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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Kozan Update

I just got back from the ASZC again, my seventh weekend down there since my first in April, 2006. As you may recall, my Buddhist initiation was this last September, at which time I received the Buddhist name, Kozan. This last weekend was the 2007 Initiation ceremony (Zaike Tukodo), at which seven new Buddhists were named. I keep getting emails asking me what my newest posting name, Kozan Bob, is all about. This answers the question at least for you Ratzaz Diaries readers; the rest will have to suffer. I started using Kozan Bob because I can't get away from this silly image it gives me of a Japanese guy in a cowboy hat, for some reason.

My excuse for not blogging much lately, this time, is just that I've been happily busy. Happily, because I've got a lot of stuff to do that I consider worth doing, so that some other stuff has been falling by the wayside until it screams for attention. My lawn seriously needs mowing, and my floors haven't been vacuumed in a month; the cat mess from the kitchen is starting to take over the house again. There are dozen of Nashville Buddhist Festival t-shirts from the Second and Third Festivals sitting in my living room that really need to be sold or moved somewhere. There are unwatched DVDs and unread books everywhere. But no matter what else I do, at this point I have to work eight hours a day and I've rededicated myself to my exercise schedule (which includes more and more yoga, since I've lately found more good Yoga instructors and classes at times I can do them than anything else), so that as I write this blog entry I really should be working on an "About Us" page for the Fourth Nashville Buddhist Festival. I'm finding that page hard to do because it's very hard to me to write a straightforward promo for Nashville Buddhism. First, it's hard for me to get my tongue out of my cheek in the first place. Then, it's kind of ironic that I wound up as the Nashville Zen Center representative to the Nashville Buddhist Festival, because I'm probably the least ecumenical Buddhist I know in Nashville.

Yep, I finally wound up conservative on an issue. Certainly not in a political sense. If you've been following my return-to-Buddhist experience, you know that Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen was the book that finally brought me back to Zen, and I'll stick to that decision, and to that book. Brad, incidentally, has a new book just out, Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen's Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye which I haven't gotten around to reading yet, and is apparently on a heavy speaking and appearance schedule behind it; good for him! And yet he opines about the lack of attendance at his weeky zazen sessions.

Which in unfortunate, because not only is Brad the real deal (and there are lots of fake deals out there attracting throngs of people), he is a genuinely nice guy. He's not nearly as iconoclastic in person as he comes out in his writings. And his idea of a sesshin is much lighter on sitting than most others I've tried. His teaching is light on the Sutras, heavy on, just sit and look at the wall. And most of the Buddhists I've met in Nashville are more fascinated by robed unintelligible foreign monks, or by counsellors disguised as Zen masters spouting platitutes for big bucks, than by guys from Ohio who'd rather talk about music and movies and then actually do zazen instead of talk about it.

Which is why I found the Atlanta Soto Zen Center in the first place, of course. Overall, I get the most benefit from educated intelligent, caring people with backgrounds and experiences similar to mine who happen to have twenty or thirty years of authentic Zen experience behind to help me out. But that's just me.

Anyway, this time I did get a chance to talk to Gakusan Terry Sutton, who picked my Buddhist name, and found out who Kozan was. He is a character, if you want to put it that way, from the Lotus Sutra, one of the bodhisattvas who show up on the mountain to hear the Buddha preach the Sutra that is usually regarded as his ulimate teaching. It is again interesting that Terry picked this name for me, since although Zen is usually seen as a teaching outside the sutras --the dharma of mind-to-mind transmission, my most extensive Buddhist background prior to my return to Zen in 2004 was with Nichiren Buddhists, who chanted the Lotus Sutra, or portions thereof, twice a day. So it's very appropriate for me. (I haven't yet found out whether Kozan was one of the Bodhisattvas of the earth, who arise in the sutra, and the SGI sees as the agents of Kozen-rufu, the triumph of Buddhism on earth; anyone with a copy of the Sutra where the bodhissatvas are named in Japanese, research that for me please....)

Interestingly a lot of the new Buddhists I talk to, or the people who come to the newcomers' meetings in Atlanta, or show up randomly at the NZC here, or whom I met at the MTAC, have read Brad's stuff, and are fascinated by it. The ultimate measure of Brad's success as a teacher will be how many of these people actually take up a lifetime practice of zazen; I'm sure that to him this is the reward, not the books or the interviews. It can be a little hard to make the transition from punk to monk; it appealed to me just because I'd had a little taste of Zen and a lot of time listening to rock music. By the way, I can't let the opporunity pass to recommend the teaching of Brad's teacher Gudo Nishijima; you can buy A Heart to Heart Chat on Buddhism with Old Master Gudo from Amazon for about $13, and it's the most straightforward guide on how to practice Zen Buddhism I've ever seen. He does not dodge the questions nor answer them with poetry. If you want to know how it's done, read this book.

More soon, I promise. After I mow the lawn, and write that page for the Buddhist Festival.

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