Wednesday, December 26, 2007

GO BLUE! GO DIE!

Wow. The amazing Jeffro Smull of the amazing Missile Toe (see them Friday at the Davenport in Parma, Ohio) and the even more amazing CD TRUTH (see them again... when, Jeffro?) and, of course, 0DFx just sent me an MP3 of a rough mix of one of the songs 0DFx recorded in November. And here it is:

Go Blue Go Die!

For the story of how this song came into being lookee here:



The song was first performed by 0DFx when Johnny Phlegm played bass and then ownership was transfered to Agitated when Johnny joined that band. I don't think we did this song in 0DFx when I was in the band. But, as you can see in the video, I served as bassist for Agitated in 2005. The hardcore punk scene in Akron was a very incestuous place.

The new version, by the way, is the very first instance of a hardcore band ever having a modulation in a song. We're hoping to get this out on a CD next year along with several new 0DFx songs and remakes of all your old favorites.

Gosh dang, but there's some activity going on in the comments section of my latest Suicide Girls article. Here I go insulting Christians and Jews and Jolly Old Saint Nick*, yet who pipes in loudest to defend their faith but the atheists! It's pretty funny.

I have some thoughts on the subject and maybe I'll write them down one of these days. But I really feel like atheists behave in exactly the same way as any other religion. Sure there's no church of atheism and there's no agreed upon set of dogma or holy books (though there does seem to be an emerging general consensus on those matters) but when you see folks rushing to defend their faith the moment it even appears to have been insulted you know you're dealing with a religion. To me, religion is a state of mind that includes, among other things, the impulse to attack anyone who questions your faith.

Anyway, whatever. Like I give a shit.

Oh! My sister wanted me to point out that it was she who gave me the KISS DVD and not Santa (although the tag on the present said "from Donner") and that Skylar only just gave up on her belief in Santa this year.

Peace out!


* Actually, I don't think I insulted any of these things or even insulted atheists. Which makes me feel even more strongly about the knee-jerk reaction certain atheists had to the piece.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!


Happy Christmas, everybody! Today's musical offering is a number I like to call:

Snow Is Falling

This was Dimentia 13's contribution to Midnight Records' annual Christmas album in 1987. I think it was '87. That's the cover there to your left. I did another one of these the year before called "Christmas Comes to Those Who Wait." This song (Snow is Falling) is pretty cheezy, actually. The idea was for each band's contribution to act as a demonstration of what was on the band's records. So this song attempts to mash together all the various psychedelic stylings on offer on the first two Dimentia 13 LPs.

The Sanskrit section is an invocation for opening the Bhagavad Gita. I found it in a Hare Krishna book. The lyrics are supposed to be self-parody, but they're still embarrassing. I like the ending, though. Nice fake raga guitar.

We're all supposed to go out and see Alien Vs. Predator this afternoon. Woo-hoo! And I'm supposed to cook the traditional Warner Family Christmas Tempura. We'll see how that turns out.

Got a new article up on Suicide Girls yesterday. This will be my final bi-weekly article, it seems. From January they're making all the columnists once-a-month. Like the cramps. So any of you who want me to contribute excess writings to your blogs and suchlike, let me know. Especially if it pays.

I got the new KISS DVD, by the way. Thank you Santa!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

ME ON MY NIECE'S YOUTUBE SHOW

I'm down here in Knoxville now where I recently starred on an episode of my niece's YouTube TV show. Here it is:



And here's an outtake:



Her name is Skylar and she's 11. You can find more episodes of Skylar's show at her website. It's freaky to see an 11 year old doing stuff on her website that I can't figure out. We didn't have no websites when I was that age. She wrote the script for this, by the way. I just read what she wrote for me. Pretty good, I think. Note the you-really-are-an-idiot look she gives me at the end.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

VIVA LAS VEGAS, MAC MAIL TROUBLES, BUKOWSKI and POVERTY VOWS

I'm sitting here next to the men's room at the Las Vegas airport enjoying their free, but pretty sluggish Internet service. I may be too far from the hub to pick up the signal well. But this was the nearest place to my gate where I could find an electrical outlet. The Internet service at LAX is one of those you gotta pay $10 to use, so I never do. I suppose Las Vegas supports their free Internets with gambling and prostitution. But it's not like LA doesn't have plenty of money.

I'm waiting here to take a plane to Dallas, where my dad lives and then, from there drive with him to Knoxville where my sister lives. I'll be in Knoxville for about a week, then back to Dallas for a night, to LA for another night and then up to Tassajara for a few days R & R. Since none of the people who begged me to stay in LA offered me a place to crash while I'll be homeless for several days in between moves, I may stay up in San Francisco for the first week of Twenty-ought-eight.

Does anyone out there know Macs well? Since two days ago, my "Mail" program refuses to pick up about 90% of my mail. Not all of it, mind you. Just most of it. If I go to my .mac account on-line I'll have, say 12 messages. When I go to "Mail" I have, like 3 messages. The 3 that appear in "Mail" do not appear on-line, while the 12 that appear on-line do not show up in "Mail." This is becoming a huge problem. Guess I'll have to try one of them Apple Stores, but I doubt they have 'em in Knoxville. I tried checking my Preferences to see what's up there. But I didn't see anything wrong.

Also, thanks for the Bukowski poems. I'd never read him. He's pretty great, though. I'll have to read some more of his stuff. Plus he lived in Southern California. Maybe sane people do live there after all. Maybe I won't regret sticking around a little longer.

As for the vows of poverty taken by Buddhist monks, God I hate to burst people's bubbles (actually I love to), but here's what I've seen of this. Yes it's true that if you enter a Zen monastery in Japan you are allowed only the clothes you wear plus what you can fit in two back-pack sized things that are strapped to your shoulders, one hanging in front of your chest and the other on your back. The things inside these are strictly regulated. You can't just choose what you want. I don't know the list, but I know you get your three bowls, a razor, some underwear, maybe a toothbrush, your bedding and that's about it.

While you're at the monastery these are all you're allowed to possess. And you live on a square of tatami mat. All true. But, see, the thing is nobody lives their whole life like this anymore. It's like boot camp. You endure this for a period of several months and then go back home where your TV and DVD player, your PS3, your black leather pants and all the rest of it have been lovingly stored by mom and dad. Plus I have never been to a temple that didn't have all that kinda stuff and more for the monks and caretakers who lived there.

There may be countries where the poverty vows are taken more strictly than they are in Japan. But I kinda doubt it. My understanding of what goes on in Thailand, Tibet, China and Korea is that it's pretty much the same deal.

The training I had from Tim and from Nishijima Sensei just ignored the whole boot camp stuff and tried to instill a more evenly spread out habit of living less extravagantly. Still, as you've seen from my eBay auctions, I managed to amass a nice collection of junk. But, again, I don't know of a single Buddhist monk who doesn't have some similar vice. The difference is that their vices tend to be pretty modest. Tim's was a big collection of horror movies on VHS (don't know if he still has those). Nishijima lives amazingly modestly but he has a fairly extensive library of philosophy both Western and Eastern. Apparently Shunryu Suzuki had lots of pottery stuff.

In moving house recently I had to discard a whole lot of junk. It's absolutely incredible how much a person can acquire in a short time. But we live in a capitalist consumer-based economy. It is part of our duty to society, I think, to participate in a certain degree of consumption. This is not a bad thing in and of itself. But it can go too far very easily.

I think they might be calling my flight, so I'm signing off here. Bye!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

ZEN FOR FUN AND PROFIT

This morning I was listening to the never-to-be-released Dimentia 13 album "Don't Give It To The Cat." We recorded it in 1992 and before it could be properly finished, Midnight Records pulled out of financing the sessions. I didn't have enough money to finish it myself and was pretty fed up with the entire enterprise by then. All I have left is a tape of the incomplete mixes.

I still can't listen to most of the songs without remembering how awful of a time that was. But I did come across the following song, which I still think is good and whose mix doesn't sound completely disgusting:

Anjalina

This song is actually not about a girl as it seems to imply, but about my friend Jim Bradler, who died in his mid-20's of some kind of weird lung ailment that I never did find out much about. He was from New Jersey and had such a strong Jersey accent it sounded almost like a parody of a Jersey accent. He loved to imitate the vendors at baseball stadiums back east, "Bee-ah Hee-yah!!" (trans. "Beer here") Whenever he saw or even heard mention of some hot chick he'd say, "Gimme 'er numbah!" (trans. "Give me her [telephone] number") Hence the lyrics to the bridge of the song.

He used to have pages of Penthouse magazine plastered all over his dorm room. I remember one girl-on-girl shoot that had the caption under one photo "the scents that mingled with their sighs." That line found its way into the song. He also had striking blue eyes. It was easier somehow to cast it as a song of lost love than to come right out and express what I really wanted to say.

This is for anyone who lost someone dear this year.

It's me on guitars, vocals and one-note organ; Joe Nofziger plays bass and sings harmonies, and Steve McKee is on drums.

OK. Enough of that.

Since a lot of people have written with questions, I think I ought to explain my attitude towards making money as a Zen teacher. Nishijima Sensei has always been adamant that Zen teaching should not be done for making money. I agree. If the motivation for teaching Zen is profit, that's no good. There's really not much money to be made in this line of work unless you cheat people anyway.

