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Buddhadharma : Spring 2008
buddhadharma| 63 |spring 2008 “Where is God when stick hit floor? Hits, hits the floor. i am a stickler for grammar, but it didn’t matter—here was the stick, coming down. i lunged for the wood, wrapped my fingers around it, and yanked, breaking roshi’s grip. then, tri- umphant, i sat back with the stick in my hand, proclaiming to the amazed and humbled Zen man: “no stick, no sound, just God!” At least, that’s what was supposed to happen. short, round Zen masters are often stronger than they look. i did manage to grab the stick, but roshi didn’t let go. instead he grasped my wrist and flipped me over his shoulder. i let him keep the stick; i was busy tumbling onto the floor behind him. “More zazen,” he said, as i bowed and left. how embarrassing. the old guy tossed me around like i was a sack of flour. My butt hurt, my ego was bruised, and i was through with Zen forever. except i couldn’t leave. no one left sesshin. But so what?Allihadtodowasputinmytime on the cushion and wait the whole thing out. Who cares that i can’t get enlight- ened? it isn’t as if it will go on my per- manent record. After a while i stopped fuming. i was bored. i just sat there. hours passed. then during the next round of walking meditation, roshi rang the bell signaling sanzen. Just in case i forgot, my mind started yelling at me: We aren’t going in there! no way in hell are we going to submit ourselves to the embarrassment of trying to answer that stupid koan. Where is God when the stick hits—hits—the floor. Who cares? “Where is God when stick hit floor?” roshi was right in front of me, sit- ting on his cushions, tapping his stick on the floor. i had no idea how i’d gotten there. Without realizing it, i must have walked out of the meditation hall, taken my place in the sanzen line, moved up chair by chair, and performed the intri- cate bowing. one mistake in the ritual and i’d have been sent back to the medi- tation hall. no mistakes, save one: what was i doing back in sanzen? “Where is God when stick hit floor?” i don’t know exactly what happened next. i can only reconstruct my actions based on where i found myself afterward. it seems that the instant roshi’s stick touched the floor, i flung myself at his feet, screaming at the top of my lungs: “God is here!” i suspect this is what happened, because when i regained awareness i was lying next to roshi, my throat raw and my ears still ringing with the scream. i scrambled to my knees, retook my place across from roshi, and waited to be forever banished. But the old man was laughing hysterically. i’d like to believe he was laughing with me, except i wasn’t laughing. i was on the verge of tears. roshi thought that was funny as well. “Goodah ahnsa,” roshi laughed. “Goodah ahnsa! seventy-five percent. now, more zazen.” seventy-five percent? c? i hadn’t got- ten a c since freshman German. What would it take to get a B out of this guy? i never found out. despite additional sesshin since then with roshi and oth- ers, when it comes to enlightenment, i’m average. it’s the best i’ve ever done. As fierce and formal as he could be dur- ing sesshin, sasaki roshi could be just as relaxed and jovial after it was over. i watched as my fellow Zen students hugged roshi and thanked him for the sesshin. though i hadn’t gotten enlight- ened, i hadn’t flunked either. so i wanted to say good-bye too. But i should have known better. once i got within reach, sasaki roshi pinched my butt and said, “roshi or rabbi—choose now!” i hated that. not the pinching, though that hurt, but the choosing. i had thought that i could integrate the two traditions. Yet here was roshi, my ass in his hand, telling me to choose. roshi had commented on the size of my bottom earlier in the sesshin while he was using my rear end as a model of how to sit, or rather, how not to sit. he’d lovingly (i guess) commented on the fact that my bottom covered so much of the cushion that it was hard to use me as a visual aid. now he was telling me that, as wide as my tuchus was, it was not wide enough to sit in both the zendo and the shul. i looked at roshi and smiled. “i am going to be a rabbi,” i said, with convic- tion. “thank you, roshi, for showing me that.” roshi smiled, and pinched my tuchus even harder. “Good,” he hissed. “Be Zen rabbi!”