Many thanks to all of those who offered suggestions for marketing my next book. My publishers read all the suggestions (well, possibly not the penis enlargement ones) and will take them into consideration. You really helped out a lot!
I was just walking around thinking about what I can talk about at tomorrow’s Zazen class at the Hill Street Center (see link to your right for details). As this is the Christmas/Hanukkah season, I imagine family matters are on lots of people’s minds. They certainly are on my mind. I have to go spend a week in Texas with my mom, dad, sister, nephew, niece and my sister’s new husband who I’ve never met. Such visits are always equal parts warmth and agony as I think they are for most people.
In Shobogenzo, there’s a chapter called Shukke (??). This is a word meaning “to leave family life.” The two Chinese characters used to represent it are ? (shutsu) meaning “depart” and ? (ke) meaning “home.” So as The Ramones left home on their second album, a Buddhist monk was expected to leave home and family and enter into the Buddhist order.
The prevailing view among scholars as regards Dogen’s view on leaving home goes like this. In his early writings like Bendowa, Dogen seems to be of the opinion that lay people, those who have not left home, can benefit just as much from zazen practice as home-leaving monks. But as Dogen got older he changed his mind and came to believe that that only those who left home and family could become enlightened. I don’t buy this scholarly view.
The problem is that this idea ignores some important aspects of Shobogenzo. Shobogenzo was never intended as a series of journal entries or magazine articles showing the evolution of Dogen’s ever-changing philosophy. It was to be a single long work. Dogen continued to revise the early pieces that say lay people can benefit from zazen as much as monks even as he wrote the later chapters that seem to imply that they can’t. It’s significant that he did not go back and scribble out all the bits that praise lay practitioners. We have to keep in mind that Dogen contradicts himself constantly. This is an important aspect of his work, and one that too many scholars are far too eager to try and smooth over. These contradictions are not just evidence of him changing his mind about stuff, but an integral part of his philosophy.
Although I have gone through the traditional ceremony called “shukke,” I don’t really feel like I’ve really left my home and family. In fact, it’s very rare to find Buddhist monks these days who’ve truly left home in the old-fashioned sense. This goes for Japan as much as it does for the West. In fact, with so many temples in Japan being family businesses, it’s probably even more rare to find true home leavers over there.
I sometimes wonder exactly what “leaving home” really meant in the old days when the term was invented. In those days, people literally did live at home long into their adult years in extended family situations. So it may be that our normal situation of living fairly far from our families isn’t too different from what was considered “leaving home” in ancient times. I don’t imagine ancient monks really severed all ties to their kin. I’m sure they went and visited mom sometimes, or wrote letters home. Most monastics probably lived closer to their families than lots of us do now.
Another aspect of “home leaving” would be to live without being married. In modern Japanese style Zen, though, monks tend to be married as often as not. So even this has changed over the years. Maybe we need an entirely new definition of home leaving.
ANYWAY, I don’t know what words of wisdom I can offer all of you who are suffering or about to be suffering with your families this season. Just know that you’re not alone. Everyone’s families are a bunch of nutcases. Don’t take it too seriously. Enjoy some eggnog and fruitcake.
Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Joyous Kwanza! Happy Kringle! Merry Flying Spaghetti Monster Day! Whatever…