One of my students told me the story of his previous teacher, Nowak Roshi, who used to get up every morning and climb into the pigpen of his farm. Then, switch in hand, he would chase one of the pigs around, whacking it on the rump. The pig would oink and Nowak Roshi would huff and puff in the mud and slop. The chase would go on for about half an hour. One day, a student finally asked Nowak Roshi the purpose of the whole thing. The teacher just looked him right in the eye and said, “It gives her spirit.”

 

Photo by Matthew Hayward

 

Well, think about it. This poor pig, without the least exertion of effort, gets everything she wants. She gets fed every day, she has mud to slop around in, she gets to mate periodically—she’s the furthest thing from a wild pig. Wild pigs are very smart, fast, muscular and courageous. They have spirit.

One morning, watching the business news I listened to an executive from Tinkerbell Cosmetics. I had never heard of it before. It’s a company that makes cosmetics for children ages five through eleven. I watched these five-year-old, six-year-old faces, putting on lipstick and eye shadow, having their hair coiffed, applying fingernail polish and toenail polish and then imitating the high fashion models while the executive gloated about her multi-billion dollar industry.

“Oh, the kids love it!” she said. The whole catastrophe was being laid on these children and the adults all delighted in it. And to top it all off, the executive pointed out that children between six and eleven years old have twenty billion dollars of their own to spend each year—plus an additional thirty billion via their parents.

Children that grow up in that kind of environment are not equipped for life. If anything goes wrong to tip the structure that supports them, they’re lost, to say nothing of the question of life and death. Forget about it! The future of Zen in the West, or the East for that matter, seems grim. Where are the practitioners going to come from? Zen may continue to be popular, but will it be real? Is it real right now in this country?