Well, I have given some thought to the question of Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi possibly being "the great professor".
I don't mean to exclude that possibility, but it really doesn't seem plausible to me.
● In the following quotations, it is I who blacken the relevant passages:
— Concerning Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi's alleged (militant) atheism:
Leonard also became a contributing editor of a new Buddhist magazine called Zero, which had been founded a year earlier and was named for Roshi's fondness for mathematical terms — zero, to Roshi, was the place where all the pluses and minuses equated in God, the absence of self, and true love.
(Sylvie Simmons, "I'm Your Man", Vintage Books, 2013, p. 300.
The time is late 1978 or early 1979.)
— Concerning Leonard Cohen when I see him like a priest:
On 9 August 1996, three years into his life in the monastery, Leonard was ordained a Zen Buddhist monk. [...] Leonard had agreed to the ordination not as a step towards sainthood, nor as a step away from the religion he was born to. As he wrote in his 1997 poem 'Not A Jew',
Anyone who says
I'm not a Jew
is not a Jew
I'm very sorry
but this is final
Eliezar, son of Nissan,
priest of Israel;
Nightingale of the Sinai.
Yom Kippur 1973;
Jikan the Unconvincing
He had agreed to ordination to 'observe protocol'.[...] Roshi had told him it was time for him to become a monk, and so that is what he did. Leonard had also recently taken on responsibilities for which official status might be deemed appropriate: Roshi had asked him to preside over his funeral.
(Sylvie Simmons, "I'm Your Man", Vintage Books, 2013, p. 390.
After the poem, an asterisk leads to a footnote:
Leonard published a six-line edit of 'Not A Jew' in Book of Longing (2006).)
— Concerning the possibility of Leonard Cohen worshipping Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi as a human god:
• Asked who his hero was, he rolled off the names of spiritual leaders and poets — Roshi, Ramesh Balsekar, Lorca, Yeats — adding the caveat, 'I admire many men and women but it's the designation "hero" that I have difficulty with, because that implies some kind of reverence that is somewhat alien to my nature.'
(Sylvie Simmons, "I'm Your Man", Vintage Books, 2013, p. 77)
• On the back of the booklet of "Popular Problems", I read:
This record is dedicated
to our Teacher and Companion
Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi
1907 - 2014
● Let me add a few more notions:
One of the problems with scientific thought is that it is as fallible as any other human enterprise, and that the humans involved in science have as much of a tendency to erroneously estimate their position as any other humans have.
There is the famous exchange between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, told in a few different versions. This version here is probably not historically exact, but I like it:
Albert Einstein, who doesn't like chaos and probability, declares that God doesn't play dice.
Niels Bohr in return asks him who he thinks he is to dictate God's ways...
It often boils down to believing oneself able to look at the Universe from the outside. We all believe such non-sense occasionally. And "all there is to know" is: that in fact we cannot.
We cannot know what's "outside", nor whether there is any "outside". That's beyond our reach.
Science cannot speak about God, and any real scientist knows that (as a scientist — private beliefs are a different matter). No real scientist would try to prove that there is no God — nor that He exists, or plays dice, or doesn't. That's beyond science.
Believers believe, and non-believers don't — that has nothing to do with science.
Personally, I feel better without believing — but that is my private affair. Others feel better otherwise, and that is their private affair. There is no such thing as "one of these positions is better than the other".
Or as Leonard Cohen puts it: "One of us cannot be wrong" — for those who like puzzles of logic.
Whatever we believe, the universe is not inside our mind but we are inside the universe. This is the old Epimenides-paradox, our inside-the-world-ness which we sometimes would like to escape out of, and never can.
Which is so simple, and yet often so difficult to accept:
"Show me the place..."
To me, the "in-vitation" is precisely the declaration of, first of all, there being such an inside, and second, the actuality of finding oneself in there.
Most things in our daily life are outside: the computer on which I'm writing this gibberish is outside myself; my fingers hit the keyboard, but even they are not inside.
Other things are often outside, sometimes inside: people we love are inside of us — sometimes, for a little while.
At privileged moments we might be one with a partner, a person, an animal, an instrument, an idea.
At such a moment, the two of them are inside one bigger thing which is more than the sum of its parts.
But all the time, with rigorously no exception, we are inside the universe. Whether we know it or not, and knowing it whether we are aware of it or not, and being aware of it whether we like it or not — we are inside, we are part of it.
For once, we are given a glorious thing, which on top of it lasts in time — and we don't want it. The truest, deepest love, the one mystic union, the reality of being part of a sum which is more — and we want to get out...
Teachers, priests, masters, gurus, analysts sometimes take advantage of this human tendency to step out of bonds (and some of them even require their underlings to worship them), as though they were some kind of entrance-door to the universe (while in fact we all are already inside, for free), and to drain their bank-accounts in their favour, and what not.
Now in the zen-world, this human tendency is an important aspect because of the nuisances that go along with this worshipping human gods. Zen-teachers have quite a number of niceties in their toolbox, allowing them to considerably reduce the risk. And some of these tools can have extremely sharp teeth...
A benign example:
One of my zen-teachers, knowing me as an atheist of the rather relaxed kind, informed me in one of those personal interviews between teacher and disciple that she was basically a Roman Catholic, and that she had turned to Zen-Buddhism because Catholicism doesn't accept female priests.
(Now how much easier would it have been to go for Protestantism! No need to learn difficult things like zazen and Japanese and sutras and all...)
And that between those two, she had gone for Carlos Castaneda for a while.
(At that time, a good twenty years ago, I had already forgotten almost everything by Carlos Castaneda I had read, and only very recently did I stumble across the fact that he had run a kind of sect, together with Florinda Donner, whose writings I had forgotten, too.)
The only valid "information" in what this teacher told me in this interview was: she showed me, in a very structured manner, the chaos of her own mind. Her fallibility, her not being a human god. Her not being a "professor of all there is to know".
This very benign, preventive demystification took place in a Soto-zen context, where there is nobody empowered to judge whether someone's "solution" of a koan is "authentic" or not, like in Rinzaï-zen. It took place with me, who am not actually a man of the worshipping kind at all. And yet she esteemed this precaution advisable.
(Ok, she was freshly ordained as superior of her own temple which she was building, and so she possibly played things a bit strictly according to the rules — and at the time I was experienced enough to understand what she was doing. We shared a joke. But still...)
In other contexts, sharper tools might be necessary. This cannot be judged from outside.
What I mean to say is that this kind of demystification is an important aspect because Zen-teachers are technicians.
Zen-teachers are not magicians, or representatives of a higher order, or wielders of power, or what not.
If your water-tap is broken and you can't fix it, you need a plumber; if your car is broken and you can't fix it, you need a mechanic; if your appendix is breaking, don't try to fix it, you need a surgeon; if your mind is broken and you can't fix it, well, I'm not saying that you need a psychiatrist; and if your spirituality needs some kind of formalism, well, Zen might, in a few rare cases, be one of the many possibilities. In which case, a technician might come in handy. That's all.
No veneration. "If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha."
No human gods.
Therefore know that you must become one with the bow, and with the arrow, and with the target —
to say nothing of the horse.
♪... for a while ♪
♪... for a little while... ♪
(Just a filthy beggar guessing / What happens to the heart)