Saturday, December 31, 2011

Yes, yes, Buddhism and Science are separate domains but still

More 書道 coming soon...

I've had about two weeks off - you can tell from the myriad posts you've seen here, right?

Well, I've been more or less busy.  Actually, I've been less busy than usual, and by design.  But I've sort of semi-started a practice at the year end of doing some 書道 which I hope to present here tomorrow or Monday.

In addition to that I've been following the North Korean thing. Strange video...a friend called me and asked if Newt Gingrich's recent crying jag was due to the fact that he'd just found out about the death of the "Dear Leader."

So it goes...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Practice and potentially violent stuff...

Nathan writes about Yoga, Buddhism and guns.

Although I tend to support any efforts to reduce the number of guns in circulation, the larger issue is really one of approaching the violent seeds each of us carry within ourselves, and which also come together collectively in our communities and nations. Whether someone in my yoga studio or Zen sangha owns a gun is less important to me than how they handle violence in their lives. At the same time, it's difficult for me to forget the periods of history when large groups of Buddhists twisted elements of Buddha's teachings to support warfare and violent oppression. Given the collective energy here in the United States, it's possible something similar could happen in the future. 

 It's easy to say that "the wrong people have guns," "the wrong people" being people who are too crudely violent in themselves to be able to own one well.  And somewhere buried in that is the assumption that the state includes employees of the people who are themselves the "right people" to own weapons. We hope that is true somewhere within us, though history hasn't exactly been entirely supportive of this assumption.

I know one or two "gun nuts." They're  not "nuts" by any means when it comes to the care and feeding of their weapons, though I personally think they might have a few too many of them.I'm sure they differ on this point.

That said, I myself have generally been supportive of "weapon rights" but in the sense that weapon rights should be considered as overall expressions of 功夫 - the skill of one's self.   Nathan writes:

What's the overall impact of more guns on our communities? On each of us? On the environment? Can a society that upholds gun ownership as a collective response to potential violence also be aiming in the direction of overall non-violence? 

 As a guy studying a martial art, I can say that the study and skill of the art itself seems to have an inverse relationship to one's own tendencies toward aggression and violence. I do not think that is because I am so culturally superior to ...oh, insert the kind of "wrong person" who shouldn't be owning a gun or know how to comport one's self in unarmed fighting here.  Also, as an engineer, I appreciate the esthetics of the simplicity of design of a revolver, or the beauty of a katana. 

I'm not sure I buy the arguments commonly put forward by the right in this country, though let's face it, guns have been pretty instrumental in replacing some rather nasty regimes (far too often, with nastier regimes, alas).

But the gun isn't  our minds - the  associated ideas, concepts, beliefs, and emotions about guns are actually stuff inside our minds, and not the gun itself.  Wanting to remove guns from society to foster non-violence is like wanting to ban alchohol or other intoxicants from society to promote clear thinking - it is the policy equivalent of scratching your foot through your shoe.

Well, enough about that...I have some cooking to do. Gotta sharpen the santoku.

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's not exactly the main subject of this blog...

But seeing how Kim Jong Il has departed from this world, this is almost topical.   The 1985 (or 1987?)  North Korean movie Pulgasari is on Youtube.  It was made by a director who was kidnapped...fascinating stuff.  I can't believe they can watch this in North Korea today - there's just too many parallels to the current regime.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Class, Christopher Hitchens...and Genpo Merzel

In all the latest hoo-hah about Genpo Merzel - about which there isn't really nothing really new, just an acknowledgement of what's been going on for a while now - news came that Christopher Hitchens died.  And so here's a blog post considering what that all might mean - as if it has to mean anything at all.  It doesn't - but it's interesting to juxtapose unrelated things now and again.

I was one of those who applauded Hitchens lefty Trotskyite past, but was a bit startled when he attacked Clinton.  To me it was obvious  and strange and dangerous what was going on with the Clinton impeachment proceedings - it was an attempt to achieve by other means what could not have been achieved at the ballot box, even with the wildly rigged American rules favoring the wealthy.  But given Hitchens' stance as one of Clinton's critics it didn't surprise me when he went gung ho for the Iraq war. (For the record, I too, was appalled at the treatment of Salman Rushdie, so let's put that right-wing chestnut into the fire for good.)

