Last Sunday as I waited around in robe and rakusu for a young woman to arrive for a little zazen or seated Zen meditation, I ambled casually into the room where my younger son was watching TV.
"There's a young woman coming to do zazen this morning, you want to come?" I asked.
"No," he said without any particular emotional content. He has seen me go out to the zendo for years just as he has seen me take out the garbage. It's no surprise and it's nothing to write home about ... just the old man doing his thing.
"Remember the time you came out?" I asked.
"I remember," he replied without elucidating.
He had been nine or so at the time and he came out, received truncated sitting instructions attentively and then, after I told him I would ring the bell and he was to sit quietly thereafter, he prepared his posture. I rang the bell. In the middle of it, he piped up, "it sounds like birds in my ears." After which he sat very well for perhaps 10 minutes. But when I rang the bell to signal the end of the sitting, he said rather emphatically, "Good ... I was about to get up and get out of here anyway."
He was the only one of my children who ever asked if he could try things out. He only came once. He never came back and last Sunday I was testing those waters. I didn't really care if he came or not. I was just curious how he felt.
I pressed him a little harder.
"She's cute," I said half-facetiously about the young woman who was coming. I know my son likes, loves and lusts after women in about the way any hormone-clogged 18-year-old male might. I baited a small trap and waited to see if the mouse might bite. Spiritual venues are sometimes a good way to meet and mesh with members of the opposite or even same sex.
"No thanks," he said.
And I felt a small surge of delight. Good man! The questions of spiritual life pose themselves without any interference from spiritual adventures. Why push the river? Zen Buddhism may offer what I consider a pretty good framework within which to study the Big Questions, but everyone finds their own way to pose and address and sometimes answer those questions. No sense in adding unneeded idiocy to your easily-acquired idiocies.
(Does it occur to anyone else as it occurs to me: Whether parents give their kids "something to believe" or "something to rebel against," still it is the nature of kids to rebel, to find their own windmills to tilt against? Isn't that what's called growing up?)
Forty-or-so years ago, I was positively dying to "become a Buddhist." I wasn't quite sure how to do it, but I sure wanted to become one. With the passage of time and a little practice, I no longer wanted to become one: At some point I grew comfortable with saying things like, "I am a Buddhist." I certainly devoted a lot of time and energy to Zen Buddhism, so I felt entitled and correct: "I am a Buddhist."
But for all the energy I put into it, I never wanted my children to be "Buddhists." The question that posed itself in my mind as they were growing up was, "What would you rather have, "good Buddhists" or "good people?"" And I plumped for the latter. People who brought their kids up Christian or Jewish or Muslim ... well, that wasn't for me. Good people have a hard enough time without tacking on something called "Buddhism." Learn what you learn when you need to learn it. And even if, eventually, my children circle around and give Buddhism a whirl, that will be according to their need and discovery and effort.
When I was a baby, my mother said, she once put me in a perambulator and walked out to a nearby park in New York City. She sat in the sunshine and read a book as I lay in the carriage. And after sitting there for a while, a neatly-dressed older woman approached the carriage. She did not say hello to my mother. She simply leaned over the baby, looked, straightened up and said without any particular emphasis or surprise, "Ah ... a minister." And she walked on.
As prognostications go, I suppose her prognostication was more or less true. Not that I ever went to school to study theology and not that I worked my way up the ranks of ministerial success. But the frameworks of my mind have been pretty much infused with the interests of what might be called a "minister." It has been and continues to be the way I think, in the same way that a lawyer or doctor or grease monkey might infuse his life with the lessons of his understanding and experience.
Once upon a time I longed to become a Buddhist.
After a while I was content to be a Buddhist.
But nowadays when someone asks if I am a Buddhist, there is some gentle correction that asserts itself. I can be a Buddhist if that's what's called for. I can put on robe and rakusu and chat with my son and wait for the young woman to come and practice zazen. It's something that, roughly speaking, I can do. But its import and impact are not things I would rely on or sell. Cooking an omelet is also something I can do ... though not always with perfect results. Singing a song is something I can do ... though not always with perfect pitch. It's nice to be able to find the tools that Buddhism provides, but tools are for using. No one who has tried it worries much about being a "minister" or a "parent" or a "race car driver" or a "mourner."
I like Buddhism. Its insights appeal to me. And, since I have used so much time mucking about in its environs, I am more or less stuck with the farm ... a farm I like, a farm a "minister" might enjoy ... but the farm doesn't own or define the farmer, however much others may insist or the facts may seem to assert. The farmer owns the farm ... whatever that may mean. A farmer chooses to farm, even if s/he hates it, and it is the ability to choose and move on, choose and move on, choose and move on that seems to be important.
Till the fields ... and in the evening sit down for your favorite TV show. Isn't that nice? You might, if you felt insistent, call it "Buddhist." But why waste breath that way?
My son watched a sports wrap-up.
I went out and sat and later chatted seriously with a "cute" girl whose confusions were confusions that something called "Buddhism" was familiar with.
Sunday was a nice day... perhaps as sunny as it was when someone announced that the baby was a "minister."