However, that's not to say that nobody should make their living as a Zen teacher. Both Kobun Chino and Shunryu Suzuki made their livings as Zen teachers, and I would never have come across this stuff had they not done so. It is possible to make an honest living in this business if you're both lucky and content with not being very rich.

I, personally, tend to skirt the issue by dividing what I do into two categories 1) my work as a writer, public speaker, film-maker and musician and 2) my work as a Zen teacher. I'm quite happy to take as much money as the market will bear for category #1 and to spend that money supporting what I do in category #2. I freely admit that since I tend to write and speak mainly about Buddhism, there is a lot of overlap between the categories. But that doesn't worry me a whole lot.

Some Zen teachers are supported by a congregation and that's nice. I have no quarrels with that and wouldn't mind terribly if I could make my way towards something like that without feeling like I'm ripping anyone off. But to quote Jiyu Kennet, Zen teaching is like "selling water by the river." You really do feel like you're standing right next to the mighty Mississippi charging thirsty people $10 a pop to have you point at the big giant raging river right in front of them and go, "You can drink that stuff, you know." But some folks need that. I know I needed it. Still do.

People gotta make their way in this world somehow, and the work of a Zen teacher is very definitely work. Hard work. And it's hard to do that hard work while simultaneously doing some other job. So more power to the people who manage to do it full time without another side gig.

And actually I am kinda bugged by people who think all spiritual teaching stuff should be free. Some dude complained at our last retreat in Shizuoka that he paid me $250 and could therefore expect some kind of service for his money. The truth of the matter, though, was that not a cent of his $250 went to me. In fact, I paid the same fee to attend the retreat as anyone else, plus I pitched in another $200 or so of my own cash to cover the shortfall that the standard fee per person didn't cover. Retreats cost money, friends. Tell me where else you can spend four days with three meals included and professional training for $250.

I have no quarrel with teachers who charge money for retreats or classes. I only expect them to be honest with students about what they're getting for their money.

Also it's important that profit is not the motivation. If you can make money in spite of not being driven to do so, great. That's all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER

Here's an interview I did with the National Catholic Reporter (Reporter? Didn't even know her!). So now all you Cat'lics out there can justify doing some Zazen!

And don't forget to buy all my shit on eBay!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

MY WORK HISTORY

I put a shitload of stuff on eBay today. Have a gander.

It's impossible to communicate with absolute clarity. But it is sometimes possible to get facts straight. 2 or 3 bravely anonymous posters have implied that "Brad is unable to hold down a job" or words to that effect. Since I am currently looking for a new job, and since it's possible a prospective employer might look at this blog (God forbid!), I thought it would be useful to clarify.

I have worked for Tsuburaya Productions from July 1994 to the present. My current contract ends on Dec. 31, 2007 and won't be renewed. With more than 12 years at the company, I am one of its longest serving employees. In October 2007, Tsuburaya Productions was bought by TYO. The current president of Tsuburaya, Tsuneyuki Morishima, has told me that he campaigned hard for the new board of directors to keep me on, but he was unable to convince them due to their view that there isn't much business opportunity for them in the US right now (they're wrong about that). About half the full-time employees and nearly all of the contracted workers were let go by the new management. Mr. Morishima has also stated he wants me to continue doing work on Tsuburaya's behalf on a freelance basis.

I've only been fired once from any place I worked, and that was a part-time position I had as a teenager. Nearly every other time I've left a workplace, the management has asked me to reconsider and stay on longer. So, in fact, I am very much able to hold down a job, thank you. At least I haven't resorted to using my position as a lineage holder in Zen to sell people phony enlightenment experiences. Yet.

Those of you in Los Angeles who've been begging me to stay may be happy to know that I've decided to hang in here at least another few months hoping I won't go broke doing so. But I may ask you to be a bit more generous with the donations seeing as how about half the money necessary for my use of the Hill Street Center for the past 3 years has come out of my own pocket. And that pocket will become much shallower come January. Those meals Yuka cooks for you on the one-day retreats ain't free.

I view my work as a writer as a job that I should get paid for and I have absolutely no qualms about that. But I do not believe one should operate as a Zen teacher for financial gain. If you're lucky enough to get donations to help pay for that work to the point where you can forgo the day-job, that's fine. I don't see that happening anytime soon in my case. I'm hoping, starting this year to earn most of my money through writing. But writing pays way less than working for Tsuburaya did, at least so far. So there ya go. If you got a job to offer me in the Los Angeles area, let me know.

Feel free to by-pass this posting and continue commenting on the previous thing if you so desire. I just thought I ought to clarify this matter.

Monday, December 10, 2007

ST. ANGER

I discarded the following as my new Suicide Girls piece for this week. But I thought it was sort of OK. So here it is for all y'all.

But before that, here's yet another song. This one was directly inspired by Dogen and is the climactic finale to my rock opera Hovercraft. It's called:

The Weight of Things

The intro is incredibly long. And if you listen close you'll notice that almost all of the instruments present in the intro drop out before the vocal starts and are replaced by other instruments. Since I only had 8 tracks to work with, I had to accomplish this by writing a section that allowed enough time to drop one instrument and grab another.

Anyway, here's what I wrote:

Some people just don’t get it. But that’s OK. Some people just aren’t ever gonna get it. And you have to accept that.

A certain segment of the audience that reads what I write assumes I’m just a seething bowl of anger. I’m really not. But I guess I can understand why people think I am. They see a sentence like “Genpo Roshi is a useless piece of shit and his Big Mind® process is a scam,” to take a recent example, and they think, “Gosh. The only time I would call someone a useless piece of shit and say his life’s work was a scam would be if I was totally enraged.” So they read their own emotional state into what I say and make assumptions accordingly.

This doesn’t just happen with me or the stuff I write, of course. It happens all the time, to all kinds of people who write or say all kinds of things. I probably get a bit more shit from it than some people because I’m writing in an idiom where you’re expected to project a bunch of phony baloney “inner peace” all the time. I just can’t play act that well, though. I’ll leave the play acting to guys like Genpo.

The question of whether I’m an angry guy or not is entirely irrelevant. But the matter of human communication is an incredibly important issue.

We human beings have developed language to a higher degree of precision than any other creature we know about. We are so good at communicating our ideas to each other that we can do all kinds of really amazing things like put people on the moon, cure gonorrhea, or build computers so that we can look at each other’s unbelievably cute kitty cats.

Because we’re so good at conveying certain things to each other, we tend to assume that everything we say is received exactly as intended by the people we say it to, and that conversely, whatever we think someone is saying is what they're actually trying to convey. Of course, if you ask anybody they’ll always tell you they know that’s not true. But check yourself some time and you’ll see that, in spite of knowing full well how things can get misinterpreted, you still tend to assume most folks you talk to know what it is you’re trying to say. And when you read or hear something you assume you get it. When that doesn't happen we’re pretty quick to blame the other guy.

When people don’t get what I say I’ve found it’s always more useful to assume I’ve communicated badly. I’ll even pretend that’s the case when I know perfectly well the asshole I’m talking to just wasn’t putting in the least bit of effort to try and understand me. It’s a good tactic to put assholes like that off guard and diffuse a situation that might get tense otherwise.

Part of the way in which we communicate is by making assumptions regarding people’s moods. And that’s OK. But it’s just as vital not to necessarily believe our own assumptions. It’s also not important to insist that people communicate in the way we believe they ought to communicate.

This is especially true in the current age of open communications. We’re already dealing with a deafening cacophony of voices spreading malicious misinformation, trying to incite anger, attempting to humiliate or intimidate and all kinds of other such stuff. It’s only gonna get worse. We need to find a way to deal with this stuff.

In my line of work I’m often told that I have a responsibility to express myself in ways that are incapable of misinterpretation, lest I lead others astray. But there’s nothing you can say and no way you can say it without someone misinterpreting you. That’s just how human communication works. Shit, Hitler thought Buddha’s message was, “Kill all the Jews.” No matter what you say, someone out there will take it wrong. That doesn’t mean you have to stop saying stuff.

Of course we are all responsible for what we say and we need to be careful. It’s important not to say things with the deliberate intention of inspiring anger, hatred, humiliation and all the rest. But even if you do take care not to do such things deliberately there’s no way in heck you’re ever going to be able to censor yourself so perfectly that absolutely nothing you say can ever be taken any of those ways. There’s really no point in trying to do so.

I take a lot of shit from people who believe that any kind of Buddhist teacher must express himself in the standard issue calming, soothing, stilling manner they’ve come to expect from guys who play Buddhist teachers on TV shows or scam artists who make money imitating that style while claiming to be the real deal. I just can't do it, though. I've tried a couple times in my life and it was awful.

Those of you assume I'm angry at Genpo -- or whoever you assume I'm angry at -- will assume whatever you want to assume. It's not my problem. If some of you would rather have me project an image that has folks assuming I'm all blissed out and sweet all the time, well, I'm sorry. But I won't. I've seen too much damage caused by that shit already. I refuse to contribute.

But more important than what I do or don't do is what you do. It's how you react to what you read that matters most. And not just to what you read from me, it's how you react to whatever you read. You are responsible. We all are. The Internets have created a world where everyone can broadcast whatever message they want very loudly. How do you respond to all that noise? Are you an information junkie, flitting from one blog to the next, wallowing in the muddy beauty of your own indignation or feelings of affirmation? Is that a healthy way to live?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

ALL IS ONE

Yesterday during our all day Zazen thingy, I suddenly recalled this song I recorded about ten years ago and I thought you guys might enjoy hearing it.

