It was the enigmatic Zen Master Rinzai who coined the term the “True Man of No Titles” in a lecture he gave in the 9th century. I believe he meant it to signify the Buddha Nature, the True Nature, a person free of a fixed self and conditioned phenomena.
But though I came across this in my Zen studies, I’m thinking about a little bit differently today. I am a man with few titles and that gives me the freedom to be wholly myself, not obligated to fulfill the roles of assigned rank and responsibility. But with that freedom come a certain lack of power to formally affect the world and the lack of money for the work I do anyway when no one asks me to. Sometimes that’s tiresome.
I was the President of the Spanish Club in High School, a club with some five members. I was the President for two years of NCAOSA, the local Orff Chapter in the Bay Area, a job mostly no one really wants to do. I inherited the job of directing the two-week summer Orff Levels training in 1998, now the San Francisco International Orff Course. I am the self-appointed CEO of Pentatonic Press and the leader of the Pentatonics Jazz Band. I am a music teacher, but never the Head of the SF School Music Department. And that’s the end of my official titles.
This theme came to mind because for many years, I ‘ve asked for an official title for the work I’ve done voluntarily on my own to help create, sustain, oversee and direct the elaborate school ceremonies at my school. Minister of Culture? Keeper of Tradition? Celebrations Coordinator? Something to officially recognize my role at my school these past 42 years, give it a title and hey, why not?, throw a little extra money my way for all the work it entails and the contribution it makes to the school community. Never happened and doesn’t look like it ever will. Maybe an inscription on a gold watch when I retire. Ha ha!
I’m not really bitter about this, but I occasionally think that it would be nice as a way to officially acknowledge my role. My power lies in what I can unleash in a group of people joining hands in a circle, any age, any place, any time. As long as I get the opportunity to do that—and I have gotten and still get plenty—I am happy. But still, the world works with ranks and titles and privileges accorded those who have them and at 65 years old, it’s sometimes wearisome to not have my titles match my work. In my mind, I’ve done as much and much more to merit at PhD without jumping through those hoops and always had a fantasy of an Honorary Doctorate. Ain’t happened, never will. Meanwhile, so-called Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was awarded one the other day from Bethune-Cookman University, a place where she was (rightfully) booed during her Commencement Address. That’s the way the world works also.
So I guess I’ll finish this life’s journey as a True Man of No Titles. Rinzai would be proud.