July 12, 2012

Gautama Buddha - A True Story

Today I am very happy. I cleaned my room for a few hours and when I finished I discovered the beauty of simplicity and cleanliness of my room. It is very difficult to see the teachings of Gautama Buddha in the middle of chaos and filth. It is much easier to see them somewhere clean and simple, such as the zendo. Although, the teachings of Gautama Buddha are even in slums and prisons, it is clear that they are in a simple, clean room. A friend of mine told me that Buddhism should develop a spirituality of an individual. But Buddhism does not develop spirituality, it only reveals the truth ... the truth that is independent on our beliefs and opinions and spiritual experience. The pillow is yellow and green, that's all.

When we notice the color of the sky,  or when we find out that the park is green, we have just discovered Gautama Buddha's teachings and we have just experienced the simple joy of a child that has discovered something tasty in the fridge. It is very easy to get in touch with the teachings of Buddhism, the sutras that are inscribed into the structure of clouds in the sky or in cobwebs and cracked walls. But it is very difficult to drop our limited intellectual views that prevent us from experiencing the simple truth of Buddhism. Buddhism is not an opinion, it is experience beyond words and our individual verbal evaluation. Even though I say what is Buddhism and what is not, it's just to help somebody drop their limited view and accept not my opinion, but accept the truth itself, the message we get from the sky, from the walls, from the leaves and such. Then somebody could find the color of the sky or grass and find that this  simple reality around us is actually what Buddhist sutras teach and what Buddha Gautama said to his disciples.

When you clean your room and do it wholeheartedly, then you do exactly what Buddha Gautama would do, if he cleaned your room. Then there is no difference between you and Gautama. When you say “I have to clean my room in order to .... I clean it so that ...“, then you are split into two parts - one that does something and the one that evaluates it. When someone practices zazen to become a buddha, then they are divided into two parts, and can never become a buddha. But when someone practices zazen without expecting anything, then he or she expresses exactly the wisdom and natural behavior of Buddha Gautama. When someone polishes a tile, this is in itself so beautiful and wise that we can not deny that the tile is just as beautiful and pure as a mirror. So when someone criticises someone who polishes a tile, they don’t understand that the activity itself is a mirror. The tiles are therefore not polished so as to create mirrors. This is not my thought, it is master Dogen’s explanation.  So   when someone cleans a very neglected house,  at the moment of cleaning wholeheartedly, it is actually a heavenly palace. This might be how master Dogen could put it. When we do something wholeheartedly, immediately we transform the universe into something perfect.   But when we stop and say that it does not make sense, or that it has very poor results, or nobody is going to appreciate it, it is a kind of neurosis, it's kind of a virus that attacked our original buddha nature. Master Shunryu Suzuki said that we should not clean because we want our place clean, but because it is our usual way of life. At the beginning it is natural that we ask why. So people ask what profit they can get if they practice zazen. But when they just sit and do not seek benefits for themselves, they may notice that somehow there is no difference between them and others and that the whole world is zazen itself, and that there is no problem whatsoever. Everything is quiet and clean and bright and this applies to everyone and everything. So even if we only to begin our cleaning and do it wholeheartedly, everything's already clean and tidy. When someone sincerely comes to the teacher and asks about Buddhism and the importance of Buddhist teachings, they already understood the secret of Buddhism, but maybe it will take them several years before they find their own treasure of wisdom that they have never lacked and which enabled them to go and ask about Buddhism.   When we have a question we ask. That's all. So there is no need to develop something spiritual, instead we over and over again return to our own original, simple wisdom and return to the balanced actions that are based on that kind of wisdom. That’s exactly the admired wisdom of Buddha Gautama, but it is not so far from us as we usually imagine. It is actually right here, in the simple action now. So it is not necessary to obtain complicated skills and complicated Buddhist knowledge, rather return to our simple everyday activities and find the meaning of life in them. We can find a very subtle, but profound kind of happiness and satisfaction in the simplest actions of our lives. When Buddha Gautama discovered his true self, he found just that – sitting peacefully on his cushion, he realized that he would never ever find anything more true or more profound.  

When a long ago I returned from a sesshin, I felt very free and relaxed. I was not interested in complex intellectual problems of people. Nevertheless, I opened one of my favorite books, a novel by Ladislav Fuks, and I was amazed. What I found in the book, that I had loved for its subtle intellectual messages, was nothing but life itself, it was a true story written by a sincere person. There was no intellectual opinion that would prevent me from seeing the life described so vividly in the book. It was just a story, narrated  authentically. Buddhism gave me something paradoxical – it helped me to rediscover my old intellectual loves - painting, literature and music .... but instead of forcing me to evaluate these things through my narrow intellectual understanding, it let me freely enjoy the story of a human being described and expressed in paintings, novels and music. People are amazing creatures and are even more amazing when you look at them without a personal bias. Just listen to their stories. If they tell you the truth, it is a very important sutra. 

July 3, 2012

Responsibly Free - part II.

Last time we talked about responsibility and how I became more responsible but more free. I will start there.

How can you be free and responsible at the same time?  

In the past I had very rigid ideas about being a good, responsible person. I thought I should be really moral, in other words, I should do things according to traditional Christian values, which are values that are very similar to Buddhist precepts. I wasn't interested in Christian values, but I was born in a Christian society, like most of us in Europe.  So I judged myself according to these values and I wasn't very satisfied. As I thought my life was full of mistakes, I tended to go too far. I thought I was neither successful morally nor having enough fun so I would escape into different areas of irresponsible behavior. These days I give myself much more freedom to act and do not judge myself so rigidly. So I don't feel tied to some kind of rigid rules, I don't feel frustrated so much and when I feel something is too much, I don't do it. It is not because I follow some written rules about what is right and wrong, but I follow my state that is more balanced now than in the past. I don't go to such extremes anymore. So I allow myself to do things and then I don't really desperately need to do them and also when you practice zazen and feel balanced you don't feel you should be rewarded for your efforts or you don't have to compensate for your frustration.  In the past it was more like: Oh, my life is so difficult! At least I should get drunk and go to sleep at 6 am. But when you get some kind of balance based on practicing zazen and studying Buddhism, you stop doing such extreme things, as you don't feel so frustrated.

But you began to practice zazen and study Buddhism 20 years ago.  It took you 20 years to begin to feel or act more responsibly? 

It's thanks to my current teacher Mike. Before him, what kind of teaching did I get? They were all kinds of twisted versions of Buddhism: Confucianism mixed with Buddhism, Christian Buddhism, etc. You really cannot learn what true Buddhism is without studying with a true teacher. Mike is precise, makes no compromises when it comes to what Buddhism is and is not. As far as I know, he gives his students complete freedom to live and act. Zazen and the right attitude toward life and this freedom to act gives me a  better relationship with reality or being closer to the truth and wisdom. And my teacher is not responsible for me or anyone else. We are all adult people. We have to find our own way.

What does it mean to be responsible? You say that Mike is not responsible for you, but you suppose he is a responsible person, right? 

