This conversation with Roshi Egyoku took place during my six weeks (Jan-Feb 2007) as an artist in residence at the Zen center of Los Angeles. A few times a week, we would sit down for a half hour chat to examine the relationship of Clowning and Zen.
Moshe: What is the clown doing here?
Egyoku: I think it is a great question, and I think that it is a question that we should keep raising actually. For one thing, I think that is the first question that arises. What is he doing here? What place does he have here?
M: Some people are still a little skeptical…
E: Yes it just challenges, what should we be doing here? What is Zen? What is spirituality? What is it really? This is why we have to take it out of the clothes, and the words. This is where we have to trust that we can really make it our own.
M: I really find the creative side of life akin to all this, because that is where it comes from. It comes from letting go.
this weekend, I was talking to my brother about a script he and his writing partner were writing (they are comedy screenwriters). His story was about how all week he couldn’t get around a problem in the script. This one part didn’t feel right, they felt stuck.
E: that is part of the process…
M: That’s what you said in the koan class and I shared with him your thoughts about being stuck. You said “you get used to that. OK here I am in this stuck place and just be there, accept it. Just know that you are going to be there, and that it will pass. That it is just part of the process.”
E: Yes it is wonderful.
M: My brother said something very interesting. He said, “we were going with this fix to the script, and I knew in my gut that it was wrong. I knew and I was upset all week. I knew that I wasn’t going with my gut feeling.
E: And we keep canceling it out. We cancel it out.
M: I think as an artist that is what you do; you go with your gut.
E: Well life is a great artwork. It is a creation. We kind of think that it is happening to us. But actually we are creating it every moment. It’s all our creation, karmically and otherwise. When you start to step into that way of seeing things, it becomes a whole different now.
M: Art is Zen in that way, isn’t it? It demands letting go of the thought process. One becomes so deeply concentrated in the art that everything else dissolves. Which is why for me the practice of clown is akin to Zen.
E: Yes, it is just another way to reinforce that way of being, that way of complete embodied presence. From a Zen perspective we would look at it that way. We have our forms, but there are other forms that could really get us to…I mean look at how hard it is for us to be a pillar (referring to the Koan workshop)
Post conversation notes:
Indeed in the koan workshop, at one point, we went around the oblong circle of some 40 participants in the dharma hall, and different participants stood up and physically embodied being a pillar. The koan is “Hide yourself in a pillar”, or sometimes they say “show me a pillar”.