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Buddhadharma : Fall 2006
buddhadharma| 13 |fall 2006 some quaint little old man, and not seeming to notice that we were all under full assault, began asking him questions like, How many plants do you have? What do you eat for breakfast? What are the names of your cats? What do your cats eat for breakfast? – that kind of thing. Maddening. We both seemed to grow equally impatient. I screwed up my nerve, and stood up. “Yes, young man, with the long hair and glasses?” “You said I don’t exist. How can that be? Here I am!” I said, noticeably pissed off. He suddenly looked as if he’d just been plugged in. Beaming back at me with an enormous grin, he simply responded with a question: “Well, then ... who is that?” Instantly flipping through all the obvious answers, I spluttered a half-response (something about Camus probably) that I knew wasn’t even close to what he was getting at. And then, just as I would later read in all those Zen stories, confronted by that most insoluble of problems and somebody who knew, my mind actually just ... stopped, burnt out. For what at that moment seemed like the very first time in my life, I suddenly actually heard the birds outside the open windows. I smelled the fresh spring air. I felt the sun on my cheek. I looked at him. He looked at me. I smiled. He smiled. Unusu- ally speechless, I sat down. Some time later, I met John Cage again, when he was signing autographs, and I asked him, “If you don’t exist, why are you signing your name?” He turned, not missing one beat, and whispered in my ear what might just be the most resonant one-liner this side of “shit on a stick”: “You have to play the game.” headS or tailS? Making decisions doesn’t have to be difficult, explains Zen master Wu Bong. Question: I have trouble deciding things. Is there some way practicing can help? Wu Bong: I have a secret technique, which I’ve been teaching for several years now. Take a coin [laughter] and throw it up in the air. By the time you catch it, you usually know which way you want it to come up. You don’t even have to look. Just do it. From the vantage point of distance, most deci- sions are not so important. Either way will be OK. Why you do what you do is most important – is it for me or is it for others? If your direction is clear, then your choice is also clear. But sometimes you cannot decide what is helpful, so flip a coin. It’s OK. from The KWan Um sChool of Zen neWsleTTer, sPring 2006. the enlightenment agenda Most people like the idea of enlightenment but aren’t willing to give anything up to get it, explains Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. He has some strong words of advice for anyone who isn’t really com- mitted to the path. The wish to gain enlightenment is the most impor- tant thing, but that’s easier said than done, because most of us are not interested in enlightenment. Enlightenment is an idea; it’s abstract. Maybe some of us are serious about enlightenment, so we may put more emphasis on that. But we still con- sider all the other aspects of life a bonus – wealth, prosperity, attention, friendship, and companion- ship, someone to share a pizza with. If you have the chance of getting that, you will grab it, basi- cally. You’ll grab it before someone else grabs it. You understand what I’m saying? You’ll not give it up. But if those things happen to someone who is really, really, really only thinking about enlight- enment, it’s okay; if those things don’t happen, it’s fine, too. That’s difficult, because of course we have a strong habit of the eight worldly dharmas. We love praise, we don’t like criticism; we like attention, we don’t like to be ignored. And when you have that kind of motivation – when you are looking for attention or praise – a real spiritual friendship is difficult. You are closing the doors. You are not letting in the real guru. It’s very difficult, because he or she can’t tell you the truth. If they tell the truth, you don’t like it. A seeker of enlightenment is a seeker of the truth. You have to hear the truth, and especially on the path, it can be very, very hard, painful truth. Seeking enlightenment should be one’s main motivation. Of course, that covers a lot of things. If you are looking for a guru, that means you must also, intellectually at least, know that samsaric or WardSCHuMakEr