Challenge #4 (click on the link to see a picture of the rebel and the monk. Who is the rebel? Who is the monk?)

Rebel or monk—is there a place in Zen for rebels as well as monks? Maybe we need to fall down out of our grand rebellion and be ordinary. Or maybe we need to shake things up—drive out complacency and inertia with the cayenne of bright revolt. Let your inner rebel or your inner monk speak.

Alan the Rebel-Monk
(Katherine Moore)

“I am a total jerk.”

“Yes you are! You put your foot in your mouth with that one!”

“How was I supposed to know?”

“You just had to share some of that enlightened Derek philosophy.”

“Anita, how is Alan a monk? He goes and visits this church or a temple or what-have-you in the old steak house next to the liquor store and then three weeks later he’s telling me he’s a monk. What is that supposed to mean?”

“Well according to your wisdom, it means he either can’t deal with normal life and has to lock himself away in a temple or he’s on an ego trip trying to prove how morally superior he is to everyone.”

“Yeah, thanks for the heads up. I wouldn’t have said that to him if I would have known he taken monk vows.”

“I think they are called precepts. And I am sorry. It was wrong of me. I just really wanted to see the look on your face when Alan broke the news. And I’m sorry again, but it was totally worth it! You just sat there with your mouth hanging open in shock!”

“I don’t even know why this surprises me. We are talking about Alan, the guy who ran away with the carnival last summer. In all reality, this is more normal. Instead of getting a phone call from Indiana that the carnie folk haven’t paid him in a month and he has no money to get home, I’m just going to get a phone call from the old Black Angus that he needs a ride home since he no longer drives and it’s raining.”

“Don’t be so pessimistic. This could be good for him. He’s given up drinking and smoking and eating meat. Maybe he’s just trying to change his life for the better.”

“He’s changing too much at once. He’s setting himself up for failure. Moreover I really think if you take a vow to not drive, you shouldn’t be asking me for a ride back to your house.”

“Oh stop. It’s not like you were put out. He only lives a few minutes away.”

“Exactly! If you took a vow to not drive, walk home! That’s all I’m saying. . . Besides Alan is doing this both because he has a problem dealing with the real world and because he wants to act morally superior over other people. So it’s not like my philosophy is wrong.”

“I don’t think that’s it. I think he really wants to make life changes and he’s found a support group to help him through that change.”

“At the Black Angus Temple? Next to the liquor store? Give me a break. That is not a religious group. Those are modern day non-profit squatters.”

Anita laughs at this and says, “I really don’t know what to think about the temple he’s joined. He seemed to rebel against religion so strongly in the past. Why he would embrace religion or more specifically this group of people at this point in his life does confuse me.”

“Well . . . I would be worried that this was a cult out to get all Alan’s life savings, but then I know Alan doesn’t have any money. So I guess they just like his company.”

“Oh our Alan. Always doing some crazy thing. He keeps us on our toes.”

“Great. Our rebel monk. Can’t wait to see how this plays out.”

(Bruce Smith)

What we are called to, I think, is life as rebel-monks. At least, this has long been a powerful draw for me when it comes to this both/and, neither/nor tradition called Zen: that it straddles, bridges, melts, and blows up dichotomies such as rebel versus monk. We who practice are rebels in swimming against the cultural mainstream, straying from the herd of convention, coloring outside the lines of our conditioning. Yet we also require the discipline, community, and contemplativeness of monks in order to transform rebellion into growth and positive action. We wage an ordinary, daily revolt, wrestling with conceptions and direct experience, bodies and minds, time and space. Are we rebels? Are we monks? Who are we when we sit and face the wall, and just breathe?

All is Well
(Quandra T. McGrue)

This month’s topic reminds me of a discussion I had with myself one night. I asked myself if people are inherently good or bad. Since I let go of religion, I hadn’t figured out how to answer this question. I felt frustrated because I thought a reasonable argument could support either viewpoint. I wanted an answer but had no real basis on which to choose the right answer. Then, I thought about how I act when I’m assuming the people around me are inherently good. The issue, I decided, isn’t whether either position is right. I have since chosen to believe people are inherently good because it motivates better behavior on my part. I think I am a better person when I’m trusting the goodness in others.

That said, I think I would apply a similar thought process to this idea of whether there’s a place for the rebel and the monk in Zen. I think the question of whether there’s a place for either is moot because periodically one or the other will surface. Once either role has surfaced, its presence has already affirmed its place. In response, I need to muster the highest level of awareness and wisdom I can. I need to attend to the rebel or monk that’s here, now. Either one rises because it needs my attention, or it’s pointing me to something that needs my attention. My compassionate attention. It’s helpful to practice compassionate presence with whatever arises. It’s not a matter of one role being intrinsically appropriate. Every experience or state can serve awakening to the extent I’m present with it. Any state, in my practice, is less harmful to the extent that I cultivate compassion along with my sense of presence.