Yes, what is responsibility? In the Christian society, it means that you can explain your actions to some kind of authorities. You act morally but based on which values? Christians have different opinions on what is responsible from some kind of Buddhists. For example it is responsible for a Christian to be faithful to one's partner and not divorce them. But that's something responsible for Christians. And I am not Christian. I was only baptized. So there is no Christian authority that I have to explain my actions to.

So are you responsible in a Buddhist way? 

No. Again, what kind of authority is there in Buddhism? I haven't promised anything to anyone. There are precepts. But when you take precepts that doesn't mean you promise to an authority. You say to your teacher that you can follow the precepts, but when you break them you don't run to your teacher saying I am sorry. You break a precept and in the next moment you start again. The truth is the highest authority. 

So what kind of responsibility are we talking about here? You say you are more responsible, but then you say there is no authority you have to respond to. 

Yes. This is something I have only figured out recently. You are responsible, all people should act responsibly. But there is no higher authority like a religion or Buddha or our teacher or the state that we should explain our mistakes to. Of course, there is a boss at work. But that is a relative responsibility. Driving according to the road rules is something relative, but driving according to one's balanced state is something more important and it is the highest ethics. When I break the speed limit, in fact I am responsible to myself. I choose how fast I should drive and the speed limit is only a rule given by the society. Of course, they say it is a rule and it is wrong to break it. But I am an adult person and I will follow rules according to my intuition and my more or less balanced state. So I choose how fast I drive. When the street is full of people I drive slower than the limit. When there are no people, little traffic, I drive a bit faster.  But I feel responsible when I am balanced. When I am balanced, having practiced zazen, I feel I have to be responsible - not to the police or the citizens or teachers or bosses.  I am responsible to the universe. And the universe is responsible to me. I am part of the universe and when I am balanced, I am completely one with the universe. When I am not so balanced, I tend to split from the universal laws and act not so responsibly. About 10 years ago I had an accident. What I did was crazy, universally crazy, not just for Christians, Buddhists, the police or the government. I drove so fast that I could have killed myself or somebody around. I remember clearly my mind was not balanced that night. Something punched me inside and I acted madly. Then I spun and crashed. I learned a lesson but whether I have driven more responsibly since then is a matter of practicing zazen as a free person, not a religious follower and as I said before, my teacher's freely responsible teaching has probably helped me very very much. 

So is it worth trying to be a better person? 

My experience is that you cannot decide to be a better person. You can do it for a few days or weeks and then you explode or crash or beat up someone. It is better to find balance through zazen plus let oneself make mistakes freely. Don't worry if you make a mistake. Like that you will be nicer to yourself in general. Being nicer to oneself means that we have some  freedom to cooperate with the universal laws that naturally lead us to act responsibly. When we let the universe lead our actions, they are good actions. But nobody can see that "good". When you call it good, it is not so good. So you just do something according to the universal laws and don't worry about what you did or didn't do. I see in my own life that there is clearly something that is called original Buddha nature and it is expressed when we are balanced. We act in a way that is awake and responsible  without having to read rules or talk to authorities. 

What about those Zen masters who go and have sex with someone and everyone says it is irresponsible but they sometimes say that was an enlightened action etc. 

Two adult people should have freedom to decide whether they want to have sex or not. But if a teacher brainwashes a student and then based on that brainwashing and his or her power the student agrees to have sex and then the student suffers, what kind of wisdom is that? No wisdom. That is universally wrong. So we can do things that will upset a community, which is not wise, but sometimes life is complicated and we have to act according to our balanced state and that is linked to the universal laws. And there are no authorities. But I have never heard of anyone who would hurt someone based on their balanced state and universal laws. Except maybe Nansen who killed a cat to teach Buddhism. If he had killed the cat based on his balanced state, then I am sorry, there is nothing we can do or judge. 

So a balanced state is some kind of supreme authority, supreme judge of our actions? 

As I said, have there been any wars based on balanced state of people? Has there been a lot of crime based on balanced state of people? Nansen's cat is a very unusual example, but such things may happen. We should not worry about someone's balanced state. Of course, sometimes a balanced person leaves a less balanced person and the less balanced person suffers. But that is not unnecessary suffering. Sometimes we have to go through suffering and it is nobody's fault. We can learn something from that. We can become more independent and our happiness can be deeper than before.     

Do you think that wise books or philosophy can help people act responsibly? 

Yes and no. Sutras and Dogen's Shobogenzo and possibly the Bible and some laws if we know them may help us act in a balanced way. But there must be something added to that reading. Someone has to explain the true meaning of those books and we have to be encouraged to do something physically to act in a balanced way. So we have to believe in the harmony of body and mind and do things in a healthy way. When we do things physically well - I mean when we eat well, get exercise and look after our body in general,  and at the same time we are inspired by wise people, we can express our original Buddha nature and act wisely.  But when we only discuss books and sutras intellectually and do not wholeheartedly practice a balanced life, we may end up in frustration, anger and aggressive actions towards others. We need to hear how to act - from authorities like parents, teachers, the police officers. But then it is up to our physical and mental state how we act. That's why it is almost impossible to change a child from a disturbed family. No matter how much you tell them how to act, they will end up doing wrong because their state is wrong, and that state cannot be changed by words. You have to act within some real circumstances. 

But Kodo Sawaki said that there is no excuse and that criminals should not be pardoned  based on their bad or difficult background. Kodo Sawaki grew up in the most disturbing environment and in spite of that he became a monk and a great Buddhist teacher. 

Some children react like that. They are so disgusted that they decide to do the opposite: find the right living and avoid wrong living. Their determination may be excellent. I have a friend who is just like that. As a kid she went through the most difficult things and now she is a kind of innocent person. It might be that very intelligent and sensitive kids react like that, but some of them may just give up and end up in jail. I think Sawaki wanted to encourage people to act right. He encouraged people to practice zazen and follow Dharma and act responsibly. But I am sure he would welcome any kind of criminal and teach them Buddhism and practice zazen with them. I might work with such difficult people soon and I have no intention to criticize them. But I could mention something like that: There is no excuse for me or you. We have to wake up to reality and act responsibly. At the same time I would say feel free to act. Don't worry if you fail. Just get up and try again. So both is important - to encourage people to act responsibly - not sheepishly or blindly following some authorities, but responsibly to the universe as a whole - and also encourage people to act freely. We should act freely but at the same time  in a way that is OK with the universal laws. After all true freedom is one with the obligations we have to the universe. 

June 24, 2012

Translating Gaku Do Yo Jin Shu

My teacher Mike asked me to translate Master Dogen's Gaku Do Yo Jin Shu into Czech. It is a very important text as it explains how to establish the will to the truth, in other words how to establish the right attitude towards studying and practicing Buddhism.

The text, as most Dogen's texts, sounds very serious, very important. As in most texts master Dogen wrote, he is very serious about the right Buddhist path, practice and study. He is very critical of all kinds of wrong non-Buddhist opinions. These days people don't like to hear that something is right and something is wrong when it comes to Eastern philosophy and meditation. But for master Dogen, Buddhism is a very serious matter, I would even say a matter of life and death.  So if it is so serious, it is absolutely important for him to study exactly what Buddhism is, to practice it according to ancient masters and study it with a true teacher.

So I'd like to try to have an interview with myself about this text and its meaning. I am translating it and you might be able to find this text somewhere or if you ask my teacher to send you a copy, but I am not allowed to publish the English version here due to copyright. So I can only chat about it.

Why does master Dogen insist on studying and practicing Buddhism exactly? These days people like to read a bit about Buddhism, study a bit, practice zazen or other meditation just the way they like and don't want to bu pushed. Why should anyone like to follow exactly what a master said? 

There are people in this world who desperately look for the truth. There are also people who are very sincerely interested in the truth and enjoy the practice and study that enables them to experience the truth. Buddha Gautama was definitely interested in the truth and did his best to find it. He found it only after he left some ascetic teachers. So he could see the difference between his experience and what the ascetic teachers taught. And all his successors and our ancestors like Nagarjuna and Bodhidharma and Dogen, etc. could see that what Buddha found was something unique and different from other Indian philosophies or Chinese philosophies. So our ancestors made sure that Buddha's experience and teaching was transmitted correctly until these days. But such excellent and genuine transmission would not have been possible if the ancestors had some kind of "whatever" attitude. This so called "tolerance" in religious circles is false and insincere if it prevents people from finding Buddha's truth.  If we maintain that Buddhism is whatever is based on some kind of meditation and philosophy of peace and kindness, then we don't have to study Buddhism at all. Then it is enough to read some paragraphs about meditation and peaceful mind and call ourselves tolerant. Of course, you can practice some kind of meditation and act politely and gently, but that is hardly any solid basis for Buddhist practice and study. It is actually not a basis for Buddhist study and practice at all. So master Dogen wrote this text to tell people exactly what it takes to learn and practice Buddhism.

It sounds like there is something wrong or silly about people who just practice some kind of meditation and read books about Buddhism without being interested in this severe, correct direction that master Dogen established. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with practicing meditation or reading books about Buddhism. But it would be silly to claim that we know what Buddhism is or that we practice Buddhism just because we have this free meditation experience and some fragments of knowledge about Buddhism. Plus, Buddhism is not the only way how to experience the truth. That is not the problem. But through zazen and studying Buddhist philosophy correctly we can experience just what Buddha Gautama experienced. For most people it is difficult to realize what the truth is through playing sports or cooking or growing plants. Although we are all enlightened and fully realize the universal law every day, most of us have no clue what the truth is and how it could be realized. So Buddha Gautama discovered something we call the Buddhist truth which is not something special, separate from the experience of ordinary people, but on the contrary, it is the discovery of universal truth in our ordinary life. This is what we call the Buddhist truth. But just to write or read what it is, we are far from realizing it.

Why is it necessary to realize it when we have already realized it even before we began to practice zazen? 

We can feel free to be trapped in secular problems and pursue all kinds of ideas and theories, but once we want to follow Gautama Buddha's teaching and practice, we have to cut off our old opinions and confidence in order to establish the will to the truth, which is our decision to study and practice Buddhism the way our ancestors did, with genuine and sincere attitude, with open mind but strong determination.

This all sounds kind of military. Like we are soldiers, shut up and do what they tell you to do.    

Yes, when we are not sure what our life is about and we really really want to find out, then we need very firm and clear directions. So master Dogen or other masters and teachers may sound like dictators, but they are just sincerely telling us what the direction is, with confidence, but with great care and compassion. They are like surgeons' whose cut must be precise and clear. If master Dogen sounded liberal and tolerant, nobody would be able to follow his teaching and find the right direction to the truth. If you think there are all kinds of opinions and different people have different experience of the truth, then you have absolutely no chance to have a slightest clue what Buddhism is about. The interesting part is that once we follow the directions sincerely and consistently, we are making friends with complete satisfaction and freedom. To follow the directions means to learn to transcend Buddha's words and experience what is beyond words. That is realizing our original freedom. So there is nobody or nothing that has to be freed. The universe is free anyway. But we can only realize this freedom that is beyond self and no self, beyond myself and the universe, when we transcend the difference between me and the universe and me and the others.

Master Dogen insists that it is important to have a balanced mind when we study and practice Buddhism. And then he says it is important to have balanced physical actions. But at the same time he says that Buddhism is not about having a great enlightened mind or great knowledge. Can you explain that? 

Mind is something master Dogen deals with a lot in all his teachings. He is very critical of those "non-Buddhist" opinions about mind and explains what mind is to a Buddhist. He insists that in Buddhism we should not try to attain some kind of great mind, enlightened mind or intellectual mind. Instead we should practice balanced mind. But that is just the balance of body and mind, The two are not separate, and Buddhist practice is making the body and mind balanced, together, not separate. So not some kind of enlightened mind, but enlightened body and mind, which is not different from the enlightened universe. In other words, when we are not separate from the universe, we are not separate from the truth. When our body is not balanced with the mind or when the mind is more important or stands out as something special, then we have already left the Buddhist truth and according to master Dogen became non-Buddhist or lazy dogs etc.  So it is absolutely necessary to make sure that our body and mind are not separate from each other and that they are not separate from the universe. Dropping body and mind is just dropping the difference between body and mind, which is not different from balanced body and mind. This all sounds very complicated but is practiced very simply and realized very simply. Just when we do something wholeheartedly the separate mind is dropped, the separate body is dropped, the balance is established and the universe is fully realized. So after all, what master Dogen insists on is just that we have to do things simply and directly, without making our mind something special, enlightened or separate and without looking for something special, enlightened or different.

Master Dogen insists on dropping self or leaving selfish ideas or goals, but your teacher says that self is something real, something we cannot deny.  

Master Dogen never denied that there is an individual aspect to our existence, in other words we have some kind of self that can be recognized as something individual. What he means is that we tend to see reality in dreams and we tend to consider our self something that it is not. So even if you call me Roman, what is that name? Even if I have a separate body and my own brain that can be pointed to, it is impossible to realize fully what this body is without making a mistake. It is impossible to place my mind here or there. So although my name is Roman and I live in Prague and I am not somebody else, true self is not separate from the self of the universe. This is important to realize and accept but it is not necessary to deny that we have some kind of individual existence. Just that this individual existence, or subject, is impossible to cut from the universal self, or the universal truth. So master Dogen insists that once we want to practice Buddhism and study Buddhism, we have to realize that this self is not just a simple body or a simple mind or a name or a situation in our lives. This self is no self and at the same time it is real experience beyond subject and object. So I exist, but my experience is beyond subject and object, beyond words, ineffable. I cannot grasp it, you cannot grasp it, we can only experience something true, that's all.

Master Dogen also says something about cutting emotional bonds. But you often say that masters like Ryokan or Ikkyu were very emotional, sometimes very sad. Master Dogen says that a true Buddhist master should not be stuck in some emotional states.   

Master Dogen tried to point to something beyond our emotional problems. The Buddhist truth itself is beyond our emotional problems but at the same time our emotional problems, or our delusions, are where we practice Buddhism. So for example when we are sad or angry and sit down and practice zazen, we can feel sad or angry even during zazen, but at the same time we are expressing our Buddha nature through sitting  quietly in zazen and not making faces or crying. We place our Buddhist practice in the midst of delusions and emotions and we may struggle. But just as we do our best and come back to this present moment and sit quietly, we confirm that we have transcended our emotional state and have expressed our Buddha nature perfectly.  When master Dogen says that true teachers should not be stuck in some kind of emotional states he means that they should be able to transcend these states through simple actions. Just by putting a cup on the table or by bowing or by explaining Buddhism, our masters and teachers have transcended their emotional states. By being sincere in every moment, while crying or raising their voice, they transcend the emotional states through simple actions and caring. Only teachers who cannot transcend this state and hate somebody all the time or love somebody all the time without being able to do something directly and expressing their true nature, such teachers cannot teach Buddhism as they cannot find the truth under the thick cover of their emotions that they consider more important than reality here and now. Only if a teacher hates somebody or loves somebody without being able to transcend such a state, they cannot teach Buddhism and have to find a good teacher who will show them how to act simply and freely again. So we do not have to try to get rid of anger or sadness and imitate some kind of Buddhist image, rather we should try to not lose our contact with reality even if we fall in love or become angry. Even if I fall in love, I am trying to see what is in front of me and lead my ordinary life. Even if I fall in love or become angry my zazen practice wakes me up and I do not have to be stuck in some kind of never ending delusion.

So it is okay to fall in love or be angry? 

We do not practice and study Buddhism to encourage ourselves to fall into different secular problems, but we should not forget that it is ridiculous to try to get rid of our natural tendencies like falling in love or wanting sex or becoming angry. This kind of mud or samsara is the world in which we place our zazen practice and our philosophical studies of Buddhism. We cannot get rid of delusions but we can transcend them in practice and in our everyday life, doing whatever is necessary to do and then we can enjoy the freedom of this liberated state. But we should not try to make some kind of awakened, enlightened mind that cannot be tricked or charmed. Just return to reality over and over again and don't worry about past dreams and emotional states. When we fall in love, we can observe the state and find the truth within this state. We can transcend the state and learn to have a balanced relationship with our partner. We can try to give and receive and wobble between giving and getting. We don't have to be selfish or altruistic. But the most important thing is that prior to falling in love we establish a balanced relationship with the universe. Then we can place our love in this balanced universe and feed it with some sense of reality. So it is based on simple actions and following the truth rather than being some kind of dream separate from reality.  


June 9, 2012

Responsibly Free - Part I.

This is a chat about freedom that we can discover through Buddhist practice and study. I will probably continue this chat later, so this is part I.  

What is the relationship between a teacher and a student?

For years I thought a teacher was  someone superior, an authority, a responsible person, like a father or mother. He or she can tell me exactly what to do in my life, what wisdom is, what the truth is. Lots of Buddhists look at Buddhist teachers like that - to them they are authorities: extremely mature and wise people who have sorted their life out completely and live peacefully and in perfect harmony with the world.  But thanks to Mike, my current teacher, I learned a new perspective on this problem.

What have you learned? 

Firstly, a Buddhist teacher is not a superhuman being who has no desire, no problems and doesn't have to deal with everyday life challenges. And they are definitely not some kind of authority when it comes to how you personally should live and solve your problems. They are not some kind of moralist judges and do not have a secret key to the truth that you only hope to borrow from them one day. This woman accused Brad Warner of not being adult enough and responsible enough to deal with his teacher's role seriously. It's because this woman thinks that a Buddhist teacher is someone higher than the rest of us. I remember we used to have a similar kind of head teacher at high school. She acted as if she was a prefect person, knowing the truth about the world and what is right and wrong. So for most students she was a kind of perfect authority, but I didn't like her because I felt she only pretended she is the right person but in fact she lacked that wisdom and knowledge she pretended to have. Of course, today, after 25 years I am sure she was wrong in many aspects. For example she believed in communism but that system later failed and had lots of moral issues. She predicted that I would not be able to study at university but I graduated from university successfully later. So why should we take anyone in the world as a final authority and a moral reference point who will tell us what is right and wrong and how we should change and become similar to them? There are not such people at all.  Kodo Sawaki once said: There is nobody I can admire.  

Aren't there any teachers with useful values, aren't there no guides when it comes to learning what our life is about, what the truth is?  

I mean there are excellent guides, master Dogen was a great teacher, Brad Warner is a great Buddhist philosopher and his writing and life is a great inspiration, it is something that very clearly points to reality. But being a teacher means exactly that  you are a guide, not a dictator, not a moral reference point, not a final authority. If you believe a person could be a moral model and a final authority, that is something very clearly linked to fanatic sects.

Are you saying we cannot rely on anyone when it comes to learning what the truth is, or what is right and wrong? 

After all, we have to find the truth by ourselves. We can only rely on such a teacher who will help us find the truth by ourselves. So we can rely on the fact that we have access to the truth in this very moment.  Going to a Buddhist teacher, asking for the truth, is like going to buy beer with a jar that is filled with delicious beer already. So a good teacher has to point to that jar and say : Look  look,  already there. But of course, a Buddhist teacher may be very well experienced in Buddhist philosophy and help us understand a lot of Buddhist issues, which are actually a practical issues of life and death. No matter what we learn from him or her, it will be about our actual life and how to live it and that is something we have to do on our own.A teacher cannot be responsible for our own decisions. If anything, we have to learn to be responsible for our own actions. He or she may give us some kind of tips, but rather he or she will tell us about their own experience which could be very different from ours. So we have to do something on our own. My teacher Mike has been teaching me how to look after my own life and my own problems on my own. Actually, when I met Mike I thought I should change a lot of things about myself. Now I feel completely free. But much more responsible. How is that?


April 11, 2012

A Chat About A Few Things

This is a fictitious interview. This time Ken, a completely made up character, came to ask me questions. He is like someone who has many different doubts about Buddhism, but doesn't want to give up his efforts to understand the meaning of this philosophy and this practice. I hope Ken will not give up and while practicing zazen every day, he will soon realize that to practice the way Dogen practiced is authentic Buddhist practice and reveals the true self completely.   

Recently I have read some of your articles about Buddhism and it seems everything is already finished, we are buddhas, awakened, everything is done, no problem. But look around, we all suffer more or less and no matter how hard we practice we have all kinds of problems. So how can you write that it is all finished, nothing to achieve, we are buddhas already and so on? 

