Wednesday, April 18, 2007


My friend Tonen O'Connor of the Milwaukee Zen Center took umbrage at some of my comments about the Soto school of Zen in my previous post. So I thought I'd clarify a bit. I love the Soto school! Some of my best friends are part of the Soto school!

But as a comedian in all seriousness, I really don't have any big problems with the whole of the Soto school. Both of my teachers were (and are) Soto guys. Tonen is part of Soto. Most of the places I go speak are affiliated somehow with Soto. If you're looking to study Buddhism I still think your best bet is to hook up with a teacher from the Soto lineage (though I should also mention Still Point in Detroit, part of a Korean lineage and a really terrific place).

That being said, there is also a gigantic corporation in Japan called the Soto-shu. As you can see on the Wikipedia entry I referenced above, there are 14,700 Soto temples with 7 million adherents. It's a pretty big machine. I have very little to do with that machine, although I am a card carrying member. My first teacher's teacher Kobun Chino resigned from it, I think, though his own brother was the head of the organization for a while (I'm not 100% certain about Kobun's resignation, if anyone out there knows for sure, please let me know). My teacher, Gudo Nishijima was ordained by the then current head of Soto-shu (not Kobun's brother, though) but still tends to avoid any involvement with the organization as a whole. Big organizations are all pretty much the same. Obviously some are more evil than others and the Soto-shu does a lot more good stuff than bad. But, like all big organizations, they tend to function like a gigantic machine. I'm not really into bureaucracy.

I don't really follow the ins and outs of who's who and what's what in the Soto organization. So most of my info comes from the same Internet sources everyone else has access to. As I've said before, most of the Zen I've run across on the World Wide Web is — I was gonna say "crap," but I stopped myself, see how mature I am! — let's just say I'm not interested in it. It's mainly a lot of noise and distortion with very little real substance. But I think that's because most of the good teachers are not really writers. Why would they be? They have a lot more important work to do than typing stuff onto their laptops and shooting it off into cyberspace.

ANYWAY, I just wanted to make sure nobody thought I hated all the Soto teachers in the world. Though sometimes I wonder why anyone cares what I think. That's a photo of me at a Suicide Girls party last night. Do you really care what a guy like that has to say about what Buddhist temple you ought to go to? It's really up to you. Go out, listen to the teachers in your local area and judge for yourself.


Koudelka said...

What's your shirt say in that picture?

Anonymous said...

Dude....that pic should be a Soto-school ad...Pick my temple please!

Suicide Girls are way cool.

Anonymous said...


UncaDan said...

I was wondering if someone could help me identify the source for a quote. I read this many years ago and forgot where. It goes something like this:

"Before you embark on your spiritual journey, the mountains are just mountains and the river is just a river. As you walk the spiritual path, the mountains are no longer mountains and the river is no longer a river. When enlightenment is attained, the mountains are once again just mountains and the river is once again just a river."

I know it must be a little well known because Donovan used it in a song. I am also writing a song around it (lyrics posted here) and would like to be able to at least mentally cite the source. I've driven myself crazy looking through my old books and doing the google thing with no luck.

Sorry if this is off topic but I did not know where else to query.

Anonymous said...

You kind of look like Bill Gates in that picture :p I hope you had lots of fun (you look like it).

other said...

dude.. that looks like a friggin buddhist spring break picture. it's a good thing you don't drink. you look half blitzed just standin next to those hotties.

Chris said...

uncadan -

Not sure, but your quote sounds like the Diamond Sutra to me.

Alex said...

Your quote is from the T'ang dynasty Chinese Zen master Seigen Ishin (Jap.). The original goes on with the question: "Do you think these three understandings are the same or different?"
Found it in here (p.4)

zenair said...

I just recently discovered, that I have no real humility.
Years of zen study and sitting a good person, but no real humility. Wow what a insight, are Mts, Mts or rivers, rivers, we can never know for sure.

Anonymous said...

