Whoever coined the phrase, “there are no stupid questions”, probably never interacted with a Zen Master. I say this because I was recently involved in an interchange with a Zen teacher that, in retrospect, should have resulted in my receiving a hearty whack from him with an awakening stick. As usual, after his dharma talk, he opened the floor for questions, and I asked him about the purpose of the ego – specifically, “if it is so problematic, why is it the norm instead of enlightenment?”
From the Book of Serenity, koan 25, the theme of brokenness is explored:
One day Yanguan called to his assistant, “Bring me the rhinoceros fan.”
The assistant said, “It is broken.”
Yanguan said, “In that case, bring me the rhinoceros.”
Last December, when I learned that Clouds in Water Zen Center in St. Paul, Minnesota would host the 6th Annual Buddhism and 12-Step Retreat, I immediately began making plans to attend. It was with great anticipation that I boarded a plane on March 7 and flew to the Land of 10,000 Lakes for the 3-day retreat. What follows are my initial thoughts and reflections from this remarkable event; but first, some background information is in order…
Upon reaching the 8th Step last summer, I had made substantial progress in freeing myself of the closed-mindedness towards spiritual matters that had previously blocked my recovery. Leading up to that point, while working the 3rd Step, I had come across Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching and for the first time felt that I could honestly trust the process of recovery — an experience which I wrote about in an essay entitled An Appeal for Pantheism. However, as I moved forward with the work of Steps 4 through 7, further spiritual investigation was forestalled in favor of Albert Ellis’ rational approach to cognitive restructuring. Ellis’ techniques proved practical and effective. But as I began to consider the 8th Step, I was drawn back to the search for a spiritual underpinning from which I could make sense of the amends process which I was about to undertake. It was time for me to face, once and for all, the deep-seeded shame and resentment which had fueled my addiction. And so, the search for a spiritual antidote to these problems resurfaced.
“I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me the first Zen lesson,” said he to the Zen master.
“Have you finished eating your rice porridge?” asked Joshu.
“Yes master,” replied the disciple.
“Now go and wash your bowl,” said Joshu.
At that moment the monk was enlightened.