Friday, April 6, 2018

Hindsight is 20/20.

Looking in the rear-view mirror is advantageous to looking ahead. The past tells you from where you’ve come but it doesn’t necessarily tell you where you’re going. It may, however, enable you to see a vector pointing forward. And what if that backward view says, you’re on the wrong road and heading for an abyss? This dilemma was best conveyed by Robert Frost in his poem The Road Not Taken.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Frost’s poetic foray into the unknown could be seen as foolhardy unless that vector was fraught with doubts about your life and where it suggested you were going next. That was certainly true in my case. As I looked back over the span of 40 years I could see abundant evidence that I was on the wrong road and had come to the inescapable conclusion that something very serious was wrong. But what? At that critical juncturethe dividing of paths forward, I felt absolutely without value and was in a state of existential crisis. When every indicator says continue on with fear and tribulation, leaping into the unknown isn’t as foolhardy as it might otherwise seem.

Without a clue, I was a ripe candidate for what I later learned was called the Southern School of Chan (sudden enlightenment)The way began by Shenhui, a disciple of Zen Master Huineng all the way back in China during the 7th century CE and developed into what is now Rinzai Zen. As I look back, taking the right fork in the road, seems providential and maybe even coincidental. At that time I didn’t even know about the roots of Rinzai or how it was different from Soto. It has taken me almost that long to become educated about that leap. All I knew then was what lay behind me was self-destructive, and unless I found a better path forward, my goose was cooked.

As it turned out my teacher was the blend of both Soto and Rinzai and his dharma name was Eido (the combination of Eisai/Yōsai Zenji and Dōgen Zenji)The two Zen masters responsible for fostering Soto and Rinzai Zen in Japan. I can say, without any hesitation, that under his guidance my life was transformed and I came to experience my complete worth. It took me the first 40 to reach the point of sensing utter worthlessness and nearly as long to mature into utter worth. If there was ever a proof of dependent arising I would be it. 

In the 8th century CE an Indian Buddhist philosopher by the name of Śhāntideva said that in order to be able to deny something, we first have to know what it is we’re denying. The logic of that statement is peerless. He went on to say, “Without contacting the entity that is imputed you will not apprehend the absence of the entity.” The value of first knowing vacillating despair made it possible to know the firmness of fulfillment.

During the years following our meeting, Eido Roshi fell into disrepute for sexual misconduct. I can’t condone what he did in that respect but I will forever be grateful for what he did for me. The founder of the Rinzai Zen (Lin Chi) used the idiom “True Man of no rank” because, within our ineffable, transcendent sphere, there is no conditional right nor wrong. Eido lived, as he taught—on two levels at the same time. The level that erred is the same level we all endure. That level is flawed but Eido’s “True Man of no rank” was without blemish. And this is true for us all.

It is not up to me or anyone, to judge and condemn his actions. The Buddha said, Do not be the judge of people; do not make assumptions about others. A person is destroyed by holding judgments about others.  Sage advise we should all take to heart.

Eido Roshi died February 18, 2018, at Shōgen-ji, Minokamo, in Gifu Prefecture, Japan and will be buried at Dai Bosatsu Zendo (where we met so many years ago) on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. Gassho Eido!
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