Thursday, 28 September 2017

Social Justice Meditation

Rahmi Koc Museum 1040704 Nevit Is it privilege in general that you oppose, or just privilege that isn't yours?

(Photo courtesy of Nevit Dilmen, Rahmi M. Koç Müzesi, and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

WW: Cloud dust

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Good Book: Two Shores of Zen - An American Monk's Japan

I hold the word on my tongue, bullshit, so he'll know that I'm serious about this. I'm not just complaining. He needs to meet me, to understand that I'm tired of this American Buddhist 'Upper Middle Way'. I'm tired of the sexual dramas, the talk of 'income streams' and 'personnel costs'. […] It is not that I'm averse to problems; I understand that they are the stones that lay the path. I am tired, though, of these corporate problems, 'Are we making enough?' and these hippie commune problems, 'Who's fucking who?'
Jiryu Mark Rutschman-Byler is nose to nose with his teacher. He's done with the nonsense. He's determined to pursue the Way. The true Way. The authentic Way, goddamit!

The fact that he stalks off in precisely the opposite direction from mine only intensifies my sense of kinship with him.

Two Shores of Zen: An American Monk's Japan chronicles one seeker's attempt to resolve the central contradiction of our religion: a philosophy of transcendence, patrolled in two disparate cultures by a careerist administration.

In young Jiryu's case, he's fed up with the mealy-mouthed doubletalk of Western Zen. His California sangha is flabby, bohemian, materialistic. "When are we going to get around to seeking enlightenment?" he wonders. "Are we going to get around to seeking enlightenment?"

The twentysomething monastic longs to live those legends, breathlessly recounted in the West, of merciless sitting schedules, brain-bending mental training, and utter obedience to a deific master. In his view the Ancestors' instructions have been inverted in transmission, to the point that following them is heresy. "How," he protests, "did we make the original Middle Way into an extreme to be avoided?"

Certain the hallowed Japanese couldn't be so glib, he jumps on a plane and jets off to get him some of that pure Asian practice.

We know what has to happen next. But Jiryu's account of it is fresh and honest, and his courage in telling a tale that doesn't always show his younger self to be the Stone Buddha he takes himself for inspires trust.

Certainly, the antics of a living oxymoron – a rebel cœnobite – make engaging reading. At one point the eager young pilgrim even considers cutting off a finger as a gesture of gratitude to his teacher; fortunately, common sense reins in this particular manifestation of his crush on Japan. (For their part, the Japanese would recoil in horror from such an act; most today regard monasticism itself as abusive and atavistic.)

Jiryu gamely owns a few other delusions as well – including, o shame of counter-California revolution, sexual ones – and documents the uncorrected worldliness of his peers as all swim in the obsessive patriarchy of Japanese practice. (Eremitical Perspective Break: from where I'm sitting – so to speak – both the Eastern and Western schools are culture-over-dharma models.) But the writer's Augustinian confessions are compelling and endearing, precisely because he's so gung-ho. Absent that, his openings couldn't be as revelatory, his witness as eloquent, or his trajectory as utterly human.

In short, Two Shores is the Empty Mirror of our time, enhanced and upgraded by a later generation's relative suspicion of exoticism. Which makes the fact that it was rejected by traditional publishing all the more frustrating. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Buddhist press has largely become irrelevant. Yes, its stable of conservative celebrity teacher-authors reaches a well-monied market. But we practicing Buddhists outside that market are quickly becoming the demographic majority. Jiryu himself calls out the self-help and "lifestyle" mill that passes for our media. The fact that he was ultimately obliged to self-publish Two Shores – a foundational text Zenners should read – is a bitter irony.

Not that the book doesn't suffer a few foibles of its own. A sea of typos – typical failing of self-published titles – distracts the reader and weakens the prestige of the work. Also, were I the editor Jiryu tried so hard to secure, I'd've ordered a short epilogue, closing storylines left open, catching us up on his life and practice (he's on the pastoral staff at Green Gulch, a fact that brings his lessons full-circle) and offering considered insight into his Asian interlude, now that several years have passed. (It's worth mentioning that publisher-released books often share this deficiency, professional oversight be damned.)

But these are minor details. I'm heartily grateful that Jiryu has made his work available at personal expense, as few POD authors recoup costs, let alone profit.

I recommend that anyone who's troubled by our all-too-mortal Zen establishment; suffers from Real Zen Disorder; is interested in Japanese practice models; or just likes a good Zen yarn, do all sentient beings a favour and buy Two Shores of Zen.

Then maybe convince someone else to do as well.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

WW: Morning glories

(Convolvulus arvensis.)

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Gold Side Gothic

These Okanogan Forest Service roads were punctuated by the weathered husks of farmhouses, glass and paint long departed, their Norman Rockwell profiles inclining in iron sickness.

But not rot; that wants rain, and the only moisture that ever flowed freely in this country was the blood, sweat, piss, and tears of homesteaders.

When even that ran out, families surrendered.

Standing by those vacant windows, you can feel the handshake, smell the wash, taste the bacon, and in the keening of a wind-blown hinge, touch a sorrow full as deep as it was four generations ago.

(Adapted from Rough Around the Edges: A Journey Around Washington's Borderlands, copyright RK Henderson. Photo of Douglas County derelict courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

WW: Summer shore

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Automobile Maintenance

As summer reached its apogee, and the 100 Days their last weeks, my mind settled into a comfortable hum. More than acceptance, not quite joy; just, home.

But oh, the poor rolling stock! From its battered chassis, to engine problems, to electrical glitches, this truck was trailing. Sitting on my zafu, I watched systems check in like idiot lights: joints, muscles, organs; blood and bile and brains.

Yet my body has been such sangha. My eccentric lifestyle has only been possible because the crow meat was on board. Others may disparage it – too short, too skinny, too crooked; hell, just too. But, like my Toyota truck and my MSR hiking stove, my body is top of the line. And like them, it has served well-above and far-beyond, for far too long. If my tools can't run forever on damp air and bad fuel, that's hardly their fault.

Because hermitry is a job for a younger man. But as there were none around, I simply had to become one.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson.)

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

WW: Silver-spotted tiger moth caterpillar

(Lophocampa argentata.)
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