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I did this on Usenet once and got some interesting answers. If I can find the thread in Gooja I will post it in a couple of days.
ETA: I made a comment in this post about what happened on Usenet.

I have had the following in my quote file for a long time. I don't know whether it is an accurate quote or not, but I like it.
Joshu is my favorite Zen Master. It is said that a monk once asked him, To be holy -- what is it like?" Joshu replied, "To dump a mountain of shit on a clean plain." -- Dick Sutphen
What do you think Joshu means?

(X-posted to buddhists)


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 26th, 2009 09:28 pm (UTC)
The willingness to give up the idea of "perfection," maybe? If you're willing to dump a mountain of shit on a clean plain, you're not attached to the worldly (and rather arbitrary) ideas of beauty and perfection. You're willing to "destroy" something normally seen as beautiful for something normally seen as imperfect or undesirable. You're not bound by the artificial judgments that define things as good or bad.

Just an initial thought.
Mar. 26th, 2009 09:33 pm (UTC)
That holiness will challenge and confound all of your expectations and not be anything like what you thought it would or should be?

Edited at 2009-03-26 09:33 pm (UTC)
Mar. 26th, 2009 09:41 pm (UTC)

Hmmm ... my sense is that the mountain of shit is the concept of a person being "holy," i.e. the minute a person starts to aim for or consider themselves "holy" they are dumping a mountain of shit on what might otherwise have been the fairly clean plain of their life and relationships.

Mar. 27th, 2009 01:56 am (UTC)

though i also think of shit as fertilizer, ergo not just as a bad thing. hm. need to ponder more.

Edited at 2009-03-27 08:33 pm (UTC)
Mar. 27th, 2009 10:53 pm (UTC)

LOL. Fertilizer -- yeah. There's more than one lens here, I think.

Mar. 26th, 2009 09:41 pm (UTC)
That being holy is difficult, unpleasant work.

Or possibly that from the perspective of a holy person, some stuff looks really bad and in need of fixing that looks just fine from a not-holy perspective.

Both of these seem sort of unlikely given my rudimentary understanding of Buddhism.

Perhaps it means "That's a silly question."
Mar. 26th, 2009 09:46 pm (UTC)
I'll answer this with another quote:

With or without religion, good people will do good things and evil people will do evil things. But to make good people do evil things -- that requires religion.
Mar. 27th, 2009 02:34 am (UTC)

I'm feeling the need to dump a mountain of shit on the idea that some people are good and some people are evil.


Mar. 27th, 2009 03:05 am (UTC)
Ted Kaszynski? The Unabomber? People who kidnap, rape, and torture children? The four men who drugged, gang-raped, and mutilated a young woman in Indiana, videotaped themselves doing it, and got off scot-free? Thrill killers? Timothy McVeigh? I don't have any problem at all thinking of those people as evil. They know what they do is wrong*, and they make a deliberate choice to do it anyhow.

* Don't even think about comparing this to homosexuality in the eyes of Christianists. That's an entirely different (and completely subjective) definition of "wrong".
Mar. 27th, 2009 11:36 am (UTC)

I don't dispute that people do some truly evil things. But no matter what a person has done -- really, truly, no matter what -- I can't say that the person is evil.

That is decidedly *not* to say that judicial systems should respond to acts of evil as momentary lapses of judgment, as aberrations in a person's life. I think all of the people you listed should probably spend their lives in jail.

And the homosexuality thing with some Christians (and some Muslims, and some Jews, and some Hindus...) is just naked homophobia with a fig leaf of religion thrown on top to justify it. IMAAESHO.

Mar. 27th, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
At this point we're going to have to agree to disagree, then. I am convinced that there people who are genuinely evil, some by birth (the true sociopath, which is fortunately quite rare) and most by choice (such as those I mentioned above). I also believe that once a person has chosen to dedicate their life to the dark path, genuine repentance (as opposed to "finding God" as a way to get out of prison) is so rare that it should not be considered a real possibility in our treatment of these people.
Mar. 27th, 2009 08:29 pm (UTC)
define: evil
or maybe you need to define your terms first; for all i can tell you're not even talking about the same thing

i always wonder what people mean by "evil". especially those don't follow a religion where evil is an active force in opposition to god. when i lost my faith, i had to rethink a whole lot of terminology (and the reasoning behind it).
Mar. 27th, 2009 10:57 pm (UTC)
Re: define: evil

This is where my brain was going. What is the use of the term "evil?" Why do we need it? Why do we use it?

