Friday, May 06, 2016

Get dressed, get blessed. Try to be a success. Please her, please him, buy gifts. Or,on being a 臥龍

Brad Warner has an interesting piece out that deals with issues that have been on my mind for quite a while.

Success depends on measurement and comparison. On the one hand, I am successful because I have six books out, all of which are still in print including the first one I published over ten years ago. I don’t have to punch a clock every day. I’m my own boss. I earn enough to pay my rent and my bills and have some left over to buy old records over at the Goodwill.
On the other hand, I am unsuccessful because none of my books has ever won a literary prize. They don’t sell as well as those by many other writers in my field. I’ve never been reviewed in the New York Times and no doubt never will. I’ll never be on Oprah’s Super Spiritual Sunday. NPR routinely ignores every book I put out. Bill Maher doesn’t want me on his show even though every other person who writes a book about religion gets on. I was once told by someone who deals with the big names on the spiritual scene that I am “not even on the radar” when it comes to the real stars of the meditation world. My retreats don’t pack ‘em in like those run by the big boys in the scene.

The sangha to which I belong is a very small sangha.  We've had one or two new members in the past 10 years. Yet, the osho of my sangha is a pretty accomplished guy.   It's just that in the US he's even less on the radar than Mr. Warner. (Japan is a bit different, let's just say.)

So sometimes I get the feeling that my osho's Zen doesn't get the attention it deserves. It probably won't appear in Adam Kōshin (meaning "Shining Heart") Tebbe's documentary on Zen in America if that ever gets made.  Our sangha doesn't get any mention on Sweeping Zen, though pretty much all the Rinzai osho's I've spoken with in the Pacific Northwest have heard of him.  We've never put up a booth at the Portland Buddhist Festival. 

There's reasons why my osho's sangha is small.  Part of that has to do with the fact that our sittings are done at his residence, and it would be kind of unusual for 60 people to suddenly show up for a zazenkai.  It also has to do with the fact that my osho also manages a temple in Japan, so much of the year he is not in the US.  Finally, it has to do with the fact that we have a really minimal internet presence.  We could actually have more of an internet presence, but we don't have one as of now.

Yet,  none of that really matters all that much.  It doesn't matter all that much because it's not the point of the sangha.  It's not the point of sitting, as Brad Warner points out either. 

This blog has been around for over 10 years.  I have something like 40 followers, and when I tweet about a post,  I might get a hundred or so readers, occasionally more if I'm posting something about a Zen scandal.   Adam Kōshin (meaning "Shining Heart") Tebbe might still disagree with me, but from the analytics it's obvious even in Zen Buddhism, scandal sells.  But I want this blog to be a bit more than about scandals, and besides, if it's only about scandals, then your source of content is exhausted once scandals die down.

I'm pretty successful, as the world defines success, in my career.  Substantially less so in other areas of my life.   But I really stopped worrying so much whether we have a "name" sangha or such.  This also has to do with something that Hakuin mentioned more or less: If you do this practice for enough years,  and with good intent, and attempt at least to be ethical, it can't not benefit you. That's not the same thing as having an explicit goal to make what I think is an obvious point.

In fact, I think some of the issues with American Zen/Convert Zen/... stem from the desire of some oshos to want their sanghas to grow and be popular or "successful." (You might think you know who I'm talking about, but besides them there's others.)

I should mention one other thing.  My osho's temple in Japan sits on a large hill (small mountain?) called 臥龍山, (がりゅうさん, garyūsan), which means "unrecognized genius," "exceptional person hidden among the masses," or "dragon laying down," or more colloquially, "sleeping dragon."  The word がりゅう is also a homonym for 我流, which has the kanji for "self," and "flow," and means, "self taught," or "one's own way."  That's a pretty apt name for a mountain on which to put a Zen temple, no?  It's finding one's way, and being a sleeping dragon, or as Lin Chi put it, a person of no rank.

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