Zen and the art of Windsurfing
Before I joined this church,
I worshipped every Sunday
and often on Wednesday
and sometimes Friday and Saturday
worshipped in the wilderness that lies just offshore,
worshipped on the water,
worshipped in God's cathedral,
practicing the ritual
[What] If the ocean waves could ever
If the sand were sugar candy
I would never more be lonely
Okay, you can get down now. That was THE ICE CREAM OCEAN by John Mackay Shaw.
Everyone's life is full of sadness and suffering. The suffering is due to selfish Desire: desire for material goods, for power, for fame, for sexual fulfillment, for permanence, for immortality, for salvation. None of these desires can be satisfied [on this earth] for more than an instant, if at all.
To end the suffering, you must end the Desire and dissolve the self. The desire can only be ended by adopting a life of self discipline, moral conduct, and meditation, to become a monk, which allows one to lose oneself, to dissolve the self, to dissolve the ego. All branches of Buddhism have disciplines or exercises. The goal of a disciple is to enter into the discipline and lose the self.
If one can achieve, by whatever exercise, the mental state of having no desires, a state of selflessness, one has achieved enlightenment. And for that moment you are one with the universe. And when that moment has passed you may keep it in your memory, you can return, you can regain. Indeed, you can never completely lose your enlightenment.
If you can maintain the enlightened state you can achieve NIRVANA. Nirvana is release from the self, release from the cycle of rebirth, freedom, oblivion. Or perhaps Nirvana is a merger of the self into the divine, like a drop of water into the sea.
Most Buddhists believe that enlightenment is achieved gradually over many years of meditation. Zen Buddhists believe it can be achieved at any time, any place. All that is required is that one be ready for it, open to the possibility. Indeed this is how Sidhartha Gautama, the Buddha himself, achieved it.
Quoting from the writings of Zen Buddhist Priest Chuan Yuan Shakya, the aim of any meditation technique is to transcend ego-consciousness, that is, to go from ego-awareness to the state in which the ego doesn't exist. This is a tall order, one that specifies a division of experience.
On one side we have Nirvana - unconditional loves, permanent values - the Real world, our heaven. No egos and no judgments, just God in all His Persons - and peace, joy, truth and freedom - and the Eternal moment. We enter Nirvana through the act of meditation.
On the other side we have ego-awareness or Samsara as we call it... this is the Buddhist equivalent of hell... it is the world of illusion - appearances, judgments, opinions, conditional loves and values... the world that measures distance and history by Greenwich Mean Time.
Samsara is the hellish world of time and space and the shifting shapes which energy assumes, the fluctuating world which is apprehended by the senses and presided over by the judgmental ego. This is the world that the Buddha described as being "bitter and painful."
Why do we call Samsara hell? Let's take a look at the world of the ego. Suppose I see a woman who's wearing a yellow sweater. I would be making a Nirvanic utterance if I said simply, "I see a woman wearing a yellow sweater." I would be making a Samsaric utterance if I said, "I see a woman wearing a hideous yellow sweater." By my contemptuous, judgmental statement, by my egotistical usurpation of the exalted rank "Arbiter of Fashion" I have placed myself in the hell of Samsara because I now must stand trial for every garment I wear. I must commit much of my time and energy, and my financial resources, to looking good because I dare not ever be caught wearing anything hideous. Nobody will love me for dressing well; but if I make a fashion blunder then all those whom I have criticized will gleefully get their revenge.
In all our egotistical judgments - about clothes or art, or our instantaneous opinions about other people's guilt or innocence, or their sincerity or duplicity - about anything at all - we place ourselves at hellish risk.
Jesus said it best. "Judge not and ye shall not be judged."
In Samsara we believe that a man who drives a Cadillac is a better man than a man who drives a Ford because a Cadillac is a better car than a Ford. Right? And the man who wears a Rolex spends his time better than a man who wears a Timex... Isn't that how it goes? In Samsara we believe that the quality of a possession magically adheres to the possessor. People who have expensive junk are much happier than people who have cheap junk. How painful it is to learn that this belief is false... that this illusion defines deceit itself.
In the early 80's I was in southern California, a yuppie DINK looking for a new sport. I considered hang gliding, snow skiing and wind surfing. Being a third generation engineer I did a little research. It turns out that half of all hang gliding accidents are fatal. I went snow skiing with a friend of mine at Big Bear. We played on the bunny slopes and later we ventured onto the intermediate slope. I noticed that about every 30 minutes the ski patrol would bring someone down the mountain in a basket. The last one I saw had one leg sticking sideways out the basket at a most unnatural angle. I took up windsurfing. If you screw up, you get wet. This I could handle.
