Monday, July 31, 2006

BACK TO GODHEAD


Yesterday I attended the Hare Krishna Festival of Chariots at Venice Beach. I was completely won over by their philosophy and free food and now renounce Buddhism forever!

Nah. But the food was very tasty (and I opted for the $7 plate rather than the free one -- much tastier!). Hare Krishnas are the best cooks in the material world. That's for sure. But, once again, as happened 20-odd years ago when I listened to their philosophy back at the Cleveland Temple, they failed to win me over. I know I rag on the Krishnas way too much. But I really don't mean to put them down specifically. I like them, actually, in some ways. It's just that that's what I know. My friend Bret came with me & when I was telling him about my experiences with the Krishnas it dawned on me just how deeply I had investigated their philosophy. I was even able to tell him how Krishna couples were supposed to "do it." I never actually lived at a Krishna temple. But a close friend of mine did. The stories I heard from her were enough for me.

At one point I watched a Krishna guy give a lecture about the Spiritual World. In the Spiritual World, he said, grass and trees and stones can all talk. It sounded like one of those old Sid & Marty Krofft Saturday morning TV shows. You know, like Lidsville or HR Puff'n'Stuff. Very cartoony. I like cartoons. But I like cartoons as cartoons. I don't want to pretend they're real. I mean, I don't care if trees can talk in Krishna Loka. They don't talk here. And here is what I am concerned about.

When I was a teenager investigating various Eastern religions, I checked out a number of gurus and philosophies. I had a whole bunch of translations of the Bhagavad Gita. The Krishna one was the coolest looking, but, unfortunately, the most philosophically suspect. I still ove it, though, and keep a copy on my bookshelf. I had some Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (of TM fame, the one who allegedly tried to use his spiritual powers to woo Mia Farrow) books. I had Swami Sattchitananda's album -- a double LP! I remember I liked Ramana Maharshi's books a lot and Jiddu Krishnamurti's as well. Though when I tried reading some of those in more recent years they left me a bit unimpressed.

One of the things I noticed about the Krishnas this time around is they have a very funny relationship with science. On the one hand, they endlessly put down various scientific theories. One of the regular features in their magazines was to reprint these dialogues where a Krishna devotee armed with whatever he could memorize out of an encyclopedia entry on, say, Darwin, would debate and be defeated by Srila Prabhupada, their leader, who would prove the entire theory to be poppycock. Yet, on the other hand, whenever it suits them, the Krishnas try to allign themselves with science. For example, they love scientific evidence that humans are naturally vegetarians. And they love to promote their philosophy as the science of self-realization. This is pretty typical among religious orders of various types.

When I encountered Buddhism I was amazed that it was so vastly different from the other forms of "Eastern Spirituality" I'd been exposed to. It is, in fact, totally different. Not only from other Eastern philosophical systems, but from every other philosophical system yet devised by man. It comes from a completely different place. It is not based on thought but upon action. It has nothing to do with belief and everything to do with what you do. Plus it has no beefs with science and never did even back in the olden days.

Blah-blah-blah. My editor's after me so I'm gonna go work on my book now. And maybe eat some of the incredibly delicious carob chip cookies I bought yesterday.

P.S. Take a look at the link. Gosh....

Friday, July 28, 2006

ZAZEN TOMORROW

Tomorrow's Zazen at the Hill Street Center will return to its usual scheduled time — 9:30 AM Saturday July 29, 2006. So show up! Dang it! We'll have orange juice. See the link to your right or click on the title of this article for details.

The following day there's a big Hare Krishna festival at Venice Beach. I'm gonna go watch that too if anyone's interested. Maybe they'll finally convert me...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

DESHIMARU & NISHIJIMA

I received a question by e-mail the other day from a guy who says he has been noticing very strong parallels between the teachings of Taisen Deshimaru, founder of the AZI Buddhist organization in Europe and those of Gudo Nishijima. Both men studied under Kodo Sawaki and they knew each other. So the questioner wanted to know if their fundamental philosophy was, "(a) a perspective that emerged through Nishijima's and Deshimaru's discussions as a mutual influence of each other's thought, (b) was developed independently by Nishijima from his studies of Dogen, and Deshimaru was influenced by that through their frequentation, or (c) was already emphasized by their common teacher Kodo Sawaki and both Deshimaru's and Nishijima's teachings showed a characteristic trace of this 'imprinting' in their original styles."

