Thursday, July 1, 2010

prisoner versus guard: an early brush with zen

when i was 19 me and schizo went to see a zen monastery. we went for a 2 week sesshein (retreat). when we got there we had to take our shoes off and put them in one of hundreds of wooden cubbies.

we also were with his older friend, this straight-laced gay guy. it was a long drive to rochester, Ny, from Cleve and the three ovus were excited. we turned from the cubbies and looked around in the foyer. there were three or more giant bodhisattva statues (bodis are living saints with vices). on each statue were enormous, big to put your arms around circular platters. and piled quite high on each were nectarines. like well more than a case of nectarines on each platter. and the gay guy points out, every nectarine is unblemished and perfectly ripe.

i joked to the schizo, we should all take one and eat it. they're just sitting here!

but of course we were reverent and went in to be received. the sesshein is six straight hrs/day meditation, in congress with a combo of visitors and inhouse monks. sitting meditation (everybody sits and breathes in unison in quiet until a bell rings), walking meditation (when that bell rings everybody gets up and walks around the room while the big kids chant), and the sitting meditation again. then listening to some buddhist or other sermons. then eating as a group.

every time we ate there were bowls of freshly washed nectarines. they were delicious. and always perfect fruit. i think it was the best food ive tasted, although i didnt dress my salad and its basically inixpliccabull for more reasons than that.

the two head roshis were sister and brother! what are the odds, right? two middle americans, both got into the game for presumably different reasons, since they certainly were two different cats! the woman struck me as kind and welcoming and calm and succinct and unjudging. she felt good. when we were sitting, as happens in zen, she would strike my shoulder with a wooden stick when it fell down and was unaligned with my spine. my right sholder creeps up or down on its own mind.

you sit: and lets face it, there is nothing complicated about zen meditation.. its this simple:

you sit in a position where all muscles are set into place to align your spine so the breath is unobstructed (indian style). with your eyes half mast, arms resting on yr knees and thumbs touching, you breathe.
you count each breath, one to ten. thats it. do it as long as u like.

if you get to eleven or thirteen it means your focus is off, right?

so you go back to one, and to ten and to one and the whole purpose, again no ethereal mystery---is to exercise focus and build yr ability to concentrate. its not frilly or new age or deep as depicted in mass media. zen has come to mean 'cool deep mystery' to people, sadly. while in fact its black and white and linear. 'swhy i like it. because the logic of exercising focus to build concentration in life is such hard solid logic like 'lift these barbells and strengthen your beast-of-burden back'.

the brother on the other hand had too-shiny eyes--like too..charismatic. if u've ever see the Tae Bo guy--the workout boxing guy who made a fortune in the early oughts? ecstatic charm fueled by in Tae Bo's case money. and a grin that was far from transparent.
he looked me up and down when i came in-i saw him do it! and not without distaste! and did think it a bit strange because a monk shouldnt be like obviously rude. right then the schizo said to me i think he's a fraud. and since i liked to disagree with him i decided to take the brother as innocent until proven guilty of being a schmuck. we were supposed to be being openminded vacationers, taking in the culture we had hankerings on.

so there was a question answer session after a meditation with the brother. the brother and sister both wore bibs. this signified them as high ups. he was talking in his bib on, and i'll not remember the word, but the word meant a cathartic reaction during meditation-his examples were seeing things, hearing things that were not there. he said we must not react or give audience to such things because they seem cool but are merely distraction from the breath.

i raised my hand and told him and the room about an experience i had where meditating i suddenly was a swarm of bees. my whole body was buzzing, flapping wings, vibration, air from all the wing flapping and it was cool, and i laughed with joy when it happened. i asked him if i should not have given in to the sensation of beeing a swarm of bees.

he looked at me in the eyes the whole time he told the class some people claim to have psychic powers. and you should guard yourself against such people.

i was like o snap.
damn. i didnt think i had psychic powers! this was a direct stab at me and seemed profoundly inappropriate. but i just thot pack that one away for a rainy day.

and we had bagel brunches and mingled with the live ins. some were so cool. one or two were so guarded as to not smile or say hello when we passed them. we thot some of them might be hiding from the world by living in a closed community. but in general some super cool varied background people befriended us.

second last day there was a beginners zen retreat, a one day affair. so rather than sesshein we decided to sit in on the Q&A.

the brother told the story of the life of the buddha. he told the story really well. i felt like a kid in kindergarten, lying on a mat with juice. he got to a point where he explained the buddha sat beneath the bodi tree until he was enlightened.

he said 'of course he sat for a very, very long time. it was alot of hard work'.

i raised my hand, 'i said why did you say of course it was a long time? couldn't you become enlightened in a single moment?'

he laughed at me and the whole room laughed. he made a quip but didnt deign to answer my question.

but i believed sincerely at the time if u were on the right path and by that i mean Right you could be wholly freed at any time.

then a catholic girl raised her hand, 'my friend and i were both raised catholic. how do we reconcile the idea of having one god with buddhism?'

and the teacher actually said, 'you can't'

my god! i was raised catholic and for a time strongly believed in God. but knowing a little about each buddhism and god, god is love, (they tell you all this in school), and god is everywhere, and god is in you. this is the same thing as the buddha! the buddha is love, he is everything and everywhere. means you are the buddha. you are love. you are part of everything and you are everything. and if everything is love it is perfect. and the catholic god is famously a perfect god.

i realize i have a problem with guards being your typical 'prisoner'. but it was a bummer to see a guard in such a place. and to be judged as being insincere or to be accused of claiming psychic powers was such a shame.

i asked one young monk, he was hawaiian, a live in, say where do you guys get those nectarines.
he said they get them from a local farm. he says they have them nine months out of the year.
i dont know much of anything about farming or orchards but that is too much to be believed.
i said, are they always perfect?
he looked to the side like he had to think. he said, 'yeah i guess they always are'.