What does it mean to be radically honest? What does it mean to be an idealist? Famous Inventors, Political Figures, Rock Stars and others hold their ideals to their dying breath; and in doing so, become legends.
Take, for example, Ikkyu Sojun, an eccentric 14th century Zen Buddhist monk. Separated from his parents at an early age, he travelled Japan, bouncing from one Zen master to the next. What made him such a wildly popular folk hero in Japan was his rampant flouting of the norms, the status quo, and even the most sacred practices of Zen. Here was an idealist, one who looked at something so pristine as Zen meditation and the priesthood and saw rampant hypocrisy. Though he achieved enlightenment at an early age, his subsequent behaviour confounded observers.
Ikkyū was among the few Zen priests who believed it was better to toss out the old rules than live as a hypocrite; he was even seen walking into brothels and cavorting with pavilion girls. He would later insist that lustful acts were religious in their intimacy, and no one, not even a monk, should be denied them. Though it was not acceptable behaviour, of course there were many monks that would frequent the bars and brothels of Ancient Japan. They usually wore plainclothes, so as not to be recognized, but not Ikkyu. He wore his monk garb and proclaimed that the act of sex was a part of the great awakening.
The depth of understanding here is incredibly subtle: what is good and what is bad? Is the prostitute bad for having such a dirty profession, or is the customer bad for supporting it? Perhaps both are bad, or perhaps both are good for acting in line with their thoughts. There is a primitive form of Integrity, Honesty and (dare I say) Integration at play here, which is absent in many modern day priests.
In the end of the pursuit of sense pleasure is an empty one. And therein lies the very subtle difference: perhaps what Ikkyu sought upon entering these Japanese bars was not physical stimulation, but the honest expression of himself. It is the motive, not the act itself, that seems to determine right and wrong (and yes, I’m aware much of this sounds like revisionist justification). There is beauty in simplicity here: when you’re thirsty, drink. When you’re hungry, eat. The danger comes not in the eating, but in thinking about food before you eat, and after you’ve already eaten. It’s the grasping that gets you in trouble.
Despite his odd and even sinful behavior, Ikkyu was revered in his later age. By holding to his principles, he was decisive. Even when he was offered honours and certificates from the temples he found to be so hypocritical, he refused to graciously accept them. His own fame and acclaim were meaningless compared to his integrity. This consistency and resiliency is part of what makes legends, and folk heroes. He absolutely refused to act hypocritically. Some believe meditation, years and years of peaceful meditation, to be the key to a peaceful mind–and equanimous mind. Perhaps Ikkyu simply believed integrity and radical honesty to be the key to still relaxed mind, and a contented spirit.