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...


Anonymous said...

after my dad and mom died it was kind of sad during the holidays. but now I have my wife's family and they are all great people to be with.. I guess I'm pretty lucky.

Anonymous said...

Feliz Navidad!

Anonymous said...

I find it helpful to see what a nutcase I am too :-)

Lots of laughs and smiles to everyone this season. Ahhh, indulge; unbutton that top button and get the excess food hangover.
Then take some brisk walks the next days.

Anonymous said...

"In modern Japanese style Zen, though, monks tend to be married as often as not."

This started during the Meji restoration in an effort to modernise Japan, and protect the famlies that the monks allready were having anyway.

This is not allowed in Caodong-zong monastaries in China.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, it also was a way for the government to weaken the power of the various Japanese Buddhist denominations and to promote State Shinto, which was seen as being purely Japanese. Buddhism was considered an undesireable foreign religion, having come from China and Korea -- although it had coexisted with Shinto for 1,200 years or more. It's a fascinating period in Japanese history and one I'm learning more about.

zenmite said...

"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".

The origin of this seems to be fairly recent as anonymous suggested : On April 25, 1872 an announcement, known as Order Number 133 was issued by the Japanese Ministry of State at the request of the influential Soto Zen sect priest Otori Sesso. Order Number 133, stated that Buddhist priests could, if they wished, eat meat, get married, grow their hair long, and wear ordinary clothing.

Karen said...

A Korean monk told me that during the occupation, the Japanese insisted Korean monks marry (whereas previously they'd been celebate monastics). He said the Japanese were nervous about the inner resolve of the Korean monastics and were eager to distract them with the competing priorities of family life.

yudo said...

The problem of celibacy has always been a problem of social control, just as well. Celibacy is also a way to get away from the hassles of family life. If someone decides from a purely personal point of view to forsake sex, which can amount to one of the biggest hassles of one's life, it is one thing. When you have to do it unwillingly, it is something else.
The Christian Church, in the Middle Ages, decided that all their priests ought to be celibate, but it was merely a matter of controlling them. Prelates didn't hold up to it. A lot of monks were nominally celibate, but merely used the opportunity to indulge in homosexuality, which is, once more, sex with all its hassles.

Living in a couple is no more of a difficulty than living celibate. It is moslty a matter of holding up to one's vow of avoiding to do anything that might be harmful to the other. That's a huge commitment!

Lone Wolf said...

To Brad and others....Merry Christmas!

Waylon said...

I tried celibacy once.....voluntarily. It was interesting, I actually estabilished some of my closest female friendships during that point in my life. Had I not been celibate I probably would have had sex with them and messed everything up.

Anonymous said...

Hi there. I have recently found myself in a whirlwind of synchronicity... 3 weeks ago I picked up an overall outfit for my son at a used children's store that features Ultraman - I had no idea who he was until I brought it home much to my husband's delight. 2 weeks ago I literally tripped over your book at a bookstore and felt compelled to buy it. And today while wasting time at work I I like to read wikipedia articles -just hitting random and skimming around... guess what pops up? Dementia 13. I just wanted to say hi and I got your message. You've touched my life. Thanks a lot, you've given this old riot grrl some inspiration :)

Karen in Austin, Tx.

Anonymous said...

In my narrow opinion, the only difference between monk and family life that matters, is the time that can be dedicated to zazen.

Of course this don't mean that you can't practice a lot. But for family man/woman sitting 2-3 hours a day is really hard. If you have no family (like me) 4 hours is easy if you ditch TV.

Japanese had this special problem with the government meddling with the Buddhism. After the Meiji Emperor was restored to power in the later part of the 19th Century (1872 as zenmite writes), an edict was made to weaken the power of Buddhism, as it had been a dominant force during the Tokugawa Shogunate from the 16th to the 19th Centuries. Buddhism was viewed as a foreign influence which those in power wanted to remove, or at least, to weaken. The edict said that no religion could require celibacy. The result was that priests began to marry and the temples became family businesses passed on from father to son. This has created a family priest caste that operates the temples somewhat like a western-style church -at the expense of zazen practice. This might not be as bad as it sounds as long as there is the possibility to practice full time for those who have the right motivation.

Anonymous said...

Happy Festivus! Let the wrestling and airing of greivances begin!
A shop clerk asked my 4-year-old, "How was your Christmas?"
"I don't do Christmas," he replied.
"You don't? What do you celebrate?" she asked, looking a little confused.
"Halloween!" He answered excitedly.
My father's family celebrated Christmas (my mother's side all live in Thailand) but my wife and I decided to skip the whole Christmas thing before we had children. Since none of us are Christian, it just seemed to be the right choice and the holidays are pretty stress-free in comparison to when I was a child.
Family functions are stressful enough, but Christmas seems to bring its very own brand of weirdness for some reason . . .

Anonymous said...

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.

That's why the Japanese can NEVER be considered Buddhists. They certainly aren't "monks," and this whole "priest" thing is a shame.

"Buddhist" temples in Japan are nothing more than money makers.

