No One Nose
by Abbot John
This is my year to be decisive. It was the only New Year's resolution I was able to make. New Year's Eve I sat, poised with pen and paper, and tried to list all necessary character repairs that I would resolve to effect. They would be commandments made by me, to me. I grappled with myself, mentally of course; but before I could itemize the appropriate corrective measures, I first had to decide if I really was the sort of person who can give and receive moral imperatives. I was still trying to decide when the midnight bells began to ring;. I scribbled my resolution just in time.
The first test of my new decisiveness came quickly.
I was casually reflecting about how bright and shining our website was becoming due to the skills of our Assistant Abbot, when, in my day-dreaming state, I happened to be re-reading a poem by Hsu Yun which our poetry section had featured. Every time I read it I got stuck on last line of the first quatrain. I kept thinking, what did he mean with that line. You can't penetrate it with just your nose.
Spontaneous Lines Requested By Layman Qu Wenliu
I want you to carry out high mountain plans,
To become independent and observe that heaven within.
Yes, as solid as a mountain!
If you want to Enlighten the Interior,
You can't penetrate it with just your nose.
Now that’s a line you don’t want to take out of context.
I put on my “Cap of Academia” and my “Hat of Scholasticism,” even my “Business Hat” where noses sometimes play a small role, but the caps didn't help. I made a decision to put the quandary behind me, and I did until, in the midst of the Holiday’s celebration I drank one glass of coffee that someone laced with Bailey’s Irish Cream followed by a single glass of Chardonnay. Suddenly I found myself back to the line You can't penetrate it with just your nose.
It rattled in my head like a corny pop song you can’t get rid of. Worse than that – it became my preferred Zen quote to all those who asked me “halfheartedly” how to find enlightenment, as happened coincidentally when my best sales person texted me with that very question. Last week, while at a football party, he got into a conversation with someone and for some reason sent me that text message. I sent back You can't penetrate it with just your nose. Monday I’ll find out how that went over.
I also began to notice that I am forgetting current things while remembering old things. This may be a defense mechanism. That thought connected me immediately with Fred Nietzsche.
Back in my Seminary school days Nietzsche was the 'black leather jacket' symbol for the rebels. Yes even Seminary school had rebels back in those days of yore. A few of us would stand at the end of the hallway holding our twice read never understood copies of his books cupped under our wrists, cigarettes hanging from the edge of our lips, while the seminarians destined to actually become priests were at the other end of the hall carrying their books by Thomas Aquinas, heads slightly bowed so as to never make eye contact with us.
All I ever remember about Nietzsche was how depressed I got after reading him. I think at one time I had a little notebook filled with his aphorisms that I would pull out and jot notes in during my San Francisco coffee shop days, always hoping some young lady would walk by and ask what I was doing. In my fantasy I would whip out my Nietzsche and sweep her off her feet. How insane is that? He ain't exactly the romantic Byron type. Hell, he ain't even as romantic as I am. Can't you just imagine what kind of woman would be attracted to that stuff at 20. What was I thinking? Had I been so lucky to attract someone I can just imagine us standing on the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge six months later trying to decide if we should jump together or separately.
Years later my actual wife, Nanci, would use the phrase "Don't go Nietzsche on us" when she was trying to shut me up or to stop me from rambling on about something that I had no idea what I was talking about. On other occasions, when she was introducing me to people she would switch and use his name as some kind of praise thing.
"Jenny, this is my husband John. He reads Nietzsche." It was either praise or some subtle warning that women employ that says "Stay away from this one, he's nuts."
Another challenge to my new decision resolution came in the form of golf, (Is nothing sacred?)
Should I or should I not join the golf club this year. They’ve called me about 6 times since the end of last year but with the plantar fasciitis in my right foot and the sciatic problem in my right leg I’ve been vacillating on whether to make golf my avocation again this year. Usually I decide before the previous year comes to an end because, if I wait, the winter months do something to my decision making apparatus. Somehow winter crosses all the wires and I can’t even decide to decide, but knowing all that still I waited. Yet I had to do something with my life and finally it came down to a choice between golf and brushing up on my Theoretical Physics. I took an on-line course from the University of Oregon called “Understanding the Universe” and subscribed to a program from the Perimeter Institute (Canada) that discusses quantum gravity and the nature of the problem we need to solve between that and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Essentially trying to figure out just exactly what is “spacetime” and what is “gravity”. I became engrossed when one (I assume Buddhist) theoretician mentioned in a lecture that he thought the main problem in today’s physics was that they were having a hard time grasping the “Sunyata Void” where nothing and everything exist in no time.
As interesting as that line of thinking could have been, after two months of it I am pleased to announce that decided on rejoining my golf club.
Belonging to this particular club is not an economic issue. It is truly a “golf club” not a country club so the expense isn’t the problem. The club is one of those old northeastern course built in 50s - not one of the new social clubs that have been built in the last decade or so. As a matter of fact Jack Nicklaus holds the course record of 66. He was on a promotional tour back in 1966 and played the course one time. It really is a setting from another time. Gravel parking lot, no bar, no dining room, just a few lockers that smell like lockers and musty carpet in the pro shop which is the size of 3 to 4 phone booths. Back in the days when golf was golf, I guess it could have been a “private club” set in the semi-wilds of New Jersey. Now it’s semi-private, which is an oxymoron at some level. I guess Semi-private means that you can only play the course if you have enough money for the green fees. There are about 15-20 of us left as “members”. Our sole advantage is that we can play every day whenever we want without making tee-times.
The members are aging. I may be one of the younger ones there, or at least in the younger half. As you may imagine, if you have read any of my previous essays, I’m considered the loony member. Everybody else is a rampant right winger if viewed from the social context. Right Winger is definitely the wrong term and may imply the wrong thing. It’s more like this…If you were to offhandedly say to my companions, “That’s not the Buddha way.” If they questioned you, the question would not be “What is the way?” they would ask “What is a Buddha?”
Most are retired from one of the major corporations in NJ – the older corps like Ford, GM and Grumman, from a time when NJ was a manufacturing center rather than a pharmaceutical kingdom. Still they’ve all gotten used to the fact that on occasion I will chant a long deep “Aaauuummm” before teeing off on the first hole. Some even bow their heads when I do it.
We’ve had one guy die on the ninth hole, from a heart attack. Every member in some part of his mind thinks that would be a cool way to go. These old coots bet on anything and everything. The bets are never more than a dollar but it seems to add a “professional” flavor to the events. There’s not a shot you can take or a score you can make that doesn’t have a monetary value set to it.
All in all, it does become somewhat of “cadre”. After a few years you walk around the course and can tell who’s playing by just picking up the signals: “Hey, Chick’s here today. I can smell his cigar.” Etc.
So I think it is the right decision. Just writing about the game makes me sensitive to the siren's call... the lure of the links... and solving the eternal problem: how to get the ball into the cup. Which brings me back to my original quandary: You can't penetrate it with just your nose.