I was scrolling through pictures last night on Face book. High school classmate of mine has a son who recently returned from India. Didn’t take me too long before I had a pretty good handle on where the son is at in his life journey.
Willing to fly to India, just to try and get “it” figured out.
Woke up this morning, still thinking about that young man. My mind went to a story by one of my favorite story tellers, Robert Fulghum….
Like many westerners in the late sixties, I wanted to be somewhere else in my religious journey. Confusion reigned in the kingdom of my mind, and I yearned to construct a framework of understanding that seemed beyond my present cultural tools. I couldn’t seem to get “there” from “here.”
Zen and its idea of enlightenment appealed to me. That one might sit very still and empty one’s mind and suddenly be hit by a mighty wave of comprehension beyond words – well that would do. Hit me with the big news and let me walk away with a sense of “I got it!”
Took a leave of absence from my dailiness and went off to Japan to get Zenned properly. Got connected to a temple and a master. Shaved my head and face, put on the drab grey robe of the novitiate, and stood in line to get enlightened. Figured to become a pretty holy man in pretty short order, like in about six weeks, which was when my return ticket home expired. Right.
But of course it was not to be. Sitting still gave me hallucinations and cramps, but not enlightenment. The food gave me diarrhea. Sleeping on a board gave me a backache. And my fellow monks treated me like a Western fool, laughing at me behind my back. It was one of those times when you know enough to realize there’s something everybody but you knows,s but you don’t know enough to know exactly what it is you don’t know.
But I did know it was time to leave.
To my surprise, an invitation was extended for an interview with the master of the temple. Which was like a stock-boy being asked to have lunch with the president of thee company.
Since it was largely because of his reputation that I had chosen this particular temple, and since he rarely spent time with tourists like me, the master’s invitation seemed a special honor.
Mabu Kohara, Ph.D. in economics from Tokyo University, solver of all the Zen koans (mind puzzles), adviser to captain of industry, writer of books, speaker of seven foreign languages, a paradigm of the great teacher. Wise, good, respected, accomplished. If he didn’t have “it” all figured out, then nobody did.
After I was ushered into his private study, we knelt on cushions and bowed our mutual respect. He out of courtesy and I out of awe. For along time he looked at me and into me.
Very deliberately he shifted his weight to one knee and just as deliberately reached for his backside and scratched himself in that way and in that place your mother told you was a no-no- in public.
“I have hemorrhoids. They hurt and itch.”
There was nothing in my mental manual as to how to reply to such an opening remark. I kept my mouth shut and pretended to be thoughtful.
“The hemorrhoids come from stress, you know. From worrying about tourists burning down this firetrap of a temple. From worrying about trying to get enough funding from businessmen to keep it in repair. From arguing with my wife and children, who are not as “holy” – he smiled- “as I am.” And from despairing over the quality of the lazy young fools who want to be priests nowadays. Sometimes I think I would like to get a little place in Hawaii and just play golf for the rest of my life.”
He leaned to one side and scratched himself again.
It was this way before I was “enlightened,” you know. And now it is the same after enlightenment.”
A long pause while he silently gave me time to consider his words and actions.
Rising he motioned me to follow him to the entrance alcove of the temple, and we stood before an ancient scroll I had often passed. He said it was time for me to go home, where he felt I had been a “thirsty man looking for a drink and all the while standing knee-deep in a flowing stream.” Yes….
With a wink, he turned and walked away.
Carefully scratching his backside.