Zen's Travel Visas - A Sober view of Spiritual Tourism
- By Fa Zhao Shakya
- Dec 03
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When you are deluded and full of doubt, even a thousand books of scripture are not enough.
When you have realized understanding, even one word is too much.
Those of us who arrive at Zen have often had quite a path of discovery along the way. This is certainly true in my case. It began when I was 14, when a visiting teacher to my Catholic school gave a (once only) talk about some of the 'other' religions around the world. In the midst of this discussion, a kid who was sitting behind me openly admitted that he liked Buddhism more than Catholic Christianity. In his young person's way, he went on to explain his version of Buddhism, to which the whole class became astounded by this contrasting (even sacrilegious) viewpoint. It was so significant that I remember the incident to this very day.
As I look back I see that this was a brave move on his part, just even mentioning it. I also realize that for me, it was the seed of my shift towards spirituality. A shift that I would later realize was fueled by necessity and loaded with many dragon twists and turns.
Just after high school I was introduced to an eclectic bunch of people. Some were from the Hare Krishna and Rosicrucian movements and others attended The Theosophical Society. Others just roamed around fighting for freedom or other related causes, while musicians sang "The Times They are a Changin'" by Bob Dylan. At around the same time I spent my free days with some folks who's pastime was to discuss the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". All this surrounding energy produced an almost fleeting interest in the spiritual nature of things and it captivated me to such a depth, that I eventually took up my own musical interests and art forms.
One of these wonderful art forms was the calming nature of horticulture, and I began a long journey into the creative world of nature and garden design. However through horticulture I was also able to cultivate and harvest strong stands of marihuana, which I thought would improve my garden creativity and musical compositions. Sadly the spiritual path then had to take a pause, due to the additional and enlightening discovery of beer and bourbon. This destructive cocktail of impermanence, was mostly there to cover up the emotional guilt that I created as a Catholic. In other words, I had substituted my natural creativity in favor of more 'chemically induced' spiritual experiences. These were to wash away all remnants of suffering and unrest. From here I began to turn up in strange places, doing strange things with strange people. These events weren't only restricted to my Australian homeland, I also pursued this elaborate and induced spirituality all over Europe, America, Canada and The USSR. Among all of the madness, I somehow had the semblance of a moment of sanity. One evening I actually got lost in my own neighborhood whilst driving home. I had philosophically and symbolically 'reached a fork in the road'. Something needed to change but I wasn't sure what that 'thing' was. It didn't occur to me in the slightest, that it was necessary to cease drinking and smoking pot.
It was now 1986 and, fortunately for me, a nice old guru entered my world and began planting the seeds of non-intoxication. He appeared as a strong confident and very present individual, which was totally unexpected. He then told me his stories of woe and explained that "The spiritual life was not a theory, you have to live it". He also noted that his ability to remain sober was "contingent on his spiritual condition". Something inside me resonated with this truth! And so, from that moment forward, the rocky road of my spiritual tourism began.
I started by reading the works of Bill Wilson and the famous 12 step program, which are notably 'proven' and life saving teachings. This work seemed to lead me back to my Catholic roots for a short time, although I couldn't really resonate with Catholicism again, due to my perceptions of a guilty childhood and a judgmental God.
While continuing with Bill's teachings, I then opened up and picked anything off the book shelves. I read widely the works of Deepak Chopra, Anthony Robbins, Dale Carnegie and Zig Ziegler. I also Joined and left "Amway" very quickly.
I then came to several works on the discovery of DNA connection, re-coding and activation. This included bio-circuitry ceremonies to reconnect my bio-circuits (in all of my bodies?), using geometric shapes and kinesiology. When this didn't seem to work, I studied and practiced Radical Forgiveness and Radical Compassion (both of which were great pre-cursers to Buddhism), and eventually went through a dark period, which I had to have.
While all this was happening, I was concurrently completing my university degree in science, because I felt some of the answers must be there. After all, people had written widely on Sciences, Philosophy and Religion and some of it should be able to rub off on me!
I then met a Reiki Master and subsequently became a Master and healer in three different Reiki schools. This teacher was also a Krya Yoga practitioner, which allowed for a series of steps, strangely opening an investigation into "The Course in Miracles".
