Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Crooked Cucumber

Lately I have been thinking about something Shugen Sensei said about how birds don't ever sit around in their nests saying "oh, I worked so hard yesterday, I will just take a day off today."  I think his point was that they just get their work done, no muss, no fuss and in a way that is 100% bird-like.  

I do sometimes say that I am taking a day of rest.  Of course it still includes the important stuff but rest, for me, often means reading.  I thought I would share some of the books I have been digging into in hopes of hearing about the books you have been digging into - please leave a comment and let me know!

I started this post thinking I would list off some of the books I have been reading, but I quickly got caught up in the very first one, so maybe I will add some books later as an ongoing series, especially if people share their opinions.

At our first meeting, I was happy to discover that one of the people in our very small meditation group has a nice collection of popular books on Buddhist topics, so I borrowed three:  Crooked Cucumber, The Life and Teachings of Shunryu Suzuki by David Chadwick, Instructions to the Cook, A Zen Master's Lessons on Living A Life that Matters by Bernie Glassman and The Master, The Monks and I by Gerta Ital.  

Since I credit reading Zen Mind Beginner's Mind by Suzuki Roshi with giving me the courage and inspiration to actually take myself to a real Zen center, I am a great fan of his.  It was good read the biography and learn more about his life and especially to see that he was by no means perfect.  I did want him to be perfect - a perfect teacher, a perfect father, a perfect husband - but he was, instead, human.  It was fascinating to read about the history of the founding of the San Francisco Zen Center.  Everything I know about it comes from the stories of a friend who spent her teen years there while her mother was a student - a circumstance that was not always so great for her and, indeed, left her with a rather sour taste towards Buddhism.  Reading another perspective was welcome.

Also, it was good to read about Suzuki's training - certain aspects were explained that threw some light on things I have encountered that have always seemed inexplicable, like why no one ever just tells you how to do something correctly.  

My experience with certain aspects of the rituals and ceremonies is that it often feels like I am wandering around in the dark, bumping into things and knocking things over while everyone else has the layout so well mapped in their heads that they zip through as if the room was fully lit.  There seemed to be a very deliberate purpose to not telling me (or anyone) "watch out!  you're going to trip over that chair!" but I couldn't understand what that purpose might be.  I couldn't understand it because it is so different from nearly any other type of training one goes through.  Usually, if you are learning something new with a teacher, the teacher is guiding you very exactly, with lots of information and with the goal of helping the person to get it just right.  In Zen, not so much.

It was something of a relief to learn that Suzuki Roshi had the same kind of experience and same kind of frustration when his teacher would allow him to make mistakes and then correct him, often in a rather public, seemingly harsh way.  He couldn't understand it either until well into his training he began to see that he needed to make all his mistakes for all sorts of reasons - to come to understand and really embody the practice as well as to loosen and ultimately lose the sense of self, or ego, that needs to be perceived as perfect and smart (or any specific way for that matter).

To encounter a teaching that isn't a teaching or a teacher that isn't a teacher, except that they are a teacher and it is a teaching....well, it is something that turns you on your head for a while.  That seems to be the way of Zen - turn you upside down so that you can turn right side up again so you can realize that you were never upside to begin with.  

Or so I am told...I'll let you know!


Stitching Upstairs said...

I'm afraid I don't have a current book, as most of my reading is ongoing, a little of this and that back to that, in other words I do a lot of re-reading.

One of the books on my night stand is "Silent Rain" by Amaro Bhikkhu "Talks and Travel". I don't know if you know him but he is a Thai forrest monk (British origin). It is a wonderful book and actually is Free (of course they love donations) from the Amaravati Monastery web site.

Another book I like very much (mostly for it's humor) was written by a Taosenian and Zen practitioner who often guests in the Taos Mountain Sangha. His name is Sean Murphy and the book is "108 American Zen Stories......One Bird One Stone".

I hope you continue this series on books, it is really fun to share them.

Robyn said...

Thanks for mentioning those two books Monte...I will definitely have a look at them!