "unknown".  They would enjoy hearing what comes out of their mouth during spontaneous challenge.  They, like you, would want this.

There would be no reason to resist this, and there is no reason to allow anything to stand in its way.  If you have been to a room, you can talk about that room in your own terms.  You would have a deep wish to do this, in fact.

So, does "devotion" fit, anywhere?

Like I said, through, my view is rare.  I haven't met anyone who shares the same view.  But that might be because the ones that do have to leave.  They might just be scattered about.

Because I've encountered a great deal of the opposite. 

Here are some stories.

The first Zen master I ever spoke to was Denko Osho, at DBZ.  In my first Dokusan, Denko congratulated me for sitting a DBZ sesshin with no experience in meditation (apparently, this was a rare thing). 

But there, in my first sesshin, I would try to avoid going to too many dokusans.  Also, I left the monastery right after, for a couple of days.  I felt changed by the sitting, and I wanted to see what it was like walking around (of all places)  Central Park, on a Sunday, in this new way.

Denko didn't take well to this.  Upon my return, Denko told me, in the very next dokusan that he didn't want to "waste his time" with me.  He told me not to come to dokusan anymore.  When I would show up (sometimes the Jiki makes you go), he would just say "get out" and ring me out.

That went on, pretty much, until he left the monastery.

The next Zen master I spoke with was Eido Shimano.  Denko had left, following a little power struggle.  But I felt the same way about sitting, so I wasn't so interested in who was running the place.

In my first year there, I took off for a few weeks during the summer, to go sit sesshin at the Soho Zendo.  I also went out to San Francisco to visit my sister, and sat a sesshin at SFZC.  When I came back to DBZ to sign in for the kessei, Mr. Shimano spoke disparagingly of my lack of "commitment". 

I laughed at him, a little.  We were in the meeting room, going through the one-by-one ritual of kessei sign-ups.  I told him that I had sat two sesshins in the last few weeks.  The coming sesshin would be my third in five weeks. 

He replied "not... HERE"

I looked at him, wondering where he was coming from.  But he didn't say anything else.

I already wrote about Joshu Sasaki and Bodhi Manda.  He and I had just finished shaking hands when I asked, casually, if everyone had to go to dokusan, every time.  At Bodhi Manda, there were five a day -- more than I've ever seen anywhere else.

This enraged Mr. Sasaki.  He started calling me a stupid, arrogant American, among other things.

I have a lot of stories about this.

I once spent a few weeks at SFZC.  I remember talking to a lady who would always ask me about my travels.  I have been to a lot of places and she was genuinely curious.  Finally I started mentioning that travel is a simple thing, and that it is actually cheap.  In many countries, you can get by for a small fraction of what you spend in the states, especially if you stay awhile -- if you rent a room by the month or something, instead of staying in hotels or guest houses.  Even in a big city like Barcelona, you can get by for not-so-much money.

She replied that she often dreamed of going to these places, but she could not.

So I asked her "why?"

She said she has been studying Zen with her teacher for 10 years, and he told her that if she ever sat anywhere else, he would stop being her teacher.  She didn't want that.

I was sad, hearing this, but I said nothing.

There was some good that came out of all this, for me.

When Denko had told me he didn't want to waste his time with me, I was confused about it, for a couple of days.  I was annoyed to be treated this way. I had recognized some patterns in my life, and this fit a familiar one -- that of doing "well" at something -- work, school, sports, but being dismissed for not showing  "commitment".

In my life, this attitude always confused me.  I didn't understand what it was that antagonized people.

If you have the best record on your team, it should be enough.  If your work is good, it should be enough.  What are people talking about when they talk about "commitment?"  The very conversation would bring be down, because I had heard it so much.  Coaches would like the rah-rah guys, even if they were 3-15 or something.  Even my advisor in grad school sometimes mentioned I did good work, but it "didn't seem like I wanted to be there".

I didn't understand what I did that annoyed people.  Sometimes bosses would say the same sorts of things.  I would keep pointing to my work -- look at all the code in the repository!  Who wrote all that?  What is everyone else doing?  What are you talking about commitment for?

I am not even going to mention women.

There at DBZ, in my second sesshin, I got kind of down, remembering all these things.  One day I even started rolling my head around and mouthing "blah blah blah" during the morning chants.  I was doing things like this, because I was feeling confused about it, and I was tired of it, in my life.

But I suddenly realized something.

I realized that if I felt bad for being dismissed by Denko, it meant that his approval "meant" something to me. Obviously, it was important to me, at the time, or I wouldn't have been feeling despondent.

Why was that?

Well, there really is no good reason.  That is what I realized.

I knew I wanted to sit.  I had a million reason why.  To me, they were all perfectly rational.  I wasn't there for anyone's approval.  I wasn't there to succeed at the word "Zen".

It was (is), in fact, embarrassing to think that I could ever be influenced, so much, by such thoughts as someone's "approval", given what I knew about my own motivations.

Suddenly, sitting there, I got a rush of energy, with this thought.  If Denko, or anyone else, disapproved of my disinterest, in them, then it really isn't my concern.  The guy doesn't understand me, and doesn't care to.  Why spend energy thinking about it?

I redoubled my efforts, lightened from the load of approval/disapproval.

That's the way my sitting has been, ever since.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Off The Tracks

 "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" -- Romans 12:2
"Kill the Buddha" -- Linchi Roku
There is a need that people have -- most all people.  It is a strong one, too -- coming right after food and shelter.  It is the need for spiritual authority.

This need is reflected in all religious belief, and in the adherence to structures of tradition.  It is reflected in most every conversation you hear in a meditation center "I studied with...", or  "I started with Kundalini meditation but have recently been practicing Zen", etc...

There is always something to adhere to -- an idea of "God", or a "master" or a "guru", or a set of lifelong vows -- things like this.

I get the feeling that most people just want to know that they are "good", or "bad".  As long as an important person (or doctrine) tells them so, that's fine.  This is enough to satisfy the need.

Leaving a retreat, I just had a long conversation about this, with a couple of guys.  My point was that meditation only really begins when these needs are forcibly thrown out.  I say forcibly because you are consciously choosing an uncomfortable state.  It is socially uncomfortable.  You are saying there is no particular "way to live", and you are walking a path of extreme independence.

And with this, you are fighting against patterns that have molded your life from birth -- the approval (or disapproval) of authority figures such as parents and teachers, etc.  You are struggling against the inertia of social norms -- the status of a good career, for example.

Taking a jump off the tracks, you have placed yourself "outside" of everything.  You are not interested in other people's definitions of good and bad, successful or unsuccessful.  You didn't build those tracks.  You have chosen to jump off and take your tumbles in the mud, to find, for yourself, what is real.

How else?  People talk about "insight" all the time.  But really -- how else?