Saturday, December 15, 2012

Red light green light


After reading the prevous post, "Violence in the name of reality," a friend writes in:

...It seems to me that you are asking people to jump directly from their conditioned experience right into full and complete enlightenment and independence. In my experience, that is not possible. Sometimes things need to happen in stages. For example, someone who has had terrible parenting might find it a great step up to first become a "good, obedient student of a Zen Master,"—that is, if the Master herself is truly wise, kind and compassionate and unattached herself to having the student be "good" or "obedient." Such teachers are rare, but they can exist. Then after some time of gaining confidence, the student will be ready to rebel against the Zen Master too and finally find her own true voice. A great teacher once said: "first you have to overcome your parents, then you have to overcome Buddha, then you have to overcome me."  (You know what I am trying to say here.) In other words, you have become completely independent, but you can't do it all at once. Asking people to do that is to leave them with an insuperable hurdle to jump over and no help, other than your words, to do it. Maybe some very strong people can do that—well, the Buddha did of course, and there are some strong, successful Zen students who were always quite independent of their teacher—but most of us need some mentors along the way. A lot more should be said—or shouldn't—but does this make any sense to you?

Yes, it does.

My quibbles with this are quite minor and I'll get them out of the way at once.  (1) I decline the suggestion that I've "become completely independent" or understand anything about "complete enlightenment."  But thanks.  (2)  I did not intend to suggest -- nor do I think the piece does suggest -- that we do not need mentors, learning, practice, discipline, etc.

Other than that, I agree with just about everything in this comment. Let me try to address the seeming disparity.

My son, who is four, has learned that the red light means stop and the green light means go.  Adults know this is just a convention: we agree to abide by the "authority" of the red and green lights.  This keeps the intersection a little bit safer while we're all driving around.  It works well enough so we do it.  And if someone decides not to play along, they get a ticket and pay a fine because what they are doing is unsafe.  I've even gotten tickets for not coming to a complete stop at the red sign that tells me to STOP.  I don't like it, but I pay the fine.  I'm agreeing to play along because in the end it's safer for all of us.  Discipline.

Being a "good, obedient student of a zen master"can also be quite useful and beneficial, when done from the right perspective.  As you point out, it's important that the teacher doesn't buy into the game too much.  (We both know teachers who have.)  It's especially important that the student doesn't buy into it too much.  This is the problem with some of the people around Eido Shimano and Joshu Sasaki, making excuses for them and protecting them from appropriate consequences of what they've done.

This past summer, I played a pretty convincing Tybalt; but I didn't actually kill the actor playing Mercutio.  Know what I mean?  

So my suggestion is not necessarily to rebel, but to play the game while staying conscious of the game.  To quote Seung Sahn again: "I go with the flow, and I watch where the flow is going."

And rebellion is an option, too, if it's needed.  Right now, Rinzai-ji could probably benefit from some rebellion.  But that's not my fight.




[Image: Gabriel's early lessons in wearing uniforms and listening to a coach.]

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