Inka Speech, September 03, 2022*
Home is Not Home. Not Home is Home!
No Home. No not home!
Home is Home. Not Home is not-home, which one of these statements is correct?
Bright faces shine in the morning light.
Where is Home?
Where is home? Maybe it’s right here in Kosice – so near to where my father was born and spent his summer holidays long ago. He loved this land but never could show it to me because of the war. Perhaps this is finally near home?
Where is home? What am I? What is life? Fundamental questions that urge all of us to really look at this life, at this world. But often we do so with so much drama, as these questions arise every time, and we get knocked off balance:
I asked again and again: Am I European or American? No one here can spell or pronounce my name. My father was Polish, and my mother was French. They told me, “Don’t make anything special. Americans gave us safety in the most dangerous time. Just be an American.” – I said, “Ok”, but it felt so strange. I started to look at this country, back in the 1960s, everything was new – new highways, new airports, new cars. I thought, “Maybe this big, shiny new county is home. Maybe this is part of who I am?
Tylko kapusta i masło
But when the Iron Curtain opened, and I finally reached Poland ten years later in 1970, I found that home is more than names or words can capture. I had just arrived from shining and glamorous Manhattan, New York to Warsaw. I found a world with no color. No paint on the buildings, no bright lights. Yet life in some ways was full and vibrant – made by people with hardly anything – no cars, no telephone, no fancy anything, and in the supermarkets there was almost no food at all – tylko kapusta i masło. Only cabbage and butter. No bread, no meat, no vegetables…. Nothing! And this was Warszawa, the capital of Poland. I was frightened. How do these people live? – Yet I found these people were wonderful. Even though they had nothing, these people had bright, sharp minds. They asked penetrating questions, wisely observing life, and loving and helping one another in ways that were inspiring. With nothing, they were making a good life.
Am I Polish? They can actually spell my name, so … Am I home? They laughed and said, “Jan, you’re a nice guy, but you don’t look Polish.” – Don’t know.
This question arose even more deeply for me when I lived the next year in West Africa and found the same story from people who had less than the people in Poland. Wonderful, insightful people.
Home or Not Home
Maybe I can find the answer in books? Perhaps literature or religion can answer it? – I read and read, and I found no real satisfaction or relief. Philosophy was too dry, none of the juice of life. Religions involved carrying around mountains of beliefs. Then a book on Zen hit me: “As soon as you think you’ve found the answer, you have gone to sleep.” – This can never grow old. It will always be fresh. But……. How to follow this Zen path? Japan and Korea are on the other side of the world.
Maybe drugs are the shortcut? It was the hippie times, and I had hair down to my shoulders. We tried everything. And when I say “Everything”, I mean “Everything”! – And so, we tried all kinds of magic mushrooms and LSD, and had fantastic experiences. It was a world beyond words. For a lot of these experiences, why open your mouth when words make no sense? And so, one had a feeling in one’s bones, that something beyond words was out there.
But what is it? – Every time we wake up from these drugs to find ourselves in the same place, frustrated as all the glow fades away, and it became clear… you can’t depend on outside help, because it melts away. Drugs may show you Not Home, but eventually you’re back in the same place, and you still don’t know. You must climb this mountain on your own and leave “inside” and “outside” behind.
All my efforts to find Home or Not Home ended in the same place: Don’t Know.
So, what is my direction?
I decided to check out all the Zen Masters and find a Sangha. A grand tour from California to New York, and maybe even Asia. As luck would have it, I was living in Providence, Rhode Island. I called them at PZC, and they said, “Yes, we have a Zen Master here”. So I went there for my first encounter with an actual Zen Master. I remember waiting in the Dharma Room for evening practice, everyone seated in silence, I hear the footsteps coming down the stairs, and there appears…. Dae Soen Sa Nim, the first Zen master I saw who did not live in the pages of a book.
All through chanting and sitting, I was sneaking glances over at him, looking, listening, trying to get a sense, and again it became clear….. Check him out? Are you kidding?
I had no idea how……… Don’t know.
So, in twenty minutes my Grand Tour evaporated. Why bounce from flower to flower when you can’t even taste the nectar? Stay right here until things become clear.
Maybe PZC is home. DSSN said that we lost our way to our original home because we forgot our True Self, so I moved in, and started to build my new Zen identity: new robes and kasa, new practice, new language, a Dharma name. But before I could settle in to a comfortable “home”, DSSN challenged us:
“Why are you practicing? You want enlightenment?
Enlightenment, Not Enlightenment…. not important.
What is your Direction?”
That’s important… Only for all beings!
But which direction? – A doctor asked DSSN, “Should I become a monk?” – He replied, “No, just be a doctor 100% and help everybody.” – This was a big relief to hear because, after 90 days at Kyol Che at Sudok Sa in Korea, I knew I would have been a really bad monk. Do you want proof? –– just look at my two beautiful daughters and my wonderful partner.
