Monday, February 26, 2007

RUINING YOUR ZAZEN FOREVER!

My friend Bret showed me this clip and now I can't stop singing this tune. Therefore I give it to all of you. If you ever want to do Zazen peacefully again, do not watch it. It will stick in your brain forever.



I warned you!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

TOO EXCELLENT

I posted this piece in the comments section of my latest article for Suicide Girls. In case you're too lazy the click on the link over there to your left, the article ends with the following paragraph:

"I would never claim to have The Answer to the problem of depression. But I can say what has worked for me, and what continues to work. It’s not as easy or as quick a solution as popping a few pills each day. But in the long run it’s better to learn how to deal with your self by yourself rather than letting drugs do all the work for you. For one thing, you’ll never forget to fill your prescription. Yet the solution that worked for me involves opting out of what most people consider to be a 'normal' way of life and 'normal' over-indulgences. If you’re ready to make the sacrifice you’ll end up seeing it’s no sacrifice at all."

A number of people over at SG took exception to my stance about drugs as a means for dealing with depression. Though I thought what I said was pretty clear, and though some of the posters did get it, I decided to add a bit of clarification anyway.

But before you read this, I want to say that I am not interested in debating the merits of the kinds of drugs prescribed by psychiatrists. There is plenty of debate on that subject already. Boring! If you want to debate it, that's fine. Just don't expect me to jump in.

I am, however, interested in Nishijima Sensei's idea that some things can be "too excellent." And that's what I wanted to comment about here. So, here's what I posted (with a couple minor changes):

•••••••••••••••••••

When I wrote that line about Zazen being better for depression than popping pills I was not imagining a person with cripplingly severe depression who turned to medication only after everything else failed. Sometimes the medical solution is the only way to deal with a problem that has become too severe to be dealt with in any other way. If I were in a car crash or diagnosed with cancer I would want to see a doctor, not a Zen Master.

But with the heaps of cash the pharmaceutical companies are pouring into developing new markets for their potions, it often looks to me like an entire generation of Americans has been duped into believing they can’t possibly deal with life without artificially altering their brain chemistry. The ads for those tonics make it sound like every case of existential ennui calls for a dose of Prozac® or Paxil® lest you begin questioning the society those drugs make you capable of fitting in with.

Still, there’s no way for me to know the hearts and minds of the people who’ve been upset by what I said. Maybe they were among those rare cases whose situation was so severe that drugs really were the only reasonable solution. Maybe without them these people would be out there shooting up their high schools or assassinating pop stars and politicians. I do not know. I cannot judge.

I can’t speak about anyone else. But this is what I can say about myself. I’m thankful that I got through my adolescence before anti-depressants were fully developed and that I spent my twenties too poor to afford psychiatric treatment because I have no doubt whatsoever I would have been prescribed medication to relieve my depression. Had I gone that route I might never have been forced to dig out the deeper cause of my pain.

I do not doubt the effectiveness of these medications. But, to say they are effective means that they produce the desired effect. I wonder if the effect we desire is always what we really need. I used to suffer from severe headaches on an almost weekly basis. Large doses of Ibuprofen were an effective treatment. I took the pills and the pain stopped. Yet my reliance on the magic solution provided by the Advil corporation kept me from having to deal with the actual causes of my headaches. It also turned my poop hard as a rock, the repercussions of which I still deal with today. Those nice little ads on TV never seem to mention this, do they?

It was only when I stopped taking so much medicine and began trying to get at the real problem that I was able to make my way towards solving what really needed to be solved. There are times when pain, even emotional pain, is a signal that something important needs to be dealt with directly. My experience was that drugs could be a very effective way to avoid confronting what’s really wrong.

Once when my Zen teacher, Nishijima Sensei, had injured his back, one of his students brought over a thing that looked like a heating pad that was supposed to zap some kind of healing electrical energy into your muscles. After the student badgered him for a long time, Nishijima finally gave it a try. His verdict was that the machine was “too excellent” and he preferred to let his injury heal naturally. Likewise, I think most of our medications are “too excellent.” They’re good when you need a quick fix for a very severe problem. But whenever it’s possible to use a more natural approach, the natural approach is always better. Even if it takes longer and seems less "effective" — meaning the solution is not quite what we imagined or wanted.

