Thursday, August 31, 2006

I LOVE AUTHORITY

I'm in LAX waiting for a flight to Japan to attend the 2006 Zen Retreat in Shizuoka. But I wanted to make a real quick post.

After that last post, I got 2 e-mails from Nishijima Sensei, my Zen teacher, asking me to explain what I wrote (and not in an "Explain yourself!" way, just in an "I didn't understand what you meant" kind of way). That was weird because the guy never responds to the things I write. In fact, I wasn't even aware he read them. Anyhow, it seems like the meaning he got from the article was exactly the opposite of what I intended. Maybe he wasn't alone in that, so I thought I should explain. He thought I was denying the authority of Buddhism in general and of Master Kodo Sawaki specifically. But I'm not.

In fact, I was trying to express that I do respect the authority both of Buddhism and of Master Kodo, very much. In fact, I also respect the authority of cops, lifeguards, the government and even George W. Bush. I probably ought to explain all this in some detail. But I don't have time & it's not likely I will have time till well after the Zen retreat is over. But for now, suffice it to say, if anyone else thought I was giving the finger to Buddha and Kodo, I was most decidedly not.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

FUCK AUTHORITY and THE REVENGE OF THE DINOSAURS


First and most importantly, I wanted to let you know I put my webpage about old dinosaur books back up. It's in the links to your right or you can just click the title of this article to get there. I took it down when I switched from gol.com to mac.com and I always intended to revise it because the page design is crap. But I never did revise it, so I finally just made a couple token changes & put the old page back up. There is one new book added & I'll probably add a few more. You'll notice some of the links still take you to the defunct gol.com address. Sorry about that. Sometime I'll fix that.... Uh huh....

So at Zen class this morning I had a long discussion about authority. It's an interesting subject. As you might have noticed, I'm fairly anti-authoritarian. The bumper stickers they made to promote Hardcore Zen (which I never got any of, by the way) said "Question Authority, Question Reality." Questioning authority is a big part of Buddhist philosophy. Buddha himself, in the famed Kalama Sutra, even tells his followers to question his (Buddha's) authority. Buddhism is not about blind acceptance of dogma or tradition.

However, Buddhism is also not about what most people regard as the opposite of that. It is not about taking a hard-assed fuck authority attitude towards everything. The funny thing about all these crazy anti-authoritarian iconoclastic Zen Masters out there is that you'll notice that they all accept the Zen tradition. As iconoclastic as they may be, they still shave their heads, wear the robes and participate in the various rituals and ceremonies associated with Zen practice. Kodo Sawaki, for one, is always held up as the ultimate rebel monk. Yet look at his picture on the top of this article. There he is with the same robes and skinhead hair-do as any other Zen monk. Why? If he was such an iconoclast why didn't he just say "screw it!" and grow his hair long and wear bell-bottoms?

I've asked myself that many times. In my book I already went into how reluctant I was to accept a position of religious authority. I hate fuckin' religious authorities. Besides that, I am really half-assed as an authority figure. No one can ever take me seriously. When I was a substitue teacher I once got assigned to a kindergarten and those kids completely took over the place! I had to call the office for help or they would've eaten me alive.

But there's another side to authority and it's important. Every authority figure is you. Lots of people are really into the whole "all is one" thing in Buddhism. It sounds really lovey-dovey and nice. But, folks, remember that "all is one" means that you are George W. Bush. There is no difference between you at all. George's power and authority come only from you and you alone.

I'm picking George cuz everyone seems to hate him these days (I don't hate him or even Ronny Ray-gun, but that's another story). It doesn't matter what authority figure you chafe against he (or she, but we'll just use the male case) is you. The cop who pulls you over cuz he doesn't like your kind in his neighborhood is you. Your boss with the fishy smelling breath is you. Teachers, critics, everyone who ever stops you from doing what you want is none other than yourself. I’m not trying to be cute here. I’m not being figurative either. It’s all you because it cannot be anyone else.

A lot of people into the whole Zen thing don’t want to take it all the way. They’re in love with the idea of becoming one with the Universe, as long as they can exclude the people and things they don’t like. But you can’t do that. No exclusions allowed. No substitutions. If you want to be one with everything, you need to be prepared for what that really means. I don't think most of us are.