What I became aware of most acutely in the last few months, though was that Hitchens was one of those upwardly mobile folks who kinda sorta catapulted into the social mesosphere of the top 1%.

I know that kind.  Their kids hang out in neighborhood bars on the upper East Side, before or after going to whatever downtown clubs they go to.  This kind of social set is best rendered by Christopher Buckley's rendering of his time with Hitchens in the New Yorker:

David Bradley, the owner of The Atlantic Monthly, to which Christopher contributed many sparkling essays, once took him out to lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown. It was—I think—February and the smoking ban had gone into effect. Christopher suggested that they eat outside, on the terrace. David Bradley is a game soul, but even he expressed trepidation about dining al fresco in forty-degree weather. Christopher merrily countered, “Why not? It will be bracing.”
Lunch—dinner, drinks, any occasion—with Christopher always was. One of our lunches, at Café Milano, the Rick’s Café of Washington, began at 1 P.M., and ended at 11:30 P.M. At about nine o’clock (though my memory is somewhat hazy), he said, “Should we order more food?” I somehow crawled home, where I remained under medical supervision for several weeks, packed in ice with a morphine drip. Christopher probably went home that night and wrote a biography of Orwell. His stamina was as epic as his erudition and wit.
When we made a date for a meal over the phone, he’d say, “It will be a feast of reason and a flow of soul.” I never doubted that this rococo phraseology was an original coinage, until I chanced on it, one day, in the pages of P. G. Wodehouse, the writer Christopher perhaps esteemed above all others. Wodehouse was the Master. When we met for another lunch, one that lasted only five hours, he was all a-grin with pride as he handed me a newly minted paperback reissue of Wodehouse with “Introduction by Christopher Hitchens.” “Doesn’t get much better than that,” he said, and who could not agree?
It is true that in my day I quaffed one or more with an editor of Rolling Stone in the local bar on E82nd St. - I believe it was the night that OJ went on his car ride, in fact, the night I called Herz to ask if they rented white Ford Broncos, because their chief spokesman was in one on I5...oh I digress, mais ça va sans dire.

All of which is to matter how much Genpo Merzel charges for his silly seminars, he's never, ever, ever going to be admitted to this club into which Buckleys and Hitchens and their whole social constellation can  linger all day and talk about Wodehouse.  I don't care if he married and got divorced (or did he?)  from some descendent of Joseph Smith.  I'm not going to be admitted to this club, and I know people who have places where  I can always crash in if I happen to be summering in the Hamptons.

There's no point even going there, to try to engage that pretense of thinking you'll fit in.  Even if you see Tom Wolfe in the Islip Airport VIP lounge, it doesn't mean you're one of his kind. I'm not one of their kind, and I'm a lot more one of their kind than Merzel will ever be. True, I've never lived the Palm Beach lifestyle, where you have to get the police to bring you gas to your convertible on the road in the early morning hours of Sunday because you're on your way to an orgy with two beautiful...oh wait, I'm ripping off Hunter S. Thompson again. 申し訳では無。 (Bet Htichens couldn't do that!) But the day-to-day tripping the light fantastic life is just not my lot in life, and I'm really glad for that, simply because the life I do have is far more rewarding and interesting, and the people I have met and live with are far more important to me than the dolphins of the Upper East Side.  Don't get me wrong; I like to visit and go back there, and especially to dine in the French bistro right near the Zen Studies Society (such a convenient location!)  But I'm a former New Yorker now (i.e. resident of Manhattan, for those of you who don't know);  I'm not quite a tourist and will never be when it comes to New York.  My son prefers the weather of the Pacific Northwest to that of the Northeast, and uses words and phrases that are indigenous to my current habitat.

So I'm kind of slightly amused at the accusations by some "Big" "Mind" apologists towards me on this thread.  I get the feeling some folks might think I have some kind of need to want what Merzel "has."  But I'm not overly surprised. Nevertheless I'll respond to one comment on that thread here:

you have a way to tell a Zen authority from a huckster? Does lineage make a Zen authority, and preclude the huckster? Does being a huckster preclude being a Zen authority?

