Pushcart 2013: Shozan Jack Haubner, “A Zen Zealot Comes Home,” from The Sun, September 2011

Sun art by Craig J. Satterlee

Sun art by Craig J. Satterlee

A Zen Buddhist monk in my tradition gets exactly one week off a year. This time is specifically designated for a “family visit.” I always take my week at Thanksgiving, and every year I prove right that old Zen adage: Think you’re getting closer to enlightenment? Try spending a week with your parents.

It’s a familiar story, not unique to vacationing Buddhist monks. Kids arrive home from their first year in college, heads spinning with ideas of Liberté, égalité, fraternité acquired in their philosophy and history courses, eager to school their parents on how the world really works, while the parents are figuring out how to pay next year’s tuition. Or the new mother visits her mother, armed with the latest information on child rearing to make sure Granny doesn’t screw up Junior too badly during their weekend visit, oblivious to the realization that she herself was raised completely wrong and still managed to turn out ok.

Kids are always trying to fix their parents. And if I sound like I know what I’m talking about… well, I was a kid, once. Sometimes, kids have good reasons to think their parents need an upgrade. Sometimes, they’re just using a different generation’s measuring sticks.

Haubner’s article reminded me a bit of a standard joke at 12-step meetings, where someone talks about how proud he is of his humility. He’s got some good points:

Why had my father never apologized for beating me? A fair question. And here was another: Why hadn’t I apologized to my five siblings for all the noogies, nipple-twists, and occasional drubbings with a pair of foam-padded nunchucks that I’d subjected them to? The sins for which you cannot forgive yourself are the sins for which you will never be able to apologize. Such is the Catch22 of extreme guilt: I can’t come to terms with the violence I’ve committed until I can admit that I did it, but I can’t admit that I did it until I can come to terms with the violence I’ve committed.
Suddenly I felt a twinge of kinship with my father. We were both at war with ourselves, not each other.

Oddly, in spite of the universal nature of kids struggling to develop adult relationships with their parents, and of even the broader theme of guilt and forgiveness, this article was to me the least outward-looking of any I’ve read in this volume. Maybe it’s just a different approach, one where Haubner gives his experience, and lets the reader draw whatever is applicable.

Haubner’s collection of humorous essays on the Buddhist way of life, Zen Confidential: Confessions of a Wayward Monk, is due out in May.