Who are we? Where do we belong? When we step into Zen meditation and practice, a brand new answer appears. Here is an excerpt from Just Grab The Dust Rag, (Confession of A Deluded Zen Student Who Never Learned A Thing).
Before long I’d become a regular in the early morning sittings at the Zendo. Day after day, no matter what our monk was always sitting there at the front of the row, doing such profound zazen you could feel it miles around. His zazen drew me, healed, soothed and awakened all that was waiting within. So, even though many times he scowled at me, turned away, tried to get rid of me, the very next day I would return.
Naturally, I hungered for his recognition. I wanted him to know how much I cared, how devoted I was. So, every day I arrived at five thirty in the morning, and rushed down the row to be able to sit next to him. Morning after morning, I chanted too loudly and when the pain got too great, twisted and turned. He just sat there beside me, bearing this continuous irritation, not responding in any way.
After sitting for a month you could become a member. I counted the days excitedly. After going for more than two months, I finally made an appointment to see him and become a member too. Nervous, after early morning zazen, I climbed the stairs to his meeting room on the second floor.
When I opened the door to his room, he was seated in zazen on a cushion on the floor, his eyes half open.
I entered and bowed.
“Come in,” he said.
Overjoyed, I sat down opposite him at a low wooden table that had two teacups on it. He looked up, nodded, and very carefully, offered me a cup of delicious powdered green tea.
I received the tea and we drank together. Finally, he looked up at me.
“Yes?” he said.
“I’ve been sitting here for two months now,” I responded, unable to contain my delight.
He looked up at me, a bit surprised. “You have?”
I was stunned. I’d been sitting right next to him for almost two months. How could he have not known I was there?
“Of course, I’ve been coming every day,” I replied. Then I stared at him, completely bewildered.
“Really?” he repeated.
“Yes,” I burst out, “I’ve been sitting right next to you and I want to become a member now.”
He looked at me sharply. “Why?”
I was speechless.
“What difference does it make, member or non-member?” he asked, somewhat scornfully.
Silence filled my heart. I hadn’t stopped to consider that. Finally, I shrugged. “It makes no difference at all,” I countered.
“Exactly,” he said. “Interview is over.”
Trembling, I hobbled back down the stairs. He never even knew I was sitting there next to him all those mornings, I thought, crushed. How was it possible he didn’t even recognize me?
Later in the day my husband called me, excited. “So, congratulations, are you a member now?”
“No,” I replied, defeated.
“Why not? What happened?” he asked haltingly. “Did you do something to offend him?” he asked.
“Maybe I did?” I wondered.
“That’s terrible,” my husband replied.
“Terrible or not,” I responded, “whether or not he recognizes me, I’m going to continue every day.”
Now, years later, I see that the true question is not whether I did something to offend him, but why I craved recognition so. Why was it so important to become a member?
Zazen practice is not about belonging. It is not about being noticed or accepted by anyone. Even though you sit next to others, you find out what it means to be alone, to experience your aloneness through and through. As you do, you may realize that aloneness is not loneliness. In fact, it is the opposite. Zazen cuts the leaning, depending mind, makes us stand on our own two feet. The teacher’s job is to take everything away, while he serves delicious green tea.
As we sit, little by little we realize that our insane desire for recognition is actually a poison that destroys our life. Addicted to approval, acceptance and adoration, many become desperate if they do not receive it. Most know themselves only through the eyes of another. Some eyes are full of adoration. Others are full of bitterness. So what? Searching for ourselves in the eyes of others, we despair. He loved me yesterday, and now he doesn’t. What did I do wrong?
Nothing! Nothing! Moments change. Yesterday he was happy. Today he has indigestion. What has it got to do with you? Look at me and don’t look at me are two forms of the same madness. A true Zen master wipes them both away. As Soen Roshi said later, “I am a member of the universe, how about you?”