OK, here's the answer: Do your own homework.  Lineage doesn't make a Zen authority, but like having a Ph.D., it has "intial value." (If you've studied differential equations you get the metaphor in the pun.) Lineage does not preclude being a huckster. Being a huckster of Zen precludes being a Zen authority.  To some extent, you see, in the system we have we all have to promote ourselves somehow, sometimes.  But peddling feces as shinola, especially in regard to things that are dealing with the intimacies of how one lives ones interior and exterior life really goes against all that I think is the whole point of the orientation of practicing the Way.  It's not a question of being attached to picking and choosing and avoiding, because we can't but pick and choose and avoid in this existence.  But it is a question of what we pick and choose and how much we are concerned with what we can pick and choose and what results.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tu Quoque? Not really...

I'm reading the comments on Warner's latest bit summarizing what's wrong with Genpo Merzel.  While they typically run the gamut of juvenile to reflexive yes-commenter, a couple do bear further commenting, at least on my part, and at least over here.

Here's one:
Doesn't really matter, who's to say Genpo's more or less deluded than you are? (by you I mean you)

Brad admits he's doing his own seminars next year. If he charges $100 a pop or $10,000 a pop, says he'll get you enlightened or doesn't say it, how is that any different? It's relative.

Poonjaji said if anybody charges money for satsang they're a fraud.

He was right. 

 And another:

Genpo is correct to charge. He's teaching a lesson. Americans feel they have to pay big bucks or else their not getting anything. There's been double blind test on this. They make two products or services available one is just about free and the other is ridiculously expensive. Consumers or the people always picked the expensive one thinking they want the better of the two or none at all . Thinking the one that was just about free couldn't be any good. Deep conditioning

 And another:

"At the core of what drives Steven Seagal with all he does - his music, his Martial Arts and his acting - is his commitment to Asian philosophies and religion. As a Buddhist, Zen teacher, and healer, Steven lives by the principles that the development of the physical self is essential to protect the spiritual man."


 And still another:

 Charging for teaching also going on here:

(The HTML link in the last one was added by me.)

There's a lot of people teaching a lot of things out there.  A good teacher can teach by the way he walks, by the way he moves his body.  Even a mediocre student can pick that up after a while.  I picked these comments above to explore the question, "Who's legit and who's a huckster?"

And to further motivate the issue, I direct you to this bit on the "Big Heart Zen Center" page.

Beginning the following week, Tuesday December 6th, the Sangha’s normal program of morning practice and Sunday talks will continue at new locations as authorized and approved by Genpo Roshi. Zazen, Service and student interviews will continue at the same times on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. The Sunday morning schedule will begin earlier at the new location in order to accommodate the shared usage with the Xuanfa Dharma Center.
 Now let's google "Xuanfa Dharma Center", OK?  You get, inter alia,  this link.  It says "The Wish-Fulfilling Jewel Mirror" at the top of the page.  Know what that means? Neither do I.  In the Intro page, though it says:

I have been extremely fortunate to receive oral transmissions of the Esoteric Buddhist Dharma directly from my Buddha Master, H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III, and have access to many unpublished translations from the Chinese of the Buddha's discourses that are not yet available to the public in English. I have also been granted the dispensation to write about certain of my experiences, even though one does not usually talk about these matters.
H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III came to this world to correct the translation and interpretation errors that currently exist in earlier transmissions of the dharma and to bring us the highest teachings. The Buddha Master has told us that there are teachings by Shakyamuni Buddha that the world has not been ready for until now that will be given to us to help us complete the “quick path to enlightenment.” It is true that holy beings came to the mandala when the Buddha Master was giving us the discourse on "What Is Cultivation?" That discourse, which can be found in the treasure book H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III and on this web-site, outlines the steps we must follow on this path. This auspicious event only confirms the importance of H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III's work in the world today.
Based on the teachings that I have received and my limited understanding of the Dharma, and the fact that we live in such an auspicious time where it is possible to progress rapidly to enlightenment, I have prepared this web site in the hopes that it will help introduce the Correct Dharma to those who do not understand Chinese. There are many books and recorded discourses available in Chinese from the Buddha, but they have not yet been translated into English.
Any errors are strictly my responsibility and will be corrected when we have H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III’s teachings in English in a more complete form. It is so important that we all begin our cultivation of ourselves and prepare for this journey to full enlightenment and freedom from suffering.
We must not waste time!
What I say and present in this website just represent my personal sayings and understanding. I am a humble rinpoche and cannot possibly represent His Holiness Dorje Chang Buddha III.

