First and most importantly, I wanted to let you know I put my webpage about old dinosaur books back up. It’s in the links to your right or you can just click the title of this article to get there. I took it down when I switched from gol.com to mac.com and I always intended to revise it because the page design is crap. But I never did revise it, so I finally just made a couple token changes & put the old page back up. There is one new book added & I’ll probably add a few more. You’ll notice some of the links still take you to the defunct gol.com address. Sorry about that. Sometime I’ll fix that…. Uh huh….
So at Zen class this morning I had a long discussion about authority. It’s an interesting subject. As you might have noticed, I’m fairly anti-authoritarian. The bumper stickers they made to promote Hardcore Zen (which I never got any of, by the way) said “Question Authority, Question Reality.” Questioning authority is a big part of Buddhist philosophy. Buddha himself, in the famed Kalama Sutra, even tells his followers to question his (Buddha’s) authority. Buddhism is not about blind acceptance of dogma or tradition.
However, Buddhism is also not about what most people regard as the opposite of that. It is not about taking a hard-assed fuck authority attitude towards everything. The funny thing about all these crazy anti-authoritarian iconoclastic Zen Masters out there is that you’ll notice that they all accept the Zen tradition. As iconoclastic as they may be, they still shave their heads, wear the robes and participate in the various rituals and ceremonies associated with Zen practice. Kodo Sawaki, for one, is always held up as the ultimate rebel monk. Yet look at his picture on the top of this article. There he is with the same robes and skinhead hair-do as any other Zen monk. Why? If he was such an iconoclast why didn’t he just say “screw it!” and grow his hair long and wear bell-bottoms?
I’ve asked myself that many times. In my book I already went into how reluctant I was to accept a position of religious authority. I hate fuckin’ religious authorities. Besides that, I am really half-assed as an authority figure. No one can ever take me seriously. When I was a substitue teacher I once got assigned to a kindergarten and those kids completely took over the place! I had to call the office for help or they would’ve eaten me alive.
But there’s another side to authority and it’s important. Every authority figure is you. Lots of people are really into the whole “all is one” thing in Buddhism. It sounds really lovey-dovey and nice. But, folks, remember that “all is one” means that you are George W. Bush. There is no difference between you at all. George’s power and authority come only from you and you alone.
I’m picking George cuz everyone seems to hate him these days (I don’t hate him or even Ronny Ray-gun, but that’s another story). It doesn’t matter what authority figure you chafe against he (or she, but we’ll just use the male case) is you. The cop who pulls you over cuz he doesn’t like your kind in his neighborhood is you. Your boss with the fishy smelling breath is you. Teachers, critics, everyone who ever stops you from doing what you want is none other than yourself. I’m not trying to be cute here. I’m not being figurative either. It’s all you because it cannot be anyone else.
A lot of people into the whole Zen thing don’t want to take it all the way. They’re in love with the idea of becoming one with the Universe, as long as they can exclude the people and things they don’t like. But you can’t do that. No exclusions allowed. No substitutions. If you want to be one with everything, you need to be prepared for what that really means. I don’t think most of us are.
When you find yourself faced with unpleasant authority, you need to question it. That’s for sure. But question that authority all the way. This means you must also question your reaction to authority. Question why you chafe against it. That is just as important.
You want discipline. You want restrictions. You want limitations. It’s very teenage to rail against everything that ties you down. In the song Teenage Wind, Frank Zappa says “Freedom is when you don’t have to do nothing or pay for nothing, we want to be free!” It’s that kind of teenage idea of freedom that a lot of people bring to Zen. But it doesn’t fly there. (Not to insult all the teenagers reading this, the kind of “teenage” I’m talking about affects all ages)
Zazen is perfect freedom. But you can only find perfect freedom in what is a very restrictive practice. It’s ironic. But it happens to be true. Real freedom has nothing to do with vainly trying to tear down all boundaries and restraints. Real freedom is when you discover that the only person who has ever, or could ever, bind you is you. What appears to you as outside sources or authority do not come from outside.
This is very hard to accept. I know it right down to my toenails and I still have a tremendously difficult time with it. I still fight it every damned day.
Anyway, that’s my rant. Hope you enjoyed it. I gotta go do some stuff now.