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Lions Roar : September 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN SepteMBer 2009 67 The battle between these two opposing sides of myself— zendo cop and irreligious rebel—began to take its toll. This is the monk-in-training’s challenge. The middle way isn’t all nicely laid out for him, like an insurance plan, as though to be enlight- ened is to sign on the dotted line—“here ya go, here’s my desire, my self-interest: take ’em all. They’re my down payment on satori!” no, he has to establish the middle way within himself by testing the extremes. he has to constantly put himself out there. This is the true meaning of that religious catchall “self-sacrifice.” The monk puts himself on the altar, or else he’s a liar and a fake. which is what i felt like as jikijitsu—a liar and a fake. i felt wimpy half the time, sadistic the rest. i couldn’t strike the right balance. i couldn’t be strong. The truth was becoming clear; i’d been a rebel my whole life not because i was idealistic or original, but because i simply didn’t have the guts to stand for anything— only against. ikkyu? nietzsche? please. Try eddie haskell meets woody allen. i was a coward. a coward and a bully. Full of self-hate and self-pity, desperate for warmth, for a warm body, i did what we all do when we don’t want to face ourselves in the zendo. i fell in love with a new student. she was a carrot-topped, foggy-skinned Dane who had buoyed her smile with some recent cosmetic dental work. it was a welcome diver- sion, this dharmamour. we made love on every continent, grew old together. she got a dramatic disease; i stood over her fresh grave with flowers. Then i deeply regretted our time together and considered myself fortunate for only having lived it in my head for several sits, the downside being the arousal that made it awkward to take my rest periods standing up. one evening she visited me in my cabin, where i cracked open a bottle of Jack Daniels. “when i got ordained,” i laughed over my shoulder, trying to be world-wise and charming, “all the junior monks got me books and all the senior monks got me booze. what does that tell you about this path? ha ha ha!” alas, she had no interest in me except as a sounding board for various reconciliation scenarios revolving around her estranged boyfriend. The evening ended with her backing out of the room while thanking me for the drink, after a charged silence i had foolishly hoped would lead to a kiss. i had barely crawled under my quilt with every intention of breaking my pleasure fast when my new roommate—a French- man—arrived. For the month. “ha-loo!” he chirped, his air-travel Bo filling the room as he took in its dimensions. “Tiny!” he whistled, looking askance. Jacques-san is no doubt someone’s idea of a tall, cool drink of water. sinewy and athletic, he stripped to his skivvies, hit the lights, lit a candle, and started in with his ritual nightly asanas, standing on his head and scissoring those graceful, giraffe-neck limbs, which practically touched both walls. i rolled to my side and pretended to sleep. Blown up on the wall in monstrously im- mense proportions just inches from my face, the bulging shadow of his manly midsection bobbed up and down in the candlelight. it was like a soft porn image dreamed up by some cigar-chewing cinematographer. even in my bed, facing the wall, there was no denying that i was trapped on a macho, male-heavy mountain with a squad of spiritual green Berets. i fled my cabin for the monastery’s small library, a run-down cottage nestled in a womb of conifers. my eyes flitted across the shelves, where the spiritually desper- ate (but always literarily sensible) had for more than forty years buried their intellectual discards. my fingers paused over a slim, turquoise volume by pema Chödrön. i’d once perused an essay in which she was gracious and respectful toward Zen, but not without leveling a subtle criticism, which i would paraphrase as: “geez, lighten up. You guys can be really asshole-ish!” pema Chödrön was just what i needed. even her author photo on the book back was encouraging. First off, she was grinning. “Come on in,” she seemed to be saying. “The water’s warm. i’ll be your dharma momma and i’ll scrub you clean.” second of all, she had a sensible haircut. short, but not shaved raw to the skull, not revealing every crinkle and crease, every bony flaw, like the lack-of-hairdos in our Zen tradition. pema was even showing a little bit of her bare shoulder in the photo. wild! Take me to your buddha-breast, earth mother! Like a little boy perving on Hustler, i crawled under my cov- ers that night, clicked on a book-light and poured through The Wisdom of No Escape. “if you are alive, if you have heart, if you can love, if you can be compassionate... then you won’t have any resentment or resistance,” pema purred. “Loving-kindness is the sense of satisfaction with who we are and what we have... fear has to do with wanting to protect your heart: you feel something is going to harm your heart, and therefore you protect it.” surfeited, i laid the book aside and trembled with satisfaction. were a cigarette handy i would have blown smoke rings and played with my chest hairs. But the following morning, bitterly ashamed, i vowed never to touch her tome again. it was schmaltz, i told myself. a onetime thing. i was perfectly happy with the husky-voiced, thick- ankled practice i’d taken vows to honor. i returned the book to the library—only to furtively yank it from the shelf again that evening. There was no denying that I was trapped on a macho, male-heavy mountain with a squad of spiritual Green Berets.