When you find yourself faced with unpleasant authority, you need to question it. That’s for sure. But question that authority all the way. This means you must also question your reaction to authority. Question why you chafe against it. That is just as important.

You want discipline. You want restrictions. You want limitations. It’s very teenage to rail against everything that ties you down. In the song Teenage Wind, Frank Zappa says “Freedom is when you don’t have to do nothing or pay for nothing, we want to be free!” It’s that kind of teenage idea of freedom that a lot of people bring to Zen. But it doesn’t fly there. (Not to insult all the teenagers reading this, the kind of "teenage" I'm talking about affects all ages)

Zazen is perfect freedom. But you can only find perfect freedom in what is a very restrictive practice. It’s ironic. But it happens to be true. Real freedom has nothing to do with vainly trying to tear down all boundaries and restraints. Real freedom is when you discover that the only person who has ever, or could ever, bind you is you. What appears to you as outside sources or authority do not come from outside.

This is very hard to accept. I know it right down to my toenails and I still have a tremendously difficult time with it. I still fight it every damned day.

Anyway, that’s my rant. Hope you enjoyed it. I gotta go do some stuff now.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

TOMMY CHONG

Last night I visited a couple friends out in Woodland Hills which is way off in the hinterlands of the Los Angeles area, in the famed Valley (as in Valley Girls). So anyway, when I was driving home, I turned on the radio and that show Love Line was on. The guest was Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame.

So, Chong is talking about his recent arrest for having put his likeness on a bong. The host asked something like, “Do you have any regrets?” or one of those type of questions. And Tommy answered, “No. You only learn from your mistakes. You never learn anything from your successes.”

I thought that was a pretty brilliant line. It’s particularly applicable to what I’ve been ranting about here lately. Most people, when they do some kind of meditative practice like Zazen, hope to be successful at it. And while our friends in Scientology and others guarantee their techniques will bring success, a decent Zen teacher never promises anything of the sort. In fact, if you take the Buddhist view on what Tommy Chong said, it could be that the real definition of success is any experience from which you don’t learn anything valuable.

When we define an experience as having been successful, what we mean is that we envisioned a particular outcome we’d like to achieve, we made our efforts in that direction, and in the end we got something like what we wanted. A couple months ago, I bought a Billiken Godzilla model, I followed the instructions and voila! I now have the completed model sitting on my chest of drawers. The arms aren’t quite flush to the body and the paint job I did on the teeth isn’t exactly as I’d hoped. But I’m pretty satisfied that I successfully completed the project.

That particular model of success works in a lot of situations. But it isn’t applicable at all to Zen practice. It’s a real shame when people do apply it to Zen, and a whoooooole lot of people do, because it completely misses the point of the practice. It may be that the times you feel least successful in your sittings are the most valuable while the times that Zazen feels successful are times when you've gone wrong in the practice.

What you are doing in Zazen is quietly and carefully studying whatever happens to be going on at the very moment of your practice. And by “studying” I don’t mean intellectually considering it. You study yourself by allowing yourself to be exactly as you are without any consideration. Consideration can only get in the way. It’s a distraction. Even considering your breath is a distraction from practice. Any effort you make to become calm, clear, Enlightened, Awakened, have an “Opening experience” or whatever you call it, is just a distraction from real practice.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

AUDITING SCHMAUDITING!

Before we get started, I wanted to let all three of you who might be contemplating coming to the weekly Zazen class in Santa Monica about our upcoming schedule. First off, there WILL be Zazen classes on August 26th and on September 9th. I'll be there on Aug. 26th and Kevin Bortolin, a fellow student of Gudo Nishijima, will take over for me on Sept. 9th. For most of September I will be in Japan. Our annual Zazen Retreat in Shizuoka is September 2-4. I'll be returning to Los Angeles on Sept. 17th. So I'm planning to start the regular Zazen classes again on September 23rd. I'll update the webpage once I've confirmed everything.

OK. Now on to today's rant.

The other day someone wrote and asked my opinion about a process Scientologists use, known as “Auditing.” This guy thought that most of Scientology was pretty hokey. But he was intrigued by their claims of having created a technology of spiritual awakening. He asked if I thought we could apply this kind of approach to Buddhism.

