Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Getting the hang of enlightenment

We may find in the beginning stages of Zen training that it is very hard being enlightened all the time, but unfortunately there's no kind of off-switch. All kinds of things can become bothersome as the difference between what you formerly thought of as "I" and "the rest of the world" becomes perilously narrow. Perhaps there is an unappealing-looking homeless person, or a parent shouting at their children like a slave-trader with a toothache, or else it is the banker spreading his palms as he wonders which of his holiday homes to redecorate. These characters one and all, and this is the sticky bit, they are all you. I can sense the swivelling of cynical eyeballs within incredulous sockets, "what hippyish nonsense" they say. Perhaps if I were to put it another way, and say that between you and they lies not a jot of separation. You can think of time, distance, circumstance or the fact of bone filled bodies as separating us from other folks. But there is no change in facts required, only one of the heart and mind, to see these not as barriers but rather as bridges. Bad news for all you prospective hermits out there: there is no such thing as being alone, not really. It may help, or it may freak you out utterly, to think of all your senses as being analogous to that of touch. I see the bike outside the window because the the light touches between the sun, the bike and my sensory field. Just because of all this though, there's no particular need to go around hugging everything saying "hello bicycle, hello irritated cat, hello pungent street drinker." I mean, you could, and you might, but there really is no need to stick extra ideas of Oneness onto everything. Everything knows this already, and what's more, it acts on it. This is called Life, a grand interpenetrating, multi-centered web of ever-shifting process and relationship. Zen folks long in the tooth may get uncomfortable, irritable even if some character goes about pointing out just how very together it all is, as one wit said:

"These hills and mountains are the very body of Buddha" to which his teacher replied "Oh do be quiet, really I can't take you anywhere."*

*I may have taken some liberty with the translation of the original...

Friday, 3 August 2012

What should my life do with me?

I find that I am really lost in my future at the moment. There are two tendencies which are fighting it out: one is the "do nothing" view, that of being grateful for what is present now and not striving for bigger and better all the time. The other view is that of chasing one's dreams, of fulfilling one's potential in this world. I can spend literally hours planning and scheming, lost in a world of potential. When I have a good idea, a good scheme for a killer novel or a new martial arts training paradigm say, I'm elated: all I want to do is clear my schedule and get to work. But, just as quickly as the super brainwave comes, out it rolls again. The idea loses its lustre, it'll never work, I haven't got the skills, the know-how or whatever. Thus, a whole cycle of creativity,excitement and despondency can take a turn without anything real actually happening. I think I live at least fifty-percent of my life in that world. 
Sometimes though, like this morning, as I wake I know it's not going to be one of those days. It's going to be a day where my relationship with the thoughts in my head, the schemes, the desires, the plans, is like that of the sky to the clouds. Just like that, coming and going. The merest play of light on a brick wall,the sight of a co-worker strolling the corridors, or the hot charms of a cup of tea, is fascinating and satisfying enough for me, without the need to extract anything else from the experience.
I have to say that, on occasion, I feel somewhat guilty for not striving more. I think, even amongst Zen practitioners, there is a tendency to be a little slavish in our work ethic and to imagine that we should be doing good works, especially if we admire the proponents of "Engaged Buddhism" as I do. My mistake is to think that the universe can't be trusted. We have in our tradition great espousers of faith in the world such as Rinzai who said "The principle is: not to try to be anyone special; and to have nothing to do", or Bankei who preached the uselessness of striving with our minds. The famous Zen poem says, "The Spring comes, the grass grows by itself", but that seems pretty subversive in these needful days of eco-plight and humanitarian suffering. As Alan Watts said, sermons on the Bible verse about "having no fear for tomorrow" were thin on the ground even in his hippyish day.
I'm not sure what I can do to help all that. But on these rare days, I can certainly fulfil my job as appreciator-extraordinaire of this life, and perhaps that is the only place to start.

Monday, 2 July 2012

I got me some writin' on the Shambhala Under 35 Project

Want some stuff to read? Here you go, don't ever say I gave you nuthin'...


There are several articles on there by me, and also many other worthy writers so take a look! N

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

I Survived A Sesshin And All I Got Was This Bib-Thing...

