Sex, Sake and Zen

Portrait o fIkkyū By Bokusai[Site editor's note: The following is an excerpt from the new Disinformation title 50 Things You're Not Supposed To Know: Religion, authored by Daniele Bolelli.]

Most Westerners who become fascinated with Zen Buddhism are intrigued with its reputation as an anti-authoritarian, freedom-loving, individualistic tradition. Books by excellent writers like Alan Watts popularized an image of Zen as a very relaxed, go-with-the-flow type of religion. But even a brief visit to a typical Zen temple is enough to make us painfully aware of the difference between hype and reality. Life in real Zen temples, in fact, is often so structured, regimented and heavily regulated as to quickly dispel the romanticism created by much of the literature about it. Far from being a hippie rendition of Buddhism, Zen discipleship can be demanding and severe.

But sometimes even misguided stereotypes are born from seeds of truth. Enter 15th century Japanese monk Ikkyu Sojun, who was truly as free, wild and allergic to authorities as advertised.

For Ikkyu, Zen was not a spontaneous calling. Rather, he stumbled upon it as an alternative to being murdered in infancy. Given that choice, Zen training didn’t seem so bad after all. Ikkyu, in fact, was the illegitimate son of the emperor of Japan, and the object of several conspiracies aimed at thinning out the ranks of potential candidates to the throne. In an effort to have his life spared, his mother entrusted him to a Zen monastery when he was only 5 years old: not the most fun-filled scenario for a little boy, but clearly more appealing than having angry assassins slicing you to pieces.

His early life was extremely tough since the training he received from the Zen monks was brutally stern. Despite some serious bouts of depression in this joyless environment, it became quickly clear to his teachers that Ikkyu possessed an amazing intellect, and that his grasp of Zen was unparalleled. But the fact that he excelled in this setting didn’t mean he felt at home in it. Despite genuinely loving Zen (or perhaps because of it), he was less than thrilled with the spiritual bureaucracy of the temples. Also, many of the priests bugged him: too many political games and too much time spent courting the favor of rich patrons. And so when the day came when his master presented him with a certificate of enlightenment—which was both a great honor and the necessary document to begin climbing the Zen hierarchy—Ikkyu promptly decided to wave goodbye to a monastic career and burned it.

This doesn’t mean he had given up on Zen. Far from it. In his thinking, it was the entire Zen establishment that had abandoned real Zen by turning it into a dogmatic parody of what it was supposed to be. Life in the temples was stifled by too many rules and not enough fresh air. The so-called professionals of Zen were in Ikkyu’s eyes a bunch of posers—too busy acting “spiritual” to be able to really taste spirituality in its rawest forms. Some people believed Zen enlightenment could only be found among clouds of incense in silent meditation. Ikkyu, on the other hand, found sake-drinking and wild sex more to his liking. As he put it in his poems, “The autumn breeze of a single night of love is better than a hundred thousand years of sterile sitting meditation.” Or, even more bluntly, “Don’t hesitate: get laid—that’s wisdom. Sitting around chanting sutras: that’s crap.” Driven by an uncompromising thirst for life, Ikkyu became a wandering monk, testing his Zen insights far away from the seclusion of the monasteries, and earning the nickname of “Crazy Cloud.”

The point of his erotic escapades and wild adventures was to suggest that the “sacred” is nothing other than regular life experienced with 100 percent awareness. Or perhaps, sake-drinking and inordinate amounts of sex didn’t need any justification at all other than the fact that they were a hell of a lot of fun. Ikkyu didn’t give a rat’s ass about what the religious authorities of his day thought of him anyway. But in the course of his travels, Ikkyu managed to influence great numbers of artists, poets, calligraphers, musicians, and actors in such a way that his ideas left a deep mark on the development of several Japanese art forms for centuries to come. Even his love life came to be celebrated through the ages, since his relationship with Lady Mori ended up being among the most famous romances in Japanese history.

But since good old Ikkyu was a man who loved paradoxes, when a civil war had destroyed most Zen temples in the country, he came to the rescue of the very institutions he had ferociously criticized. Just when the future of Zen seemed in peril, he was able to enlist the help of the many acquaintances he had met during a lifetime of travels and mobilized them into rebuilding some of the key temples throughout the country. So, oddly enough, much of modern Zen owes a huge debt for its existence to a man who preferred the company of hookers to that of monks.

, , , , , , , , , , ,

  • yep

    I think a certain writer listens to the Rogan podcast.

  • yep

    I think a certain writer listens to the Rogan podcast.

    • Deep7heaven

      I’m pretty sure that certain writer was ON the podcast. Italian Religion prof?

  • Bobsmith

    No difference between religion then and now.  All the priests shag hookers and little boys, do drugs , and all in the name of god.

