Saturday, July 02, 2011

Dump Trucks and Elephants


Not so long ago, during my early morning sit, Gabriel (three years old) woke up and stumbled into the living room. He found me and made a beeline for me on my mat and cushion. Plop, down he went onto my lap and together we sat that way, enjoying the sunrise. Since then, this has happened many times. After a few minutes, he gets up and goes about his life: dump trucks and elephants.

That's the simplicity of a Zen group. You sit together for a while and then go back to your respective dump trucks and elephants. Keeping things that simple and direct within the workings of an organization is a good trick. It can be done.

Since March, I've put quite a bit of work into making the local Zen group an institution. We needed to have a bank account and non-profit status, and there are requirements for achieving these things. It's an amusing process for me to watch, as it involves work my personality does not like: lots of form-filling-outing, and asking for money.

What's wonderful about it so far is that yes, there is now a dharma room and a sign on the door and bank statements and a website and all that. As a result, more people are hearing about us and walking in the door, trying it out. This is a good stage. There is very little drama. I'm not a Zen Master, so nobody gets possessive or makes a big deal about me. People come, sit, chat a little bit while putting on shoes, and then they go back to their dump trucks and elephants. Maybe the sitting makes a difference, helps them return to a clear mind in the midst of all that whirli-dango.

There is suffering, of course, but it's not suffering about Zen or rank or "American Buddhism" or other things that turn into mental battlegrounds. My blog reading lately has been full of arguing. There are lots of insightful things being said/written in the midst of the noise, so I keep looking, but wow -- um. Let's just say Zen practitioners as a set don't have the market cornered on grace and compassion. Arguments about sex scandals and how people respond to sex scandals, male teachers who keep misplacing their penises, kerfluffles about who gets invited to which conference. The latest dust-up on blogs I read has to do with a woman of color who wrote about her painful encounter with white converts to Buddhism, and was so candid about her emotional reaction that it unsettled a great many people -- oh, the comments. Wow.

I did give a listen to a recording of a strange guest dharma talk in New York City. The guest speaker is a well-known author and Zen teacher, young (mid-forties), who has adopted a style very different from other Zen priests. (Yes, I'm referring to Brad Warner.) He was invited to give a talk at a well-reputed Zen center and got some hostile questions from his hosts -- which, in my own judgment, included some inappropriate public psychoanalysis. Is this dharma? More like a pissing match. Whatever your feelings about Brad Warner, they invited him. Was it so they could do this in public? How weird.

So there's something here about practicing with controversy. Sometimes the best reply really is just to listen. (You don't have to buy anything, just listen.) Something about blogs and the media of instant response trains us to reframe, rewrite other people's words, and rebut rebut rebut. I've fallen into it many times, so I won't put on airs. Blogs and websites don't offer the equivalent to silently bowing and listening to another person's pain, without passing judgment on whether the presentation is right or good. Maybe simply leaving the "thank you" comment. Or one of those cute emoticons I see on Facebook that simulates the palms-together hapchang gesture. Don't know.

Eventually, if it lasts, there will be conflicts within the Deming Zen community. It's human. Right now, I'm just enjoying this early stage, where everybody in the room is new to practicing, trying it out with a shared spirit of adventure. The blogs are reminding me how easily "dharma" (our ideas about it that is) and the Zen Center environment become battlegrounds for the same old egotistical games.

It's all right. I can always take a break and do some more work on the house: we're painting. Hot physical labor is good for checking-mind.


[Photo: dharma room at Deming Zen Center, set up for a ceremony]

1 comment:

Mandy_Fish said...

I need to learn that emoticon. I never met an emoticon I didn't like.