Since we all know that Dogen was a "butt buddy" (thrice removed ) to Keizan Zenji, it's clear that Brad & pictured babelettes are an indication of a more Rinzai bent on Warner-sans part. (non-think Ryokan/Ikkyu if you must)

Koan-phobia not withstanding,
We're all a little Rinzai from time to time, so it's cool.
Soto-shu will forgive you if you can arrange some dates for the visiting Roshis next time 'round.

Koudelka said...

If a camera takes a picture and no wives are around to see it, does it make a sound?

Anonymous said...

i notice you're not wearing a wdding ring in that photo brad......

UncaDan said...

Thanks for the information, I was beginning to think I imagined it.

Or did I?

Jinzang said...

Don't ask Brad, ask Google. Is Soto Zen bad or good? It looks like good wins.

Anonymous said...

Soto is good but Brad is a very naughty boy. I always suspected he was a pimp in a previous life.. but who can blame him for wanting to rub elbows or any body part with the SG ho's. except maybe his saintly spouse. no wonder so many zen guys pick up tolerant japanese wives.

Johan said...

You know, these days I don't care whether you call yourself Buddhist or not. I read your posts because they are entertaining.

Anonymous said...

Zenair, just fake some humility...thats what all the other folk at the zendo are doing :p

Anonymous said...

happy 420!

Matt said...

awesome picture brad

Ryusei said...

“Dharma transmission in the Sõtõ school tended to be treated as the sole property of a particular temple rather than of an individual teacher, and most Sõtõ temples permitted only teachers of their own temple’s lineage to serve as abbots.

To circumvent the problems posed by this tradition, new abbots *automatically* received transmission within the lines of *all the various temples* where they served, so that an abbot might be obliged to change lines as often as he changed temples.

This resulted in a confusing tangle of lineages which by the end of the Edo period had simply become nothing more than fictitious in order to authorise certain lines and their teachers.

The Sõtõ master Dokuan Genko (1630-1698) openly questioned the necessity of written acknowledgement from a teacher and questioned it’s importance since for generations it had, within the Sõtõ sect at least, become fictitious anyhow.” - Õkubõ Dõshu; Sõtõ-shu no seiritsu ni tsuite.

Anonymous said...

While the cats away the mice will play!

Anonymous said...

So Ryusei, if the lineages of Soto are mostly fictitious, whats the point in insisting upon ensuring that someone is legitimately authorised to teach?

Aren't they then only carrying on a fictitious lineage? And what's to say that simply because someone is authorised, that they actually have achieved anything worthy of passing on?

Anonymous said...

It's common knowledge that even today Zen priests only become "ordained" to carry on the family temple or to keep a temple going.

It's a family business, no different from many of the koryu martial traditions. The fact that the heir may or may not have any interest in or knowledge of what they are becoming the head of means nothing. I personally have come across Japanese head teachers of supposed centuries old martial traditions that have little knowledge of or skill in their own tradition!

It is no different for the many Zen temples - Soto and Rinzai.

Anonymous said...

the student waits while the master baits!

Anonymous said...

I recently learned that Lou Reed is into meditation and Tai Chi. He endorses a book by a Tibetan Buddhist titled The Joy of Living, and he has a new CD coming out of what he describes as meditation music.

I'm 55--a real geezer--who got into Lou Reed's music when he was with The Velvet Underground in the sixties. I'd be playing it in my room and my mom would hear it and say, "That guy sounds like a punk!" This was years before punk rock.

Reed's gone though many changes over the years, as have I, as do many of us. I think you, Brad, are also the kind of person who, being open, goes through changes. So at one point you may have been more into traditional Zen than you are now.

Tonen (I've lived in Milwaukee and once met her there) seriously damaged her knees from years of sitting zazen. (Somewhere online there's an article by her wherein she recounts how she had to have a doctor's letter when she visited a Soto Zen temple in Japan, so they'd let her sit on a small stool, which was better for her knees.) She's pretty traditional. She's not a punk, or shall we say she doesn't exactly have the rebellious punk attitude.

