ZEN WRAPPED IN KARMA DIPPED IN CHOCOLATE is number five this week in the San Francisco Chronicle's Best Seller list under "Quality Paperbacks." Wooooo-hoooooo!!
I guess maybe this touring thing is good for something. I'm at my sister's place in Knoxville, TN recuperating from the first leg of the tour and hoping I survive the next onslaught. The Deep South leg should be a little better because two of the major stops are 3-day Zen retreats, which are usually pretty chill and don't involve hauling ass from one place to another each day like I've been doing for the past two weeks.
A couple things, while I'm here. As I've said a bunch of times I basically no longer read the comments on this blog. On the rare occasions I do peek in it's clear that a lot of folks who post in there don't believe that. But it's true. I know there's some intelligent discussion going on. But the way some of the haters dominate the place just makes me lose interest very quickly.
Anyhow, I looked in there the other day and some guy was going on about how he used to think what I wrote was a breath of fresh air in the Zen world but now he's seen that what I write is just creating a mass of people who don't give a shit about anything. I'd just like to say that in my observation in traveling around the country meeting the people who've read my books, that is definitely not the case at all.
These are people who, to extend the metaphor of the guy who posted, deeply give a shit about everything. I am constantly amazed by the kind of people I'm meeting as I travel. These are not people whose attitude is "fuck everything I do what I want." They are profoundly committed to something greater than themselves.
Maybe they don't look the way we've been conditioned to believe Zen people should look and maybe they don't use the same vocabulary. Hell, I find some of the people who show up to my talks pretty scary myself! But that stuff is just superficial. There's something happening here and it's pretty amazing.
I can't take credit for this at all. Sometimes I wonder what these folks have been reading! It can't be the crap I write.
Anyway, back to the comments. I've found that the Internet is sometimes like a weird alternate universe that doesn't interact with the real world very much at all. I use the Internet, obviously. But I don't really participate in the bizarre artificial social stuff that goes on there a whole lot. People on the Internet don't act or respond like they do in the real world. When Tassajara caught fire and had to be evacuated some of the people who'd lived there started a blog so they could keep in contact. The comments section of that blog quickly turned nasty in ways that could never have happened in the actual physical community.
This is why I have very little interest in so-called "cyber-sanghas." They really are not in any way shape or form the same as real face-to-face communities. Even with the most up to date technology they don't work in the same way. I know it's tough for people who feel isolated from any kind of like-minded Buddhists. But I don't believe the Internet can ever be a substitute for real life personal interaction.
ANYWAY, while I was in DC, Shawn Cartwright, who hosted me there, gave me a copy of D.T. Suzuki's paperback "Zen Buddhism," published in 1956. I've never read much of D.T. Suzuki's writings. But I'm pleasantly surprised to see that most of it isn't too bad at all. He's a very good source for the historical stuff I've kind of neglected.
But the thing that bugs me is his insistence that Zen is illogical, or beyond mere logic. On page 19 of the paperback he gives an example. He quotes a conversation in which a monk asks Master Shin of Chosa, "Where has Nansen (an ancient Buddhist master) gone after his death?" Master Shin answers, "When Sekito was still in the order of young novitiates he saw the sixth patriarch." The monk says, "I didn't ask about the young novitiate. What I want to know is where Nansen went after his death." Master Shin replied, "As to that question, it makes one think."
Suzuki says about this, "What does 'it makes one think' explain? From this it is apparent that Zen is one thing and logic another. When we fail to make this distinction and expect Zen to give us something logically consistent and intellectually illuminating, we altogether misinterpret the signification of Zen."
Reading that I was just baffled. Because to me the conversation is perfectly logically consistent and even intellectually illuminating. The monk asks the master an abstract question and the master, not wanting to discuss abstractions, answers with a concrete fact. The monk persists and the master explains the true significance of the monk's question very clearly. It is the type of question that "makes one think." And that's all it does.
Speculation on what happens after people die simply makes you think. All anyone can do in response to such a question is indulge in abstractions and fantasies. This is what turned me away from religion a long time ago. I wanted to know the answer to what happened after people died and all I got was stories and fantasies. I found the Zen answer to be perfectly logical when it said that all you can ever get from such answers is a peek into someone else's world of fantasy. And I wasn't interested in other people's fantasies.
I don't really understand how anyone can miss this, especially a guy like D.T. Suzuki who otherwise seems to have a pretty good grasp of what's real and true.
Anyway, that's my little sermon on that for today.
Keep buying them books and sending them rocketing up the charts!
Check the list to your left <<<<< to see where I'll be next (Malaprop's in Asheville, NC as it turns out).