For me, it is a purely religious term. And I was all ready to post a link to the very best book I ever read about evil, Raging With Compassion by John Swinton. But then I realized that book is completely immersed in Christian theology and terminology. The author's explanations and discussions are impossible to separate from his theology.

So I began to wonder what is the secular use of the word. What good is gained, what need answered, by calling a person or an act "evil?"

I don't know.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 27th, 2009 11:03 pm (UTC)


Mar. 26th, 2009 09:56 pm (UTC)
To be holy takes two steps.
1. Become pure.
2. Go out into the world and help other people.
Mar. 26th, 2009 10:16 pm (UTC)
According to Wikipedia, "Joshu" is the name of a zen master.

(What? You asked what I thought Joshu means, so I typed "define: joshu" into Google, and...)

(You're *much* too, uh, highly evolved and Buddhist and stuff to hit me, right?)
Mar. 26th, 2009 10:38 pm (UTC)
However, I'm not too highly evolved to nitpickingly point out that I asked what you think Joshu means, not Wikipedia or Google :)
Mar. 27th, 2009 03:45 am (UTC)
That the cruft and scaffolding that we build up in the name of holiness is so much shit compared to the pure emptiness (or the empty purity) of the truth.
Mar. 27th, 2009 05:08 am (UTC)
You ever notice how when one person says that something/someone is perfect a slew of other people start pointing out ways it isn't?

When I was a dancer I learned that ballet was the art of reaching for physical perfection, knowing that it couldn't be attained. To quote Tolkein, it's the art of fighting the long defeat.

Being holy is like that I think. You declare it to be so, or someone else does, and suddenly all you can see are the imperfections.

There's no such thing as the perfect anything. The holiness, the perfection, (for me) is the search for it. The reach.

Mar. 27th, 2009 02:14 pm (UTC)
Holy is just a pose.

Prior to the pose, you were the clean plain.

Give up on the pose.

But, a pile of shit is a lot of good fertilizer. Use it in your garden to grow flowers and vegetables and places for the birds to live.

Work with what you've got.
Mar. 27th, 2009 03:30 pm (UTC)
Some of the previous suppositions come close to mine, I'll add mine anyway.

The "empty plain" has no right or wrong way of being and is a clearing for anything. The empty plain has no constraints. It is not limited by conversations of good/bad, right/wrong, should/shouldn't. For the empty plain all things are possible.

The declarative act of calling Joshu "holy" immediately constrains that which is possible.

No matter how good the declaration sounds, the empty plain is now constrained by those who want to develop it, to continue the real estate metaphor. So it might be wonderful for Joshu's followers to think of him as holy, for Joshu, it is an imposed limition.

That which could be anything is now something. And not just something, but something significant in the minds of those who apply the constraint.
Mar. 27th, 2009 08:34 pm (UTC)
oh, i like this one a lot.
Mar. 27th, 2009 11:06 pm (UTC)


This rocks.

This, this, this a thousand times this. You talk like someone who has had experience with other people wanting to call you "holy."

Mar. 27th, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)
Turns out there is no thread on Gooja because I asked folks to e-mail me their interpretations. However, one of the interpretations was something along the lines of, "To be holy means to stir up shit in order to get people to think."
Mar. 27th, 2009 11:07 pm (UTC)


Ok I am now giddy with the fun of this thread. You just don't know how healing this is for parts of me that needed healing.
Mar. 28th, 2009 04:48 am (UTC)
I am delighted!
Mar. 30th, 2009 11:33 am (UTC)
I think most of my ideas have been covered in comments already. What I find interesting is how many interpretations there are, and how they all bounce off each other usefully. And it seems to me that a lot of religion can be interpreted in a lot of different ways but usually the people who hold to the different interpretations argue with each other, and lock into their own point of view.
Mar. 30th, 2009 05:47 pm (UTC)
Well said. I have a very specific response to the statement. And since some of the interpretations of my friends are different from that (and others, even if they are similar, are worded in ways I would not have thought of), and all of them are thought-provoking, it's a reminder to me to listen and keep investigating from a variety of perspectives.
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )

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