Sunday, December 13, 2009

Koan Culture



Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.
Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.
“Come on, girl” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”

“I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”

Sometimes, one of the best things we can do is to suspend our need to measure anything with logic.  Most folks, myself included, spend far too much energy being disappointed that our dealings with the universe often follow no logical path.  We have such a great desire to make meaning for all we encounter, that logic, or at least some sense of reason, must come along for every ride.  It ain't necessarily so.  
If we can't be 100% certain that the Weather Channel will get it right all the time, why then should we expect our intuition to pull us through even most of the time.  
It is all too easy to get lulled into a sense of security thinking that our lives and the people in them will always be ruled by constant principles.  We desperately want that.  We certainly need that, but learning to embrace the unexpected, the impossible, the contrary, the paradox, the last resort can be enriching as well as enlightening.  It's one of the things I love best about horse racing.  The experts can measure every statistic, test every surface, chart the entire pedigree, yet favorites win only 1/3 of the time.  Some things just can't be explained.   Yet.
The ancient Zen masters used the Zen koan, a parable or story that must be pondered for a lifetime until it's universal truth is revealed.  Just recognizing a koan when they confront us is half the battle.  Let's hear it for the contemplative life.  
One of the luxuries of experience is that it breeds patience and insight.  When I think back on the kinds of things that caused me great distress in my 20s and 30s, you know, interpersonal relationships, work crises, family responsibilities, and understanding personal identity, I often see an impatient, anxiety driven, all too accommodating person.  Sure that same person is still with me, but not without insight. 
 I try to find ways to use that insight these days.  One, of course, is my work with student teachers.  They often help me see things I take for granted; things that any teacher, over time will do or say intuitively.  Another gift I've received is to write with these little gems.  Since the entire art of memoir writing is being redefined, written more like fiction and less like autobiography, I've discovered a real vein of gold to mine.  Some of the riddles haven't been answered yet, but the stories are being written.

1 comment:

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