Blasting holes through misunderstandings and clingings is a familiar tactic found in the Zen stories of old. Teachers and students sometimes seem to be locked in a duel, shouting down one statement after another as off the mark. Certainly, this approach can be exactly the medicine each of us needs at some critical point in our lives. And it's also true that a fiercely thrown wisdom bolt can be extremely helpful in piercing collective lies and falsehoods as well.
Most of the time though, those of us trying to act the hard ass, like old Nanchuan the cat cutter, for example, fall flat on our faces. Not only does the effort made miss the mark, but sometimes it's so unskillful that a lot of people suffer.
The Zennist's posts lately have been running hard ass on Soto Zen practitioners. In my opinion, some of the critiques he offers are very useful, and worth considering. However, then there are lines like these:
The first oxherding picture concerns the adept who is in a life and death search for Bodhicitta—not just behaving like some aspirant dunce taking Jukai in a Soto Zen center aspiring to Bodhicitta as if this were all there was to the matter. A real votary of Buddhism, like the oxherd boy, discerns fully (hence wisdom) they have lost something dear and vital. What they are searching for is their lost Buddha-nature or absolute Mind that hides in the jungle of the ordinary deluded mind.
Dude. Where's my dunce cap?
Seems to me that there's a hell of a lot of aspirant dunce in most of us, whether our ass is on fire searching for the truth, or we're just fumbling about in spiritual la la land. Confidence slides into arrogance rather quickly, especially when making comments about the validity of other people's ways of accessing the truths of this life. I've crossed this line before, and probably will do so again, so this post is a check on myself as well.
Along these lines, there is the following post by Uku about the Blogisattva Awards. While I can appreciate some of the sentiment (i.e. what's the point of blogging contests), the level of angst feels quite misplaced:
I understand it's a good opportunity to nominate wonderful bloggers but I don't see those finalists under-read. And listen folks, I don't have nothing personal in this. I'm not against bloggers or blogs, not at all. I'm against contests. I find it silly when people are putting all those badges "oooh, I'm a finalist!" in their blogs and posting blog posts "ooh, I'm nominated!". Yeah, I'm a hypocrit right now while acclaiming that in my little Buddhist bubble contests are pretty stupid. I don't think this world needs celebrity-awards-contests-glamour-shit. I find those Buddhist blog contests to be very lame. Who's got the biggest dick? Well, not me.
Here's the thing. Had there been a several month period of ongoing talk and announcements leading up to the Blogisattva Awards, then a dressing down would have been appropriate. Like Uku, I have a deep distaste for the commercialization and glamorizing of certain aspects of Buddhism, and certain teachers. And some of it calls forth the need for fierce response, even if that response isn't pleasant to experience.
However, the Blogisattvas were announced several months ago. In fact, I had a highly discussed post back then asking if these awards fostered a sense of community or not. After the first wave of announcements and discussion, there was mostly nothing for a good four months. Those working on the award website collected blog links, nominations, and whatnot. Once in a while, they would mention the award website. But mostly, it was just something that went on quietly, with almost no hype. So, really, the whole "fuck these awards" commentary smells a lot like teen spirit.
I don't wish to simply pick on The Zennist and Uku here. Actually, I think the stripped down, rigorous qualities of Zen seem to attract a fair amount of hard- assnessed, especially amongst us male practitioners.
No fucking way we're gonna talk about love. Hell, compassion is sometimes too mushy.
If you don't sit several hours of zazen a day, do weeks of sesshin, and need knee surgery at 45, you haven't practiced hard enough.
Better do full lotus motherfucker - none of that half-assed seiza bench shit.
You offer a Dogen quote, I'll one up you with a citation, exegesis, and discourse on why you don't understand that line you quoted.
All of this sounds exactly like that old dharma hall Nanchuan led so many years ago. Here's Case 14 of the Mumonkan:
The case: Nanchuan saw the monks of the eastern and western halls fighting over a cat. Seizing the cat, he told the monks: "If any of you can say a word of Zen, you will save the cat." No one answered. Nanchuan cut the cat in two. That evening Zhaozhou returned to the monastery and Nanchuan told him what had happened. Zhaozhou removed his sandals, placed them on his head, and walked out. Nanchuan said: "If you had been there, you would have saved the cat."
Who are wearing the dunce caps in the eastern and western halls? Might not be as easy as it appears. I'm sure as hell not sure. In fact, every time I go back to this koan, the players involved and their responses look different.
What can we learn from our inner hard-ass?
First off, there are the potential beneficial qualities, such as diligence, commitment, powerful effort, fierceness, and the like.
Secondly, there is everything that might be considered opposite, such as softness, gentleness, kindness, love, balance, and humility.
But let's get fucking real - when you recognize that inner hard-ass running your life, it's a great opportunity to laugh. Because being a hard-ass is pretty damned funny looking. Bulging eyes. Teeth stuck out. Arms flailing all over the place. Mouth foaming. And when you add something as powderkeggish as religion to the mix, it's like puttingHoward Dean and Ted Nugent in a blender. (Man, that would be fun.)
Marguerite's current post over at Mind Deep about her retreat with Buddhist teacher Ruth Denison includes the following lines:
I remember entire evenings devoted to reciting the five precepts, over and over again, and Ruth smiling while we all dozed off and secretly begged to be freed. "Now, one more time . . . "
So damned funny! You can just see that inner hard-ass coming out in all sorts of ways here. "I'm gonna chant every last syllable if it kills me!" "You think I'm a sucker, Ruth, I'll show you!" "BOOOOORRRRring! I'm gonna just do zazen and to hell with this chanting shit!"
The suffering that came before it sucks, but it's really hilarious when you see how something so simple pushes you over the edge. I saw it just a few hours ago, when a bus was twenty minutes late, and I was getting ticked that I wouldn't have enough time to check my e-mail before Friday afternoon meditation practice with the college students. Shaking your fist at a late bus - how stupid is that?
About as stupid as this photo here.
Take that you glamour hound! No blogisattva badge for you!