Sunday, September 21, 2014

Zen Monk Blues

"Sensei, I came here seeking enlightenment -"

"Then seek it!"

"- but, but, I seem to be failing."

"Then fail!"


Eijiro slinked away from temple master, crushed. He'd "felt stupid" since a small child; unable to force interest in the rigorous exams needed for further education. Eijiro had "just wanted to live." Unfortunately for him, no society yet created had made allowances for that. Now 21 and desperately lost with no way to turn, seeking enlightenment seemed the natural thing to do. This would be his Holy Grail to solve all his problems and answer all his questions.

"No one else has these questions!" he privately mused. Eijiro envied the conviction of his friends and family. Everyone had a goal! Careers or family or even just making money. Everybody had something! He even envied his cousin in the criminal yakuza. "But me, I've got nothing." Unless, of course, he made it as a zen monk, then he'd be the "holiest fucker around", holding his head held high. But on Day One he was handed this schedule:

3:30 – Shinrei (wake up bell)
3:50 – Kyoten zazen (Morning zazen)
5:00 – Choka (Morning service)
7:00 – Shojiki (Breakfast)
8:30 – Samu (Work period)
10:00 – Guchu zazen (Late-morning zazen)
11:00 – Nicchu (Midday service)
12:00 – Chujiki (Lunch)
13:00 – Samu (Work period)
14:00 – Hoji zazen (Afternoon zazen)
16:00 – Banka (Evening service)
17:00 – Yakuseki (Evening meal)
19:00 – Yaza (Evening zazen)
21:00 – Kaichin (Lights out)

Turning to a fellow first day-er, Eijiro joked, "So when do we fuck?"

The joke was not appreciated. Now, three months later having dutifully eschewed (publicly) his sense of humor and stringently following the daily schedule, he despaired. The good news was he didn't have the dreaded fear of yesteryear of "flunking out". Bad news was no one told him how to succeed. Even so, he knew he must be failing horribly because he felt just as dumb as ever and the idea of going back empty-handed trapped him in purgatory.

"But this is supposed to be heaven." The 2 hour morning meditations were the worst. Eijiro had only been half-joking about the fucking and his mind mostly wandered towards girls he'd known or sometimes the visitors who'd come to join in for the day. Eijiro never missed a bare leg or foot and as much as tried to remain devout - or his idea of it anyway - sooner or later his mind fixated on this forbidden fruit, breaking him and erecting him.

"These loose robes are the only thing that save me. I have to be the only one getting boners during meditation. But damn, those American girls are leggy and if I could just get a hold of them..." Time did not help. Extra prayers did not help. Nothing helped! It was the last resort to approach the temple's master, but his being told to fail was the last thing he'd expected to hear. In fact, Eijiro was so startled he thought of the sensei's words in morning meditation instead of shapely American legs without even having to try.

"Maybe he's saying it's OK to fail? You're supposed to be hated for life if you fail! That's what I've always been told anyway. I can fail and be loved? Can't be! He must be making fun of me like everyone else. Even in a zen temple you get kicked around!"

Even so, the small glimmer of hope it could be true was enough to keep Eijiro around. He didn't feel as pressed as before by the bewitching legs that crossed his path (though still entirely beholden). But loved as a failure is still a failure you be. And Eijiro never mustered the courage to directly ask the sensei if he would, in fact, be loved unconditionally. "If so, I will never leave here."

But another voice told him at some point he must leave - which meant somehow leaving the needed unconditional love (even if only imagined). "How can I ever go? My family seems so unappealing to me now. Nowhere else will I have love. The world only cares about competing! Kenichi (Eijiro's successful architect brother) has no time for me and I only feel extra stupid when I'm around him anyway. Shit! There's no way out."

Eijiro suckled on the temple's love like a newborn baby all the while knowing his dependence must someday end. He felt great shame in this need, that this was his new "unspeakable" which no one could know including the temple elders representing his parents whom he also failed to please. "They won't let me stay here forever hiding from the world. I can't blame them for wanting to throw me out. Clock is ticking!"

Repeating his childhood behavior, Eijiro began to start acting out, being deliberately rude, making noises during meals, even voicing his very untimely jokes (which never stopped coming to him). But unlike in his life before, there were no condemnations, no rebukes - even silently. Eijiro had hoped to get kicked out for being himself (the perfect excuse) - before his crippled dependence became known. "Better to be kicked out for my own reasons than theirs."

But even in failing he failed. At last, Eijiro became as solemn as the others, giving full devotion to his meditations and sutras, fully surrendering to the temple ways he'd resisted for so long. "About time I gave them an honest effort. I'd just assumed they'd wouldn't work for me." But the further he traveled down that path the more he realized his original assumption had been correct.

"There's nothing for me here," he sighed that night in bed. In the morrow he'd announce his departure, for better or worse. Eijiro had no desire to re-enter the world as crippled as when he left. True, for a time he'd felt he'd made some strides - but those were dead ends. "I am more bitter now than I've ever been in my life. What's the point of anything? I'll fling myself off a bridge and save the family honor. I'll prove the uselessness of life when I finally do the one thing I've never done: admit the truth. Buddha be damned!"

It was a curious mixture of feelings Eijiro had in his slow approach to the temple master in the morning sun. "What is this?" A trace of exhilaration - ecstasy even - like jumping out a plane with no parachute, totally free though doomed. "It's important I die with a clear conscience."

The temple master was famous and highly regarded and the reason why Eijiro had chosen this temple in the first place. He considered: I should trust this man. Tell him everything. Then leave.

"Sensei, it is over. Enlightenment is beyond me. Do not ask me to stay. I could stay until the end of time and it'd make no difference." That was as much as Eijiro could get out before losing his breath.

"Do you think your thoughts and doubts have been hidden from me? Do you believe you are the first and only who has entered here to feel the way you do?"

Terror like he'd never known before shivered throughout Eijiro's body, electrifying him. Had he been exposed all along? They were not blind like his parents!? Had he been openly discussed behind his back??

"So now you know the truth," sobbed Eijiro trembling. "I'll never know enlightenment, I'll never know the truth and I'll never show my face here again!"

Sensei smiled in bright-eyed joy, as if witnessing the birth of a newborn foal. "And now, Eijiro-san, you are enlightened."

"Fine!" he retorted without thinking. "Then I may as well just do what the hell I want!"


Two years later, Eijiro was praised and renowned throughout Japan for his wildly popular "Sarcastic Samurai" manga series ("If his blade doesn't cut you his wit will!"). The endless jokes that had hamstrung Eijiro in school and the rigid working world served him as a flowing fountain of wealth and success. It was a time before he realized it but he'd walked out the temple a free man, indulging his wants for the first time, drawing to delight himself and in the process, delighting millions.

"Enlightenment comes when you give up on enlightenment."

No comments: