Sunday, December 31, 2006


Happy New Year everybody! 明けましておめでとうございます to my friends in Japan where it's already 2007! Pretty soon it'll be 2007 here too and I'm stunned and amazed. I never thought we'd make it this far — we being the human race, of course. 20 years ago I'd have predicted the end of civilization way before this. I was certain all that would be left of what once was mankind would be smouldering radiation poisoned craters. But we made it. Yay for us! There are certainly a lot of very real, very urgent problems that we absolutely must deal with right this very second. But the fact that we are no longer worried the whole world is gonna go ka-boom at any minute makes me really optimistic. As big as the problems we are facing now are they're really small compared to the immediate threat of WWIII breaking out before the next commercial break.

And speaking of terrible problems facing the human race, as some of you have figured out already, I am now writing a weekly column for the Suicide Girls website. If you want to take a look there are links over there to your right. I'll try to keep the one that says "latest article" update each week. But I'm pretty incompetent. Even if I forget, the other link below that will get you to all the articles. So far only one person has really got his knickers in a twist over this, demanding that I explain myself. This brings up another point, if you write me, I might use your letter in an article here or on Suicide Girls. If your e-mail is long and I use it, I will edit it. If you don't want me to do use your e-mail that way, say so and I will not. I won't identify you by name in any case, so you can always deny it was you. I'm pleased it hasn't become such an issue for most people. But maybe it will when word starts spreading (heh, heh, I said "spreading"). Anyway, they asked me to write for them, I accepted and I'm happy with that. I think it's a great forum to talk about Buddhist philosophy. In fact, I could hardly have asked for a better place.

And speaking of better places, Saddam Hussein has almost surely not gone to one. Poor Saddam. Not that he was a nice guy or anything. But I see him in those old video clips patting kids on the head and smiling and I can't help but feel a little sorry for the guy, even though I know he doesn't really deserve it. Even having said that, I'm a little distressed to see the glee everyone is getting at watching his execution over and over and over on YouTube and Google Video. No matter what the reason, the violent death of a fellow human being shouldn't be drooled over that way.

And speaking of drooling, I can't make any transition to the next topic using a metaphor about drooling. But yesterday I deleted a spam comment from this blog. I do this pretty regularly with spammers and don't think too much of it. I do not delete anything else, by the way. This particular piece of spam was a bit different, though, in that it came from a rabid follower of some self-styled Zen Master who wanted to let us know none of us would ever be as Enlightened as his teacher. I saw it, determined it was spam and zapped it pretty fast. But later on I thought I should have left it there to bask in its own idiocy. Unfortunately, once you delete a comment it's gone forever so it's too late for that. C'est la guerre I guess.

I did go over to the site in question and took a look. Pretty typical stuff if you ask me. Sounds like what happens when someone has the kind of initial big wow experiences you often get when starting off in Zen. There's a real danger of going off the deep end and declaring yourself an Enlightened Being after one of these. It's always sad to see that happen. But it does. A warning to us all.

Have a Happy 2007! Drive safely and all that.

Friday, December 22, 2006


Many thanks to all of those who offered suggestions for marketing my next book. My publishers read all the suggestions (well, possibly not the penis enlargement ones) and will take them into consideration. You really helped out a lot!

I was just walking around thinking about what I can talk about at tomorrow's Zazen class at the Hill Street Center (see link to your right for details). As this is the Christmas/Hanukkah season, I imagine family matters are on lots of people's minds. They certainly are on my mind. I have to go spend a week in Texas with my mom, dad, sister, nephew, niece and my sister's new husband who I've never met. Such visits are always equal parts warmth and agony as I think they are for most people.

In Shobogenzo, there's a chapter called Shukke (出家). This is a word meaning "to leave family life." The two Chinese characters used to represent it are 出 (shutsu) meaning "depart" and 家 (ke) meaning "home." So as The Ramones left home on their second album, a Buddhist monk was expected to leave home and family and enter into the Buddhist order.

The prevailing view among scholars as regards Dogen's view on leaving home goes like this. In his early writings like Bendowa, Dogen seems to be of the opinion that lay people, those who have not left home, can benefit just as much from zazen practice as home-leaving monks. But as Dogen got older he changed his mind and came to believe that that only those who left home and family could become enlightened. I don't buy this scholarly view.

The problem is that this idea ignores some important aspects of Shobogenzo. Shobogenzo was never intended as a series of journal entries or magazine articles showing the evolution of Dogen's ever-changing philosophy. It was to be a single long work. Dogen continued to revise the early pieces that say lay people can benefit from zazen as much as monks even as he wrote the later chapters that seem to imply that they can't. It's significant that he did not go back and scribble out all the bits that praise lay practitioners. We have to keep in mind that Dogen contradicts himself constantly. This is an important aspect of his work, and one that too many scholars are far too eager to try and smooth over. These contradictions are not just evidence of him changing his mind about stuff, but an integral part of his philosophy.

Although I have gone through the traditional ceremony called "shukke," I don't really feel like I've really left my home and family. In fact, it's very rare to find Buddhist monks these days who've truly left home in the old-fashioned sense. This goes for Japan as much as it does for the West. In fact, with so many temples in Japan being family businesses, it's probably even more rare to find true home leavers over there.

I sometimes wonder exactly what "leaving home" really meant in the old days when the term was invented. In those days, people literally did live at home long into their adult years in extended family situations. So it may be that our normal situation of living fairly far from our families isn't too different from what was considered "leaving home" in ancient times. I don't imagine ancient monks really severed all ties to their kin. I'm sure they went and visited mom sometimes, or wrote letters home. Most monastics probably lived closer to their families than lots of us do now.

Another aspect of "home leaving" would be to live without being married. In modern Japanese style Zen, though, monks tend to be married as often as not. So even this has changed over the years. Maybe we need an entirely new definition of home leaving.

ANYWAY, I don't know what words of wisdom I can offer all of you who are suffering or about to be suffering with your families this season. Just know that you're not alone. Everyone's families are a bunch of nutcases. Don't take it too seriously. Enjoy some eggnog and fruitcake.

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Joyous Kwanza! Happy Kringle! Merry Flying Spaghetti Monster Day! Whatever...

Saturday, December 16, 2006


The people in charge of publicizing my new book have asked me to ask you to help them out with some market research. They want to know where they can advertise the book most effectively. What magazines do people who read my stuff read? What websites do they go to? What kinds of things convinced them to read Hardcore Zen?

If you have any bright ideas abnout how to market the book, please leave them in the comments section of this article. Thanks!

And remember, next Saturday (Dec. 23, 2006), Tonen O'Connor of the Milwaukee Zen Center will be at the Hill Street Center. So if you're around, come and hear what she has to say. We're also doing a sitting today (Dec. 16) at 9:45AM.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Been listening to Robyn Hitchcock's new CD, "Ole! Tarantula," a lot lately. It's a darned good album. The best thing Hitchcock has done since the incredible Jewels for Sophia/Star for Bram combo in 1999. In fact it may be his very best album.

Robyn Hitchcock is one of those rare artists who has never done a really sucky album. Even Groovy Decay was OK, though certainly not up to the rest of his work. I first started listening to him when I got reviews for my Dimentia 13 albums and it seemed like every one of them mentioned how influenced I was by the Soft Boys -- a band I'd never even heard of at the time. I bought some Soft Boys records and indeed I could see why people assumed they'd been an influence. I liked them a lot and started getting their leader Robyn Hitchcock's solo records too.

Pretty much nothing I listened to in the 80's has aged well. Everything was so incredibly bad for that decade that the things that stood out as being great now seem just OK. Even so, Robyn Hitchcock's 80's output still doesn't make me gag, other than for the fact I played those records way too much for lack of anything better to listen to that was contemporary.

Ole! Tarantula's best songs:

New York Doll
Adventure Rocket Ship
(A Man's Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs

Friday, December 08, 2006


It’s December 8th. That’s a significant date for me for three reasons. I’ll list the stuff I always think of on this day in order that they usually occur to me.

John Lennon was killed on December 8, 1980. I’m sure everybody in the “blogosphere” has already written about that by now. The day Lennon died I was just starting 11th grade and I was already a Beatle geek. It’s weird now when I think about the reactions I used to get as a teenager buying Beatles records. I remember a few years earlier, the clerks at Recordland in Rolling Acres Mall in Akron being stunned and amazed that a teenager was not only buying a copy of Revolver but actually knew enough to buy the imported version instead of the US pressing that had fewer songs. That would have been less than ten years after the Beatles broke up and the album itself would have only been about 12 or 13 years old. That’s more recent than the last Nirvana album is today, and I can’t imagine anyone being the least bit surprised by a contemporary 15 year-old liking Nirvana. I don’t know what that signifies, really, if it signifies anything. At the time I just thought that all contemporary music — with the notable exception of KISS — blew. It took a while for punk to finally reach the backwater burg I lived in. By the time Lennon died, though, I was already well into punk. But I never lost my affection for The Beatles.

I first heard about Lennon’s death the following morning when it appeared on the front page of the Wadsworth News Banner, the local paper. I thought it had to be some kind of joke. I had to see it on several other newspapers and TV before I accepted it was true. I still have trouble accepting it’s true. Just recently the contract Lennon signed with Geffen Records in 1980 came to light. Apparently he’d included a clause that allowed him to do future records with The Beatles independently of his obligations to Geffen. So, obviously he must have been thinking about getting the group back together. It’s a real shame that never happened.

