I'm listening to one of my two new favorite bands right now, the mighty OM. They are a duo consisting of bass and drums who play droning sludge rock that sounds like a 33 rpm Black Sabbath record played at 16 rpm very, very loud. I already mentioned them in an earlier post, I think. It's the most amazing sound I've heard in like forever.
My other new fave band is Dengue Fever. I just did an interview with them a couple weeks ago that I hope to post to Suicide Girls soon.
I did my interview with Nina Hartley last week. That was very interesting. Who knew a porn star would have so many opinions on Zen? And all kinds of other interesting stuff. A very intelligent woman!
Just this morning I finished sitting a retreat at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center where I am right now as I write this. It was a great retreat, one of the best I've ever done. They've got an amazing group down here. I did three talks, one of which was recorded. I'll see about getting a pod cast of that up here once I get a copy.
I've been thinking a lot about ego lately. In early Buddhist writings in English you read a lot about ego. But it seems these days the subject isn't addressed much. I've deliberately avoided the word myself. I think this may be because a lot of mistakes were made by those early practitioners in the West. They thought that Buddhism was all about destroying the ego. Which is true. But this was taken to mean we should beat ourselves up, and destroy our personalities. It was seen as some kind of spiritual virtue to act like you had no personality, no opinions, to be passive, to be a doormat.
Of course that approach doesn't help anything. Ego is an illusion. That's true. Yet we all occupy a specific place in the universe and it's our duty to be what we are. That means it's fine to have a personality, to have opinions, to have (gasp!) preferences. It's natural, good and useful. The trap is when we think these things are "mine." My personality, my opinions, my preferences, my self.
For me this retreat was a lot about seeing how I do that. Sometimes there are things you need to say and to do in order to fulfill your role in the universe. But we have a tendency to latch onto our role in the universe and try to affix it to something that doesn't exist, to some kind of a permanent self that belongs to us. It's an absurd idea. Self belongs to self. I belong to me. Why are there two of me? But we all do it, senseless as it is. In doing this, we go beyond what's necessary as our role in the universe and begin, instead, to act in ways intended to preserve this fiction of self. Once we step over that line, we can't do anyone any good anymore. We just end up in a battle of egos like the War of the Gargantuas.
It's hard to find that line where we are asserting what needs to be asserted yet not stepping into the land of ego. It usually involves acting humble (though sometimes not) and that's hard to do. It's not a passive, milquetoast kind of humility that's called for. It's a kind of assertive humility that is, at the same time, completely unlike passive aggression. God knows I fail at this a whole lot.
ANYWAY, it's not that we seek to destroy the ego, so much as to realize it's just a useful fiction. Shunryu Suzuki said that we have a personal self that appears and disappears. It's not a fixed thing. It exists in order that the universe might express itself, not in order that I can express my self.