How training in Zen Buddhism isn't all about compassion, calm, and just being chill
I really enjoyed this article. As a practicing Catholic I find this applies to my spiritual practice as well. Being overly “churchy” and using church jargon to appear spiritual, over spiritualizing concrete daily problems and being unkind is something that I have encountered (sad to say mostly in myself). A quote from St. Francis has a zen feel to it…preach always, and when necessary use words. Alternatively, a down to earth Trappist monk I know once said “live the faith seriously, but don’t be an a-hole”. 😂
In my study and practice of Tai chi the concept and physical reality of attachment to form is something I have struggled with. Some of my fellow students are very graceful and beautiful to watch. Some are awkward and stiff. There is a natural bias toward the aesthetics of graceful movement but our bodies and abilities are all different. It is a mistake to fall into judgement and this article reminds me of that. Thank you.
For the most part, Zen practice doesn't work for modern, people. We are a bit narcissistic. It is pretty much useless without a moral framework. As Dainin Katagiri Roshi use to say, "You can use zazen to become a better thief." It becomes like yoga postures or athletic stretches.
Thank you for this great post, Cristina. Reminds me of two books I've recently read:
1) Living Between Worlds where author James Hollis, Phd, shares his personal mantra: shut up, suit up and show up, and
2) Don't Be a Jerk by Brad Warner who says: the clothes you wear can affect how you behave and can sometimes even make you a whole different sort of person.
Thank you for sharing and being vulnerable enough to teach others. This is very helpful to me on my Daoist path. These are helpful points to keep in mind when dealing with others and where they are on their own path as I share what I am learning with my community. Many deep bows
This article is balm to my battered soul. I know very little about Zen. I have been a practitioner of yoga for many years, and the concepts you explain here apply perfectly in that world, too. In spite of ourselves, it seems, no matter the spiritual framework within which we practice life, us humans have an ironic tendency to use the teachings to justify our own problematic behavior, all while insisting that our only interest is in learning to be "better" people by acting based on those teachings. Then we projec our insecurities about our inevitable shortcomings onto other practitioners, or other spiritual frameworks. The only way through that dilemma, as far as I can see, is to do exactly what you have done in writing this article: we need to normalize imperfection and own ours. I try so hard to do that, and often fail. It is comforting and validating to witness respected teachers model this too. Thank you for that.
Thank you for this!
Christina, Thank you for this down-to-earth treatment of Zen. I am relatively new to the practice, and I have already done exactly as you describe. I look forward to new growth. D
Thank you, Cristina, for discussing this uncomfortable topic. It makes me smile though, because it reminds me of the example of Musashi (the famous swordmaster) given in the book Zen&Budo. Yes, he was considered a "jerk" by more than a few people in his early days. But when egotism penetrates egotism it is more genuine and profound than seeking of No Mind/No Self in the abstract. "Like the puckery persimmons sonomama (just as is) that changes to sweet persimmons." :)
I really enjoy your writing, Cristina.
Respectful thanks for your thoughtful observations.
Your comments on the “enlightened assassin” remind me of a case that Eihei Dogen selected for his _Treasury of the True Dharma Eye_:
> Xixian Faan of Lushan was asked by a government officer, “When I took the city of Jinling with an army troop, I killed countless people. Am I at fault?”
> Xixian said, “I am watching closely.”
(Case 227, English translation by Kazuaki Tanahashi and John Daido Loori)
I was very pleased to see how the spirit of Xixian’s “watching closely” runs through your essay. It is very easy, as an eager beginner, to find religion or philosophy or political ideology, and then to ask: “Am I no longer at fault? Am I good?” But shuffling views does not lead out of the web of cause and effect, and attachment to those views leads to more sorrows, however they might change. The temptation is always there; I have made such a mistake many times.
As you rightly point out, spiritual development comes only through ongoing perseverance and attention to our own behavior.
May you be well,
There is a book called, I think _Zen Flesh, Zen Bones_ or something like that. It was very arty in appearance, Japanesee style, and I liked that, so I may actually have bought the book. I got hold of it somehow. Later, I left it at the house of a young woman I was in love with. Later still, she married someone else. She took the book along to her new married life. Sometimes I would visit the couple. As it happened the book had acquired a sprinkling of comments by me, for Zen writing often inspires me to a kind of itch to comment, contrast, compare, and make my own jokes. Often I contradicted the Zen masters. Opposition is true friendship, said William Blake. Eventually the woman showed the book with its comments to her husband. He was excited and outraged -- apparently he had another view of Zen. He, too, itched to contradict and oppose. He said to his wife, "This is wrong, that is wrong, he doesn't know what these words mean, he doesn't know what he is talking about," and so on and so on. Or course he eventually got around to me with these opinions. "You don't really know anything about Zen," he said after a modest rant.
"Yes," I said, "that is undoubtedly so."
I had already out-Zenned him in a single shot. That's what you can learn from certain martial arts. But I did not hit him with a stick, for I was not a Zen master, and he was also bigger than I, and evidently more irascible.
But _stink_ of Zen? What a great idea! I wish I had thought of it.