Apparently Auditing is where you go in and a trained Scientologist leads you through a series of pre-ordained steps, at each point monitoring your responses on a doo-hickey called an “E-Meter.” The E-Meter tells your Scientologist guide how you’re doing and helps him determine how to proceed. Here’s what their website says about the principle upon which this technology is based.

“In Scientology it is known that there are many states of existence beyond that of so-called normal man. This has been touched on by earlier philosophies but what is new about Scientology is that one can predictably attain these higher states of existence.

“Although some savants in the Himalayas have worked in this direction, Gautama Siddhartha (Buddha) spoke of it at length, at least fifteen or twenty years of hard work were required for what was, at best, an uncertain outcome.

“With Scientology, there are no such uncertainties. Higher states of existence are attainable through auditing.”

Of course this is all a load of bullshit.

I think it’s important to address this matter because I get variations on this question a lot and I’m aware that there are entire schools of thought and practice based around the same idea. Some of these even present themselves as “Buddhism.” But they aren’t. Sometimes I’m asked if bio-feedback might be a good way to ascertain if one is making proper progress in Zen practice. Once I spoke to a guy who was certain one day we’d develop a drug that would balance the autonomic nervous system. I’ve seen various trademarked processes like Big Mind™ that claim to have distilled Buddha’s teachings into an easy to follow system which can speed us on the way to spiritual fulfillment.

The basic idea behind this kind of thinking goes like this. First, we assume that there is a better state than the one we have now. Then we assume that someone else has experienced this state and knows how to get us to it. It therefore follows that, if such a person devised a process or a machine or a drug that could induce this state, we could then use that process, machine or drug to experience the state ourselves quickly and easily. Thus we do not have to waste loads of effort on dreary, time-consuming practices like meditation and will have more time to sit around watching Three’s Company reruns or whatever. Moreover, since the process has been devised for us by an expert and tested on others who offer glowing testimonials to its effectiveness, there is no danger that we might spend a lot of energy on something which will fail us in the end.

Here’s why this is not Buddhism, and, more importantly, why it is not true. Let’s start with the idea of higher states of consciousness. How, exactly, is a higher state of consciousness defined? First of all, we assume that there is something called “consciousness.” We have consciousness. Or we are conscious. In any case there is “me” and there is “consciousness” which is experienced by “me.” But consciousness is really just an idea. Just like the idea of self. How do we separate "me" from "consciousness?" Even if you say "I am a being of pure consciousness" you're still conceiving it as 2 distinct things. This is what the brain does. It must carve things into pieces. It can never envision wholeness. Buddha tried to find the line where one can separate "consciousness" from the things one was conscious of. He found there was no line between them at all. Consciousness may be a faulty idea at best.

Even if we accept that consciousness is real, or at least that the word, however limited, describes something real, then we have the problem of higher and lower. Who is to say that one state of consciousness is any higher than another? After all, there is no way to experience two states of consciousness at the same time and compare them. In fact, comparison itself is a pretty dodgy thing. In the case of consciousness, you have to compare the state you have now with whatever you imagine a higher state must be like. Your imaginative ideas about that higher state are drawn from your own stew of memories, ideas and fantasies. In other words your conception of "higher states" is based only upon your experiences with "lower" ones.

Then we have the problem of our expert who says he knows all about those higher states and how to guide you to them. In every case I have ever encountered, these experts seem to charge a lot of money for their secrets. It’s not hard to see that the only higher state they’re really interested is a higher tax bracket.

Buddhism rejects the idea of higher states completely. Furthermore, it rejects the idea that one can ever progress from any level to any other level. Nagarjuna even questions the idea of “change” as we commonly accept it.

Buddhism has nothing to do with attaining higher states. Higher states are just a fantasy. You may be able to create a pretty fantasy and devise ways of attaining it. But what you have attained is only the fulfillment of your fantasy. It is never the reality of here and now.

What is really needed is not the ability to induce temporary lapses into so-called "higher states," but the ability to understand thoroughly and exactly what this state we have right here and right now truly is (and is not). This is the key to everything. When anger, hatred or greed arises and one understands them fully for what they are, they have no power. You will never understand the truth of these things by running away from them into fantasies of "higher consciousness." They will always, always, always come right back and bite you on the ass as soon as your vacation in the astral plane is over. The reason is simple. It was greed for spiritual power, anger at your lack of progress and hatred for those less "spiritual" than you that got you to your so-called "higher state" in the first place.

