THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ZEN TALK YOU WILL EVER HEAR, though pretty mediocre and quite forgettable. It will save Zen Students endless tail chasing and dead-ends, disappointments and wasted days ... by pointing out that tail chasing is arriving, wasted days are timeless. It will allow every Sitting to be Magnificent ... both the Sittings which are magnificent and those which are anything but. One will never be let down by one's Zen's Practice again ... nor by one's life, family and friends, nor this whole world ... both when fulfilling your every dream and when falling far short of expectations.
In an old Koan from the Book of Serenity (Ganto's Bow and Shout) a Zen student of too little experience but too much self conceit (as is true of so many modern Zen Students) shows up at the doorway of a Sangha. He demands, full of opinions, "Is this place sacred or just common? Is it what I think I want from the Zen I picture? Is it 'real Zen' or just fake Zen, and are the Teachers enlightened as I want 'enlightened' to look and seem?"
The Teacher in the Koan then demonstrates Dharma with a KATZU! Shout ... perhaps a GREAT Wordless Teaching or perhaps just a hackneyed cliche clunker. The student, moved, may decide to stay. Or, judgmental and dreaming, filled with golden expectations, the same Zen Student may feel disappointed with the Teachings offered (compared to how he thinks they "should" sound ... even if he is not quite sure how that is.). He leaves ... either right away or after some time ... thinking "there is no True Dharma here." He may judge based on having read too many Zen story books, where all the characters of the past have been cleaned up and dipped in gold (Although please read some of the old books such as the Vinaya, and you will find what a frustrating mess, with folks bumping noses, was Sangha even in the Buddha's day ). In either case, the foolish student fails to hear the TRUE SHOUT! ... the Great Wordless Teaching found both in the inspiring moment and the hack and cliche'd klunk.
The student fails to realize that the Best Zen Sangha may be that which is sometimes inspiring and sometimes discouraging, and the Best Buddhist Teachers and Friends those who are frequently uplifting and sometimes frustrating and mostly in between ... the ones who sometimes meet your ideals, but sometimes don't.
For what the Zen Student must find is Such which is Common-Holy, Specially Unspecial, fulfilling all desires ... both with what is wanted and what is not. The student most find freedom from the small human self ... filled with aversions and attractions, dreams and feelings of incompleteness and lack (the "I" in "I'm disappointed"). Can one know the Real that sweeps in and sweeps through 'real' or 'fake'? Can the Great Teaching be heard that shouts at the Unbreakable Heart of both the sparkling talks or thrilling moments and the dull or dumb, the Timeless both in the 'time well spent' and so-called 'waste of time'? Can one experience the Wholly Holy Whole, which fills all the high mountains climbed and barren holes one falls in. Can one find that True Way from which there is no way to "go away"? Even the frauds and fake Teachers, even the Teachers with weaknesses and failings, even the the greatest abusers and predators are Teaching to those with a Buddha's Eye to see.
Is this a clarion call to complacency and mediocrity, acceptance of the ugly without attempt at repair? FAR FROM IT! Yet there are two kinds of Sangha or Teacher that, I feel, do a disservice to students. One is a place or person that is too lax, too careless, which fails to provide beneficial opportunities for Practice, or (in some fortunately very VERY few cases) where real abuse and other bad acts occur. But, counter-intuitive as it may seem, a Sangha or Teacher which meets all the student's expectations, golden dreams, ideals and desires too would be a disservice (not to mention unlikely to ever truly appear, at least for the long haul when the rose colored honeymoon is done. It would be as misleading as the world of 'Gods' in the Six Realms, where all is given that is desired). Why? Because as with all of this life, all this world, one must come to see through personal judgments of both "sacred" and "ordinary", good and bad, flashy or dull, entertaining or painful, satisfying and disatisfying, true vs. fake ... thus to find a Truth beyond selfish expectations, disappointments, dreams, ideals and failings to meet a mark, thus to find the Mark Always Met. The best Teacher or Community, as strange as it sounds, may be one that ... like the universe ... sometimes inspires and sometimes frustrates, sometimes energizes and sometimes bores, sometimes astounds and sometimes leaves cold ... all so that one might find Astounding Energetic Inspiration even right at the heart of the frustratingly dull or unbearably cold.
This is not a call for complacency, resignation or merely "putting up with" ... but a call to PIERCE RIGHT THROUGH!
Our Treeleaf Sangha is a wonderfully imperfect place, often beautiful and often filled with small frictions. Our Teachers here are well-meaning but mediocre clods and fools. Yet This Place, This Dharma, This Buddha, sits beyond all human weighing and rating.
Here is a talk by me, the Best Zen Talk You Will Ever Hear, yet just middling and unspecial. Is it worth the time? Is it a waste of time?
........................... 'Tis Timeless whether worth or waste.