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Thank You and OK!: an American Zen Failure in Japan
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[DC notes to self and others in brackets]

Chapter 32


February 23, 1989   -   LION AND ROCKS


One morning sitting zazen and waiting my turn for sanzen, I saw Mind, not as obscure or deep and hidden, but as superficial and immediately available.  I sat there breathing and before long I was thinking about how to get our new video camera working.  Then I moved on to the day's schedule.  I caught myself and wondered how much of a hindrance these thoughts were.  The pulling power of my thinking was low and an image arose with the phrase "bones in the corner of the cage."  Yep, just old meatless bones I'm gnawing on.  And then I thought well what am I then, the cage?  I experienced myself as that room with the cement walls and metal bars, the floor with the bones on it, and some water in a trough by the edge.  Hm.  The cage?  Is that it?  I sat and watched and then from within I heard breathing and sensed movement and saw a lion's tail sweep around before me in a circular path.


On another day, somewhat later than the lion tale, Elin and I sat and talked after Sunday morning Zazenkai.  She had enjoyed the session, as she usually does, in spite of the fact that in the second period the two monks running the show ceremoniously whack everyone four times on each shoulder with their long whacking sticks.  Of course, if they didn't do it, people would complain because that's Authentic Zen - getting hit with a stick.

She said that in zazen that morning she had visualized a rope in the sea with depth markers and she had held a big rock that brought her deeper, deeper, deeper down past the depth markers till she sat on the ocean floor quite relaxed and at peace.  She's mentioned using rocks to go down deep before.

She  easily settles like a clam into calm states, whereas I have to go through a longer process where I am more like a little fish darting about in the water.  I told her that her rock-

method reminded me of what the abbot of Brother David's Catholic monastery had told him: "We fall into heaven."  I visualized her sinking with the rock into heaven.  "Rock.  Oh yes, Rock.  Aha!" I said remembering.  "I had a rock too."

For, while Elin had been deeply breathing and sinking earlier in the day, I was having sexual fantasies and then started thinking about my English classes and then about how my Japanese studies were progressing and then I remembered my breath and followed it until I was talking to a group of women in a mist who spoke in unison like a Greek chorus.  They chastised me for being dependent on this so-called "Zen."

"Well, yes," I told them, "I guess I am dependent, but I like it best.  I feel like it frees me and I'm familiar with it.  It's easy.  Breathe in, breathe out."

"If it's so easy, how come you say you don't understand it?"

"I'm a slow poke at Zen but, no hurry.  Look, with all my cares and confusions and complicated involvements and with being pulled toward this and that, I can sit here and forget it all and still be alert and sober."  I thought that was convincing, but they persisted.

"You are dependent on it.  You should depend on yourself."

Then I saw right in front of me a tube about one foot wide in diameter rising from below.  My breath went in and out of it and I looked at the opening which was covered with a thin membrane which held an image like a watermark in it's translucent surface.

That's the self, I thought, and they want me to depend on that?  "I don't know who you think you are," I told them, "but I don't get your wisdom."

"Not that self, stupid," they laughed, "your Big Self."

I pulled the membrane from over the tube.  It had the consistency of a balloon.  I tied it up in a knot and started to throw it down the hole, but I thought, "Gosh, I don't want to make it choke."  Then I just dropped the membrane I saw that the tube had a new self image spread across its top.  I looked at it and then that surface image was sucked in and the tube itself receded with it and I was left floating in space, seated upon a stone, legs around it, and I noticed it was carved into the form of a stone lion.  I nodded in agreement to an intention I felt in the stone lion and it dropped.

As it went down, I thought, "Just like Elin."