Monday, April 27, 2009

Like A Rock

A Sage doesn't glitter like a polished jewel

but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,

as rugged and common as a stone.

Lao Tzu

When I read this today it made me stop and think about some of the teachers I have had in sages. None of my teachers, both in Zen and Budo looked like polished jewels. They all had rugged rough edges and if you met them on the street you would think nothing special.

Shihan Dean always looked like he just got out of bed and I swore if you put a clean neatly pressed Gi on him it would immediately get wrinkled upon touching his body. And his belt (obi) never looked like he tied it the same way twice. To look at him, nothing much. But to work with him over time and let him teach you was wonderful and as I look back, priceless. More priceless than a jewel.

Our Dojo was never anything real fancy. Only until this year the Rhinelander Dojo was an itinerant one, renting place to place. For awhile I thought perhaps we only used condemned buildings for our Dojo since the early buildings we practiced in were torn down.
I contrast this to the fancy dancy dojo's of modern time. I don't mean to disparage them, for they do help foster good values and continue the art, but there is something about them needing to be 'the shining jewel' and have everyone look at them and give them praise. Enough said.

Nonin, my Zen teacher, refuses to be called Roshi. (Roshi, today, is a title for Zen Master, even though it means 'old man') He sees himself as a common priest. But I will let you in on a secret...He's a priest with an attitude. If you ever pick up the book, "Thank You and Okay...An American Zen Failure in Japan" by David Chadwick, you can read about Nonin. He's one of the priests Chadwick meets on his journey into Japan. Chadwick changed Nonin's name to Norman for the book's purpose and I know Nonin proofread it before it went to publishing. Nonin was a bit of a headache to the Japanese priests. It's a good and funny book. It shows a rough and rugged side of Nonin others rarely see.

I recommend taking a look at your life. Do you want to be the big shining jewel or be common like a stone? I bet most of us want to be that shining jewel, glittering and being the center of attention. It is okay to have some of those moments to develop self-esteem, but over time it must be balanced. I know I still have those ego-related moments, but then I simply look to my mentors, my common stones. Rough and shaped rugged by the winds and waves of time. Shapped by the Tao. This helps bring me back to earth where I feel grounded. Like a rock.
Take Care,


  1. Minimalist dojo:
    1. Master's picture
    2. Broomstick in ½ gallon jug of cement
    3. Mop

    Yes, I know what you mean.

  2. I had this funny feeling you would. Great to hear from you.

  3. 'Nothing special.' Rather amazing, actually.