The other significant thing about December 8th is that it is the day on which Zen Buddhists celebrate Buddha becoming enlightened. Tradition has it that this was the day Buddha had his great moment of profound insight there under the Bodhi tree sometime around about 500 B.C. A lot of people in the Zen tradition commemorate this event by having a period of intensive Zazen practice for a week. It’s called the Rohatsu Sesshin. I’ve never participated in one myself. But it always sounded like fun.

I don't know if the tradition of celebrating Buddha's enlightenment day on December 8th is any more valid than the tradition of celebrating Jesus' birthday on December 25th. It might be, since the early Buddhists were a bit more meticulous about keeping such records than the early Christians. But I've never seen much discussion about it either way. Buddhists in general tend not to be overly concerned with whether their history is "literally true." Whatever works, works.

December 8th is also the day on which the Japanese consider the attack on Pearl Harbor to have taken place. To us December 7th is the “Day That Will Live In Infamy.” But, because the international dateline is between Japan and Hawaii, as far as the Japanese are concerned, it happened on the 8th. I didn’t realize this until I moved to Japan — where I lived for 11 years. I once asked to a co-worker upon noting it was December 8th if she knew what day it was. At the time, I just wondered if she’d know it was Buddha’s enlightenment day or if she’d only remember Lennon’s death. I was surprised when she got kind of sheepish about it and finally answered that she knew very well it was Pearl Harbor day.

Most Japanese people seem basically embarrassed by their role in WWII. Of course there are all kinds of issues related to this. But, I’m afraid I’ve never seen the point in endless debates about the matter. I’m no more interested in pushing it than my Japanese friends and relatives are.

Finally, December 8th is usually the day my dad remembers to tell one of his favorite jokes.

Did you hear about the guy who was half Japanese and half African-American?

Every December 7th he attacks Pearl Bailey!

Monday, December 04, 2006


I have no idea what that means. But it's on the back cover of the Finnish edition of Hardcore Zen. I just got a copy of it. It's published by Basam Books. You can link to their website by clicking "link" below. The site is all in Finnish. And I'll be impressed if you can read all that Finnish from start to finish!

So anyone out there in Finland — officially "Scandanavia's best country!" Take that Norway! — who has been frustrated up till now at not having the book in your native language, there ya go! The cover is nice. It's certainly a lot cheerier than the US version. I hope the publication of the book will prevent a few suicides in the country with the highest suicide rate among GNP nations, according to Wikipedia. Maybe the thing above says "Don't kill yourself! Read this book instead!"

I don't know if the translation is good or not. Maybe someone who can read it can tell me. And do they know who Moe, Larry and Shemp are in Finland?

Friday, December 01, 2006

AKIO JISSOJI 1937-2006

Akio Jissoji died on Wednesday night. Akio Jissoji was a Japanese TV and film director. He got his first big break directing episodes of Ultraman. The episodes he directed were weird and wonderful things to behold. In fact, if it weren't for his contributions, I doubt Ultraman would have become the cultural icon it did. Granted, a lot of other factors were involved. But the shows Jissoji directed were so incredible they helped the show transcend the normal confines of a kids' superhero program to become something wholy other.

Probably his best known episode was called "The Graveyard of Monsters." In this episode, the Science Patrol, the group of stalwart defenders of planet Earth whose job it is to rid the world of pesky skyscraper sized iguanas and invading alien chicken-men, finds a graveyard of monsters in outer space. It is here that Ultraman has placed the bodies of all the monsters he and the Science Patrol have killed. The members of the patrol wax philosophical about how these creatures have now found peace. They decide to hold a Buddhist funeral ceremony for the monsters. Agent Fuji weeps for the dead beasts as a group of monks chant the Heart Sutra. Just then, a rocket launched by the Japanese Space Agency accidentally hits one of the monsters in the graveyard and it plummets back to Earth. The monster, looking something like the skeleton of an Allosaurus, wants only to get back to his resting place. But, in trying to do so, he creates havoc in Tokyo. The Science Patrol attacks, but the monster cannot be stopped. Finally Ultraman is able to transport the creature to the graveyard.

Another one of his was called "The Fearful Cosmic Rays," about a child's drawing of a monster that comes to life. Check this one out kids. Whoever put this up on You Tube used the opening credits for the wrong episode, but this really is by Jissoji. It switches to English after the first few minutes. We have the complete English version in our company vaults, but whoever put this together apparently didn't have access to those.

After Ultraman, Jissoji floudered a bit. He obviously had talent. But his films tended to go over audiences heads. In the 90's he started directing Ultraman episodes again and produced some more truly unbelievable stuff. One of his episodes of Ultraman Max (2005) has a guy who writes Ultraman Max episodes for a living finding himself trapped in one of his own shows. Very surreal stuff for the 6 year olds who form the main audience.

I never really knew Jissoji personally. But his long-time assistant Shogase is a friend of mine. Jissoji was a great talent and I'll miss him.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


First off, the December schedule for Saturday Zazen at the Hill Street Center is Dec. 2, Dec. 9, Dec. 16, and Dec. 23. December 9th is a day-long micro-retreat. On Dec. 23rd Tonen O'Connor from the Milwaukee Zen Center will be in attendance. That should be fun.

Thanks for all the comments and e-mails on Jesus. I'm still thinking about whether to do this or not. But I'm having fun reading A Marginal Jew by John P. Meier, a humongous study of the historical Jesus. Chewy stuff!!

OK. The other day I was at Goodwill rumaging thru the usual pile of musty old records when I came across the album pictured here, Velvet Darkness by Allan Holdsworth. Holdsworth is one of those guitarist's guitarists. Meaning he's really really good, but not very accessible to people who don't play guitar thesmelves since part of his appeal is how amazingly difficult his stuff is to play. Eddie Van Halen called Holdsworth his biggest influence. Before this I'd only ever heard one of his records, 1982's I.O.U. While the guitar playing was very impressive, the album was kinda boring. But when I spotted this one at Goodwill for 99 cents, I figured it was worth a dollar. Plus I liked the cover. Anything with the WTC on it is kind of sad to see these days. But it's a nifty picture.

I took it home and it was mildly enjoyable. So today I went on-line and looked up the album. Turns out it's a much sought-after rarity. Holdsworth himself hated it and it hasn't been reprinted since its initial release in 1976 except in an unauthorized edition in the early 90's that Holdsworth himself successfully sued to have withdrawn. Unfortunately, in spite of its rarity, it's only worth about $20 in mint condition. And mine's good for a thrift store find, but certainly not mint.

ANYWAY, the interesting thing was that the album suddenly seemed way much cooler to me as soon as I learned that it was a "secret album." That must be an almost instinctive reaction. Anything that's supposedly hidden or secret, just for that fact alone always seems a whole lot cooler. It's like all those Beatles bootlegs. I have a ton of them and they're mostly crap. The legit releases are much better. Yet dorks like me will drop a big bucks for the stupid things just because we're not supposed to hear them.

Same thing works in religious circles. Whenever some teaching is presented as esoteric, forbidden, or secret everybody wants it. And, of course, just like the Beatles bootlegs, those secret teachings are never really any better than what's out there available to everybody. Usually, like the Beatles bootlegs, they're just lousy cast-offs that were never released to the general public because they sucked.

ANYWAY I listened to the Holdsworth album again this afternoon and I kind of like it. Much better than I.O.U.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


I've been thinking of writing a book about Jesus. So I'm gonna write down these thoughts and post them without really editing it much. It'll be messy. But maybe something useful will come of it. Here goes...

There must be a hundred "Buddha and Jesus" books out there. But, although it's a subject I've been intrigued by for a very long time, I have never come across a Buddha & Jesus book that interested me enough I ever even considered buying it. I flip through them in the book stores and, at best I might go, "Oh, that's nice." But that's it. It seems like most of them fall into a few categories, which I'll list along with my reactions to them (like you're just dying to know).

1) Buddhist Master from a non-Christian country trying to convince to folks from Christian countries that Buddhism is not devil worship. These guys want to demonstrate how Buddha and Jesus really said the same kinds of things and so we should all just get along. Fine. Not interested. The Masters in question usually don't know enough about Christianity to say a whole lot so they just kinda go on and on and on...

2) Christian convert to Buddhism writes about why Buddhism is a more refined version of what Jesus had to say. Or, again, that Buddha and Jesus really said pretty much the same thing. Sweet. Not interested.

3) New Age True Believer who wants to prove that Jesus really was a Buddhist because maybe he went to India and stayed in a Buddhist monastery before returning to Palestine to start his mission. This is an intriguing idea. But I've yet to come across any books about it that seem truly level-headed and present a real historical analysis. There seems to be some evidence this may have happened. But nothing very conclusive.

4) Jesus talks to Buddha imaginary conversation books. OH GOD PLEASE NO!!!!!!!!!

5) Christian (usually Catholic) who's interested in Buddhism and gives his view of it. Usually, like #1, in an effort to demonstrate how we all should just get along. Slightly more interested, but not really. Again, the Christians involved don't ever really seem to get what Buddhism is about and rarely have any experience of Buddhist practice.

