Chautauqua 9

When Pirsig awoke in the sanatorium he could not remember Phaedrus, they told him he had to get used to a new personality. I remember little of my childhood. With shame I remember the violence that came through the repression. I remember stupidity, immaturity and drinking. There was a clarity of a blinkered mind that had become focussed on learning for the degree finals but no other clarity. And of course the walking. So with the new personality, what happened to the old?

I have spoken of being protected about lifetime decisions. I see it like that because once I hit bottom when the zen emerged there were no impediments to its coming to fruition, any decisions about my life were made post-bottom – after the beginning of zen. That is not to say that all the decisions were good – far from it. I had a weakness for drink, and that came back with a vengeance. It took a while but the joy that comes with zen does not happen continuously, you need discipline in your daily life; whilst zen gave me some of that what I had was nowhere near enough. I did not have sila. I had confidence in the emerging zen which at times I thought of as soul. And I thought having a soul was enough; it wasn’t, the soul needs sila.

And there was of course the big desire, lust. Zen and my lust never seemed to get it together. Before bottom shyness protected me from any permanent impositions, once zen emerged I was not afraid to be myself. Whilst this excluded me from the majority of women for whom zen pursuits would be derided, this still left many women. Now with confidence I would be who I was, and could then meet women. Not a Casanova because lust for lust’s sake was never one of my mistakes, but I don’t know how any man can ever live his life without dealing with lust. I so wish women understood that problem. I am not a woman so I don’t know how true this is but I feel that no amount of equality gives women the same lack of control of physical lust that a man feels. It is only a woman who can describe her desires, and she can never know whether they are as driven as they are in men. In traditional homes mothers cajole their daughters in these matters primarily because of the risk of early pregnancy, some such societies require virginity. For most societies men are given no such control, in my view sila needs hammering home from father to son - instead chauvinism is passed along the line with homilies such as "sowing your wild oats before setting down" prevailing. Rather than sila there is male promiscuity - and with equality it is now seen amongst young women female promiscuity is also acceptable. Yet even with strong moral integrity lust still rears its ugly head. Male lust is so controlling it is a disaster waiting to happen although all men experience it differently – as do women.

As I said I never had any such sila before I hit bottom but shyness protected me. With zen came some sila control but when drunk I just lurched. I eventually recognised my alcoholism but prior to that my confidence meant that I had the stupidity to stagger up to women drunk, and think that such was attractive. But by this time I was a teacher and my relationships were with teachers – mostly.

So was there a new personality, what was that personality I think is the real question? And that question is so hard to answer. Even to ask what is my personality now is difficult to answer. I think of myself in terms of zen, in terms of what I do and have done, in terms of sila now and before, but what is personality? The word comes from persona which means mask. In my childhood there was the mask of repression showing itself in childishness and stupidity. After zen emerged I had no mask, it was just the striving zen; I have a recollection of an outsider personality – prickly and aggressive. I tell a current friend how much I have mellowed and she doesn’t believe me, of course being compassionate in the world of work has its own aggressive dynamic. Over time the world of work and becoming used to the zen produced changes in that mask. In me there is always the nature of zen to express itself but in daily life when is such expression appropriate and trying to be zen leaves you vulnerable. In the dog-eat-dog world I had a mask – it grew around the zen. Now I am retired, I am not in the world of work, I want to get more in touch with the zen and I become isolated. No wonder the Buddha called for the Sangha.

The more I think of it I intentionally have multiple personalities, masks for different people and situations. I want to push out the zen but what is the point if the language of zen has no meaning. I want to be compassionate but what is the point if there are only dogs to eat it? You go as far as you can. Multiple personalities – many personas. Or live alone – on your own. Perhaps it is only others who can describe what your personality is?

The drink and intellect have much more to say.

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