First the administrative stuff:
Tomorrow, Dec. 20, 2008 we’ll have our all-day Zen thing at Hill Street Center (details at link to your left). There will be no prepared lunch this time. I’ll be having a peanut butter sandwich at HSC. Others are welcome to join me. But bring your own sandwiches.
Also, I have updated my tour dates (link also to your left). If you want me to come to your town, please write me at email@example.com and we’ll try to work it out. I will have a lot of available dates (see below for details on that).
Now the article:
Shukke (spelled 出家 in Chinese characters) means leaving home and family. In the olden days, Buddhists monks literally left everything behind when they joined the order. These days the word shukke mainly refers to a ceremony that symbolically represents that act, although the monks themselves often continue to live as they did before.
Different lineages of Buddhism handle it in different ways. I’ve heard that in Thailand the custom is that one literally leaves home and family for a time but then comes back after a proscribed period. Sort of like doing a tour of duty in the armed forces. In Japanese-style Zen, though, it’s pretty rare to actually leave everything behind.
Whatever. I’m bringing it up today because yesterday I left my family of 14 years. For the past year I’ve been in a state of limbo with the Japanese monster movie company that sent me to Los Angeles to be their liaison. I got laid off at the end of 2007. But at the beginning of 2008 they said they wanted me back to work on a film project in the USA and so I began working for them again in a limited capacity. That film project never quite got off the ground. In September I went and met with them and they asked me to come back to Japan to do essentially the same job I used to do when I last lived there.
But I wasn’t really interested in doing that job again and, as much as I love Japan, I didn’t really feel like moving back there. Everybody keeps saying how the US economy is falling to pieces and I was being offered a relatively secure job with a steady paycheck at a stable company in a country where the economy was not going down the drain. So I thought hard about whether I ought to take the job or not.
This week I finally gave them my answer. I said no thank you in as polite a way as possible. They accepted and now I’m a free man. That company was very much like a family to me and leaving them was not easy. The photo I posted above was staged spontaneously by a bunch of guys from the Events Dept. as a surprise going-away gift in 2004 when I was just about to leave for LA. That's my family.
It was also a tough decision to make because the most rational, sensible course of action would have been to go to Japan. Try as I might I couldn’t make it add up any other way. I’m making a little bit of money off book sales. But if you average out what I get paid for a book compared to how long it takes to write one, my annual wage from writing is not impressive at all. I know there are professional authors whose sales are less than Eckhart Tolle’s and Deepak Chopra’s but who manage somehow. But I don’t know how. Guess I’ll find out.
It was a classic example of the Monty Hall Dilemma. Actually I didn’t even know there was such a thing as the Monty Hall Dilemma until I did a Google search just now. I was trying to remember the name of the game show hosted by Monty Hall in which contestants were given a choice between say, a year’s supply of Turtle Wax and whatever was behind door number three, which could have been something better than the Turtle Wax, like a brand new car, or could have been a bail of hay or a goat or something. Turns out the show was called Let’s Make a Deal. I can’t believe I wasted several hours of my precious and fleeting life watching Let’s Make a Deal. But I suppose it did me some good after all.
ANYWAY, the thing was that even though my rational mind told me the best way to go was to take the job in Japan, my instincts told me otherwise. And it wasn’t just my own rational mind that said it was a bad idea to turn down the job in Japan either. Everyone I spoke to about the matter, including two Zen teachers, told me the most sensible course of action was to go to Japan.
But in the end I made the irrational choice. Actually, though, I wouldn’t call it irrational. I’d call it intuitive. Intuition isn’t really irrational. It has its own sense.
Have I made the right choice? Who knows? Not me. When faced with decisions like these we never really know what the “right choice” is. I’m not even sure the concept of there being a right choice is very sound to begin with.
In Buddhism we always say that when you’re faced with a decision, the true way to go appears instantly. But we’re so locked into our thinking mind that we can miss it very easily. Still, once you’ve made your choice the only thing you can do is find a way to make that choice work.
In spite of everything, I feel good about this. It’s a bit of a test, though. I always say that the universe takes care of you. I believe that. Now I’ll get to see if it’s true.
It's kinda doubly weird for me. Because I've seen through things to the degree that I understand clearly that the universe isn't what most people say it is and does not operate in at all the way most people think it does. Yet the power of what most people think is very strong. You should never underestimate it. (This is one of about a million things wrong with the whole "let's get an Enlightenment Experience right this minute" mindset, by the way. But that's a whole 'nother article. Maybe a book.)
Join me on these pages in the following months and together we can all see how it goes…