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Record My Mind: Banal Records of a Pedestrian Life

Suffering and evil overwhelm me and I stew in my own juice. 

Saturday, December 04, 2004

12/04/2004 01:14:00 am - The appeal of Zen Buddhism

During another lunch with Chris, I told him about a funny passage I read in another book. The passage describes the routine hardships Zen monks undergo. Because it is so funny, I'll quote it at length:

"Living a life of such physical deprivation, sleepiness is like a chronic illness, and the stomach is hungry year-round. Even the person of considerable desires undergoes a simplification: his craving is limited almost entirely to the desire for food and for sleep.

Elderly ladies, especially, would bow with respect when they saw us out with bare feet in straw sandals, making our begging rounds over icy winter streets. To be frank, though, after the first year or so, most monks become accustomed to monastery life, and the physical rigors cease to be of much consequence. Indeed, the most distressing aspect of training is not the physical suffering but the spiritual agony that invariably accompanies the private dialogues with the teacher. This distress decidedly does not disappear after a year.

...If one looks at the pillars between the zendo and the interview room, one finds numerous scratches. These are the marks of desperation left by those monks who, lacking an answer to their koan, tried to cling to the posts when they were being dragged by their seniors to the private interview. Many times the monk who tenaciously refused to be torn from the post had his hands slapped with the keisaku. Feeling the sting of pain, he would involuntarily let go and be pulled away to meet the roshi."
In between eating lunch and being accused of being an ascetic-wannabe, Chris asked me some very probing questions about Zen Buddhism, questions that I've never asked, questions that made me think about Zen Buddhism's appeal to me.

Question 1: Why is suffering bad? (This was asked after I tried to explain
the four noble truths)

Question 2: Why the self-deprivation and all the hardship?

Question 3: Why the riddles?

I can't recall all my attempted answers to his questions and am too lazy to try and write them down now. Chris is also too busy to help me complete the post. Maybe he can post in the comments field at a later time.

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