Sunday, December 31, 2006

SUICIDE GIRLS, SADDAM HUSSEIN and SPIRITUAL SPAM


Happy New Year everybody! 明けましておめでとうございます to my friends in Japan where it's already 2007! Pretty soon it'll be 2007 here too and I'm stunned and amazed. I never thought we'd make it this far — we being the human race, of course. 20 years ago I'd have predicted the end of civilization way before this. I was certain all that would be left of what once was mankind would be smouldering radiation poisoned craters. But we made it. Yay for us! There are certainly a lot of very real, very urgent problems that we absolutely must deal with right this very second. But the fact that we are no longer worried the whole world is gonna go ka-boom at any minute makes me really optimistic. As big as the problems we are facing now are they're really small compared to the immediate threat of WWIII breaking out before the next commercial break.

And speaking of terrible problems facing the human race, as some of you have figured out already, I am now writing a weekly column for the Suicide Girls website. If you want to take a look there are links over there to your right. I'll try to keep the one that says "latest article" update each week. But I'm pretty incompetent. Even if I forget, the other link below that will get you to all the articles. So far only one person has really got his knickers in a twist over this, demanding that I explain myself. This brings up another point, if you write me, I might use your letter in an article here or on Suicide Girls. If your e-mail is long and I use it, I will edit it. If you don't want me to do use your e-mail that way, say so and I will not. I won't identify you by name in any case, so you can always deny it was you. I'm pleased it hasn't become such an issue for most people. But maybe it will when word starts spreading (heh, heh, I said "spreading"). Anyway, they asked me to write for them, I accepted and I'm happy with that. I think it's a great forum to talk about Buddhist philosophy. In fact, I could hardly have asked for a better place.

And speaking of better places, Saddam Hussein has almost surely not gone to one. Poor Saddam. Not that he was a nice guy or anything. But I see him in those old video clips patting kids on the head and smiling and I can't help but feel a little sorry for the guy, even though I know he doesn't really deserve it. Even having said that, I'm a little distressed to see the glee everyone is getting at watching his execution over and over and over on YouTube and Google Video. No matter what the reason, the violent death of a fellow human being shouldn't be drooled over that way.

And speaking of drooling, I can't make any transition to the next topic using a metaphor about drooling. But yesterday I deleted a spam comment from this blog. I do this pretty regularly with spammers and don't think too much of it. I do not delete anything else, by the way. This particular piece of spam was a bit different, though, in that it came from a rabid follower of some self-styled Zen Master who wanted to let us know none of us would ever be as Enlightened as his teacher. I saw it, determined it was spam and zapped it pretty fast. But later on I thought I should have left it there to bask in its own idiocy. Unfortunately, once you delete a comment it's gone forever so it's too late for that. C'est la guerre I guess.

I did go over to the site in question and took a look. Pretty typical stuff if you ask me. Sounds like what happens when someone has the kind of initial big wow experiences you often get when starting off in Zen. There's a real danger of going off the deep end and declaring yourself an Enlightened Being after one of these. It's always sad to see that happen. But it does. A warning to us all.

Have a Happy 2007! Drive safely and all that.

Friday, December 22, 2006

SHUKKE


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...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

MARKET RESEARCH

The people in charge of publicizing my new book have asked me to ask you to help them out with some market research. They want to know where they can advertise the book most effectively. What magazines do people who read my stuff read? What websites do they go to? What kinds of things convinced them to read Hardcore Zen?

If you have any bright ideas abnout how to market the book, please leave them in the comments section of this article. Thanks!

And remember, next Saturday (Dec. 23, 2006), Tonen O'Connor of the Milwaukee Zen Center will be at the Hill Street Center. So if you're around, come and hear what she has to say. We're also doing a sitting today (Dec. 16) at 9:45AM.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

OLE! TARANTULA


Been listening to Robyn Hitchcock's new CD, "Ole! Tarantula," a lot lately. It's a darned good album. The best thing Hitchcock has done since the incredible Jewels for Sophia/Star for Bram combo in 1999. In fact it may be his very best album.

Robyn Hitchcock is one of those rare artists who has never done a really sucky album. Even Groovy Decay was OK, though certainly not up to the rest of his work. I first started listening to him when I got reviews for my Dimentia 13 albums and it seemed like every one of them mentioned how influenced I was by the Soft Boys -- a band I'd never even heard of at the time. I bought some Soft Boys records and indeed I could see why people assumed they'd been an influence. I liked them a lot and started getting their leader Robyn Hitchcock's solo records too.

Pretty much nothing I listened to in the 80's has aged well. Everything was so incredibly bad for that decade that the things that stood out as being great now seem just OK. Even so, Robyn Hitchcock's 80's output still doesn't make me gag, other than for the fact I played those records way too much for lack of anything better to listen to that was contemporary.

Ole! Tarantula's best songs:

New York Doll
Adventure Rocket Ship
(A Man's Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs

Friday, December 08, 2006

DECEMBER 8th


It’s December 8th. That’s a significant date for me for three reasons. I’ll list the stuff I always think of on this day in order that they usually occur to me.

John Lennon was killed on December 8, 1980. I’m sure everybody in the “blogosphere” has already written about that by now. The day Lennon died I was just starting 11th grade and I was already a Beatle geek. It’s weird now when I think about the reactions I used to get as a teenager buying Beatles records. I remember a few years earlier, the clerks at Recordland in Rolling Acres Mall in Akron being stunned and amazed that a teenager was not only buying a copy of Revolver but actually knew enough to buy the imported version instead of the US pressing that had fewer songs. That would have been less than ten years after the Beatles broke up and the album itself would have only been about 12 or 13 years old. That’s more recent than the last Nirvana album is today, and I can’t imagine anyone being the least bit surprised by a contemporary 15 year-old liking Nirvana. I don’t know what that signifies, really, if it signifies anything. At the time I just thought that all contemporary music — with the notable exception of KISS — blew. It took a while for punk to finally reach the backwater burg I lived in. By the time Lennon died, though, I was already well into punk. But I never lost my affection for The Beatles.