So, what is my direction? Where can I help the most?
Earth, Climate Crisis, Science: Home… Not Home…. Don’t Know
Already there was much suffering because the world was changing so fast. So fast that it was becoming hard to recognize…. Home… Not Home…. Don’t Know. – Especially now when more than 30 million people are environmental refugees. They have been chased from their homes by drought, flood, fire, and storm, by Climate Change. They live somewhere else, not because they want to, but because they have to.
In California, there are canyons where the fire moves so quickly that sometimes the only warning you get is your neighbor yelling to you “Run!”. Don’t think of your passport or try to grab anything, just start running. That’s how fast the fire moves. Now we hear this from Australia up to Siberia and around to Europe …. “I no longer recognize my world”.
Fire, flood, drought, pandemics…. Home becomes Not Home becomes our new Home …. Don’t Know. – This is where help is needed.
Maybe I could just be a scientist 100% and save all beings with knowledge. 40 years of work in science revealed that knowledge is not enough. It’s even dangerous for the small minds that grab it as their identity. They use their knowledge to protect their identity…these are the ones that say, “I know.” But, in the world of science, there are great minds that have moved far beyond “knowledge” to a frontier driven only by curiosity where nobody knows, a wave of Don’t Know that never stops. I was profoundly moved by how humble and open the greatest of them were, like children who would listen to and talk to anyone, eyebrow-to-eyebrow, with complete honesty and humility.
We need this Don’t Know NOW more than ever
Every path I tried, Names, Possessions, Philosophy, Religion, Drugs, Knowledge all ended in the same place: Don’t Know. – But how to use this Don’t Know in a world changing so fast that no one recognizes or trusts anyone or anything? We need this Don’t Know now more than ever. Never in my 72 years has the world been so divided. So many people are frightened, and, in their fear, are trying to gain control by knowing more than others. My scientist said this, my journalist said this…. So I know! Because of this anger and certainty, we are not learning. I am a climate scientist, and I can tell you that no one has the answer. We have to learn. We have to take risks and “learn our way into the future”.
Would you like to see the power of this Don’t Know? Let’s go back 108 years to Not Home– the No Man’s Land between the British and German trenches in the First World War on Christmas Eve, 1914. One million men were already dead in five months. The world had never seen such destruction and carnage. There was shock and incredible anger as well as fear holding everyone apart.
A British soldier is shocked to see a Christmas tree and lanterns in the German trenches and hear singing ‘Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht’ from the German side. The Brits countered with ‘The First Noel’, and the Germans answered with ‘Oh Tannenbaum’. Something was opening…. What is this? Yesterday we faced machine guns. Today there is singing…. What is this?
The bravest on both sides used this opening to go out into No Man’s Land between the trenches. They were brave enough to say, “I don’t know”. They shared tobacco, schnapps, and sausage, took photographs, played soccer. – These men were brave enough to put down the hatred and any idea of “enemy”, and a miracle occurred. They simply recognize each other as human beings where “You” and “I “are not different. Two-thirds of the front ceased fighting that Christmas. 100 000 men laid down their arms for two days.
Don’t Know made possible what no one could have imagined.
The same responsibility lies before us right now. Beyond techniques or words or ideas…. What can we do now? Some may think of Zen as some romantic escape from the world into meditation. It’s not romantic. It’s practical. Practicing Don’t Know is the most responsible step in this changing world. – So where is home? When we follow our Direction, practicing a deep Don’t Know, then Home appears as we build together. And when we lose our direction, then Home disappears.
I am so grateful for these many years of practice with all of you. You have all taught me. No journey happens alone. My profound gratitude to all my friends and family who have supported me over these many years, and especially to my teachers, Zen Master Ji Kwang, Knud Poep Sa Nim, Barry Poep Sa Nim, my wonderful partner, Alma, and ultimately, Dae Soen Sa Nim, who helped me greatly to start down this road. Hand-in-hand, we all share this work, and I hope it will continue so for many years to come.
If you search for home, you will miss it.
If you don’t search for home, you will never find it.
Take away searching and missing– then what is this?
It’s a beautiful mountain morning. Let’s open the door and help our friends in out of the rising heat!
Jan Sendzimir PSN has practiced Zen since he met Dae Soen Sa Nim in 1974 and moved into the Providence Zen Center. He did Kyol Che at Sudok Sa, South Korea in 1976. He continued to practice in the United States over the next 20 years, while completing a doctorate in ecology and raising two daughters in Florida and Austria. In 2010, he returned to intense practice in Europe, South Korea and North America. Since 2013 he has lived and practiced with his life partner, ZM Hyon Ja, as Abbott of the Vienna Zen Center.
*This speech was given on September 3, 2022, in Kosice (Slovakia) on the occasion of the solemn appointment of Jan Sendzimir as an authorized teacher (JDPSN). Such an appointment is traditionally made within the framework of an “Inka ceremony”.