You have that attitude, and you've obviously turned it into a positive force in your life, as opposed to a self-destructive force. It's like this powerful rushing river that can be channelled, and you channel it well. Some folks avoid that river completely. One way to describe such folks is "repressed." A more polite way, perhaps, is to call them conventional.

Some folks may do well to be conventional, because if they get too near that river they might end up self-destructing. We saw that with many folks in rock. It's like they tapped into something bright, brilliant, powerful, wild, and intense, and it ultimately burned them out. But others, like Reed, managed to keep burning without burning out, and without selling out or copping out.

My point is that whether you criticize Soto Zen or not is irrelevant to me. What matters to me about Brad is Brad and Brad's down-to-earth wisdom, not whether Brad fits into some traditional approach to living an awakened life.

Brad, you're a cool guy to have around because of who YOU are, not because you got into Zen. You've inspired and helped many, including me, and that's not because you've learned to talk about Zen and Buddhism -- anyone can do that, even Ken Wilber! ;-) -- but because you are who you are.

genkaku said...

Brad -- Of the last entries comments ... for what it's worth:

The best approach I can come up with is this: We may want to escape the lies (read, organization, benevolent or malevolent teacher or teaching, etc.) but the only real escape means finding out what it is anyone might want to escape ... i.e., approximately, enter the lies to ascertain the truth.

No one wants to hear that his or her particular persuasion (esp. spiritual persuasion) is, in the end, a bunch of hocus-pocus, so we all agree to make nice, study hard, and talk politely. The only way out is in, don't you think?

I always loved the story of Gautama holding out a closed fist in order to still the tears of the weeping child ... pretending there was gold within. And then, when the tears stopped, the hand opened and ... voila!

Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

I trully think Brad's stuff is the greatest Buddhist writing since Nagarjuna.
Brad, your next book should be called "Now that your pissed-off, let me clarify..." or "What the fuck are you mad about ?"

Anonymous said...

And for the record, I prefer the second one.

Religion Destructor said...

Zen, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, all the same religious bullshit. Superstitious rambling and hidden truths. Mythical fabrications and story telling in the name of truth.

Oh I'm a Zen man I have the real truth. No I'm a Christian I have the real truth. No, I'm an Islamist, I have the real truth.

Guess what, They are all hiding the truth behind fanciful stories.

Religion is a waste of time and the cause of too many wars. Get over it and wake up to reality. The truth - religions are man made fictions.

You wanna prove you have the real truth, head on over to the forums at and prove it then.

Buddhism is no different from all the other religions. Dalai Lama lovers.

Chrisitianity has its angels and son of god and its dragons and talking snakes. Buddhism has its hungry ghosts and six realms of death and rebirth with its red and white taras. It's all MYTH. Wake up!

dan said...

"Brad, your next book should be called "Now that your pissed-off, let me clarify..." or "What the fuck are you mad about ?"

lol. definitely

religion destructor (nice name by the way)

"Religion is a waste of time"

but going on to religious websites and flaming everyone isn't a waste of time i suppose.

"and the cause of too many wars."

humans are the cause of too many wars. religion is often just used as an excuse. if religion didnt exist it would be something else that we'd be fighting about.

"Get over it and wake up to reality."

i think you're the one who needs to get over it. so some people believe in fairy tales. so what? why do you care so much? why does that make you so angry?

"The truth - religions are man made fictions."

and.....? so is money but i'm not gonna deny the usefulness of that.

Jinzang said...

It's all MYTH. Wake up!

For the n-th time: Buddhism isn't something to BELIEVE. It's something to PRACTICE. And the practice WORKS. There's 2500 years worth of evidence to prove it.

esmerelda_verde said...

And furthermore Zazen is not a religion, it is just sitting!

Religion Destructor said...

"For the n-th time: Buddhism isn't something to BELIEVE. It's something to PRACTICE. And the practice WORKS. There's 2500 years worth of evidence to prove it."

How's that "proof?"