I've been interested in Christianity since I was a little kid. In my teens I wanted to become a Christian. The problem was that when I investigated Christianity, I found I could not make heads or tails of it. For example, when I was a Freshman at Kent State University, I visited a booth run by the Campus Christian Ministries and started talking to them. Their view seemed to be that Jesus did miracles, this proved he was God, therefore what he said must be very important. The problem for me was that the evidence for these miracles is so flimsy I could not accept it at all. And, in any case, why do we need miracles in order to believe what someone said if he said some really kick-ass stuff?

Nevertheless, I pressed on. I visited some churches. They were all either boring as shit or they seemed to be packed full of genuine crazy people who scared me. I prayed to Jesus to come into my heart. Nothing happened. I bought a little silver cross and wore it for a while. No change. I read the New Testament. Nice. But not very moving. After a few years I just gave up. But I've maintained an interest in Christianity ever since. In fact, I'm far more inclined to read and study about Jesus' life than I am to read and study about Buddha's.

Now before you write in and try to convert me, let me say clearly and unambiguously that I am too far gone to ever be "Saved." I'm a Buddhist monk and a thoroughly convicted believer in Dogen's philosophy. I've seen the truth in what Dogen wrote about for myself and there is no way I can ever turn my back on that.

Still I remain fascinated by Jesus' life, mission and teaching. I do not think Buddhism and Christianity are incompatible. I think you could practice Zazen, study Dogen's outlook and attitude towards life and yet still remain a Christian. But I think you'd emerge from you study a very different kind of Christian. Possibly a Christian that other Christians may not even recognize as a Christian. The same is true, I think, of any religion you mighty come to Zazen practice believing in. But I don't know enough about Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Zorastranism, Wiccanism or any of those to make any intelligent or useful specific comments on them. But, just maybe, I might be able to do so with Christianity.

Still, I'm not sure this is really my point. I mean, I don't really get why so many people want to write "why don't we all just get along" type books about Christianity and Buddhism. It's not as if Christian/Buddhist clashes have ever been a big problem in the world. Nor does it seem to me likely they ever will be. But we are living in a time when Buddhism is starting to infiltrate what have been up till now Christian cultures. As this interpenetration occurs, a new kind of Buddhism will emerge. In the same way that Inidan Buddhism was influenced by Taoist ideas when it entered China, Euro-American Buddhism is even now being reinterpretted through a Judeo-Christian outlook. What will happen?

A lot of people wonder whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy. I'm starting to think more and more that Buddhism is really neither. It's more of an attitude. Buddha himself made use of certain aspects of the religions he knew, just as later Buddhists used aspects of the religions they knew. So American and European Buddhists today are doing the same. Yet it's important that in doing so we maintain the core attitude. We can't just grab stuff willy-nilly because it makes people in the culture we live in comfortable or to gain more followers and converts. Buddhism has nothing to do with gaining converts.

I'm not interested in making Buddhism feel safe to Christians or vice-versa. In fact, to an extent, I'd say Buddhism is slightly dangerous to Christians in a way. Not in the sense that it poses any kind of physical threat, of course. But it may become more and more necessary for Christians to come to terms with the ideas expressed by Buddha and Dogen and other Buddhist teachers. Coversely, though, I do not feel Christianity is any sort of threat to Buddhism. It may be a threat to certain oddball philosophies that call themselves Buddhism. But true Buddhism is just realism. And the realistic attitude can be applied to anything. If what you call "Buddhism" is not 100% realistic and therefore able to withstand anything it encounters, then it isn't Buddhism and should be discarded immediately.

If Christianity is realistic, it can emerge from its encounter with Buddhism unharmed. I, for one, hope it can. I want it to. But I wonder if that's possible.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


I saw the Michael Richards racist tirade at the Laugh Factory and the subsequent apology on Letterman on YouTube this morning. I can’t stay up that late anymore. Though I’ve been meaning to go see something at the Laugh Factory for a while now and had I noticed Michael Richards was doing a show, I might well have gone that night. If you haven’t seen it, just log on YouTube and search for Michael Richards. It’ll come up. It’s some pretty strong stuff and a pretty sad display. But in a lot of ways it’s just more typical Hollywood shenanigans. Tom Cruise on the couch, Mel Gibson’s arrest and now this.

What was interesting to me, though, was something Michael Richards said on Letterman. He said, “What’s strange is that I’m not a racist and that just came out.” Now I’m sure most of the audience, and most of you reading this right now, saw that and thought, yeah, right, not a racist my ass! Actually, though, I believe him. And the reason I do is because some of my own experiences in Zazen practice.

In a way I think Zazen may be a little like stand-up comedy, at least certain kinds of stand-up. I haven’t seen Richards’ act. But, from the video it looks like he does the kind of on-the-edge stream-of-consciousness style that’s pretty trendy these days. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like he’s very good at it and maybe he should stick to more scripted material. Be that as it may, I find some things in common between that style of stand-up and what happens in Zazen sometimes.

In order to do the kind of stand-up Richards was attempting to do, you have to let down a lot of psychological barriers. It’s a bit like free association in psychotherapy, I imagine, though I’ve never done that either. You never know what’s gonna come out when you start letting all the barriers down and just saying whatever happens to pop into your head. Or, in fact, saying things before you’ve even had time to process them mentally. Doing it one-on-one with a psychologist whose job it is not to judge you is relatively safe. But doing it in front of an audience is dangerous. As Michael Richards proved. Doing it silently on a cushion facing a wall that never heckles you or charges you by the hour may be the best way.

We all carry loads and loads and loads or repressed stuff with us everywhere we go. There is a lot of stuff in your head right now that you do not even know about. Some of it is very good and some of it is intensely bad. When you do Zazen this kind of stuff starts to bubble up to the surface.

You may not be a racist. But you’ve grown up in a society where racist attitudes are very strong. You’ve been exposed to them since the moment you were born in ways overt and subtle. Though you’ve probably consciously denied these things and may never have spoken them, they exist in your psychological make-up. Not just racism, but all kinds of dark and evil things. You think these things are not part of you, that they are out there, somewhere else, in those other people, those bad people. Not in you.

But the only reason you can recognize what’s “evil” is because it is part of you. If you’re healthy you recognize it as part of you that must be repressed. But even this knowledge is mainly on a subconscious level. Consciously you believe you do not even possess these attitudes at all.

There is a very strong, intimate connection between you and all other human beings. In fact, you and everyone and everything you meet are expressions of the very same ineffable something that creates this universe. Spiritual type people love to say this kind of thing as if it’s all boundless beauty and wonderfulness. But look again. You’re not just one with the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees. You think Michael Richards is a racist? You can only recognize what he is because it’s part of you. You’re one with every hateful sneering madman who ever burned another human being alive just because he didn’t like the color of his skin and just because it gave him a false sense of power. You hate those guys who torture poor innocent Arab-Americans falsely accused of terrorism? You’re them, too. Think George W. Bush is a fascist? Look in the mirror, buddy. There’s George W. Bush. You are much, much closer to all of these people than you are to the sunshine and lotus blossoms you dream about in your fantasies of Enlightenment.

People who are into doe eyed, dolphin hugging, incense and peppermints spirituality will never, ever get to the most profound and important truths because they turn their heads away from reality and try to escape into misty dreams of fantastic far-off worlds.

But, here’s the thing. If you can face down the worst part of your self, if you can look it right in the eye and stare it down, you can come to terms with what it really is. What it really is, is nothing at all. But if you want to discover this you have to be prepared to give up everything. To really give up everything, I mean, not just make a show of giving up everything. You have to give up you. And if you think that’s easy, if you think you can do that in an afternoon, if you think someone else can do that for you, if you think you can do that by taking a pill or eating some ‘shrooms, well, you’ve come to the wrong blog.

This is one of the reasons, in fact, that taking drugs or doing any of the supposed quick’n’easy methods of reaching Enlightenment are some dangerous mojo and not recommended by anyone who has any sense at all. You cannot dive into this stuff fast and hope to come out of it sane. You must move very, very slowly.

If you do move slowly into it and take it all the way to the very end of the process, you’ll come to see that the real core of your being is something infinite. What you’ve called your “self” for your whole life is just a thin, fragile skin on the very surface. Like a bubble floating on top of a deep, deep ocean.

When you’re ready to shake hands with Satan and call him your friend, you might be ready to meet God.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


I just finished Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman. It's all about how the Bible has been changed over the years by the various scribes whose job it was to copy the thing in the days before Xerox machines. Ehrman was once an evangelical Born Again Christian who believed that the Bible was the inerrant word of God. But when he started studying the scriptures and their history he discovered that the Bible had gone through countless revisions between the time the various books were written and today. It was a major shock that led to him seriously questioning his faith.

This book details many of those changes and looks into who made them and why. It's pretty fascinating stuff. But what's more interesting to me is that while Biblical scholars have been writing about and cataloging these revisions since the 18th or 19th century it has taken until the 21st century for a popular book to be written about the subject. I've never been a Bible scholar of any sort, so a lot of this stuff was really surprising. I didn't know, for example, that the Gospels were among the last things to be written for the New Testament and not the early first hand accounts they appear to be. I also didn't know that Mary Magdelene is only mentioned a few times in the Bible and never identified as a prostitute, or that she is not the famed "woman taken in adultery" who the crowd wants to stone, or that that entire scene was not originally even in the gospels, or even that she was not the composer of the hit single "I Don't Know How to Love Him."* I don't think most people who've grown up in Christian societies know this kind of stuff.

