It’s not hard to find the truth.  What’s hard is not running away from it once you’ve found it.
~ anonymous


“This is not a social occasion!” barked the old man as he gripped his nyoi*.  I had just fumbled through the ritual of closing the door and bowing to him while nearly decapitating his cat.  The cat had wanted to come into the room and I was not sure if this was Zen protocol so I hesitated before I firmly shut the door, nearly taking his poor head off. 

This was the first time I had ever entered dokusan and I was nervous to meet the teacher.  I wanted him to help me with my practice but was told that I must don the robes and bow to him before seeking his counsel.  I complied out of necessity.  When my new teacher mistook my embarrassed smile for an attempt to recover social decorum, I felt deeply humiliated.  I just wanted to get on with the interview and get enlightened.  If this Zen moment had been fashioned into a social occasion it was hardly by me…

When spiritual practice gets formalized into ritual observance, rules and roles take over and, before you know it, you’re trapped in a "social occasion" by virtue of the simple fact that, in your quest for enlightenment, you agreed to pose as a student before a teacher. 

The artifice of the Zen encounter evokes social dis-ease in every honest student.  The cure lies in dissolving the Zen situation entirely.  This is the double bind of Zen practice.  In order to do more than just go through the motions of practice, in order to transcend the "social occasion" of Zen, you must free yourself of this duality and constraint, and simply become yourself.
*a Zen master’s teaching stick


  1. The best bit of this (to me) slightly convoluted anecdote is the fact that the pretty, perky cat was unscathed.

    I can't see that you 'agreed' to pose as a student before this boorish old man; isn't it possible - even likely - that you were bullied into it? It's my impression that he abused your nervous compliance in a situation where you were clearly at a social and psychological disadvantage, and where he held all the cards, as well as gripping his stick.

    Your concluding analysis reads more like clutching at unlikely intellectual straws than clarity or insight, more like you feel you ought to excuse his boorishness and insensitivity so as to rationalise your own humiliation. Do you really need lessons in being yourself from an ungracious old duffer who expects you to bow down to him in borrowed clothes?


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