We have a lot of problems. That's true. It is not easy to be alive. It is not easy to practice zazen every day, go to work, raise children, etc. I have never said it is easy. But to practice zazen and study Buddhism is a gate to freedom, complete freedom. The thing is it is not the kind of freedom you imagine. It is not give me a break I am free and do what I want, anytime. It is the freedom to drop all ideas and problems and difficulties in this instant. As our life is only an instant after instant, we could say the only thing that matters is how you act in this instant, how you feel now. You don't have to worry how you felt yesterday or how you may feel tomorrow. 

But now I often feel sad or disturbed or angry. So when now I feel sad, how can I be happy now?         

When we aren't in the present moment, it is difficult to be completely satisfied. I am not saying that practicing zazen solves all our problems. I am not saying that reading Dogen or practicing zazen means you have no problem any more. It is just that Dharma opens the door of freedom to act in the present beyond subject and object. Most of your problems are images, basically all your problems are images that you consider some kind of external things you have to deal with. An image of a tree is not a tree. An image of love is not love. An image of dying is not dying. An image of the truth is not the truth. You play with images in your head as if you had to deal with a big pile of coal someone put in your bedroom. How heavy are thoughts, worries, ideas? Not so heavy. A pile of coal would be a problem. Paradoxically, when we have to do something physical, the harder work it is, the less imaginary problems we carry in our heads. When we have to carry a heavy bucket of water across the yard, we don't worry so much about what our boss said yesterday. But when we sit around comfortably at home, nothing much to do, it is worse than a big pile of coal in our bedroom. We feel so heavy sometimes that we cannot stand it. Someone please give me a hand with this heavy load of emotions! 

Anyway, does twenty years of zazen cleans our head? Has it cleaned your head? 

No way. I get my head all stuffed with all kinds of nonsense. Quite often. 

So what do you do about it? 

I practice zazen, that's one thing. Another thing is that at work, when I am busy teaching the wild teenagers, I have no time to worry about my problems. Then when I drive home, it is a lot of traffic, again, no time to worry. It is only when there is nothing to do when I begin to feel strange, or lonely or sad etc. It is dangerous to have nothing to do. In summer I love to go cycling, or do all kinds of activities. There are times when I feel free and happy for several days and sometimes I feel heavy for a few days but zazen and physical activities always work, always liberate me. There are lots of times during the day when I feel absolutely free unless I am going through some temporary crisis.  

Do you feel you have advanced in Buddhism? You have written that there is no progress, you somehow suggest that enlightenment is no problem and there is nothing to achieve. But would it be honest if you said you have not made any progress? Wouldn't it be just some cliche? 

I have changed, that's for sure. But wouldn't I develop my personality as an adult man even without Buddhism? I think I would. So what is the difference, anyway. But of course, in the process of practicing, day after day, year after year, going to retreats, meeting teachers, you definitely learn from people, situations, books, talks, conflicts, failures, happy moments, sad moments... you learn and learn. But it is not like making progress. It is not becoming better and better. 

But don't you think you have learned something valuable from Mike? What did you write about Buddhism before you met Mike? 

I can't imagine what I would do without Mike. I was struggling a lot before I met Mike, I mean with the Buddhist teachers I had before Mike. It was very frustrating. And what I wrote before I met Mike, I mostly just repeated beautiful ideas from different Buddhist books. I wasn't really lying because to me zazen the complete Buddhist practice and I knew Dogen was pointing to something priceless, and I tried to write about that but Mike put me on track, he gave me the only possible direction for me in Buddhism. Without him I would be a kind of stray dog looking for a teacher until now. 

What is the most important thing you learned from Mike? 

Before I met Mike, I knew, theoretically, the truth is beyond words and it is direct and clear and such things. I practiced zazen without looking for enlightenment, that is true. On the one hand, zazen was something ultimate, completely satisfying. On the other hand, that experience didn't fit the teaching I heard from my teachers. I felt I hadn't met the right teacher, someone who would say things and do things as one harmonious thing, without playing any Buddhist games. Only Mike was the guy who didn't play any Buddhist games, before him, it was Brad Warner, but I hadn't met Brad before I met Mike. Mike in his daily life actions expressed that Dogen's philosophy could really be applied in our life, it was the first time I could see someone do it.  I felt very embarrassed. I was that useless, impractical, absent-minded guy who had read about Buddhism and stuff. But I existed more in my head than in reality, Buddhism was something I'd carried around in my mind and hadn't  actually done it. And Mike pointed to the solid ground, metaphorically, you know, don't fly around like a balloon, it's right here. We know we should not confuse Buddhism with theories, we all know it, right, but are we willing to drop theories for now and do something really? I couldn't until I met Mike. And now I am still learning to go back to reality over and over again. Thanks to Mike's sometimes stern, sometimes kind instructions, I can at least enjoy my hot bath. I don't care what my mind tells me, I just enjoy the hot bath. That's what Mike taught me to do.  

As for Mike, he doesn't want to be someone's idol. Has he become your idol? 

Mike helps everyone to be real by acting just like an ordinary human being. He doesn't pretend he is perfect. After meeting one idealistic or pretentious teacher after another, it's such a relief to let oneself have problems! Let's be generous and let's have problems, please. We need them! But then, in every instant we can choose whether we want  to go back to reality or create even more problems in our heads by worrying that we are not as peaceful as we hoped we would be in our Buddhist life. Sometimes there are just problems and that's OK. It is important to leave them alone. Just like when a wasp sits on your nose. Leave it and it flies away. Try to chase it and it will give you a sting. Do we try to become more peaceful when we practice zazen? No. Does it work? Yes. When you just do something, you can notice that your problems slowly disappear. Stop working on becoming a great person. Being a buddha hundred or thousand times a day is enough. Let's be modest. I mean we don't even realize how happy we are most of the time, doing all kinds of ordinary things every day... So why should we look for some kind of Buddhist state out of this ordinary state when we are just doing something feeling alright? That's when our Buddha nature is revealed. So Mike should not be an idol. It is better to drink tea with him and have a chat. And you can learn what Buddhism is from him. But if you make Mike an idol, it will be something stuck between you and the truth. Just like a book about Buddhism that you have to put down to realize something in your life, you have to leave Mike alone from time to time and be yourself. I am not talking about becoming special and say you don't need Mike's wisdom or experience any more. I just mean you have to symbolically leave him sooner or later so you can be yourself completely. Even then you can still learn from him and continue the student-teacher relationship. But the student-teacher relationship is not something fixed and rigid. Sometimes your teacher can learn from you and sometimes you learn from him. It is not about trying to be a great person. It is necessary to see that your teacher, no matter how great his character and wisdom is, is still only an ordinary person. That is the most important aspect of the whole student-teacher relationship. To find that the ordinary side of your teacher is the Buddhist side and the Buddhist side is just a shirt or coat you take off when you go to bed. So you learn how to be completely ordinary and without any traces of Buddhist greatness.       

But master Dogen said that there are eight ways how to become great. So why should we aim to become ordinary?

