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.