One of the interesting differences between Buddhism and most other religions is the fact that Buddhism lacks any kind of Holy Scripture equivalent to the Bible, the Koran or even the Bhagavad Gita. People sometimes talk about a Buddhist canon, but, really, not much Buddhist wrting was ever canonized as such. The closest you get is the Tripitika, which contains the written record of the earlier Buddhist oral tradition of teachings of Gautama Buddha. See, for the first 200 or so years after Gautama died, no one ever bothered to write down what he had said. Instead, they committed it to memory. Monks learned to recite his most famous speeches. Since no one could memorize them all, sometimes certain monks in a temple were assigned certain parts to memorize, while others memorized different sections. Of course, over two centuries a lot of variations in the tradition emerged and these had to be ironed out when it came time to write it all down.

The reason Buddhism never developed a set of holy writ goes back to old Gautama himself who said, "Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' When you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them." When the founder of the religion himself says "don't trust scriptures" it makes it hard to develop a set of scriptures that claim to embody his teachings.

Buddhism has always been essentially an oral tradition. This is why sometimes even Buddhist teachers get their scriptures wrong. You'll often hear some Buddhist teacher say in a lecture, "Buddha said this" or "Dogen said that" and when you try and search out that quote, you never find it. They're prone to paraphrase and not much care whether they've gotten the quotation just right or not. They might not even know exactly where it came from. While in some religions this would be seen as unforgivable sloppiness, in Buddhism it's just part of the way things are done. My own teacher takes this even further than most, often mentioning quotations from people who aren't Buddhists and often have never even heard of Buddhism and saying, "This is just Buddhism."

Ehrman's book is fascinating to me because it makes a very good case for the Buddhist approach to scripture without even trying to do so. At the end of the book (spoiler alert, for those of you who may not want to know how it ends!) he says that at first he felt a deep resentment towards those who had changed the texts of the Christian scriptures. But upon later reflection he realized that, even in the very act of reading a text we, the readers, revise the texts in our minds. Just as you are revising what I've written right now. There is no such thing as a written teaching that means exactly the same thing to whoever reads it no matter how hard you try to preserve the words. People are different, societies change, what a certain set of words meant to Israelites 20 centuries ago cannot be the same as what it means to people in Omaha in 2006. And you'll even have a hard time getting two guys from Omaha to agree on what it means.

I've found that in this blog I'm trying to follow the basically orally transmitted face-to-face tradition I studied in a new realm. I'm not sure how well I'm doing. Probably not very well. And I can see a lot of misunderstandings arise because of trying to adapt to this form of communication.

But that's the way things go, I suppose...

* Kids, go ask someone who lived thru the 70's to explain this joke.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I saw Borat the other night. It's very niiice.

Usually when I see a movie that's been hyped to all get-out I end up being disappointed. Conversely, when I see a film that's gotten little or no press, or bad press, and that film turns out to be good, it seems a lot better than maybe it really is. I loved the first new Gamera movie in 1995 way more than it deserved because my expectations were so low, for example. But, then again, I also liked Titanic a lot in spite of the way it had been promoted.

Borat isn't nearly as good as everyone seems to think. But, then again, nothing could ever be that good. I guess I don't really get why every God damned thing in this world has to be presented as if it's THE GREATEST THING ANYONE EVER CREATED IN ALL OF HISTORY!!!! Aren't we tired of that approach by now? I am, anyway.

But Borat is a funny movie. I like it because it's got a point, which is something sorely lacking in lots of comedy. I gotta hand it to Sasha Baron Cohen for putting himself in some really dangerous situations just to prove his point. I wouldn't go that far, I know. I mean, kissing random men on a New York subway and singing an anti-American version of the national anthem at a Southern rodeo. That takes some 'nads.

Cohen's point seems to be that, when you get Americans to let their guard down, they say some really assinine things. I'm sure you've heard about the guys who are trying to sue him for putting their asshole comments in the film under false pretenses. They say Borat got them drunk and they said all kinds of things they never would have said if they weren't plastered. Hey, guys, here's a simple solution: DON'T DRINK SO FUCKING MUCH! How about that? Or, if you do, DON'T SAY STUPID SHIT. I have no sympathy.

A lot of Khazakstani people are up in arms over Cohen's portrayal of their country. I can understand that. On the other hand, one of the many ex-drummers for my band Dimentia 13 was from Eastern Europe, and, just like Borat, one of his hobbies was taking pictures of ladies while they made toilet. So there ya go... At any rate, as much as it makes fun of Khazakstan, it makes more fun of how easily so many people fall for this completely ridiculous character. No matter how far he pushes it, no matter how over-the-top he plays it, so many of them keep right on believing.

Watching in in So Cal, you really get a feel for just how highly folks out here think of themselves. The people next to me were making all kinds of self-righteous comments to the people on screen. As if they'd never be that gullible. As if their attitudes are so much more progressive and Correct. Uh-huh.

So, in conclusion, don't get drunk and be stupid and don't fall for fake foreign commentators making documentaries.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Somebody asked me what I thought about the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. He said, “do we have a duty to pitch in whatever we can to help humanitarian aid and peacekeeping forces, to help save lives that might be destroyed? Speaking generally of African countries where governments have so much ability to do terrible things, is this an inescapable type of situation that will always repeat itself? Do you think genocide will ever be a thing of the past? Do the UN and other intervening countries do enough to make this a top priority? Just curious to see what is the Buddhist stance on this sort of thing, or your stance. When one becomes aware of something like this going on.”

I hear questions like this a lot. Of course big tragedies in far away places are important. It’s very sad when things like this happen. And, of course, we have some duty to try and be of service. But, unfortunately there is very little we can do for people so far away.

Modern communications systems have brought news from incredibly distant places right into our homes. Modern transportation systems have made places that were once almost inaccessible seem very close. In a sense the world is getting smaller. But in another sense it’s just as big as it ever was.

One of these days we’ll establish communications with intelligent creatures on other planets. After the excitement has worn off a bit, we’ll start noticing that they have problems too. Eventually there’ll be people on Earth wringing their hands over the famine on Regizvon Centurus VII. It'll be important in social circles to express true concern for the plight of the suffering Glompnells on Zeta Reticuli. Which isn't meant to trivialize the situation in Darfur. Just to say that it's natural to want to help those who suffer, no matter where they are. And that it can be socially advantageous to express concern for whatever it's currently trendy to be concerned about.

The best thing you can do to be of service to people in terrible situations in far off places is to attend to your part of the world as carefully as possible.

I saw someone posted a response to my last article saying that he feared that if people were all like me no one would have the passionate commitment needed to take care of the world’s problems. But I’m not so sure passion is what’s called for. Do you need to feel passionate commitment in order to sweep your floor? Do you need passionate commitment in order to say hello to your neighbor? Do you need passionate commitment in order to separate your recyclables?

Big problems in far away places aren’t nearly as critical as tiny problems right under your nose or behind your eyes.

You can attend to the big problems of the world best when you take care of these small things. As far as Darfur and Baghdad and Pyongyang and everywhere else where people live tragic lives, you can do a little. You can vote. You can donate money. You can write your congressperson, run a marathon for a good cause, and so on and on. It’s fine to do these good things. Just be aware that you can never fix these far away tragedies, much as you’d like to. As Dogen said, “Flowers fall though we love them and weeds grow though we hate them.”

It's not that there is anything at all wrong with making efforts to help out people far away in desperate situations. But far too often such efforts are an excuse to ignore the smaller problems much closer, the ones where we really can do some real good. It's a way of saying that Big Problems -- the ones everyone can agree are Big Problems cuz they're on TV and stuff --are important, but little ones can be ignored. Subconsciously we know we can't fix what's too removed from our immediate surroundings. By making those far away things the most important matters we're in danger of giving ourselves an excuse to ignore what's right near by.

It's also a way of saying that the biggest problems are "out there," not "in here." When you come to see that the real source of every evil in the world is you and you alone, your priorities have to change radically. Maybe we need more passionate commitment to the problems within ourselves. There are burning issues of international and historical importance that you must take care of right this very second and they are not thousands of miles away. They are right here. It's only when you attend to these matters very close that you can do anything about the ones that are far away.

I’m gonna go see Borat now. I’ll give you a report later.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Before I begin, we’re still taking people for Saturday’s micro-retreat at the Hill Street Center. I think we have four people signed up so far. So there’s plenty of room for more. See the link to your right for details. Onto today’s rant:

The elections are over and the Good Guys won. Hoo-ray for our side!

Or not…

Just a couple days after the re-election of George Bush I got an e-mail from a friend of mine who said he’d been contacted by a certain editor at a Buddhist publishing house who told him he wanted submissions for a book about the Buddhist reaction to the re-election. My friend forwarded me the pitch. God it was sooooo dire. I wish I’d saved it. It was all soft and sweet and smooshy like a rotten banana, asking contributors to talk about how Buddhists deal with anger, depression, fear, anxiety and feelings of helplessness, and how we can learn to cultivate compassion for those souls so deep in delusion they could support the Bush administration and its policies of evil. My friend was all hot and bothered to contribute. He even sent me his proposed piece. I couldn’t get through it, though. It felt too much like wading in a pool of putrefying marshmallow sauce. There was a tremendous urgency to the editor’s pitch and writers were asked to contribute as quickly as they could so the finished book could hit the stands as soon as possible. The editor in question never sent that pitch to me, though we are accquainted. Guess he knew better. In any case, the book never came out.