  • Bobsmith

    No difference between religion then and now.  All the priests shag hookers and little boys, do drugs , and all in the name of god.

    • MoralDrift

      whats wrong with shagging hookers? 

      • 5by5

        Not a damn thing if you tip well, and use a condom.

  • Bodhi

    There are many lineages of Zen Buddhism. You are assuming they are all the same and stern. You are wrong. 

    • JT

      who’s assuming what?…

  • Bodhi

    There are many lineages of Zen Buddhism. You are assuming they are all the same and stern. You are wrong. 

  • Deep7heaven

    I’m pretty sure that certain writer was ON the podcast. Italian Religion prof?

  • Anonymous

    whats wrong with shagging hookers? 

  • avril smith

     

    Thanks
    for showing up such fabulous information. I like this post, keep writing and
    give informative post…!

    Flats
    in Raj Nagar Extension

     

  • http://www.sacredgeometryinternational.com/ Camron Wiltshire

    Yamaoka Tesshu is another notable zen adept who honed his awareness in the brothels of the ukiyo by night and the shumpukan training halls by day.  Great post.  Looking forward to reading your new book.  Thoroughly inspired and enjoyed your previous work “On The Warriors Path”.  Kudos for continuing on your bodhhisatva journey.  If you have not already come across it, “The Sword of No Sword, Life of Master Warrior Tesshu” by John Stevens is highly recommended.

    http://www.amazon.com/Sword-No-Sword-Master-Warrior-Tesshu/dp/1570620504

    • daniele

      Thanks, Camron. Hope you like the new book. 
      I read the Tesshu bio. I love John Stevens’ books! 

  • Camron Wiltshire

    Yamaoka Tesshu is another notable zen adept who honed his awareness in the brothels of the ukiyo by night and the shumpukan training halls by day.  Great post.  Looking forward to reading your new book.  Thoroughly inspired and enjoyed your previous work “On The Warriors Path”.  Kudos for continuing on your bodhhisatva journey.  If you have not already come across it, “The Sword of No Sword, Life of Master Warrior Tesshu” by John Stevens is highly recommended.

    http://www.amazon.com/Sword-No-Sword-Master-Warrior-Tesshu/dp/1570620504

  • GoodDoktorBad

    While it is as common as poop, I am always surpised by the course of many philosophies that turn personal spiritual matters over to the often arbitrary prattle and “disipline” of priests and monks…..

    The heart of Zen and Buddhism lies in the temple of the body and mind, not in a temple built of wood and stone, reeking of incense. Experience all things.

  • Anonymous

    While it is as common as poop, I am always surpised by the course of many philosophies that turn personal spiritual matters over to the often arbitrary prattle and “disipline” of priests and monks…..

    The heart of Zen and Buddhism lies in the temple of the body and mind, not in a temple built of wood and stone, reeking of incense. Experience all things.

  • Drewhempel

    Westerners are idiots in not knowing that after an hour and half of full lotus meditation then the practitioner has an internal climax via the vagus nerve relaxation parasympathetic nervous system.  The Western notion of celibacy is without the alchemical understanding of unlimited orgasms via the female internal vagus nerve climax.  As Robert sapolsky, Stanford professor, details, the male primate external ejaculation is the trigger or switch to the sympathetic stress nervous system.  This is why alchemical yoga relies on celibacy — not like Western celibacy without yoga that just creates repressed pervs.  The Bushmen culture that was the original culture for celibate training did not have any homosexuals because all the males learn to sublimate and ionize or purify the sex energy to create laser love healing energy for the females.  Master Nan, Huai-chin of China critiques Japan’s Zen as largely composed of “dead tree” zen or empty mind yoga that does not properly sublimate the sex fluids.  The full lotus yoga position is the best means to sublimate it but Zen got to fixated on conceptual mind yoga with poetry, etc.  So then the Westerners never got the true teachings.  Sure there are some exceptions – I know of one monastery in Japan that is strict about full lotus.  But even then the real training relies on fasting — check out http://qigongmaster.com using seven weeks of full lotus fasting — no water, no food and no sleep.  That is called converting jing to chi and shen energy — http://meditationexpert.com gives more on the  Ch’an teachings about this and the criticisms of Japan’s Zen.

    • J Ackley

      I call bullshit at “laser love healing energy.” How does this horrendously hollow terminology explain the Bushman’s supposed lack of homosexuality exactly?

    • 5by5

      The Bushmen had no gays? Oh lord where to begin with the jokes…..

      +1 for calling bullshit at “laser love healing energy”. And I say that as a Buddhist.

