We printed some of Tofo Roshi’s letters in the Winter 1985 issue of Inquiring Mind. Soon after that the Roshi went on an extended retreat in an attempt to clean out his chakras and polish his aura, all of which were quite dirty after years of working with difficult karma. Now he is back and diligently trying to catch up on his correspondence, dispensing wisdom to those in need. We offer some more gems here. We are also pleased to announce that sometime in the near future, Shambhala will be publishing a book of the life and letters of Tofu Roshi.
How can I get my higher and lower self to cooperate with each other? I am torn apart by conflicting desires. To sleep, or to sit shivering with cold in the early morning dark of zendo? To make love with my wife, or to go to a class on the Heart Sutra? It’s not just a time conflict, but a philosophical conflict, as well. The sutra says, “No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind,” and this makes lovemaking difficult if not impossible. I could probably muddle through without the first three, but the other stuff I need.
Your dualistic thinking is causing you unnecessary suffering. Stand on your head and ask yourself where is your higher self, where is your lower. Or ask yourself: Who is it? Who makes love with your wife?
My wife and I belong to a vipassana meditation group. Our community and our marriage have both been shaken by a new concept ever since one of our most respected members brought a book to our center called CELIBACY WITHIN MARRIAGE.
The reason I’m writing to you about this is that my wife says it’s a matter of her spiritual development. She says she wants to try celibacy only because our sexual relationship has been so satisfying to her, but I think she’s just trying to butter me up. Excuse the question, Tofu-roshi, but are you celibate? If so, do you like it? I want to develop myself spiritually, too, and that’s why I practice insight meditation. Is it really possible that “celibacy within marriage” could make me more potent spiritually? If so, I’d like to know just exactly how.
One reason celibacy is not more popular is that it is viewed as a negative thing, simply as the absence of sexual activity. But with Buddha-mind we move away from such dualistic thinking. Celibacy is an activity in itself. At the deepest level, celibacy and sexual activity are one and the same, except that most people can be celibate more often and keep it up for longer each time they do it.
As for celibacy within marriage, remember that like sex, celibacy is more meaningful when you do it with someone else. If you begin to feel rejected, remind yourself that your wife wants to be celibate with you.
Yes, I am celibate, and I get a great deal of pleasure out of it. But I could give it up any time, and so I would if I felt I was becoming too attached to it. I have never had the opportunity, as you do, to try celibacy within marriage. Rather, I have always been celibate with a number of different people at once.
Please help me. I think Mom and Dad will be influenced by your opinion. I’m a thirteen-year-old girl with a problem. My folks are Vajrayana Buddhists, and until last year we lived in a big Buddhist commune. I learned to put my palms together and bow before I learned to walk or talk. The other kids and me used to sneak into the meditation hall and build playhouses out of the cushions. I used to think everything round was called a mandala—fried eggs, car tires, Mom’s boobs. All us kids had names like Chakrasamvara and Hanuman. I liked mine best cause it was the longest: Avalokiteshvara.
We recently had to move to a suburb of Cleveland cause of Dad’s job, and now I go to the local junior high. None of the kids in my class ever heard of a mantra, and nobody can say my name, not even my teacher. She says the human brain was not constructed to remember names of seven syllables. Now I want to change my name to Kitty, so I won’t feel like such a weirdo, but my parents got all uptight about the idea. They say my heritage is nothing to be ashamed of. They always call me by my whole name, even though by the time they get finished saying it they usually forget what they were going to tell me to do, or else I did it already while they were saying my name, like cleaning up my room, for example. I asked Mom how she would have felt if her name was Avalokiteshvara instead of Bootsie when she went to Lake Forest High School. She said she probably would have wanted to change her name to Avalokiteshvara if she’d heard of it. She tried to change her name to Iphigenia, which was the most exotic girl’s name she knew of at the time, but everybody except her best friend kept right on calling her Bootsie. I shouldn’t of even asked her, knowing what a weirdo she is. I guess she’s satisfied now, though, cause before I was born Rinpoche gave her the name Ramalakirti. But Grandma and Grandpa still call her Bootsie.
Another problem is that I don’t dare invite anybody over to my house cause my parents are still working on their 100,000 prostrations, and they usually are doing it right when I get home from school. I’d die of embarrassment if anybody saw. Even if we just went in the back door, you can still hear them, klunking down to the floor over and over, and the floor squeaks each time, and Dad’s knees make a weird popping sound when he gets up. Klunk, squeak, pop, klunk, squeak, pop. I wish my parents would embarrass me in normal ways, like just making the bed creak when they’re doing you know what. But they probably never do it, they have to spend all their free time bowing.