All is One

I envisioned this as the climactic finale to a rock opera I never got around to finishing, which is why it has the long, elaborate and ridiculous ending. I worked on this one forever, overdubbing onto the basic track a bazillion times on a number of occasions.

The reference to a big black car with a silver bird on the hood was about Noboru Tsuburaya, president of Tsuburaya Productions, who hired me to work there. He had a gigantic Cadillac with a silver bird on the hood. He'd probably only just died when I wrote this. I think the "you" in the song was going to be some specific character in the rock opera. But I don't really remember. Anyhow, it doesn't matter. Maybe it's you, dear reader!

I'd explain more. But I think the song conveys it better.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

HAPPY ROHATSU!

Today's Buddha's Enlightenment Day (Rohatsu) and we're having our monthly one-day retreat. No time to write.

Here's a song of mine I just dug up called Examples of Innocent Anemia. This one's about ten years old, I think. I don't really remember much about it. But it sounds like a recording from Japan and not Ohio. Hummable.

Gotta scoot!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

TRUTH

Here's a little number called Truth as performed by Dimentia 13 at the Phantasy Theater in Cleveland probably in 1992. The line-up was me on guitar and vocals, Joe Nofziger on bass and vocals, Dave Swanson of Rainy Day Saints and sometime member of Guided By Voices on drums and Carl Olsen on keyboards. I added a bunch of overdubs to this recording around 2000. Joe sings lead on this, though I usually took the vocal in Dimentia 13. That whole night he dedicated every song to Laura. I have no idea who Laura was. Maybe our friend Laura Rachel? The song is by Chris Cacavas and Junkyard Love. Joe taped it off the radio when he lived in Germany and we learned it from his crappy cassette. I finally found the original much later. Our version is better. Note the little tribute to The Pretenders at the very end. I love the lyrics to this one. Wish I wrote it...

Graham Barlow kindly pointed out that ads for Gempo Roshi's Big Scam, Big Mind® have been appearing on this site in the little ads Google puts there. At first I thought I'd complain. But actually it amuses me that a few pennies of the massive loads of dough that charlatan rakes in with his fucked up fake Zen nonsense is going to me. Thanks for the pennies Gempo, you useless piece of shit. Gimme a ride on your motorcycle sometime.

As I've said, anyone who goes for Big Mind® gets what they deserve. Think you can get instant Enlightenment for a hundred fifty smackers? Go for it. And those of you who harp on me for harping on it all the time, make sure Gempo pays you for that. OK?

Also, some dude posted: We imagine the ground of being must be far, far way, off in a distant galaxy or buried deep in some mystical place we can only reach with the proper sitting posture or via cultivating some proper state of mind under a properly transmitted zen teacher. Such beliefs are just as erroneous.

Sounds nice. But it's wishful thinking, I'm afraid. And if you think I'm saying that just to get you to come study with me, you think pretty highly of yourself. I got enough trouble as it is. Still, I'm not gonna bullshit you. Proper posture is a requirement. No two ways about it. Sorry.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

EVERYTHING FALLS APART


I'm writing this today from the Psychobabble Coffee House in Los Feliz (part of LA, just east of Hollywood). The chick who made my herbal tea is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life. Their website is weird, though. But Psychobabble has played host to way more of these postings than Angel Falls coffee shop in Highland Square, Akron. And I gave them a plug. So I s'pose Psychobabble deserves one too.

Before I get down to the Zen stuff, long-time reader Jules Agee (who may be one of the first people who wrote me regarding my old webpage a million years ago, if memory serves) is doing a run for cancer and needs your donations. So go support the guy. OK?

I've been thinking about impermanence a lot. In fact, that may be the true theme of the new book I've been working on. I realized I needed to clarify about my new book cuz even though I thought everyone knew, it seems like they don't. It is another memoir-ish philosophical type book about Zen, like Hardcore Zen and Sit Down And Shut Up. So don't worry. It's basically the harrowing story of my life this year in which, as Husker Du said it would, pretty much everything has fallen apart.

It's also related to something really profound 0DFx drummer Mickey X-Nelson said recently. They were working on transferring the new 0DFx tracks we recorded last month to (evil) ProTools and encountering all sorts of unforeseen difficulties. He said something to the effect of, "It's like in the movie The Fly, all you wanted to do was move this thing from one place to another, but..." I think life is always like that.

There's an old koan that ends with the line, "From birth until death it's just like this." I've always liked that line. It really tells you all you need to know about Buddhist philosophy. Everything important, anyway.

We're always looking for something permanent and unchanging, something reliable. Everyone is. All the things we imagine will be permanent never are -- family, friends, marriages, houses, possessions -- they'll all fall apart some day. Even if they last until we die, we still die and then all our stuff is gone all our relationships are over, all our beautiful memories blow away like smoke, everything we did falls to dust.

This year I've been faced with loads of impermanence. My mom died, I lost my job, my grandma died, important relationships in my life went sour... Lots of impermanence. It's been a lesson. That's for sure. Thank you, Jesus, for all your lessons this year! (Brad says as he secretly raises a defiant middle finger to the sky)

In the midst of impermanence, we seek for something we can count on forever but most of us never find it. The only reason we fail in our search is because we're not paying attention. That which is permanent and perfectly reliable is staring us right in the face even as we look past it searching for something else. The empty and silent present moment of which we are just a superficial manifestation is eternal and unchanging. It is the essential ground of our being. We imagine the ground of being must be far, far way, off in a distant galaxy or buried deep in some mystical place we can only reach with the proper spiritual guidance (fully paid up, of course, major credit cards accepted).

But the present moment is always right here. There's no place it can go. It's never hidden from view. When you die it will be right there beside you, just the same as it is now.

There's another Zen koan in which a student goes to his master all excited because he thinks he has The Answer. The Master asks what the answer is. The monk says, "The child of fire comes seeking for fire!"

The master says, "That's bullshit. You have no idea what you're talking about!"

The monk gets all weepy and begs his master to tell him the real truth. The Master says, "The child of fire comes seeking for fire."

Our intellectual understanding is worthless. The monk was able to present his understanding only as a superficial intellectual construct, not as a living reality. All the master did was tell him the very same thing, only for the master it was a real, living thing, not a theory.

Whatever. That girl behind the counter here is so hot...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

SILENCE IS ALWAYS AVAILABLE


I guess not so many readers of this page are into Godzilla movies. Your loss. Anyhow, the book about Eiji Tsuburaya consumed most of my working hours for the past five years and it's not right to exclude it from my work as a writer. It really is a groovy book.

ANYWAY, I've been thinking some about silence lately. I started to say this at my last talk at the Hill Street Center. But I wasn't in the mood that day to get too deep and "spiritual" so I don't think I conveyed the idea very well.

Simply put, my feeling is that the silence that underlies zazen practice is always available. In fact, this profound and mighty silence underlies all of our experiences -- from a long day of zen practice in a noble temple, to a KISS concert at Cobo Hall in Detroit circa 1977 (Love Gun tour, my favorite era), to a torrid night on the windswept dunes with the object of your affection bathed in silver-blue moonlight, to an afternoon cleaning up shit off the bathroom floor when the toilet has overflowed. Every experience rides atop an ocean of deep, deep silence. So deep and so silent you could never touch bottom. It makes the little bubbles and flotsam floating on its surface seem so insignificant they hardly matter at all. And yet though they (we) are just temporary shapes thrown up out of that endless silence, they (we) are made of nothing but silence. As silence we are endless, without boundaries, without names.

A lot of times people approach Zazen practice as if they have to forcibly generate silence into being. I've followed that rewardless path a hundred thousand times. But there is no need to try and create silence. It's always there, always flowing through you, creating you and creating the world that surrounds you. All you have to do is to allow it to be what it is.

Silence is never apart from you. It supports you through every experience. It carries you like a mother carries her child, protecting you from all harm. Silence is the strongest thing there is.

When you sit, don't worry if inner thoughts intrude or if outer disturbances interrupt your futile attempts to overcome them. Just allow the silence that manifests as every distraction to be what it is. Including your distraction at being distracted. It's all nothing but silence forming itself into temporary shapes. No matter what comes up, just return your attention to the silence that underlies everything.

I gotta go stop being a pretentious fuck. Later, dudes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

MY SECOND AND A HALF BOOK


I keep forgetting to mention this. But my second and a half book came out in November. It's called Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters: Defending the Earth with Ultraman and Godzilla. Even though the author credit is August Ragone, and even though August is a real guy and he wrote the text, and even though my name only appears buried deep within the acknowledgments section (thanks), it's really my book as much as it is his.

Here's why. I sold the idea of a book about the life and work of Eiji Tsuburaya -- the man who did the special effects for the classic Godzilla films of the 50s and 60s -- to Chronicle Books a number of years ago. That was the easy part. Then I had to sell the idea of the book to Tsuburaya Productions. That was like pulling teeth. But eventually I pushed it through the layers of corporate bureaucratic dumbness and got things rolling. Then I had to get the book itself together. As with most books Chronicle publishes (like The Beatles Anthology or Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd or even What's Your Poo Telling You?) the focus was going to be more on photos than text. So I had to run all over Japan and America rounding up cool photos of Eiji Tsuburaya at work on Godzilla movies and Ultraman TV shows, paying special attention to pictures that hadn't been published a million times over already. I then had to figure out who owned the rights to these shots and secure permission for their use as well as arrange proper payment to the rights holders. Then I had to write captions for all the pictures and tell the book designers which chapters they went with.