Dorje Chang Buddha III is the true Vajradhara or supreme leader of all Buddhism of this age.This great holy Buddha came back to these degenerate times to teach the correct dharma and show living beings how to escape the suffering and unhappiness of worldly existence and to attain complete liberation from the cycle of reincarnation. The Buddha Master is a man of boundless compassion and wisdom. Based on the precise principles of the Buddha-dharma, Dorje Chang Buddha III teaches people in every day language the compassion and wisdom obtained through cultivation. The wisdom of the Buddha Master excels that of all previous masters in history. One after another event proves this to be totally true. The book H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III contains over 30 testimonials from the heads of the leading sects of Buddhism and many fully enlightened masters.
There's a lot of phonies out there, and  I suspect that "Dorje Chang Buddha III" is one of them (see here).  So it's not surprising that Genpo Merzel's group seems to be now operating out of space owned by a group of hucksters. 

Steven Seagal isn't a Zen teacher, despite what is said on his website.  And despite what are probably Vincent Horn's good intentions, there's simply no way I'd pay him or recommend anyone else paying him $70/hour to teach meditation.  Go read Kapleau's Three Pillars of Zen instead, or Thich Nhat Hanh's The Miracle of Mindfulness.

Ven. Warner's main gig isn't pretending to be a "teacher" with "students," and so I don't put him in the same category as these hucksters.  He writes books, goes on book tours, holds lectures, etc, though I think from time to time he does do  or will do seminars.  There's simply no way he's in the same league as Genpo Merzel.  And I don't have an axe to grind at all here: I've never given Ven. Warner one red cent.  I've never bought his books, nor seen his lectures (except for a few minutes on Youtube.)   Heck I don't even train in the Soto school.

Even if Warner had students - and frankly I think he has somewhat of an obligation to have students, especially given the above - and if Warner continued these activities, it wouldn't be problematic if he didn't make grandiose claims or if he didn't try trolling for students with his fundraising activities. 

And that's the difference between Warner and Merzel, in my opinion.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I seem to have triggered Ven. Warner for another Genpo Merzel rant

And I think that is good (see here and here). It's kind of why I originally flagged it in a comment on one of Warner's posts.  Warner has a bit  or substantially more authority to speak on Merzel's antics than I do, but I basically agree with him.

Zen priests and monks have to eat, no doubt about that.  And it's reasonable to expect that with exposure to America that there be some kind of fee based structure used with teaching - but not rigidly used.  In fact there must always be the possibility of giving  it away free. As I've noted numerous times,  my teacher - and heck, even Eido Shimano - had the possibility to support themselves by means other than teaching.

Warner's also right about the term "Zen Master."  Where I go, the services are chanted in a mixture of Pali, English, and Japanese; with the chanting, in Japanese, of the Great Compassion Heart Dharani (Dai Hi Shin Gyo) the dedication is made to various ancestors in the lineage, invariable ending with 禅師大和尚 - that is, "Zenji Daiosho," or "Zen Master Great Priest."  To refer to one's self that way, as Warner notes, is beyond absurdity - it's simply unseemly for a living person to refer to one's self that way.

Also to tie one's desire for complete and perfect enlightenment to being in a "close" relationship with a's not quite that way.  If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him and all that. So even though there's the disclaimer about "heart relationships which do not imply ownership or obligation in either direction" it's clear that this relationship is tied to one's progress in helping all beings transcend suffering.

There are myriad issues with what Merzel's doing.  And as I write this, and look over the various types of bilge on his site, and Warner's reactions to it, I'm struck by the fact that my head is completely congested. Perfectly, completely congested.   I'm amused at this blog post, and by the first comment, who (approvingly) connected it to Ayn Rand in screaming caps.

I think that says it all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I was too hard in my pithy critique of Andrew Sulliavan...