Here's how I answered, for whatever it's worth:

I don't think it's a matter of them being influenced by each other at all. The reason that what they say sounds similar is simply because it happens to be true. If a scientist in Brazil and a scientist in Switzerland both measure the boiling point of water at 100 degrees Celsius, you don't assume that they must be influencing each other.

One of the problems with Buddhist philosophy is that it often seems to be just like any other philosophy, meaning it seems to be a set of ideas arrived at by thinking about them. But it isn't. It's an understanding arrived at by not thinking about anything. This sounds impossible to most people because we assume that the only way we can understand things is to think about them. But Buddha discovered a completely different kind of understanding.

In order to express that understanding we use the only tools at our disposal, words. But words are not really adequate. This is why face-to-face teaching is a vital part of Buddhist study. There are levels of communication which are simply not available in written form. Trying to learn Buddhism by reading books would be about the same as trying to learn to play soccer by reading a book.

Both Nishijima & Deshimaru studied with Kodo Sawaki. So, obviously he had an influence on their thinking. They also knew and spoke to each other. But it would be a mistake to think that their fundamental philosophical outlook was a matter of listening to and absorbing each others' ideas.

I'm well aware that this all sounds like a load of mystical baloney to anyone who hasn't spent at least 20 years sitting on a cushion staring at a wall every single day. Unfortunately, there are no words available to make it seem like an ironclad logical proposition. But, here again, I would make the parallel with the two scientists. To a person who has no understanding of what a thermometer is or how it works, it would seem like pure mysticism that our 2 scientists both described the boiling point of water as being 100 degrees Celsius. To such a person these words would seem utterly meaningless and he might only be amazed that the 2 scientists had somehow chosen the same exact words. To him it would appear that they must be engaged in some kind of psychic communication.

But such elaborate explanations are not really necessary. The facts are as they are and they are available to anyone who cares to look. But looking at these facts is not easy. Our society -- meaning all of human society -- is based largely upon studiously avoiding the truth that stares us in the face every moment of every day. Stop avoiding looking at the truth and you cannot possibly miss it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

FUCK YOU

I just got back from attending the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. Fantasia is an amazing festival devoted, as the name might suggest, to fantastic Asian films. Naturally, Ultraman has been a mainstay of Fantasia since its inception in 1996. In fact, this year marks Ultraman's tenth anniversary with the festival. I was there with Takeshi Yagi, producer of our new series Ultraman Max. Yagi has been a friend of mine since I started at the company, so it was great to have him there.

From the point of view of my work as a Buddhist dude, attending the festival was a great reminder of an important aspect of real Buddhist teaching. And that is what I like to call the "Fuck You" aspect. Let me try and explain.

Most of the directors and producers whose films are exhibited at Fantasia are outside the mainstream. These guys are not backed by major studios with huge promotion budgets. Many of them made their movies using their own savings to finance them, calling in favors from friends to get them done. These are people with real passion for what they do. They're the type of people who aren't put off when everyone -- literally everyone -- tells them they cannot possibly make a movie. Their attitude is pure "Fuck You." They're saying to the world, "You said this couldn't be done? Well here is is. Fuck you."

As a student of Buddhism, you also need to have the Fuck You attitude. You can't be concerned about how stupid you look sitting there staring at your bedroom wall. You can't worry about whether the rest of the world says the practice is just a waste of time.

