Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why I'm Going to Japan to Be A Zen Monk (Again)

Tomorrow morning I'm going to Japan. I'm going to live in a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monastery called Sogenji. It's located in Okayama. I'm coming back when I'm ready to come back.
I'm sure that some of my friends, family and associates are curious (not to say dubious or skeptical) about why I'm giving up the putative joys and comforts of ordinary life to live a relatively harsh and disciplined life in the context of a semi-medieval religious institution in a foreign country. Fair enough. I think I owe some kind of explanation. A word of warning though: It's hard to explain. So I'll do it like this.
Because I have "weird existential issues." This means I get preoccupied with questions of meaning and meaninglessness.
Because I feel weird about life.
Because I feel weird about love and music and beauty and art and loneliness.
Because I feel weird about impermanence.
Because I feel weird about death.
Because I feel weird about chasing after things that won't last.
Because I feel weird about how miserable everyone is even when they manage to get what they want.
Because I feel weird about how I can't trust my own mind.
Because I feel weird:
I feel self-conscious and insecure. I feel not-OK. (You know that book I'm OK, You're OK? That's a good book. You should read that. And you should read Man's Search for Meaning, and Man's Search for Himself. If you haven't already. Then you'll be as confused as I am, and you'll have to join me in the monastery, and we'll get to hang out together.) Because when I'm with certain people, I worry that my pants are too tight, and when I'm with others I worry that they aren't tight enough. (It's all about the ankles really.) And I worry about my worrying, and wonder why other people don't seem as worried (about their pants, my pants, and/or my worrying). But I know that they're actually more worried than I am, only they don't realize how worried they are, whereas I do, which makes it both better and worse. (Have you read much Kierkegaard? Maybe you shouldn't. Maybe you should. Man that guy is weird!) Because I find myself asking about the meaning of life, and I can't come up with an answer that isn't just words. Is the unexamined life not worth living, as Socrates thought, or is the opposite true--Is the unexamined life the only one worth living? After years of engaging the issue, the best I can come up with is that the Good Life is a post-existentialist life, one where one has so thoroughly tortured oneself with useless questions that he or she no longer has any interest in them at all. But "the only way out is through." You make yourself so sick of yourself that you vomit yourself up, and then you're done. Then you're some kind of shining thing. You help people and you don't worry about things.
And somehow--don't ask me how--these changes are effected through the practice of "Zen." I don't know what Zen is. I don't really care anymore. All I know is that ever since I was 16, all signs have pointed to Zen as the way beyond this pervasive discomfort with the human condition, this feeling weird. What is there left to do but to go for it?
I can't wait for it to be over. I can't wait to put this all behind me. I like Japanese food and everything, but it's hard to find a nice girl in a monastery.
I'll see you guys later, and miss you very much in the meantime.
Yours truly,
Jeff
ps I don't plan on communicating much while I'm in Japan. Consider me mostly incommunicado. I'll try to check in a couple times a year and let you know when I'm back in the States.
Resources: My photostream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fusionsnackyam/ Search youtube for "Sogenji" and "Shodo Harada". That's where I'm going and with whom I'm practicing. Watch I Heart Huckabees over and over again.