There are serious problems in the world right now! Stop farting around with toys and games!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

ZEN MIND BEGINNER'S MIND

For those who keep asking me, "What books should I read, O Master?" but who have not read Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, and for those who keep asking, "I have no teacher, whatever shall I do?" I present this excerpt from Shunryu Suzuki's classic. It's on page 72 and the chapter is called "Right Attitude." Take it away, Shunryu!

"Our Soto way puts an emphasis on shikan taza, or 'just sitting.' Actually we do not have any particular name for our practice; when we practice Zen we just practice it. Even though we are sleepy, and we are tired of repeating the same thing day after day; even so we continue our practice. Whether or not someone encourages our practice, we just do it.

"Even when you do Zazen alone, without a teacher, I think you will find some way to tell whether your practice is adequate or not. When you are tired of sitting, or when you are disgusted with your practice, you should recognize this as a warning signal. You become discouraged with your practice when your practice has become idealistic. You have some gaining idea in your practice, and it is not pure enough. It is when your practice has become rather greedy that you become discouraged with it. So you should be grateful you have had some warning signal to show the weakness in your practice. At the same time, forgetting about your mistake and renewing your way, you can resume your original practice. This is a very important point."

By the way, for the "I have no teacher" crowd, you know, you really do need to make a little effort. It's not enough to just Google® the name of your hometown and the word "Zen" and then just give up when the entries you find there don't live up to your expectations. In Zen, there's a saying that you should not answer questions about Buddhism until the questioner asks three times. I don't know anyone who practices this literally. It's just a rule of thumb to follow so that you're not wasting time with people who just want to make frivolous conversation and who are not serious. Many good teachers do not advertise their presence. Most of them certainly don't blog!

My advise to those who don't have a teacher? Get out from behind your computer screen and look. It takes time sometimes.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

SPOCK THOUGHTS


I'm down in Dallas visiting my parents. Since my dad & I always liked watching Star Trek together, when we were in a video shop down here I bought a copy of the director's edition DVD of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (ST:TMP) used for eight bucks. Now I know that ST:TMP is the most boring of all the Star Trek films. But the extras looked very interesting. Because of my work, I'm interested in how Star Trek went from a cult item to a major film franchise.

Anyhow, here's my assessment of the director's edition DVD. First off, CGI SUCKS! When I bought the DVD I did not know that the Star Trek guys, just like Star Wars guys, went back and "improved" their old special effects with computerized enhancements. When I am president of the world this will be a capital offense. OK. Sure. The effects look more"realistic" -- whatever that means. But they lose all personality and taste, instead turning into generic muck. Sure the Photoshop® created backdrop of the futuristic San Francisco (home of Star Fleet HQ) may look more "real" than the old matte painting, meaning it looks more like a photograph. But it also sucks dead donkey dicks. One of the extras has all these smug CGI effects "artists" commenting on how they improved upon the old effects. It's disgusting. You cannot compare the effects created by real sweating human beings with real objects to guys who sit in front of computer screens clicking their mouses all day. Give me a plastic shuttle craft model supported by piano wire in front of a painted sky over some generic CGI crap any day of the week.

Deep breath.

So the thing I always think about whenever I watch Star Trek is the way the various alien characters represent the producers' ideas about various cultures. The Klingons are quite obviously the Cold War era Soviets. The Romulans seem to be the Chinese. The Vulcans, I'm convinced, represent Japanese style Zen Buddhism. The Japanese as a country, by the way, were represented in the 80's by the Borg. They all look alike, act as a group, and try to assimilate everybody.

Anyhow, in the beginning of ST:TMP we see Mr. Spock about to complete his Vulcan training which will remove all traces of emotion once and for all. But he refuses to accept his transmission certficate when he feels a presence calling him from outer space. You can look the film up on imdb to find out the rest of the plot. But in the end, Spock finds that the real truth lies not in getting rid of his emotions, but in embracing them.