That was over there at the Worst Horse.  While I do find Sullivan's politics this side of rephrenesible, I realize that the guy has had AIDS forever, and he's doing AIDS in the only way he knows how.  Transcendental Meditation, in my view, has never survived Philip Kapleau's response about it ("Who transcends what?"), but this poor clown - like the poor clown who wrote this - is only doing what he can, I guess.

I got perspective in Mary Elizabeth Williams' articles (here and here) on talking with others about cancer.  While I'm grateful to say that largely I dealt with my mother's cancer in the way Ms. Williams describes,  believe me, that crap ain't easy, especially when you're thousands of miles away.

Ten years ago today, it was my father, though it was sudden, and not cancer.  

It's what humans do.

Back to cold/flu practice. I can't tell which. It's in "mean sore throat stage, with low to mid-grade fever alleviated by ibuprofen."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Another day...

I don't have much at all to say today, and practically no time say it, but I do hope, that despite all our innumerable faults, we can get through the day with a minimum of difficulty, and with a bit of mindfulness.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Suzuki-roshi, somewhat different interpretations, but it's all OK

I finally re-read Barbara's post on Suzuki-roshi & dragons, and added a comment, as you can see there.  To be honest, I'm not entirely satisfied that I captured what I wanted to say in the comment, which I'll get to in a bit, but I wanted to go somewhere else first.

Suzuki-roshi is/was another one of those guys about whom Stuart Lachs has written a "corrective" on saying, basically, a) he was really really human, despite what the posthumously written intro to his most widely known book would imply, and b) he therefore made what we'd refer to as "mistakes" if we were talking about any other Tom, Dick or Harry.  I won't bother to go find Lachs' piece on Suzuki-roshi, just because as a guy who's been involved with such cultural things for a while now, none of it is surprising - while the Japanese Zen school has sent outstanding teachers and exponents to the West, they've also at times sent exponents of their "B Team," which is kind of a common practice at certain international companies - they send the exponents of the A Team when they really want to expand, and they send exponents of the B Team when they want to move a potential (or actual) problem to the "Somebody Else's Problem Field," to use a term from Douglas Adams. But in this context, let me just say a lot of us can learn a lot from the B Team.

I remember getting that book "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" long ago, and when I first picked it up, it was frankly incomprehensible to me, and later on it made a heck of a lot of sense, since I guess I was somewhere that needed the relative sanity expressed there.  Later on, when I started reading Dogen (yeah, I have read Dogen), I realized that some of Suzuki-roshi's extrapolations on bits in Dogen, quite frankly, weren't obvious in the plaintext meaning of Dogen.  But then again, it being Zen and all that, Suzuki's narrative is not all that different, ultimately, than my interpretation.

Back to Barbara's post.  Barbara's relating a story about a guy who was so enamored of dragons that he got to meet a real dragon, and was shot through with stark terror on the encounter. She notes that Dogen commented, "I beseech you, noble friends in learning through experience, do not become so accustomed to images that you are dismayed by the real dragon."  Her explanation that we shouldn't mistake outward forms and images for the "real thing"  is pretty good, and my comment is sort of OK, but I think I'm not going far enough in my comment.  To actually give up one's attachments - to realize that one has  the power to get all beings to transcend suffering is to realize that the "dragon" of our True Nature has unfathomably infinite power compared to the "worm" of our attachment driven little mind that I don't think you can cross that threshold without a bit of fear and trepidation.  It's scary to be able to give up everything, including the desire for enlightenment itself,  just as it is to consider that death means "giving it all up."  So, the idea of the serene Buddha, the images of the thousand armed Regarder of the World's Cries,  so calm and all that, isn't the being that actually has the power to give it all up.  The moon beats the finger pointing to it like a gong.  And it's easy to get dismayed that this bag of decaying flesh, home to more microbes than there are homo sapiens on the planet,  is actually an expression of that True Nature. 

And, it's why folks like Warner constantly rail against "Big Mind," but that's kind of a digression. 

At such a point, when one encounters this fear, there's actually something that can be done, which I'll get to later, but for now, Douglas Adams' advice is pretty good: Don't Panic.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

So much spiritual little time...