To become ordinary is not ordinary in terms of being stupid just like everyone else. Truly ordinary means truly awake, truly buddha. A truly ordinary person can walk across the street without feeling mediocre or superior. A truly ordinary person can make tea and drink it without feeling special or strange. But master Dogen encouraged people to practice habits that help us be truly ordinary. For master Dogen truly ordinary is great. Great is truly ordinary. It depends which word you like better.  After all, we don't have to try to become ordinary or special or great. When we practice zazen, we can be just ourselves. We don't have to impress anyone.

I think that's the paradox of it, the greatest people in the world don't seem to try to impress anyone. And the worst people will do anything to impress. When they think nobody is impressed, they will grab a shotgun and shoot a few people or start a war.       

Yes, so we should really try hard to focus on what we are doing and not on how to impress others. When I write an essay for my blog, I sometimes stop and think: Is this really sincere, does it come from your heart directly or are you just being pretentious? I don't want to write something that is pretentious, you know, but sometimes it is difficult to notice that what I am writing is not genuine, not out from my heart.         

So what is it that we can gradually learn in Buddhism, or is it nothing we can learn? 
Well, for example, sincerity, that's nothing you gradually attain, it is more about how you practice day after day and notice that being sincere just like you were ten or twenty years ago is the right thing to do.  It is like organizing stuff in your bedroom and you come across a pair of socks and go.. hmm, I haven't seen these for ages, I think they are great socks! You've had them in your chest of drawers all the time, but you haven't noticed. 

So do we make progress or not? 

It is like a river. First, it is a spring. Then a stream. Then a river. And then it flows into the ocean. Which part of the river is better? Which part is more advanced? Buddhism doesn't teach us to flow into the ocean, to finish something. It teaches us to be just the kind of river or stream we actually are today. There is a baby buddha, a kid buddha, a teenage buddha, a young woman buddha, an old man buddha, a Buddhist teacher buddha, a Buddhist student buddha, a dentist buddha, a taxi driver buddha, all kinds of buddhas in all kinds of positions and situations. There is not a single drop of the river that is excluded from the enlightened world.     

But we people have goals, it is natural, even master Dogen had a goal and achieved something.  

Yes, we people want to flow into the ocean as soon as possible. We want to die. How can you want to make progress in Buddhism without saying you want to die as soon as possible? Do you think zazen today is not as good as zazen in ten years? Do you think in ten years you will be more important than today? What master Dogen achieved - and yes, it was very important that he achieved that and it is something we should sincerely pursue - master Dogen discovered the simple truth of everyday practice and everyday experience. (We should never underestimate the value of such ordinary experience as it is the true goal of our Buddhist life - and it took master Dogen quite time to find this goal - and at the same time, we should not overestimate the value of someone else's experience, no matter how famous that master is or was). It is a paradox, but master Dogen's example should help us find our own master Dogen right here, in our heart, our true self, it cannot be found anywhere else, actually, it cannot be found in Shobogenzo, the book, or in the Sotoshu headquarters. So although we revere the legacy of master Dogen, we should revere our own Buddha nature the same! By acting sincerely and wholeheartedly and by finding the meaning of Buddhist teaching here, in this simple experience now. So the spring, stream, river and the ocean are all the complete expressions of Buddhist teaching. They all accomplish the final Buddhist task to be exactly themselves right now. On the other hand, master Dogen encouraged Buddhists to pursue the truth. We should have a goal, after all, in Buddhism. To pursue the truth. That means to practice zazen and live our everyday life as something that is the goal of Buddhism itself, without looking for anything special.        

But Buddhist teachers can teach a lot of people and through their conduct they can help others and be role models. Shouldn't we strive to be at least similar and have such qualities? 

We already have such qualities and already are role models and teach others when we don't worry about our image or compare ourselves to others. One of the greatest Buddhist teachers I have ever met was my grandmother. She got up early in the morning, she washed, prepared breakfast, then cooked and baked all morning, then we ate lunch, then she worked in the garden all the afternoon, doing the laundry somehow too, washed the stairs in the house, cooked dinner, fixed some clothes after dinner and at eight she sat down and said: "Oh well, I am so tired this evening." But she was so happy! I could see her happiness in her eyes. Then we watched a show on  TV or played a board game and then went  to sleep. I remember  I felt - and I was a kid - I felt intuitively that such a life made perfect sense just  like that. Maybe it helped me find Zen later when I was in my early twenties. It was great education to see someone act all day and see how completely satisfied they are based on their active, everyday life and their sincere attitude toward all the work. 

We also need someone who explains the meaning of life, your grandma just showed real action in life, but didn't explain anything.  

We are lucky when we can meet someone who has realized the truth in action, someone who can be active beyond words most of the day and then sit down and tell us about Dogen. I sometimes think I should act more and think less, but actually, my job involves a lot of action and energy. There is no time to dream or mumble about abstract philosophical problems when there are fifteen students waiting for your instructions or help. Or some of them not waiting for anything, enjoying their disturbing chat with their classmate. So I have a very "Zen" job,a very active job.  I think we all have some kind of Zen job. What about the parents next door? It is just that we don't notice that life is basically action here and now and that we can find complete satisfaction in such actions over and over again. And it is not just feeling good being active, we also all have to help one another. If there is nobody who can look after the kids, they will go and buy drugs and later shoot someone. That's why a hardworking mother or father deserve as much respect as a Zen master, provided the Zen master is not a pretentious fool. We should realize how priceless all efforts of cleaners, plumbers, pilots, flight attendants, chefs, cab drivers, police officers, and even some honest politicians and honest businesspeople are. Everyone who acts sincerely here and now, makes the universe the right place for us, the best place for us. Although there is so much suffering and greed and lies and chaos in  the world, look around you, living in Europe or North America, most things are done pretty well, the situation is not like we are all dying in decay, hungry, cold, confused and in pain... and this is only thanks to all buddhas, all the people who help this world function in a more or less balanced way. I still believe that most people in our planet, today, in this instant, are more or less fine, and thousands or millions are really, really happy right now without even noticing. Because it is natural for a human being, even for a dog, a bird, a fly, to act like Buddha, and act in a way that gives that being complete satisfaction. Deep inside, we are like seagulls, free and satisfied, balanced, perfect Buddhas. But our faces seem worried. Seagulls' faces are not worried, although their lives are as difficult as ours, and as short as ours.   

So you don't think some people have some special value for the society. 

People? No. Seagulls, yes. Master Dogen taught about the wisdom of pebbles and fences and mountains. All those Chinese masters only discovered the brilliant wisdom of fish, birds, flies, whisks and similar things, they discovered the reality. So they were not as great as the simple actions they carried out to express the truth. But people tend to believe words, and neglect the truth itself.  

But isn't wisdom more important than manual work? More important in this difficult world than business, finances, markets? 