An unfinished rakusu like mine 
Sesshins are lovely, uplifting and worthwhile. Sesshins are also awful, heartrending and gruelling. On this sesshin, I took the Bodhisattva Vows. The decision to do this both came out of nowhere, and was something I've been chewing on for a couple of years. I've always felt funny about officially joining the gang, even to the point of not wearing a kimono, which is standard garb whether one is ordained or not. It just always felt extra to me. When I did put one on, my lovely girlfriend said that she felt it put distance between us, which is exactly what I was worried about. Part of the ordination training guided us through the lineage, and it was amazing to trace back through all the Zen people over hundreds of years, and infinitely weird to picture my own name at the bottom of the chart. A cosmic sense of responsibility welled up in me. And again, a sense of separation from others who aren't in the gang, as it were. This is something I need to get  my head and heart around, to remember that yes, taking vows is special and at the same time, totally ordinary and really just an affirmation of what-already-is. To people who know me and may be concerned: I haven't joined a cult. Or maybe I have. But it's a really good one, and it's not expensive and the teachers don't have gold Rolls-Royces or if they do, I haven't seen them. I also will not become a Buddhism-spouting religious geek (apart from on this blog of course). What I have done is to officially welcome the chance to try and live by certain precepts, the most fundamental of which go like this: 1) Don't do harm 2) Do good 3) Do good for others. This just shows how slow I am on the uptake that I even need to be told this stuff...but I do, and need also to be regularly reminded of it.
Despite all the strangeness going on in my head, the experience of the Bodhisattva Ordination was pretty cool, and everyone was very supportive, especially lovely C my girlfriend. Also, because my sewing is slow and bad, I was given a rakusu that had come all the way from Argentina, so thanks to those unknown South American seamsters.  I have to say that I haven't mentioned all this to everyone that I know, because I still feel some strangeness around it. But it feels like I did the right thing, taking the Buddhist plunge. Onto a life of practice then, I guess. Ha! Sounds funny even just saying it!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Kapwing! Saving All Beings! Kapow!

In being Buddhists and particularly Zen ones, part of our modus operandi is about saving all those sentient beings. Or perhaps realising that they are inherently saved anyway. This is quite a weighty proposition for a person whose normal level of responsibility lies in buying in the pastries on Sunday mornings, and ensuring that he wears matching shoes. Well, pretty much. I have tried being an ironic Buddhist, that's to say one who is cool with the idea but doesn't feel the need to do anything about it. It is not an approach that works for me, as I have come to realise that I am a person who likes to be involved, which is quite a shock. The taking of the Bodhisattvas Vows is in some ways a dumb idea: what does it matter to the Universe if you make some sort of promise and get given a mini-robe thing? It doesn't, not one jot. On the other hand, intention is all. Sometimes doing a dumb thing is just what is needed. Sometimes we just have to allow ourselves to be fooled: not all the time, I'm not suggesting we should give up our intelligence, or our reasoning. On the other hand, it's too easy for us to keep our cool-hipster ironic stance on things, whereby we observe and hang back, and comment, but don' t throw ourselves in.Much of our culture is geared towards keeping us at a distance from life. Rituals, oaths, promises: these things confound the normal hands-off approach: "I'm going to do this thing even if I look silly, and turn out to be foolish in my aspirations." This is a leap towards openness. It's my turn to jump, silly rakusu robe and all, into this ridiculous world of vow where I pretend to be Superman, to master teachings and encounter Buddhas and save all beings, and join the ranks of those nonsensical folks from ages past and present who have done the same. Here I come!

Friday, 30 March 2012

The Perfect Zen Student?

"When things are running smoothly, the refrigerator is very much like some people's idea of the perfect Zen student. It is calm, cool, and quiet, and it possesses its own inner light."
- Gary Thorp, "Infinite Winter"
Read the entire article in the Tricycle Wisdom Collection

