Well, The Precepts Ceremony was a month ago. As I said, I dropped the ball in that regard, mostly due to my not getting my wagessa finished. Well, it's finished now. At least I think it is. It now goes to our "head of precepts" director for approval, and if it's approved, she holds it until such time that I am allowed to take the first five precepts, most likely this time next year.

It's really interesting to me: I had such a hard time with this, but honestly not for any true physical issue. Admittedly, I had to sew it with limited use of my right hand, but that really didn't affect me all that much, even though I may have said so, and even believed so. I know now that I was blocked mentally and emotionally, which is quite a bit trickier than merely not being able to sew in a straight line.

When I first began pursuing Zen, I was married. I had flirted with Buddhism off and on (mostly off, actually) for the better part of twenty years before then, but always kept myself at a safe distance for some reason (a reason I am now more aware of, and will speak to in a moment). She jumped right in, head first. I was really very pleased to see this, and was happy for her. I knew it was a very genuine thing for her, that it truly resonated with her, and I would support her pursuit of a deeper connection with it without any kind of problem.

However, a problem of sorts did arise. Eventually, my pursuit of Buddhism--or more specifically, the speed at which I pursued it--started getting some scrutiny. She questioned why I wasn't taking to participation in the sangha and zazen. I tried to explain that at that time, I didn't feel it in me, and encouraged her to just keep on with her own path. That was met with a bit of disappointment, but it was left at that.

I later tried to explain that I knew deep inside that this was actually a momentous quantum change in my life, and that I needed to be sure in my heart that it was what I wanted. Up until that time, I was a returned-to-the-fold practicing Catholic (a rather devout one) and had just written off that faith after the scandals. I was now an adrift agnostic.

In my life up until that point, I had at various times been a Catholic, an Evangelical, a Unitarian, a Christian Fellow, a pagan, a Thelemite, and still to that point (and to this day) somewhat of a shamanic practitioner as well as a Taoist. Read differently: I'd always been a spiritual seeker.

But there was always something about Buddhism that on one hand deeply resonated with me, but sort of disturbed me at the same time. It felt sticky in a way that unnerved me, not unlike how one may have felt as a kid getting caught in a fib. "Uh-oh. The Truth. You can't talk your way outta this one."

When my father died in 2004, I had a very powerful experience. I had just started pursuing Buddhism in a bit of a non-sectarian fashion shortly before he died, and when he left, I felt something inside me that said "This is the moment." Buddhism got me through that experience, and what came out on the other side was a very different person.

Yet still, I was hesitant. We began pursuing and studying Zen. I had always been attracted to Vajrayana Buddhism, and had done quite a bit of study on Tantra. Zen was really very foreign to me. Not only foreign, but actually unappealing to me in a number of ways. It seemed (on the surface) rather dull, boring, and actually sort of depressing and nihilistic. Yet there was something there that began to pop up above the surface of my misconception.

But I just wasn't sure. I tried to explain that, for me, each person was on their own path, and that you cannot walk that path for anyone else. Up to that point, I'd been a believer in the idea that you could walk a spiritual path hand-in-hand with somebody, and that is something that I still to this day believe in, but the base truth is, you are on your path by yourself, alone. There are times when paths run parallel, and may even cross over, but in truth, they never truly converge. You have your path. You walk it. But you cannot walk at any speed other than your own. If you try and walk faster or slower, or alter directions in response to anyone other than yourself, you're making an error that will impede your progress.

Please don't think that I am angry about any of this. I'm not saying that she pushed, or that any harm was done. If anything, her forging on set a great example for me, and encouraged me to do the same. But it took me a while to decide, and that was something I had to insist upon for myself. I was not about to pursue Zen out of any kind of "must do" motivation other than my own internal compass telling me to walk that way. I had so many questions; frankly I still do. I knew though that I had to think and feel my way through to a place of clarity.

I took a year off from sangha-based zen practice. I sat at home. I still paid membership dues to the sangha that entire time and still considered myself a member of the sangha, but at the same time, I kept myself outside the actually practice body. I needed to know that this was where I needed to be. I needed to know that this is what I was supposed to do, and where I was supposed to go. I would not take up another spiritual practice unless I knew deep down that I should be there. I needed to know.

In 2008, my marriage started to wind down. My beloved elder cat passed away after a painful decline. There was quite a bit of trauma and tumult to that year, but the call to Zen began to ring inside me. That sounds so ethereal and mystical, but it's not. It's less like a soul-peeling strike of lightning and more like a persistent itch that you can't quite reach (zen practitioners all know about itching). It was just something that nagged me from the inside. It was The Truth, I knew that it was, and it had me pinned to the wall.

And that really was it. I've tried to explain this to people a number of different times, but typically wind up with the same anemic wording.

Q: Do you "like" zazen?
A: Not particularly. Many times I find it irritating, but mostly just boring.

Q: Do you get a deep sense of peace, satori, kensho, or feel more connected to the Universe?
A: Not anymore than I have at other times through other means.

Q: Do you find that Buddhism is what makes you a better person these days?
A: Probably, but I'm sure I could be a good person without it.

Q: Then if this is all a series of non-pluses, and you can take it or leave it, then why do it?
A: Because every time I "do it", no matter what may happen during the "doing it", when done, I feel measurably better than were I to not have "done it", and there's nothing in my life up to this point that I can say that consistently of.

So, I'm sort-of a defacto Zen practitioner. I pursue Zen in the same way that a physicist pursues the Higgs boson: I tend to be after facts and truths, and want to know things about life. I want to be intimately connected to what's real. I've spent a not-insignificant chunk of my life distracting myself from the truth because it wasn't how I wanted it to be (read: "death and taxes") or Existentially mollifying myself via Sartre's self-deception because the truth made me feel bad about myself or the world around me. But as I've grown older, my desire for a genuine life has only grown. It's grown beyond the life of relationships, careers, loved-ones, homes and all other manner of measure. It's grown in ways that I find upsetting but at the same time affirming. I want the Truth.

Ahhh. The Truth. Knowing the Truth.

That is what finally kicked me in the existential nuts. At about the same time as I started seriously pursuing Zen, a sangha friend started using as a tag-line a zen answer from something I had just read on my own.

Fayan was going on pilgrimage.

Dizang said, "Where are you going?"
Fayan said, "Around on pilgrimage."
Dizang said, "What is the purpose of pilgrimage?"
Fayan said: "I don't know."

Dizang said, "Not knowing is most intimate."

"Not knowing is most intimate." This really was the thing that slapped me right in the face. And to relate this back to the physicist and the Higgs boson, just because you're searching for "the truth" doesn't mean you can't do so with a sense of wonder. We tend to dumb things down as far as the physical and metaphysical realaties of existence goes. What's so different about someone sitting zazen staring at a white wall versus someone at the LHC staring at reams of data? I finally understood--or comprehended--that there really is no difference.

And there it was. There is no difference. There is no separation between the scientific and the metaphysical. There is no difference between the truth and The Truth. There is no difference between knowing and not knowing. All differences are illusions.

I'll probably tidy this thought thread up later. The kid needs coffee...

See? There's The Truth.

Boil water. Make coffee.

Welcome to the deep mystery that is Zen.