Issue 27;


Finding my teacher

By Paddy

Finding my teacher

To paraphrase the Oracle in The Matrix talking to Neo about being the one -  “(finding the one) is like being in love – no one can tell you you’ve (found the one) – you just know-  balls to bone”
I’m being ironic, and actually prefer the approach of Brad Warner who wrote about the concept of Zen teachers on his blog.  He wrote about a Zen teacher in the USA who was unfortunate enough to be discovered having an extra marital affair and was denounced on the website of his centre by his students and had to retire as a Zen teacher.  Brad didn’t think he should resign because when you have a guitar teacher you don’t care who they sleep with or what their personal morals are.  You just want them to show you how to play the guitar, and then he makes some reference to a riff by Led Zeppelin or something.  His point is; ‘can your Zen teacher teach you about Zen?’  That’s the important bit.
My teacher is Ingen and I have asked him to give me the precepts.  I have been watching him and I am sure that he can teach me about Zen. He is helping me sew a rakasu, which is a slow process as I can’t seem to sew and he seems to be helping me more and more as I do less and less, as it probably wouldn’t happen otherwise. It’s gonna be a funny looking rakasu and if you laugh at it, well you laugh at it.
That’s all I want to say about my teacher except that so far he has been really kind, which is probably what I needed.
So instead I thought I would tell you about the other contenders, the ones who didn’t make it. If I was still a Christian I’d call them false prophets but I only mean false for me, not what I needed. The worst thing about them was that when I met them I was thinking that there was something outside of myself that would do it for me. Someone, who would sort me out, so to speak, that reminds me of an old Zen story that I possibly made up, or perhaps read somewhere and forgot where.  A young monk was walking on a pilgrimage with his teacher and the monk asked him “What is it like being enlightened?” and the teacher said “On this pilgrimage I can do a lot of things for you but if you need to take a s**t, you have to do that yourself.”
The first potential teacher was Father Leonard May – a parish priest from Maltby in South Yorkshire, who was the leader of a Charismatic Catholic group that is still going as far as I know. I was a member from 1983 till about 1993 and lived as full time member, called at the time a religious brother from 1987 till 1989.  I used to shake uncontrollably sometimes when Father May gave a sermon and when he laid hands on me and I would fall to the ground, called ‘resting in the spirit’ and lie on the floor in a state of bliss. He upset me when I told him I was gay and he said – “there is no such thing as ‘gay’ there is only sin” and I had to pray to be cured. Enough about that.
In 1988 I met a Nichiren monk on a sponsored walk to raise money to help people with AIDS.  He was chanting the Lotus Sutra as he walked. I went up to him and said “I am a monk too.” And we got talking. He was so attractive, really peaceful, committed and non-discriminatory. He was walking then length of the country chanting the Lotus Sutra and raising money to help people with AIDS.  I had got myself into a bit of trouble for doing the walk; I was asked why I didn’t raise money for ‘innocent victims’ of illness rather than people who had ‘brought it on themselves.’ Anyway I never saw him again but decided that a real monk was like him and not like me – and a real monk would be a Buddhist. That worried my contemporaries.
I didn’t become a Buddhist till 2005 – with the Triratna Buddhist Community – then called ‘the friends of the Western Buddhist Order’ I met Sangharakshita once and felt exactly how I felt when I met Father May. I would feel like I was going to ‘rest in the spirit’ as he walked past me. The shaking didn’t happen though, thankfully. He has dodgy ideas about women being inferior to men and although I know you have to go a long way to find a religious leader who doesn’t explicitly or implicitly think women are inferior to men I still think it is worth trying.
I met Reverend Leandra, a Soto Zen monk from Throssel Hole Monastery in 2011. She doesn’t think women are inferior to men.  I was unemployed and looking after my partner who was in recovery from heroin addiction and he was trying to forget the phone numbers of drug dealers. Later he was given the label of paranoid schizophrenia by some other drug dealers (my word for psychiatrists). The minute I met Reverend Leandra I felt really calm. She was very kind to me and I was feeling a bit like I did when I was with Father May, but without the shaking.  Instead the feeling was grounded and peaceful, not blissful, just ordinary, but nonetheless important. She didn’t judge me.
The only reason I didn’t take things forward with her (apart from the funny chanting and calling everyone Reverend Master and stuff) was because of my ancestor Issan Tommy Dorsey Roshi. He was a teacher in Suzuki’s lineage who died in 1990 and I knew I wanted to be in the same lineage as him. If you don’t know who he is read ‘Street Zen’ and you will see while I consider him my ancestor and why I wanted to be in the same lineage as him.  So I told Rev Leandra that I was looking for a teacher in the Suzuki Lineage.
After I met Ingen and asked him to be my teacher I met Reb Anderson. I have told most people this story as it was one of the most amazing meetings of my life. In Dokusan with him I nearly started to hyperventilate and probably would have if he hadn’t helped me to calm down (I know I am bit of a drama queen sometimes).  I had another amazing experience with him in the zendo and as he spoke to me my heart was pounding and I could literally feel the blood running around my body. My whole body woke up it was incredible. He told me that ninety five percent of me was unconscious and that the ninety five percent was telling the five percent that the teaching was true even though the five percent doesn’t understand it and it was causing me to smile. I thought that I should listen to what he said. He said he had given us the teaching and we didn’t need to be with him all the time because the teaching is here where we are and doesn’t just follow him around.  The teaching is everywhere.
I also met Brad Warner who is really great. When I talk to him sometimes I am shocked. I didn’t think I would meet someone who would shock me with their honesty and openness but he does. I don’t get the creepy ‘you’re the one’ feelings with him though. He is too grounded for that.
I don’t get the creepy ‘you’re the one’ vibes with Ingen either, although I do sense that he has a great stillness about him. It makes me feel as if the relationship is a bit more grown up, a bit more self-contained.  One of the things Ingen has taught me is that Zen is right here in this body, in this room.  It isn’t outside of me and it is not the possession of another more advanced or spiritual person – nor is it my possession.
 In fact according to the Heart Sutra there is no Ingen and there is no me –so how can he be my teacher and me his student if we don’t exist. There is a saying that I learnt at University (doing French post structuralism if you really care) that helps me understand this.  ‘I don’t exist, we do.’ So I think I can say that the relationship between Ingen and me exists, with me called student and Ingen called teacher. But only provisionally and possibly or hopefully in the end I will realise in my bones that only relationship exists, relationship with everything, or as Dogen said, ‘intimacy with everything’. That’s the idea but for now I am waiting to meet him again and do more sewing.

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