Sunday, April 24, 2005
Just a monk
Recently I have taken some flack for just being some monk, not a Zen
master, not one who wishes to teach Zen on an Internet list and therefor
worthless to that list. I do not think I have ever been more highly
One of my fondest memories of practice in Japan was a hot summer day
when we were practicing Takuhatsu (ritual begging) in a rundown part of
a city, I looked up at the reflection of the line of beggars reflected
in a large window of a closed shop. I remember thinking to myself how
rare it was to have the opportunity to see monks walking their begging
rounds and I was having that opportunity right then, and there was
another monk, and another monk, and another monk...Hey that is me!. The
moment between where there was just another monk, and when I recognized
myself in the window was one of the best moments of my life. The thought
of it still brings a smile to my face today.
There is nothing I would rather be than just another monk in the long
line of beggars. Each monk stands in the shoes of the Buddha, and
accepts offerings on Buddha's behalf. I cannot think of a finer
occupation. There is no need there to be a Zen master, no quick witted
fools to challenge your standing. There is only standing and offering an
opportunity to each person who walks past to put a small offering in the
bowl of the Buddha. There is only offering the Buddha's blessing on each
who stop to make an offering. The big hat hides your eyes, they cannot
see enough to distinguish you from any other in the line, you cannot
even distinguish yourself from the others in the line. You hold the bowl
high enough so you cannot see what is offered, the hat keeps you from
seeing who it is that is making the offering. You just hold the bowl and
chant the blessing for each offering no matter what it might be..there
is no judgment there, no discrimination between offerings. You cannot
tell the Zen Master from the Novice, nor the rich man's offering from
that of the poorest street fisherman.
In that moment is a perfection that transcends everything. All things
are just as they should be.
If I ever have a student, I would rather they travel halfway around the
world and stand for a few minutes of their life in the straw sandals of
a monk, than that they read a million books, or that they catch a dozen
Zen Masters with a quick witted saying. I am ever so grateful that my
kind teacher insisted I do it. If I had a wish for anyone, it would be
for them to have an experience like that.
I have no wish to be a trained Zen Master monkey responding to each
challenge with a witty saying, or with what ever response was either
expected or unexpected. I have nothing to teach anyone that can be said.
All I could offer anyone was the experience of being just a
monk...another monk...in a long line of monks.
The funny thing is, every Zen master I met in Japan leaped to the
opportunity to put on straw sandals and be just another monk in the long
line of monks. Being a Zen Master with students bowing at your feet is
nothing compared to being just another monk in a long line of monks.
That is why a monk must be forced into becoming a teacher. No one in his
right mind would exchange those places willingly.
Sad it is that some of the quickest wits will never even understand this
simple fact. Call me nothing but a clouds and water monk...I will just
smile and shake my head at your foolishness.