First post of the new month… and I have been racking my brains trying to figure out how to word this one properly. I propose that some very great Buddhist teachers (some alive and others not) out there have done their students a great injustice by offering them their “Zen CliffNotes” instead of making us all read/study/experience the whole thing for ourselves. I guess I should explain this further:
When I was in art-school I kicked-butt at gestural figure drawing. I could capture all sorts of moods, movements, emotions… whatever — I loved doing it as too. My teacher noticed, came by and said “Hey, you are really good at this.” Then he took my drawing away from me, took the charcoal out of my hand, and handed me an anatomy book. “You need to stop that and study this now”he said. I objected. I pouted. I got all uppity and informed him that I didn’t WANT to study anatomy. I didn’t care to draw that way. I liked the freedom and simplicity found in gestural drawing; therefore I had no need to know how to do technical drawing.
My teacher then explained to me that I needed to know how to draw it “right” before I can really be good at distortingthe object or simplifying the object. After knowing the object technically can I then truly appreciate the freedom that comes with knowing it in gesture; my gestures will become more skillful, and only then will I know what I am abstracting, omitting, accentuating… and why — with purpose.
Fast-forward to today (well a couple weeks ago).
My sangha meets and my friend reads from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen Keys: A Guide to Zen Practice; afterwards to which another person there points out that the book is from Thich Nhat Hanh’s youth, and is quite wordy, scholarly, deep, complicated and rigid. They then say that the Thich Nhat Hanh of today has now simplified the same teaching with the more palatable saying of “Present moment wonderful moment“.
This was what got me started thinking on the subject, but then you can add on top of that some teaching I read by Trungpa, and various other conversations had or teaching listened to over the past weeks. There just seems to be a watering-down to the practice that I can not “get”. One book tells me that all I have to do is meditate — forget all the other precepts, right action… the rest of the Way. Just meditate and it will all work itself. Who wants or needs discipline? Heck just last month a friend of mine went on a retreat to see a very famous Zen teacher of today and reported that not once on the retreat did anyone meditate. That’s right… no more meditation. Who needs it? To this guy everything now is just mindfulness in your daily life, right action politically, and (in a creepy way) forcing yourself to smile all the time and have happy thoughts.
I propose that if “Present moment wonderful moment” exists that it only exists because of Zen Keys… or better put: it only exists because it came out of years of harder study and disciplines. In the same way, one can not full-understand or appreciate the simplicity of such a statement until they come out of the prior realization. You need to know anatomy before you can draw the gestures. You will never really “get” what is being said or conveyed in this simply statement (gesture) until you know where the master was coming from (or out from) technically. Thich Nhat Hanh can never just get you to understand the simplicity of what he is saying today unless we first understand what complicated things this came out of.
The injustice, or mistake, that I see is that it is the Teachers today who are just handing people the simple answer that they have come up with after years on the Path instead of encouraging students to walk the full path. Sure, I can maybe understand that some monk out there has meditated to the point that he/she does not have to meditate any-longer. Maybe they reached the point where they don’t have to do anything anymore except walk slow or mow the lawn to reach satori… good for them. But that is the result of years of other things along the way and they should not then tell all of their students “Oh you can stop meditating and just walk slow” or “Just mow the lawn and you will be OK“. To do this is a grave mistake.
Think of a great riddle, a koan… one whose answer is simple or even has no answer. Maybe a student is told to climb a mountain and ponders upon it for days, weeks, or maybe months… years! They sweat, they struggle, they study… they bleed for it. Then all the sudden it hits them: “There is no answer.” However the whole riddle was an answer unto itself. The entire PROCESS was the answer, and without the seeking and struggling there would be no real growth. This newly enlightened being would be doing the next student he meets along the path any real help (although it may seem at the time to him that he is helping) by grabbing them and saying “Oh hey! Before you waste your time up on that mountain let me just tell you that the answer is that there is no real answer. Enjoy the enlightenment the easier way!”
Imagine if in The Razor’s Edge someone grabbed Larry on his way to the shelter and said “You’ll just burn all those books up there.”
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