Why I hate Zen Buddhism

… Or ‘The Trouble with Transcendence’…

A few years ago, my life was absolute chaos. Writing, working, running a bar, raising a small child and trying to avoid an untimely death at the paws of a psychotically happy puppy, I was a stress-bunny’s poster boy. Anyone unlucky enough to have caught a glimpse inside my head at that time would have seen the early stages of Hieronymus Bosch’s famous ‘Train Crash at Tooting Broadway’ taking shape.

I’d tried everything; ‘The Sixteen Habits of Ultra-Effective People’, ‘Ten Time Saving Techniques for Bar Owning Parents with Writing Aspirations’, ‘Madame Wa’s Oriental Guide to Happiness through Knives’, but none of them had helped. Even ‘Life For Dummies’, my go-to resource for handy tips on navigating the ebb and flow of daily existence had failed me. I was in trouble. And with the lifejacket of sanity leaking badly and the inflation tube of reason unsurprisingly blocked, I was in imminent danger of going down for the third time and not re-emerging to tell this tale.

Stone steps - Rob Gregory Author

The journey of a thousand steps begins with a steep climb… it figures.

And then I saw them. Mixed in amongst the travelling evangelists with their white shirts and bicycles (like that’s going to save the world), the New-Age druids and the Hip-Hop Choristers, they swept through the crowd like two bare-headed Knights clad only in orange robes. Possessed of an almost angelic serenity, they smiled at me and in that moment, I saw only peace and hope in their eyes for my addled brain.

Two monk Parakeets coloured orange - Rob Gregory Author

Brothers Koan and Zen, in their parakeet aspect.

The taller of the two introduced himself as Leonard Koan, while the smaller one referred to himself, somewhat cryptically, as Ben Zen. They were monks travelling on a pilgrimage of enlightenment, offering their services to troubled souls, like mine, that they happened upon in the gutter of existence. So, in the same way as a fish in a bowl seeks the open space of the ocean beyond, I took their hands and began my spiritual journey towards enlightenment.

Two goldfish in orange water - Rob Gregory Author

Barry – I wonder what’s out there? Errol – Why is this water orange? Have you been..?

It was not an easy journey. My days began at five in the morning and involved a lot of running up and down mountains, cooking rice one grain at a time and cleaning the food bowls of my mentors. In between were the lessons, most of which involved me either trying to persuade people to get out of the snow without touching them, discovering the middle names of the four winds, or covering myself with sandals. I never really worked out what that last one was about, but even now, I still have an aversion to open-toed footwear.

Tree perched on the side of a mountain - Rob Gregory Author

If a tree falls off a mountainside, does anyone really care apart from the person that’s standing underneath it?

In between admonishments, which were frequent because I was not a gifted student, and which generally took the form of taunts such as ‘your original face was a chicken’s scrotum’, I would sit cross-legged on a pointed stick and discuss the why of the world with Master Koan. Then after sweeping the floor of the cave with a blade of grass and tickling Master Zen’s bottom with a pigeon’s feather (nothing spiritual about that, he just liked it), I would finish my bowl of cold rice and retire to contemplate the day’s teachings and pray for enlightenment to find me.

And then it did… One day, when I’d just about had enough of being pontificated to by Master Zen, I suddenly snapped and yelled at the pair of them: “You can shove your broken mirrors up your backsides! I’ve had enough of this! Enlightenment isn’t about sitting in a cave. It’s right back where I started!”

No sooner were the words out of my mouth than Master Koan stood up and gave me a right hook that almost knocked my teeth loose. Then, he composed himself and folding his arms in front of him, he looked at Master Zen and said: “Our work here is done. Finally, the student is the master.” And with that, they both gave me the same knowing smile that they had on the first day that I’d met them and vanished in a puff of slightly suspicious herbal smelling smoke.

White buddhist temple - Rob Gregory Author

The road to enlightenment is a long and difficult one.

And now I’m enlightened, which is why I hate Zen Buddhism. While I was studying, my mind was still in turmoil, a swirling maelstrom of conflicting thought that, somewhat ironically, gave rise to my creative talents. But with Nirvana came peace. And with peace, came silence. No more conflict, no more crazy juxtapositions, no more chaos… no more creativity.

Not that it actually matters anymore. You see, now that I’m at one with the universe, everything that I write, or could possibly ever write, will be read by everyone else in the universe at the exact moment that I put pen to paper. And if anyone actually bought anything that I’d written, then because we are all one and the same, we’d all get richer by the same amount. It’s an awful, but inescapable truth, at least when you’re as Zenned up as I am.

So now I just spend my days wandering around supermarkets, scaring unsuspecting shoppers with a smug, all-knowing smile on my face or occasionally hang around forests, listening for falling trees. All in all, it’s not a bad existence and I get by just fine. But I’ll tell you one thing, enlightened or not. If that guy with one arm doesn’t stop clapping, then I’m going to go over and give him such a kick up the arse that he won’t know what hit him!


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