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Lions Roar : September 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN SepteMBer 2009 64 This pasT winTer, as the temperature shriveled along with my remaining illusions about Zen practice, the great wheel of dharma turned once again here at the monastery and i rotated into the officer position of jikijitsu. The jikijitsu is the bad-ass father figure in charge of making sure meditation in the zendo hall is tight, strong, and clear. he shouts corrections—“no moving! Breathe quietly!” and so on. he carries a big stick and hits people with it. he leads all of the sits, as well as walking meditation and formal meals. Don’t F with him. his is the most distilled embodiment of the spirit of rinzai, or samurai, Zen. rinzai Zen practice can be brutal, savage even. it is designed to bring you to a crisis within your- self, to trigger a dark night of the soul. Zen attacks that one last thing you hold dear: your precious self-conception. it unravels any notion of a freestanding, unconditional “i” and shows it to be a lie, a fabrication, a construction. True realization, the old masters tell us, takes bone-crushing effort. we pulverize the very skeleton of ego—upon which the meat and skin and organs of our illusions hang—and we do it through intense, hurtle-yourself-off-the-cliffs-and-into-the-chasm practice. To prepare for my training as jikijitsu i decided to get tough with myself. i loaded up daily on protein drinks and vitamins, threw away that anne Lamott book i was reading, quit email cold tur- key, and prohibited myself from partaking in all pleasures of the flesh, self-induced or otherwise. i was going to need a backlog of strong, masculine chi energy. i was like a boxer who steers clear of his girlfriend before the big fight. “You’re a train wreck of overzealousness,” decided my mentor, a sinewy, green-eyed lesbian from Vancouver. “You’ve got a little power now. Don’t abuse it. The primary ass you should be whipping in the zendo is...?” “That of those noisy, unfocused students?” i tried, smacking my fist into my palm. “Your own,” she growled. “Don’t bring your personal shit into it.” The FoLLowing weekenD i was patrolling the zendo when i passed the meditating form of Tico, our most eccentric student, a formerly homeless physicist. That morning he had tried to shave his head, but he’d left patches of soft, curly, gray-black down, which gave him that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest fresh-from-electroshock-therapy look. he was quivering and shaking, The Shitty Monk Even a zendo enforcer, says Shozan Jack Haubner, finds his practice put to the test when trouble sneaks up from behind. iLLusTraTions BY hiLDe Thomsen