Tuesday, April 21, 2009

ACCEPTANCE, TROUSER ARMADILLOS and TEXAS


Tonight April 21, 2009 (Tues) at 7:30 I'll be at Legacy Books 7300 Dallas Parkway, Plano, Texas 75024. Be there! Then it's on to Montreal, Detroit and Saskatoon. The dates for the rest of the tour are linked to your left<<<<<<.

I just got done with Austin, San Antonio and Houston. I must say I'm very well impressed by the great state of Zen in the great state of Texas. All three Zen centers I visited were terrific. Those of you who live nearby should be glad there are such solid places in your area and you should visit them often.

It always makes me a little sad when I visit tremendous Zen places like these and then afterward get told, "That's the most people we've had in here in ages! We've never seen half those people before." It's hard for me to comprehend anyone going out of their way to hear the likes of me talk. But, then again, I'd travel a long way to see KISS. So quality may not be a factor in what makes people go see stuff.

I think a lot of people are afraid of Zen. It reminds me of what the members of Spinal Tap say in the film This is Spinal Tap when asked why there are so few women in their audience.

Martin DeBergi(interviewer):
The make up of your audience seems to be predominantly young boys.
David St. Hubbins: It's a sexual thing really. Aside from the identifying thing the boys do with us, there's also a reaction of the female to our music.
Nigel Tufnel: Really they're quite fearful. They see us on stage with tight trousers and we've got, like, armadillos in our trousers. It's really quite frightening, the size. And they run screaming.

I think a lot of people see the "armadillos in the trousers" of Zen and run screaming. If you've seen the film, it's revealed later on that the bulges in the trousers of the band are zucchinis taped to their legs. Such is the way of Zen. What might appear metaphorically to be "armadillos in the trousers" of Zen teachers* are nothing more than zucchinis.

What I mean by that is much of the fear people have of going to Zen centers is based on unreal images of what they think goes on inside. For example, many people are terrified they might get some of the steps wrong in the various rituals. But, really, it doesn't matter. Everybody gets the steps wrong! Even the most highly trained monks sometimes make big errors.

And you know what happens then? Nothing. Nobody cares. You just recover and move on. In most Zen centers they won't say anything or even look askance at you if you blow some of the steps. The worst that might happen is someone whispers in your ear or just waits till you notice what everyone else is doing. There is no need to fear the trouser armadillos of Zen. How's that for a quotable quote?

ANYWAY, I had an especially great time with Gaelyn Godwin of the Houston Zen Center. She is a truly terrific Zen person. Very impressive.

I started thinking about her and why I liked her so much and what she had in common with other Zen teachers -- and just people in general -- who I like and respect. It's acceptance. Most religious teachers are extremely unaccepting. They want to push you into a mold they've created. There was some nastiness in the comments section of this very blog recently created by a Zen teacher who wanted to force others into the mold he created. So even Zen teachers are not beyond this.

But the Zen teachers (and other people, but leaving them aside for the moment) I have the most respect for are the ones who accept everyone as they are. This might be a good answer for the question I always get asked; "What should I look for in a good Zen teacher? And what should I look for as a sign a Zen teacher might not be so good?" Acceptance is the key. Can they accept you or do they want to force you into a mold?

There's a funny thing about this in Zen, which relates to the whole "trouser armadillos" matter above. And that is that communal Zen is often very ritualized and depends upon people doing the same thing at the same time. It stresses conformity and discourages overt displays of individuality. But this aspect of the practice is fairly superficial (with some caveats, see below). It's there to make sure the group functions smoothly.

But it's also not superficial. We human beings have individual personalities that are not alike. Yet we are social animals who cannot survive on our own. We're a lot like ants or bees in that respect. We love to pretend we aren't entirely dependent on others. But it's all bullshit.

So we have to learn to function smoothly in a group. And much of Zen training is aimed at making that happen. But it should do so without denying what each individual is. We do not want to strip people of their uniqueness. Far from it! We want to celebrate that uniqueness. But we also strive to show people how to blend smoothly into society.

