Sunday, October 21, 2012


In the old days -- or did I make this up -- the monks might gather once a week to openly admit and discuss their difficulties and errors in the practice of Zen Buddhism. A confessional of sorts, something to bring integrity and honesty to the mix. I wonder if that tradition still exists and if not, when it was lost ... assuming I didn't just make it up.

No matter. Borrowing vaguely from the confessional in some Roman church, I can say at the moment, "It has been too long since my last confession...."

I am willing to repent, but cannot say I am sorry.

For how many years have I treated spiritual life as some sort of protective bulwark, hiding behind the spiritual furniture like a child pleading and desperate to escape the vicious invectives of quarreling parents s/he assumed might protect and shield and nourish a child's life? If those who are loved can be so downright mean to each other, how long before the viciousness finds a new outlet in this small and frightened child behind the spiritual couch? Please, please, please stop!

Stop the fear. Stop the uncertainty. Stop the fierce and fearsome sense of doubt.

Where the rug of assured and reassuring love is yanked out from under ... is there then no place of succor and peace and reassurance? And of course there is -- or seems to be -- here behind the spiritual couch. It may not be perfect, but it seems possible ... to cringe and cower and rely on the big strong couch or other bit of protective furniture.

How many good habits I learned along the way, crooning and listening to the croons of "enlightenment" and "compassion" and "love" and "freedom" and "liberation" and "emptiness," sitting still and straight and attentive and venturing into scenes of "failure" and "success." Yes, very good habits which I cannot claim to have perfected. I have done my share of harm and, although I have a hard time recalling when or where, I suppose I must have done my share of good.

But for how many years have the dandelions burst upon some springtime lawn or the Canada geese honked their way north or south depending on the imperatives of the season? A lot is all I can think ... and all the while I was buttressing my good habits and no doubt overlooking my bad ones.

I can repent, but I am not sorry.

Around some warming brazier, the monks talk deep into the night. Spiritual endeavor is hard and it is natural and fine to be among friends who will say, "I know what you're talking about" and not just paper over the scene with lofty encouragements... the lofty encouragements that provide the foundation for a brilliant love-hate relationship. The encouragements that beckoned and promised, but in the end were insufficient to any relaxed and easy peace.

I too have hidden behind the sofa and I repent.

There comes a time when the safety of the spiritual sofa must take flight ... dissolve like the honking of Canada geese. There is a time to stand and stretch and take my chances among querulous adults, to spring up like any self-respecting dandelion. When did spiritual endeavor ever have anything to do with success or failure? When did it ever have anything to do with "ego" or "attachment?" When did it ever have anything to do with "spiritual endeavor?"

I confess I really don't know and am no longer interested in the spiritual professionals who may honk and bray about "don't know mind." I can't quite remember why I was hiding or what I was protecting, but I repent to the extent that I have added furniture to hide behind. Put the "egolessness" over there next to the "attachment" La-Z-Boy.

I repent.

But I am not sorry.


  1. I very much enjoyed this. Particularly the "lofty encouragements" and the "honking and braying". A question out of the blue, since your mindset *seems* kind to mine, I find it hard to write as "I" and fall into "we." I'm almost certain this imposes a tone I (at least overtly) don't intend. Does it strike you in any particular way?

    -Lauren Crane

  2. Lauren -- This is just my take. People work the problem out for themselves.

    I don't like "we" or "one" or other designations that seem to signal that "we" are all one big happy family, enjoying the same experiences and sharing the same understandings. To me, "we" has an exculpatory plea built into it as if, by saying "we" I might somehow escape the lash of criticism, or create a cozy place in which others might snuggle down. It is exalting in its own small way and I distrust exaltation.

    And nevertheless, I too segue into "we" from time to time. I am not proud of myself. Generally, at my age, I see/hear myself use "we" and pass languidly by ... "OK. Fucked up again. What else is new?"

    I once had a Tibetan Buddhist chum who never used the word "I." It made for some pretty gnarly and convoluted commentary on Buddhist bulletin boards or the email he might send. It was from him that I was helped to understand ... there's enough bullshit in life; no sense in adding to it.

    Buddhists like me can trip all over their goody-two-shoes feet in an attempt to sidestep or escape from the 'non-abiding self,' of which "I" can seem to represent a first-rate expositor. OK ... knock yourself out.

    But I think any decent Buddhist practice involves turning towards, rather away from, the facts. Dog shit on the sidewalk is, after all, only dog shit. All the "eeeeuuuuws" in the world are not going to change it. It's just dog shit, for heaven's sake! It's just "I" for heaven's sake! As I might keep an eye on the dog shit in my path, so I try to keep an eye on "I." Not get tricked. Do I get tricked and forgetful? You betcha! But better an honest mistake, one that can be corrected, than some sidestepping excuse.

    I don't like anchovies. I don't much care for "we." And I sure don't like stepping in gooey dog shit. If someone tells me I should be more sanguine, more serene in the face of life's mud puddles, I say, "OK. You step in the dog shit."

  3. Good stuff.

    I think I may give writing with I more of a try. I fear my "we" is coming from the place you mention.

    Turn towards the facts, stay away from the kittens and rainbows, and occasionally step in the shit.