Christianity has been around for 2,000 years and practiced by far more people than Buddhism, but it's still fiction.

You believe that sitting still will raise you to the pure land. You believe you will be reborn. You believe the Buddha got it all right. You believe Buddhism will bring truth. You believe in the Dharma, Bodhisattvas, hungry ghosts, six realms of heaven and hell, the effects of karma.....How many other beliefs are there?

And how does it work? Has someone returned from the pure land to tell you they have escaped samsara? Where is the evidence that it works? You sound just like the fundamentalist Christians - "What I have is the real deal, can't be wrong because it's 2,500 years old."

The antiquity of a teaching and the number of people who follow it is not proof of anything.

Religion Destructor said...

"And furthermore Zazen is not a religion, it is just sitting!"

Zazen = the practice of sitting practiced within Zen.

Zen = a sect of Mahayana Buddhism.

Buddhism = the religion based upon the teachings/dogma of the Buddha.

Zen is a religion. Religion is poison.

bomber-man said...

hey sup (^ ^ )
I read your post, you know which link right?
I was ... amazed? It was so nice to read a material in that genre.
Might be ttyl. XD Ciaoz.

Anonymous said...

why didn't you angrily respond to any of my comments religion destructor?
i feel left out from your wrath :(


Anonymous said...

You believe that sitting still will raise you to the pure land. You believe you will be reborn. You believe the Buddha got it all right. You believe Buddhism will bring truth. You believe in the Dharma, Bodhisattvas, hungry ghosts, six realms of heaven and hell, the effects of karma.....How many other beliefs are there?

i call myself a buddhist and i can safely say i dont believe in any of that stuff but if someone else does i'm not gonna go round abusing them for it. what good does that do?

esmerelda_verde said...

Sorry, RD, actually I do not believe any of that stuff, reincarnation, nirvana all that sounds dull. If I believed in Christianity, I'd choose to go to Hell because the music is better. Robert Johnson, Miles Davis and someday Keith Richards are definitely going down there if it exists.

Strange as it may seem I don't expect anything, sitting quietly just feels like the right thing to do. If someone else chooses to think or do something else it is their choice, their life.

By the way I have been to several Buddhist funerals, the fancy expensive ones for friend's parents. I have to say they are really nice and comforting to the living. I know its all silly superstition, the joss sticks, burning 'fake' money and paper houses for the next life. Still it made everyone feel better and chanting was really cool. I was really sad for Brad and his father.

Jinzang said...

And how does it work?

I dunno. Just seems to.

Has someone returned from the pure land to tell you they have escaped samsara?

You don't have to go to pure land to escape samsara. You can escape it right here and now. Samsara and nirvana are all in your head. Change your mind, no more samsara.

Where is the evidence that it works?

Mahakashyapa's smile.

Anonymous said...

Check this out!

The New York Times: Monks Who Play Punk

Anonymous said...

another thought about religion destructor's opinions.

Surely religions aren't the cause of wars but rather it's intolerance of beliefs that are not the same as your own? sound familiar?

Jared said...

I don't think we should waste any more of RD's time attempting to clarify or justify. S/he's already got a picture in her/his mind about what Buddhism (and every other world religion/philosophy/practice) is. Why bother? Kicking rocks only hurts your foot.

But then again, the rock is the foot, yadda yadda yadda...


Koudelka said...

Robert Heinlein said something like "Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig."

Jared said...

Haha I like that quote! Very fitting.

Anonymous said...

i was searching for anything with criticisms toward UG Krishnamurti and I found your blog. You didnt really say much about him.. you only said more about what you think of methods or teaching... and you said people compare you to UG. Anybody can be compared to UG... u are nothing special nor is UG... ur just a guy who found his communicative powers on the keyboard... and a niche found your blog.

all this Zen/Soto thing is a load of rubbish... otherwise you wouldn't be writing anything and go on with your life living. this is prevented because you think you have something important to say to the world..

so there you are just another fraud trying to brain wash the whole internet.

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