In reading what Brad Warner wrote here about the Geshe thing (ugh, I can't believe people fell for this nonsense), it reminded me of a side comment that Nathan wrote here:
In the minds of many Buddhist men historically, and even some still today, enlightenment was a man's domain. And any man who wanted it better "man up" in his practice. The obsession with marathon meditation retreats and hardcore, "balls busting" koan studies you see in some convert Zen communities reminds me a lot of this ancient mud.
I had lots of other issues with Nathan's post as well; but I've made related points (w.r.t. those other issues) in the past and I'll make related points (w.r.t. those issues) again. To bring out the point I want to make, though, I want to go to Ven. Warner's post:
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when you’re getting into meditation practice you’re dealing with some serious mojo. This is not to be taken lightly. And if you think you need a more intense or extreme practice to get you into the deeper stuff faster… you most assuredly do not. It’s absolutely crucial to take this stuff slowly. If you try to rush it, bad things will happen. We’re all full of lots of bad stuff. If you think you can push right through into the great enlightenment of Lord Buddha without first dealing with your own accumulated negative shit, you’re dead wrong.
I've seen unbalanced people in those places...they have them in Christian churches too. It happens.
Ven. Warner has a point. People with issues shouldn't push themselves beyond their limits. It happens, and it will continue to happen, if only because this sort of guidance is guided towards generation of actions from which there are no words - "how much effort" or "what is my resolution to practice" begins - before there is a verbally expressible idea. I'm trying to say that, for at least the reason of how ideation is verbalized, that someone with a less than titanium composure might commit to more than effort than he is able to commit, because he can't ideate the notion of "too much." If you don't like that, there's one of those quotes from William Blake, about how you never know how much is enough until you know how much is too much.
But the other comment, well, I think that comment is not informed by the experience of which I know.
The fact of the matter is, the historical Buddha himself went to extremes in his practice. Eventually he realized a middle-way course of action, but not before hitting the rails. Typically that's the way practitioners work. Again, you can't say "how much is right" without addressing areas from which motivation comes. Note: the point is not to go anywhere near the rails! The point I'm trying to make is without an ongoing commitment, a resolution to effort no fruits of effort are ever realized.
Yeah, Soto folk: I'm saying even to just sit that requires effort. At the very least the effort required to make the commitment to do so.
But...how much effort?
Well, I'll get to that, but first off, but in the spirit of Bill Maher, I'd like to posit a new rule: Soto folks shouldn't opine about koan ( 公案) practice. Seriously folks, what is your point about writing about it if you don't know what it is, and if you haven't practiced it. And just because a Soto teacher "told you" about 公案 practice doesn't mean that teacher knows anything about 公案 practice. Brad Warner's a Soto VIP (how about that instead of 老師?) and even he's written things that were uninformed about 公案 practice. And I can say this and stand by my point above about just sitting requiring effort because there are places where 公案 practice is 只管打坐. And yes, there are schools - White Plum, the Yasutani-based, but also Rinzai temples, where both 公案 and 只管打坐 practices are cultivated, not to mention those outside of the Japanese tradition, especially the Chinese and Vietnamese traditions, where something else entirely is going on. I'm talking about Soto purists here, and especially those who'd rather come uncomfortably close in their practice to the notion of buji zen (無事禅.)
Oh, yes, wait, I know, the comment in question was only denigrating the "balls busting" 公案 studies. It may be that there are 老師 and such that promote unrealistic コブラ会 ("Cobra Kai") types of practices...but a useful teacher will be getting you to have this practice as it arises from you, yourself.
And any useful giver and evaluator of 公案 practice will encourage very strongly effort to be made to get to a resolution of the 公案 - at the very least one must have the resolution to resolve the 公案.
So all of the above means that one's resolution to practice should be cultivated as much as one can without going superego on one's self. (Yes that's a self-referential statement - one shouldn't be bothered if one's going too much in one direction or the other, just resolve to practice. And then follow through.)
Yes, 3 year silent retreats are hoo-hah. No, it's not sexist or damaging to learn how to make a great effort via resolution. In fact it's vital for the practice of living one's life. And don't forget Soto folks: those vows to help other sentient beings are vows. And they come with a high barrier. For a reason.