For the ancient reading I gave you basic Buddhism, now I will give you Basic Windsurfing. For Windsurfing, balance is everything. Everything must be in balance. You can see why. You stand on a small platform that reflects every wrinkle in the surface of the sea. Imagine the wind blowing 20 knots. Imagine the floor moving up and down in waves of 4 feet at 7 second intervals.
Across the wind is a reach. If the wind is there and you want to go there then Stand here. Hold the sail like this. The sail is shaped like a wing or a giant feather. The wind fills the sail and creates a low pressure area here. The centerboard or the skeg keeps the board from going downwind. So it moves forward. The stronger the wind the more you lean out over the water. If the wind dies suddenly you get wet! If the wind suddenly increases you spill air. If you can't spill it fast enough, then the sail goes that way and if you are still in the harness, you are thrown, like a rock from a slingshot, that way! My personal best is 4 meters ahead of the board!
To go down wind lean the sail forward, shifting the center of effort in front of the center of balance and the bow of the board moves downwind. The surfer moves to the middle. To go upwind, lean the sail back, shifting the center of effort behind the center of balance. The board turns into the wind. The surfer moves to the back edge. And hangs out over the edge.
Starting is hard. Either you uphaul or waterstart. To uphaul you stand on the board and haul the sail up, which is difficult to impossible as the wind increases. Short boards are so small they will not hold you up unless they are moving fast over the water. You can not stand on them and uphaul. Shortboards must waterstart! To waterstart you position the board across the wind and the mast points into the wind. You lie in water, hopefully with a life jacket on, lift the edge of the mast, get some air under it. The wind will hold it up. You slide down to the booms. Lift the sail a little and the sail will pick you up. Spill air and land with your feet here.
Turning is messy. A tack is when you turn so the wind crosses your bow. A Gybe is when you turn so the wind crosses your stern. To tack you have to go around the mast. Short boards do not have room to tack. Shortboards gybe!
As a Zen windsurfer I have one goal. It is not to win races. It is to be able to do an aerial loop. On Hokepa beach on the island of Maui (and a few other choice locations) the wind is offshore, the waves are huge ocean rollers that come in fast and usually build to 15 or 20 feet. Sailing out on a reach in 25 or 30 knots of wind, it is possible to jump your board 20 or 30 feet into the air. Some people hang there using the sail as a wing for a few precious seconds. Some do loops. Some even do double loops. I have a picture of Robby NASH, a Buddha himself, jumping above a helicopter.
To achieve that pinnacle of the aerial loop, one must master two lesser mountains, the water start and the short board gybe. I have mastered the water start. Alas, I have yet to master the short board gybe. A ritual exercise in a discipline is a mantra. Here are 2 mantras for Windsurfing. As I recite, after each line say "ommmmm"
When the wind comes up you can begin your second mantra. I will do this one by myself.
Position yourself in relation to the Universe
Mistaking a Finger for the Moon
But look at what the youth sees. The sage points with a large round white shiny finger in the face of the youth. The youth looks no farther than the end of his nose and thinks he sees the moon. Two Windsurfers meet in a downtown office. Imagine the following exchange taking place between two well dressed professionals in a downtown office building's crowded elevator. I have heard bits and pieces of this exchange many times. I have collected a few of them together here.
S: Hey Charlie!
At this point in time the two windsurfers realize they have 4 feet of clear space between themselves and the rest of the wide-eyed passengers on the elevator.
Is it dangerous?
In Conclusion: There are 2 routes to Nirvana. You may become a monk or a priest. You can withdraw from the world and into the realm of meditation, or you can engage the world and work for its betterment. This work is thankless and without reward.
The Monk's Story: Bodhidharma, was a 6 foot blue-eyed Indian prince and Buddhist monk who created ZEN by marrying martial arts [Gung Fu] and meditation. Zen means meditation. He brought this Reformation version of Buddhism to China. At one point he was summoned by Emperor WU of the Liang dynasty. The emperor had built many temples and performed many charitable acts and considered himself a hard working and worthy orthodox Buddhist; and so he asked the ZEN teacher, how much merit all his good deeds had one him. "Why, none!" answered the Zen master. "Then what" asked the Emperor "if not good works should I as a Buddhist have striven to accomplish?" "To be empty of yourself" answered Bodhidharma. "Who do you think you are?" Bodhidharma shrugged, "I have no idea."
The Priest's Story: A scorpion fell into a pond. A priest resting nearby picked him out of the water and was stung for his reward. The scorpion fell in again. The priest rescued him again was stung again. When it happened a 3rd time a youth asked the priest why he bothered. The priest replied "It is the nature of the scorpion to sting what it fears. It is the nature of humans to help their fellow creatures."
Do you have any questions regarding ZEN Buddhism or Windsurfing?
Last modified: July 11, 2004
©2004 Zen and The Martial Arts