Now, of course, the tables are turned. At least a little. The Democrats have won a slight victory and maybe President Bush’s supposed dreams of dictatorship are in danger. I’m sure the folks behind that book are dizzy with elation. But if Dick Chaney beats Hillary in 2008 they can always dust off those old essays, use MS Word's® “replace” function to substitute Chaney’s name where it says Bush and get the book out lickity-split.

Out here on the Left Coast, the mood is positively giddy. I saw an interview with Trey Parker, creator of South Park, a year or so ago where he said that the most punk rock thing you could do in LA was to say you think George Bush is awesome. It’s actually dangerous in terms of career mobility in the West Coast entertainment biz to question liberal politics in any way. No doubt about it.

When those guys in Saint Paul were briefly considering hiring me on as their new master, I took a look around their place. I saw some fliers pinned to their notice board related to various left wing political causes. And I thought, if they do ask me to do this thing and I accept, all those are gonna have to come down. And they’re not gonna like me a whole lot when I do that.

There’s a tendency within American Buddhism to equate Buddhism with left-wing politics. It is almost unquestioned that all Buddhists accept pretty much every trendy lefty political idea on the market. The very idea that a Buddhist might be politically conservative seems absurd. But Buddhism is not left-wing politics. It’s not right-wing politics either. But that seems to be well understood and as such doesn’t need further comment.

In our usual way of thinking there is success and there is failure. When your candidate wins, that’s success and you can rejoice. When she loses that’s failure and it’s time for depression and feelings of helplessness.

Buddhism has nothing at all to do with success or failure.

Enlightenment is not the ultimate success and lack of enlightenment is not evidence of failure.

There is no success or failure in reality. Success and failure are judgments about reality based entirely — entirely — upon what your tiny ego thinks is good for it or bad for it. This is not reality at all. What you call failure may be exactly what you really need while what you call success may be a slippery slide into delusion and darkness. The world out there is not something apart from you. When it changes in ways you don’t like, who is responsible? Someone else? Not you? Yeah, right. And when things go the way you want, watch out. See what your own reactions really are. See what they are not.

How come nobody’s proposing a book about the Buddhist reaction to the Democratic wins of 2006? How come nobody put out a book about the Buddhist reaction to Clinton’s two wins? Elation over success is a much bigger problem in Buddhism than depression over failure. Bad teachers can make you do anything they want by keeping you hungry for success and afraid of failure. Suckers will fall for that every single time. To follow the Buddhist way is to avoid both extremes.

Get that through your skull or you won’t get anything.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

THE WHO at Hollywood Bowl 11/4/06 Review

I saw The Who at the Hollywood Bowl last night. I started getting into The Who when I was in 8th or 9th grade. I think it was a little before Keith Moon died. But I'm kind of vague on the chronology. I just now looked it up and saw that he died in Sept. '78, which would've been right after I started 9th grade. But I know I was already a rabid fan by the time the movie The Kids Are Alright was released in June of 1979 (just looked that one up, too). Ah...who knows... Sometime around when all that was happening anyway.

The first Who album I bought was a thoroughly beat up copy of Tommy at the local used book & record store. I was mildly disappointed at first because I'd read all these things about how loud The Who were and how they used feedback and noise. When I bought it I expected it to sound like Jesus and Mary Chain. This was a decade before Jesus and Mary Chain, by the way. But the descriptions I'd read led me to imagine something that sounded like what J&MC eventually sounded like. I played it a few more times, though, and really got into it. Pretty soon I was spending all my lawn mowing money on Who records.

I first saw The Who in like 1984 or so. I remember I couldn't get tickets to the show they played in 1979 in Cleveland a couple nights after all those kids were killed in Cincinnati. My friend Mary had tickets but her dad wouldn't let her go after that happened. Later on Mary told me she hated her dad. I don't know if that was the reason. I managed to get tickets for their next tour, though. I recall being thoroughly disappointed. They looked like a bunch of tired old men who'd totally lost the will and drive. One thing that sticks out in mind is that Pete Townshend broke a string in the middle of a song. So he just stopped playing and exchanged his Telecaster for another guitar midsong while the band played on. I just thought that was totally lame. Anyone who was so rich and complacent he couldn't finish a song on 5 strings like I'd done countless times was beyond contempt.

I didn't bother with any of the later reunion shows. The ones in the late 80's with the gigantic Who sign that dwarfed the band were just too ridiculous. But when they came to Japan on their first ever tour of that country in 2004 I went. By then my wife was a big fan too. I introduced her to the group by playing her Pictures of Lilly to help her learn to pronounce L's properly. Plus they'd really redeemed themselves when Zak Starkey joined. The 2004 show was amazingly great. Much better than they'd been in the 80's. They actually seemed younger.

Anyhow, we were sitting there at the Bowl last night waiting for the show to begin when a loud mouthed drunk middle aged guy started talking to the row of teenagers in front of us. He asked if this was their first concert. "No, dude," they said. "we've seen lots more." He asked them who they'd seen. "Styx, Journey, Boston, REO...."

I don't know if they were putting the old guy on or not. But they didn't seem to be. Of course, the old guy was like, great shows, maaaannnn!! I was aghast. Don't these kids know what their elders fought and died for? We tried to make a world where no one had to listen to the likes of such corporate rock crap. And now here you kids are getting all into that stuff? What has the world come to? Then again, now Nirvana and early Green Day are Classic Rock. So what do I know? And besides that a former member of REO Speedwagon actually wrote me fan mail after having read Hardcore Zen (it's true!). So maybe I should just keep my lame ass opinions to myself. (Not likely)

Wish I had some kind of "Zen Lesson" at the end of all of this. But I can't think of one. It was a cool show. But lately I've come to dislike big spectacles and suchlike more and more. Not that I ever really did care for them much. I've probably attended less than a dozen big rock and roll shows in my life -- most of those being KISS shows. Noise and lights and crowds have never been my thing. And, uh, nope. No big Zen lesson in this installment.

Rock on, dudes!

Thursday, November 02, 2006


So the other day I was translating the synopses of each episode of Ultraman Max for work. I came across one that was particularly difficult. So I decided to run it through one of those on-line translation thingies, Babelfish. The translation into English was a mess and didn’t help me at all. Among the things Babelfish got wrong was the phrase 気がつけた (pronounced “ki ga tsuketa”). This is a common Japanese phrase meaning to wake up after having passed out. But Babelfish translated it as “the air was attached.”

The reason for this weird translation is that the word 気 (ki) can, in some cases mean “air,” as in 空気 (kuuki, "air"), though it has a wider meaning of “energy” particularly spiritual energy. In Chinese this character is pronounced “qi.” Some of you martial arts fans have certainly heard it in words like aikido or reiki. It's also used in words relating to Chinese medicine. In fact, just today I saw a guy get out of a souped up lemon yellow VW bug in front of a trendy Beverly Hills clothing boutique with 気 tattooed on his arm. I bet the tattoist told him it meant, like, spiritual energy, y'know. And he was probably all like, oh fer sure, that's what I'm all about, dude, spiritual energy. The word つけた literally does mean “attached.” So the translation “the air was attached” isn’t really wrong in a sense, although it is completely mistaken. It seems the people who programmed Babelfish didn’t make it sophisticated enough to handle common set phrases like this. It's often possible to translate something in a way that can be called correct but is still wrong.

Last weekend when I was getting ready for my Saturday Zen class I couldn’t find the Nishijima/Cross translation of Dogen’s Shobogenzo chapter 生死 (Shoji) or “Life and Death” (sometimes “Birth and Death”). So I went for the next best thing I could find, Kazuaki Tanahashi’s “Moon in a Dewdrop.” Although Tanahashi’s translations are pretty good — probably the next best after Nishijima/Cross — I wasn’t really happy with it and I thought I’d explain why. In a way it's like Babelfish's problems with the Ultraman Max story.

The first line of 生死 is 生死のなかに仏あれば、生死なし。またいはく、生死のなかに仏なければ、生死にまどはず。(shoji no naka ni hotoke areba, shoji nashi. Mata iwaku, shoji no naka ni hotoke nakereba, shoji madowazu). Except for the use of a few words no longer common in modern Japanese, this is, grammatically at least, a fairly easy phrase. Nishijima and Cross render it as,“Because in life-and-death there is buddha, there is no life and death. Again, we can say: Because in life-and-death there is no ‘buddha,’ we are not deluded in life-and-death.” The only thing they really add that’s not in the original phrase are the quote marks around the second usage of the word “buddha." In Tanahashi’s version, this line is given as, “Because a buddha is in birth and death, there is no birth and death. It is also said, ‘Because a buddha is not in birth and death, a buddha is not deluded by birth and death'.”

The thing that bothers me about Tanahashi’s version is something very, very small — the single-letter word “a.” There are no articles or true plurals in Japanese. So when Dogen uses the word 仏 (hotoke) meaning Buddha, this could be translated into English as “Buddha,” “a Buddha,” “the Buddha,” or “the Buddhas.” All would be technically correct.