This above excerpt was emailed to me by Tricycle Magazine, of which I am quite the fan. But stuff like this quote I think really gets people in a total muddle. I spent a few years trying to be the perfect Zen student, and trying to be all those things listed above. I failed, and the reason? Because the above quote is perfect only in one way: it is the perfect caricature of a Zen practitioner. As Brad Warner might say, even whatisname on the front of Tricycle or any other similar mag isn't always cool, calm and illuminated. Many of us may spend very little time being any of these things. That doesn't make us any "worse" than those who fit the above model. To be fair, Mr Thorp does say it's only some people's idea of Zen, but it is quite a prevalent one in my experience...
 Zen is wide enough to include sorrow, rage, annoyance, boredom, pettiness, jealousy and the whole messy gamut of human experience. There's a koan (which I can't source right now) where a Zen teacher is found to be distraught at the death of a friend. "Why are you weeping?" his surprised students ask, "Are you not a Zen master?" "I'm sad, so I'm crying" came his response. Similarly, Natalie Goldberg is equally surprised when she criticises one of Katagiri's Dharma talks, and he displays disappointment. She figured, incorrectly, that he was somehow "above" that. But Zen is to reflect, and to be in the middle of all situations burning cleanly. If you are stuck in the idea of Zen being cool, calm and quiet, sooner or later someone will tweak your nose and you will say "OW!" and then where are your ideas?
The book from which this excerpt comes, Sweeping Zen by Gary Thorp, is pretty good. Just not the section that Tricycle posted to me.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Silliest Spiritual Game in Town

On occasion, Zen practice can give you what appears to be a real kick in the teeth. There are times when the whole game of it drops away and not only do you know it to be pointless, you feel that it is pointless. Absolutely pointless. This leaves you feeling like you are in freefall: one moment you had the Zen game with the sitting and the robes and whatnot, and then you realise that this patch of corporeality that you are pleased to call your body will one day cease operations and you will be dead, and there's absolutely nothing to be done about it. I was grumbling to myself that I don't have a teacher, and that I'd never be able to sew a raksusu in order to take the Bodhisattva Vow and on it went, a real outpouring of sorrow for myself. Then a thought occurred: what difference would a teacher, even the most famous, fierce and accomplished Zen type you could think of, what difference would they make? I'd still sit on my cushion. I'd still have to sew that f***ing rakusu. I'd still, to put it bluntly, have to die my own death. Ha.
Of course, we still like to play the game: I like the Zen game. I like the ritual, I like pretending that I'm connected with something venerable and deep. I like taking myself off to zazen and spending my evening sitting for nothing. I could do other, similar things: I could do vipassana, Insight or Shambhala, one of those modern Buddhisms which seems keen on meditation or Buddhism being a journey or a purification or something. But they don't seem to have the silliness, and I like silliness of the gravest, ancient and most serious sort.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Tasteless Scandal Rocks Zen Center

A scandal yesterday erupted which will strike at the very heart of American Zen, as it was revealed that one high-profile Zen teacher had forced his students into tasteless acts. A special investigative committee, headed up by  John Korogi McGinnigey Roshi, was dispatched to the Riverpinestone Bay Zen Center. "When we went in, we were shocked by what we found. The first hint was a brightly-coloured zafu just laying there in full view. It had a polka-dot pattern on it. Further in, and we found that someone had put up chintz curtains and one of those magic-eye posters. Later I heard if you stared long enough at it, you'd see 3D unicorns. I'm trained, but nothing I'd seen previously had prepared me for this." As the team continued, further horrors came to light: "Instead of raked sand, a barbecue pit", a sobbing investigator relived his experiences, "everywhere, those solar-powered garden lights with dragonflies on them." The main zendo had become a monument, an altar one might say, to tastelessness: statues of cheerful, human-looking dogs in a variety of sports outfits, little miniature houses that light up from inside, and a host of other items best described as "knickknacks" were found therein. Incense holders were replaced by cloying "plug-ins".
One of the students of the renegade Zen teacher spoke out, "It'll take me some time, and a good deal of counselling, to get the scent of "Ocean Coast Stroll" out of my nose. It had started innocently enough, I suppose, when Roshi said one day "You know guys, I've had it up to here with all these artfully arranged Japanese interiors, what say we go a bit cosy for a while?"  Another student spoke out: "You know, it seemed to make sense at the time. Everything was too tasteful. I suddenly felt like I wanted to kick back, pull on some polyester sports trousers and watch television. Roshi had such...a charisma about him, he could convince you of anything."
The Riverpinestone Bay Zen Center before the tragedy
Other students said that they had a bad feeling when posters featuring "spiritual" quotes and stock-image photos had started appearing on the walls. The Zen teacher himself was tracked to his home in nearby Cedar Bay, and taken in by the authorities. His tasteful neighbours had no idea who they'd been living next to all this time: "We knew he was a Zen teacher, so we never doubted his tastefulness. I mean, he had a real skill for it: the things he did with a simple throw, cushion and single-flower vase could bring a tear to the eye. But I guess, you don't really know people as well as you think."
Asked if he had any comment, the shamed teacher offered this, sporting handcuffs and a T-shirt with airbrush-style pictures of Native Americans on it: "I was living a lie. Polished wood and plain walls really get me down .  And does everything have to be brown, black and grey? I mean what about the rest of the spectrum? I'm fifty-five years old, and I've had enough of living in what looks like an Uptown Manhattan sushi joint. And if I have to look at one more piece of calligraphy I think I might just...." He was led away before he could finish the comment. The teacher will face up to three years of Interior Design Therapy, and be subject to a court order imposing a tonal colour scheme on him for the next eighteen months.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Enlightened Beings Anonymous

