Friday, November 02, 2007


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 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.


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).


Anonymous said...


HezB said...

At least in a Nut House you have staff dedicated to helping people not reinvorce their delusional behaviour.

Ha ha ha HABLAHBLAHBLAHBBLAHGOOGOOGOOGLEYGAAAY... double mediaction for Harry today!!!

Regards and disturbing scratchings,


Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gunderloy said...

"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."

haha.. These two forums are like near perfect reflections of the teacher. SG gets dharma lessons and HZ learns about Roky Erickson and GG Allin. What did you expect?

Mysterion said...

Brad sed:

if you keep up the [zazen] practice the beneficial days will start to outweigh the others

nuff sed.

cometboy said...

Another inmate leaving a bit of babbling.

The blog today was very usefull. I have had questions a lot like the one posed in the first E-mail Brad talked about.

I have been sitting zazen since this april, mostly because of Brads statement that zazen is boring. For the most part, it has been.

The one exception was my first all day session in Santa Monica. For several days after, I felt a barrier between me and day to day life. It was not a good feeling and I was glad to see it go. It was not that the mental state was so bad, I just had no idea what was going on and who to ask for help understanding.

I continue to hope that zazen remains boring. I would like to see this as a slow process.

As I mentioned to a friend, I don't think sitting zazen in purple waves of oceanic bliss will be too tough, but having the dobermans of buddhist hell nipping at my heels is another story.

Hopefully, I'll skip both

Jinzang said...

The comments section here is like a visit to the nut house.

Oh BRAAAAAD, you're calling people NAAAMES that's not right SPEEEECH ...

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Mysterion said... "This has more to do with a compulsive addictive personality disorder than with meditation."

Mysterion, talking about compulsive addictive personality disorders? The ouroboros begins its meal.

Brad said...

Not to undrmine the only thing I've written here in months that seems reasonably Zen-ish, is there anyone out there who can tape the thing they're showing about The Who (Amazing Journey) on VH1 this Saturday at 9PM? Info here:

I won't be able to watch it, so anyone who can tape it or the companion piece (Six Quick Ones) will get a free Gold Star in Nirvana.

Please write me at

The Actual Brad

Anonymous said...

brad: who? the wha?



Jinzang said...

For several days after, I felt a barrier between me and day to day life. It was not a good feeling and I was glad to see it go. It was not that the mental state was so bad, I just had no idea what was going on and who to ask for help understanding.

This is pretty common, so it's worth talking about. When you start meditating one thing that happens is that you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions. For example, when you get angry, you think, "I am getting angry." Or when you see something that's funny, you think "That's really funny." This doesn't happen all the time, but it happens often enough that it makes a noticable change in how you relate with the world.

In one way, this is a good thing. If you want to control your anger, you have to be aware of it before you express it. Otherwise, the best you can do is clean up the mess after you get angry. But in another way, it's a problem. First, any unexpected change can be frightening, as you experienced. We rely on our minds and when the way our minds work change, that can be disorienting. Second, losing yourself in your emotions is sometimes held up as a good thing and losing that can seem threatening as well.

If a mental change is unexpected, it can seem to be a bigger thing than it actually is. It's the little pimple on your arm that just might be anthrax. When you realize that becoming more aware of your thoughts is part of the natural progression of meditation, it will no longer seem like a big problem.

And part of the strangeness is a result of how we misunderstand how the mind works. You cannot watch your thoughts the way you watch external objects. External perceptions occur in space. The objects are "out there" and we're "in here." There is no space between mind and thoughts, but we create an artificial separation between a watcher and the watched. This is an analogy between internal and external perceptions, but it's a false analogy. With more experience, the distinction between watcher and watched evaporates, and the artificial sense of watching your thoughts goes as well. So what you describe is a temporary problem and not a permanent condition.

Smoggyrob said...

Hi nutjobs:

If you're in the greater Los Angeles area tomorrow morning (03 Nov 0930), come on down to the Hill Street Center and sit with us. When Brad's out of town we replace his dharma talk with extra kinhin and zazen. And, as always, there will be tea and snacks -- probably left-over Halloween candy.


Anonymous said...

I never got kinhin. I'd rather lean on a tree with a good smoke..

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"Mine is a 'compulsive obsessive personality disorder.' I have described to the group before now (but repeat), when I was 11 years old, I was 'condemned to Hell' by a fundie Xtian Preacher-man when I told him I thought 'the Bible is a collection of folklore.' (Grimm's is both better and more informative)."

Yep, Mysterion IS a nutjob. Maybe he should try EST!

Anonymous said...

Brad, Apart from the obvious implication that those who think you are wonderful (SG) are nice, sane people and anyone who criticizes you or your teachings in any way (this blog) are nutjobs....that was an excellent post.

I suffered from derealization and depersonalization for years before I started zazen. A few years of zazen cured these. There are dangers in both approaches to zen. Gradual, easy-going soto can lead to it's own problems and pressurecooker rinzai intensity to it's own. Both depend upon the individual to some extent. Though true-believers of both sects will disagree with me, I'm sure. said...

Hellos to all
I've got the key, some tea and cookies so--the fun house will be open.
Those needing strait jackets, or beginning instruction need to come at 9:30, there is plenty of wall to go around.
see you there 9:45am to noon
Hill Street Center, 237 Hill St., SM

z said...

Sad but true, about the nuthouse bit. I've seen the haughtiest, most sanctimonious motherfuckers comment on this blog; the Buddhist equivalent of Fundamentalist Christians. Yawn. I like to think that people who call themselves "Buddhists" are better than that, but I know that goes against what the Dharma's supposed to be about in the first place. It is a dilemma. So I usually just don't read the comments.

Mysterion said...

rant removed for the benefit of the sangha...


Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
z said...

"How is this possible?"

It's possible because it's how people is, you dig? Like I said, the haughtiness; the disdain for people who don't think the same way we do. It's not an exclusive franchise to fundamentalist Christians.

Mysterion said...

I, for one, have no disdain for people. Rather, I disdain ignorance and those who inflict injury - especially on young children - with the weight of their blindness.

Life, to me, is an intellectual exercise and not an emotional exercise.

I prefer the word distain - a noun meaning taint or stain. As a pronoun it means 'neither of two persons or things.' Each being is unique - not of the same tainted past.

“Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.... Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it end in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue on the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others which it will procure for you.”
Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia

Anonymous said...

Here's a modest proposal that could only
come from a nut in a nut house:

How about another Amendment to the US
Constitution stipulating that only
politicians with immediate family members
serving combat duty can vote on any war-
related issues? Thus, if Dick, Dubya, et
al. want to conduct their private wars at
taxpayer expense, first they have to send
at least one son or daughter each to Iraq
or Afghanistan.

In the meantime, maybe all the returning
war veterans can go on a hunting spree,
subjecting politicians to rendition to Abu
Ghraib for some therapeutic waterboarding.

Anonymous said...

The practice goes on in spite of your
assessment of it... Zazen does you!"

Excellent. Thanks for both the question
and the answer.

Colinski said...

In Soviet Zendo, zazen does YOU!

Path to No Self said...

HI Brad,

I like your post on silence.

Check out my blog if you like.
Path to No Self Blog

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