I've been well impressed by a number of teachers I've met in my travels and in my life. To name a few, Tim McCarthy, Gudo Nishijima, Tonen O'Connor, Gaelyn Godwin, Zuiko Redding, Greg Fain, Dokai Georgeson, Mel Weitsman... There are many more whose names I'm blanking on right now. But they've all exhibited the quality of radical acceptance.

They all could accept anyone, whether they agreed with or even understood them or not. And that's such a rare thing. You can't overstate the preciousness of meeting someone who accepts you as you are. I've fallen in love with people solely because they showed me that kind of total acceptance (there's a dating tip for you!).

When I interviewed her, Nina Hartley said of Mel Weitsman (abbot of Berkeley Zen Center), "He was the first person who ever showed me compassion. Mel was the first person who ever looked me in the eye. He was very direct, very there, relaxed, open, not expecting, not judging. I recognized it as something I’d never had before, something I wanted more of, but something I could barely stand. For 37 years I have been circling that moment, really trying to become centered in it." That's the kind of thing I'm talking about. Find that and you've found something really special.

I was also interested to learn from Gaelyn that much of her congregation is -- gasp! -- Republican and even -- deeper gasp!! -- supporters of George W. Bush and John McCain. Why should this strike anyone as ironic? A koan for you all!

(Secret Answer: It isn't ironic at all.)

Big, big thanks to Mr. Lauren Crane for all his help in making the Texas leg of the tour happen!

*Or literally in my case!

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's quite a ferocious-looking zuchini, there.

Anonymous said...

"There was some nastiness in the comments section of this very blog recently created by a Zen teacher who wanted to force others into the mold he created. So even Zen teachers are not beyond this."

Really Brad, It is OK. Don't be so hard on yourself. The nastiness you create is usually very short lived. Everyone makes mistakes. You just have to learn to let things go.

Jinzang said...

What might appear metaphorically to be "armadillos in the trousers" of Zen teachers* are nothing more than zucchinis.

Worst. Metaphor. Ever.

Anonymous said...

I've fallen in love with people solely because they showed me that kind of total acceptance (there's a dating tip for you!).For every one potential partner their are six potential stalkers and there are all sorts of issues with handling that.

B.K.S Iyengar talked about it in one of his books. There's a downside to every upside.

Empty The Movie said...

People that support G W Bush are stupid and i dont accept them

proulx michel said...

Just back from the movies. Went to see the film "The Wave", based on a real life experiment in California.
It's exactly that. We need the group to support us and protect us. But the group needs our individualities, and our capacities of dissent, so as to avoid that bad news come unannounced.

Anonymous said...

proulx michel said...
"But the group needs our individualities, and our capacities of dissent, so as to avoid that bad news come unannounced."For a lone individual, it is
sometimes very difficult
to surf The Wave.

Anonymous said...

Brad said:
> I was also interested to learn from Gaelyn
> that much of her congregation...
supports crushing the testicles of children as a means of torturing their parents.
Um, I think I'll be avoiding
the Houston Zen Center.

(Torture is the complete opposite of
"radical acceptance" :(

BTW, where do all the Ron Paul peeps
sit zazen? Radical acceptance is what
libertarians are all about -- as in
laissez les bons temps roulerand
laissez-faireand
let it be

Jinzang said...

Instead of using Michael's picture for this post you should have used this picture. That's not an armadillo, it's a megadillo!

Jinzang said...

About Buddhist demographics ...

Buddhist groups in the US are left of center because these are the people who convert to Buddhism. My definition of a potential Buddhist is a liberal yuppie who eats health food. Zen Buddhism tends to be mostly male and Tibetan Buddhism mostly female. I'm not sure of the reason for this, maybe the more elaborate rituals appeal to women more strongly than men.

Addison Kerr said...

hey braddo check out me new whacked out sci fi bloggo yep yep yep yep yep ye yep

Anonymous said...

So, that explains the zucchinis I found at the monastery... but what about all those melons with holes in them!

Mike said...

What seems ironic to me is that there's a Houston Zen Center. In the Twin Cities not many people admit to being Republican, so it might be ironic if you heard that there.

