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.

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