Saturday, May 15, 2004

A transcript of a lecture never given, by a person unauthorized to teach

There is an old zen story, one of Dogen's favorites it
seems...he reffered to it often in his writings...that
goes something like this:

Once, there was a man who loved dragons. He collected
dragons carved in stone.dragons made of wax, pictures
of dragons,plates with dragons painted on them
,pictures of dragons, and anything else he could find
that related to dragons. This man spoke,thought and
dreamed of dragons,one could say he ate, drank, and
slept dragons. One day a real dragon heard of this
man's love of dragons. the dragon thought to
himself,"if this man loves dragons so much I should
stop by and visit him". So one day when the man was
polishing his dragon collection a shadow fell across
his house....the man went outside to see what had
caused this sudden darkness.....when he looked up into
the sky he saw this huge smelly fire breathing monster
descending on his house. The man ran away and never
looked back.

We all have fantasies about the way we would like
things to be...we all create dragon collections, we
imagine what our life will be like.. we think we know
what zen is, what the catholic church is, what
meditation is, what our wife, our child is like, we
create these imaginary dragon collections, and as long
as we are far enough away from our dragons we can make
our collection into anything we like. When confronted
with the real dragon of Christianity we run away...and
make a collection of Buddhist beliefs... when the
reality of our wife arises we can run away and create
an new dragon collection somewhere else .....we can
fall in love with the distant image of Miss
September. If our husband is not the dragon we thought
him to be..why there are paperback books galore we can
collect...full of images of that romantic bastard we
thought we married.

It does not matter what the dragon collection is that
we accumulate,whether we think Buddhism is this pure
and holy safe resting place, or whether we think
meditation is this holy grail of sitting forever in
oneness...sooner or later the real dragon will arrive.
We can run from the nasty infighting of the baptist's
trying to decide whether women can be ordained right
into that Shangra La of Tibetan Buddhism...and as long
as the dragon stays in Tibet...we can pretend the
nasty infighting over the recognition of Tulkus does
not exist....we can run from the corruption and decay
of the Catholic Church straight toward Zen , and as
long as Zen is in Japan ...well its corruption and
decay are also not seen in the shining dragons we
polish on our shelves.

My friends, life is a real dragon. Full of beauty and
ugliness, full of joy and of sorrow, and wherever
there is life there is shit galore. When we meet the
reality of sitting in meditation we find we are tired
sometimes , we are scattered sometimes, sometimes we
can see for a fleeting moment the oneness of all
things then in an instant it is gone again. When we
meet the dragon of Buddhist practice..sometimes the
pieces do not fall all together in the nice order we
thought we would see...sometimes like my personal
experience a beautiful little girl shatters the idea
of long years of practice in a monastery. Sometimes
there are children, sick parents,depressed partners,
sleepy eyes aching joints and just plain no time.
These are the real dragons of Buddhist practice.

The true test of a person of zen, is not how long they
can sit. nor how long they do sit. Or even how great a
collection of the dragons of nice Zen thoughts, or
nice Zen ideas, of moments of knowing they are
Buddhas,or even of good deeds you have. The true test
of a person of zen is just this ......When the true
dragon arrives....what do you do???

What then should one do when a true dragon appears on
their doorstep???

When I was in the monastery I heard that monks were
sometimes called dragons of zen. and some of the old
hoary dragons were greatly feared by the clouds and
water monks (novices). When one of these old dragons
appeared they were greeted like anyone else...hands
together in greeting, a bow, and room was made in the
monastery for them to sleep, they were offered
refreshing drink and food for sustenance and were made
welcome for the time they chose to stay......and when
they left they were given good wishes for their
health, money for travel, and were sent off with
another bow in thanks for the lessons learned while
they were here. Now this is not to say that caring for
these old dragons was easy or that there was not a
great disturbance in the routine of the monastery
while there were there..sometimes time honored rules
that we all had to follow were thrown out the window
to adjust to this new dragon in our midst. The simple
fact was matter the rules......the
expectations..the inconvenience...the dragon was here
and had to be dealt with and it was our job as monks
to see that it was dealt with in the appropriate
manner. We stumbled, we got angry, we were confused,
we made mistakes, but hopefully...with practice...we
eventually developed some finesse at dragon handling.

This I think is how the ancestors of old thought true
dragons should be treated.

So my friends, feel free to show us your dragon
collections....and we will watch to see what you do
when the true dragon arrives. That is after all the
only thing that really matters.

I will leave you with this ..hope... this wish
.....this recommendation from Dogen Zenji:

"Please honored followers of zen, long accustomed to
groping for the elephant, Do not be afraid of the real

Be Well