In the spring of 1994 I was attending a small college in northern Arizona. I wasn't sure why I ended up there, as I was no longer interested in the subject that I had once applied for, and was now studying religion, philosophy and human development. For the past few years I had devoured every new angle on spirituality that I could get my hands on. Thee resources had fed me, inspired me, and pushed me forward for some time. But, by the end of my second year in college, I was beginning to feel that something big was missing in my life. It became increasingly difficult to find the same inspiration and guidance from this material that I had lived by for the past several years. My personal practice began to collapse, and moods of despair and depression swept over me daily as I struggled to figure out what I felt, believed in or thought I knew.
I tried studying the known traditions, but did not resonate with them, finding them dry, distant. Meanwhile, my inner world continued to collapse. Secretly I dreamt of being born a thousand or two thousand years ago when the great masters and sages walked the earth-alive, real, accessible, and surrounded by disciples. The world around me looked horrifyingly hopeless, speeding forward recklessly in an irreversible superficiality.
I would ride my bicycle around town, through the dimly lit streets and back alleyways at night, searching for some café, some bookstore, someplace in which I could ease the groundlessness and discomfort that plagued me.
About that time I first caught the drift of a certain teacher named Lee who lived in the area with his community. I didn't pay it much attention-I wasn't interested in communities anyway, although plenty of my friends were. But the indicators persisted and the clues grew stronger, strong enough that they began to tug on me, to get my attention. It seemed that this teacher was a spiritual teacher, even called a master by many of his students. I did not really believe this at first, but I kept my ears opens. The thought of a spiritual master living in the suburbs was absurd to me. Besides, this was the twentieth century. Spiritual master were a thing of the past. As far as I was concerned, all that remained today were books about such persons.
Underneath my skepticism, however, I felt a surge of excitement, almost exhilaration. I pressed my friends and acquaintances for more information. Who was this teacher? What was he all about? What did he teach? Only one man seemed to know anything. He informed me that this teacher sang in a rock'n'rol band, called liar, gods and beggars, that performed locally, and invited me to attend a gig one Saturday night in an old historic warehouse on the North and of town.
Conspiring with some friends, and very unsure of what I would find, I went out to the warehouse that night. The parking lot was dark and quiet, but the thump-thump of drums and the wailing of electric guitars coming from the building was unmistakable. Walking up to the front door, we hesitated; no one said anything. A momentary fear welled up in me. Then, we went in.
A large dance floor opened before us, with thirty or so dancers moving excitedly to the music. At the back of the room another fifteen to twenty people sat in chairs or stood talking and watching the band. I recognized nobody. The music blasted across the room at us with a force that seemed to stop our further entry into the building. I scanned the room, fixing my eyes on the small stage set up in a corner, where a six-piece all-male rock band was playing.
The members of the band looked to be about middle age, several were bearded, and most had long hair, either flying loose or gathered in a ponytail. All were dressed casually in jeans and t-shirts. To me they appeared like any ex-hippie rock band, talented but obscure. In the center of the stage a man with dark sunglasses and a bushy graying beard and hair was leaning into the microphone. His voice boomed in the awkward acoustics of the warehouse. It was throaty, gravelly, rough.
"That's the teacher," my friend yelled into my ear, pointing to the stage. "The guy playing bass?" I yelled back. The bassist looked like the best bet-head shaved and looking rather stoic, cool. "No, the guy singing."
I looked over again at the man hidden behind sunglasses in the center, who was now jumping up and down in front of the lead guitarist with a tambourine in one hand, the microphone in the other.
"He can't sing," another friend yelled over at us, a look of incredulity on his face.
The vocals were quite non-melodic-half-sung, half-spoken.
We stood and watched for some time as the band played song after song, unsure of what to make of this strange scene. I tried to discern the lyrics but the sound was too rough to really follow them. One thing came through, however-the lyrics didn't seem particularly 'spiritual," and for that matter, neither did the man who was supposed to be the teacher, nor the band around him.
The picture before me presented a strange juxta-positions: no one was smoking; no one was drinking; and yet here were all these people dancing and getting' down to the sounds of this full-on rock band, a band that was supposed to be headed by a "spiritual master." It didn't fit into any frame of reference that I had, nor match any experience I could relate it do.
As the night wrote on I begun to loosen up a bit and dance to some of the songs, still watching the lead singer-teacher out of the corner of my eye. In my mind I was trying to piece together everything I had heard, read and studied and believed about spiritual master with what I saw before me-a bearded fifty-something, middle-class, sunglass-wearing Jewish man, half-singing half-yelling into the microphone, making jokes at the expense of the small audience gathered there, and cussing with all the crudity of a truck driver. This couldn't be a spiritual master. Spiritual master are holy, sacred, wise beings, not bad rock'n'roll singer in back-alley warehouses in no-name towns.
But I couldn't easily dismiss the experience of that night. I couldn't resolve the discomfort I felt between what I'd been told and what I saw. I was unwilling to believe that I'd been lied to and yet unable to believe that this strange man was who people said he was.
In the coming months I attended more rock'n'roll gigs, using the time to carefully scrutinize this man called "teacher" and see if there was more to him that first met the eye. There was. But it took a closer investigation over the following months and years to begin to reveal what lay beneath the rock-singer façade and to understand that façade's place and importance in Lee's teacher work.
Since 1994 I have had the opportunity to travel with Lee to India, Europe and various cities throughout the U.S., to witness first-hand the enigma of his public persons, whether on stage or giving a talk. Over the years, this koan has not resolved itself, but deepened, continuing to reflect back to me my own internal contradictions and struggles to understand beyond the level of mind. This book is not the culmination of such understanding, but a passing glimpse. Its true value lies in the transmission of the teaching through Lee Lozowick's "Zen trash," and is due completely to the storyteller of these tales.
This book contains dozens of teaching stories from many world religious traditions-including Zen, Christianity, Tibetan Buddhism, Sufism and Hinduism-rendered with a twist of humor, irony or provocation by contemporary spiritual teacher lee Lozowick. They are compiled from twenty-five years of Lozowick's talks and seminars in the U.S. Canada, Europe, Mexico and India.
These Zen Stories tales will typically confound the mind and challenge any conventional seriousness about the spiritual path. In essence, however, they hold what every traditional teaching story has always held-the possibility of glimpsing reality, beyond the multiple illusions that surround the truth. Even if they derive from a three thousand year old tradition, Lee Lozowick's unique style makes these stories contemporary and practical.
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