"My name's Nick, I'm from Brighton. I'd like to share with you all the fact that... I experienced enlightenment six months ago, and I'm ready to step into my power now and deal with it"

"When it happened, I felt so...ashamed. The universe, and my self, had just opened up and I could see that, essentially, there was no problem. I just wanted that feeling to stop. Friends, with whom I now felt a profound connection upon every meeting, began to turn away. My family, bombarded with regular phone-calls and sane, open communication, grew suspicious and started to contact cult de-programming experts. Worst of all were my  Zen friends. "It shouldn't happen to a Soto man" one said, "It ain't natural". Another took me to one side, "Look, it's one thing to experience it, but quite another to talk about it." They asked me if, in the future, I could say "Voldemort" rather than using the E-word. In desperation I contacted the manufacturer of my zafu to see if they would give me my money back: "You did what on one of our products? Go to hell, enlightenment junkie!"

"There was nothing to do but start giving public talks, and pretty soon I was spreading my condition around town like a Dharmic streetwalking hussy. Everyone I met became infected with the same craziness, and there developed  a sangha of compassionate, wise and engaged individuals. I had hit rock-bottom."

"Just lately though, I've started to feel some normality returning: I swore at a homeless man yesterday, and I've rediscovered some of the hatred for my work colleagues that I used to feel. Then, last week, I literally spent all day angrily obsessing about the way my girlfriend does the washing up, and I realised: there is some light at the end of the tunnel.They say that once you've had a taste of awakening, you'll never be able to forget it, never be able to go back. Well, I hope to be living proof that you can return to ignorance, and that anyone, if they try hard enough, can add needless suffering to their lives. For now, I just take it day-by-day."

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Being Nobody, Writing Stuff

I would love someday to write a shiny spiritual autobiography replete with fantastic deeds and humourous encounters ho ho ho! Of course, this means that I have to actually do said deeds and engender the aforementioned encounters. Damn. I don't even have an official, real teacher, and it seems that mostly the good stuff happens around teachers. The Japanese ones are definitely the funniest, and I'm sure not going to find one of those in a hurry. There are very droll people in our Zen group, but writing about them seems like an invasion of their privacy.They come to Zen to investigate the Great Matter of life and death; not in order that their lives be cherrypicked by some half-baked Brad Warner-be. Maybe I should ask permission. Otherwise it's just all going to be about 1) Me sitting facing a wall, and 2) What I reckon about Zen, both of which I am 3) Quite bored of writing about.
Being a writer who is concerned with hem hem "spiritual" stuff is difficult because you are expected to practice what you preach. I mean, I'm sure Eckhart Tolle occasionally swears at his cat (I don't know if he has one), and finishes the last biscuit in the packet, but it's hard to imagine it, isn't it?  Let me put you straight, though: I wouldn't want his fame. It's okay pontificating about  Zen on a blog which has a readership of about ten people. But imagine if millions suddenly relied on you for guidance and wisdom? Eek. No thanks. Somewhere amongst those millions is the guy/gal with the big gun, telescopic sight and crazy mind who is looking for guidance in backwards-played records, subliminal TV things and SPIRITUAL BOOKS. Maybe. I don't think I have any worries on that score. I definitely wouldn't want to go on Oprah.
Let's face it: I'm not going to get a deal with  Shambhala anytime soon, although I have liberally plastered their open-entry writing website with my ham-fisted literary handicrafts (there are five pieces altogether on this site: be the first amongst your friends to collect the set!). But at least no-one's going to be sniped dead with a high-powered rifle because of me. So that's a start, "Do no harm" right?

"It was me" says conical hat-wearing bibliophile

Monday, 20 February 2012

Become a Zen Master!

Are you without direction? Feeling the pinch in these austere times? Are you a bit spiritual? Then why not become a ZEN MASTER!?