  • Drewhempel

    Westerners are idiots in not knowing that after an hour and half of full lotus meditation then the practitioner has an internal climax via the vagus nerve relaxation parasympathetic nervous system.  The Western notion of celibacy is without the alchemical understanding of unlimited orgasms via the female internal vagus nerve climax.  As Robert sapolsky, Stanford professor, details, the male primate external ejaculation is the trigger or switch to the sympathetic stress nervous system.  This is why alchemical yoga relies on celibacy — not like Western celibacy without yoga that just creates repressed pervs.  The Bushmen culture that was the original culture for celibate training did not have any homosexuals because all the males learn to sublimate and ionize or purify the sex energy to create laser love healing energy for the females.  Master Nan, Huai-chin of China critiques Japan’s Zen as largely composed of “dead tree” zen or empty mind yoga that does not properly sublimate the sex fluids.  The full lotus yoga position is the best means to sublimate it but Zen got to fixated on conceptual mind yoga with poetry, etc.  So then the Westerners never got the true teachings.  Sure there are some exceptions – I know of one monastery in Japan that is strict about full lotus.  But even then the real training relies on fasting — check out http://qigongmaster.com using seven weeks of full lotus fasting — no water, no food and no sleep.  That is called converting jing to chi and shen energy — http://meditationexpert.com gives more on the  Ch’an teachings about this and the criticisms of Japan’s Zen.

  • J Ackley

    I call bullshit at “laser love healing energy.” How does this horrendously hollow terminology explain the Bushman’s supposed lack of homosexuality exactly?

  • 5by5

    The Bushmen had no gays? Oh lord where to begin with the jokes…..

    +1 for calling bullshit at “laser love healing energy”. And I say that as a Buddhist.

  • 5by5

    Not a damn thing if you tip well, and use a condom.

  • 5by5

    Not a damn thing if you tip well, and use a condom.

  • Anonymous

    no surprises. don’t we always have a range of harsh & strict fundamentalist to the free- flowing (opposite of a fundamentalist) in any spiritual path? 

    Some people want/ need the strict discipline…. and i suppose that’s fine for them. 
    The real problem is when they try to force it on others who don’t need or want such rigidness. 
    Whatever your path you have to be really careful of the guy who says he has all the answers and you HAVE to do things his way… 

  • samthor

    no surprises. don’t we always have a range of harsh & strict fundamentalist to the free- flowing (opposite of a fundamentalist) in any spiritual path? 

    Some people want/ need the strict discipline…. and i suppose that’s fine for them. 
    The real problem is when they try to force it on others who don’t need or want such rigidness. 
    Whatever your path you have to be really careful of the guy who says he has all the answers and you HAVE to do things his way… 

  • JT

    who’s assuming what?…

  • daniele

    Thanks, Camron. Hope you like the new book. 
    I read the Tesshu bio. I love John Stevens’ books! 

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

     For those who may be tempted to poo poo it all…there was the master known later as Bobo Roshi ( ‘the fucking priest’)…who after twenty failed years of study had not achieved enlightenment…quit in frustration…marched off, found a bar, got drunk and found a prostitute. It was in the moment of orgasm that enlightenment hit him at last. he returned to the monastery and was met with disbelief at his tale…but when given the traditional Q & A session by the assembled masters…he answered all questions and proved his understanding of Zen at last (also earning his nickname…Bobo Roshi). Point being…life too is Zen…all of life…not merely contemplation on a quiet mountain or in a silent cell. Enlightenment is found where it is found…without regard for our other sentiments or value judgments.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

     For those who may be tempted to poo poo it all…there was the master known later as Bobo Roshi ( ‘the fucking priest’)…who after twenty failed years of study had not achieved enlightenment…quit in frustration…marched off, found a bar, got drunk and found a prostitute. It was in the moment of orgasm that enlightenment hit him at last. he returned to the monastery and was met with disbelief at his tale…but when given the traditional Q & A session by the assembled masters…he answered all questions and proved his understanding of Zen at last (also earning his nickname…Bobo Roshi). Point being…life too is Zen…all of life…not merely contemplation on a quiet mountain or in a silent cell. Enlightenment is found where it is found…without regard for our other sentiments or value judgments.

  • mannyfurious

    Well, the older Ch’an masters of China were certainly less stuffy and more fun than the Japanese masters. It’s just that Japanese Zen is what has survived to the present, while Ch’an has basically become a Chinese Cult. Bankei was another Japanese master who was more along the lines of Ikkyu, although I don’t think there’s any evidence of Bankei banging hookers… although I wish there were…. 

    If I have a problem with these kinds of posts, it’s that a lot of people start getting the wrong idea and thinking that exploiting others for sexual gratification is “ok” and even a path to “enlightenment” when that’s not the point at all. 

  • AF

    If Westerners are idiots, why should anyone listen to you, Drew? You sound like you’ve fallen into Asian-love. There are indeed many interesting things about Asian culture, but also some profoundly stupid, violent, sexist, and crazy things. I’ll keep my “Western” mind, thank you.

21