Sometimes things gotta work out right.
I don't really write a lot of good news in here; in fact, I don't write a lot of news at all. My cousin Phyllis wrote that she's been following my life through this blog, which made me think what an odd view of my life you'd get that way. I mean, I'm really not writing a newsletter. I didn't talk about my quitting my old job right after New Years last year though I did document my leisure time fairly well til I was forced back into the work place this summer; I didn't really talk about any of those jobs at all, since one of the main things I look for in a job these days is something I can forget about the minute I leave the office (although I like to be good at it while I'm there). I didn't talk really talk about the car wreck I had Oct. 9, although I really wanted to post a pic of the totalled car (I was too stressed in the search for another one that I forgot to take a picture). So you'd think that my life consisted of disjointed events and strong opinions. But I do feel compelled to let the other shoe drop on the Nashville Zen Center.
After all, you really had no autobiographical info in this blog at all until "The Empty Well" back in March, in which I chronicled what I perceived the sad state of aforesaid NZC and my frustration with it. You then followed my exploration trip to Atlanta, my discovery of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, and my subsequent initiation into Soto Zen. So it really would be incomplete if I let 2006 end without reporting the culmination of all these events to date, in the visit of ASZC Abbot Michael Elliston and his senior student Gareth Young to the NZC.
Sometimes events just seem to be slapping at me randomly, like big bloody insects in the wind when I'm driving a motorcycle through the mountains at night. And then sometimes I reach a peaceful place where they all seem to form a coherent pattern like a movie or someone else's biography. I've been in the latter place the last few days, from which it seems as if my first bungled attempt to orchestrate a Zen event -- and yes, I now admit it was my lack of knowledge and preparation, and my insecurity and consequent unwillingness to take charge and responsibility of that NZC spring retreat that probably led to its objective failure (though I certainly got a lot out of it) -- was a necessary prequel and training for what was pretty much an unqualified success.
Succinctly, the teachers came, thirteen of us at the table (!) had dinner, then we had a very good sit, meet and talk the next morning. Nothing newsworthy here, except that the desire I've had to bring the authentic Soto spirit to Nashville finally paid off. The ASZC leaders were excited about Nashville, and quite a few of the NZC members, whose (in Ellistons's words) maturity of practice and diversity I've finally come to appreciate are desirous of further interaction with Atlanta. I'm planning another trip down in February, and Atlanta wants to come back here, too. Except for some group money I wasted in advertising, it couldn't have gone better.
See, there's nothing gritty for this blog when things go well. One more thing: I really haven't mentioned any of the Zen stuff in here recently, in fact since October. If you're wondering why, it's because I'm finding it harder to write about. More and more, it seems everything I read or hear about Zen, expressed in language is, well, not necessarily wrong, but not quite right. I sit every week after our NZC sits and listen to someone read from a Zen book, usually gritting my teeth (I hope not literally); the readings from Sunryu Suzuki or Thich Nat Hanh (especially) or whoever just seem -- off. I'm currently reading the copy of The Kyosaku, Vol. I of the Teaching Archives of Soyu Matsuoka Roshi, the teacher of Zenkai Taiun Michael Elliston which was inadvertently left at the Barn after the sit Saturday. It's a very good book, for a Zen book, and I'm putting off sending it home til after Christmas so I can read a bit of it until I can order my own copy through the ASZC website. I'm certainly enjoying it more than most Zen books. But it just seems more and more to me that writing about Zen, or teaching about it with words is like writing with a Sharpy on the side of an aluminum coffee pot; most of the words don't stick and what's left is blurry and vaguely wrong.
Hojo (Abbot) Elliston again pointed out Saturday that what people perceive as paradoxes in talk about Zen are only apparent paradoxes; in my own words, they point out the limits of the language, not a problem with Zen. Even here, I'm starting to smell that magic marker so I'll stop. To me the only reason of reading about Zen and talking about Zen is encouraging people to do Zazen; it seems to me from my limited development and understanding that everything comes from there. So the best Zen book is the one that gets you to do Zazen. The one that did it for me was Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen, which cut through all the academia and showed me that someone who thought a lot like me (though also very differently) could benefit from the practice, stripped of all its artifice. I just finished rereading that, and if you're of my generation or younger, and tired of the academic approach to phiosophy or the religious approach to "spirituality", it's still the best.
I feel the same way about Zen ritual; it's just a mostly enjoyable, aesthetically appealing framework for Zazen. I enjoy it. So whatever works, works.
Anyway, enough prattling on about things I've just admitted are not suitable objects of prattle. The Nashville Zen Center is doing just fine at the moment, thank you, and so am I.