August 22, 2014

Why I Am Not a Zen Master

Recently my congregation assembled to ask me how an ordinary Zen guy gets to be a Zen Master. "So, Rev," she said, "What's up with the whole 'Zen Master' deal, anyway"

Patiently ignoring the single quotes in her voice, I explained that only a Zen Master knows how to become a Zen Master, that when a Zen Master meets another Zen Master (while comin' through the rye, for example) this knowledge flashes between them and they recognize each other immediately, and that the reason I'm not a Zen Master is that the last time I met a Zen Master he thought I was Dan Haggerty, star of The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. Out of respect, I didn't refuse when he asked for my autograph - but I had to draw the line when he wanted me to demonstrate bear-wrestling with one of his disciples playing the bear. Zen disciples may be small, but they're crafty.

The assembled worshipper appeared doubtful - ready to pelt me with another volley of gratuitous punctuation, in fact. So I continued by relating that each individual Zen Master is the result of billions of years of selective breeding - starting with the Buddha himself and achieving final perfection with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of sacred memory. The succession is recorded in a book whose Chinese name is Xin Dao Gua Nan - roughly translated as Jane's All the World's Zen Masters. Without this volume, the Zen family tree would be as twisted and paradoxical as that of the Kennedy's, the Carradines, or the Baldwins.

I was about to go into some details on the prehistory of Zen Masters - starting with the mighty Masterdon, which became extinct approximately a trillion years BC - when the congregation ventured the opinion that my explanation thus far had not been quite so helpful as she had been led to expect.

"Rev," she said, "You are so full of it."

She had me there. It appeared the jig was up, the cat was out of the bag, the worm had turned, the die was cast, and the grouse was in the underpants. Summoning up a lifetime's worth of detachment and self-control I immediately spilled my guts, in re: How to Become a Zen Master.

In keeping with the ancient secrets of the Orient, I told her, candidates are carefully screened at their local temples for the necessary degree of enlightenment, hat size, percentage of body fat, and table manners. Those who make the first cut are FedExed to the Central Zen Master Distribution Center (CZMDC) in St. Louis, where they are sorted, stacked on pallets, and placed in cold storage until there's a vacancy. When a position opens up, the required number of candidates are pulled and shipped to the offices of Learning Unlimited Corporation in Tulsa, Oklahoma (LUCTO). Upon arrival, the candidates are blindfolded and taken to a large room filled with incense smoke, and folding chairs.

The actual Master-making procedure is known as the Zen Clap, and it works like this:

All candidates sit in a circle facing each other. One person starts the action by placing either hand, with fingers extended, on top of his head while saying, "Yin."

The next person to go depends upon which way the starter's fingers were pointing. If he used his left hand, his fingers would be pointing to the person to his right and so that person would go next. Naturally, the person on his left would go if he placed his right hand on his head.

Once the next person to go is determined, he places either hand flat on his stomach and says, "Yang." Again, the next person to go is determined by which way the fingers were pointing while placed on the stomach. See instruction Number 2 for explanation.

The next person to go will perform a one-handed clap by pointing his fingertips towards anyone else in the circle while saying nothing. Whichever way his fingertips point indicates a new starter who gets the whole process rolling again by placing a hand on top of his head.

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