I don’t want you to think I don’t love my parents or anything like that, cause I do, even if I give my Mom a hard time sometimes. For example, I used to love it when they let me polish the brass statue of Manjusri on the altar, and now I never want to do any of that stuff. “Why don’t you want to do it anymore, Avalokiteshvara honey?” Mom said. “I’m just not into it, that’s all!” I said, and Mom started to cry. I guess they’re too far out for me—I’m just not that type of person. What should I do? Do you think I can get my parents to act more normal?
You are in a difficult situation, but remember that your parents are struggling to keep their belief system alive in an alien environment, and this is probably why they overreact when even their own daughter no longer wants to support them in their religious practice.
Here are some suggestions off the top of my head. Just be direct. Say to a friend, “Want to come over after school and watch my parents do prostrations?” Start calling your mother Bootsie. Tell your parents that you have decided to change your name to Foofie. Go live with your grandparents for a while. You are now entering a difficult period in your relationship with your parents but keep the lines of communication open, and when they are a few years older they will be able to accept you for who you are.
I understand that a basic part of your teaching is to forget the self. But I am a psychotherapist, and the self is the very thing that I work with. Sigh by sigh, tear by tear, fist by fist and dream by dream, my clients rebuild their sense of self; and then you come creeping up behind them and—WHACK!—you hit ’em on the back with a stick, and the fragile structure topples to the ground in a heap. In five heaps, I am told. How do you reconcile this apparent contradiction between spiritual development and psychological health? Do you think we are working against each other?
You are right—we cannot forget the self until we have a strong self to forget. The work you do, therefore, prepares a person for the work I do, and for this I am grateful to you, wherever you are. You knead the dough, I bake it in the oven of the Zendo. That is why, at our practice place, every new member must have a certificate of mental health before being allowed to join. But even this is not always sufficient.
For example, one of our members, who forgot the self during a long sesshin, was completely unable to recall it (the self) when the sesshin was over. Luckily, we knew his name and address, and were able to send him home in a taxi. He remained confused for some months, believing Bodhidharma to be the President of the United States. Another student had a deep experience of no-self, or anatta, during retreat, and when, at the end, she returned to the self, it was the self all right, but it was the self of someone else. When she asked herself in the final moments, Who am I? and Who asks “Who am I?” she apparently noticed the name of Dan Flanagan embroidered on the zabuton on which she sat. She unsuccessfully tried to enter his bag of skin, his house, his truck. But he, of course, was already there, and there was not sufficient room for both of them, at least not in the bag of skin. Nor did he particularly want her in his house or truck. Only through the concentrated effort of further zazen was she able to forget Dan Flanagan’s self and subsequently to reenter her own.
Since that time, we require everyone to wear tags around their necks in the Zendo, with their name, address, occupation, pet peeve and the name of the President of the United States. (In some cases the last two items are the same.) Thus, our students can transcend the self during meditation, in confidence that the answer to the question Who asks “Who am I?” and Who asks “Who asks ‘Who am I?'” is within easy reach.
In my past lives, I was a lactobacillus, a ladybug, a laboratory rat, a saddle horse and a dental hygienist, in that order. As you see, there is a theme of service which runs through all of my former lives, and explains my rapid climb up the karmic ladder. Sometimes I’ve been male, and sometimes female, except, of course, when I was a lactobacillus. I was a male ladybug, by the way, and enjoyed the transvestite lifestyle. Now I am a brain surgeon, rich and famous but unfulfilled. It turns out that status isn’t everything.
I recently heard about an ancient method according to which it is possible to consciously direct future rebirth. Can I go back to being a ladybug? That was the happiest of my lives. My mouth still waters when I see aphids.
Dear Dr. Medulla:
Yes, there is such a method. In Soto Zen we do not speak much about these things, because too much deliberation about the choice of a future life can make us lose our focus on the life we are living. Furthermore, the training in this method is very difficult, the competition for future lives is intense, the whole process is even worse than applying for college and many people are not reborn into their first-choice lives. How would you feel about being an earwig, for example? If this would be acceptable to you, contact your local Center of Conscious Rebirth.