No. Manual work is wisdom in action. And we are living in the world where we cannot exist without money so someone has to deal with money. Honestly deal with money. We need Buddhist teachers who will point to the wisdom found in the action - be it a parent's action, a banker's action, or a cleaner's action. That's where the wisdom of Buddha's teaching really is. So a true Buddhist teacher is someone who says: "Go back to work. You have already found the right place for yourself, so don't look for something special."

I remember at one retreat in Scotland, I was serving food and I brought a dish to Mike and I asked whether he wanted this much or less and made the whole thing incredibly complicated. And Mike suddenly cut it saying: "Just put it down!"  And I learned a lesson from that, a great lesson. Instead of discussing everything forever and to no avail, we should just realize what is necessary to do right now. Even if it is necessary to discuss Buddhism sometimes, the most important thing in our everyday life is that we just do something really. Just put the plate down on the table. That's where all those discussions should point to, otherwise they are plain useless. One simple action solves everything. True wisdom is not in words, it is in a simple action, doing something now. 

What is your opinion of those people who claim that they have attained perfectly peaceful mind and wisdom? 

That is interesting but that is not as good as the Buddhist state. The Buddhist state means that we don't depend on our mind or body. Mike always says that the Buddhist state is the balance of body and mind, and I agree but I'd like to say also, without trying to correct Mike, that  the balance of body and mind means that we are free of body and mind. That means there is nothing individually particular, including peace or clarity that we should possess in that state, and there is nothing individually physical that we should feel in that state. It is a state where an individual disappears in the unity with the real world. That state is not my state or your state, essentially, but a state of reality which gulps down all bodies and minds of all beings everywhere. In that state everyone disappears and reality here and now is revealed by itself. A person whose mind became perfectly peaceful and clear is an interesting circus act. Such a person will impress thousands of silly people for whom their own limited mind is more important than the brilliance of truth itself. A mind of one saint is still just one lousy mind, no matter how enlightened. It may be a nice mind, but it is not mine. On the other hand Buddha Shakyamuni's mind is not just his, it is the universal mind! You have it, I have it, she has it, the spider has it.  The mind of Buddha is this universe - in other words, it has absolutely no limits. The true buddha nature doesn't depend on the quality of our mind, it only depends on itself so it is not external or internal, nobody can destroy it, nobody can attain it, nobody can lose it, nobody can discover it. It is our true self and the self of the whole universe at the same time. It is more than free as it is free from trying to be free, it is more than open as it has never been closed, it is more than bright as it has never been next to something dark and it is more than wise as it has never encountered ignorance. The problem with those peaceful people is that they cannot give you that peace freely and completely, as it is about their limited mind. Buddha's peace is already yours! So the Buddha has made you a buddha right when you were born. Now it is up to you whether you can enjoy it or not. Can you live it or not? Can you see you are completely a buddha from the start? 

That's great. So why practice zazen? Obviously, this Buddha mind is here for everyone and it is impossible to miss it. Those who miss it only imagine they have missed it.    

Zazen perfectly expresses this universal mind that doesn't depend on anything. It doesn't even depend on Buddha, Buddhism, or zazen. But without zazen it is almost impossible to let go of our narrow mind and limited body and discover that which was never lost. Just sitting stupidly, just sitting now, doing nothing special, thinking about nothing special, that is the secret of Buddha Shakyamuni's teaching. That is the flower turning in his hand. The more we move or think, the further away we are from the true meaning of our life that in fact has as much meaning as the ocean waves or clouds in the sky. So when we practice zazen, which to most people seems absolutely useless, at last we do something that shows the true nature of our life. Zazen is the first stop on our path to the truth and the last stop on our path to the truth. But the truth is here and now so it is not about going anywhere. It is about going somewhere never being anywhere but here and now. When Dogen completed his great task of life practice, he just realized that he could never get anywhere else but here and now. To practice zazen without a goal is like reality confirming reality here and now. Are you here? Yes, I am here. Is this real? Yes, this is real. Is this happening just now or do I have to wait? No, no need to wait for anything, it is happening just now. That's zazen. It is like saying yes, yes, yes, over and over again, yes, this is true. But words cannot express that.  The action of zazen itself beyond words expresses that completely.    







March 18, 2012

The Show Called Zen

This is a translation of my Czech article about the pretentious aspects of  Zen in the West.

Today I opened a book by my former teacher Roshi Kwong and in the introduction to the book  one of his students, Peter Levitt writes: "Zen masters live completely. We see it in the way they pour tea, put slippers neatly in front of the zen hall, walk down the street."  I think that this idealistic understanding of Zen masters have affected nearly all of us who have read at least three books on Zen. And it seems that there are Zen masters who really pursue something like that in their life - trying to walk very mindfully, eat mindfully, speak mindfully... how beautiful! (There is nothing wrong with mindful actions, but there is something wrong with a mental guard, mental police that checks all the time how mindfully you eat, walk, speak etc. which means you are two persons, not one, and being two people is not the goal of Buddhist efforts). But what is the real situation? I'll use the method of conversation with myself to try to answer this problem.

It is true that a Zen master lives Zen all the time and that they express something that ordinary people cannot express?

It's utter nonsense. This is our own mind's fallacy. The whole thing is very simple, much simpler than it looks based on poorly understood or poorly written books about Zen. I've thought about it and I noticed how such a delusion, such a trick works. 

It all starts with delusions about something called "enlightenment". The satori or enlightenment is mentioned a lot in Zen literature. It's not that satori would be fiction, or something nobody ever experienced,  but most readers suppose that satori is something that will radically change the quality of their life. If we read quality Zen literature, or if we are lucky enough to meet an authentic teacher, we notice that this radical change is just a return to one's everyday life.

So how can a Zen master impress so much the people around just by acting in his or her everyday life?

We can see how the trick, the magic works and how this magic is absent with some kind of teachers. For example, when you meet with Brad Warner, he is not like  a typical Zen Master.  Absolutely not. At least not the way the popular Zen literature describes such teachers. Even my teacher, Mike Luetchford  doesn't act like a fairy tale Zen master. Rather likes an experienced, confident guy.  So the trick begins when we imagine that someone enlightened experiences or goes through something special. That's nonsense. We have met or read about such typical Zen masters. What is the image of such a person and what is real about him? Let's see. I'll try to describe such a generic Zen master but don't forget it is a mixture of reality and our image. Most people will let the image obstruct the raw reality about that person and that's the problem. This person is most probably a man from  Asia. He has shaved his head, and wears a kesa, a special Buddhist garment, which is not special after all, but anyway. He spends most of the time at  a zen temple, where he plays the role of a master using a stick, speaking little, and has a few assistants who look after his stuff. So far, so good. He is perfectly wise (is he?) and can answer any kind of questions about Zen (really?). When such a person comes to Europe or the U.S., without saying a word, people feel the wisdom and enlightenment of such a person even if he hasn't arrived yet. (Some people talk about such experience, really). People go oooh, aaaah, the master is here, we can feel his presence! Or when you touch him, it deeply affects your own life and your fate is different...(I doubt that). People buy this as we are dealing with someone obviously strikingly different from all of us in the room. When the intellectuals in the room ask him naive questions about Zen he reacts with a joke or laughter or just hits the floor with his stick... his broken English is great for expressing his Zen ideas (is that so?), and he says things briefly (good for him).  All indications are that he is enlightened (more than you?) and completely different than the rest of us wannabe Zen Buddhists. He is definitely not American or British, definitely speaks strangely, is not wearing jeans and a pullover and seems quite upbeat and in a way, stupid. None of us in the room is like that, so there. That's why we call him a Zen master, right? I don't think so. When we spend some time with this person, we notice he really does most things very carefully, completely... which is impressive and that is something really valuable, it is something we could learn from him, but on the other hand Buddhism is not a competition in mindfulness or whose bowls and towels are the cleanest...   