Who ever heard of paying money to visit a Christian church, Muslim mosque or Jewish Synagogue?

"Buddhism" in Japan is a shame. I went to Japan in '94 to learn Shingon-shu only to find out I had to pay thousands of dollars to be accepted, then I had to pay for each ritual I learned.

I tried to practice Zen in Kamakura only to once again learn that I had to pay exorbitant fees for robes and pillows!

The Japanese have made Buddhism into a money making venture.

Jordan & The Tortoise said...


You may be over generalizing.

Is a layman a Buddhist?

Certainly Laymen can be Bodhisattvas.

Now I do agree that a monk is a monastic, and a home leaver and layman should not be confused but unfortunately often is, however there are quite a few fine teachers and even some masters that are laymen.

This is proved in Theravada and Mahayana scriptures.

Be well and happy!

Prof Wes said...

"My brother makes this killer eggnog... with lighter fluid..."

"Leaving home" can be as simple as focusing on non-attachment if you ask me. If your whole life has been focused on a mental, physical, or emotional "home", there are lots of ways to break those attachments without actually abandoning your family.

Even though sometimes it'd be NICE to be able to abandon your family!

Anonymous said...

there are lots of ways to break those attachments without actually abandoning your family.

True. But in the practice, it can be much harder to train as layman. Heroin addict might say that he can practice zen and shoot heroin at the same time. He can even shoot heroin without shooting it in zen speak. How we, or better he himself, finds out if this is true? Buy not taking heroin for a while. Same thing with layman/monk's life. Many layman think how nice it would be living this totally serene monk life. Monks know it better. They are the ones who know the withdrawal syndromes. Layman can much easier take a pause from this moment. Monk may do that too for a little time, but eventually there is the question why did I become monk? I wow to uproot all desires and become familiar with the withdrawal syndromes. There are lot of these: pain for not having kid, pain for not having significant other, pain for sitting lot, pain for following rules, pain of the boredom , pain of not owning anything, pain for not having things. All these pains will be intense for many years.

Yes. We all want to have both. Total freedom without giving up the attachments.

Anonymous said...

As a "lay practioner" and father of 2 children I find my practice very challenging with the raising of a 5 year old and 8 month old to go along with the rigors of family life and teaching to boot! Patience along with observing my thoughts and reactions with many, many situations with my family and job keeps my practice on it's toes quite often. I'm sure someone who becomes a monk will have many, many opportunities to have their practice challenged as well. I see no difference btween the two.

Anonymous said...

Issue: is more generally better in zen

(was: busy layman versus full time practitioner)
>I see no difference between the two.

This is something I just don't get. Please explain. My personal experience says exact opposite. Everyone else, teachers and others insist that these two are equally good.

If you want to become Olympic level athlete, really good artist, scientist or whatever. You must spend 4-10 hours daily practicing your art and it generally takes at least 10 years of intense practice even then. Now, enter Zen practice today in west. Everything is the same. 5 minutes daily or half an hour, no difference apparently. People can magically keep their zazen going during daily life. They have the incredible willpower and concentration needed to overcome all the difficulties.

Buddha left his family to train full time. So did his disciples for centuries. Today we have magically entered in new era, or pure lotus land, where people are already so gifted and detached that they can practice equally well in their normal life. Expect me of course. I'm loser from previous centuries apparently. For example: If I watch movie or talk with people, I get lost within 1 second and remember to come back to my senses only 3-5 during movie/talking I morning sitting was good. Afterwards it may take hours before I remember this everyday zen again.

I understand that not all people can keep motivation up or have opportunity to practice full time. I certainly don't have. 2-3 hours of day is max, after that I distract myself. I get great ideas. Other things seem so much interesting. Cuddling with girlfriend, movies, games, thinking, work and so on. Only when I go to sesshins, rigorous discipline from outside gives me support to stay and sit whole day. Let's face it: I just don't have enough strength and motivation in me. I try to incorporate zen into everyday life, but my gut feeling is that I would need 4-6 hours of daily sitting to really carry it whole day.

My personal experience is that when I can sit 3-4 hours daily, I can keep awareness during daily life much better than if I sit only 1 hour per day. What do others say? Why did Bodhidharma sit so much?

I understand that eventually moving zazen in everyday life is the ultimate practice . But can you guys keep it going? My experience is that if I sit only 0.5 - 1 hours per day, I'm distracted 99.9% of time. If I sit 2-3 hours daily it is something like 99%. I just don't remember to stay aware. I can't even try if I don't remember.

Brad, could you give insight to us? Can you remeber to stay aware most of the day? Charlotte Joko Beck says in one of her books that people who can stay aware 70-80% of the time can become teachers. That seems really high from where I am.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Real supreme enlightenment? Permanent? Fool. The buddha realized that all things are impermanent and that includes enlightenment as well as Linda Clair's "Supreme Enlightenment". Sounds like a gimmick to get practioners and others here to check her out. No thanks.

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Cookie Lipschitz said...

So what the fuck do the Ramones have to do with this old post? This whole zen punk thing is really tiresome.