The difference reflects a different understanding of the meaning of the text. In the Nishijima/Cross version it is made clear that Dogen’s use of the word hotoke here is meant as the conceptual idea of Buddha, or Buddha as a description of reality. It’s very straight-forward. But Tanahashi seems to want to make it something mystical. By putting an article in front of the word he seems to want us to wonder just who this Buddha is who is in birth and death. He compounds that by saying that "a buddha is not deluded by birth and death" rather than "we are not deluded." So this Buddha, whoever he is, has some mystical ability to avoid being deluded by birth and death like we are. In Japanese the subject is not stated, which is common, so either translation can be called correct. Possibly Tanahashi wants us to come to the understanding that this undeluded Buddha is we, ourselves. I have no problem with that idea. What I do not like is the way that meaning seems to be set in a riddle in his version while in the Nishijima/Cross version it smacks us across the face.

In Dogen's original, we could read it either way. When he spoke this aloud to an audience, he probably made it clear which way it was to be taken. But we can never know for certain just how he said it. So the modern translator into English is left with the burden of choosing how to express the idea. All translation, even when it's just translating the stories of Ultraman Max, is interpretation. You can't possibly avoid it. Nishijima and Cross put Dogen's words into English as clearly and unambiguously as possible and I like that. I'm not equating Tanahashi to Babelfish. Just that, in the same way, though his translation is technically correct, it doesn't really work for me.

I don’t really want to get into a scholarly or linguistic debate here because they’re a waste of time and no fun. I just thought I’d give you my take on why I prefer the Nishijima/Cross translation above and beyond the fact that I know the authors.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


The dates for the Zazen classes in Santa Monica in November are as follows:

November 4th
November 11th (One Day Zazen Micro Retreat)
November 18th
November 25th

So all of you nice people be sure and remember those dates and set aside some time to come and enjoy beautiful Zazen practice in the picturesque town of Santa Monica. There will be delicious orange juice after the sittings and an enlightening talk about the wondrous and fine philosophy of Master Dogen. It will be lovely and peaceful and envigorating and all of you kind and smart people who stop by will feel the warmth and friendliness of magnificent fellowship in the profound practice of Zazen.

Now here's my confession: As of today I have become the last person on Earth to purchase a copy of Frampton Comes Alive. They're having a sale at Record Surplus on Pico Ave. in Los Angeles, a store that bills itself as "the last record store." And well they may be what with Tower Records having been bought out by money-grubbing fascists who wanted to kill the chain. For this they will burn in Hell for Eternity. But that's beside the point. The point is that Record Surplus had a vinyl copy of FCA for just a dollar. I couldn't pass it up after having written what I wrote last time. I put it on while doing the dishes just now and it wasn't too bad. The liner notes by some hack from Rolling Stone are nauseating and the cover is a bit embarrassing to be seen with. But the music's sort of OK.

Also, forgive me Lord, I was thinking of purchasing the Billy Joel boxed set. Billy Joel has always been one of those guys I wanted to hate, but really couldn't. At least not all that much. Captain Jack is a nice song. So's Piano Man. The song My Life I like, but I don't really "get" the story. It starts off in the first verse as a 3rd person narrative. But then it switches to first person & I'm never sure if the guy who says "Don't worry about me cuz I'm all right" and all that is the same person the narrator is describing in the 1st verse or if it's the narrator talking about himself. We Didn't Start the Fire is a total rip-off of REM's It's The End of the World as We Know It, which is a rip-off of Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues. But everyone sucked in the 80's. Maybe Husker Du was OK. And Plasticland. But nobody bought Plasticland's albums. You should buy the Plasticland compilation out now on Ryko Disc, though. I command you!!!! Click the link on this article and buy it immediately. You will obey me!!!

Anyway, I stayed my hand and did not buy the Billy Joel set. So I'm safe for now. But for how long....? For how long........?

Sunday, October 29, 2006


I dunno man... I keep trying to get some butts on cushions at the Hill Street Center. But nothing seems to work. When I try being nice on the blog, hardly anyone shows up. When I insult everyone, hardly anybody shows up.

Anyway, in terms of Zen it doesn't really matter. In fact, I tend to prefer talking to and sitting with small groups. So when four people who are seriously interested in Zazen practice show up, it's actually very nice. I'm not in this for the money, or even to make a living at it. I'm not in this to get famous. And I really don't desire to get the "Frampton Comes Alive" Effect happening.

"The Frampton Comes Alive" Effect comes from an interview I once saw with Chuck Klosterman. He didn't call it that, by the way. He was talking about the fact that, other than Chrissie Hynde and Devo, none of the Akron new-wave bands that were so hyped as the Next Big Thing in the late 70's ever really made it. He brought up the success of the album "Frampton Comes Alive" (FCA). For those of you young whippersnappers who don't remember, FCA was one of the world's first really, really super mega big selling albums. I'm sure other records and CDs have surpassed it by now. But at the time it came out FCA was so unbelievably huge it seemed like there was nowhere you could get away from it. I sometimes wondered if I was the only one in my high school who didn't have a copy.

What Klosterman said was that, among all those mega-millions of people who bought FCA, only a small percentage really liked the album that much. But, the record itself became such a huge thing that lots and lots and lots of people bought it just because it was the thing you did that year -- you bought a copy of "Frampton Comes Alive." Klosterman's opinion was that any piece of art only has a certain number of true fans. Once you've passed that number, you're basically selling it to people who don't really give a shit about it, at least not as art. They're buying it for other reasons. Maybe to show everyone they're hip or whatever, or just because it's expected of them.

Klosterman's point was that even though Rachel Sweet, The Rubber City Rebels, The Bizarros, Tin Huey and all of the rest of the so-called Akron Sound artists who got snapped up by major labels in the late 70's never caught on, that wasn't such a terrible thing. The true fans of these artists remained loyal to them. The fact that the masses never consumed their product was, artistically speaking if not financially speaking, no great loss. In fact it might have saved some of those people from something that could have been actually worse. Look at what sudden fame did for Kurt Cobain. And his is just one very extreme case. There are endless examples of people who became far more miserable after becoming famous than they were when they were unknown.

How this relates to Zen is that real Buddhist practice may not be for everyone. Well, no. I mean, it definitely IS for everyone. But, in terms of what you can sell as a consumable item or a trend, it definitely isn't. It's hard work and most people are, forgive me Jesus, lazy and pathetic. They're looking for the easy way out and Zen is not it. Nothing truly worthwhile is ever easy. Yet people seem to think that real understanding of yourself and the universe you live in ought to be something you don't really need to invest any time or effort into. Maybe we'll spend an afternoon trying to get an "opening experience." But that's about all we're willing to put into it. That's sad. But that's the way it goes.

For me as a Zen teacher, I'm happier to have a handful of really honest students than to have the Frampton Comes Alive Effect happen and get a whole bunch of people who are just there because being there is the thing to do. When you come to my classes you're gonna sit and stare at a wall for an hour with no candy ass "guided meditation" talk to relieve the boredom. I'm sure that cuts down its attraction as a hip place to spend a Saturday morning.

But shit man, you'd think in Southern California, with so many people claiming to be "spritually aware" or into all kinds of Eastern philosophies and religions, there'd be more than four people who were truly interested in real Zazen practice...

Maybe not.

Friday, October 27, 2006


I'm back in Los Angeles. So there's a Zazen class tomorrow morning in Santa Monica for all of you who live near by and aren't TOTAL LOSERS. Shee-oot man, I got 18 times as many people coming to see a lecture in the middle of nowhere Nebraska as I get at these weekly Zen classes. A bunch of 'em even drove an hour or more to get there. I'm sorry, but you guys are just pathetic. California is lame.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Before I forget. I just found out some good news and some bad news (for me). The good news is that my upcoming book "Sit Down and Shut Up!" is now listed on Amazon with a release date of April 28, 2007. I first heard about this, naturally enough, from a guy who came to my lecture in Hastings, Nebraska last night. Publishers, they never tell you nuthin'!

The bad news is that some assholes have usurped my URL,, and put up some kind of bullshit new age crystal gazing crap there. Don't use it! It's a rip off! I believe I was paid up on that URL and I'll be looking into this matter. Anyone who knows about such things feel free to contact me.

I'm on my way back from Knee-braska now waiting at the Phoenix airport for a delayed flight to Los Angeles. It was fun. Hastings is a little tiny Christian college in the middle of nowhere. It took 2 hours to get there from the Omaha airport. When you're 2 hours away from Omaha you're way out there. One of the girls who showed me around said her high school graduating class had 26 people. Another person I met had gone to school in a trailer in Wyoming with like 3 other kids. Amazing. I mean, I thought Wadsworth, Ohio was a remote outpost of civilization.

Anyhow, I did one lecture and two other smaller talks while I was out there — I sat in on a philosophy class where the prof suddenly asked me to speak and I did this thing they call "Table Talk" where they sit around at lunch time and talk philosophy and religion. Hastings is a happening place!

Anyway, at every one of these talks I got some variation on the question, "Where do we go when we die?" This was kind of interesting because I can't recall the last time I got that question at all and here I got it three times in one day. Obviously this was a big concern. I think it's a major concern of religious people in general. And, I won't lie to you, it was a big concern of mine when I first got into Buddhism and all that. But, oddly enough, it's not a concern at all anymore. That's one of the things I've pretty well answered for myself that I mentioned a few postings back.

