Baseball, LSD, and Zen

Here is something sort of related to Wednesday’s review of The Joyous Cosmology, Alan Watts’ book on psychedelics, at least it’s related to psychedelics. It may be old news to some, but it was new to me when I read on that Dock Ellis, the famed Major League Baseball player, while playing for the Pirates pitched a no-hitter against the Padres on LSD. This was on June 12, 1970.

Ellis died in 2008 at the age of 63.

Evidently, with a few days off, Ellis had been doing some partying. In 1984, he said, “I was in Los Angeles, and the team was playing in San Diego, but I didn’t know it. I had taken LSD. I thought it was an off-day, that’s how come I had it in me. I took the LSD at noon.”

According to sportswriter, Patrick Hruby, after he took the hit, Ellis’ girlfriend told him he’d better get up because he had to pitch. He told her no, he didn’t have to pitch until Friday. Then his girlfriend showed him the sports page – it was Friday and he was the starter pitcher. He replied, “Oh, wow. What happened to yesterday?”

Good question. It reminds me of what the Boer said in Thomas Pynchon’s V, “Your antennas, my Warmbad district. Do you know what happened yesterday? Get worried. Abraham Morris has crossed the Orange.”

Back in October, I did a post on Myoe, the  eccentric Japanese Shingon priest, and at the end I presented three poems by Myoe read by novelist Yasunari Kawabata in his Nobel Lecture of December 12, 1968.

Kawabata was born on this day in 1899. He is sometimes referred to as a “Zen writer,” because of his spare, lyrical style. He was the author of two books I admire, A Thousand Cranes and Snow Country. When he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, he became the first Japanese to receive that award.

His Nobel Lecture was entitled “Japan, The Beautiful and Myself” and it was about poetry and Zen. In addition to Myoe, he also quoted from Zen poets such as Dogen, Ryokan, and Ikkyu. He spoke about the difference between Pure Land Buddhism, that believes “in salvation by faith” and Zen that believes “in salvation by one’s own efforts,” and offered what I think is a very good description of Zen:

Kawabata receving Nobel Prize, 1968
Kawabata receving Nobel Prize, 1968

In Zen there is no worship of images. Zen does have images, but in the hall where the regimen of meditation is pursued, there are neither images nor pictures of Buddhas, nor are there scriptures. The Zen disciple sits for long hours silent and motionless, with his eyes closed. Presently he enters a state of impassivity, free from all ideas and all thoughts. He departs from the self and enters the realm of nothingness. This is not the nothingness or the emptiness of the West. It is rather the reverse, a universe of the spirit in which everything communicates freely with everything, transcending bounds, limitless. There are of course masters of Zen, and the disciple is brought toward enlightenment by exchanging questions and answers with his master, and he studies the scriptures. The disciple must, however, always be lord of his own thoughts, and must attain enlightenment through his own efforts. And the emphasis is less upon reason and argument than upon intuition, immediate feeling. Enlightenment comes not from teaching but through the eye awakened inwardly. Truth is in “the discarding of words”, it lies “outside words”. And so we have the extreme of “silence like thunder”, in the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra. Tradition has it that Bodhidharma, a southern Indian prince who lived in about the sixth century and was the founder of Zen in China, sat for nine years in silence facing the wall of a cave, and finally attained enlightenment. The Zen practice of silent meditation in a seated posture derives from Bodhidharma.”

Speaking of poetry, this famous poem is said to have been written by Bodhidharma himself:

Transmission outside doctrine,
No dependencies on words.
Pointing directly at the mind,
Thus seeing oneself truly,
Attaining Buddhahood.

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