On the writing side, I had to commission August to write it and see that he got paid. After he turned in a manuscript nearly three times as long as we could use, I had to work with Chronicle to decide where to cut it. Then I had to go through the entire text, with August's MS on one side of the desk and a pile of Japanese books about Eiji Tsuburaya on the other, and fact check everything, making corrections where needed. August very definitely wrote the text of the book. No question about that. I don't make any claims to having written anything but the photo captions and my own sidebar, as well as ghost-writing Akira Tsuburaya's sidebar based on interviews with him I conducted for the book. But there wouldn't have been a book to write without the stuff I did. So I feel like it's my baby, and maybe August is my (gulp) boyfriend... (to extend the baby metaphor to a highly uncomfortable degree)

I'm really happy with the way the book turned out. I think it's one of the best books on the subject of Eiji Tsuburaya's life and work ever done, even including some of the terrific ones available in Japanese. August turned in a fine piece of writing and the designers did an amazing job of taking what we gave them and turning it into a very classy book.

Aside from being a cool book about guys dressing in rubber dinosaur costumes and knocking down miniature recreations of Tokyo (which is enough right there if you ask me), it's an incredible piece of social anthropology. The very first Godzilla film (available on DVD as Gojira / Godzilla Deluxe Collector's Edition (Gojira/Godzilla [1954] / Godzilla, King of the Monsters [1956])) was probably the very first film about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Watch the Japanese version sometime. It's a fairly grim and serious movie, with the monster as such an obvious stand-in for the bomb you can't possibly miss it. Eiji had done special effects for Japanese propaganda pictures during the war, and it was those techniques he put to use on his monster movies. But his work on propaganda films got him blacklisted by the US occupation forces, which is why he didn't do much work under his own name for the first few years after the war. Godzilla was a movie that could not have been made under US occupation censorship rules. It's significant that it was made just a couple years after the Yanks left.

So there ya go. All you folks who are saying you want to read another book by me, there's your chance. Makes a great Buddha's Enlightenment Day (Dec. 8) gift!

Monday, November 26, 2007

NEW SG ARTICLE, DREAMS, NIRVANA DVD

For those who've asked, the part of the song "She Evil Carries Roses" about the dream is the verse that starts off, "Rushing past the mirror on the door." That pretty much recounts the dream casting the protagonist as the "she" of the title, rather than me. There was a mirror on the door of the room I slept in whenever I visited. In the dream, I woke up (though I wasn't actually awake, that was part of the dream) and walked toward that mirror. I noticed my own image inside was crying. So I reached into the mirror and grasped myself by the shoulders to calm myself. At that moment a very serene me peered in from behind the crying me, just quietly observing the scene without any emotion.

There's probably some deep psychological meaning behind that. But who cares? I don't know how old I was when I had the dream. But I would guess between 14 and 18.

I put a new article on Suicide Girls today, that I kind of like. You don't need to be a member to see the articles and you won't accidentally see any naked boobies unless you pay to see them. I know some people can't access SG from various places. I wish I had a solution for you. But I don't. I'm not supposed to re-post the SG articles anywhere else according to my contract with them. It's pretty stupid anyone would block the non-pay portion of their site since there's no "porn" in that part. Such is puritanism, I suppose.

My first teacher Tim wants me to write him an article about the creeping threat of standardization in American Buddhism. Gotta get to work on that. On the one hand, I understand the desire for standards to keep it from being a case where just anybody can say, "Yup, I'm a Zen Master" and get away with it. That's happened before and will probably happen again. But I figure the Sixties and Seventies are over, no matter how much everybody keeps trying to revive them. People in general aren't quite as naive about Eastern religions as they once were. Once we're more acclimated to Zen teachers and other Buddhist types in our midst, we'll be less likely to be so awe struck by anyone who uses words like "karma" and "dharma." Less likely to drop our panties for anyone in a set of robes. Which I admit is a bummer for me, but a boon for the philosophy.

Still, we do have crap like Big Mind® (whose funding comes from Zen Master Rama, referenced above -- big surprise!) and all that still making cash. So there is need for some kind of general knowledge. But I don't think making sure everybody wears the same robes and chants the same chants is gonna help very much. Anyway, I'll give this whole thing some more thought and get down to cases writing the article.

Yesterday I went out and bought the Nirvana: Unplugged In New York DVD. As I'm sure I've bragged before, 0DFx played with the Meat Puppets in 1983. They were without a doubt the band I was most impressed with of all the bands we opened for. The Misfits were close. But the Meat Puppets were better. When their second album came out it just blew my brains out. It's the only record I ever literally wore out by playing it too many times. After several weeks it just sounded like complete shit because the grooves had been worn down. I had to buy another copy.

I liked Nirvana from the start. But when they invited the Meat Puppets on their MTV unplugged show and played three of the songs from Meat Puppets II that clinched them as a truly hip group in my mind. It's so sad Kurt Cobain couldn't get his shit together in the end.

Pretty spiffy DVD. But I agree with the review on Suicide Girls about the extras. The interviews with people who were there pretty much tell you all you need to know about how fucked up things were towards the end. Seeing a buncha fuckin' clueless executive types in the front row all nervous because Kurt invited the Meat Puppets as guests instead of Eddie Vedder or whoever could hardly have been inspiring.

I gotta go. Have a nice one!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

SHE EVIL CARRIES ROSES

Here's an old song of mine I've been listening to:

She Evil Carries Roses

This concerns a dark-haired girl in Chicago who, at the time, I was painfully enamored with. It seems to be a put down because I say she "evil" carries roses. But the song was meant affectionately. I think. I was in a weird frame of mind at the time. She was "evil" in the sense of being mysterious and impenetrable. But not in the sense of being bad. Her name was Monica. We worked together at a Woolworths where we often had to carry plastic fake roses up and down the stairs to the stock room in the basement. These fake roses were bought by people who put them on graves. Or I assumed that's what they did with them. Years later I tried to call Monica and she refused to speak to me.

It also concerns a dream I had while staying at my recently deceased grandmother's house while I was a child or maybe a teenager. The dream has stuck with me all these years. I must have had the dream about 10 years before I wrote the song, if not more and I wrote the song some time in the 80s, yet I still remember the dream.

It's a sort of creepy song. Don't get creeped out by it.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL

Here’s the second case in Dogen’s book of koans, Shinji Shobogenzo:

Master Obaku Ki-un on Mt. Obaku in the Ko district ask Master Hyakujo Ekao, “When I want to share with others the teachings which you have given us, how should I preach them?”

Master Hyakujo just remained sitting on his cushion without saying anything.

Obaku Ki-un said, “How can I teach sons and grandsons of disciples in the future?”

Master Hyakujo said, “What you have said shows that you are a real person.”


This is one of the questions I get so often I’m thinking of putting it into my F.A.Q., which I haven’t updated since the Bronze Age, by the way. People always want to know, “How can I teach Buddhism to others?”

The short answer is, don’t.

Of course I don’t mean totally “don’t.” But in most cases you don’t really need to teach anybody anything. Leave it alone, give it a rest, as Brian’s mom says in Life of Brian. If your friends and family want to know about Buddhism they’ll ask. Otherwise the Buddhist policy is: (If they) Don’t ask, don’t tell.

This was brought home to me recently when a certain Buddhist Master started to try and kindly bestow his teachings upon me. Jesus God Almighty if there is anything more annoying than that I really don’t want to know what it is. I finally figured out how to set my Spam filter to direct his e-mails right into my trash, so at least I don’t have to read that shit anymore.

But I imagine anyone who reads my stuff shares my disdain for teachers who try and push their teachings on you. Gawd, I hope no one out there is trying to push the stuff I say on anyone. Still, maybe you have some feeling that this or that friend of yours could benefit from the practice and you’d like to give them the chance. That’s nice. But, unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do.

Trying to teach Buddhism to someone you know is like trying to get someone you know to sleep with you. You can’t push the issue or you’ll just scare them off. Or worse, they’ll feel like you’ve raped them with your religion. It just doesn’t do any good at all.

Even in my position these days I don’t really tell people I meet about Zen unless they ask. Even then I usually throw out facetious jokey answers the first few times in order to see if they seriously want to know. If someone isn’t really very sincerely desirous of the teachings there is no point at all in trying to bestow them upon them. They’re not going to listen with the necessary intention anyhow, so you’re just wasting your breath and making yourself look silly.

Anyway, that’s my little sermon for the day. Have a good one.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

THANKSGIVING DAY SALE

Happy Thanksgiving Day everybody. At least all you Americans. The Canadians have it on a different day and those of you outside North America don't have it at all. Count yourselves lucky! I was never big on this particular holiday. Tomorrow is Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, as everyone scrambles to get X-mas presents at bargain prices. And here I am, as a truly compassionate Buddhist Master, giving you the chance to get a jump on the day.

I've put some items of mine up for sale on eBay. Here's the scoop.