In a serene, rural setting, our dedicated staff will train you in :

-Pithy sayings: never be at a loss for words again! plus bonus module "How to Speak with Silence"
- "The Story of Satori": constructing your spiritual autobiography. How was it for you? Sudden, gradual or a bit of both? Are you the happy go-lucky Master who lets it all hang out, or one of those real hard-arsed sorts who grunts and hits folk?
- Wabi Sabi: the Art of Being Happy with Absolutely F***-all
- Zen handicrafts, choose between: painting bamboo, painting with bamboo, painting at bamboo, making bamboo out of pottery, Fuzzy Felts Bamboo Forest Scene. NEW MODULE "Sewing incredibly complex black robe-things and loving it" available from Fall 2012.
-Haemorrhoids and How to Avoid!

We will help you to find your own distinctive style as a Zen master and to navigate these difficult modern times where most people couldn't care less about sitting for hours on a little cushion, and they're certainly not paying for it thank you very much.

Relax in a wide variety of accommodation styles:

The Boot Camp Temple Shack
"Are you an early riser? How about 3am? Is that early enough for you you baldheaded, spiritual wannabe puke stain?" This is the kind of welcome you can expect in our most popular and least fiscally damaging rooms. Sleep dorm-style on quaint tatami mats with no heating just like monks used to do! Gasp at the outdoor cold water wash facility! Laugh as you attempt to make one sheet of toilet paper last a month!

The Middle Class Retreat Cabins
Enjoy awkward early-morning exchanges and complicated dietary requirements in our Cabins. Featuring WIFI and a fully trained barista ready to sneer at your comical soy-latte-mocha combo. Later on participate in vague, well-meaning  discussions about science and politics with people who read about that stuff in the glossy weekend supplements. Oh, and there's a bit of meditation on buckwheat-filled zafus (gluten-free zafus must be pre-booked.)

The Crazy Wisdom Suite
Ooh la la! Hot tubs and mirrored ceilings await, you Tantric tiger you! In these surroundings, "anything's a teaching" what even that? Yes! Replete with fully-stocked bar, and a variety of attractive people in loose spiritual robes, this is the swingingest accomodation we offer for the real guru in you. Indulge, imbibe and enjoy!

All in all, we don't think you will find a more spiritual experience this side of the Sixties, so call TOLL FREE and book your place right away: you're just a phone call away from enjoying a new life as  ZEN MASTER!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Quick thoughts on small pleasures and Great Illness

Thankfully, it doesn't take much to knock one's thinking sideways. Visiting with a friend last night, he told me of a friend of his, unknown to me, who has contracted Motor Neurone Disease. In the midst of our small gathering, this was enough to quieten us down, chatter and the normal silliness forgotten. Really, what is there to say? We all know deep down that we might face some disease or condition like this friend will. But we don't think about it. We get on, we live, and that is our response to the possibility of great illness and suffering. After we had been quiet, we became noisy again. Our boardgame, our cups of tea and chocolate biscuits, the time spent with our friends: everything seemed more colourful, somehow richer. 

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Zen as Art continued

An argument can be made that good quality art reflects ourselves back at us; really fantastic art is so free or transparent of its own agenda that it continues to provide reflection for centuries. The intent of the artist merges into the work, and it appears to be all-of-itself, self-created and self justifying, or indeed so of itself that it needs no justification. That allows us to read ourselves in its form, it carries enough weight of "reality" that we trust the reflections we find in it and draw meaning from them. In Zen, meaning is synonymous with the thing itself, and not only as far as Art is concerned. All of life, in its myriad forms, has its place. This doesn't mean that there are no distinctions or differences, but rather each distinction and difference is as much a part of the Cosmos as the most "cosmic" thing we can think of. The tin can and the marble frieze; the broken computer and the most exquisite seashell. Again, let's be clear: this isn't to say that the tin can somehow must produce the same reaction in us as the frieze. This is the mistake of post-modernism. But they both "belong" in a fundamental sense. Whether or not they both belong in an art gallery is open to debate. Too often the pursuit of "spirituality" becomes a way of acquiring a certain aesthetic: linen rather than polyester, retreats rather than package holidays, meditation rather than television watching. In this way, spirituality can become an expensive middle-class pursuit. Now, obviously the justification for these choices is that they are better for allowing us to see through our Selves, our thoughts, concepts, beliefs, habits and emotions. For a time, they may well be. But the real art is to see through those things amidst all activities, surroundings and conditions. It is possible to get hung up on the spiritual aesthetic, as happens in this story featured in "Dropping Ashes on the Buddha":

