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.


Chris said...

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

Wow, I love that quote, for some reason. Not quite ready to make it my Email Signature yet, though ;)

oxeye said...

"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."

Repressed but recognized.. Michael Richards meltdown was almost identical to Mel Gibson’s. both men had suppressed some really nasty stuff to the point of not even knowing it was there. (both claim no racist tendencies) A little booze or stress was all that was needed to pop the boil. that repressed shit can surface when you least expect it.

Drunken Monkey said...

A hundred years ago we wouldn't have believed that other races were of the same species as us, so I believe that civilization has come a long way in a short amount of time.

Some of us notice that we habour racist thoughts (I sometimes do), and some of us seem oblivious to them, but really these thoughts are like Jellyfish in the ocean of our mind. They are nowhere near as vicious as the sharks of our psyche.

Zazen is the practice of seeing ourselves as we trully are without any attachment or rejection.

johann said...

meeting your and greet your demons, call them friend, take them to dinner and then cast the evil bastards to the corner of the room for god to watch the upper left hand corner of every 'room' you enter god is there...whatever the hell god is.

Anatman said...

Here, here, Brad. Well said.

Ryuei said...

Once again, my only comment to Brad's blog entry is: "What he said."

In Nichiren Buddhism we have some fancy jargon for this - the mutual possession of the ten worlds (from hell to buddhahood) - but Brad really brings it back home and is quite eloquent about it.

This is a tricky point, and one the more pollyanna spirituality types would like to avoid or wish away. I really applaud Brad for keeping it real.

Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

Anonymous said...

Whoa! Kramer sure can spew forth
some ugly shit!

In myself I sometimes notice
what I imagine to be a sort
of sublingual Tourette's Syndrome: outlandishly socially inappropriate
thoughts popping into my head out
of nowhere, usually involving
themes from the more intense side
of human experience, such as sex
and violence. I used to think there
was something wrong with me, and
the more I worried about it, the
more often the crazy-thought-tics
would bubble up in a reflexive and
multiplying spasming -- sort of like
Mickey Mouse and the brooms in the
Sorcerer's Apprentice.

Then, one day I decided
"oh, they're just thoughts",
and they slowly subsided.

"Every normal man must be tempted
at times to spit on his hands,
hoist the black flag, and begin
to slit throats."
--H. L. Mencken

Sounds like
S-L-O-W is indeed
the way to go...

I guess I'll keep on plugging
away at daily zazen, even though
I have a hard time believing that
an idiot and an asshole like
myself could ever become
wise and compassionate
just by staring at a wall.
But then there doesn't seem to be
any other game in town.

Partially in defense of Mel
Gibson's ranting...

When people fail to distinguish
between "races" and cultures --
between what people ARE and what
people DO -- they get into all
kinds of trouble. For example, I
have many Jewish friends who are
disgusted by the fascist cultural
mindset of those currently in
charge of Israel. Just because
you disagree with the policy of
the Israeli State does not mean
you are anti-semitic.

Anyone can be
a goose-stepping Nazi --
me, you, even a Jew --
it all depends what you DO!

(Christ, I've been reading too
much Dr. Seuss ;)

Anonymous said...


"it all depends *on* what you do"

Juggling syllables
I never fail to drop one
A good thing for you
I don't do haiku

Waylon said...

This kinda reminds me of a psychological test I took for a job a couple of years back. The question was something like "Have you ever thought about killing your boss?" I of course answered yes.....(I don't think this was the right answer for the test by the way) I've even thought about how I would get rid of his body.....this of course was a completely different question than "have you ever considered killing your boss" which I had never done.

Jinzang said...

Nice post, Brad. I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving, and that goes for everyone else who posts on this blog. I'll try to confront my inner demons while stuffing my face full of food tomorrow.

Grim said...

"I'm not really racist..."
One time I said this to Brad. He didn't say anything about it. But, ever since I said it, I know it's not the truth.

Whenever I walked around neigborhoods in L.A. and Long Beach and there were large crowds of black dudes, brothers, hanging around shooting the shit, I always felt pretty uncomfortable walking by. I mostly kept to myself and only spoke if spoken to.

Now, I can't say that I could never be cool with guys like them. But it does seem as though years of conditioning have trained a kind of wedge between us. It seems as though a special effort has to be made on both our parts in order knock out that wedge.

I've seen some other pretty extreme examples of this that have absolutely nothing to do with race. Like this guy I saw lying face-down on a sidewalk at Long Beach Blvd. and P.C.H. who everyone was walking around. To us he was just some sort of obstacle and a very uncomfortable one at that.

A lot questions came up as I kept walking away. Could I help him? Is there anything I could have done at all? As I pondered (or convinced myself of) my inability to deal with that situation, I just kept walking away.

Had it been my girlfriend lying there, I would have helped her. No matter how complicated, no matter how long it took. Nothing would have pulled me away were it her.