And, like those indie film makers, you can't just talk and dream about Zen. You've got to actually do it. An indie film maker doesn't wait until he's got a bazillion dollars, an A-list cast and product placements from Nike & Coca Cola before he starts shooting. He just goes out there and gets it done. Far too many would-be Zen practitioners are waiting for some perfect moment to begin practice. Maybe they're hoping the meet the Zen Master of their dreams, or they're waiting for a chance to attend some hot shit retreat way off in the mountains, or they're saving up for plane fare to Nepal. Anything to put off actually getting down to business. The only ones who ever get it, though, are the ones who just say "fuck you" and get on with it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

ARTICLES ARE BACK & JULY 23rd ZAZEN CLASS

For those of you who care, I just put some of my old articles back up on my webpage. Whoop-dee-frikkin'-doo, right? But there they are. So stop whining about it.

Also, remember that our Zazen class in Santa Monica which would normally be held on Saturday July 22, has been changed to SUNDAY JULY 23rd AT 1:30 PM. That's SUNDAY AFTERNOON and not Saturday morning. So both of you who are thinking of showing up and doing Zazen rather than spending your day making obnoxious comments on blogs, please take note. THANKS!

Friday, July 07, 2006

ONE-DAY ZAZEN TOMORROW (July 8, 2006)

We're having a one-day Zazen retreat tomorrow at the Hill Street Center in Santa Monica. The details are over there to your right at the link called "Monthly Zazen Retreats." For all the flak I've taken for supposedly being a celebrity Zen Master who is only into Buddhism to become famous, we've had exactly two (2) people sign up for the thing. Guess I need a better publicist or something. It's still not too late to sign up. Just send me an e-mail & reserve your spot!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A NASTY BIT OF WORK**

I been reading this weird-ass Buddhist flame war on the Internet lately. I don't usually follow such things, but a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of this one and I started following it the way you might follow One Life to Live or General Hospital. One of the players in the thing is a would-be Zen Master who has lots and lots and lots and lots to say about various ceremonial structures and about Newton's Laws of Motion and a whole bunch of other stuff.

He also has some very serious beefs with his former teacher, who he denounces and yet two sentences later begs to be re-admitted into his order. Some of the stuff he says about the guy is truly unbelievable. The person who turned me on to this soap opera especially recommended one post in which he tells his former Master, an elderly Japanese man, something like, "The time will come soon when you will go to Hell." His former Master apparently once worked in the automotive industry, so the ex-student accuses him of being responsible for global warming and the general paving over of the countryside. In another particularly comical posting the ex-student says something like, "I will now drop the atomic bomb and wait for the Japanese surrender" before launching into some bizarre theory which I couldn't make heads or tails of.

Judging by the response this guy is getting, pretty much no one actually takes him very seriously. But there are some people posting on the site who do seem to think the guy has something to offer. A couple of these are obviously the man himself posting under assumed names. But others appear to be real. Their logic seems to run like this: While the guy may be mean to his former teacher, nasty to everyone else who posts to the site and generally rude, uncouth, foul-smelling and obnoxious, there just might be something to his various theories.

That way of thinking is not Buddhism. Here's why.

Buddhism is not intellectual or theoretical. It is practical. Practical means it is not something which works in the realm of theory and abstraction yet which does not work in real life. Buddhism is also a philosophy of morality. Morality to Buddhists is not abstraction either. Buddhist morality is practical morality. If you tell an old man that the time is coming soon for him to go to Hell, that is an immoral act. If you taunt a Japanese person who lived through World War II with casual remarks about the atomic bombs that killed his countrymen and quite possibly his neighbors, friends and relatives, that is an immoral act. It does not matter what ends you are trying to achieve with such an immoral action either. Bad manners are not Buddhist. Never were, never can be. You can rack up all the "Enlightenment Ecperiences" you want, if you cannot behave yourself, you have no Enlightenment at all. To be Enlightened is to behave politely. Being able to act like a decent person is an essential part of being a Buddhist. End of story.

If this guy on this website and the people who seem to believe him were the only example of this kind of behavior, I wouldn't bother writing about it. After all, he has a total of one student as far as I can tell, and even that one student doesn't like him very much. Unfortunately, though, the guy is just an extreme example of something that's tragically common. There are a number of other people like this guy who are far more successful at what they do by virtue of their ability to keep their emotions slightly more in check. These aren't always -- or even usually -- Buddhists. But they are always trouble.

