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...
Sunday, October 29, 2006
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.
Posted by Brad Warner at 6:38 PM
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, www.hardcorezen.org, 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!
Posted by Brad Warner at 4:31 PM
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!
Posted by Brad Warner at 8:42 PM
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.
Posted by Brad Warner at 5:18 PM
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.
Posted by Brad Warner at 11:28 AM
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
Posted by Brad Warner at 7:03 AM
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.
Posted by Brad Warner at 3:08 PM
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.
Posted by Brad Warner at 6:54 AM
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.
Posted by Brad Warner at 5:46 AM
Friday, October 06, 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...
Posted by Brad Warner at 1:11 PM
Monday, October 02, 2006
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.”
Posted by Brad Warner at 2:20 PM