Monday, March 26, 2007

HELP ME SOMEBODY!

I really want to see this documentary of Robyn Hitchcock (click on the words "this documentary on Robyn Hitchcock" or on the title of this article for the link & schedule info). But I don't have the Sundance Channel. If anyone out there does have the Sundance channel and some method of recording, would you be so kind as to tape/TIVO or whatever it for me and send me a tape or DVD-R? In exchange I'll come up with something fancy to reward you. I have some Suicide Girls swag or maybe I can get you a copy of my new book if you're into that. Or something else. A discount on my instant enlightenment in 45 minutes package or whatever.

I'm abusung my power here, I know. But write me at doubtboy@mac.com if you can help.

Friday, March 23, 2007

ZAZEN TOMORROW (March 24, 2007)

I haven't done this for a while, but I want to remind everyone that there is a Zazen class at the Hill Street Center in Santa Monica tomorrow morning. It's open to anyone who wants to show up. Not many ever do, so there's no worry about it being crowded.

I gave a talk at UCLA on Wednesday night. One girl who was there commented that my personality in "real life" was a lot different from what she'd imagined from reading my books and blog posts. In other words, I guess, I was not some fire breathing punk rock ogre. I dunno. I don't really see the difference so clearly. But I suppose when you read something, you tend to give it a specific voice in your head. Maybe the voice everyone gives me is Johnny Rotten crossed with Ian MacKaye (both very nice guys in person, I'm told, by the way).

I remember a bazillion years ago there was this band in Akron called Outerwear. When I first heard them, I thought their lyrics were really morbid and depressing. Then one day I was listening to a tape of them and I just burst out laughing. Their songs were actually hilarious. I told one of them about that later and she said that was always the point of their music. To them it was all very funny. Just goes to show you, I guess. Most of the stuff that gets lots of people angry here is hilarious to me.

Anyway, all this is just to say please don't be scared to show up for Zazen cuz you think I might yell and scream and vomit all over you or whatever, because I usually don't.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sing in the Voice God Gave You

Sometime long about Nineteen-hundred and Eighty-o-three, I sent a tape of my songs to the Meat Puppets. Their album Meat Puppets II had just come out and I was playing it over and over and over. Zero Defects (ODFx) had played with them about a year before. I’d been putting together some of my own musical stuff and thought maybe they’d like it. It sorta sounded like what they were doing on their new record and completely unlike anything else I was hearing.

A couple months later their drummer Derrick Bostrum sent me a letter back. The main thing I remember was that he said, “Sing in the voice God gave you.” I’ve been trying to follow that advice ever since.

This is what I was getting at in the latest thing I wrote for Suicide Girls (see the link to your left, or if you’re reading this in the future try the link that says “My Other Articles for Suicide Girls” and look for one called “Study Mollusk Sex”). I can relate this most easily to music. But I think the applications are much wider than that.

In terms of music, consider the bobbleheads who wrote in comments suggesting that the songs I put up the other day were not to their liking. That kind of stuff used to bug me a lot, and I can’t say I’m so thick skinned or so “Zen” that it has absolutely no effect. But mainly I just don’t care. Here’s the history of my not caring, if you’re interested.

In the early Nineties after releasing five Dimentia 13 records to generally positive reviews but no sales, I was frustrated with my musical career to the point that I just stopped altogether. Dimentia 13 played its last show in 1992 to a crowd that couldn’t have cared less if we were there or not (except for our bass player’s wife Linda, who danced around like crazy — thanks Linda!). They were waiting for the lame-o Grateful Dead cover band scheduled after us and did not care for any real, living psychedelic rock. I put my guitars away and hardly touched them for about a year.

When I first moved to Japan, I joined in with an ex-pat band called My Niece’s Foot (you can see us by going to the link on your left that says “Links to All the Audio and Video Files I’ve Put Up”). That was fun, but the other three members left me high and dry and moved back to their homelands to start their “real lives.” After that I pretty much stopped doing anything musical at all. I got a job I liked, I did lots of Zen, and I had a good time. So I don’t consider those years wasted in any way. But I just didn’t bother with music much anymore. The reason I didn’t strikes me as completely stupid now, though it seemed to make sense at the time. The reason was that no one else wanted to hear my music.

