Rigidigong. Rigidigong. Gong. Gong. The small bell rings softly. I enter into the smoky incense filled room where the forty and something-year old Swiss German Zen master sits motionless in a full Lotus posture. His body is covered in the fine robes of an eminent authority. He wears a black kimono, most likely imported from Japan than bought at some local cheap martial arts shop. He appears to be in a deep meditative state. His eyes are closed. His face – relaxed and peaceful. A few yellowish candles burn next to the small Buddha statuette behind his vertical torso. On his right I notice the small ritual bell. It vibrates no more. A wooden stick about two and a half feet long lies to his left. Old Japanese books, which, thanks be to God, had been translated and interpreted into colonial English tongue, mention that the wooden stick in the Japanese Zen monasteries was designed purely for the purpose of beating the crap out of insolent students who ask too much questions and stick their nose into business which is not theirs. If a student’s mind could not be silenced with a koan like “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” or “why is my leg like the leg of a donkey?”, he was to be beaten with a wooden stick and thus forcibly humbled to dust, tears and blood. But in our sanitized Western world of human rights and Geneva conventions, the sole manifest purpose of the wooden stick has been limited to the symbolic realm. Western Zen was a vaccinated spirituality and an emancipated religion, in which the wooden stick was never used as an instrument of torture or punishment. It was only a symbol. A symbol of the spiritual authority of the teacher. But in the sacred halls of meditation, where enlightenment was usually attained, sometimes the wooden stick came in handy to straighten out the crooked spines of enthusiastic practitioners. At other times the stick was used as a gentle corrective tool to keep spiritual seekers awake when they fell asleep during the intensive, prolonged meditative sessions.
Be it as it may, after entering the interview room with all it sticks, candles and Buddhas, I bowed my head to greet the master and knelt down on the pillow, which was strategically placed opposite to his latex meditation mattress on which he now sat and meditated . He opened his eyes and smiled warmly as if he were looking at some god. So the mondo began.
“Show me your original face before your mother was born.” I shot the first bullet. I quoted the classic Zen koan in a naive hope to outwit the old fox and to put him in his place, wherever that may be.
“Hahaha.” He laughs and says: “Here it is. Where is yours?”
“I have none.”, I reply coolly like a stone cold assassin.
“Okay. Hahaha.”, his laughter is contagious and now we are both laughing. “Hahaha“.
“Was this your question?“, he attempts to take control of the conversation. Bastard!
“What?“, I pretend that I have not heard him and that I have problems with my ears.
“Was this your question?“, he repeats.
I exhale loudly and pause for a few seconds to shoot my second bullet. “There is another question. Why is it so important to meditate or why are you meditating?”
“Why am I meditating?”, he repeats quietly the question to himself. “Well, we could also go somewhere else and have a beer.”
“Hahaha“, having expected this answer of a snake, I laugh. Artificially, of course.
“Why is it so important to meditate?“, he continues. “I can tell you my personal story. Back in the day, meditation helped me to deal with grief and sorrows. And then I just noticed how it does me good“.
“Hmm…is it so…?“, I wanted to ask whether meditation is so comforting to him but he interrupted me in between and said: “I was at my first Sesshin and since then I knew that it was mine.”
“And since then you are on this path?”
“And since then I am on this path.”, he nodded.
“Have you never had any doubts?”
“Au contraire. Hahaha.“, he burst into a gentle laughter, then quickly gathered himself and added the following wisdom: “Yes, but in the meantime, so to say, the practice of meditation has taken the upper hand. So many hours I have spent and meditated. And somehow these doubts, so to say, appear only at the surface. They have little power.”
“Mhmm.“, I nodded, though in my mind I have already categorized him as an incurable, brain-damaged or brainwashed fanatic.
“And doubts are a core component of human beings. It is normal to doubt, to doubt everything, but at the same time it is important to be certain of one’s doubts. These are the two polarities, a pair of opposites – to doubt and to be certain of one’s doubts. And Zen is beyond doubts and certainty.”