Monday, February 19, 2007

BOOK ME & NEW LOOK

Welcome to the new look of the Hardcore Zen Blog! It took me ages and ages and ages to get this to look right. I'm still not entirely satisfied with it. But I'm sick of typing HTML code. I had to learn to do that for work back about 7-8 years ago when we were starting our webpage. As soon as editing programs came in, I was like, man I ain't never writing no HTML code again. But I did it today. And I remembered well why I vowed never to do it again. It is way worse than Zazen.

ANYWAY. Some of you have been asking if I'll come speak in your neck of the woods. The answer is YES. But, in general I have NO IDEA how to book a speaking gig out there, wherever there happens to be. So here's the deal. If you want me to come to your area, see if you can find a place that'll have me. I have a new book coming out in May. I got a weekly Suicide Girls column viewed by — they tell me — millions of people. Whenever I do a speaking gig, lots of folks show up. Maybe I only get seven people for Zazen on Saturdays, but if folks don't gotta do anything but listen to a talk, they show up. And then they challenge all the stuff I've just said about Zazen, having never actually done any. Weird, huh?

ANYWAY. Just set something up and I'll gladly travel out to wherever and sign books, talk Zen, lead some Zen, whatever. Just write me with the when's, where's and most importantly how's.

Friday, February 16, 2007

THE RULE OF THE UNIVERSE RULES!

OK. I'm gonna try another instant post. Cuz that's what's great about blogging, right? Spontaneity! I don't even know if that's spelled right! And away we go! Remember kids, unlike many of the posts here, this one isn't written out beforehand, it's just typed right in to the blogger template thingy whachamacallit.

Right. So people have been asking me to write about the whole Rule of the Universe thing. Like, hey Brad, what's up with that whole "Rule of the Universe" thing you always talk about? If it's rules, why don't you make us a list so we can know if we're doing good things or bad things?

Jeez, I hope there's no one out there waiting for a list of do's and don't's from me. At any rate, the Rule of the Universe isn't like that. It's subtle. But at the same time it's not obscure or hidden. It's as overt as gravity or electro-magnetism. In fact, things like gravity and electro-magnetism are also manifestations of the Rule of the Universe.

It's the same as what they call Dharma. Only the word Dharma is getting so over-used, it's become almost worthless anymore. I mean look at what the people who make the TV show LOST are doing with it. I like the show, though this season's been fairly lame. But I can tell those guys have some weird-ass ideas about Dharma. And I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts the resolution to the mystery of the island is gonna be based on some hokey, half-baked version of some kind of Buddhism. And I'll puke all over it like I did with the resolution to the X-Files which also blew dead donkeys. Why can't these guys come up with cool resolutions for their shows like Patrick McGoohan did with The Prisoner? I also realized the other day why big budget "tent pole" movies always suck. I'm at this meeting, talking to a producer guy about doing an Ultraman movie and he's telling me how it works with the kind of bazillion dollar sci-fi action superhero flicks like he wants to make. And it hits me why they're always bad. It's because nobody who makes those movies really wants to make them. I mean like no one was dying to make a Spiderman film or a Superman film or whatever -- no matter what their press releases say. They did it because it was the highest paying job they could get. People in those positions will give it their all and produce very high quality work from a technical standpoint (and this goes for things like writing, directing & acting as well as special effects, there is also technique involved). But at the core there's just nothing, nothing except people working for a paycheck. There's nobody trying to say anything, to make some point, to communicate.

Anyway, I digress. Because this is an instant post. What were we talking about? Oh yeah. The Rule of the Universe. Did I say it was like gravity yet? Because it is. OK. I'll try to give some examples. Like, OK, like say you're riding a bike. You have an intuitive understanding of what it takes to keep from falling over and you do it. It's kind of like that.

Some overt and obvious examples would be like the way you feel guilty if you steal something or cheat on your boyfriend. You're sensing that you've violated the Rule of the Universe. Now I know you're probably thinking there are some people who don't feel guilt (or whatever you want to call that feeling, "guilt" is probably too loaded a word. Whatever). But I doubt it. I don't think such people exist, or ever have, or ever will. BUT there are people who are very, very, very good at shouting down those feelings with their own thoughts and justifications.

The thing about thought is that you can use it to justify ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING. There is nothing at all so heinous or horrible that you can't twist your thoughts around to make seem right. One of the scariest things I ever saw in my practice was my own ability to do exactly that. You think it's just Nazis and child molesters and members of the NRA and people like that who can justify whatever horrible thing they desire to do? Ha! You are A FOOL!!! Anyway, that's why thought is a lousy way to judge right and wrong. You just know what's right or wrong without thinking about it at all.