Now Gene Roddenberry didn't really get Buddhism at all. But it's pretty evident he read a lot of books about it. He even got married in a Buddhist ceremony in Japan. I'd venture a wild guess the books he read about Zen were mainly the works of DT Suzuki and Alan Watts. In those books he must certainly have encountered the Buddhist idea of suppressing emotions. But, having never really experienced what that means, he had no way to envision it but to imagine that getting rid of emotions would turn a person into something like a robot.

It doesn't. But it's very hard to explain this matter. It may be the use of the word "emotion" itself that creates confusion. It's a natural reaction to laugh and cry. But we tend to abuse our natural reactions by manipulating them with thought, turning them into what we call emotions. We hang on to our happiness and sadness far longer than is healthy. We long for happiness and fear sadness, thus missing out on most of our lives which are neither very happy nor very sad. We crave those emotional highs and lows.

When we avoid this "emotional abuse" our lives become much more stable and comfortable. I've never met a single Zen practitioner who turned into the kind of steely cold alien Mr. Spock is at the beginning of ST:TMP.

Whatever. Anyway, back to the DVD review. Even though the CGI enhancements SUCK ASS the ST:TMP DVD is pretty cool for the extras. You get a few brief clips from the "lost" Star Trek series, Star Trek: Phase II, which never made it into production. Looks like they were gonna use the old mini-skirt uniforms and everything. Hubba-hubba. Too bad they ditched that idea for the futuristic pyjamas everyone wears in the movie. I haven't taken a look at the deleted scenes, but it's hard to imaagine this film was once even longer than it is now. The one documentary does show you a few of the original special effects sequences before they were "improved." In every case the originals are far superior. They should give you an option to watch the unimproved versions. The new sound mix is much cleaner and clearer, so I'll forgive that, although the music is way too loud in relation to the dialogue. I had to turn the sound up each time someone was speaking and down for each musical bombast.

All in all, though, I enjoyed this release, even if just for the chance to complain about it.

ADDENDUM: See, I know big words! Actually, that's probably spelled wrong. Anyway, I took a look at the extras on the DVD and discovered that all of the unenhanced special effects scenes are on there as extras under the category of "deleted scenes." So when I'm president of the world I will take this into consideration and possibly go easy on the producers of this disc.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

LOOKS AT BOOKS

I decided I was being a bit curmudgeonly about what "spiritual type" books I've read. When I first started getting into Zen stuff, I went through a few years where I did read a number of those kinds of books. It's been a long while since I've really read much in the way of Buddhist or Eastern philosophical literature outside of Shobogenzo, which I've read a whole bunch of times. The books on the Eastern religions section of my shelf these days tend to be reference material for when I'm working on my own books. I mean, I can't rattle off the 12-fold chain of cause and effect or even the Noble 8-fold path off the top of my head. I prefer looking them up in books to the Internet. Although the Internet is far quicker & easier. When I do use the Internet as a source, I usually double check with a trusted reference book if what I'm writing is gonna go into print. If it's just for the blog, sometimes I go with what I find on line.

In the end, all of the useful things I've learned about Zen and Buddhism came from actually doing Zazen, not reading about it. Or they came from face-to-face talks with my teachers. Books can be OK. But you really, really will not learn Zen from a book. I know you're sick of hearing that.

ANYWAY. I'm gonna sit here for a few minutes & try to recall some books I read way back when I was just getting into Zen and make a few comments on them. Here we go.

ZEN MIND, BEGINNER'S MIND by Shunryu Suzuki. A great book. Still in print. Go buy a copy.

THE THREE PILLARS OF ZEN by Philip Kapleau was one of the first Zen books I ever read. At the time I found it very interesting. But looking back at it now, I think that book kinda messed me up. It's full of romantic descriptions of various people's Enlightenment Experiences. These had me longing to get one of those for myself. I even thought I'd had them a few times. Alas, no dice.

COMMENTARIES ON LIVING by J. Krishnamurti. Actually I read a ton of Krishnamurti. But I remember this series best. I thumbed through a copy at somebody's house or a bookstore or somewhere a few years back and thought it was still OK. Krishnamurti was definitely on to something. His philosophy is pretty decent. The only trouble I have with him is that, apparently, allegedly towards the end of his life it seemed like he might have started to believe all that stuff about him being the World Teacher or the reincarnation of Buddha. It was sad to hear that. Maybe it's not true. I hope it's not.