I'm a busy guy of late, what with work, family, and the various practices in which I'm engaged.  So, here's a few quick pointers on the absurdity I read nowadays...

Of course we Mahayana Buddhists vow to save, or help  all sentient beings ourselves, in the sense of the transcendence of suffering.  But in no way is that a function of how much we can pay nor how much abuse we're willing to take, or whether we check our brains at the door when we go for some sort of teaching.  

Also don't believe everything Maurice Shonen Knegtel wrote there at that link, as if I had to write that.  Especially this part is risible:

Teaching, practice and realization took place in everyday activity, like farming, walking through the mountains, drinking tea, cleaning, or just talking. Probably they did not sit that much in formal zazen, and the early Masters rarely talk about sitting practice. Zen was not yet formalized with rituals and ceremonial practices, as it was later in Sung China (Tenth to Fourteenth Century A.D.), Korea, Vietnam and Japan. Early Chan was a living religion, not dependent on forms like teisho (formal teaching), zazen (formal sitting) or daisan (formal interview). Enlightenment was found and expressed in daily activities. And the way of teaching of the old Masters was very similar to that of Gautama the Buddha. Students were led to a place where they are one with the Dharma and express it. Genpo Roshi’s Big Mind process offers the same living religion in a playful game of giving voice to whatever dharma is coming up and by skillfully practicing the same ‘wonder of teaching’ as Gautama the Buddha and early Chan Masters did. 
 It's risible because its Orientalism and revisionism just oozes right through every word, including the instances of "a" and "the."  That Lin Chi didn't depend on his teishos - even if they weren't called that - is absurd.  What the hell does Shonen think he was doing when he ascended the high seat? He wasn't thinking "Gee, this is just like what 'Big' 'Mind" is going to be in a thousand some-odd years." 

And for Void sakes, "Big" "Mind" isn't an "everyday" activity!   There's 8.6% unemployment! Their everyday activity, I assure you, isn't mucking around with "voices."  The "everyday" activity of the working monastics (and laity) consisted of, you know,  activities performed every day. No special process or mind games were needed, playful or not.

These guys have completely forgotten, it seems, what it is to be ordinary.  And, it seems, Shonen might have confused the Dharma with a "conflict of interest," the conflict of interest being his personal investment of time and energy and effort, and I'd bet, gelt, into the Merzel Thing, and, of course, the practice of the Dharma.

All right.  Enough of my rant for today.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

John Horgan's back...

I appreciate Barbara's response to John Horgan's latest "scientific" article on Buddhism.  She's right in her point that Horgan's not actually critiquing what those of us who are Buddhists in the West would recognize as Buddhism.  But I'd like to go a bit further into the details of what Horgan's actually writing here.

Eventually, I stopped attending my Zen sessions (for reasons that I describe in detail elsewhere). One problem was that meditation never really tamed my monkey mind. During my last class, I fixated on a classmate who kept craning his neck and grunting and asking our teacher unbearably pretentious questions. I loathed him and loathed myself for loathing him, and finally I thought: What am I doing here? By that time, I also had serious intellectual qualms about Buddhism. I concluded that Buddhism is not much more rational than Catholicism, my childhood faith.
If I am reading this correctly (and I read his other link way back when) Mr. Horgan doesn't bowl, because he doesn't consistently get 300,  he doesn't play chess because he's not a grandmaster who's mastered the entire "book" of chess, get the picture.  What Mr. Horgan doesn't seem to have one jot of appreciation for, is that it might be a good idea to try to cultivate a skill at which, prior to the endeavor, one absolutely, completely, and totally sucks.  A guy like me, who's been at it for 20 years, deeply appreciates the irony of this paragraph: Mr. Horgan's classmate is none other than himself.   That is, Mr. Horgan doesn't seem to "get" that his experience of his classmate, and his loathing of himself for loathing the classmate are all products of his own mind, at least not in a deep enough sense. His being in that Zen setting exposed this aspect of Mr. Horgan to Mr. Horgan, and rather than address the issue where it was (i.e., Mr. Horgan's mind itself), Mr. Horgan decided it was Buddhism that was to "blame" for his thoughts of loathing, and lack of equanimity. 

