Sunday, August 3, 2008

After Zen

Probably the most quietly moving book I've read in the last few years is After Zen, by Janwillem van de Wetering. It's one of those things that just stays with you, and a day or two after you've finished it you realize you're just going to have to read it again. It was recommended in the Hardcore Zen blog's obituary of him and seconded by Andy. Fragmented, delicate, and elusive, de Wetering's insistence that he's finished with the whole process of seeking satori or enlightenment through any kind of formal tradition makes you feel he's reached a place most would envy, but not recognize the arrival. Towards the latter part of his life, he ended up writing crime novels about a trio Dutch cops while living up in rural Maine; but in a so not Stephen King kind of way.

The interesting thing is the contrast between the Rinzai and Soto traditions, and his clear view of time spent in the Diatoku-ji at Kyoto, the same monastery as Gary Snyder and many other westerners studied at in the late 50's. Snyder comments that he felt the Rinzai tradition of solving a series of Koan would be more heroic the the 'just sitting' tradition of Soto. It seemed to be the one that most early zen-sters were attracted to. When I was young, it seemed like the way forward - struggling with Koan, getting whacked with a stick, sit in the early watches of the day; stub your toe, and (ha ha) hear the universe open up....I don't know now. Plus, the atmosphere at the school sounds very different and far more austere during this post-war period than those of the more westernized, pop-cultured sensei that followed in the alternate 60's and beyond. It makes you a bit more humble about crapping around in occasional sesshins....spacing out on your zafu for 20 minutes in the morning....most telling is the insistence that if you have a satori-ish experience you should forget it, ignore it. Leave it behind and, mai nichi-mai nichi , just continue daily focused zazen; that's all it's all about. Nothing dramatic happens, it just slowly gets slightly better, like in music, but at an incremental rate you can't really perceive. Anything else leads to unfortunate messianic cults.

Anyway, it makes you guilty about your sitting, or the lack of it. Having vowed to save all sentient beings, and even though I've been doing other types of meditation daily (the 72 inch one, for example... or standing around like a tree in the morning, or the daily 'two hours of long, very noisy Parker-san breath' is a particular favorite), I realize that it's just not good enough, compared to the Stankovian zendo daily routine required to understand that its actually not really required. I prefer the final scene in the Finding the Ox: entering the marketplace to see the wine seller (or "with helping hands" depending on your version - I like to think wine one - violation of the fifth precept)

Must be more organised.....


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