But then, a few years into this not doing music thing I happened to put on a copy of Dimentia 13’s 1987 LP Disturb The Air. I was sitting there listening to it on earphones thinking, “This is a fantastic record!” With over ten years distance there was nothing egotistical about it. It was just a really good record. And I thought, “I’m gonna make another record. Only this time I don’t give a shit whether anyone listens to it or not. It is strictly for my enjoyment.” And I made that record, a 2-CD set called Hovercraft. I tried selling it thru my website. But only 2 people bought it. Yet those 2 people told me it was the greatest thing they ever heard. Then a couple of my friends asked for it, so I gave it to them. They liked it a whole lot, too. One of those people was a girl I had a secret crush on all through eighth grade who I hadn’t seen nor heard from since high school. That was really nice. These people weren’t just being polite, by the way. They were like writing me long e-mails citing specific passages in certain songs and all kinds of stuff. And I loved Hovercraft. I have listened to it more times than I have listened to any album including Meat Puppets II and Revolver by the Beatles, my two all time fave records by other people. I love the out of tune voice and wonky rhythms as much as anything else and wouldn't even consider hiring a real singer or drummer to come and do them over.

So if some asswipe who downloads it for free from my blog wants to say it sucks, it’s just hard to bring myself to care. And I don’t say this defensively. It really is difficult to even get bothered by that kind of thing anymore. Too bad for you, you're missing out on something great and you're too much of an idiot to know it. It's sad. But what can I do about it? (This is my approach as a Zazen teacher, too, if you wanna know.)

In terms of art, pleasing other people only really matters if you want to be financially successful, or if you’re just the type who gets off on pleasing other people. Some rare artists are lucky in being able to produce art they really personally like that just happens to be what lots of folks want to hear or see. Some artists are just people pleasing types and what moves them is making things that others like. These two types can get popular without really compromising. Then there are those who just want money and popularity and will make whatever’s selling well. Most of these types fail miserably. But a few make it very big. Generally, though, I think most artists produce art that’s never gonna appeal to a wide audience. Unfortunately the various pressures involved in making a living and all that usually snuff this type out rather quickly. That’s sad. But I think that’s going to change as the Internet makes it possible for this type of artist to find their audience and maybe keep afloat financially.

I express this in terms of art and artists only because that’s what I know best. But it really applies to anything. It certainly applies to writers. But it also applies to science and sports and business and pretty much anything else.

In terms of Zen, though, there’s another side, which I think lots of artists miss. It’s also important to do things you don’t like when there’s a need to do them. Doing the dishes, cleaning the cat, going to see your pain-in-the-ass relatives, taking a job to support yourself when no one buys your stuff, and all the rest.

That’s my little Sunday sermon. I’ll leave you with two tracks from Disturb The Air. These happen to be my two favorites although the critics at the time all completely ignored “Yesterday Will Never Tell” and rarely commented on “St. John Society’s Children.” Enjoy them or leave nasty comments. Ain't no thang to me.

Yesterday Will Never Tell

Dimentia 13 used to play a cover of The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows." One day a couple people in the audience were shouting for it and another couple started answering them, “And yesterday will never tell!” I liked it and wrote a song around that title.

St. John Society’s Children

This was my attempt to write a psychedelic freak-out jam along the lines of Iron Butterfly's "Inna Gadda Da Vida," but keep the length down to three minutes. I used to play it for people and afterwards ask how long they thought it was. Most answered between five and seven minutes. But it’s almost precisely three. Most of the lead guitar is by John Fallon of The Steppes.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hey, Maharaja!

Good morning campers! It's music day today.

As I was fiddling around with a few ideas for the next post here and the next one on Suicide Girls, I started listening to some old Dimentia 13 music. Dimentia 13 was a band I had in the 80's that released five albums on Midnight Records. Around the turn of the century I recorded a double CD worth of new Dimentia 13 material. Throughout its history the "band" was often just me, though I did perform live for a few years there with a real group. The ever changing line-up once included Dave Swanson of Guided By Voices and Rainy Day Saints and, of course, my bestest friend since 7th grade, Joe Nlolflzlilglelrl.

So I picked out two songs to share here this morning. The first is from that double CD I made around the year 2000. This track started off being a demo of me noodling on the electric sitar over which I overdubbed a bunch of other stuff with the intention of doing it over "properly." I did do it over, but the done-over version sounded a bit too proper. So I scrapped it and deemed this messy version the keeper. Somehow it seems the right feel for today (click on the title to hear it):

Hey, Maharaja!

The next offering is from a cassette dated March 25, 1987. Since it's just about to celebrate its 20th birthday I thought it was time to dust it off again. This was recorded at my apartment with a fat plastic Buddha sitting on the table smiling at me as I was playing. I wrote and recorded a lot of stuff like this that I never put on the Dimentia 13 records. I often wish I had because if I'd done so maybe when Beck started doing the same kind of thing about six years later I could've said "Hey, man, I did that!" and been really self righteous and bitter (click on the title and listen up).

Fog Camouflage

For more music, just go to the link on your left that says "Links to all the audio & video files I've put up."

