Zen and the art of body maintenance

by Tim Monck-Mason

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance was the 1st Zen book I read. I read every 2nd chapter - the bits where he was travelling on his BMW Motorcycle. Some years later I read it again and read the other chapters as well - I thought it was very weird stuff.

That was also the last Zen book I read. This is not out of laziness; I am a prolific reader. Rather it is from a sense that to read more would somehow sully my own experience. I don't know this to be true; but I do sense it to be right for me - and this sense is itself what Zen is for me: Awareness.

For me, Zen is what I make of it, not what someone else tells me. Zen is a path and my relationship with it is my path. I came into it with no expectation; it was merely an extension of my meditation. I still have no idea where it leads to and I am perfectly happy to simply allow it to happen. This is a wonderful feeling; I do not feel in control of this path, yet I enjoy it immensely. This is important for me. I love to intellectualise, to discuss, interpret, study, dissect, and understand. Yet somehow I sense that I should not do that with Zen - and remarkably I feel very calm, I am amazed that it is so easy to allow.

I came into Zen by accident. I had been meditating for some years - using meditation to help me manage chronic pain - pain that effects my life deeply. I came to know that I needed a Sangha to meditate with - though of course I did not know the name Sangha then. A lovely neighbour, Bruno, invited me to the Monday night sit at the Maitai Zendo and I happily accepted and went along. I thought it pretty strange; all that chanting, bell ringing, bowing, and prostrations - very weird. I have never been religious, indeed I am quite contemptuous of people who have found religion. I did not want anyone telling me the answers, I wanted my own reality, my own discoveries.

However I stuck to it, I was not managing my pain well at the time and I guess I was open to new things. I surprised myself a little by continuing to go, and now find myself a regular.

What I heard was this: This Buddha chap didn't want to judge me, or instruct me, or tell me what to believe, or how to behave. Rather he had come to some pretty damn fine understandings as a result of intensive and focused meditation - and he had described a path that others could take in the same direction. I liked that, and the people I met at the Zendo. So, I kept going.

Then, without consciously knowing it or understanding it, I moved from having this particular purpose (pain management) to allowing Zazen to bring new elements to my life. These are enjoyable and lovely elements that fit so well with my own senses. I now feel that I am only just touching the surface of this, yet I feel no urgency or rush. This is wonderful; I am a complete amateur and I don't care.

My original need was pain management. Zazen helps me to not suffer from pain as much. It does not lessen the pain - but it allows me more ability to not suffer from it. There is an immense difference between having pain and suffering from it. But now Zen has other meanings for me as well.

Was my meeting Zen a happy accident or was it destined? I don't know and I don't care. It just does not seem to matter.

This then is the message I have received that I share with you: Allow.
I have learnt to allow the practice to be what it is for me. To allow myself to not try and analyse and understand it all. To allow that I don't want to read all about it - I don't need to. The knowledge I need is my awareness and my teacher can use her vast knowledge to guide me. That is all I need.

Gassho, Tim

Tim Monck-Mason 2000

No reproduction without the authors permission please.