ZEN FLESH, ZEN BONES by Paul Reps. Cotton candy.

THE ZEN DOCTRINE OF NO MIND by DT Suzuki. I know I read this. But I can't remember a thing about it. I do recall that I read it while I was working at a paint factory near Chicago. I was one of only two Whities on the factory floor. Everyone else was Hispanic. The other gringo was about my age. But I looked considerably younger. So they called him "gringo" and me "gringito." One of the girls there was really hot. I tried to strike up conversations with her. But it was so noisy you had to scream over the machines. Not a very good way to deliver a pick-up line. So nothing ever came of that. And those are my memories of the only DT Suzuki book I ever read.

BUDDHA IS THE CENTER OF GRAVITY by Joshu Sasaki. I stil have this & have read it at least five times. It's a good book. You can't find it anywhere anymore, though. Too bad. Sasaki is Rinzai. Some of my best friends are Rinzai...

CUTTING THROUGH SPIRITUAL MATERIALISM by Chogyam Trungpa. I know I liked this one at the time I read it. But this was before I knew about Trungpa. He was apparently a pretty nasty guy, even by his own admission. Basically he partied hardy and drank himself to death, the story goes. I've heard he used to tell students that they should learn from his teachings in his books rather than from his behavior, as if the 2 were completely separate. I used to believe that could be true. I don't anymore. Then again, I love Ted Nugent's music even though I can't agree with his lifestyle. Cat Scratch Fever!!!!!

EASY JOURNEY TO OTHER PLANETS by His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Prabupada was the head of the Hare Krishnas. I read a bunch of his books. Plus his authorized biography. I used to have a pretty handsome collection of his stuff. They were all incredibly well printed & highly attractive. But, forgive me Lord Krishna, I never could get much out of his philosophy. I kept my copy of Bhagavad Gita As It Is, though.

BE HERE NOW by Ram Dass. I loved this one when I first read it. It's also the reason I took LSD -- and nearly lost my mind for good and all one Summer night. The book strikes me now as a big advertisement for drug abuse. I know it tries not to be. Or rather, it pays lame lip service to trying not to be. But, in the end, I think pretty much everyone who reads the thing ends up wanting to get high and experience the "beatific vision" Ram Dass claims to have had while wasted out of his gourd. Drugs suck. They are absolutely useless as far as any pursuit of the Truth is concerned. I'm afraid I will never budge on this position. So send your e-mails about how Enlightened you got on peyote to someone who won't think you're an idiot.

That's all I can think of right now. Everyone asks me about Alan Watts. I've never read anything by him. If I come up with a few more, I'll write 'em up later.

Monday, August 07, 2006

BABY, I'M BORED

Today's Los Angeles Times has a cover story called "Underwhelmed by It All: A Multi-tasking Generation is Not Easily Entertained." The article, which you can read on-line by clicking the title to this article, takes about three pages to inform us that, in spite of unprecedented access to nearly limitless forms of entertainment a mere mouse click away, today's young people are bored by what's on offer. It's not really a new idea. Bruce Springsteen had a song out called "57 Channels and Nothing's On" back in 1992. And long before that people noticed that 3 networks and a handful of UHF channels all blaring away 24/7 didn't have a whole lot to offer. Yet it still seems like the basic idea driving the information revolution (or whatever we're calling it) is that if there were only a few more channels/webpages/blogs, etc. then we just might be able to find at least one thing interesting among all of that noise. Hasn't happened yet. I'm betting it won't ever.

The article came out the same day Nishijima put up some new stuff on his blog all about his childhood. He writes, "It had become very common for me to be wandering outside, going to the cinema, looking for secondhand books, and so forth. In short, it had become very difficult for me to regulate my daily life, and even though it was very uncomfortable for me, it was completely impossible for me to regulate myself." So even nearly a hundred years ago, wandering aimlessly looking for entertainment didn't make people happy.

And here I am pointlessly typing away for an audience of bored web surfers idling bouncing from blog to blog hoping to stumble upon one useful thing out there in a blizzard of noise and garbage.