Jordan & The Tortoise said...

We live in a strange country. The basic white guy is constantly on the defense on race issues. While anyone else can be openly racist and generally blame it on us white guys.

In Asia they generally look down their noses at their neighbors. Never ask a Chinese guy if he is Japanese or Korean, or vice versa, talk about butthurt! Do I need to mention the Middle East or Africa? Culture or race while involved sometimes has little to do with it. Sometimes they don’t like each other because they go to a different church.

We are naturally protective and anything we see as different than us could be perceived as a threat. Parts of my own family didn’t get here until the 1900’s and they were white and caught a ration of shit just because they had a Mac in front of their names. They were different! It is an ancient reflex for survival. All we can do is acknowledge that and love ourselves enough to enable us to love all sentient beings.

Be well and happy, even if you are a follower of Nichiren

MikeDoe said...

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

That about sums up Buddhism nicely.

Oh, and you are right, putting those two in the same room too early is unlikely to turn out too well.

Snarkey said...

Wow. Thanks, Brad.

earDRUM said...

Great post Brad. But I think that for anyone to truly understand it, one has to actually go through it. I imagine that if I had read this post before I confronted my own demons, it wouldn't have meant nearly as much. It is easy to think that we have confronted our demons. But actually doing so can feel like the end of the world. It is an incredibly "alone in the universe" feeling. Not something that most people would willingly do. Yet, it is the only way to deal with life honestly and sincerely.
Maybe this is why so many people enjoy horror movies? Maybe this is why 90% of popular books and films have a murder involved in the story? Maybe people know inside that they need to confront their fears and demons? Maybe people feel that confronting demons vicariously through an actor's role is a safe way to experience the reality that they fear? I have a feeling that horror movies only exascerbate the problem. Otherwise, people wouldn't keep going to them agaion and again. My feeling is that we need to actually confront our own deeply buried thoughts... not those of somebody else's. When we confront our own demons, we don't know if we will actually survive. Yet we know that we have to do it in order to be honest with ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Enforced Empathy:

Sure, I'll shake hands with Satan,
but only after becoming Satan myself
and administering "an eye for an eye"
in all its righteous glory!
If Satan is unwilling to walk a mile
in his victim's shoes, then I will
force him to:

Welcome to the Hell!

Anonymous said...

The Google Quote of the Day
algorithm for choosing quotes
is a very good one. Here is
the Google quote for today:

"The men the American public admire
most extravagantly are the most
daring liars; the men they detest
most violently are those who try to
tell them the truth."
- HL Mencken

Anonymous said...

Seeing Kramer so unbalanced
inspired me to go out and find
the Anti-Kramer in order to
rebalance the universe.

Here he is, crazy hair and all:

Malcolm Gladwell

If he can hold your interest for
the whole talk, the magical
rebalancing effect will occur in
the last 10 seconds when exactly
what he is talking about becomes

goodjerk said...

I didn't think I was racist. I'm liberal - I'm above all that. But I frequently surprize myself with my racism. Some comment comes out of me and I have to own up to it. And then I don't always know when I'm racist, which further confuses the whole mess.
The Sunday before the election, the minister at my church gave a wonderful talk on not being separate from others. Which reminds me I need to thank her for that - I could relate to it more than I can to many of the dharma talks at my zen center, which center around kong-ans and late great zen masters who hold up one finger.

nai wakara said...

you were against the frat boys in borat. different intoxicant only difference.

Anonymous said...

I heard one of the dumbest things regarding racism that I've ever heard the yesterday whilst grocery shopping at Walmart.

A black employee was going on and on with a customer about how wrong it was that 'just because most black people buy their Christmas gifts the day after Thanksgiving, they call it 'Black Friday'. That's just racist bullshit.'

I just quietly butted in and said, 'The phrase Black Friday' has nothing to do with black people.'

So, idiocy regarding race abounds.

Anonymous said...

Here's one for the

BookTV on C-SPAN2

It's all about the EVIDENCE.
Have a look-see for yourself.

Anonymous said...

I didnt find thing that i need... :-(

V for Vendetta said...

You know what it showed me?? After watching his explanation i begain to see that although i despise racisism and argue against it constantly and am uber-liberal that deep down (and not that deep)i have a huge dose of racists feelings. And i get the feeling that if everyone looked close enough they would see the same.

I see myself respond inwardly to any number of images etc that build a case for my deeper feelings which of course i would never share, and did not realize i had until this incident. Of course brought into the light of day and asked to provide "proof" for there feelings, of course i have none. In other word i have never been in a position to witness in person 99% of the stuff i respond to.
Hummmm. Maybe if were honest we can see the shit that fills our heads. Them maybe we could move into that space we are all chasing regardless of weather you admit it or not...

Anonymous said...

For publicities sake,
give the guy a break,
it was totally fake!

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