Blue Collar Zen is the result of six decades immersed in Rinzai Zen Buddhism, beginning that journey in the late 1950s. In 1973 I had the luxury of being schooled and directed in this sect of Zen through the teaching and guidance of Moriie Gassan Roshi who died of liver cancer in 1994 at the age of 76. He was 27 years of age, living, working and studying Rnzai Zen in Kyoto, Japan when Japan surrendered in 1945. Ironically, he was also a chemist there, ordained as a lay-priest in Rinzai Zen.
Gassan Roshi had become greatly disenfranchised from his own government and eventually immigrated to the USA, where he got a job in the budding plastics’ industry in Erie, PA. It was here I met Gassan Roshi in 1973, following my own return from overseas deployment.
Gassan Roshi didn’t not talk much of Japan, of Zen, or of anything Japanese, until eventually it slipped of what he knew and was. Once I knew about that, I was constantly asking questions. In a private and direct fashion, Gassan started guiding me toward seeing what I needed to see, and when I was ready, finally see it—then use it to benefit all.
He was not brutal like the founder of Rinzai Zen, Rinzai Gigen (Lin-Chi in Chinese) in imparting his teachings and wisdom. He was kind, patient, tolerant and always laughing out loud at my ignorance. Gassan Roshi’s favorite Zen master was Sojun Ikkyu, followed by Takuan Soho, Suzuki Shosan and Hakuin Ekaku. All rebels of their respective contemporary social order.
Quietly and without anything special and grandiose, I privately sucked up Gassan Roshi’s teachings and guidance until his death. He was a working man who held strongly to his Rinzai Zen ways. He always took the time and engaged his patience to teach me of everyday Zen. In 1992 he told me I was more Japanese than the Japanese, and presented me with my ordination in a non-ceremonious fashion, by simply giving me my Japanese name: Jiyu Yushi. And that was that.
But that was Gassan Roshi, nothing special, just see what you need to see, and do what you need to do, no matter the consequences. Sitting in temples, contemplating your breath is NOT living alive, helping others when you can, and then doing no harm, when you cannot help. Get out there and help others, no matter what. That is Rinzai Zen. Enlightenment is merely seeing what you need to see, in order to do what you need to do, in that moment, regardless of consequences.
Blue Collar Zen—there are no robes, no Inkas’ of enlightenment, no chanting; meditate if you need to, but always see with clarity, to decide correctly what needs done now. All perfect action arises from the perfect stillness within. Perfect stillness within, is the daily chore. And this must be reached NOT in a quiet temple, but while neck deep in the day’s bullshit, dealing with the assholes of life. We spend our days dealing with the bullshit, not sitting quietly in a safe temple, contemplating “nothingness.” Get out there and live alive, with all your might, to help when you can, and to do no harm, when you cannot aid assistance properly.