Thursday, June 03, 2010

More on Zen, Politics, Authenticity, and "Lay versus Monastic Practice"

Evidently I am able to comment on Barbara's Buddhism blog.  She was mentioning Jack Kornfeld's schtick, and I'd had replied to Barbara's remark:

There's also the old and ongoing problem of adapting monasticism to lay life. Buddhists have been struggling with this for centuries. 

 I know once source from whence this might have come.  It is mentioned in The Eight Gates of Zen, an introductory text on Zen for the White Plum Asanga affiliated Mountains and Rivers Order, in which  I practiced for a while when I was in NYC.  I'm sure Barbara's well familiar with this book; having mentioned on her blog several thoughts that have parallels in the book (among them, that 無 shouldn't be done while driving, which is of course true).  Now don't get me wrong in the least - this is a fantastic book, and I recommend reading it, especially if you're new to Zen practice. In that book there is a great deal of space given to the "monastic versus lay" dichotomy, and while I find no problem whatsoever with those who wish to take a monastic/hermetic lifestyle, I did realize after several years of practice out here in the Pacific Northwest, with the example of my own teacher as temple and family guy, as well as learning the history of the Hakuin- Kosen Imakita  lineage to realize that this dichotomy is absolutely irrelevant to my own practice.

I remember the times I'd sit and have to interrupt it to do things for my son, and I'd feel guilty about not being able to sit longer! In retrospect it was completely absurd to worry about this!  My "teacher" needed his milk, warmed, in a sipping cup.  I JUST. DIDN'T. GET. IT.  The Whole Thing was right where I was, and I was putting John Daido Loori's words in my head, as another head, when I had a perfectly good one. Well, like they say about apps and the iPhone, there's a koan for that. (Case 39.)

So I can empathize with Barbara when she replied:

As someone who struggled for years with formal Zen training while raising two children by myself and working a full-time job to support them, I say it’s damn hard to combine lay life with anything resembling standard Zen training.

Because, like her, for years I didn't realize that there is no such thing as standard Zen training. Sure, there's koan curricula, methods for shikan taza, Zen-related arts and "athletics" (for want of a better word).  But it's all, all singular.  It's akin to that quote in the famous Zen movie, Beetlejuice.

[in the waiting room of the afterlife]
Barbara: Adam, is this what happens when you die?
Receptionist: This is what happens when *you* die.
[points at a gaunt man smoking]
Receptionist: That is what happens when *he* dies.
[points at a woman cut in half on the sofa reading]
Receptionist: And that is what happens when *they* die. It's all very personal. And I'll tell you something: if I knew then what I know now...
[shows her slit wrists]
Receptionist: ...I wouldn't have had my little accident.
[the dead people laugh

It's all very personal.  That's why political people don't stop being political people when they take up a practice, and non-political people don't necessarily become politically aware and engaged. Mutatis mutandis  about Barbara's recent post about Kyle.

She's spot on there. There's just about 10,000 ways that this point is true.  You do become "more authentic" with this practice, but not in a way that is intentionally more authentic...'cause that's that être-pour-soi again.

It's really easy to put another head on top of the one we already have.  There's 10,000 ways to do that, too.

And so to my final point in my comment on Barbara's blog: It does seem to me that American Zen - heck, probably all forms of Buddhism as practiced by the worlds bourgeoisie is predicated on the existence of leisure time.  As an engineer, I have been nurtured in the benefits of making stuff to give people more leisure time and use it more effectively.  However, traditionally human existence has not been this way.   If we are to be serious about our practice we have to be serious about really alleviating the sufferings of all beings. I don't know how Jordan's able to be a Marine (and I absolutely admire his practice), but I simply cannot fathom how Tom Armstrong lives his life now, and deeply respect him for it. 

I have it way, way easy, and I know I don't even know how easy I have it.  I know Bernie Glassman tried to move in the direction of helping the homeless in his Greyston thing, and maybe that's still working well; I haven't read more on it lately.  I do know there's a multitude of beings that it is absolutely critical for me to help today though, as part of my own  job and family life and career.  So while I can say I have it easy, and I have worked to cultivate skills to make it "easier" for me, I  know there are others who have it what seems to be hopelessly difficult to me. 


SlowZen said...

Thanks Mumon,
I often don't know the same thing...

The deluded mind loves to make distinctions. This is this, that is that. But all those distinctions are stuff we make up and have nothing to do with the truth.

We need those distinctions so that we don't go crossing into oncoming traffic, mix up the red and blur wires, etc. But we have to see through these distinctions too, and know that the labels we like to affix to stuff is just an illusion. Everyone has to meet their practice where they are, the trick is turning the light inwards and shining.

Or so I keep telling my false sense of self, over and over again...

Kyle said...

Yes, great thoughts, I honestly never thought of it this way. I definitely agree, our own individuality isn't compromised, but certainly can be used to help our practice.

Great post.

Mumon K said...

Thanks gentlemen; this part of our mind that does this putting another head there stuff is the product of relatively recent evolution, and does serve a useful purpose, as you say Jordan, though, this part of the brain has to be used to turn the practice inward.