True Confession or Am I Stupid?
I’ve been dealing with an issue since I began my practice almost three years ago. It’s been coming to the forefront of my mind lately so I thought I’d post about it. I’ll try to be as clear as I can, but I admit that my mind is a bit jumbled about it. Forgive me for what will probably be a long rant.
Many times when I read Zen lit. I get turned off. Frankly, I am confused about most of it. Some of it, I just don’t get. As I wrote a few times here, after almost 15 years of just reading about Zen, I was inspired to actually practice by Brad Warner’s work. It just seemed so down-to-earth and straightforward, so unlike other stuff I read. However, now I have a love/hate (although “hate” is strong - let’s say “frustration“) relationship with his work. I have a healthy appreciation for most things, but monster movies and punk rock don’t really do it for me, and I do get tired of his calling others “ass wipes” and whatnot. Still, he remains one of my favorite Buddhist writers.
Anyway, since trying to practice the Soto way, I, of course, have been exposed to Master Dogen’s work. I love “Fukanzazengi” and I’m currently reading the “Shobogenzo- zuimonki.” I can appreciate these two works. Apparently, Zuimonki means “easy on the ears” and someone once referred to it as “Zen for Dummies.“ Perhaps I’m a dummy, because so much of Dogen’s other works are pretty damned meaningless to me. Like a great deal of Zen lit., I just don’t get it. I just picked up the late Dainin Katagiri’s new book, “Each Moment Is the Universe,” that deals with Dogen’s idea of being-time. Basically, I can’t make heads or tails out of that either. But there’s always this quiet, underlying voice in me that says I need to get my copy of Shobogenzo and get to work on it.
True confession ahead:
This experience brings up some insecurity and frustration. Now, I don’t consider myself the sharpest tool in the shed. I’m no Einstein, but I have enough intelligence to earn my Ph.D. in education from a top university, serve as an adjunct professor, write and publish for my field, and present my work at national conferences. Please know I say this not to boast; to me, this stuff is enjoyable. I like it. Again, I don’t feel superior intellectually for doing any of this stuff. I believe almost anyone with enough motivation and tenacity can do the same. It’s just that when I read some Zen stuff, it seems unnecessarily dense and obtuse. In the Soto stuff, usually the writer ends up saying a variation of “just sit.” “Okay,” I end up saying. “I get that. Why did you have to take such a circuitous route to say that?” I also see some here on Treeleaf and on Brad’s and Nishijima’s sites say how much they love and get so much out of Shobogenzo. Really? Do all those people really understand this dense, 800 year old tome as much as they purport? Or am I just dumb?
These feelings make me question if Zen (or at least the Soto variation of it) is the right practice for me. Perhaps, I sometimes think, the seemingly down-to-earth Insight Meditation is a better fit. But, I also realize that Shikantaza IS the right practice for me. Plus, I try to live by the Precepts. These two things I get! I even like some of the rituals, especially the chants (although I don‘t always understand what they mean, either!). A lot of the other stuff, however, is just white noise to me.
Does anyone else here have a similar experience? Now I know in the grand scheme of things, with my almost 3 years of practice, I’m still a newbie to Zen. Though I admit, I get a little defensive when someone tells me that I may get this stuff after 25 years of practice. Yeah, maybe. But sometimes I just don’t want to hear it. I could be dead tomorrow. 25 years from now is also meaningless to me.
The main thing I like about studying with Jundo is his down-to-earth approach. He says that Zen practice is basically: “Do no harm to self or others, and realize that there is no difference between the two.“ I like this. It’s “easy on my [dummy’s] ears.“ On a recent thread, he wrote: “I would say that, if you are living, as you can, so as not to do harm, and sitting Zazen ... learning from Buddhist perspectives and teachings to guide you in that ... then it does not matter what you call yourself.”
On the other hand, Jundo did once say to me that one day I’ll have to study Shobogenzo. Really, Jundo? Come on, how many Zen masters (and masters in other traditions for that matter) throughout history never read it? They seemed to turn out pretty good. :wink:
Anyway, that’s my frustrated and long-winded rant. Thank you for your endurance.
Re: True Confession or Am I Stupid?
Hi Keith and Everybody ...
Over the years, I have often felt much the same way.
Originally Posted by Keith
Bill's Jazz music analogy is very much right, I think (I've even thought that the same parts of the brain must be involved in understanding Dogen and listening to Jazz sometimes, but that is a topic for another time). So, I am going to run with that analogy a little.
Strictly speaking, one does not need to read anything like the Shobogenzo, or other such writings or Koan collections, in order to "practice Zen" or get much of the benefit of Zen (yes, even though I constantly say we seek "no benefits", there are great benefits in learning to "seek no benefits"). So, one can stay listening to gentle, quiet and balanced music (e.g., George Winston? I think his "Charlie Brown" stuff might fit the image. Certainly not "David Sanborn", because Zazen practice on its most superficial day is not some mushy New Agey nonsense) Even without any complex Buddhist philosophy, one can taste the fruits of our practice merely in dropping many opinions and resistances to life, learning balance in body and mind, balance and regulation of the emotions, etc. One can do all that. No problem.
However, there are many many nourishing fruits in our Zen practice only available (or maybe, "most directly available" is a better way to say it) through writers like Dogen. This is because those writers and their works serve as a monkey wrench to our normal way of perceiving life, who we are, who we are not, who we are and are not, death, time etc, etc. This is now Thelonious Monk (Buddhist Monk?). Do you want to learn to make time stand still, flow backwards, syncopate? That's Dogen et.al. (The reason I say "writers like Dogen" is because most of the other Zen literature and Koans over the centuries have been meant to serve as this same monkey wrench. It is just that, for our Soto Shikantaza practice Dogen is the best fit ... and also, I think he was on to some aspects of "non-seeking" that are very special even in the Zen world).
So, yes, like Bill and his Chick Corea ("Corea" would be the Kwan Um school ... ha ha), it is an acquired taste but worth the effort. COMPLETELY OPTIONAL HOWEVER, ALTHOUGH RECOMMENDED!
THAT BEING SAID, please give a chance to the Genjo Koan talks I will be starting in a few days. I have taught it 3 or 4 times before (although not as slowly as we will be going), and I hope I can bring my "magic touch" to it. Frankly, I think that Dogen (like many Jazz musicians) was actually a pretty predictable, understandable, repetitive guy once you get his "style" and usual way of playing. (I even think that Nishijima Roshi sometimes makes explanations of Dogen more complex than need be because of Nishijima's way of speaking English that is itself rather confusing, and because he is very insistent on fitting his "Three Philosophies and One Reality" so exactly onto every single line even though it is a rough fit sometimes ... Don't tell him I said that).
May I jump from music to modern art? Dogen is like Picasso: Once you get his basic trick of cutting pictures up and pasting them back together again, it all becomes pretty clear.
(Even so, there are parts of Dogen where he makes lost or obscure literary references, or the translations are confused, or are open to various interpretations, or maybe he was free forming a little too much ... like Miles Davis when he went crazy ... that I am not going to tell you that evey single sentence or reference is clear to me or maybe anybody).
So, how about giving "Jundo's Genjo"(™) a chance? What could it hurt? Making time run backwards can be a handy trick!
Gassho, Jundo "Coltrane" Cohen
PS- But, Keith, you told me there is some problem with seeing the Ustream video system. Anybody else having that problem?? I will try a new system this week as an alternative. Let's see if that works.