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The Time We Lost Our Way

May 01, 2011 by Guest Author

Yokoji Zen Mountain Center

"Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!" the Gospel according to Mark 15:14

I've always loved the Olympians. They are the best in us and they are the worst in us. But no matter how cruel, jealous, angry, deceitful, or devious, they are still divine. It is, after all, their birthright, and nothing can ever take that from them.

My friend and dear lover recently recounted to me the story that her sister had told, that was told to her by her realtor, about a big Zen Master who had fallen from grace. His behavior was deplorable for a Zen Master; abuses of power. He had done such and such with so and so, he's only in it for the money, selling the dharma, etc. you know, fill in the blank, I forget the details now.

And then again recently a debate amoung friends who were saying that the collective actions of Zen teachers were so grievous that Zen is disgraced, a fraud, with no true teachers. There was plenty of evidence of "unethical conduct" to back up their opinions. None of the successors could live up to the old Master as these people would like to see it.

So I have been looking at this. I have been trying to see what these things are bringing up for me. What's going on here? Is there a problem with Zen teachers? As I can see it the teachers committed no crime but they've clearly come up short of living up to others expectations of them. We want our teachers to be Superhuman I suppose. Perhaps like the Son of God who never mis-stepped. We still want the childhood fantasy to be real. But I just wonder where will these teachers go from the high pedestal that we've placed them on? Is there not but one direction to go from way up there?

And they fall! Why is it that I love to see them fall? The rich ones, the famous ones, the successful ones, the spiritual ones? Great is their fall! And why do I delight in it? Why do I feel worthy to excoriate them, to revile them, to vilify them? Why do I want to drag them down? My mind is like some tabloid, it is filthy, and oh so juicy! But no! I am being just. They are the unjust ones. They are the ones who should be ashamed. They should be punished! I am so righteous.

Spiritual leaders and religious teachers, why have I put them on the altar of the absolute and worshiped them and their holy robes? Their divinity and their divine sermon. Why did I idolize and idealize them and their great words? Why have I put them far from me and close to perfection? I have so many ideas of perfection and imperfection... And then, when I got them as high as I could put them, why did i kick out the stool from under their feet? Never again shall they stand in the high place again! On and on... Why do I laugh and delight in this little game?

Why do I come to practice? Did I come to get wrapped up in the drama and affairs of others? Do I really see myself fit to judge them for their actions that I deem immoral? Why do I stand in judgment of other men? Do I know the Truth? It must be like being God. Am I justified in establishing a standard by which they should live? What does this have to do with Zen practice? my Zen practice? with the backward step? What does this have to do with the “looking within” that is repeatedly encouraged by Zen adepts?

Zen will always have it's critics. Humans will do what humans do, spiritual teachers included. But what do they have to do with me? I can only live my own life. This life! Is this all not a distraction from what I really need to do? What needs to be done right now?

Am I suggesting we ignore the behavior of teachers and leaders? Of course not! Yes yes true, they are leaders. Yes yes, there are consequences. But what is my part? Is not the power that they have the power that I give to them? What have I given? Do I empower them? Is there a need to lean on a teacher to rely on a teacher? Or can the teacher just be a mirror? Can I look and see? Can they just be a human? A human being that sometimes makes mistakes or must I always make them into my idea of perfection and my idea of enlightened? If the teacher falls and I fall too, then surely I am not standing on my own two feet! What did the Buddha mean when he said, "Therefore, Ananda, be a lamp unto yourself, be a refuge to yourself. Take yourself to no external refuge."?

Am I suggesting doing away with teachers? Can I dismiss a teacher when I have the evidence that they do not live up to the standard that I set for them? Nonsense. These are all tyrannical games. All the days of my life I will need a teacher. How else can i best be a student? How else can I learn and grow and nourish? But do I need to create and project onto another all of my ideas of Holy?, My unfulfilled childhood desires?, My superhuman ideas of the highest of human ideals?, My Judeo-Christian ethical baggage? Can my teacher just be my teacher. A human, an ordinary human that takes responsibility and learns from his/her mistakes? An experienced person on this path that has traveled far and seen much? One that can help me on my way? A cool shade tree on a hot sunny day.

I hope we do not lose our way. This getting wrapped up in the affairs of others. I really want to work with what comes. How can I work with this? How can I bear the joy and sorrow?

These questions are for me a contemplation. Please feel free to comment if you like. I hope you are enjoying this fine spring day! In case you thought I forgot: the time we lost our way



  • Doetsu:

    02 May 2011 18:10:20

    Very well said, Travis. What does all this “falling from grace” mean for us in our own practice? Very good questions. I shall sit with this.

  • Jishin:

    06 May 2011 04:20:36

    Thanks for your good questions Travis! Very much appreciated.

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