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Lions Roar : January 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2011 65 for him at the ceremony the next day. “More on floor!” he cried, gesturing for the priest to put his hara, or diaphragm, flat on the carpet while performing his great bows. this particular priest, with his eggheady Ken Wilbur glasses and exhaustless penchant for mischief, knows Zen form inside and out, and has a unique talent for tweaking it just enough so that you know he’s doing something wrong but you can’t quite figure out what it is. he sprawled on the floor, looking like a gunshot victim, trying to mash his hara into the carpet, doing some abomina- tion of the breakdance move “the Worm.” “no no no,” Roshi cried, and began to rise up out of his wheelchair in that time-slowing way of his. dealing with an extremely old person is like dealing with an extremely drunk person: they can tip in any direction at any time. people scrambled to box him in and grab a limb. the great thing about Roshi, i realized, as he stood, balanced, and then pro- duced possibly the longest flatulence i have ever heard in my entire life, followed by, “ohhhhhh, gas come out,” is that he allows you to see both the “great and powerful Wizard of Oz” manifestation and the “wrinkled old man behind the curtain” manifestation. Both are equal. to favor the spiritual is to be “too in love with heaven,” he claims. “and the problem with heaven is—no toilets and no restaurants there.” “oh no uh oh,” the nun murmured as Roshi descended to his knees before the bowing mat, his joints sounding off like confetti poppers and all of us gasping and groaning in sym- pathetic agony. first he crunched into what’s known as child’s pose in yoga, his hands outstretched before him, his shins flat on the carpet— the most prostrate stage in a Zen great bow. But then he began to slowly, inexplicably, stretch his legs out behind him one nano— and much-argued-against—inch at a time, until he was lying flat on his stomach with his face pressed into the bowing mat. it was really quite extraordinary, like watching someone suddenly do a double backflip while waiting in line at Mcdonald’s. he bal- anced on the fulcrum of his tight, rounded stomach, arms and legs outstretched like a kid pretending to fly. from my confinement behind the altar i craned to catch a glimpse of “the Roshi show” over a votive candle and practically set my koromo sleeves ablaze. surely some mind-blowing lesson awaited us at the end of all this significant effort! But then, maybe the effort itself was the lesson. “this...how tibetans do it,” he grunted. the priests looked at one another, pens paused over their notebooks. “What, Roshi?” someone asked. “this...how tibet- ans do it,” he repeated, his face muffled on the bowing mat. “apparently in the tibetan tradition they go all the way Change a tradition and you change its meaning. But follow it to the letter and you become its slave: who wants to be a spiritual company man, a bean counter of the cloth?