So, where was I? Right. Tying the ramble below to Brad Warner n' stuff.

As I said, I believe that numerous dharma voices are not only important, but necessary to the survival and growth of Zen and Buddhism here in the West. Now many would say "You know, I think they're doing fine, thanks. Both have been growing rather steadily the past half a century with little to no help..."


There's been plenty of help. Plenty. A sangha friend of mine sent a message to our sangha listserve (interestingly enough about Brad Warner) that hit the head of the nail; "...the greatest spiritual teachers of all time were by and large 'counter-cultural' for their time and place. It's just that the counter culture often ends up becoming the 'norm'!" Couldn't agree more. Now, to be clear, I'm not saying that Warner's one of the "greatest spiritual teachers of all time" (sorry, Brad). But I believe my friend was right when she said that the greats (whomever they are--J.C, Siddhartha, Zoroaster, Muhammad, Gandhi, MLK, PeeWee Herman, pick one) were all outside the mainstream. They were shit-stirrers, frankly. They incited revolution wherever they went. Not necessarily revolt in the sense of physical violence, but true revolution. It's very easy to get people riled up emotionally and have it explode into uncontrollable boil-over, but true revolution is a change in perception of the here-and-now, a change in the way your mind, body and spirit connect and experience the very moment of now. "Hearts and minds", as the Pentagon and Joint Chiefs like to say.

That ain't so simple.

Anytime something is done for so long that its genesis isn't remembered by living folks, the process is in danger of becoming mystified, mythologized and fictionalized. Be it the birth of Jesus the Nazarene or the development of pinochle, this is dangerous. It often leads to deification of movement leaders while at the same time, a stagnation of the movement itself as focus shifts from the ideas of that movement towards the worship of the leader[s]. There is a less-than-zero chance that this could happen to Zen in the West. It most certainly HAS happened to Buddhism in general.

So, where does this all tie into Brad, me and the cost of tofu in Portland?

For me, the sign of a good teacher (roshi, sensei, guru, kindergarten mistress, etc) is the ability to make you look past your preconception or astigmatism and see something in a new way. That's what Zen is all about; seeing the truth of something and not merely your egos' desire. A good sensei does that like a stick to the back of the head and at times jolts you out of one mode of perception and into another. Often-times, that shift in perception is all that it takes to make a difference. The teacher often pushes you out of your comfort-zone, making you feel like you're standing intellectually naked out on the corner of Main St. This is where the real work happens. This is where you actually make progress. Looking at things in the same old comfortable way never generates growth. All that does is help you feel more comfortable in your jammy-pants and beat-to-hell bathrobe, Dude, and there you stay. But a good teacher will rip it all off of you and say "Deal with it." A good teacher will say "Yeah, I know that the conventional wisdom says this. I know that they've been saying that for two-thousand-plus years. Whatever. Let's look at it this way for a while. Why? Because there are all sorts of people on this globe, and if we're gonna talk of the universality of our prime tenant and all that, we'd damn-well better be willing to look at it any way that the dice tell us to, or else we're just as full of shit as anybody else."

I completely agree that the great teachers of nearly every age all went about things that way. It's the only way to grow. It's the only way to STAY growing. If you don't pick the grapes off, the vine will eventually die. That's why Buddhism has continued its steady growth in the West. Because once or twice in a generation, somebody comes along and flips everybody on their shells.

The wrap-up, when this very special episode of SotW continues, right after this brief message...