At Table Talk, I shared the floor with another guest speaker at the college, a preacher of some kind. He was of the opinion that when you died, if you were Christian, you went to Heaven, which was a real place where the streets were paved with gold. OK. It doesn't sound incredibly attractive to me. I don't like gold all that much. The image reminds me of, like, Beverly Hills or Bel Air on steroids. And I really find places like that repulsive. So every time I hear I might spend eternity there, it sounds like a kind of punishment. I don't want to live in a Heavenly mansion. I don't even like the ones they have here.

When Buddha was asked questions along the lines of "Where do we go when we die?" he either maintained silence or he said, "The question doesn't fit the case." It's the wrong question. It assumes things that are not true. So any answer you give to a question like that is really irrelevant.

To a Buddhist, lnear time is just a convenient fiction. It works to a certain degree. But it's not real. There is no real past and there is no real future. There is just now. You are born and you die, according to the old Buddhist texts, something like 64,000 times a second. Or some big ass number like that. It doesn't matter. The idea is that you are born and die all the time. Where you go when you die is right here. There's nowhere else you can go.

Uh-oh! My plane just got here. Gotta go!

Monday, October 23, 2006


Yup. That's right! All y'all out Nebrasky way can come by Hastings College in Hastings, Nebraska tomorrow at 7:00 PM and see a lecture by li'l ol' me (please note the time, I was wrong yesterday. It's 7). There's a bit more info if you click on the title of this article or on the word "link" below. Although I'm not sure how they got the idea that I studied under Kodo Sawaki at the turn of the century then played bass with a punk band. I must've been the oldest guy in the scene! Anyhow, I've only ever met Kodo Sawaki thru Nishijima, in the sense that whenever you meet a Zen teacher you're meeting their entire lineage.

I just turned in what I consider to be the final edited version of my next book to New World Library (NWL). This means I wrote it, an editor changed it, another editor changed it some more, yet another editor changed it even more than that, it came back to me, I changed a few things back to the way they were and then sent it back. Reading it again after like 3 months of not seeing it I was happy it did not suck. It's a bit more in depth than Hardcore Zen (HCZ). I think what you'll get is a truer version of what I was going for in HCZ.

I have no idea in the world when the book will actually be published. But once I find out, I'll post something here. I sure hope it doesn't take a year more. I'm working on book number three as well as finishing up my rewrite of Nishijima's translation of Nagarjuna's Fundamental Song of the Middle Way (abreviated MMK after its Sanskrit title). MMK will be a tremendous book. But I think it may be destined for a certain degree of obscurity. Though I'll certainly send it to some publishers, my guess is it will end up being self-published by Nishijima's print-on-demand publishing house, Dogen Sangha Books. In any case, I'll make a note of it here whatever happens.

Gotta go pack!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


I was looking at the comments section of a blog about Zen recently and I saw something that said something like, “Brad Warner tends to give the impression that his personal idiosyncrasies are supported by Zen.” I thought that was a really weird statement. But I think it’s important to talk about because it tends to give the impression of certain things about Zen that are not supported by reality.

It took me a while to really get what was being said. I mean, I understand the intention, of course. The writer wanted to point out that Brad was a misleading, or perhaps just deluded, guy and we should all be careful about believing that what he says is really Zen. I totally agree that everyone should be careful about believing what I say, though I would never deliberately mislead anyone. I think the average person reading such a statement might tend to think, “Oh that darn Brad! Always trying to make people believe what he says is supported by Zen when it’s really just his own oddball behavior!”

What’s weird about the statement isn’t its implications about me, but its implications that there are statements, attitudes, modes of behavior and so on — by me or by anyone else — that are supported by Zen and those that are not. But what does “supported by Zen” mean?

The implication is that there is something out there that we can call “Zen” that exists apart from the individual people who have been sanctioned by various lineages to teach Zen. There isn’t. Which is not to say that there are not a lot of people who would like there to be.

In the West lately there has been an unstated movement to try and define and solidify what this nebulous thing that can be called “Zen” and that exists apart from those of us who teach and practice it is. What that something is tends to be a mishmosh of ideas gleaned from DT Suzuki, Alan Watts and a load of scholars who've written books about Zen, as well as what publications like Tricycle and Shambala Sun say Zen is, and the stuff we've seen on the old Kung Fu TV series and in Star Wars and what Richard Gere says Zen is and so on and on. A loosely defined but generally accepted picture is emerging in the West these days of what is and is not "Zen." But I wonder if this picture is really true. Even so, we tend to compare what we hear from actual teachers of Zen to our image of what Zen ought to be. When there is a discrpency, we tend to want to go with our own ideas about what Zen should be.

We have a long tradition of trying to codify our religions and philosophies. This is what the fathers of what became the Catholic church tried to do when they chose which gospels were orthodox and which were not. The Catholic church has a governing body whose job it is to examine and authorize particular statements to be officially made on behalf of the church. Governments and corporations work the same way. I can’t just say any old thing I want about the rights to the movies my company produces without passing it by the management.

Truth be told, though, even in these instances there really is not any nebulous something we can really call “Catholicism” or “the United States Government” or “the Oscar Meyer Corporation” that exists apart from the men and women who make up these organizations. We just pretend there is. The difference in Zen is that we try not to pretend about anything, and when we find ourselves doing so, we stop. So nobody ought to pretend there is any Zen or Buddhism that exists apart from Zen practitioners and Buddhists themselves.

And yet Buddhist philosphy (or Zen, whatever) is only one. A long-time practitioner can recognize Buddhism and can recognize what is not Buddhism. But that recognition is a rather subtle thing. It's not definable in words and no set of rules could ever contain it. Buddhism is balance. What is out of balance is not Buddhism. You can know what is Buddhism the same way you can balance a pencil on your finger and can know that you've lost that balance when the pencil falls to the floor.

If I’ve ever given the impression that the things I say and do are somehow supported by some nebulous thing out there in the ozone called “Zen,” I apologize. I’ve never deliberately set out to do so. Ain’t no such thang anyhow.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


I'm back in California again and about two hours after I arrived back on the Left Coast I was leading an all-day Zazen retreat. Which was attended by 9 people (including me & Yuka), by the way. This was good because the first guy who signed up ended up not coming. Thank you all for coming. And for those of you who read this blog & live out here but never show up: Too bad, you lose. I say that because as I'm sitting there sitting it dawned on me just how very special Zazen really is.

Up till now I've tended to say things like "Zen is boring" or that it's just a lot of staring at walls with your legs all achy and that there's no Enlightenment and no Higher States of Consciousness and all that rigamarole. That's all true. But maybe I've given the impression that Zazen is all boredom and pain. It's not. If it was I wouldn't have been doing it every day for the past 20-odd years.

I say those seemingly negative things about Zazen because I'm turned off by all the hype you hear about meditation from most people who promote it. That kind of stuff always turned me off from trying any of those practices. It wasn't till I found a teacher who was honest enough to say that it was often painful and boring that I actually decided to try it out. But now I feel like maybe I went too far in the opposite direction and maybe I'm giving people the impression that there are no benefits to Zazen, or that the benefits of Zazen are the same as what you might get out of playing bass in a hardcore band or jogging or whatever. They're not. Zazen is way better.

Being exposed to the kind of noise and clutter most people seem to fill their lives with for a week and then cutting all that out for a day made a huge difference. We are constantly dumping obscene amounts of toxic garbage into our minds and then we wonder why we're so muddled and unable to stay focused. There's a kind of centeredness you get from Zazen practice that you cannot get anywhere else. And there's a power to practice with a group that cannot be found in any other activity. It is truly an amazing thing our buddy Mr. Gotama discovered all those many years ago. You ought to try it sometime.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


This Saturday, October 14th, we'll be holding our regular monthly Zazen Micro-Retreat at the Hill Street Center in Santa Monica, California. For details check the link over there to your right. The schedule and a map are right there.

I'm rushing back to California for this and it would be really nice if a few other people showed up. We've had one (1) person sign up so far. And if one is all we get, we'll still hold the retreat. Dogen makes all these references in Shobogenzo to "half a person." If the retreats keep going as they have been, I expect that'll be the next step. But if half a person shows up, we'll have a retreat with half a person.

As always, Yuka will be making lovely Japanese food. We're right by the beach. It's a lovely area, and a refreshing and rejuvenating way to spend the day. Plus, if you show up I personally guarantee you'll have the actual experience of Enlightenment or your money back!*

So show up you bunch of candy asses!

* "Sitting Zazen is Enlightenment itself." — Dogen Zenji

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


I saw that commercial again. It’s for some kind of chocolate thing. Maybe Dove Bars? Anyhow, two women are sitting on lounge chairs talking about how delicious the thing is and one of them says, “It’s like Zen wrapped in Karma dipped in chocolate.” Which I’m sure is an apt description.

I’m here at my grandma’s house while grandma recuperates from a broken hip and my dad’s at some trade show in downtown Cincinnati so I have to deal with my mom who is severely disabled. I’ve ended up doing all the things she used to do for me, feeding her, watering her, carrying her from place to place. I haven’t burped her, but I’m sure that’s coming. While doing all this I was thinking about one of the ideas in Buddhism that just doesn’t get enough press. We’re all worried about solving stupid koans and having Enlightenment experiences, finding ourselves, and all that nonsense. But one of the most important aspects of Buddhist philosophy is that we do not live our lives just for ourselves. We exist for the people and things we encounter as much as we exist for ourselves.

