Monday, May 2, 2011

Walk Softly And Carry A Big Stick

I have never been in the zendo when the kyosaku has been used, either here or at Tassajara. I came pretty close this last sesshin - Michael had announced that he was going to use it for people who requested it, but the only time it came out, I was in the dining room giving remedial oryoki instruction. I believe Paul has used it at Tassajara recently, but not in the practice periods I was there for.
Grace, in her talk on Saturday, very skillfully outlined the reasons she thought that the stick was not appropriate for American zen, and the ways she found to put students in analagous situations of squeezing the ego.
I am not one to get into arguments very often; there was pretty much only one person I ever argued with at Tassajara, and it happened twice, both times during sesshin. I was in my first practice period, and this person was the soku of the serving crew I was on. By her own accounts at other times during that practice period, she was having a tough time being there - she described it as her inner three year-old running the show for her. After one of the arguments, and I don't remember which one now - there was one where I knew I was in the right, and one where I thought she behaved inappropriately for the circumstance, and in the pressure of sesshin I wanted to stand up for myself both times, and she was not the kind of person to back away from a conflict - she left me a long letter from herself and also a letter that Grace had written her.
Apart from the unusualness of having letters come to me during sesshin, I was tremendously struck by the situation she was in, and by Grace's response, which I recall as follows. This person was on the doanryo and having difficulties accepting feedback and instruction from the ino, who was much younger, but with seniority, of course. There had been a heated exchange between them because she felt the ino - 'who hadn't studied Japanese' - did not accept her correction - and she had studied Japanese -  on the way to pronounce mokugyo properly. Grace wrote "Who gives a flying fuck how to pronounce mokugyo when an ego the size of a football field is tormenting you day and night!" I can imagine how being on the receiving end of such an admonition might sting more than a whack on the shoulders.


Melanie G, Austin Zen Center practitioner said...

This could also be considered a Public Service Announcement to let us know we need to leave our football egos off the practice field!

Shundo said...

Thanks Melanie - it would be fun to spin that analogy out: the ego always wants to be the first draft pick, and so on...