Barbara's already, mentioned Horgan's misappropriation of Buddhism.  Horgan's discussion of the doctrine of no-self,  anatta, is closer to an apt description than  his colossal swings and misses at himself and karma. 

And,  I will admit that if it didn't cause misgivings about the whole Buddha left his wife and child thing, there'd be something wrong with you - and frankly, yes, I've heard all the arguments pro and contra, but the reason I'm a Buddhist has to do not with the historical Buddha, but with where my suffering has originated.   It has nothing to do with the historical Buddha's issues, nor does it have anything to do with Chogyam Trungpa's issues, or Barbara O'Brien's or John Horgan's, except insofar as their issues can help me transcend the suffering of all beings.   That is to say, their issues are not where I need to apply skill.  And I don't have to leave my wife and kid to try to alleviate their suffering (but perhaps history is silent as to whether Mrs. Siddhartha breathed a sigh of relief at Gautama's skedaddling.)

Mr. Horgan's writing when not about Buddhism is often interesting, and grounded in science. But since subjects like Buddhism and psychology deal with human experience and the acquisition of effective behavior, to the extent that science deals with the objective and measurable aspects of this science will have good answers for it, but the subjective bits...well...if it's not observable and measurable...

But Mr. Horgan? Barbara's right. And you could benefit from a good look at yourself.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Zen is kind of like the martial art I'm studying - and not - and vice versa...

Over at Jake Adelstein's site,  Stephanie Nakajima reviews a Japanese-English Introduction to Zen.  And she says:

The cover boasts that this text conveys the content’s “difficult ideas” clearly  (むずがしい考えがスッキリ分かる!); though if this leads you to expect something other than the usual interpretation of Zen – non-linear, meandering, parabolic explanations- you will be disappointed. My western brain still struggles to grasp the style typical of Zen masters, their purportedly didactic riddles often leaving me with more questions than answers.
Often, it’s a confusing read. In the beginning, Priest Ozeki devotes a chapter to the importance of maintaining “a pure heart”, without bothering to explain what a pure heart looks like, or the nature of the maintenance required. This is just one of many vague instructions listed for living a Zen life; others include “being present in the moment” and keeping a “free mind, one which is not influenced by anything”. Ozeki further complicates things a few chapters later when he decides to mention that “Zen is not a thing to think about but is training. You can not attain enlightenment even if you read many books and study hard.” Resisting the urge to question why I am reading a book about a subject the author himself has just declared *actually* requires field study, I decide to remain open to his attempts to explain the concept of Enlightenment ...
It only after finishing the entire text that I gleaned what might be the unstated assumption: like a religion, there are values by which Zen abides. However, practitioners believe these values can only be discovered through the practice of Zen, rather than the study.
 The martial art I'm studying is so counter-intuitive - it can't be read about either ; it can really only be practiced to be understood.  I cannot think of a more perfect expression of non-duality in the form of human movement.  To even write these words is somehow to distort its expression, to even write these words reminds me that I'm not actually doing it,  and therefore in a significant way, a distortion and dishonoring of that practice.

But maybe I digress. Maybe not.  I don't really have great skill by any means at the martial art I'm studying- at least not yet. is something so potentially brutal so profoundly elegant at the same time? How is something essentially evolved from Shaolin-influenced Southern Chinese street fighting so compact and adamantine, and at the same time completely informed by knowledge of the mechanics (i.e., mechanical physics) of the human body?  And, the big question a guy like me continues to ask myself: how come such a practice which requires so pitifully little strength is not more widely known? And, is everyone I know, even with my relatively comfortable and  laid-back lifestyle as tense as I am? (Trust me, yoga practitioners, you're tense.)

I have and continue to have the same questions about Zen, without which I'd be completely hopeless in my martial arts study. 

I've been doing Zen for decades now, studying under the same teacher for about 15 years, and only now am I able to do 経行 (kinhin), at least the way in which it's done in the school of Rinzai Zen in which I'm practicing.

Do you know where your feet are? Right now?  Are you relaxed but aware?  Where's your mind at this moment?  Can you maintain equanimity as the feces hits the fan?

Zen and martial arts at their best is kind of like that.