I like the quote at the end of Kosho’s email signature: “It’s not outside. It’s not inside. It’s not both inside and outside. It’s not neither outside nor inside. Everything’s a mess, yet all is well.” (Ezra Bayda)

The Choice
(Michael McCarty)

Between the rebel and the monk, it seems the choice, at least for me, is one of expediency. In my lifetime I have been both; though, in looking back, it is difficult to fully distinguish between the two. That line of separation has blurred somewhat, not because of passing time, but because of a greater awareness.

Yes, while I was in the moment, I owned the perception of what I thought was a clear distinction between the two and I embraced each with equal and separate excess. As a rebel I tested boundaries, pushing the line as far as possible indulging in eccentric behavior ... and as a monk I explored the paradigm of self-centricity through detachment. The rebel in me sought truth in contrast, in terms of black and white ... and the monk in me sought truth in homogeneity, in infinite shades of grey.

As I look back now I can relate to the concept of adaptive strategy relative to those instances of excess as expedient means. You’ve heard the expression, “The end justifies the means.” At first impression the phrase has an admitted Machiavellian slant. But consider, as a path to enlightenment, a process involving the pragmatic use of various means. One means may not represent the best or most enlightened choice but it may lead to a place where other means may be employed. There is however this caveat; one must always opt for more desirable means as they become apparent. The rebel becomes the monk and the monk becomes the “Rebel” Monk. The implication is that even if each excess was not ultimately “true” in the highest sense, each may still be considered a valid and expedient path in the sense that each path inched closer to true realization anyway.

In time you come to see that discrimination is an illusion. That, the rebel and the monk are not necessarily separate paths leading in opposite directions; but in fact can be unified steps within a single stride. As one cohesive process, and as unified in the Rebel Monk, they include the right paradigm of non-discrimination, non-separation, the absence of a pair of opposites and unity of a pair of opposites, and ultimately freedom from duality. From an artistic viewpoint: the process of the Rebel and the Monk reminds me of Chiaroscuro, an Italian term which literally means “light-dark” where three-dimensional volume is suggested by the value gradation of color and the analytical division of light and shadow shapes—often called shading. The contrast created by line (as representation of the Rebel) creates shape but the graduating homogeneity of shadow (as representation of the Monk) gives shape its recognizable form. Even so, the resulting image is only a mirror of reality and is, alas, an illusion itself.

Love, Souls, Rebellion, Refuge: A Dialogue
(Kim Mosley & Emma Skogstad)

Kim: Emerson said,  “A true friend is "one soul in two bodies.” I heard this in a movie last night, but it was said a little differently, and it made me think of the two men holding hands. The guy in the movie said that his Polish grandmother had said that when two bodies touch, their souls become one. The woman (who at that point was quite antagonistic) said that Emerson had said that, not his granny. So what is going on with these guys, anyway?

Emma: I see a lot of love—love manifesting as a cigarette-smoking bad-ass, as a sultry monk. It's all the same love, overflowing. They walk like allies, two kids against the world. They hold hands to remind each other of something.

Kim: I think “remind” is important—that they've had a connection for some time. “Against” is important to me too—that their connection separates them from a world that may not be as warm and friendly.

So I told my wife the Emerson quote and she said that he was wrong, that it is more like a multi-colored marble (“it” being the soul) that happens when people touch.

So what is this soul thing, anyway, which Buddhists don't buy? And what is the relationship of these guys?

And why does the photo hit us right in the heart?

Emma: It does hit us right in the heart, doesn't it? I think that's because it so perfectly presents the intimacy we're all looking for: that deep, all-the-way-down-to-the toes feeling of being known. Everything is revealed (look at that shoulder!); nothing is rejected.

They walk like they have a secret—something perfect and beautiful that belongs to both of them and none of us. Maybe it's that they're lovers on their way to a make-out session. Whatever it is, I want it.

I think soul is a word God gave poets so they could talk about this kind of love. Hands being held, limbs intertwined, words whispered . . . . that's all good. But souls meeting . . . that's happening somewhere else entirely. Souls meet in the ocean of being. I think Buddhists might be okay with that.

So who's right, your wife or Emerson? What do you think these kids are up to?

Kim: Eric Fromm talked about “dual egotism” as a negative thing, where we get so close to someone we lose who we are. I think that was my wife's objection to the idea of the bodies having one soul. Emerson was being a little more romantic about it that she is.