This is my Peavey bass guitar as seen in the film Cleveland's Screaming! A piece of my history, up for grabs because I don't wanna move the sucker. It is a truly great bass.

This is the toy bug I wrote about in a long-ago piece on my webpage. I have no idea if the piece is still up there. But lots of people seem to remember that one and write me about it still. I gotta give up the little guy, though. So here's your chance to own him for yourself! Beware. He's an expensive sucker.

Here's a boxed set of the TV show SPECTREMAN. Everybody remembers Spectreman from the 70's and 80's, one of the coolest Ultraman imitators of all. In fact, I like it better than Ultraman myself.

Megalon and Jet Jaguar figures by Microman. Nuff said.

Gamera from the film Gamera 3: The Advent of Irys. This figure is too rare to even believe I'd sell it. But there ya go.

DVD boxed set of War of the Colossal Beast and a bunch of other movies with a limited edition Colossal Beast figure! God I hate to give this one up.

DVD boxed set of the film Valley of Gwangi also with a limited edition figure. I so love this one. The figure is sooooo fuckin' cool. Give it a good home (sniff).

Godzilla 1998 figure. Also super duper cool. Please give him a good home, too.

Figure of the giant walrus monster Todora, from Ultra Q who also appeared in the movie Gorath, in which he was named Magma. The Americans cut him out of the US prints of the film! Bastards.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Want A Job, Want A Job, Want A Good Job...

Nobody remembers that bit from the movie Sid And Nancy, do they? Some bus driver (I think) is telling Sid Vicious he wrote a punk rock song and asks if Sid wants to hear it. He does. It goes, "I want a job, want a job, want a good job, I want a job that pays. I want a job, want a job, want a real job, one that satisifes my artistic needs."

Anyway, this post supplants the one below, which, I realized was a bit vague.

The day job I've had with Tsuburaya Productions for the past 12 or 13 years is over and done with. I'll collect my final paycheck on December 31st. I've saved enough that I won't starve to death or anything. And the pittance I earn from writing will help. But I gotta get out of L.A. because this town will drain that stuff in mere months, whereas most other places I could go, I could hang on for a while on that money.

So I'm more looking for a place to go than a big fat paycheck. My destination of choice is Montreal. I may go there anyway. Or somewhere else in Canada. I've been considering just walking the Earth like Caine from Kung Fu. But that's probably not the best plan. I've received a few nice ideas, which I am considering. But more are always welcome. Even if it's not Canada. Any place has potential to be a great place. And what I think is right may not be what's actually right.

My Zen teacher, Nishijima Sensei, always advises his students not to quit their day jobs. There are a lot of good reasons for that. But the first and foremost is that people who do quit their day jobs to be full time Zen teachers so often seem to turn bad. They get into the Zen drama way too deep. I actually love the fact that I never have time to engage in that shit and I plan on keeping it that way. So a job I will seek and seeking a job will be my job for the time being, with little time left for much else. This being-too-busy-for-Zen-drama is a teaching by example I've received from the two greatest Zen teachers alive today, Gudo Nishijima and Tim McCarthy.

I don't want to criticize anyone else's way. Well, actually I do. I enjoy it. But it always gets me in trouble. And with the whole dead grandma thing, and the moving thing, and the seeking a job thing, and the worse-than-I-expected jet-lag thing from two weeks in the Eastern Standard Time Zone right when Daylight Savings Time ended thing, and the trying to finish my third book thing and all the rest of it, Zen drama is not what I need at the moment. Or any moment. So post away, anonymous trolls. But I won't be engaging in it. I'm a bit sad right now and it's not gonna help anything.

Y'know, here's a clue to understanding how I approach this Zen stuff, in case you're into clues. Maybe I've said this before. But I never wanted to be a Zen teacher. A lot of guys out there did all of their training and practice in a continuous state of chomping at the bit for the day they could finally put on some robes and become a Zen teacher. Not me. I just took up the practice because it worked for me. I accepted ordination because Nishijima Sensei wanted someone to fill in for him at his lectures. It took me almost a year to finally give in to his request even then. I've continued doing teaching because, like the other aspects of the practice, I've found that it works for me. But I still fucking hate it. Hate, hate, hate it. Do not like it at all. Nope.

This is why when you come to one of my sittings at Hill Street Center you'll often find me in a somewhat cranky mood at the start of the day. I know it's a great thing to teach this stuff to those who are interested. I know it's valuable and I know that I am good at it (Sorry if that sounds like bragging. Deal with it.). But I hate it. I just want to sit quietly by myself and here are all these people vying for my attention, thinking that I have something I can somehow bestow upon them. I got nothing. Why don't they ever learn? I cannot muster up whatever you need to muster to be the bright, cheery, warm and welcoming presence I probably ought to be when folks start arriving because -- may Jesus forgive my immortal soul -- at that moment I usually just want them to go the fuck somewhere else and leave me be.

I know teachers who just eat that shit up. They love, love, love having a bunch of people around who think they're the Bee's Knees. They're so eager to bestow their teachings upon the poor lost souls who come to them for their sage guidance. Feh, I say! Feh! Feh! Fehh! I've run away from a lot of those guys and I have no patience for them whatsoever. If you like that kind of shit, go to one of those guys. I really do not care.

But anyway I always soften up towards the end of a sitting and get really happy I'm able to share the quiet time with others who value shared quite time. I end up being deeply touched that you're there (though I will never admit it). So please don't be put off by the ogre I always seem to be when you arrive. Just don't bug me too much or I'll throw a cushion at you. There are plenty of people out there who come off as big, warm, caring huggy bears, when behind the scenes they're nasty, deceitful, hurtful, cut-throat, passive-aggressive, power hungry fuck-faces*. Be careful of those guys, OK? Be careful of me, too. Please. Always be careful.

Gosh. I really wandered off topic that time.

Anyway. If you guys got any good ideas for future career moves or places to go, keep sending them in. And thank you! I really appreciate it more than my cranky demeanor will ever allow me to show.

I'm gonna write a review of the Puffy** show last night soon. But I want to give folks a chance to respond to this first.

* If I was referring to someone specific I'd say so. Rest assured of that. But there are really too many of these asswipes to single out any one of them.
** I refuse to call them Puffy AmiYumi.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

DAYTON and MY JOB and LOS ANGELES

Yet another in a continuing series of blog postings written at while waiting to board a plane at an airport where they offer free WiFi. Today it's Dayton. I'm against paying for WiFi at airports. I figure for the length of time I'm in one I hardly need to be connected. But if I get it for free I'll take it. Dayton gets props for offering free WiFi, but they get points taken off for blocking the Suicide Girls site. Lots of places do that and it makes no sense to me. But, then again, I am the "Porno Buddhist" according to some.

My grandma's funeral yesterday was uneventful. Just a funeral. A nice Methodist minster named Valerie officiated. She did her job competently and professionally. My dad talked some. I didn't say anything this time. Dad's talk was enough and there wasn't anything I could add.

I'm on my way back to Los Angeles. I'm not sure how long I'll stay in L.A. from here on in. My job with Tsuburaya Productions is, for all intents and purposes, already finished. I'll collect my last paycheck on Dec. 31st. After that I'll no longer be able to afford to live in La La Land. With just over a month left, I haven't made any final decisions about where to go. If anyone wants to offer me a job, I can speak, read and write Japanese and have over a decade of experience in the Japanese and American film and TV business. I'm house-broken and make my bed every morning. People say I rite gud. I will rite stuff for you if you gimme money. I can sweep floors and do windows. I'm an ordained Zen Buddhist priest. My e-mail address is brad.warner@mac.com if you have any serious offers. I have an actual resume I can send. Please don't just yank my chain, though. OK?

As soon as I get to California I'll need to get rid of lots and lots of stuff. I'll probably be dumping it on eBay. I'll put links up here in case anyone wants my junk. I got some good junk.

There are nice things about Los Angeles. Sunshine. The people who come to the Hill Street Center. Warm days in December. Thai food all over the place. Amoeba Records. Los Feliz. India Sweets and Spices. But it's also a place where you have to drive everywhere. It's way too fucking expensive. The rent I pay is absolutely without any doubt criminally high. When I become President of the World I'm imposing the death penalty on landlords who charge that much. Everybody there is far too ambitious. I just don't have that much ambition. I'm very happy with that fact, too. Ambition is a disease. I know some decent people who love Los Angeles and do not appear to be mentally ill. Still, after three years there I just don't get it.

Looks like they're about the start boarding. Bye!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

GRANDMA

My grandmother, Marian Warner, died at 4:55 this morning, Thursday November 15, 2007. My dad, my aunt (her daughter), my cousin Trisha and her son Robbie were there along with a lady from the local hospice who happened to be named Stacey (same as my sister) and whose husband is Brad (not me, different Brad).

My aunt woke me up about an hour before she passed away because the hospice lady had woke her & my dad and told them that grandma’s breathing and vitals had changed and she thought it might be time. My aunt asked if there was any religious thing I wanted to do. So I rummaged around my bag and found the little booklet of sutras I carry with me. I lit a stick of incense and chanted the Heart Sutra. Grandma’s breathing was heavy and her eyes were closed most of the time, though she did open them occasionally and acknowledge us. As her breathing began to settle I chanted once more. I was still chanting when she took her final breath. My aunt was holding her hand. My dad and Trish were standing at the foot of the bed.