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

THE 6th AND 7th PRECEPTS


I am stunned and amazed by the response to that last post. It proves once again that I have no idea when I’m being controversial and when I’m not. I’ve put posts up here previously that I was certain would set off riots with blood flowing freely through the streets and no one seemed even to have noticed. Then something like my thing about Big Mind™ — which I felt was a pretty minor rant, standard issue for me and a tad boring — doesn’t just get over 140 responses here, but sets off a long, long thread at something called the Buddhist Community E-Sangha (don’t ask me, I never heard of it before someone sent me the link). Maybe it’s cold out in most of the country this time of year and people don’t have much else to do but sit and type on their computers.

I looked at most of the comments. Some were pretty impressive. The one video link someone posted of Ken Wilber wired up to what looks like an Etch-a-Sketch with blinking Christmas tree lights Scotch-taped to it to prove he can go into the most macho deep Samadhi the world has ever known is classic, by the way. Honestly, I cannot even comprehend why anyone would fall for something like that.

The comments about the sixth and seventh precepts deserve a little discussion, though. These are the precepts telling us not to criticize others (or “other Buddhists” as it is sometimes given) or to be proud of ourselves and slander others. One of the great problems I see in Buddhism today is the way these precepts can be twisted to give just about anything deflector shields worthy of a Klingon Bird of Prey against all criticism by anyone involved in Buddhism merely by stating that what one is doing is a form of Buddhist practice. The very worst example of this was in 1995 after the “Buddhist Master” Shoko Asahara used poison gas on the Tokyo subways. My friend Taijun, a Japanese Buddhist nun, paid close attention to the TV, newspaper and magazine coverage of that event in Japan. Though a huge number of Buddhist monks and nuns were interviewed about Asahara, and though all of them condemned the attack, not one of the monks or nuns Taijun saw or read about said that what Asahara taught was not Buddhism. It’s as if they couldn’t bring themselves to cross that line.

Since the Sixties, words like Enlightenment, Awakening, Satori, Kensho and all the rest have entered into our language and popular culture. Lots of people think they want these experiences, but have no idea just what they really are. As long as the deep confusion about these words remains, it’s easy for unscrupulous people to define anything they please as Enlightenment. In the Sixties and Seventies lots of folks in the West thought that the brain damage caused by the use of various psychoactive chemicals was Enlightenment. A few years ago a couple of pinhead burn-outs tried to revive that idea with a popular book and, amazingly, found a large number of supposed “Buddhists” who either supported or were unwilling to criticize their position. Now we have organizations trying to promote the idea that Enlightenment is something that can be had instantly through some special technique that — Surprise! Surprise! —they just happen to hold the patent on.

One of the posters at Suicide Girls pointed out that the purported Buddhist Master I’d criticized there recently was the head of a large and highly respected Buddhist organization. I had actually deliberately left that detail out because, to me, that makes it all the more troubling. So long as no one from that group points out that what this man is selling is clearly unrelated in any way to Buddhism, the rest of us have to assume the organization as a whole supports and agrees with it. And that is a sad state of affairs.

It is very important for those who practice and teach Buddhism to be willing to speak out when some popular trend claiming to be Buddhist is clearly not. That doesn't always mean shouting from a soapbox. But maintaining noble silence may not be the only alternative. As Buddhism becomes more fashionable and establishes itself as a mainstream philosophy the tendency for all manner of charlatans to latch on to the air of sanctity available to anything that labels itself “Buddhist” will only increase. If we don’t criticize these things because we fear we may violate the precepts we’re doing a terrible disservice to people who want to know what real Buddhism actually is.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

ROOTIN' AND TOOTIN'


I wrote a nasty piece about Genpo Roshi’s Big Mind™ — a new process for Zen practice Genpo claims will give you Enlightenment in just an hour — for this week’s Suicide Girls article. It’s going to “go live” — as they say — at Noon Pacific Time on Saturday (March 3, just 2 days before my birthday). Ever since I wrote a couple scathing paragraphs about Big Mind™ in a review of the movie "What The Bleep" about two years ago (click on the title of this article if you want to read it) I’ve been hearing from lots of people who’ve been involved in Big Mind™, or BM as I like to abbreviate it. And, man-o-man it sounds like it's even worse than I imagined! I’ve also heard from Zen teachers nearly everywhere I’ve gone to speak how appalled they are at this new development in the world of Zen. I’m starting to think that, maybe more than being just an obvious bit of low-rent sideshow hokum, this could possibly end up being the stuff of scandal sheets and Movies of the Week before too long. Of course, I’m sure Genpo and his butt-buddy Ken Wilber will end up on Oprah before then. Oh how the wheels of commerce do turn.

