ashland.news
June 13, 2024

Inner Peace: The Zen master

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
February 9, 2024

This spiritual teacher left a lasting impression, but not in a good way

By Annie Katz

Many of my favorite spiritual teachers are ones I know through books. Some, like Lao Tzu and Gautama Buddha, died centuries ago. Many others are contemporary teachers. I first learned about meditation from a yoga book in 1966, when Eastern healing practices were being introduced more widely in the West.

Annie Katz
Annie Katz

The first meditation teacher I met in person was an old monk from Korea. That was back in 1972, at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus outside of Honolulu. I was taking psychology classes there for fun while my husband was stationed on a submarine based in Pearl Harbor. I’d seen a flyer advertising a visiting Zen master, and I wanted to learn more about meditation, so I showed up in a big open room on campus at sunrise on the appointed day. I was there with about 25 other students in shorts and T-shirts who were eager to meet a real meditation teacher from the East.

The Zen master was a small, fierce-looking monk in gray robes who carried a big stick, like a staff you’d see in the paintings of biblical shepherds. He didn’t speak English and the young monk who translated for him didn’t speak much English either.

After a short, confusing talk, something about apparent reality not being the real reality, the teacher had us sit cross-legged in a big circle facing out with our backs straight and our eyes open. We were told to be perfectly still for an hour. I don’t remember any other instructions. We did our best while the teacher walked around the inner part of the big circle behind us. He hit people on the back with his stick if he thought they weren’t sitting up straight enough. After a few people got whacked, we all sat up as straight and still as statues. I was too afraid to blink, even with the sun in my eyes, and I barely breathed for fear of the little old man and his big stick.

After about 20 minutes, the young woman beside me fainted and fell over into my lap. Her head rested on my thigh. I was too scared to move, so I let her be. A few minutes later she regained consciousness, sat up straight, and continued to do as instructed until the bell sounded to signal the end of the sit.

We cautiously moved to more comfortable positions. The monk indicated we could ask questions, and one man did. The young monk’s efforts to translate the question for the Zen master and then again to translate the answer back to the man showed the rest of us that asking questions might be futile.

When we were released, I got out of there as fast as possible, grateful to be unharmed. I went back to relying on books for spiritual information and instruction. It was many years before I was brave enough to seek out another meditation teacher in person. And the idea of being in the same room with a Zen master still frightens me.

Early in my teaching career I came across the philosophy that knowledge was transmitted through love, the love that naturally flows between teachers and their students and their mutual love for the subjects they are studying together. That has certainly been true in my life. Love, not fear, works best for me, as a student and as a teacher.

I look for teachers who embody truth, love and kindness. I feel very fortunate when I find such teachers, in-person teachers or teachers I know only through their books. I’ve trusted the wrong people sometimes, but as soon as I realize my mistake, I return to the path of truth, love and kindness.

Annie Katz is a retired educator living in Ashland. She has studied philosophy and spiritual practices all her life and now writes novels for fun. Readers may contact Annie at katzannie33@gmail.com.

Want to contribute? Send 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Richard Carey (rcarey009@gmail.com).

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Jim

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