If you meet the Buddha, kill him. ~ Rinzai
My introduction to the timeless now came though books. These were magical portals that lured the reader into moments of epiphany (J.D. Salinger) and empty suchness (Alan Watts). I devoured them, tried to live them, enact their lessons.
In my early 20s, I walked through my neighborhood trying to stop time, to settle into now. I am here to tell you it sometimes worked. Once or twice, I fell into now. Now is heartbreakingly luminous, and also funny.
Who knew that heaven wasn’t anywhere else?
This was before the Dharma came to the West—or so I believed. In the early 1970’s, New York City was teeming with gurus, but the Zen masters seemed reticent.
I knew this because Alan Watts repeated this point in books that were then fairly current. To get Zen training, he said, you had to travel to Japan. And don’t bother, he added, because what you would find is a system of family temples, lots of ritual and not much enlightenment.
But one day when I could bear the yammering of the material world no longer, I opened the phone book to Z (yes this was Back in the Day) and found a zendo. Public sitting on Thursday evenings. Come one, come all.
I turned up, removed my shoes out on the street and entered—OMG—a pristine, achingly Japanese space. The atmosphere in the Zendo was so taut that the walls rang. The Zen master hissed that we were born alone, and would die alone. He was it, the real deal. I had found not just a zendo, but a roshi and a sangha.
Fast forward and it is a few years later. I am living at the mountain monastery connected with city zendo, and the impressive Zen master just wants to sleep with everyone of the female persuasion. But why?
Men just laugh when you ask them this. Don’t we women understand? Men are programmed for sex and power is an aphrodisiac. It was the 1970’s and some very attractive young women desire their teachers, fiercely.
Given all of this, what is a Zen teacher—someone raised in a geisha culture and then exiled to a culture without geishas—to do? And who are we Americans to expect so much more? We bombed Japan, remember?
What if our Buddhism were truer to our (better) roots?
What if American Buddhism was not Zen, not Pureland or Shambhala, but Protestant? The genius of the Protestant Reformation was the conviction that each of us has a direct link with God, no intermediaries needed.
No teacher in robes and rakusu spinning paradoxes that might as well be a sign reading, “Keep Out”.
And—please!—no special allowances for teachers (still, in 2012) crossing lines that are fire-engine red for normal people like professors and psychiatrists.
So many of our forebears believed that we can access God (Buddha Nature) through our own efforts. And then came Emerson and Thoreau, followed closely on by J.D. Salinger and Alan Watts.
Kill the Buddha.
Merry White Benezra is the author of Special Karma: A Zen Novel of Love and Folly, which you can learn more about at http://specialkarma.wordpress.com/.She has also just started a new blog about poetry and poetics at http://studiousmuse.wordpress.com/.Merry lives and works in Mountain View, California, patiently tracking the Timeless Now.
Editor: Carolyn Gilligan