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Not Bad Is Just Enough

Dokai Georgesen

I complain a lot—rarely to others, at least not directly so and usually not out loud. In fact, my most usual response on someone inquiring into how I am doing is to say, “Not bad.” This is not an actual lie these days. (I should clarify that in recent times I have done some complaining especially in some things I have written—some people who know me pretty well have become concerned about this and have told me it is not good for beginning Zen students to read such things—I, of course, respond by saying I completely understand and will very soon change my ways).

When I was 20 years old I began to practice Zen meditation every morning and every evening with my mentor and teacher, Dainin Katagiri-Roshi. About once a week he would ask me how I was doing. I always responded, “Not bad,” which, upon reflection now, was a total, outright lie, but I didn’t overtly want to bother him by expounding all of the details of how completely miserable my life really was. His response was always to look at me for a moment or two with a little curiosity and then ever-so-slightly frown and walk away. We did this same exact ritual innumerable times for a lengthly number of years—how many years I can’t recall—perhaps ten or more. Then one day after his inquiry and my usual response, he suddenly looked totally surprised; he grabbed his belly, doubled over and began uproariously laughing his head off, exclaiming over and over again “Not bad…not bad…not bad.” After a period of time he regained his composure. He paused for a moment and directly turned toward me and said with marked seriousness, “Not bad is just enough.” Then he immediately turned around and began laughing again and walked away. While watching him walk away, I will say, I experienced something that can’t be explained that felt completely and extraordinarily wonderful, peacefully content and sublime.

At the time I had no interest in calling it a name. Now I do. The name I will call it is “intimacy.”

[wpspoiler name=”Read More”]All human beings crave intimacy. Intimacy is the utter interconnectedness with all people, things and ourselves without one single exception—no exception at all. There is no thought or feeling of separation from anything. This is also called compassion and wisdom. Some may call it Love. The problem is that when we experience a little bit of intimacy we want to get more of it—a lot more! Yet, we don’t know what to do to make this happen. The trouble with intimacy is there is not something that can be actually done to make it happen. It is very slippery—beyond what we can control. The only way it can manifest in our lives is by us paying close attention to the things we do, say and think that don’t create intimacy and to stop doing those things. For most of us that is a rather large number of things. Another thing is that once we discover a little bit more about intimacy, we see that that “number of things,” is quite a bit bigger than we ever thought it possibly could have been. And the worst thing is that even if we stop doing those things, nothing different is immediately noticed, especially by us. So there is no instant gratification process going on with all of this.
How and when intimacy manifests can’t be known. But today it is manifesting and it is just enough. Is it because the sun is brilliantly shining through the clouds and beautiful flowers are blooming everywhere? Nope. There is not a flower in sight and today is a very gray day—it is the first snowfall of this fall/winter season—a not-so-attractive mix of rain and snow at that, but it is the first one of the season so it is not all so disagreeable. All is profoundly quiet except for the pattering of the heavy, wet snowflakes on the roof. Looking to the zendo, slightly covered with snow, I reflect on its origin 35 years ago as just a platform for an army tent. Today it has finished another journey onward through many of its transformations. It has a new, beautiful wood floor with nice, warm heating underneath of it. For the first time in Hokyoji’s history the zendo will be used during the winter. This is intimacy far beyond the ordinary.
Not bad is just enough.[/wpspoiler]