I sat on the carpet of my apartment with my legs crossed trying to imitate the posture I had seen in one of the illustrations of the Zen book I had just read.
“Impossible!,” I thought, with the body bent and one knee almost up to my shoulder. The thing took a better look after placing a generous cushion under my buttocks, but to put both feet on the thighs, in the so called lotus position, seemed more a circus contortion than a spiritual practice.
“I need a teacher,” I thought and, without a better idea, I opened the yellow pages and looked up under the letter M of monastery (this didn’t seem the best way to seek for a master).
“Eureka!,” I shouted when I realized there was a Buddhist monastery just a few blocks from my place, so I decided to pay a visit. The term “monastery” was definitely not the most fitting one for a house with a shed in the courtyard that functioned as the zendo. I paid one hundred dollars to be able to attend for a month (every morning from six to eight), a sitting period of forty minutes, an un-sitting period of twenty minutes, and perform a Korean gymnastic accompanied by drums and hoarse voices for almost an hour.
My meditative baptism was just awful. The intense pain caused by sitting motionless on the floor, in silence and darkness for forty minutes that seemed four hundred, was excruciating. While the others stood up to drink some tea and go to the bathroom, I remained on the floor uncrossing my legs in slow motion with awkward gestures that nobody seemed to care. Finished the “resting period,” it began a weird gymnastic dancing, and the only teaching I got was, “do what others do.”
By the end of the month –no surprise– I dropped out. The good thing about that horrendous month was that, from then on, I could sit crossed-legged in half-lotus my good half an hour at my place. Besides, I discovered the “dawns.”
Up to that moment, when the sound of the alarm clock went off every morning, I threw myself out of the bed to run a race of hurdles in which I had to “jump over” shavings, drinking bitter coffees, finding pairs (of socks), shaking crumbs out of documents, getting on the bike while juggling with stuffy donuts, etc. At my best, I could do all in less than fifteen minutes, shower included.
After my “baptism of fire,” I got up early and quietly, I practiced a shortened version of the Korean gymnastics, and then I sat to meditate for half an hour while the intensity of the light of the dawn rose slowly into the room, yet not in my mind, which was trapped in any of the Zen riddles (koans)…
A monk asked Joshu, “Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?” and Joshu answered, “Moo.”
I struggled between crying out of pain or bursting into laughing, because to me the koan only made sense if the monk would have asked about a cow. Even at those early times I already had clear a very important lesson: that without sense of humor cultivation is impossible. So, remember, Moo!