The purpose of Zazen is to allow you to learn to quiet down enough to sense that intuition that is always there. The more you do the practice, the better you'll get. No one ever gets perfect at it. Even the early Buddhist sutras talk about Buddha facing Mara, the force of evil, all throughout his life. This is just a metaphorical way of showing that he too could be fooled by his own thoughts.

So the Rule of the Universe has nothing to do with any list of do's and don't's. Although there are certain things that are almost always don't's. This is why Buddhists vow to follow the Ten Precepts. Things like stealing, killing, lying and all that almost always get you in trouble. Though there are times when even doing these things would be in accordance with the Rule of the Universe. But those times are so rare, it's expected that, should such an occassion arise, your practice will be strong enough to allow you to see what needs doing.

That's really about all there is to it. I know I put a chapter about the Ten Precepts in Hardcore Zen. So some of these same ideas are expressed in there, too.

Y'know another thing I was thinking of today that's just sort of random is this. When you're doing Zazen, it's best not to think, "I've been at this 30 minutes -- or 2 days -- or 5 weeks -- or whatever it happens to be -- and if this goes on any longer I'm gonna die." If you go to a retreat, there'll come a time during the sittings that you will feel like this. The only way to handle it its to just forget about how long you've been doing it up till now. Don't worry about the accumulation of time. Just sit NOW. And no matter how many times you have to get back to that, just get back to it.

Anyway, I should go make some dinner. Have fun!

Remember, Zazen at Hill St. Center tomorrow morning -- please show up if you're around, we'll go have yummy Hare Krishna food after -- and a new Suicide Girls article debuting at 12PM Pacific Time.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

IN THE MOOD


I think someone asked, "Would you please write about Canadian heavy metal power trio, Rush?" So here it is.

I always liked Rush in high school. But after the Moving Pictures album it seemed like they wanted to reinvent themselves as Canada's answer to The Police. I did like the song "Great White North," their collaboration with Bob and Doug McKenzie in the mid-80s. But by then it was too late. I was off Rush.

But lately I've been listening to Rush again. I just got the 3-LP set Rush Archives, which contains the first 3 Rush albums in their entirety (Rush, Fly By Night & Caress of Steel).

There's a song on the first album that's been puzzling me. It's called "In the Mood." In the chorus bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee sings:

Hey baby, it's a quarter to eight
I feel I'm in the mood

OK. I'm with you so far, Geddy. It's 15 minutes till 8 and you're horny. But then the next line goes:

Hey baby, the hour is late
I feel I got to move

Now here I have a problem. Does Geddy Lee consider 7:45 to be "late?" Because to me, either AM or PM, 7:45 is hardly "late." I have three theories.

1. Geddy Lee habitually goes to bed very, very early.
2. We're talking about 7:45 AM and Geddy has been up all night. So, from his perspective, 7:45 is, indeed, very late.
3. Maybe Geddy himself doesn't go to bed that early, but perhaps Canadians in general turn in early and he is reflecting a culturally ingrained habit.


I reject theory #1 because Geddy, being a rock & roller would hardly be able to go to bed habitually early even if he wanted to given the hours at which he worked. Theory #2 seems more plausible. But the song gives the impression that he has just met the young lady in question, with lines like "I like your style" and "won't you come talk to me for a little while" and so on. There are no other references to the two having stayed up all night, which would seem to be the theme of the song if theory #2 is correct. So I have to reject theory #2 as well. This leaves theory #3, which I can neither confirm nor disprove.

Canadian readers feel free to comment, or they or others can submit alternative theories.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

FUCK ART LET'S ZEN!

Thanks for all the suggestions. Today I'm working on rewriting Nishijima's version of Nagarjuna's Fundamental Song of the Middle Way. As I was typing away trying to explain a particular point he made, I put down the following paragraph:

"We say, for example, that a whirlpool is a spiraling current of water in a river. Then, when we communicate with each other, we can use the word 'whirlpool' to refer to something we all understand. However, the whirlpool is not really different from the river. It cannot exist except as part of the river. In the same way, the things and phenomena of the universe — including you and I — do not exist except as part of the universe. They are temporary manifestations of the activity of the universe as a whole in precisely the same way the whirlpool is a temporary manifestation of the activity of the river. We lose sight of this fact very easily, perhaps some of us never even gain sight of it to begin with. Our definitions of individual things and phenomena are based on the characteristics we rather arbitrarily assign to them. This way we are able to create mental representations of those things and to manipulate those representations in our minds. It is a mistake to think that the arbitrary divisions of the real universe that we make in our minds correspond to divisions in the real universe itself."

