Today I decided to be an asshole. Wait...Can I swear on this blog? Uh, yeah, sure, who is stopping me.
Today, I decided to be an asshole. Not in the usual way, but in a constructive way. What I did was wait until we were sitting. 15 minutes into the sit, I said, "three minutes left". Then I waited. After eight minutes I said, "two minutes left". There were some groans, and some laughter. With 5 minutes left I announced "five minutes left". Then, with about 3 minutes left I said "Ok...30 seconds left". Finally, in an inspired moment of asshole-ness, at 25 minutes, I rang the bell once................and waited.....and waited......and waited. After over a minute, Bong.
I am a Zen asshole. This is probably not news to anyone.
I asked people to share what they noticed. Did thinking they knew the time left affect their sitting? How much longer or shorter did they think the period was? Did the time do anything to their practice? If so, who was doing it?
Great, great evening. As usual I will make a botch of the remembrances, so I am counting on the sangha to chime in or be faced with the totalitarianism of my memory.
A: Admitted he was in on the game. He guessed that if he had not been, he would have been angry that I was messing with his practice, and laugh at the humor in it.
B: Said that he had no idea if he was supposed to do something with the numbers, having arrived late, so he just settled into the sitting. He did notice that when the end was nearing that he felt himself straining.
C: Said she noticed that so long as the increments were linear, her practice kept going as usual, but that her sitting felt jumbled up when the time increments reversed. She also said that as she waited for the second bell, she felt her body pulling forward into the bow that she thought she knew was coming.
D: Said that he felt an urgency with his practice, a striving. He panicked, wanting to "make the most' of the remaining time, and that he found his mind scrambling for the "right thing to do".
I also then remembered to share this story:
Two students are admiring a flag. The teacher asks them what they are doing. One points and says, "the wind is moving", the other says "the flag is moving". The teacher, perhaps also a Zen asshole, says "your mind is moving".
Then things opened up and flew about the room. Does knowing how long you have change how you sit? Does enlightenment come at the end of long practice or at the beginning, or by accident? How do we know that we are done sitting? Somehow we got talking about death, about how you sit or live when you don't know how much time you have left. I recalled that my sister's husband, on a cross country bike race, had a fellow biker die in a car crash right behind him. I thought about how that guy probably thought that he had another 60 years, or another 5 minutes to sit, but he was wrong. How we all live believing the bell is not going to ring the next second for us, but that that is just a story too. A focused on how the tibetans said that if you don't think about your dying, you are likely to panic and get it wrong. He said that if we live our lives without acknowledging the inevitability of our own mortality, then we are flitting about aimlessly, missing the beauty. And we talked about how John sometimes says "You don't need to worry about de
ath, because when it comes time for you to die, you will know what to do". I mentioned how the sit reminded me of the saying in our liturgy..."and pass quickly from dark to dark". That I appreciated the urgency of that message. But what does that change? C mentioned that he knows, in some ways, that his life is subject to termination at any moment, yet what does that mean about how he lives his life now? Everynight cannot be one to see the dawn.
And there was a story about a 102 year old woman telling a teenage girl "its all over so quickly". And A observed that maybe at the end, all our life is one short blast of stuttering film, and all we have to answer for it is how much of life we loved.
So we left it there.
30 seconds left.
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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