Zen Master : a modern zen master of detachment and emptiness
A book excerpt from the spiritandflesh.com religion and spirituality online library.
If, at the end of this life, I am able to say that I met only one true man amongst all the people who came and went before me, I can say that I met at least one. One man who began to show me what it meant to be a man, and that it had nothing to do with unique abilities, physical strength, machismo, stoicism, handling strong drink, or screwing multitudes of women, but that to be a man meant to see clearly the abject follies of the world and to choose instead the one and only way in which to be on this earth- the way of integrity- and to choose that way at every turn no matter what the cost, and to know that the cost would often be dear.
I say that I learned about this costly integrity from Ed- a person so full of noble humility and priceless honor that he might be aghast right now were he to know how I had seen and truly felt about him- or perhaps I did not learn about such integrity from him, perhaps I still have to learn that lesson, but at the very least I saw the living example of a man who had chosen to stand strongly against the tide of greed and desperation which consumes the lives of most of us on the planet, and to let the world carve its own path to its own destruction while he forged on alone in the night with an irrevocable force and conviction to never join in on the looting and loitering with the masses but instead to set to bailing out the sinking ship while everyone else was busy pissing into the hold.
It was back a few years, when I arrived for the first time in Sitka, that beautiful little Alaskan town surrounded by snow-capped mountains and islands leading out to sea; a vibrant little oasis of charm and personality standing out like a flagship on the magnificent outer coast of the panhandle. But I arrived there as adrift in life as a piece of flotsam thrown overboard by foreign fishermen which then bobs about aimlessly in the indifferent swells of the great Pacific before being cast up on shore as a chunk of refuse belonging to a different people from a different land, and even they don't want it. These were my lost and existential days of nomadic rambling, when nothing mattered but to keep going and going and pretend that I hadn't lost what I had lost and that I was going to find what I never found back then, which is to say- peace.
I had ferried down from Skagway after working a short contract at the Whitehorse fish hatchery, clipping the adipose fins off of six-thousand salmon fry during the day, while my female co-worker bush-hags held outlandish belching contests, and then I would spend the night drowning my estrangement to life in pints of stale beer at one of the town's many ignominious blues bars during the evening. Day and night it was culture at its finest, let me tell you.
Anyway, I ended up in Sitka as less a part of the earth than I had ever been in the past and took on serendipitous employment with Ed's two-man kayak operation, where I would end up doing all manner of things including guiding, instructing, selling, purchasing and running the show one month while Ed was away on other business. Mostly though I found myself for two summers working alongside a man who in my mind came to embody a paradoxical hybridization of the Buddha and Robin Hood; a man who's intransigent honesty, intent, and maturity of soul has remained unparalleled by any other, ever since our time together.
Ed came to Sitka as a young man to work for the town's main employer, the pulp mill, but upon completing his agreed-upon one year contract, and having seen the reality behind that rapacious and unconscious industry, he promptly quit, turned on his heels, and became the town pariah, a traitor, intent on preserving what was left of the surrounding forest and shutting down that gigantic, belching cyst forever.
It was a vicious battle and Ed's existence was threatened and impeded on more than one occasion, but in the end his sedulous conviction and uncompromising conscience would become the pivotal stroke in closing down the pernicious scourge.
I came upon him a few years after all of this was finished, by which time he had become the unassuming epicenter of the environmental movement in Alaska. His office was the control room of sedition and attack, filled from floor to ceiling with newspaper clippings, government documents, legal texts, and conservation periodicals. It was a sight to behold the inner passion of this individual, manifested in his nature-lover's Sorbonne of the day.
As well as this monumental aspect of his character, Ed was also an innovative computer programmer, engineer, house builder, paddling equipment designer, and perhaps the most knowledgeable and honest businessman ever to tangle in the world of industry. It was quite a tremendous apprenticeship which I underwent those months we had together, for, along with all of the knowledge and skills I gained from his expertise, it was his character- and perhaps his character alone- which allowed me to exist with one foot in the world and the other dangling out in the chaotic ether.
I say his 'character', although I am not certain how well that limited word describes his characterless existence. To be sure he had qualities, idiosyncrasies, and imperfections, but there was a purified emptiness about him which was unmistakable- a vast, inhuman, impenetrable depth lying like a bottomless ocean right behind the unflinching pupils of his deep brown eyes. It was as if no one of any describable personality existed within him; no little ego waiting impatiently for recognition or applause, no little cares or needs or wants directing his every move, no little self struggling to prove or express itself to the rest of the world. He seemed absent of all the insecurities and petty needs which lie like bandits in the skulls of the greater part of the rest of humanity. A Buddha, as I said, as hollow, transparent, and unflappable as the sky.
He had reached that august neutrality in which the reception and rejection of other people's spirits blend into a singular, harmonious non-reaction- an inner event which not only brings great equanimity, but also pivots other individuals, upon meeting one such as he, back onto their own dualistic selves.
It was this particular, remarkable absence of the little qualities within him which made other people, who were still crippled by the shoddy weight of their infantile psyches, become uncomfortably self-conscious in his presence because, among other things, whatever lay behind his eyes would offer no support or acceptance to any ego's pathetic theatrics, and would only react to a true and natural gesture coming from within another, and since most of us have been built up on affectation, warped predispositions, and histrionics alone- he would react very little. And it was this lack of response, this vacuum of consciousness into which the unwitting person, caught in the void of Ed's limitless being, would fall that would begin the little uncomfortable quivers which come when you run into a mirror that offers no reflection. Or perhaps a perfect reflection.
Ed was a living piece of litmus paper, an acid test for fake persona's; a hollow canyon into which one could scream and scream but out of which would come nothing, not even the echo of their own voice, only the sense of falling ever further and further into the dark expanse of non-existence- a place where all sentient beings are horrified at the thought of going.
Ed was a finished product, a philosopher's stone, an individuated, accomplished, established, true and living aspect of the One.
And so it was in his presence and mentorship that I began, or perhaps continued, to whittle away at the false structure of my false being, slowly carving away the learned responses, hidden conditionings, and trumped-up characteristics.
All this I can declare in retrospect, but back then I hardly knew what was going on except that all my games were over because I was in the presence of a master. I was being tempered in the purifying fire of his stainless consciousness. And I would even go so far as to say that Ed himself most likely had no clue of his own effect on others- that was how unaffected, sincere, and innocent he had become. I say innocent, but not docile. No, this was a man who could not be blown down by the putrid breaths of people who had only learned to parade their peacock feathers around but were really mere hatchlings scratching about in the turf. Ed was indeed as innocent as a virgin, but he was also as powerful as a bull. A gentle, unobtrusive, relentless man, fighting the good fight in a land of people who grabbed for anything that appeared as if it could keep them from drowning and who still drowned nonetheless. A colossus of a man, hidden within a thin and wiry frame, carrying about on his shoulders the smoldering remains of a dying fire.
Looking back I wonder how worthy a neophyte I was- back then at the time in my life when I had been so ripped to shreds by the world's futility and my own insatiable contemplations, and what was left of me had been scattered into the winds, until I had no center in which to turn and confront and receive this marvelous specimen of humanity; I was on a path that had no direction, no footing, no mileposts nor ease. I was at a stage in my development which the alchemists of old might have called the dissolutio- the tearing down of the old self so that a new one can be rebuilt from the rubble within. And yet, that perhaps, more than anything else, was why Ed was in my life- because there was no more stable pole on earth than himself- a pole by which I could orient myself and hold myself to the ground.
(excerpted from In and Of: memoirs of a mystic journey, by Jack Haas)
Zen Master : a modern zen master of detachment and emptiness