By Lee Glazier
Here’s a Zen koan, thingy, that I really dig. This is not, uh, verbatim. It’s written in the parlance of our times:
Hakuin was the Dudeliest Dude of all the Dudes in the village; no one would ever dream of pissing on his rug. Well, that was the case until a winsome (Bam! Finally got to use that word) girl was visted by the stork. Judging by her parents reaction, this was apparently an unplanned pregnancy; they were furious.
At first, she refused to tell them who the father was. Eventually, after countless hours of negative reinforcement, she lied to get her parents off her back. She told them it was her and Hakuin’s baby. Her parents stormed across the village to Hakuin’s yert, shack or whatever, and said, “What the fuck, Dude? You’re supposed to be this Zenly fella, but then you went and knocked up our daughter! That’s over the line, man! You’re going to take this baby when it’s born!”
Hakuin shrugged and, “Is that so? Far out, man,” was his only reply.
After the Little Lebowski made its way into the world, the babe’s grandparents brought it to Hakuin (whose reputation was in ruins at the time, but he didn’t seem to notice). For over a year, Hakuin took great care of the young sprout. Then, the winsome (Bam!) girl couldn’t take being away from her child any longer and confessed to her parents. “I’m sorry I lied, Dudes, Hakuin isn’t the father. The father is a young guy who works at the In-N-Out Burger.”
Her parents visited Hakuin and oozed apologies. “We’re sorry, Hakuin. The child isn’t really yours; we’ll take the baby off your hands now.”
“Is that so? Far out, man,” was his only reply.
Now, I don’t think Hakuin was suffering from retrograde amnesia, but I guess anything’s possible. Well, not anything, but ya know, whatever. Actually, if I had any money to bet, I’d bet this whole story is made up—and that’s cool, that’s cool. Things don’t have to be real to be useful.
Hakuin, in this koan, not only exemplifies Zen, but also Dudeism as well. He took it in stride, he adapted and he didn’t cling. He wasn’t outraged when he was suddenly cast as a caregiver, and he wasn’t sorrowful when his ward was taken from him. I mean, come on, man; after a whole year, he probably formed a bond with the kid. Zen is about being detached but not unloving, not cold. Yet he gave the youngin’ to the grandparents as nonchalantly as if he was gifting them a sack of potatoes.
I took a few liberties with the koan: the babe’s dad was actually a fisherman because In-‘N’-Out Burgers weren’t fairly uncommon in ancient China. I also amended Hakuin’s famous, “Is that so?” line with, “Far out, man,” because, well, nothing is sacred. Is that so?… what does that mean to you? Is it a remark on emptiness, Buddha-nature, and/or the Tao? Is it simply the tagline for an attitude of radical acceptance? Was Hakuin perpetually high on opium thus impeding his grasp on the gravity of the situation? Well, Dudes, we just don’t know.
All I know is that, “Is that so?” is a great way to approach the comings and goings of life:
“Your total comes to $28.32.” “Is that so?”
“Congratuations! You’ve just won five million dollars!” “Is that so?”
“Wow, I really dig that hat you’re wearing.” “Is that so?”
“Wow, you look really dumb in that hat.” “Is that so?”
“Mr. Glazier, I’m sorry but the cancer has spread; there’s nothing we can do. You have about six months left to live.” “Is that so?”
It might be the most heroic line anyone’s ever uttered.
I think that, “Is that so?” is a state of mind. The reasons behind that state and the insights that cultivated it are unimportant to me. No matter how you got there, there is just where you are. Whether I fly, ride or walk to California is only relevant if I’m, ya know, confused. How we get from A to B usually affects our views of B once we get there; that is confusion, and that’s baggage, man. That means that I’m not seeing B for what it is, I’m still viewing it through a lens. If I’m doing that, then the experience is brought to me by mind-design rather than things as they are—Suchness… Dudeness.
People, ya know, get confused about the whole, “All is mind,” bit. Really, it isn’t an appraisal of how things actually are, but of the underlying problem—mind-design, cittamatra or what-have-you, is the source of all suffering in life. So first we learn to overcome afflictions like greed, hatred, and all that fun stuff. Then, we learn that everything the light touches is BS, meaning that we’re tangled up in our own heads and disconnected from the way things are.
The final insight is into the nature of the mind itself—that there isn’t one. Mind has no nature, and mind has no mind. Talk about being mind-blown.
So with all this in mind (ha ha), Hakuin’s reactions in this koan are a little less mysterious. I mean, Hakuin was around back when Zen was ZEN, not these watered down modern versions. He ate, slept, and sweat Zen—never putting practice on pause to argue about football players’ taking a knee. He decided to stop pissing on his own rug, and he sloughed off all half-measures.
It’s starting to vibe with me that, no matter what path you’re on—whether it’s Buddhism, Taoism, Christian mysticism etc.—it only really works when we go all-in, ya know? That’s the way to bring, “Is that so?” to life, man. Without that all-or-nothing, balls to the wall dedication, nothing really happens. I just wind up as miserable, angry and confused as I was before.
To me, that’s the real difference between being spiritual/mystical or what-have-you, and being religious: religion means following a path, mysticism means being a path so that there’s no separation between the way and the wayfarer. That’s really the only way to handle all the crazy shit life throws at us, Dudes.
If you’re a leaf and you’re worried about being blown off your branch, be the branch. If you’re a branch worried about snapping off the tree, be the tree. If you’re a tree and you’re worried about toppling over, be the ground. If you’re the ground and you’re worried about falling into the sun, be the sun. If you’re the sun and you’re worried about dissolving into space, then be the space.
Is that so? Well, that’s just like, my opinion, man.
“Dude” Lee Glazier is a Dudeist Priest, Zen adherent and Taoist enthusiast from Golden, Colorado. He likes reading, writing, hiking, taking baths, listening to classic rock, drinking White Russians, smoking, and having the occasional acid flashback. The only thing he truly believes is that everyone needs to slow down, mellow out, and unwad their underpants. He feels that that would solve all the world’s problems in a heartbeat. “Do you have the patience to let the mud settle and the water clear?” Feel free to check out his blog, Cluelessly Falling Down A Spiral Staircase (Musings & Misadventures of an Ordained Dudeist). Also check out his Facebook page.
Editor: Dana Gornall