zen smells

Zen can get pretty twisted.  As I go along trying to be creative with my practice, I find myself getting caught in the twists and turns of form and freedom.  Some time ago in sangha, we had an implosion that resulted from a multiplicity of unspoken expectations.  Too much form, too little form, too much sitting, too little sitting, too much talk, too little talk.  We put all the desires into a pot one day and cooked up a mess that reminded me of a durian – rank and requiring significant fortitude to ingest.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of smelling (and you of great courage who have eaten) a durian, it is an experience that is difficult to describe.  Frank used to make fresh durian ice cream – or what The Kid called “dirty socks ice cream.”  When she was able to drive and there was any indication of durian in the home, she would vanish for days, leaving no forwarding address.   The smell of a durian fruit is so powerful that restaurants in the Far East have banned serving it and apparently there are “no durian allowed” signs found in many places.

Me, I love durian and could eat it all day long which makes me somewhat desensitized to the stench of form.  And truth be know, I like my stinky form of Zen.  It goes like this:

Practice is like picking up a durian; it can hurt.  Practice, like the durian, is covered with pointy, pokey, hard thorns that aren’t going to give just because I have soft, tender skin.  There’s an art to hoisting practice without getting impaled by my unskillfulness.  That art is acquired by entering the zendo just as I would a roomful of people given truth serum.  I’m going to hear about what is smelly, see what is rank, and – if I persist – taste the nectar of the fruit in brief moments.  Sometimes, it may well be people who impale me on the pointy end of practice; usually it will be the various inanimate teachers – the cushion I toss onto the mat, the mat I kick with my feet, the butt I stick in the air as I pick up a chant card, the look, sigh, clench of jaw as something or someone invades my mental space.

If I want to leave the zendo without looking like an overused pincushion, I’m going to have to learn how to pick up that prickly durian of practice.  It starts with stopping: at the entrance of the zendo, at the mat, at the cushion, at the moment of walking, turning, sitting back down.  The art of picking up the durian of practice is in letting these pinpoints rest lightly on the raw skin of my life.  It is in resisting the desire to close my life around the thick thorns in the belief that if I can grab it, I can heave it up onto the cutting board, cleave it open and get to the meat of things.

It means bowing, lighting incense, chanting, reciting the sutras, following the format of council because all this hardens the skin and strengthens the muscle of awareness.  It is committing to picking up that fruit over and over no matter how heavy, how painful, how smelly the forms get.

Someone once asked me, “What’s the point of practice?”

The answer: “Anything that impales your delusion.”

Thank you for practicing,


9 thoughts on “zen smells

  1. Given the choice, I’d reach for a banana (over a durian) any time. Bananas are so easy – the peel slips right off, and a ripe one sorta melts in the mouth – just sweetness.

    Given the choice, I’d rather remain in bed than get up and sit on my cushion. It’s so warm and fuzzy in bed, nothing to do or think. Just doze.

    But…there are so darn many delusions to impale. So I get up, get a banana, get on the cushion, and get to the impaling of my own prickliness.

    • Barry! It’s easier to impale a banana than to be impaled by one. Have you ever seen what Jon Kabat-Zinn does to a banana – all in the service of showing dimensions hidden from our perception? (Take a banana and stick your finger into one end and s..l..o..w..l..y push so that the banana separates into it’s hidden dimensions… hopefully mush isn’t one.. :twisted:)

  2. I love a tasty metaphor and this is one! But I have to say I get hung up in the prickles of dogma, hierarchy, manifestations of ego, and sexism that are hiding in the prickles. Sometimes its hard to separate delusion from truth. I do the best I can but am never sure how close to the truth that ever gets.

    • I’m with you on the issue of all things hidden. It’s an ugly truth that seems to exist in communities and remain rank and stinky. Sometimes the forms cover the rotted fruit. Interestingly, as I read your comment, I realized that I take refuge in the forms because they can be free of the Ego, Cult of Personality, and all the other prickly stuff.

    • Oh… do you like durian??? I’m sending hubby to Chinatown today for some fresh. He bought the one I took the picture of to the Dark Forces and they didn’t listen to him when he said, “Open with HazMat gear on!”

      • I love it, and think it’s the greatest fruit ever! It has a strong fragrance all its own, but I don’t get the revulsion that some people have towards it. I wonder if it really isn’t some kind of brain receptor!
        I was in Thailand last year and my only regret is that I missed the durian season. Though they did have durian ice cream, which I’d never tried before and found wonderful.

  3. That was an awesome post. As a piece of writing it was a real joy to read. And I really like how 108ZenBooks handles some rather nebulous topics. It’s so easy to lose your audience in the minutae. Anyway, I came here to say muito muito bon, and a heartfelt thanks to the author.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.