Tuesday, February 08, 2005

the glorious Zen failure!

Here's the text of my very first Zen email exchange. It was a hilarious failure on my part, and I thought I'd slap it on the blog, along with some commentary.

Lorianne DiSabato, who runs Hoarded Ordinaries and is my own personal Zen teacher (which reminds me-- I'm in arrears with your salary), sent me the following:

So, Kevin: I have a kong'an just for you.

Am I a Zen teacher because I'm scatological, or am I scatological because I'm a Zen teacher?

Quick, quick! Answer right or you're in deep doo-doo!



I wrote back:


Haw haw,


Before I show you Lorianne's response, let me say that I cringed after sending this email, because I'd forgotten two words at the end of that sentence: THE ANSWER.


Makes more sense, if nothing else. Sounds like an actual reply to the teacher, yes? At the very least, the revised sentence has the virtue of directness and demonstrates some awareness of the original question.

So I already knew I'd failed because I'd been so sloppy in framing my reply. As it stands, though, my unedited response amuses me. Everyone will know... what, exactly? Even the gods are silent. Probably patiently waiting for the smell to clear the room.

But, no-- when Lorianne replied, she nailed me for a different, more basic fault:

Clever...very clever. But "clever" is not very "Zen." Your mouth is moving too much for this to be a good Zen answer: only action without speech.

So in this case, one finger is not necessary... ;-)


Several thoughts ran through my head at this point:

1. How the hell do you give a Zen reply through email, which is a medium of words (if not exactly speech, per se)? Call this my resentment-mind.*

2. Doesn't Lorianne tell everyone they're being too clever? I recall her slapping writer/poet Tom Montag, one of her regular commenters, with this same assessment. Is this some sort of stock reply to beginners? Call this my resentment-mind times two.**

3. And, dammit, Lorianne knows I'm only a sporadic practitioner. Does she really think I'm ready for this? Is she toying with me? Call this my resentment-and-paranoia-mind.***

So I'd failed. Thinking back to Seung Sahn's book wherein he has a snail-mail Zen dialogue in pictures with a student, I wrote Lorianne just a few minutes ago:

I should have sent a photo instead.


Of course, my unenlightened emotional reaction to Lorianne's reply is proof enough that I need more practice. Resentment is something I make, not something Lorianne brings. And as my critic Tom Armstrong (of Zen Unbound) would say, WHO makes the resentment?

I do, however, still feel that farts are quite Zen: every fart reminds you that the real truth is right under your nose.

*Zen isn't as wordless as all that. Don't trust all that "wordless, formless" crap you hear. As the title of Katagiri-roshi's book says, You Have to Say SOMEthing!
**Or maybe this is the stock reply to people who traffic in words. Words are often the trees that make you miss the forest.
***The response to this whining is easy: Did I not choose to reply to Lorianne's kong-an? So who thought he was ready to reply? To blame Lorianne for this would be "externalize the locus of responsibility," as psychologists say.


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