Quotes for Contemplation / 11-15 of 18
On Spiritual Materialism and the Dusty, Windswept Lay Zen of Kuma-Sensei
Greetings Good Travelers and Wayfarers.
I wanted to share a few other quotes from Kuma-sensei, but one of these needs a little explanation because it makes reference to a few things that may not make immediate sense to everyone. I’ll go ahead and share the quotes and then I’ll offer a bit of commentary.
The first quote is fairly self-explanatory.
This next Kuma quote is kind of an inside joke, and for it to make any sense requires another quote, specifically from a master swordsman and Zen master named Yamaoka Tesshu (1836-1888).
First, Master Tesshu’s quote, followed by Kuma-sensei’s quote, and then an explanation.
There is so much baked into this little phrase: “Rub-a-dub-dub.” It became a kind of “pointing-out instruction” at times — and quite often with me, I might add, at one point in my development.
In the context of Kuma-sensei, if she observed someone becoming too hard-nosed, rigid, and overly serious about Zen, she would invoke the quote of Yamaoka Tesshu about “washing off the soap of Zen” and then she’d follow that up by saying, “Rub-a-dub-dub”; her way of saying the person needed to wash off the “stink of Zen” and get back to “No-Adding-To-Mind.”
She wanted people to be earnest and focused on their practice, of course, to develop “good practice exertion” and “practice-equilibrium”, because of its undeniable benefits —inner and outer, but she deplored “macho-Zen”, religious extremism, and myopic fundamentalism of all kinds — including Buddhist.
Equally problematic in her eye was what the ego can sometimes do to spirituality, creating a kind of false, shimmery world of elitism and escapism — what the late Chögyam Trungpa (1939-1987) coined as “spiritual materialism” in his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.
So, in guiding others, Kuma did her part to offset the “fantasy factory” that could emerge in those of us who might fall under the “spell” of self-absorbed concern about how one’s involvement in spirituality makes one appear to the world (which, though a predictable and developmental stage in spiritual formation, is almost always a sign of over-compensation). As a kind of antivenin to the poison of spiritual narcissism, Kuma would sometimes say:
One of the more pointed “Quest-I-On Questions” I remember Kuma-sensei posing in one of her small circles up in the mountains of Colorado early on was an antidote to such spiritual puffery. It went like this:
“What would your spirituality be
if no one ever knew about it?
What would you call your path
if you could use no words?
Is the path nourishment enough?
— Darion Kuma Gracen
On the heels of hearing that one, I penned the following poem:
“The Question Mark Itself Is A Map”
Back when I was a Way-Seeker,
hunger was my only companion.
Then I heard the challenge:
Drop your history!
Starve the self!
Learn to live on a morsel of rice for a year!
I’ve been traveling
toward the silent edge of the world ever since,
dining on the one true meal
prepared for wandering ghosts.
— Frank Inzan Owen
Kuma was not one for the limelight. She was a hermit-soul who had no interest in fame, large book contracts, jumping onto the spiritual lecture circuit, or amassing vast crowds of groupies and followers. Anonymity was her “jam” and her effervescent, impermanence-minded form of lay-Zen embedded within daily life was expressed in her nickname for her high-desert zendō in Santa Fe: “The Dust in the Wind School.”
Like most authentic Wayfarers, her true nourishment came from silence, solitude, and Nature, not notoriety. In fact, she didn’t have time or interest in most “pop-Dharma.” In the cases of those Zen roshis and Tibetan “high” lamas getting into various scandals over the years due to their inability to “keep it in their pants,” she would just shake her head and say, “Rub-a-dub-dub.”
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