Gone.

That was just seven hours ago. It’s a mistake to write about such a thing in a public forum so soon after it happened. For practical purposes I’m posting this mainly to let those who signed up for the day-long retreat at the Hill Street Center this Saturday (Nov. 16) that I won’t be there. But the retreat will still go ahead as planned. Kevin Bortolin, another Dharma Heir of Nishijima Sensei will be there. Maybe he’ll say a few words at the end.

I’ve hashed and re-hashed my whole what-happens-when-you-die schpiel a dozen times this year, I think. I don’t mind letting people in on the secret. It’s just that I don’t have a whole lot of confidence most folks grasp what I’m saying when I try to explain it. Which isn’t to say that I’m all Enlightened and you’re all dumb-asses. It’s just that it takes a certain amount of serious, dedicated practice before these kinds of things are gonna make sense. And most of you haven’t done that. No judgments there. It's just a fact.

Anyway, we all imagine that this thing we call “me” is the personal property of us as individuals. That, in itself, is a weird idea and provides a clue to how absurd the view is. I own me. We posit not one but two individuals. There’s me that I can describe and name, and then there’s a more nebulous, indescribable me that owns this describable, nameable me.

The real situation is that this thing we call "me" is not our property. It is an expression of the Universe. As such there is nowhere it can possibly go when we breathe our last. This me is not a soul that flies up to Heaven or descends to Hell. It is not an Atman that reincarnates in a different body. It is not a True Self that merges into the All-ness of Being. It can’t be limited in any of those silly and trivial ways. Even what I just said about it being an expression of the Universe puts far too many arbitrary limits on it.

My grandma’s dead and gone, waiting soon to be buried. She’ll never return. And yet the Universe of which she was an expression can never die, can never go anywhere, can never be extinguished.

Whatever.

The funeral will be Saturday afternoon. If you want to do something for me to ease my grief then go see Puffy Amiyumi at the Key Club tomorrow (Friday Nov. 16th) and take some good photos because it looks like I won’t make it. I may make it to their show Sunday in Annaheim.

When I lay dying you can light some incense and chant the Heart Sutra, put on The Beatles White Album, hold my hand (but not if you’re a dude, cuz that would be gay, dudes can sorta pat me on the shoulder in a manly way*), or be very quiet. I’m guessing I’d appreciate the silence more than anything else. Though I really like the White Album. Play that when you think I still have a few hours left then be quiet afterwards. That'll work.

My grandma lived a good life and died peacefully at home. May we all be able to do the same.


* Dammit it’s a joke. Stop taking everything so seriously.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

SCREAMING SMOLDERING BUTT BITCHES


Last night I shot photos for a new Akron band called Screaming Smoldering Butt Bitches. My fave shot is the one on your left. You can find more on their MySpace page, which is linked above. It's a new page, so there's not a lot on it. But most of the photos I shot last night are there. I heard their rehearsal and predict great things for these bitches.

I'm done with Akron and the gigs with Zero Defex. I wrote a bit about that in my latest Suicide Girls article. A good time was had by all. We'll probably play again in Kent, Ohio on May 4th for part of the annual commemorations of the events at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. And if you don't know what happened at KSU on May 4, 1970 you ought to go edumacate yourself on an important event in American history.

I'm in Hamilton now visiting my very sick grandmother. I'm still planning to be back in Los Angeles for the monthly day long Zazen retreat at the Hill Street Center in Santa Monica this Saturday (November 17th). Fingers firmly crossed. I may end up running back to Ohio pretty soon thereafter. Nobody knows at this point.

Being back among all the drama and chaos of my Akron friends reminded me just how valuable Zazen practice can be. I love them all but damn it was an exhausting week.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I DON'T WANNA ROCK AND ROLL ALL NIGHT OR PARTY EVERY DAY


OK. I talked at the Akron Public Library on Wednesday. Did a show with 0DFx that same night. Did some 0DFx recordings, hopefully for a new CD out soon, on Thursday. Showed Cleveland's Screaming in Cleveland last night (Friday), played another 0DFx show right after that, and tonight (Saturday) we have yet another 0DFx show. On Monday I'm going down to manly Mansfield for yet another Zen talk (info is linked at the end of the post below this one). Yeesh. The photo is of Jimi Imij (lead throat shredder of the mighty Defex) at the show Wednesday. On his chest is written "R.I.P GUNS." The Guns were a two-piece hardcore band that used to play loads of our shows. Sadly both have now passed to the Great Mosh Pit Beyond. We did one of their songs.

Last night I got to sleep at 4 AM, which is half an hour before I'd be waking up on a Zen retreat. I can do this kind of thing from time to time without any major ill effects. But I don't think I could keep it up on a regular basis. It's better for me to have a schedule that's a little closer to normal. I don't like waking up at 10 or 11. I used to do it all the time. Now I feel like I've missed the whole day. I guess the difference is in having experienced the morning -- I mean the real morning, just at dawn. Once you've experienced that it's hard to go back (like once you've gone Black). I don't think we're nocturnal creatures.

So anyway, being back in my home town means being back in the drama of friends and family. Oy vey. I hate god damned interpersonal bullshit drama. But there's one real important message I keep trying to convey over & over to all you Zen fans out there in Internets Land. And that is that there is no escape from interpersonal bullshit drama. People sometimes get this vision that they'll run off to some Zen temple or monastery and escape forever interpersonal bullshit drama. It won't happen. Never has. Never will. Forget it. This is one reason why Nishijima likes to expose all the interpersonal bullshit drama of Dogen Sangha to public view. It's far more honest than hiding it like most Buddhist groups do (you know who you are).

Sometimes when I read Dogen I notice that even he had to deal with this shit at his temples. You can see it in his talks to his monks. A lot of the hard to understand stuff in Shobogenzo and his other works can be traced to just this kind of stuff. You'll find it in Buddha's talks to his followers too. Don't let the arcane, ancient language fool you into believing those monks were not real people just like your idiot friends.

There should be a difference. And in the best of cases there actually is. But not that often. And the difference is that someone who does the practice should be aware of the fact that the drama is just drama and that it doesn't need to be quite so dramatic. The nasty thing that happens in Buddhist bullshit drama is that people go into passive aggressive mode. "Gassho, brother, (I hate your fucking guts) the Dharma, skillfull means, Compassion, blah-blah-blah (I'm sleeping with your girlfriend and I know you know and that's why I'm gonna do it again tonight), be well my brother, Gassho."

Gassho my fucking ASS. You know what? I propose a ban on ending e-mails with "gassho" or "deep bows" or any of that stupid passive aggressive hypocritical faux Buddhist bullshit. Banned forever! Done.

Sorry. Where was I? Oh yeah. Human drama. What to do? I wish I had an easy answer. I mostly ignore it as best I can. I also take sacrcastic people's sacrcasm at face value. Why thank you, this is a lovely pair of checkered bermuda shorts I'm wearing! Or whatever.

I gotta go do stuff. Enjoy life.

Gassho my dick.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

YET AGAIN MORE SNAPPY ANSWERS

A couple more questions from the readership:

I finished reading your book about a month ago and I really enjoyed it, I’m 17 and for the past 3 years I've been trying to figure out what life is all about. I started reading books on buddhism by tich nhat hanh, surya dass, and the dalai lama. But I was always a bit turned off by zen, Im not sure why, it just seemed really esoteric. Well, I was wrong. Your book was great, it painted an amazing picture of what zen is, and I've been trying to do zazen ever since. But I have a question, where do buddhist morals come from? In a religion that believes in a god or gods, they are the ones that decide what is right and wrong. How does zen make a distinction from what is moral and what is not?

You’re starting early! And I’m starting late because you asked me this over a year ago and I’m only just now getting to it. Now you’re 18 and you’ve probably moved on to cooler things than Buddhism. But here goes anyway.

Buddhist morality comes from the situation at the moment. I know whenever I say this people scream and cry and tear their hair out yelling, “That’s situational ethics!” As if that’s a bad thing. But I really don’t think it is.

I guess when people say “situational ethics” they mean an attitude where you change your ethical stance on a whim according to whatever suits you at the moment. Buddhist morality isn’t like that.

We have guidelines in the Ten Precepts. You can read all about those by downloading this pamphlet. But as it says in the pamphlet, Dogen said that the precepts were the habit of Buddhists, not their goal. Nishijima’s Q&A at the beginning of this pamphlet really lays out the Buddhist view on morality way better than I’m able to.

In real life the proper course of action always presents itself clearly. But we are usually unable to discern it because we have a strong habit of shouting down our intuitive response with thought. Part of the reason we do zazen is to learn to ignore thought and pay attention to the intuitive response.

Morals are not decided by the opinion of the majority, even if that majority calls themselves “Buddhist.” As I’ve mentioned recently, there’s a tendency among American Buddhists to apply the precepts the way the Ten Commandments have been applied by some Christians, as a way to criticize or even ostracize others. It’s as if no one read The Scarlet Letter when it was assigned in ninth grade, or at least they didn’t get it. The point of the precepts is not that they be used as a guideline to judge whether other people are good or bad. They’re to be used as a guideline for our own behavior in times when intuition fails. But, as I’m sure I’ve said, intuition never really fails. But we do screw our bodies and minds up to the point where we become unable to see it clearly.

