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.