Here's the deal. Buddhism is about what is really obvious. So if someone comes off as a nasty bit of work, but seems to have Deep Knowledge, that's exactly what he is — a nasty bit of work who seems to have Deep Knowledge. Lots of people can affect the "seems to have Deep Knowledge" bit. It's not hard. Any good actor can come off really "Zen" if they want to. But it's a lot harder to keep that persona up off stage. Seemingly Deep Knowledge that's just out of reach if only you could grasp it has no value at all.

There may be people who are mathematical geniuses but also wife beaters. But there are no Enlightened Masters who just happen to be impossible to get along with.

Another thing about Buddhism is that it is a tradition and it is a social structure. If you repudiate your teacher and the things he or she taught you, you may very well still have something of value to say. There are lots of bad teachers out there who deserve to be repudiated and to have their teachings denounced. But, if you repudiate your teacher and the things he/she taught you and go off on your own with no teacher at all, then whatever it is you have to say -- valuable or not -- is not Buddhism and can never be Buddhism. There are no exceptions to this. It is not Buddhism by the very definition of Buddhism. No tradtion, no Buddhism. That's all there is to it.

This is something I struggled with for a long time. I do not like traditions and social structures. I got into punk rock in order to tear down all traditions and social structures. It was very difficult for me to accept the role of one who carries on a tradition and plays a key role in a recognized social structure. But I found that Buddhism, in spite of its being a tradition, had something of real value. As I got deeper into it, I began to see that it was specifically because it is a tradition and social structure that it has the value it has. There's a very good reason the ancient monk scribes created fictional teachers for Buddha himself in order to prevent him being an exception to the rule that all Buddhist Masters must have a Master of their own. It is an absolute requirement of Buddhism that one must have a teacher. It may be acceptable in extreme cases to repudiate a bad Buddhist teacher and to take another teacher. But if you do not do the second step, if you don't find another teacher, you are not a Buddhist. No "buts" about it. You just are not.

So the moral of the story is: Don't read Buddhist flame wars on the Internet. They're a complete waste of time. Plus you'll end up writing dippy articles like this one.

** "Nasty Bit of Work" is the title of a song by Starvation Army on their Exection Style album (Rave Records, 1990). Sorry for the obscurity of the reference. Sometimes I forget the rest of the world doesn't know about what happened in Ohio....

Monday, July 03, 2006

JIGSAW ZEN

I'm back now from Ohio. The showing of the rough cut of my documentary went really well. It was held at a bar in Parma, Ohio called the Jigsaw Saloon. I was amazed to see that most of the folks who showed up early for the film, and there were quite a lot of them, actually watched the thing. They seemed to enjoy it a lot and I received a lot of compliments afterwards. While I was in Ohio, I taped a bunch more interviews for inclusion in the final version, which means I'm gonna have to get to work on that pretty soon.

One of the best things about the visit was getting to meet my friend Fraser "Suicyde" Sims again for the first time in 23 years. Fraser was the leader of a band called Starvation Army. I talked to him and his wife and found out they're both really interested in Buddhism. So, at one point while I was talking to them, Mrs. Suicyde says, "You don't seem very Zen."

I took that as a great compliment. I have very little patience with people who seem "Zen." If the only representatives of Buddhism I'd ever met were "Zen" seeming people, I would certainly never have developed any interest in the philosophy and practice of Buddhism. I'm really thankful I got to meet Tim McCarthy and Gudo Nishijima, neither of whom seem very "Zen" at all.

Basically I hate talking "Zen." I'd much rather discuss just about anything at all other than Zen. This is because most people who want to talk Zen have no real interest in the subject. They're not serious at all. They'd never even consider sitting on a cushion for an hour every day facing themselves down the way you'd face down an angry Rottwieller intent on making mincemeat out of your internal organs. I'm not interested in discussing Zen the way you might discuss whether the Lakers are better than the Celtics or whether Emo is cooler than Screamo or whether Elmo is cooler than the Cookie Monster or whatever. On the other hand, if a person is truly serious about the subject, I'm always available.

Screw it anyway. You don't care...