This is why Buddhism is not solipsism, though far too many people think it might be. Solipsists believe only in their own existence. You sometimes see people saying that Buddhism is the belief that the whole Universe is our own creation. This is true. But it is also the belief that we are the creation of the whole Universe. You are God and God is the guy who has to pick up all the dog shit on the lawn. The real value of your life is the service you render to the Universe. It doesn’t need to be big service either because the universe can be a very tiny place sometimes. Maybe Jesus died for us, I don’t know. But I do know that it is our duty to give our own lives over to the Universe. We’ll work ourselves to the bone just to do what’s required and then, when we can’t do no more, the Universe gets rid of us. And that is the best thing there could ever be.

We miss out on how good this is because we want to have things the other way around. We want to take as much as we can, amass power, wealth, fame, social position. We want to suck the whole Universe into ourselves and carry it around in our bloated bellies, giving back a little only if it will get us more than we give. In doing so we experience misery upon misery. But when you give back without hope of receiving anything in return, the reward is immeasurable. Following the rule of the Universe is the best life a person can live.

Your duties to parents, friends, acquaintances, even enemies is your karma. So wrap your karma in some Zen and dip it in chocolate then feed it to someone who needs it.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Reporting this morning from Nashville. I spent 15 hours yesterday driving with my mom and dad along the highways of America. It's not often I get to really see the land of chain fast food restaurants and Wal Marts that is this here United States. Had my first Taco Bell meal in a decade or more and remembered why I stopped eating that garbage. Though I must admit, when I first turned vegetarian I was glad for Taco Bell as it was the only place for a quick, cheap non-meat meal.

I wanted to write something profound about koans. But my dad's got the TV blasting here in the hotel room. I often forget there's a whole segment of the society that enjoys having crapp-o TV shows carping at them 24/7. I took to turning off the radio on my driving shifts. My dad's got one of them XM radio deals. 200 channels and nothing on. Noise, noise noise.

If you're interested in Buddhism, the first thing you need to do is get rid of all that noise. Turn off the TV, the radio and -- for God's sake -- the Internet and get down to some real practice.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


My friend Bret recorded my talk at Hill Street Center yesterday and made a MySpace page for it. Click on the title of this article or on the word "link" below to go there.

But before you try and become my MySpace friend or any of that, be aware that I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO USE MYSPACE. I didn't set this up and I really don't know how it works and, may God forgive me, I really don't want to know. I'm just not interested in MySpace at all. It's too much technology for my analogue brain to handle. I'm in Texas now at my parents' place. Last night Kinky Friedman, who is running for governor, was on TV and said he doesn't look at the Internet because he believes it is a tool of Satan. I pretty much agree. Even though I do this blog and have to deal with the Internet for work, I tend to avoid it as much as possible.

The talk sucks, so hopefully it will lay to rest all the clamor for me to do Podcasts when you all hear how lousy this is.

Friday, October 06, 2006

ZAZEN TOMORROW (Oct. 7, 2006)

First up, there will be a Zazen Class at the Hill Street Center in Santa Monica tomorrow (Sat. Oct. 7, 2006) morning. Details are to your right at the link that says "Weekly Zazen Classes."

Today I'm going to go record a commentary track for the DVD of "Zen Noir." The DVD is supposed to be out in November, I think. I'll let you know when I know.

I was thinking about my last post. I hope I didn't come off sounding too evangelical. And if you think I did, too bad. I've seen the whole "Bodhisattva Vow" thing, which says "living beings are numberless, I vow to save them all," being used as an excuse for so-called Buddhists to go out and try to convert people. That's just stupid. There's a rule of thumb, which I'm sure I've quoted here before, that says you should never answer any question about Buddhism unless the questioner asks three times. What that means is you shouldn't waste time talking about Buddhism to people who aren't really interested in it. There's just no point in doing so.

I oughta write more on this subject, but I gotta get to the recording studio. Maybe next time...

Monday, October 02, 2006

WHY WE FIGHT (or at least why I do)

I did my talk to the Yoga Hippies in Los Feliz yesterday. That was fun. And while I was talking to them I kind of hit upon why it is I do useless things like write this blog.

The group I spoke with were training to be yoga teachers. One of the questions I got went something like this. “How do you deal with the way people react to you being a white guy from the American suburbs teaching in a tradition that many people see as being foreign, where it’s commonly accepted that the only ‘real’ teachers of that tradition ought to be old guys from Japan who’ve lived on top of mountains for the past 50 years?” Of course, the question was also related to her position as a young white yoga teacher.

This is something I’ve encountered a lot, but I’ve never really thought about it in quite the terms she phrased the question. I remember when we played hardcore, there was always the question of whether you could be an “authentic” punk rocker if you weren’t English and on the Dole. There must be endless other variations. Can white people play blues? Can California Pizza Kitchen make real pizza when it’s owned by two Jewish guys? The list goes on…

One of the issues involved is the language barrier. When you're listening to a guy who can't really speak English, there's a tendency to fill in the parts he doesn't quite get across with your own imagination. You do that in English, too. But when the speaker has difficulty with tenses and pronouns and what-have-you, there's much more opportunity to fill in the blanks. Add to this the fact that Buddhism, or Yoga, is pretty difficult philosophically and the potential for this kind of thing is enormous. So what often happens is that, if someone who is fluent in English tries to explain it a bit more clearly, the listeners may react very strongly because it contradicts the bits they've already filled in for themselves with their own ideas.

For my part, I feel like the only attitude you can have towards that kind of thing is just to do what you do and not get too worried whether anyone thinks it’s authentic or not according to whatever arbitrary criteria they’ve set up to judge such things.

In answering the question, I also started thinking about why I teach Buddhism at all and specifically why I write this blog, which seems to be one of my main activities as a Buddhist teacher lately. I never really set out to be a Buddhist teacher. I got into Buddhism because I had some personal concerns, some questions I felt I needed to answer. In the course of my practice, I feel I have pretty well answered those questions for myself.

Along with answering those questions, I noticed that the answers I found weren’t really for me alone. They were for everyone. And, not only that, I saw that every single person in the world, bar none, has the capacity to answer these questions for him or herself. Furthermore I came to the understanding that, by answering these questions, people could become much more happy and learn to get along with each other much better than they do.

But, on the other hand, I saw exactly why we do not do that. I saw this by seeing what the blocks were to my own understanding and noticing that these also were not specific to me. They were absolutely universal. The reason we do not see the truth for ourselves is only because we are closing our eyes, holding our hands over our ears and shouting, “Lah! Lah!! Lah!! I can’t hear you!!!!” All we really need to do is to learn how to stop shutting reality out. Once we accomplish that, the truth of the Universe comes flooding over us like a tidal wave. In fact, it’s doing that even as we vainly attempt to shout it down. The pain we experience in life comes not from the outside world and circumstances beyond our control doing awful things to us. It comes from our constant and entirely futile attempts to shut ourselves off from the reality that is actually the largest part of our true selves and to try and live in an absurd and artificial universe of our own mental creation.

This is easier said than done, though. It takes a lot of hard work to unlearn habits that you’ve developed since the moment you were born and that are reinforced by centuries of human thought and activity. There are no quick and painless ways to do this. In fact, I’ve come to believe that none of us ever completely gets away from those habits. But it is the effort to do so that matters. It gets easier. But it is never completely effortless and automatic.

I managed to answer these questions by following the Buddhist tradition. Part of the Buddhist tradition says that anyone who gets to this point has an obligation to tell others about it. I understand that. But, at the same time, I don’t really want to do it. That’s because it was a very personal thing. Intensely personal. In the same way that this understanding is absolutely universal it is also as intensely and painfully personal as you can possibly get. It’s very difficult to lay all that stuff bare before the public. As in the story I put up the other day (see below), most people who reach this understanding are never heard from again. For that, they have my total sympathy. It can be extraordinarily humiliating to dredge up the stuff you have to dredge up in order to communicate this experience. It is also utterly impossible to just tell people “The Answer” and get it over with, which is what I suspect many of us expect. I know I sure did. But it doesn’t work that way. Any answer you receive from someone else will never be convincing no matter what it is. That's just the nature of receiving answers from others.

I guess all I’m really trying to do is make a public record of my own experience in the hopes that it might be of some use to someone. I’m not trying to win followers or converts to myself or even to Buddhism. That’s a waste of time and effort.

I’ve also taken some wrong turns and I’d like to point those out. Having seen how certain scams work in a kind of universal and comprehensive way, I can spot others like them pretty easily. But here too it doesn’t matter much if anyone believes what I say about these things. If you want to waste time with machines that are supposed to give you instant Enlightenment or teachers that promise you primrose gardens while leeching your money and energy, I won’t try to stop you. Nonetheless, I do feel it’s useful to expose these things for what they really are.

I’m also trying to ruin the ability of people to run scams like this by constantly demonstrating that, in spite of being a Zen Master, I, for one, am still a buffoon. I’m sure a lot of people see this and think, “Brad may be a buffoon in a giant bug costume, but His Divine Holiness Sri Sri Guru Rimpoche of the High Clouds (or whoever) is the real deal.” If you want to believe that, go ahead and believe that. Still, I think it’s necessary and useful for a so-called Zen Master to write about things like how great the movie Godzilla Vs. Megalon truly is, if only to dispel the myth that anyone who gets conferred such a title is somehow above such things. I used to fall for that one myself. I don’t anymore.

In the end, though, I do this because, in Katagiri Roshi’s words, “You have to say something.”