July 11, 2019

Just as the changing color of a single leaf reveals the arrival of autumn, understanding the individual can lead to an understanding of the Collective. * I don’t know a lot of Buddhist monks. Before I edited Just Use This Mind, my exposure to monks in general was limited to some kind Catholic men who came out of the desert to attend my mother-in-law’s funeral years ago. An aura of mystery surrounded them, and while I can’t remember if their robes were brown or black, if they were from the part of the Church known for scholarship or for good works, I do remember the feeling of awe I had. These were men of ritual, men of ancient practice, men who knew things that it would take me several lifetimes to understand. But, it didn’t seem an appropriate place to exercise my intellectual and spiritual curiosity, so I didn’t get to know them, and they went back into seclusion. Sometimes I would toy with the idea of going up to their monastery and just being silent with them, the way my mother-in-law had. But I figured it wouldn’t be allowed since I’m not Catholic. My understanding of monks, like my experience with most fascinating subjects, seemed destined to come only from the pages of books. About a year ago I learned that not only was I going to edit a book by Miao Tsan–a Zen monk, and a Venerable Master, no less–but also that I would have the opportunity to go to his monastery and spend time discussing his philosophies at length. Intrigue immediately turned to anxiety, the chattering monkeys of uncontrolled thought: What will I talk to him about? What will I wear? Does it matter that I teach Sunday School? Does it matter that I never read Siddhartha? The questions and the self-judgement about my lack of expertise about Miao Tsan’s world had me quite worked up. Now, I have spent countless hours working with his text, moving the translation from the original English version which was very close to the Chinese in syntax–lyrical, formal and quite lovely, but difficult for American readers more used to straightforward, clear language–into something that allows readers like me to access his teachings. And I have spent countless hours talking to Miao Tsan about his ideas, meeting other monks, drinking amazing Chinese tea and realizing how far from the truth my initial thoughts about the nature of monks were. My anxiety about the initial encounter was a big waste of time. I’m learning more about Miao Tsan each time I work with his words. And I’m learning more about the truth. And the truth is, I have a lot to learn. * p.27, Just Use This Mind