From there I then studied a program entitled "The Way of Mastery" and read (with some astonishment) an Aramaic translation of The Bible. This translation I found to be descriptively different from that of The King James version. Due to what could be described as an awakening from reading the Aramaic, I elected to go on a pilgrimage to Israel with 80 other "Way of Mastery" followers. During this tour (and notably in Jerusalem) I inadvertently met with a Sufi Sheik who created one of the prime moments on my journey. I could almost feel his presence before he arrived. His eyes looked almost straight through me, until some words finally arose from deep within his being..... "thank you for coming here to assist in healing The Spiritual Centre of the World!".
Something in me questioned what was inside his very presence. He was breathing very deeply and seemed to be conscious of every breath. The whole experience appeared to be quite provident, and so soon after I went into an investigation of Sufism and discovered the teachings of Rumi. The providence found in Rumi's teachings resulted in travels to a special retreat in Bali, to learn breath-work and other related practices.
With the 'esoteric' now fully installed, I set aside some time to read the full volumes of "The Life and Teachings of the Masters of the Far East". This is truly one of the most extraordinary volumes I have ever read. I seemed to have arrived somewhere in the middle of both a Himalayan fantasy and reality, on yet another 'epic' and spiritual journey.
At this juncture I felt that my spiritual tourism could do with a good break. I still hadn't really found what I was looking for, but I needed time to smell the roses. During this quiet time, a collegue (and yoga teacher) introduced me to the works of Eckhardt Tolle, Krishnamurti and Byron Katy. Now finally, in the stillness of the moment and particularly from the words of Krishnamurti, I realized that I was on an endless and incessant search for something 'permanent' in the spiritual world. When I couldn't find it, I would just habitually return to the search. This is about where things really began to change and finally make sense.
There is an old and classic Zen proverb that "When the pupil is ready the teacher will appear". My introduction to meditation through a reliable teacher had such and initial and ongoing effect on my life, that I still practice every day. But I had to practice long enough for 'the miracle to happen' so to speak. This is because I came to realize an effective relief to suffering. This also opened an experience of what is known in Buddhism as The four Noble Truths, which explains the discovery and acknowledgement of many types of suffering, as well as the direct pathway out of it.
For example, The Second Noble Truth explains that the Origin of Suffering is our thirst for sensual pleasures like money and power, as well as obsessions for continued existence and annihilation. It also points to a thirst for knowledge so we can compare and measure our egos with each other. From here we can be the superior or inferior, or anything else we can mentally form up, ridicule or destroy. This was a precise description of my own path, until, through Zen practice, I finally experienced another way of viewing the world.
A favourite Buddhist story is one about Malunkyaputta, who was a disciple of The Historical Buddha. He complained to The Buddha that he had not addressed some of the most important questions of life. Is the world eternal? Is the soul the same as the body? And so on..... The Buddha replied with a story . . .
"A man is wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends and relatives brought a surgeon to him. The wounded man said I will not let the surgeon pull out this arrow until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble, a brahman, a merchant or a worker. I will not let the surgeon pull out the arrow until I know the clan of the man who wounded me..... until I know if he was tall or short or of middle height.... until I know if the bow that wounded me was a longbow or a crossbow....until I know whether, the bowstring that wounded me was of fibre or reed or sinew or bark. All this would not be known to the man and he would die."
The Buddha concluded: " ... there are those who insist they must know the answers to speculative questions about the nature of reality before starting to live the holy life. Such questions are not beneficial to the real task, which is the cessation of suffering."
For me, this story points to the heart of Zen. The way of 'seeing' begins with 'experience' rather than having to know all the answers. The experience that life can be dislocated, flawed, impermanent and unsatisfactory can really just be another set of topics for the mind to find out why? This again, is just the incessant 'Monkey Mind' jumping from tree to tree to discover new fruit.
In Zen there is nowhere to go, nothing to find out and nothing to be. We remain a beginner in the cosmos of our true nature. Forever.
And so with practice, I discovered the pathway out of suffering. In the ultimate reality of who I am, and the interconnectedness of who we are, there exists no notion of a destructive reality. There is only the experience of 'the unanimous' which cannot be labeled, formed into a construction, or described in words. It just is! It is the only reality that exists.
And so from this reality, I'm still sober! But which part of me thinks I'm sober?