November 27, 2014

You are here: Home Features Alternate Takes

Student Striver

Once upon a time, at this very moment here and now, while reading the wonderful pieces by my teachers on this site, I wondered, "What could I, a mere student, do to contribute?" How could this particular follower of Guan Yin respond to a few of the cries of the world? Or at least an occasional world-weary whine?

This question immediately butted its head against two very concrete walls: one, that I was no writer, and two, that it was possible I had nothing to contribute. After all, who speaks, does not know, and who knows, sure as heck doesn't speak.

This Sangha is unique not only because, to my knowledge, it is the only international virtual Sangha of Chan Buddhism, but also because I believe it may be also a front organization for the Columbia University School of Journalism. My revered teachers and colleagues are not only firmly on the road to enlightenment, but capable of expressing it with clarity, style and artistic genius. I jest only a little.

The last time I wrote something that was published, much to the chagrin of my deluded family, writers and English teachers all, who have been lacking my Pulitzer for about 40 years now, was at the age of 7 or thereabouts. I wrote an essay for Mrs. Bell's English class about the virtues of dogs. I won a can of cat food.

There's a huatou in there, somewhere.

What, then, should this no-writer rank beginner write, then, she of the one-foot-in-front of the-other Chan, the waking up in the sweat of doubt Chan? Where is the Dharma Newbies place in the scheme and stream of being? How does the Dharma Newbie express her desire to take that first step that contains the ten thousand miles, much less help others to gingerly place that first toe on the line?

In true beginner mind fashion, I don't know the answer to this question. But I wonder sometimes if many Buddhist organizations are wandering around beyond the empty circle of wisdom while the people who need them most haven't yet noticed their ox is missing.

By this I mean we might be preaching to our own choir.

I came to this organization because I was already something called a "Zen Buddhist", which I had arrived at after studying Buddhism in a high school comparative religion class, having a half nanosecond minute of that which lies beyond human consciousness, and, after 30 years of hellish psychological and moral adventures, understood that the path which met the needs of ending my suffering was that of Shakyamuni. Besides people like myself, there is the other sort of Buddhist, who "knows" he or she has been a Buddhist forever, and everything else is just confirmation and commentary.

What is not included in either group is a suffering human being who is totally in the midst of this suffering, nay, even drowning in it, who has not found answers in any other path, vaguely knows that he read in some magazine next to the bean sprouts and the veggie enzyme complex bottles that meditation might make him feel better, a person who might have even come away from a Richard Gere movie with questions. A beginner before beginners mind. A living breathing example of the before-the-before, as our Navajo brothers and sisters are wont to say.

And out of nowhere, where all things and no-things come, the answer came. I would "write about what I knew about", another thing Mrs. Bell taught me. She taught for me. I would write for all the beginners, newbies, clueless, not-yet-sures, just like me. I would write this for all of us out there besides my little self (label only, empty of all inherent value) without access to either a Sangha or teachings. The ones who know they should be in Samadhi, but it still makes them yelp. The ones who were told "go away, we don't talk, we practice." The ones who still regretfully hear the sound of their own voices yapping.

The Internet has made me more aware than any other medium possibly could have of not only our interconnectedness (our interbeing, as Master Thich Nhat Hanh would call it) but also the depth of our pain and need. I do indeed feel your pain. Shakyamuni teaches that it is my own.

Although my immature mind has yet to rid itself of the regret that I am not a jazz musician like my estimable colleague Zheng Dao (the first), I can not help closing with an improvisation. Who knows, perhaps somewhere in this incarnation the great American poet Emma Lazarus is wandering around, like myself, a JewBu in the making:

Give me your tired, your poor, Hole-riddled hearts just yearning for green tea, With wretched refuse in their minds galore. Send these, the clueless, doubt-engrossed, to me. The Dharma lamp illumines Being's door.