So what is the fake part of this?  

I do not deny that such a Japanese Zen teacher could be an honest man, who for years sincerely studied and practiced Buddhism,  is doing his best to teach Europeans or Americans about true Zen. I am not even criticizing the fact that he may wear a kesa or that he has shaved his head. There is no problem with that. And I have nothing against the Japanese or Koreans, I'm not a racist. But it is necessary to distinguish between what we can see as different or exotic and what is a true Buddhist action and wisdom. 

So how do you know if someone is authentically familiar with the Buddhist experience?

This is the right question! So forget all the show, kesa, bows, incense, Japanese chanting, broken English, hitting stuff with a stick, making strange noises to answer your questions and what is left, look what is left? It isn't so easy to see what is left so let's experiment a bit. Let's strip this exotic Zen guru of his exotic props and we will see what's left. First, we'll change our master's sex. It will be a woman, then we will let her hair grow. Now we have an elderly Japanese woman with long hair. Still looks like a satori, right? Okay, so she will be an American from Nebraska. Her age still seems like wisdom, so she has to be about  30 years old. And the kesa must go. Instead she is wearing a pair of old blue Levi's and sunglasses.  So here we have a thirty-year-old, white American woman wearing jeans, shirt, someone who has a BA or MA and grew up in Nebraska. How much Zen do we have here? Not much, huh? And yet we haven't changed absolutely nothing important about this person! Even working in the office does not prevent someone from having real Zen experience. Now say this woman is sitting in Starbucks sipping her coffee, chatting with a friend. To contrast this situation, let's say an elderly Chinese man, a shaved head, wearing a brownish kesa comes into the room, sits down and has some tea. He is quite silent, looks calm and satisfied and just looks around the room.  Which of these two people will look like a Zen master?

What makes one a true Zen master then?  

What is a dentist's job? Check and drill teeth, right? When you become a professional dentist, how many people will doubt that you're a dentist? Probably no one. When you become a professional Zen Master, someone doing the Buddhist stuff in a temple, wearing kesa and shaving your head, how many people will say that you cheat? Even if you are a mid-aged white American woman, yet wearing a kesa and no hair and doing the Buddhist chores in a temple or a Zen center, bowing. burning incense, waving a stick, giving a dharma talk, etc. people will say, ok, she is a Zen teacher, at least, or a Zen priest. Only if you play a bass guitar in a punk band, wear a tattoo and talk about your broken heart and the pleasures of sex, you will be disqualified by a lot of Zen nerds or Zen fake teachers who think that Buddhism is about what you wear and how beautifully you speak about peace of mind and how quietly you drink tea. This is not my imagination, it is something I experienced many times. Of course, not as a Zen master, but as a student.

And what about Mike Luetchford, your teacher?

He plays absolutely no theater. No show for him. Absolutely none. Therefore, I fully trust him that he is someone qualified to tell people honestly what the truth of Buddhism is. To him, Buddhism (he hardly ever uses the term Zen) is not a show, rather the experience of reality here and now, the experience of our ordinary life without props, masks, games, special clothes. Mike does not have a Japanese accent, he doesn't wear kesa anywhere but the zendo, he has grown a bit of hair and beard, and he just acts normally and makes decisions according to his real experience and age. So there is nothing "zen"about him. Thanks to him I  discovered the trick, which most people take for real Zen. I somehow believed this trick, until I met Mike and also Brad. I only met Brad once at a retreat in Germany, but it was clear the two guys, Mike and Brad have something important in common - they do not play any Zen games.  We must realize that it is very easy and kind of natural to act and look like a Zen master, when we are an old bald Chinese man in patched clothes holding a stick in our hand. Who would fail to act like that once you look like that and sound like that? Actually, such old bald Chinese men who teach Zen with a stick are very, very useful and indeed in the history of Buddhism they are irreplaceable. Thanks to people like Nansen, Baso, Joshu and others, we can understand even these days, in the 21st century, that Zen is not a fairy tale, not a book, but something real, something we can express here and now with a mere stick. That's one thing, a very important aspect. But what is also important is that the image of an old Chinese master is not what makes Buddhism the real stuff it is. The real stuff is when a person, no matter how old or how dressed or how European or Asian, does something wholeheartedly here and now, expressing the Buddhist state and teaching this Buddhist state other people who want to learn about the value of such a state. We are dealing with something real, not literature or images.       Zen is not folklore or tea ceremony or discipline in the monastery, but everyday life, office, road, concert ticket, fines, anything that those old Chinese masters could not live as they just didn't live in the 21st century having credit cards and cars and air tickets. Nansen, Baso, they still experienced essentially the same everyday life we can also experience. We can experience reality completely, no matter what century it is, no matter if we are Chinese, no matter if we wear jeans or drive a family sedan.

Well, perhaps it is the difference between someone who lives in reality, and someone  who dreams about the state of enlightenment?

Well, that's the answer! Exactly that is the only difference between a Zen student and a Zen teacher. The student typically dreams about something, while the teacher has returned to reality and acts accordingly. On the other hand, not everyone who does not understand Zen is a dreamer and not every Zen master, as I have suggested above, lives a real Buddhist life, just an ordinary life without idealistic dreams.  Therefore, the Zen student has two important tasks: First, do not think the truth is somewhere else than here. Second, do not think that the Zen master lives in a different reality than what you live, just do not dream about enlightenment. Therefore, someone who lives normally, more  or less balanced life, practicing zazen every day, lives just like a Zen master. But who can appreciate such a life? Who can find the enlightenment in everyday experience? We cannot find the value of simple actions when we read books, it is necessary to meet a teacher who does not play the show. 

 I am not a Zen master, but I practice zazen in the morning and when I drive to work, I think I drive just like a Zen master, just driving, paying attention and feeling totally satisfied and happy. I can tell if I slept well, if I've had a small breakfast and coffee, and how balanced I am. I don't have to worry about my balance when the balance is there. So when we practice zazen every day we can support this energetic, balanced lifestyle and that's all there is to Zen, nothing else. Even if we fail one day, one week, we can always come back to our balanced state and fine lifestyle that has nothing to do with Zen literature but everything to do with true Buddhism, which is invisible to most people. It must be somehow invisible, otherwise it is only a show.