After spending four challenging years compiling “The Compass of Zen”, in 1997 when the book was finally delivered to the head temple in Providence, Rhode Island (where I was then in temporary residence), I lassoed the next plane to Korea to present the text personally to the Teacher who had instructed this labor of love to happen out of scraps and dim records of his teachings spread hither and thither in archives from Rhode Island and Boston to Kentucky, LA, Warsaw and Seoul.
Having been admitted to his room at Hwa Gye Sah, wearing the full regalia of formal robes, and offering three full prostrations in silence – – my hands literally trembling at the long-imagined meeting that would occur when the task had finally (with some sharp, energetic urging from him) been accomplished — I offered forward three copies of the freshly printed text, wrapped in silk, my head lowered below my hands as I offered the text over his little desk to him, seated, cross legged on his cushion before a traditional folded screen.
Grumbling a little bit as he unwrapped the silk, I’d long fantasized this moment might produce a pat on the head, perhaps an approving compliment. After flipping through the pages briefly, he extended one copy with his hand in the direction of his wastebasket, dangling all 400+ pages like a smelly, dead fish over the opening of the trash.
“Throw this away!“, he said. “Many people will read these words, become attached to these words, and lose their true way. Better that this book never appeared in the world.“
A gut punch to the ego was received, but he was punching at something far, far more significant than my own expectant arrogance: the crass inability of words ever to deliver truly – – or even clearly point to – – the matter of our True Self, and draw peoples attention rather to distracting conceptualizations, and the rationalizations about the very matter of Dharma itself, and the carrying it out in a dedicated effort at waking up.
The same is true of this blog. What started as an attempt to present some “pointings“ to the Great Question through reference to significant matters of our time and our predicament, and to the practice that most optimally serves it – – silent Zen meditation – – this blog has now become a distraction, both for myself, and quite likely for many who read it. What doctor would offer cups of poison to people who are coming to him for some words that they might cure themself?
I have long, considered this blogging effort a “necessary evil“ sprung from pure intentions to manifest forward another manner of presenting the urgent matter of our need, as a species, to “soon wake up”, from the viewpoint of one practitioner’s own fevered commitment to that awakening. But for long now it has seemed also to have morphed into just another wretched bucket of my own gross vanity and ignorance, a font of cleverness and empty showy expression not fitting the great seriousness of the work of real and true practice in silent Zen.
Let’s now take it into silence, where the only real practice is born. And when I get a chance to refocus its content and presentation, it would only host matters, less full of private opinion, and more dedicated, dispassionate attention solely to materials for waking up, and much less commentary on other things. Right now, I just don’t have the time to go through all of it to separate the wheat from the chaff.
“Silence is better than holiness,“, Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say.
While I’ve never tried to fool people with any pretensions of “personal” holiness, I actually do treasure quite dearly the infinite silence of an ever more meditative life. And as I ask of my students to apply the power of silence to enriching their experience of life in the world, stepping away from this noisesome project for a while is an overdue indulgence which might yet represent a consistency in my own public teaching as much as it is represented to myself.
If this platform is resurrected, it would exist merely as a neutral platform for the presentation of necessary practice-related announcements and news, without all of the egregious commentary on the many doomful matters that face us.