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Lions Roar : July 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2008 74 Buddhism and Taoism, there occurred in Tibet a dynamic meeting between Buddhism and Bön, the ancient Tibetan shamanic religion. The Buddhist masters who had infiltrated Tibet (around the eighth century) were eccentric mahasiddhas out of the tantric lineage in India, and the Bön shamans, having a natural affinity, took to their crazy-wisdom ways like Homer Simpson to donuts, maybe even improving (if “improving” is the right word) on their radical approach to ultimate awareness. The Tibetan siddhas soon acquired a reputation as the wildest of spiritual outlaws. Siddhas slept naked in the snow, hung out in graveyards, nibbled on dung, drank wine from skulls, publicly engaged in kinky sex, and missed no oppor- tunity to ridicule dogma. Believing in the possibility of in- stant karma, they employed shock tactics to jolt people into spontaneous enlightenment. When a latter-day Japanese roshi would define buddha- hood as “dried shit on a stick,” or answer the question, “What do you do when you meet your master coming through the woods?” by advising, “Hit him over the head with a stick,” you know they’d been infected with the virus of crazy wisdom. Whether it sprang up independently in Persia and Tur- key or was carried there by travelers along the Silk Road, I haven’t a clue, but crazy wisdom permeates Sufism. One of my favorite Sufi stories concerns a man who, feeling in need of spiritual guidance, petitions for an audience with a re- nowned master. After a long wait, the request is granted, but the man is allowed to ask only one question. He asks, “What is God really like?” The master answers, “God? God is a carrot. Ha ha ha ha ha!” Feeling mocked and insulted, the man goes away in a snit. Later, suspecting that he must have misunderstood some- thing, he requests a second interview, and after several years it, too, is granted. “What did you mean,” the fellow asks, “when you said God is a carrot?” The master looks at him in amazement. “A carrot?” he bel- lows. “God is not a carrot! God is a radish!” And again he laughs uproariously. Turned away, the fellow broods over this outlandishness for many months. Then, one day, it dawns on him that the master was saying that God is beyond definition and can never be de- scribed, that anything we might say is God is automatically not God. At that moment, the man was powerfully awakened. Examples of crazy wisdom also abound in the modern west, ranging from Joris Karl Huysmans sewing his eyelids shut because he believed that at age thirty, he’d already seen so much it would take him the rest of his life to process it all, end of the stick, embracing insecurity, honoring paradox, courting the unexpected, celebrating the unfamiliar, shun- ning each and every orthodoxy, volunteering for those tasks nobody else wants or dares to do, and perhaps above all else, breaking taboos in order to destroy their power. It’s the wis- dom of those who turn the tables on despair by lampooning it, and who neither seek authority nor submit to it. What’s the point of all this? To enlarge the soul, light up the brain, and liberate the spirit. Crazy wisdom is both trans- formative and transcendent. You seem to be particularly partial to Zen Buddhism. Is it Zen’s version of crazy wisdom that appeals to you, or are there other elements that draw you to it? The branch of Zen Buddhism that has long interested me is Rinzai, the sect that eschews the mind-quieting practice of meditation in favor of the mind-blowing activity of wres- tling with koans. Koans, of course, are those carefully crafted riddles that can never be solved by means of anything re- motely resembling deductive logic. On a purely intellectual level, attempting to solve koans is a perfect manifestation of crazy wisdom at work. It’s impor- tant to emphasize, however, that, unlike Zen, crazy wisdom is not a practice, it’s an attitude (an attitude I seem to have had since birth). In general, I’m attracted to Zen’s focus on absolute free- dom and all-embracing oneness, its reverence for nature, and its respect for humor. When Zen or tantric masters visit North America, they’re often astonished by how earnest, how overly serious, Westerners are about their spiritual practice. They’ll go to a zendo in Minnesota, for example, and won- der aloud why nobody there is laughing. This led Chögyam Trungpa, in a lovely expression of crazy wisdom, to squirt righteously zealous meditators with a water pistol. To be uptight about one’s Zen practice, to become at- tached to it, is to miss the whole point of it; one might as well hook up with one of the fear-based, authoritarian, guilt-and- redemption religions. Can you give me some examples of crazy wisdom that interest you? I realize that you talked a lot about crazy wisdom in your Harper’s essay “In Defiance of Gravity,” but it would be nice to have more of a taste of what you mean. I’m a wordslinger not a scholar, I have a monkey mind not a monk mind, but I think you can trust me when I report that just as Zen evolved in China from a co-mingling of Spirituality, when pure, connects us to the godhead with infinitely more efficacy and grace than does religiosity. JULY 72-77.indd 74 JULY 72-77.indd 74 4/25/08 11:44:00 AM 4/25/08 11:44:00 AM