My feeling these days is that there's really just a limit to the amount of useful or even interesting stuff out there. For example, people often ask me to recommend books for them to read to deepen their understanding of Buddhism. I always mention the same handful. Basically Dogen's Shobogenzo, Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind Beginner's Mind, Nishijima's To Meet The Real Dragon if you can find it.... and that's pretty much it. I know there's a mountain of stuff in the Buddhism section of any well stocked New Age book shop. But whenever I go leafing through those pages, it's rare that anything strikes me as being worth taking home and spending time with. Sometimes I'll buy a historical thing like Hajime Nakamura's Gotama Buddha series. But that's more because I'm not as conversant with Buddhist history as I should be. Otherwise, my favroite reading is stuff like One Fine Stooge, a newly published biography on Larry Fine of the Three Stooges (I'm not kidding, I loved that book). I also just started one called Guity Pleasures of the Horror Film, which is about 10 years old, but I only just discovered it. It's got a whole chapter on the making of When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth!

I don't enjoy reading most of what's published under the heading of Buddhism. It's usually trite and boring, if not outright obnoxious. It's another case of 57 Channels and Nothing On as far as I can see. Of course, there may be plenty of good stuff out there I just haven't noticed. Since I so seldom venture into the Buddhism section anyway, it's certainly possible.

The shere (did I spell that right, it looks wrong) amount of information out there these days leads to a tendency never to go into any great depth with anything. I mean, how can you devote a thousand hours to studying just one thing when there's soooo much more out there? How can you settle on Zazen, for example, when there must be a quadrillion other meditation techniques waiting to be explored?

I understand the feeling. But I've also learned that the only way you'll ever "get" what Zen is about is to go very deeply into it for a long time. It doesn't work any other way. I see would-be masters all the time who have mile long resumes of meditation schools at which they have exeprience. I can't help but wonder how a guy who's like 45 -- or 55 or 75 -- years old can have studied so many traditions each of which takes decades of dedication to truly appreciate.

These days we have so many choices that we feel it's almost necessary to try and experience them all. But is it? Can you? I'd much rather listen to The Beatles' White Album for the 177th time than listen to 176 crap records.

How can you chose the right one to devote yourself to? I'm afraid that's up to you. For me, when I heard the White Album for the first time, I knew it was a record I'd need to listen to again and again. When I heard the Heart Sutra once, I knew it was worth looking into further. So what if there were a million billion other things vying for my attention? I didn't have time for them.

Anyway, that's my rant about that. Now I gotta go do real work. Bye!

Friday, August 04, 2006

CLEVELAND WILL BE SCREAMING SOON!

This morning I put together the latest in a series of rough cuts of my documentary film, Cleveland's Screaming. If you go to my blog about that (link to your right) you can read a little about it.

The process of artistic creation is a little like Zen. Or maybe a lot like it. The problems your piece has are always obvious and the solutions to them are equally so. Yet it can take ages to notice this and ages more to finally get down to work and make the necessary changes. Quite often this never happens.

One of the reasons most big budget movies are so unremittingly bad is because there are far too many people involved. The artistic process is stifled when the group of people involved in the decision making gets to be too big. The same thing may be true of meditative practices and groups involved in them.

I've always been wary of any "spiritual" organization that's too big. The bigger they are, the worse they are. I've yet to find any exceptions to this. It may be that, in trying to please the greatest number of people, you need to make the greatest number of compromises. That kind of compromising attitude never really works, unless, of course, your goal is simply to increase revenue.

When Zen is compromised everyone loses. Although I believe Zen is for everyone, that doesn't mean you can compromise it to make it appealing to everyone. Compromised Zen is not Zen at all. It's not really an appealing practice, when you get right down to it. It wasn't terribly appealing to me. But once I got into it, I could see its practicality and truth. It's like dieting and exercise. Dieting and exercise are hard work. But it's really the only way to lose weight. Other methods may be quicker. But they never really work. We all know this. Yet still we hope there might be an easier solution. There isn't. And there never will be. It's inherent in the problem itself. The human body just works like that. Same deal with Zen, which is very practical and very much physical labor.

Tomorrow we'll be meeting at the regular time at the Hill Street Center. See the link to your right for details!

By the way, Nishijima Sensei's blog has gotten very interesting lately. I've never seen an old Japanese Zen guy write so autobiographically. I never knew any of this stuff.