For those who haven’t noticed yet, I have a new article up on SuicideGirls. You should be able to get to it by clicking on the words “new article up on SuicideGirls” in the previous sentence. I’m really bad with this HTML mark-up stuff. So if that didn’t work, there’s a link over to your right that will also take you there.
The latest article is a kind of a response to some of the endless chatter my last post generated. Sometimes I say things here in an offhand way, forgetting that I’m supposedly some kinda celebrity or some such garbage. I commented about that webpage maintained by that person whose students have been advertising in the comments section of this blog — which I think is just a really weird thing to do, actually. Anyway I kinda wish I hadn’t said anything because I couldn’t give a shit about her in particular or her students. There’s a much more serious problem.
See, lots of the stuff that various wanna-be Masters out there claim as the basis for their supposed Grand Awakenings are pretty much the same stuff I encountered a number of years ago as part of the normal process of doing this zazen stuff. Not just me. Lots of practitioners encounter this stuff. In my case, I was also pretty jazzed up about it. I remember walking around thinking, “Yeah, bay-bee! I am the King of All Creation and you better believe it!!!” I was ready to start collaring the monks I saw begging for loose change at Shinjuku Station and challenging them to Enlightement Smackdowns. Had they seen the great truths to which I was now privvy? I thought not. HA! What fools they were compared to ME!
But if you study the koans, you’ll see over and over and over again instances of young monks all jazzed up on their initial experiences in the practice being told off by their teachers. If the relationship between teacher and student is a healthy one, this usually works. When it’s not, the youngsters often end up breaking away from their teachers convinced that they have surpassed even the great masters in the depth and power of their new-found enlightenment. This is nothing new. It’s been repeated countless times over the past couple thousand years.
This is one of the reasons Dogen advised people not to study Buddhism without a teacher. I devoted a whole chapter to this in my upcoming book. But the upshot is that it’s OK to do zazen without a teacher. Unless you’re really obsessed with obtaining some kind of big experience from the practice, it won’t do you any harm and, in fact, will probably do you a whole lot of good. But if you find yourself getting truly serious about the practice, a teacher is absolutely necessary. Among other things, a good teacher will keep you from declaring yourself the One True Messiah upon your first shallow rumblings of understanding.
We’ve been so conditioned to look at and understand the world we live in a specific way deemed by society to be “normal” that when you first start to get an inkling of how things actually are it can be quite a shock. The severity of that shock depends on how deeply you bought into the supposedly “normal” way of looking at things. If you really, really, really bought into it without question, you’re gonna be in for one hell of a surprise upon encountering even the merest shadow of understanding how things really are. If you’ve had questions and doubts about what most people see as “normal” all along, the shock may not be quite as severe. The people who are the most severely shocked are the ones most likely to believe they are now the New Savior of Humanity the moment they get a glimpse that things might not be as they’ve been told. Still, the difference between what life really is and what you’ve been told it is, is so great that pretty much everyone is surprised by it.
I think there’s a real danger in what’s going on with all these supposed Enlightened Beings plying their trade nowadays. Someone who is very persuasive can have you believing just about anything. I told the story in Hardcore Zen about how deeply impressed I was by the former leader of the Cleveland Hare Krishna temple. He was later allegedly involved in a murder case in West Virginia. I recently came across a copy of the book Monkey On A Stick, which details the case and has a photo of the guy. Looking at him again after 20-some years I shuddered to think what might have transpired had I not held on to that little bit of skepticism towards what he was saying that I felt at the time. I know exactly how people get involved in those horrible gloom-and-doom cults because I could easily have been one of them.