The student was very upset. He went to Soen-sa and said, "Those plastic flowers are awful. Can't I take them off the altar and dump them somewhere?"
Soen-sa said, "It is your mind that is plastic. The whole universe is plastic."
The student said, "What do you mean?"
Soen-sa said, "Buddha said, 'When one's mind is pure, the whole universe is pure;When one's mind is tainted, the whole universe is tainted.' Every day we meet people who are unhappy. When their minds are sad, everything they see, hear, smell, taste,and touch is sad, the whole universe is sad. When the mind is happy, the whole universe is happy. If you desire something, then you are attached to it. If you reject it, you are just as attached to it. Being attached to a thing means that it becomes a hindrance in your mind. So 'I don't like plastic' is the same as 'I like plastic'— both are attachments. You don't like plastic flowers, so your mind has become plastic, and the whole universe is plastic. Put it all down. Then you won't be hindered by anything. You won't care whether the flowers are plastic or real, whether they are on the altar or in the
garbage pail. This is true freedom. A plastic flower is just a a plastic flower. A real flower is just a real flower. You mustn't be attached to name and form."

So perhaps one way of putting it is to say that Zen is seeing the Art in everything.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Zen as Art

It's always difficult to define or explain Zen. The lazy way is to suggest that it's religion, but then if we define religion as requiring certain beliefs, then we can't include Zen on that list. We have to launch ourselves from the hundred-foot pole as it were: at some point we drop our need to rationalise and understand intellectually and just sit or just do koan practice, and so demonstrate faith in practice and the Buddha Way. This kind of faith is not religious: even scientists, for example, have to decide at some point which hypotheses to test, and cannot do so based on information they have gathered. They must reach a point where, to gather more information, they have to make a leap based on intuition alone. Intuition is really just reaching the end of sequential, factual knowing, and acting anyway, whether that comes quickly or slowly. But we don't need to believe in any supernatural business, or any eternal entities, even though some commentators might suggest that "Buddha Nature" in some ways resembles an unchanging Absolute, that's to say something that's not subject to impermanence or being affected by the conditions of the universe. On this point, I disagree, but that's another discussion. I don't see Zen as religion. Is it a philosophy? Insofar as it is a way of living, perhaps so. But philosophy nowadays seems devoted to categorising knowledge, and Zen is concerned with everything but knowledge; philosophy these days also seems exclusively to be an exercise in thinking, where again, Zen is concerned with everything but.  Finally, Zen is no self-improvement scheme. It points towards the wholeness of everything as it is now, and this is where the radical flavour of Zen comes from, as bemused onlookers throw a variety of things at Zen to see if they too are perfect as they are: war? starvation? deprivation? murderous acts? If we can be big enough to accept these things as they are in the world, there is Zen, and unless you are that way inclined anyway, it doesn't need to lead to passivity, or the turning of a blind eye to the problems of the world. There we must be careful again, and not lean on Zen for our morality. There is no system of beliefs or practice that we can follow that will somehow "guarantee" our conduct in the world. Japanese Zen teachers and students supported the Japanese Imperialism before and leading up to World War II. What this says to me is being "Buddhist" isn't enough; subscribing to Zen isn't enough: the way we act in the world can't be legislated for, only determined second by second, case by case. So Zen isn't morality.

I like this angle, put forward by Brad Warner: "Rather than being a religious authority, a Zen teacher is more like some kind of strange performance artist." (p40, "Zen wrapped in karma dipped in chocolate") He goes on to say "Zen teachers have to expose their flaws as well as their graces."
When we see art that affects us, or that we like, if we are that way inclined we may want to find out how this art was produced, how it came about, in order that we can do it ourselves. The skill of the artist lies in his or her expression of life. Whereas a painter produces canvases that reflect this,  the Zen teacher produces "a life". Really, of course, he doesn't produce anything: he just throws the frame of Zen practice around his or her existence and says "There!". Certain tools may be used, like zazen or the Four Noble Truths, and some people will employ these better than others do., but really, Zen seems to me like an imitative process: we see someone who inspires us and we try to copy them. It is the overall spirit and flavour of a teacher that makes the impression on those that come after. Pinning down that particular flavour is the tricky part, just as we find it hard to say what it is we like about a painting or a sculpture.

To be continued....