In this part of the interview, we spoke about what Zen Buddhism is and Daniele's favorite drunk, whore mongering Zen monk, Ikkyu.
“Having a difficult time understanding what exactly was this universal energy Chuang Tzu was fond of talking of, a man named Tung Kuo Tzu (we’ll call him Tung for short) decided to question him about it. Where exactly can I find this mysterious Tao you always speak about? “It’s everywhere,” Chuang Tzu replied. Not satisfied Tung asked for an example. Chuang Tzu pointed to ant crawling on the ground and said, “It’s here in this ant.” Tung was taken aback that something so grandiose and elusive as the Tao could be found in something as low as an ant. Now, Tung was probably being a pain in the ass. The idea that God (or however people conceive of ultimate reality) is everywhere and in everything is something found in many religions. But Tung continued his line of questioning demanding more examples, thus giving Chuang Tzu a chance to let loose. In short order, Chuang Tzu proceeded to explain that, if he wanted to find the Tao, Tung could look in the grass, in some broken tile, and in the steaming pile of shit that a dog had graciously just deposited nearby. Needless to say, Tung was speechless.” – Daniele Bolelli, in 50 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know: Religion
Zen and the Art of Getting Drunk with Hookers
KB: In one of your chapters on Buddhism in 50 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know: Religion, you write: “Many are those who, infatuated with all things “spiritual” forget that real spirituality is nothing but daily life lived with full awareness.” Is this how you would describe Zen Buddhism?
DB: In my mind, yes, that is the whole point of Zen Buddhism.
KB: In another one of your chapters on Buddhism, you write about Ikkyu. Who is he and what is different about his perspective on Buddhism?
DB: I love Ikkyu. He was a 15th century Zen monk. He was the illegitimate son of the Emperor of Japan. At a very young age, he was given away to a monastery to avoid a palace conspiracy to wipe out any possible heirs to the throne. The environment at the monastery was a tough, severe and joyless place for a little kid.
He was, however, an absolutely brilliant poet. Precisely because he had this amazing understanding of Zen, he could not deal with the Zen establishment. He hated their guts. Many of the higher ups in the Zen hierarchy didn't really have a deep understanding of Zen.
He basically decided not to be a part of the Zen establishment which is weird because that would have been the logical career for somebody growing up the way he did.
Instead he became this wandering teacher. He gathered around a lot of disciples who were hugely important figures in Japanese cultural history, from theatre to art to calligraphy. He taught anybody really. He would give speeches over a bottle of sake, not in a particular formal way. He was just a guy talking about his deep understanding of Zen.
Some of his main interests were drinking and hookers, so what’s not to like?
KB: What do you love about Ikkyu?
DB: The thing that I love about Ikkyu is that he completely goes against the separation between sacred and secular. There is only one life. There is no such thing as sacred, there is no such thing as profane. There are a lot of spiritual wannabe’s who are annoying as hell because they are so weird about proper spirituality.
KB: I find it interesting how Buddhism and Taoism are just ideas and yet you get these institutions, rituals, and traditions that were created around them. Why do you think that is?
DB: For people it’s too hard to depend only on themselves, to constantly be adapting. They need stability. They need rules. They need organization. That’s what institutions give you. They do it at a price of flexibility.