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christine said...

Cheri Huber is a good recommendation for people looking for non-macho zen practice.

Justin said...

I think true acceptance is quite easy to misunderstand. But it doesn't lie in approving the behaviour of one group of people and disapproving the behaviour of another.

Anonymous said...

Justin said...
"I think true acceptance is
quite easy to misunderstand."

OK, so what does it mean to
"radically accept" torture?

mtto said...

Just because someone is a republican doesn't mean they accept torture.

Just like just because I'm a registered democrat it doesn't mean I agree with everything Obama does or says.

For more help with your question, please see the story of Angulimala.

Justin said...

OK, so what does it mean to
"radically accept" torture?
Well that was Brad's phrase not mine. But for me it means acting appropriately while not becoming conflicted - responding without projecting one's responses outwards onto the world. Acting without creating 'bad' and 'good'.

Jinzang said...

OK, so what does it mean to "radically accept" torture?Feeling as much compassion for the torturer as the tortured because both are in the grips of delusion.

Anonymous said...

WTF is going on with this
torturous blogger.com
HTML rendering engine?
Although this line appears after a
blank line in PREVIEW, it gets globbed
together with the preceding italics
when PUBLISHED.

Absolutely unacceptable!

Anonymous said...

it isn't ironic. it is
stockholm syndrome.

barry

Anonymous said...

exquisite, barry.
thanks.

Jinzang said...

I don't know why some people are having such a hard time with the idea that you should show respect to everyone who walks through the front door of your zendo even if they are (gasp!) Republicans. Might do some good to read the chapter on Bodhisattva Never Disparaging in the Lotus Sutra. When I consider how extremely unpromising a student I was when I first encountered Buddhism and the great kindness my teacher showed to me, I am humbled. And the best way I can honor him is to do the same for any prospective student of Buddhism.

Jinzang said...

Blogger used to translate newlines into break tags. Now it seems you need to insert the break tag

<br>

explicitly in order to get a break. As far as I can tell, the only legal tags in comments are:

<br> break
<b> bold
<i> italics
<a href=""> link

Anonymous said...

Jinzang said...
"Blogger used to translate newlines into break tags. Now it seems you need to insert the break tag"

Thanks, Jinzang!

BTW, to show respect to Bush (or the people
who voted for him) is to show disrespect to
the people whose lives he destroyed --
Republicans deserve a Texas hailstorm of shoes.

Would you kiss Hitler's feet in front of a
Holocaust survivor?

Where do you draw the line when paying respect?

rgn said...

As for doing zazen on your own, every great figure you read about spent years meditating alone. Group sitting is ok but I dont think its necessary. The important thing is just to do it.

rgn said...

Commented on the wrong thread. Hows that for mindfulness. :(

David said...

We shouldn't be surprised about conservative, Republican Zen people (especially not in Texas!) Only in the West is Buddhism a liberal left thing. In my opinion, the domination of Western Zen by liberal types, particularly the activist ones who turn Zendos into rallying places for their various causes, has been a huge factor in limiting the growth of Buddhism. Zen is neither conservative or liberal; it simply works with whatever political or social environment it is placed in. A leftwinger might look at the precept of not killing to mean that capital punishment is an intrinsic evil, but abortion is acceptable depending on the circumstances. A rightwinger would take the opposite view. Either side could make very strong arguments from a Buddhist perspective to support their position. Ultimately, though, Buddhism is not about political viewpoints, or even morality: it's about liberation from suffering, and getting wrapped up in argumentation and fixed views only perpetuates the self clinging that is at the root of suffering.

Anonymous said...

Dont think all zen teachers are alike, the zen teachers in houston are good people but few of them are enlightend, but not all zen teachers say they are. In fact the best zen teachers are unique and its hard to meet them. I like zen teachers that do more than ceremony the best ones are really involved in ther work and do some amazing things. so if your looking for a zen teacher,there is one Zen teacher in Texas that has done so much that he has been highly but few people know about him do some research on your own

posicionamiento web en google said...

Pretty effective info, thanks for the post.