“Mhmm…“, I mumble to myself and then shoot my third bullet. “Do you think that Zen is a universal method that is suited for each and every one of us? Or would you rather say that not everyone can reap the benefits from this spiritual technology?”
“You’ve got me there! I mean, there are plenty of spiritual paths and there are people who are not interested in spirituality. But people who are interested in spirituality, they find, so to say, something that does them good, that helps them and that fits them. If one has no interest in spirituality or if one has not chosen any spiritual path, that is okay too. It all depends on people themselves. As for me, I have many friends who have no interest in spirituality whatsoever.”
“Hahaha.” We both laugh. Isn’t it strange that spiritual people have aspiritual friends? Coincidentia oppositorum. The path of Zen. Funny. NOT!
“Okay. As I understand so far you have invested in this path not only your time, but your intellect and other things.”
“Yes.“, he whispers quietly.
“And then somehow…?”
He interrupts me abruptly. “I wrote my dissertation at the university on this topic.”
“Yes, on the research of mysticism.”
“Research of mysticism?”
“Mhmm.”, he nods.
“Mhmm.“, I synchronize our speech patterns and then shoot my fourth bullet. “What kind of mysticism?”
“Well, what interested me was the question: Since when was mysticism and mystical experiences studied in the academic milieu – psychology of religion, psychology in general, sociology, philosophy? I come rather from a philosophical background and I have dealt with this question extensively. There is a fusion, you know, the whole philosophia perennis.”
“Mhmm. Yes.“, I nodded like a young virgin girl.
“All that…These things I have studied a bit. In my dissertation I tried to present the arguments from the Anglo-Saxon debate.“, he continued.
“And what did you find through all this research? What was the conclusion of your research? Was there any conclusion to be made or…?”
“Ehmm, well, my dissertation had the following tittle: The research of mysticism between materialism, naturalism and… wait, what was the third… oh, yes, metaphysics. There are inner worldly approaches, which explain mysticism neurologically, physiologically and the like.”
“Mhmm.” I nodded. I had studied the writings of mystics for a while myself. I could easily pretend that I was an expert in the field.
“There are so many perspectives, sociologically, etcetera. [The Zen master really spoke in this this incoherent manner.] And then the other kind of approaches – rather theological, metaphysical, idealistic ones. My primary interest was to look at how and why academic research went into that direction and then moved into another direction and what arguments this research had; what were the main concepts of the theory. I represented a scientifically theoretico-critical viewpoint. I made the history of Anglo-Saxon debate of mysticism available for us in the German speaking countries.”
“What do you mean with the Anglo-Saxon debate of mysticism? Philosophia perennis?”
“Theories about mysticism. I was interested in that. Not the particular comparisons between Meister Eckhart and Vedanta or Dogen.”
“Were you not interested in the mystics themselves? Did you focus only on the academic theories about mysticism?”
“No. Not the theories about mysticism, but theories about Eckhart, about Vedanta. Theories about Zen and Buddhism. I was interested in that and what kind of approaches the scholars and researchers had chosen for their studies.”
“That sounds very interesting.”, I lied for I was bored to death. I had read a few books of similar nature and I had no intention to read the bloody dissertation of this freak, but out of sheer politeness and respect for the man, I asked, “Where one can read your dissertation? Is it published anywhere?“
“Yes, it is accessible at the university of Munich.“
“Well, thanks very much. Hahaha.” I am grateful and I laugh for no apparent reason and I add: “Unfortunately I had not prepared any deep questions for you.”
“That is okay.”
“But one more question.”
“When will the first snow come?”
“Let’s hope it will come soon.“
The mondo was over. I bowed and left. Rigidigong. Rigidigong. Gong. Gong. The small bell once again rang softly. And some other student, seeker or aspirant went into the interview room to chat with the master. But only yours truly had managed to sneak in with a Dictaphone hidden in his shirt pocket. I gathered evidence. Undetected. Unenlightened.