I first heard about Lennon’s death the following morning when it appeared on the front page of the Wadsworth News Banner, the local paper. I thought it had to be some kind of joke. I had to see it on several other newspapers and TV before I accepted it was true. I still have trouble accepting it’s true. Just recently the contract Lennon signed with Geffen Records in 1980 came to light. Apparently he’d included a clause that allowed him to do future records with The Beatles independently of his obligations to Geffen. So, obviously he must have been thinking about getting the group back together. It’s a real shame that never happened.

The other significant thing about December 8th is that it is the day on which Zen Buddhists celebrate Buddha becoming enlightened. Tradition has it that this was the day Buddha had his great moment of profound insight there under the Bodhi tree sometime around about 500 B.C. A lot of people in the Zen tradition commemorate this event by having a period of intensive Zazen practice for a week. It’s called the Rohatsu Sesshin. I’ve never participated in one myself. But it always sounded like fun.

I don't know if the tradition of celebrating Buddha's enlightenment day on December 8th is any more valid than the tradition of celebrating Jesus' birthday on December 25th. It might be, since the early Buddhists were a bit more meticulous about keeping such records than the early Christians. But I've never seen much discussion about it either way. Buddhists in general tend not to be overly concerned with whether their history is "literally true." Whatever works, works.

December 8th is also the day on which the Japanese consider the attack on Pearl Harbor to have taken place. To us December 7th is the “Day That Will Live In Infamy.” But, because the international dateline is between Japan and Hawaii, as far as the Japanese are concerned, it happened on the 8th. I didn’t realize this until I moved to Japan — where I lived for 11 years. I once asked to a co-worker upon noting it was December 8th if she knew what day it was. At the time, I just wondered if she’d know it was Buddha’s enlightenment day or if she’d only remember Lennon’s death. I was surprised when she got kind of sheepish about it and finally answered that she knew very well it was Pearl Harbor day.

Most Japanese people seem basically embarrassed by their role in WWII. Of course there are all kinds of issues related to this. But, I’m afraid I’ve never seen the point in endless debates about the matter. I’m no more interested in pushing it than my Japanese friends and relatives are.

Finally, December 8th is usually the day my dad remembers to tell one of his favorite jokes.

Did you hear about the guy who was half Japanese and half African-American?

Every December 7th he attacks Pearl Bailey!

Monday, December 04, 2006

KITA KIINNI JA KINTUT RISTIIN!!


I have no idea what that means. But it's on the back cover of the Finnish edition of Hardcore Zen. I just got a copy of it. It's published by Basam Books. You can link to their website by clicking "link" below. The site is all in Finnish. And I'll be impressed if you can read all that Finnish from start to finish!

So anyone out there in Finland — officially "Scandanavia's best country!" Take that Norway! — who has been frustrated up till now at not having the book in your native language, there ya go! The cover is nice. It's certainly a lot cheerier than the US version. I hope the publication of the book will prevent a few suicides in the country with the highest suicide rate among GNP nations, according to Wikipedia. Maybe the thing above says "Don't kill yourself! Read this book instead!"

I don't know if the translation is good or not. Maybe someone who can read it can tell me. And do they know who Moe, Larry and Shemp are in Finland?

Friday, December 01, 2006

AKIO JISSOJI 1937-2006


Akio Jissoji died on Wednesday night. Akio Jissoji was a Japanese TV and film director. He got his first big break directing episodes of Ultraman. The episodes he directed were weird and wonderful things to behold. In fact, if it weren't for his contributions, I doubt Ultraman would have become the cultural icon it did. Granted, a lot of other factors were involved. But the shows Jissoji directed were so incredible they helped the show transcend the normal confines of a kids' superhero program to become something wholy other.

Probably his best known episode was called "The Graveyard of Monsters." In this episode, the Science Patrol, the group of stalwart defenders of planet Earth whose job it is to rid the world of pesky skyscraper sized iguanas and invading alien chicken-men, finds a graveyard of monsters in outer space. It is here that Ultraman has placed the bodies of all the monsters he and the Science Patrol have killed. The members of the patrol wax philosophical about how these creatures have now found peace. They decide to hold a Buddhist funeral ceremony for the monsters. Agent Fuji weeps for the dead beasts as a group of monks chant the Heart Sutra. Just then, a rocket launched by the Japanese Space Agency accidentally hits one of the monsters in the graveyard and it plummets back to Earth. The monster, looking something like the skeleton of an Allosaurus, wants only to get back to his resting place. But, in trying to do so, he creates havoc in Tokyo. The Science Patrol attacks, but the monster cannot be stopped. Finally Ultraman is able to transport the creature to the graveyard.

Another one of his was called "The Fearful Cosmic Rays," about a child's drawing of a monster that comes to life. Check this one out kids. Whoever put this up on You Tube used the opening credits for the wrong episode, but this really is by Jissoji. It switches to English after the first few minutes. We have the complete English version in our company vaults, but whoever put this together apparently didn't have access to those.





After Ultraman, Jissoji floudered a bit. He obviously had talent. But his films tended to go over audiences heads. In the 90's he started directing Ultraman episodes again and produced some more truly unbelievable stuff. One of his episodes of Ultraman Max (2005) has a guy who writes Ultraman Max episodes for a living finding himself trapped in one of his own shows. Very surreal stuff for the 6 year olds who form the main audience.

I never really knew Jissoji personally. But his long-time assistant Shogase is a friend of mine. Jissoji was a great talent and I'll miss him.