Anyway, I’ll leave it till Saturday before the serious Big Mind™ bashing begins. But while I was writing, I was fishing around on-line for a quote I recall seeing in which John Daido Loori praised Big Mind™ as an excellent skillful means or some such thing. The quote came from a printed hand-out someone got at a Big Mind™ seminar and kindly sent me, which I then kindly lost track of. I was hoping the same stuff ended up on the Internets somewhere, but I couldn’t find it. So I guess Daido gets a reprieve this time. Maybe he wisely told them to take his name off the list of supporters. Although I wouldn’t give too much credit to the guy who wrote the very worst book ever written in the history of books about Dogen (the reprehensible "True Dharma Eye," may every copy burn in Hell).

Anyway (again) I didn’t find the quote, but I did find a thing someone wrote way back in the golden year of twenty-ought-five about li’l old me. It’s always funny to see this kind of thing. I thought I’d share it with you. Here’s what they said:

“Notice that Brad Warner hasn't actually claimed to have tried the Big Mind™ process, or holosync for that matter. His ideas on what meditation/Buddhism must be are frustratingly stubborn. ‘That's not Zen! THIS is Zen! And I'm the rootin' tootin' toughest Zen cowboy in town!’”

Haw! Is that what I sound like? I am definitely not the rootin’ tootin’ toughest Zen cowboy in town. What I am, though, is honest. Real Buddhist practice is hard work. Guys like Genpo Roshi and the makers of the holosync try and con you into thinking there are easy peasy ways to get to the same place. There are not. This isn’t just my personal opinion. It’s a fact.

The dude goes on to say, “If Big Mind™ works, if it really can give you a little satori within hours (I'm also doubtful, but I have no right to claim anything until I've tried it) then it doesn’t matter if Genpo Roshi is a 30ft drug taking meerkat.”

I’ve heard this argument a lot, that I shouldn’t knock it till I’ve tried it cuz, who knows, maybe it really does work. But it isn’t a valid argument. Let me give you a metaphor. Let’s say a Martian came to Earth and an unscrupulous Earthling handed him a gram of coke and a straw. He tells the Martian that the coke is what we on Earth call a “piano.” He tells the Martian to suck it up thru the straw into his proboscis. The Martian does so and he goes back to Mars and tells his friends, “When I was on Earth I sucked a piano into my nose through a straw and it felt GREAT!” Now the Martians may believe him. But will anyone on Earth?

The only reason anyone falls for this kind of malarchy is that they don’t have any understanding what words like satori, kensho or enlightenment mean, just like our Martian friend has no idea what we on Planet Earth call a “piano.”

This doesn’t mean I’m calling all y’all dummies. I’m the biggest Neanderthal in town. But does it make sense to you that some new fangled technique is gonna get you 15 years of Zazen experience in just an hour? And if you don’t know the answer to that one, how about this? Do you think a new fangled miracle diet pill is going to help you lose the fat it took 15 years to put on in a single week? I thought not. Then why would you imagine a lifetime of misuse of your brain and body can be undone in an afternoon? (actually Genpo claims BM can give you Enlightenment "before lunchtime.")

So there's your sneak preview. Enjoy the Suicide Girls piece this weekend. Remember it’s free to look at my stuff up there. No need to join or risk accidentally seeing any tattooed nudie cuties.

*****POST SCRIPT March 8, 2007*****

I dug up the quote by John Daido Loori about Big Mind. It's from an article called "Genpo Roshi's Big Mind." The author is John Kain but the original source is not noted on the copy I have. I believe it was a hand-out given at a Big Mind™ seminar. Here's what it says:

"Zen teaching is like fishing," says John Daido Loori, the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery, dharma brother to Genpo Roshi and author of numerous books including, Making Love with Light (Daido Roshi is my teacher and has a much more traditional approach to practice than does Genpo Roshi. I'd asked him what he thought of Genpo Roshi's less traditional method). "Every fisherman has a technique. Some use flies, some lures, some bait. The key is to get the student hooked. Genpo Roshi uses the Big Mind process. I use the Arts, and Tetsugen (Bernie Glassman) uses social action. What counts is what happens when the student gets hooked. Genpo Roshi has shown, through the strength of his successors, that he is good at the essential part of Zen training. His successors are excellent."


There you have it. Although I'm not really sure just what Daido is saying here. It's not quite as supportive as I'd recalled. In fact, it may be an obtuse way of saying he doesn't support BM. It's impossible to know. Which may be the problem (see my March 7 article). I do have a problem, as well, with the idea that it's OK to hook a student with something deceptive. Or to hook students at all. This may be a matter for another article.