Another question:

I've been a Buddhist geek for a long time and have been sitting zazen every day for about a year. I'm also and electrician, a job that requires random drug testing --no problem. I was called in for one such test about a month ago and got a case of stage fright resulting in my inability to produce a sample and the subsequent loss of my job. This has been a problem for me since I was ten and, while I've noticed some improvement since I've been sitting, it's by no means cured.

So, I went to my doctor, a man who I respect very much. He called it paruresis --a mild anxiety disorder. He wrote me a note to challenge the loss of my job and prescribed me some medication. One of these pills I'm now taking is Zoloft.

Here's my question: While I haven't noticed any effect on my sitting zazen, I worry that this kind of treatment will cheapen my practice and ultimately do more harm then good. What do you think? Again, I know you're busy and I'm only asking your opinion because I'm between zen teachers and I respect your take.


I get questions like this a lot and I’m always a little hesitant to answer them. The reason I’m hesitant is that I really don’t know the people who are asking these things personally, so I can’t assess their situation in any reliable way.

In general, I’m pretty much anti-drug all the way down the line. I don’t even like taking Asprin, though I will take it sometimes. So I’m not a big fan of drugs like Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac and all the rest of the modern miracle cures for whatever ails you. I’ve gone through some serious depression in my life and I am sure that, had I gone to one of the kinds of doctors who deals in these wonder drugs during those times I’d surely have been prescribed them. Had that happened I’m certain I’d still be dependant on them to this day. So I thank God I’m just a little too old, so that those drugs hadn’t yet been invented yet when I “needed” them.

To me, your particular problem seems a bit simpler than it’s being made out to be. I mean, if it were me, I’d have gone out and bought a huge thing of lemonade and drank it all in one go. Or just sucked on the cold water tap in the bathroom for a few minutes before entering the stall. The biological urge would then overwhelm any stage fright. Still, having been prescribed the drug by a physician gives you more leverage to take action against your former employers. So I think it’s a good thing to have done in that sense.

In most cases I’d guess the problem is a lot simpler than the cure. Once when a friend of mine who was studying clinical psychology told me about the side effects of the various drugs her profession used, I said it sounded like tuning a piano with a sledge hammer. Maybe the one string you were trying to fix would get tuned up that way, but you’re gonna wreck everything else in the process.

Still, I want to be careful. There may be times when a medical solution is called for. But, to me, the decision to go for the medical solution is like the decision to declare war. It’s something you want to hold off on until there are absolutely no other options. Nobody was gonna stop the Nazis with diplomacy, so war had to be declared. But unless you’re up against someone like the Nazis it may be better to avoid declaring war. My take on the use of anti-depressants and similar drugs is like that.

I'm still in Ohio. Here's the gig list again:

November 7th at 7PM I'll be at the Akron Public Library downtown.

November 7th (same day) 0DFx (the hardcore band I played bass in in the early 80s) will play the Matinee in Akron after the talk at the library.

November 9th my movie Cleveland's Screaming will be shown at the Beachland Tavern in Cleveland. There'll also be live performances by 0DFx, CD Truth, Cheap Tragedies and This Moment in Black History.

November 10th 0DFx plays at the Spitfire Saloon in Cleveland.

November 12th I'll give a Zen talk at Lambert's Tattooing and Body Piercing (I kid you not) in manly, he-man Mansfield, Ohio at 7PM (Sponsored by the Mansfield Zen Center).

Saturday, November 03, 2007

MORE SNAPPY ANSWERS TO STUPID QUESTIONS*


I thought I’d try and answer a couple more e-mail questions:

Many times in your writing I come across the idea, in one form or another, that "You'll never be free of your problems, nor would you ever want to be." -- I have some questions about this approach. -- What about the natural drive towards healing and solving our problems that we all have, for ourselves and others? Is this totally irrelevant to actually being happy? Should we just stay stuck in our problems and not try to heal them? Furthermore, what about compassion? Compassion means you see someone in pain, and you want to help them, you don't just say, "This person's problems will never really be solved, so what's the point in helping?" It seems like a basic idea underlying compassion would be the notion that problems can be solved at least a little. Not that you'll ever be done with challenges, but that you can overcome particular humps that are inhibiting your or someone else's happiness. How does this gel with your/Zen philosophy?

Christ, what a question! OK. There’s nothing wrong with having a natural inclination towards solving your own and other people’s problems. That drive is compassion itself.

However the idea that someday you’ll solve all problems and be done with them forever and ever is an unrealizable fantasy. The reason I waste so much time pointing out this incredibly obvious fact is because I’ve seen a lot of Spiritual Master types make a damn good living promising their patented technique will achieve just that effect – Get Enlightened and all your problems are solved for all time! Ain’t gonna happen.

Compassion is a tremendous thing. This is why Buddhist teachers from Buddha to Dogen and on down the list have all stressed compassion. The problem is that there is a huge difference between true compassion and the thought of compassion. The thought “I must be compassionate” often smothers true compassion to the point where true compassion can’t even be expressed.

This is what I was trying to get at when I wrote on Suicide Girls about the whole Myanmar thing. Even if I say it a zillion times, nobody seems to get the point that I see nothing at all wrong with protesting against things like the stuff going on in Myanmar. Protest away! Yay, protesters! You go, girls (and boys)!

The problem is when your concern for expressing what thought has defined wrongly as “compassion” gets in the way of what really needs done. You’re so compassionate towards the monks in Myanmar. But then after the protest you stop by a bookstore, see a book you like on the shelf, leaf through it, decide you want it, look on the back at the price, decide it’s too much, then go home and order it for half that price through Amazon. Where is your compassion for the owners of that bookstore? Are monks in Myanmar more deserving of your compassion simply because everybody you know is talking about them? Maybe the bookstore people don’t deserve your compassion because they’re middle-class Americans and the Myanmar monks are poor and downtrodden. And we all know, middle-class Americans have no problems at all.

And where is your compassion towards the military junta of Myanmar? Without their actions would you even know about the plight of the monks? They were getting shat upon for years before you even heard there was a problem. Now you get to read all about it. You ought to thank those military assholes for their tireless work in exposing the problems of their country!

I’m just trying to give some common and easy examples of a more generalized attitude.

And, by the way, to the nut jobs in the comments section who equate putting a 17 year old blind sheep dog with bad kidneys whose back legs don’t work anymore to sleep with the atrocities of the Nazi regime… get a clue. OK?

Here’s another question from the Peanut Gallery:

I've got a couple of questions to which your answer would be appreciated if you've got the time.
1: are there any books on the subject of zen buddhism which you think are worth reading?
2: i myself am interested at becoming ordained at some point, though most of my knowledge is of the tibetan tradition, what was your monastic experience / ordination process like?


Question One:
To Meet the Real Dragon by Gudo Nishijima
Shobogenzo by Master Dogen
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen and the Way of Being Time by Dainin Katagiri

Question Two:
I don’t really have any monastic experience to speak of. I never lived in a monastery, as such. I don’t think my two years at the Kent Zendo really count. Though in many ways those were as much a true monastic experience as anything. My ordination was just like I described it in Hardcore Zen. Not very exciting. I did two ordinations, actually. After the one recounted in the book I did another one through the Soto Shu (Soto Sect) of Japan. More formal, but pretty much the same.

I never actually wanted to be ordained, though. I did it more because Nishijima Sensei wanted me to be ordained. It wasn’t a big dream of mine or anything. So it’s hard for me to give a lot of advice to people who dream of being monks. Mostly I’d just say it won’t be a damned thing like your dreams.


I'm in Ohio now. Here's the gig list again:

November 7th at 7PM I'll be at the Akron Public Library downtown.

November 7th (same day) 0DFx (the hardcore band I played bass in in the early 80s) will play the Matinee in Akron after the talk at the library.

November 9th my movie Cleveland's Screaming will be shown at the Beachland Tavern in Cleveland. There'll also be live performances by 0DFx, CD Truth, Cheap Tragedies and This Moment in Black History.

November 10th 0DFx plays at the Spitfire Saloon in Cleveland.

November 12th I'll give a Zen talk at Lambert's Tattooing and Body Piercing (I kid you not) in manly, he-man Mansfield, Ohio at 7PM (Sponsored by the Mansfield Zen Center).

*By the way, the title of this piece refers to a feature in MAD magazine.

Friday, November 02, 2007

I GET LETTERS

You guys can say whatever you want. All I know is that the comments section under my Suicide Girls articles is always pleasurable and informative. The comments section here is like a visit to the nut house.

OK. I’m overstating things. As usual. I always overstate things. That’s one thing you should know. I always overstate. Sorry. Deal with it. Anyway, it’s not a total nut house in there. But it can get scary sometimes. Mostly I avoid reading it. I read all your e-mails, though. But I’m really slow to respond because I get a lot of them. There’s a lot less venom spewing in e-mails.

So I thought I’d answer some questions I’ve received in e-mails here. I picked these first two because they’re fairly representative of some questions I receive pretty often.

I am considering taking up zazen, hoping it might give me a little mental clarity, self-control and understanding, but I have a question that has bothered me. I have come across a few references to studies of possible links between meditation and psychological disorders such as depersonalization and disassociation. I was wondering whether you are familiar with those ideas and what you think of them? That might be a too open-ended question, but I'm not sure how to frame it. To me, sometimes Buddhist ideas about the "true nature of reality" sound a lot like the medical literature describing mental disorders such as depersonalization. Maybe I'm reading the wrong books.

