If you had to guess what do you think would be one of the most difficult aspects of being a Zen Buddhist?
Would it be sitting in meditation for long periods while your knees groaned and your mind ran around like a monkey? Or perhaps dealing with the realization that you can no longer hide behind your own bullshit? How about finding the motivation to continually rededicate yourself to a practice with the avowed goal of not having any goal at all?
Those are all challenges to be sure, but for me what has been harder than all of those things is the challenge of dealing with other people and their bizarre notions of what Buddhism is and does for you. Any time I lose my temper or become frustrated there seems to be someone to pop up and say “Huh, guess you’re not so zen after all!” or the person who acts aghast when I order a meal with meat on it “I thought you had to be vegetarian to be a buddhist!?”
Which is annoying a bit, but with the lack of information available to the general public and Zens difficulty to be described in a soundbite I understand these misconceptions. What seems extremely difficult to deal with, however, is the same sort of misinterpretation from other zen Buddhists! People who could and should know better , many with decades of practice under their belts and yet still labor under the most ridiculous notions and preconceived ideas, particularly about how others should act.
For example, the average non-zen person has a stereotype of a Buddhist as a peaceful, hippie type walking around and gently leading ants out of his way, never getting angry, or ever having sexual or silly thoughts, and always deferring to others so as not to cause conflict.The sad part is that a shit-ton of Buddhists believe this garbage as well! Well its a load of shit and a real shame that so many folks get caught up in the idea of “acting buddhist” that they don’t bother to actually BE buddhist.
The problem is that we have all come to Zen with our own baggage and notions, our upbringing and cultural bias, in short we come pre-programmed with conditioning. We, all of us, have been indoctrinated with a set of filters by which we view the world and one of the first things we learn in Buddhism is that almost every single one fo these filters is not “true”. The very idea that we can take our minds and wrap them around reality is the very thing that we strive to undo in Zen, our way is to try to see and act in accord with reality as it really is, not how we think it is, want it to be, or fear it might be. We are so used to putting all the screens of social conditioning in front of reality though that’s its very difficult, even scary to try to live without them.
So you end up with so-called Zen Buddhists who feel that they have to act calm and peaceful and “good” even when it’s actually inappropriate to do so. These folks must live in perpetual fear of snapping in public where all their other fake acting friends will see and shake their heads “ah, he’s not very zen is he”.
The fact is that all the trapping of “being zen” originally occurred naturally as a result of the practice. You feel more peaceful because you aren’t filling you head with ridiculous notions (like “I have to act peaceful”) you may become a vegetarian because you become aware of the chain of events and suffering that eating meat entails, not because it’s the “Zen” thing to do this week. Being a Zen Buddhist means learning to act appropriately to a given situation as they arise, not with some pre-programmed ‘nice guy” routine, but as reality genuinely warrants. Sometimes being a Zen buddhist means you have to call someone a thief if they are being a thief, or punching someone in the nose to stop them from punching their girlfriend in the nose. if there is a nice way to do this then we try that way, but if it’s just not appropriate then we do what is appropriate.
We are not robots, no real Zen Buddhist is always Mr. Nice-guy (and he also isn’t Mr.Smug Dickhead on the other side of the coin) We swear, we have sex, we get frustrated and we deal with it all as naturally as we can with as few conditioned responses as we can. Ultimately its about being in synch with real reality not a prettied up pretend version of reality.Any Buddhist worth his time on the cushion has discovered that having expectations of others is one fo the best ways to remain in the shit-mud of delusion. Keep deciding how other people ought to act and you will, guaranteed, be disappointed time and time again.