I don't see them off to a make-out session. That didn't enter my mind. But a little homophobic element may have made me squirm a little—I can't quite remember what I felt when I first saw it.

Imagine if we were all one giant marble with each of us having our own swirl. That's the meaning for me of “not one, not two.” Emerson was doing a little hyperbole, don't you think?

I'm now looking again at the picture. The rebel is holding the monk's hand (not the other way around). The monk is looking at the photographer. The shirt says AC/DC Black Ice. Here is more than you want to know about that group. AC/DC used to be a reference to people who would do it with either sex, but I'm not going to jump to that conclusion. Theravada monks can touch people of the same sex.

Those are bike gloves the rebel is wearing. Maybe they are part of his toughness. I now remember that I thought they were brothers. There is a chain hanging from the rebel's right hand. Why?

Holding hands in a market makes some sense since it is so easy to lose someone.

Now, back to the soul. I heard the word “consciousness” as what moves to another when we die. I think that is more fluid and less permanent than a soul. It would change by the moment.

So why does one photograph touch our heart while another doesn't?

Emma: I liked your wife's image of us as swirls in a marble. Intimacy is meeting in the places of our samenesses and our differences. We don't connect with everyone, right? The sameness isn't enough--there's something about a few special swirls that makes our hearts sing. It's the same with art to a certain extent—what resonates with me is not necessarily going to rock your world.

But some photographs do seem to captivate in a universal way—I'm thinking of the Afghan girl ( That child's angry, riveting eyes . . . Maybe we more clearly see ourselves in the photographs that touch our hearts.

The AC/DC kid's got a whole rebel thing going—I think the t-shirt and chain are just a part of that. He's maintaining an image. I guess the monk is, too, in his own way. If you put your cursor over the source image, it says “An Odd Couple—Buddhist Brothers.”

It's curious to me how much I wanted them to be lovers. I think part of it is conditioning that says that kind of love can come only from a romantic partner. But I think too, it was coming from a deep longing for anyone in love to be able to hold hands anywhere in the world and stare down a camera with that much certainty. “Yes, I'm in love. What are you going to do about it?” kind of thing.

Pure consciousness is fluid, yes, ever responding. Consciousness allows for complete transformation, moment to moment. It is freedom from everything we think we are. Consciousness doesn't need to be “saved” from anything. It just is. Souls let us think we can exist forever, but there's a heavy price to be paid for that kind of certainty: we don't get to keep changing and growing and exploring. Souls could be that fluid, too, if only we'd be brave enough to let them. Letting go of the idea that we're not forever is scary.

Kim: I know that photo of the Afghan girl. I heard the photographer talk about it. He was surprised how it touched so many people.

I wish that we'd have more people holding hands who come from different places, like Republicans and Democrats, Jews and Muslims (though that is happening a little), etc.

In ancient Greece supposedly the intimate relationships were between men and boys, and marriage was for different purposes. I wonder to what extent that is true today—not necessarily between men and boys, but between friends. I sense that friends often have a greater intimacy than husbands and wives. A psychologist William Glasser said it was because we don't criticize our friends (because we'll lose them as friends) but we'll criticize our family. He also said, “Caring for but never trying to own may be a further way to define friendship.”

Look at the withholding of judgment that must have taken place for the odd couple to exist. No one is right or wrong. They both are who they are.

D.H. Lawrence wrote in a letter, “I am glad that you are in love. That is the right way to be—happy and in love, and if there are friends to help the love along tant mieux (so much the better).” That letter was on the cover of a book of his letters that I found when I was 18. It stuck.

Emma: Yes, I suppose different relationships have different purposes. I don't know if it matters, ultimately. I have found the deepest, most profound love open up in unlikely relationships, most certainly not where I wanted or expected it to come. But when love is flowing, truly flowing, it just flows everywhere. It's just love all around, life saturated in love. There's even space to dislike people, to be angry with them, perhaps even to hate them for a while, but the love keeps flowing. When that happens, it doesn't matter what opened up the source, what turned on the tap, so to speak. The tap's just on, and the love is there. When I'm contracted, when I can't feel my own love, I have all these ideas—that there are certain relationships for this and that, that this kind of relationship is more important than that kind (hence the wanting the Buddhist kids to be in love). When I'm opened up and present, it doesn't matter. I don't need to own anyone or have anyone be any certain way.

I'm not claiming to live in this space, but it's nice to visit.

I love these young men. I hope their love provides them with an occasional sanctuary from the world for a very long time.

Kim: Yes, this for me is what “taking refuge in the sangha” is about—a place to open your heart.