I don’t know what books you’ve been reading. But I’m familiar with the view that meditation practice can lead to psychological disorders. To me, it’s all about what kind of meditation you’re talking about and how you approach it.

Some of the meditation practices I’ve seen promoted out there do strike me as pretty dangerous and potentially damaging. This is why I was so vehement in my criticism of Gempo Roshi’s Big Mind® scam. Any practice that promises Enlightenment experiences quickly is bound to lead to psychological problems. No two ways about it. In fact, even the more supposedly “traditional” approaches to Buddhist practice that emphasize Enlightenment as a goal and encourage students to experience it as quickly as possible strike me as potentially very hazardous to a person’s mental well-being.

In order to live among your fellow human beings you need to be conversant with and able to navigate your way through the consensus view of reality held by most members of the society of which you’re a part. The problem is that this consensus view of reality is utterly mistaken. Buddhist practice can help you see through the consensus view and get to the underlying reality. But you need to take this process very slowly. If you go into it too quickly the shock can be devastating. You've learned this consensus view since the day you were born. You trust it and rely on it. To have it suddenly swept from under you can be extremely scary. It’s this shock that manifests itself as psychological disorders like depersonalization and disassociation.

If you go into your zazen practice slowly and without too much ambition it’s highly unlikely that you’ll encounter any of these kinds of difficulties. You need to slowly acclimate yourself to the truth without trashing the useful aspects of the consensus view.

On the other hand, even people who study relatively slow moving practices can sometimes get over ambitious with it and cause themselves trouble. This is why it’s recommended to have a teacher who can help slow you down if you get too fast. Still, it’s really unlikely you’ll have a need for this during the first months or even years of practice. In my own case, I didn’t have any seriously weird experiences until I’d been at this zazen thing for about five years.

Next question:

I need to overcome being lazy. I've read a lot of books. I've listened to dozens and dozens of dharma talks (ever heard of audiodharma.org?). I have little buddhist one-liners that I've found to be helpful all over my workspace. I've even spent a week out at my favorite Buddhist place in the beautiful hills just out of town with some wonderfully patient Chinese monastics (I ask them questions occasionally but their English isn't all that great), and still.. i think I'm just too lazy.

So here's why: No matter how much I "try" to let go of my thoughts, or see them as thoughts and let them just pass, or to stop trying to do anything at all because I know it's inherently a waste of time to maintain a state of mind that reaches for any particular goal while sitting... nothing seems to work because I end up just sitting there in a dream, not aware of anything except the TV show going on in my head. In other words, every time I try to establish a regular zazen practice, I end up doing well for a short period and then I just give up. It feels as if every time I sit I end up lost. Thoughts are running the show, not me. There is no clarity, there is no cessation of my desire to eat fried chicken, there is no way to not getting carried off by a sexual fantasies, and I spend inordinate amounts of time trying to figure out where I want to go with my next project (I'm a musician too). I try to snap myself out of it, but I spend most of my zazen not really in the moment at all. This happens just about every time I sit so I guess that's why I usually end up just quitting after a while - I mean, I can daydream anywhere, why sit uncomfortably to do it? I think the truth of the matter is simple... zazen is a waste of time. But somehow I don't really believe that. But I just don't know how to muster up any more will to persist.


It doesn’t matter. It really does not matter. If you think your zazen is good, fine. If you think your zazen is bad, also fine. If it seems neither good nor bad, no problemo. The practice goes on in spite of your assessment of it. It’s like exercise. It is exercise, in fact, as much as Yoga or jogging or pole-vaulting. Your muscles get toned up even if you hate doing it. Just do it.

Shunryu Suzuki said, “Don’t think you do zazen. Zazen does you!” This is an absolute fact. The good news is that if you keep up the practice the days when it seems good will start to outweigh the days that don’t. But it still doesn’t matter either way.

While I was at the Great Sky retreat this year, at one point I noticed that zazen went on even when I was thinking and daydreaming and fixing my social calendar. Not to say you should do that stuff while sitting. Avoid it when you can. But know that zazen goes on in spite of whatever your conscious mind is doing to try and interfere with it.

OK? OK!

I'm in Ohio now. Here's the gig list again:

November 7th at 7PM I'll be at the Akron Public Library downtown.

November 7th (same day) 0DFx (the hardcore band I played bass in in the early 80s) will play the Matinee in Akron after the talk at the library.

November 9th my movie Cleveland's Screaming will be shown at the Beachland Tavern in Cleveland. There'll also be live performances by 0DFx, CD Truth, Cheap Tragedies and This Moment in Black History.

November 10th 0DFx plays at the Spitfire Saloon in Cleveland.

November 12th I'll give a Zen talk at Lambert's Tattooing and Body Piercing (I kid you not) in manly, he-man Mansfield, Ohio at 7PM (Sponsored by the Mansfield Zen Center).

Monday, October 29, 2007

Roky Erickson at the El Rey


I saw Roky Erickson at the El Rey Theater last night. For those who don’t know, Roky Erickson was the leader of the 13th Floor Elevators, the world’s first psychedelic rock band. The Elevators were from Austin, Texas, of all places. In Austin, Roky and the band faced constant harassment from the authorities who didn’t like their long hair and their anti-authoritarian message. Roky was busted for possession of a single joint. For this crime he was sent for three years to the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane where we was subjected to electro-shock treatments. Whether it was insanity or not that led him to smoke dope, by the time he came out of Rusk he wasn’t quite right anymore.

In the late Seventies he started releasing records again. But his lyrical themes had changed from starry eyed tales of spiritual exploration to dark examinations of the hidden horrors of the mind. Songs like Two Headed Dog, I Think of Demons and Creature With the Atom Brain found an audience among punk rock kids and Roky seemed on the verge of a major comeback. His song Bermuda (about the Bermuda Triangle) was a major inspiration to this young punk guitarist at the time. But bad management deals left him broke and by the early Nineties Roky was under the care of his mother who was ill equipped to deal with his deepening mental difficulties.

In 2001, his youngest brother Sumner gained guardianship over Roky and began to see that he got the professional treatment he needed. These days Roky is back and better than he ever was.

I’d never seen Roky live before, but the show I witnesses last night blew away any of the many recorded live shows I’ve heard. He was in amazing form. The years have made his voice even more abrasive, which only makes him sound better than before. Brian Wilson, whose story is similar to Roky’s in many ways, usually has a piano in front of him when he does live shows nowadays, though he rarely plays it and even when he does the instrument is not audible to the audience. But Roky played mean rhythm guitar throughout the show and even a few solos, all very much audible to everyone in the theater.

He was backed by a band he called Evil Hook Wildlife E.T., though the members looked too young to have been the original Evil Hook Wildlife E.T. who backed him in the Eighties. In addition to a firey lead guitarist, and rockin’ drums and bass, there was also a steel guitar player who added just the right touch of country to the sound.

I met Roky the day before at a book signing held at the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Avenue in LA. He signed copies of his new biography Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, The Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound by Paul Drummond and presented the film Creature with the Atom Brain, the inspiration for his song of the same name. When I got up to the front of the line I asked him if he knew John Battles. John is a friend of mine from Chicago who kept a correspondence with Roky throughout the Eighties. Roky said he knew John, “He’s in Chicago,” he said, “He sends me lots of horror movie stuff!” I was impressed. With all he’s gone through it’s amazing he remembers his fans. “Thank you for bringing him up!” he said, smiling as he handed back my book.

Roky Erickson has always been kind of a hero of mine. Not for being crazy and taking drugs — which he hasn’t done for many years now anyway. But because of the way he sticks to what he does artistically in spite of everything. I’ve tried to approach my Zen teaching in the same way. Which is why you’re all cordially invited to bite me if you don’t like the way I do this stuff. Go find someone you do like and leave me the fuck alone, all right?

Anyway, for those that need to know, here’s the set Roky played:

1) Cold Night for Alligators 2) White Faces 3) Don’t Shake Me Lucifer 4) Mine, Mine, Mind 5) Two Headed Dog 6) Night of the Vampire 7) Bloody Hammer 8) Splash 1 9) The Beast is Coming 10) Creature With the Atom Brain 11) Starry Eyes 12) Before You Accuse Me 13) I Think of Demons 14) Bermuda 15) You’re Gonna Miss Me ENCORE: 1) The Interpreter 2) The Wind and More 3) I Walked With a Zombie

Got gigs in Ohio I should remind you about:

November 7th at 7PM I'll be at the Akron Public Library downtown.

November 7th (same day) 0DFx (the hardcore band I played bass in in the early 80s) will play the Matinee in Akron after the talk at the library.

November 9th my movie Cleveland's Screaming will be shown at the Beachland Tavern in Cleveland. There'll also be live performances by 0DFx, CD Truth, Cheap Tragedies and This Moment in Black History.

November 10th 0DFx plays at the Spitfire Saloon in Cleveland.

November 12th I'll give a Zen talk at Lambert's Tattooing and Body Piercing (I kid you not) in manly, he-man Mansfield, Ohio at 7PM (Sponsored by the Mansfield Zen Center).