There’s a koan that goes like this:
Master Obaku Ki-un asked Master Hyakujo Ekai: When I want to share with others the teachings that you have given us, how should I teach them?
Master Hyakujo Ekai just remained seated on his cushion without saying anything.
Obaku Ki-un said: How can I teach the children and grandchildren of disciples in the future?
Master Hyakujo said: What you have said shows that you are a real person.
I got an email the other day that went like this:
Some folks in my local sangha are very interested in the precepts. Specifically what you “can” and “can’t” do, especially the 5th precept (I vow to refrain from intoxicants).
A few in the local group here seem attached to the old hippie idea that “anything goes” in Buddhism because the precepts are not “thou shalt nots.” One guy in particular is all about psychedelics. He’s convinced that he’s enlightened and that all the other members don’t get it.
Ultimately, if you commit to the precepts, you’re accepting a certain amount of (attempted, anyway) personal responsibility. How can I steer them (esp psychedelic guy) away from bullshit surrounding the precepts without alienating them?
And as I was writing this, I got an email from the LA Weekly announcing that the top story this week is titled, “Is There a Kinder, Gentler Way to Get Anti-Vaxxers to See the Light?”
Human beings appear to have a built-in desire to help each other. This is why Master Hyakujo says, “What you have said shows that you are a real person.”
But you will notice that the koan ends right there. We don’t get any advice from Hyakujo on how to teach future generations. And you’ll notice that when asked how to teach people right now, Hyakujo doesn’t tell him anything either. All he does is sit there doing his own practice.
One of the things that initially attracted me to Zen Buddhism is that it does not proselytize. Nobody goes door-to-door telling random folks the Good News that form is emptiness and emptiness is form. In fact, when someone shows up at a Zen monastery the tradition is to tell them to go away. Only those that prove they’re serious about the practice are allowed in.
This says a lot about the Zen Buddhist attitude toward helping others. To a lot of people, it seems cold and selfish. But it’s really not.
In a way, we’re kind of like those pro-vaccine people in LA Weekly. Vaccination isn’t just something you do for yourself. It’s only when a large enough population is vaccinated that certain very dangerous diseases stop spreading. Similarly, I know that not only is meditation essential for me alone, it is the only thing that can possibly save the human race from destruction. I definitely want as many people as possible to start meditating. Unless that starts happening soon, we’re sunk. I believe that as much as any Jehovah’s Witness believes you’re going to hell because you still have birthday parties.
Normally people who feel this way about something also feel an urgency to go out and convert the world to their way of thinking. So why aren’t we canvassing college campuses like the guy I used to see carrying a giant cross around the student center at Kent State?
It’s not because we don’t care if anyone shows up or not. We really do. Passionately, in fact. But we understand that before anyone can accept help, they have to genuinely want it first.
Take the guy with his psychedelic drugs. All he’s got to do to get Enlightened – according to his definition – is put a tiny piece of LSD-soaked blotter paper on his tongue and wait about an hour for it to kick in. Why would he want to spend years doing something as boring and pointless as staring at a wall every day? Personally, I did LSD four times before I figured out it didn’t work. Smarter people than me don’t need to do it at all. But some people are even less perceptive than I was and it takes them years before they get the message. Some are so dense they’ll never get it. There’s really nothing you can say that will ever get through to someone like that. So you might as well do something else instead.
In the end, all you can really do is go your own way. Let people know that you’re willing to answer questions or teach them what you do. But don’t try too hard to help. If someone needs your assistance, they’ll know where to go. If they say they don’t want your help, then your job is done. You don’t need to offer again. Otherwise you’re like the people in that Suicidal Tendencies song Institutionalized:
It’s like I need time to figure these things out
But there’s always someone there going,
“Hey Mike, you know we’ve been noticing you’ve been having a lot of problems lately
You know, maybe you get away, and like maybe you should talk about it,
You’ll feel a lot better.”
And I go, “No it’s okay, you know I’ll figure it out
Just leave me alone I’ll figure it out
You know I’ll just work it on myself.”
And they go, “Well you know if you want to talk about it I’ll be here, you know
And you’ll probably feel a lot better if you talk about it, so want don’t you talk about it.”
And I go, “No I don’t want to, I’m okay, I’ll figure it out myself.”
And they just keep bugging me and they just keep bugging me
And it builds up inside…
Don’t be like that.
August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT
August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE
August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR
August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY
September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE
September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY
September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT
September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT
September 20, 2015 London, England THE ART OF SITTING DOWN & SHUTTING UP
September 21-25, 2015 Belfast, Northern Ireland SPECIFIC DATES TO BE DETERMINED
September 26-27, 2015 Glastonbury, England 2-DAY RETREAT
October 26-27 Cincinnati, Ohio Concert:Nova
November 6-8, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY RETREAT
April 23, 2016 Long Island, New York Molloy College “Spring Awakening 2016”
Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
Every Saturday at 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!
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