Ugh! Heavy stuff.

So how about the topic of creativity and Zen? Or fantasy and Zen as some of you have said. It is true, I work in an industry devoted to creating fantasies. This seems utterly wrong for someone who is also devoted to a pursuit of the truth. It has, in fact, caused me a tremendous amount of consternation. This has come up a few times in my interactions with Nishijima Sensei. I remember once, I brought along a book about Ultraman to a retreat just as something to look at and as a way to study a little bit of Japanese. Nishijima saw me reading it and said, “Those TV shows teach children.” I kind of laughed and asked what he thought the shows taught them. “They teach them to believe in power.” Ack!

He was right, though. Superhero shows give kids the idea that they can be saved by outside forces with powers beyond their own. Religions teach exactly the same thing. So I made it my business to try and inject some doubt into that idea. I made friends with one of the chief writers of the show and had long conversations with him about various subjects. I submitted stories of my own for consideration. In ways both subtle and overt the theme of all of my submissions was to cast a shadow of doubt upon this belief in power.

I never succeeded in getting any of my stories on the air. But as time went on, I began seeing the little seeds of doubt I’d planted begin to grow. You’d have to watch a lot of Ultraman episodes very closely to see the results. But they’re definitely there. I’ve never seen another superhero show in which such doubts about the efficacy of power to save the powerless was ever questioned. I recently watched the new Superman movie and there’s absolutely no doubt at all that we little people need someone with super powers to save us.

If you can make even a tiny bit of difference, that can help. It’s better than doing nothing at all and it’s better than standing around complaining.

Zen is pretty famous for its creativity. Zen teachers always seem to have some kind of creative outlet. Some, like Dogen, are writers and poets. Some are calligraphers, painters and musicians. Some take a creative approach to things like archery or the martial arts. This has led to a certain degree of confusion in the West. We’ve never been exposed much to calligraphy, Asian styles of visual art, or their unique approach to certain sports like archery and the martial arts. So we’ve combined these things with Zen in such a way as to foster belief that these arts in particular are somehow “Zen” in and of themselves as opposed to other forms of art that are not “Zen.” Really, though, it’s not the style of art itself, but rather how the artist approaches it. I’d hate for someone who wasn’t exposed to much of Western culture to read my writings and decide that hardcore punk was somehow more “Zen” than other forms of artistic expression. I just use my expression in that field to try and talk about the way a person steeped in this philosophy approaches art in general.

Art is good. Art is necessary for human life. I once heard Nishijima talk about why he appreciated actors. I can’t remember his exact words. But it was something about how actors can express emotion without themselves getting caught up in emotion. All art performs an important function in society. I consider what I do here as a kind of artistic expression. To a certain degree, even the autobiographical parts of Hardcore Zen contain a certain amount of fiction. Not that I made up any of the stories, they all really happened. But when you try and write about things years later, you inevitably have to fill in the gaps in your memory with stuff you pretty much invent the same way a fiction writer invents the activities of a character.

In fact, if you really want to get into it, some of the greatest works in Buddhist literature are works of fiction. Virtually all of the Mahayana sutras have huge amounts of made-up stuff in them, stories that never “really” happened as matters of historical fact, but which are nonetheless absolutely true.

So do some art. OK?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

NOTHING MUCH

I haven't updated this blog for a while, have I? I've been running all over the place for the past week or so. I put together the final(?) version of my movie Cleveland's Screaming to send to Scat Records who will be issuing the DVD this Summer.

A bunch of people forwarded me the following commercial, which played on the Superbowl today:



I don't usually post commercials here & Garmin's not paying me. But the commercial is pretty funny. The company I work for had nothing to do with this. But I can even tell you which Ultraman episodes the guys who made the commercial referenced when making it. The setting appears to be based on the one in the episode featuring the monster Neronga (it's like ep. 2, or 3 or 5, one of the early ones). The monster seems to be based on Keronia, who appears in one of the later episodes. And, of course, the hero is a knock-off of Ultraman.

Been reading a lot of Beatle books lately. I always like reading about The Beatles. Something about the obsessive nature of Beatle fans is fascinating. You're just looking at a period of about 10 years in the lives of 4 people. You'd think you could exhaust the information that could be mined from such a narrow subject pretty fast. But it seems to be endless. Then you have the JFK assassination guys who seem to be able to extract endless data from an even that took just a few minutes to transpire. I don't have any deep theories about that. Just something I was noticing.

Is there anything anyone out there wants me to write about?