By John Lee Pendall
I’d like to start this post with an ode to rye whiskey:
Shining amber beneath a harvest moon
My synapses crackling to life
Each blade of grass is a field of treasures
Buddhas smile, their golden breasts caressed by the light
I’m not the man I wanted to be, nor am I the man I wanted not to be. I’m just the man who wanted. Everything I thought I knew turned out to be so much confusion to the point that even the knowledge that it was confusion was confused.
Now, I trust my heart. I trust that—if I end this war of dreams—I’ll be like that grass, in touch with the Earth and always responding appropriately. I have Chan Master Linji and tragic death to thank for that. Both of them had no qualms about shaking me out of my daze.
Linji frequently talked about the, “True person of no rank.” Who the fuck is that? It’s who we are when we’re not trying to buy or sell something. It’s who we are when enough is more than we’ll ever need. It’s also the precious super power of being able to say yes or no without giving in to pressure.
I can say yes now. I can say no. That’s new to me.
Up until this year, my no’s and yes’s were always partially determined by everyone around me, as well as all the experiences I’ve gone through. In Linji terms, they depended on “my rank,” my assumed identity and accumulated preference and memories.
That’s no way to go through life, always at the mercy of other people and our own prejudices. Seeing through all that, you might be (un)surprised at what you find.
I found sipping whiskey, hard rock, and a hedonistic appreciation of all the little delights life has to offer. I found mutual desperation, ache, anger, breathtaking beauty, and love. In short, I didn’t find anything—I was forced to sit down and see what was already here.
Without standing in my own way, all these things sprout up in their own season, and wither when their time has passed. That’s in stark contrast to how my mind used to be. I used to guard liquid water against the winter winds, and I tried keeping an ice cube from melting in the summer sun. Silly fucker.
There’s a time to drink, and a time to sober up; a time to fuck and a time to sit alone. A time to laugh, and a time to cry. When we kick our delusions, our times are in tune with each other, like watches synchronized before a mission.
There’s no effort to effort, no striving in striving. and—even if there’s pain—there’s no anguish.
We make a big deal about the precepts in Buddhism, but the true precepts are the ones we keep when we’re not trying to add or subtract anything from ourselves or the world—when we’re beyond ideas like gain and loss. When we approach life like it’s a math problem, or a budget to balance, then even behaving like a saint isn’t enough to ease our suffering. If we play the gain/loss game, then we can only go bankrupt in the end.
But if I can look beyond my own bank account, if I can follow the money and view everything as One Account, then I’ll notice that not one cent comes or goes. A loss in my books is a gain in someone else’s and vice versa. What Zen points to is the realization that everything’s like this. Then we can balance our checkbooks without being stressed out by what we see because we’re not fixated on, “I-me-mine.”
Whenever I suddenly catch myself getting tangled up in this or that thinking, I respond, “This transaction is so immeasurable that it’s off the books, and here you are, trying to do the math.”
Practice isn’t anything special. It’s asking, “Who am I when I stop trying to explain myself to myself? How much do I have when I stop trying to calculate it? What’s the world when I stop trying to fit it into boxes?” The answer is quite beautiful—so beautiful that it breaks our hearts. And in that open space, there’s nothing lacking and no one missing. We can hang up the robe and bowl and do what comes naturally.
For me, that sometimes means saying, “I love you.” Sometimes it means a well-placed, “Fuck off.” Sometimes it’s blasting Dio at maximum capacity, and sometimes it’s Beethoven by candlelight. In all cases, it’s a deep care and carefulness that one blade grass has for another, sustained by the knowledge that they share the same ground.
The challenge is that, to uncover that “True Person of no rank,” we have to reject all guidance—even everything I wrote in this post.
You have to let all the rewards and punishments pass straight through you, looking at praise and blame as equal in their bullshitness. You’re already complete, that means the things I’m saying now can’t add anything to you, or take anything away. If you call BS on everything I write, then you might be on the right track because, as the seasons change, I’ll certainly look back on this and call BS as well.
All Dharma talks are like dirty plates after a good meal. They’re meant to motivate and inspire, not indoctrinate. This isn’t high school Biology class where we scribble down notes to prepare for the test on Friday. This is half-eaten morsel meant to prompt you to get off your ass and head to the buffet.
You have to go through this on your own. You have to pass through the pain, the loss, see the play and take your place at the head of the table without trying to steal someone else’s seat. Siddhartha, Linji and Thich Nhat Hanh all have their own seats. It’s rude trying to steal their chairs, and I’m not sure how they’d feel about someone trying to sit in their laps. I wouldn’t mind, but it’s good manners to buy me a drink first.
If you’ve read this far, then that means you’ve already got it in you; you’ve already been tenderized enough by pain and loss to not shy away from reality. If you didn’t have it in you, then you probably would’ve hit the back button after I mentioned Buddhas’ breasts. One prerequisite to practice is going through enough pain to no longer be offended by everything all the time. The other is experiencing enough loss to stop looking outside yourself for stability.
Besides, without experiencing that, we wouldn’t have much to talk about over drinks with Buddha. Chatting with friends while sipping top shelf booze is Buddhism at its finest.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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