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irregular times logoFinding Enlightenment in the Monastery of Detachment

Before I came to the monastery and attained enlightenment, I was in the habit of asking many questions. I expected that with enough work, I could find answers to all of these questions. I was so arrogant that I expected the world to make sense, and to submit to my demands for understanding.

I was, as my master would later tell me, a slave to the dancing monkey of my own mind.

Since that time, I have come to realize that logic is nothing more than a trap, a beguiling seducer that keeps us chained to the world of causation. Rational argument, I know now, is a grand illusion.

It took many years to break me of my attachment to facts and reasons. My master was forced to use all the tools at his disposal in order to liberate me. Of all his spiritual tools, the most powerful was the koan.

A koan is like a great spiritual riddle, a master's challenge to a student who has become overly fond of intelligent consideration. In response to a koan, a student will struggle to come up with a solution, but will discover, time and time again, that the solutions do not work. The moment of epiphany that a koan is designed to provoke comes with the realization that there is no solution but to abandon the structures of the mind's rational consideration of the world.

My master tried all the koans he knew with me. He started with the most famous koan of all: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" I was too clever for that one. I just answered the challenge by raising one hand in the air and clapping the fingers against the palm.

"That's not right," my master said.

"It is too," I responded.

"Is not," retorted the master.

"Is so," said I.

At that point, my master temporarily lost his enlightenment as a result of his frustration with me. It took him 5 months to get it back, and I had to wait in the meantime.

It was in 2004 that, after eleven years of fruitless challenges with all the koans known to the enlightened ones, my master finally broke through the resistance of my rational mind with one simple koan he improvised after reading the morning newspaper. "How is it," he asked me, "that the Republicans can defend marriage by refusing to allow people to get married?"

defend marriage hypocrisyI was sure that I would be able to come up with an answer, just as I always had before, but no response immediately came to mind. I went for a walk through the halls of the monastery. Yet, no answer came. I sat on a great stone in the rock garden, and thought as my eyes focused on the subtle patterns in the pebbles before me. Yet, no answer came. I stood in front of the great pool and watched the intersecting ripples of rain drops on the water's surface. Yet, no answer came.

I was confused. My rational mind could make no sense of the matter. No matter how I diagrammed the logical arguments the challenge came down to the following conundrum: The Republicans claimed to be defending marriage by making it illegal for people to get married. It was as absurd as a plan to fight hunger by withholding food, or an economic development agenda based upon blocking access to financial resources. I was determined to make sense of it, and yet it was completely contrary to all sense.

My breakthrough came as I was walking through the forest outside the monastery wall. I climbed to the top of a hill, hoping for a clear view, but before I reached the summit, I stepped on a fallen twig, heard it snap it two, and stopped. I realized my simple mistake at once.

The problem was that I had been expecting to find an answer to the question that made sense. It suddenly occurred to me that this simple matter of Republican policy transcended the world of opposites in which sense can be separated from nonsense. The implications shocked me, and yet I felt the power of their liberation. There is no difference between yes and no. There is no difference between high and low. There is no difference between rational discussion and the babble of a baby.

I reached my enlightenment at that moment, and have been living in bliss ever since. I returned to my master, who repeated the koan: "How is it that the Republicans can defend marriage by refusing to allow people to get married?"

I merely sat there and smiled in silence. I had finally understood that there is no point in trying to make sense of a world that is so tragically answered in chaos, loss and destruction. I learned that enlightenment is knowing when to surrender in the fight for reason.

Now, when the Republicans say that they're going to defend marriage by making sure that people can't get married, I don't get upset. I just sit there silently and smile. When the Republicans say that they're going to launch a new war for peace, I don't protest. I just sit there silently and smile. When the Republicans tell me that I have to sacrifice my freedom in order to protect my freedom, I don't bother to argue about it. I just chant a little mantra to Ohmland Security and don't fuss about the details of it all. I'm too busy to bother with making sense. I'm enlightened, after all.

Oh, blissful, blissful me.


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