Tuesday, April 29, 2008


That's what it said on one of those little light-up signs on wheels with the flashing arrow parked in front of a low slung baby-blue brick building on the road to the Southern Dharma Retreat Center (SDRC) near Asheville, North Carolina, where I led a retreat last weekend. Actually, SDRC is "near Asheville" in much the same was as Tassajara is "near Big Sur." Which is to say it's not really all that near. It takes an hour and some to get there from Asheville up a winding mountain road and then an unpaved single lane driveway that seems to go on forever around a lot of very precarious drop offs. The driveway is shared by some other houses up in them there hills, so at times you have to back up and pull into little tiny, hard-to-see turn-off to let hairy guys in big ol' pick up trucks loaded with firearms pass by. Actually, I didn't get a good look at any of those guys or their trucks. I’m sure they’re nice. But I did hear gunfire during one of our sittings. And when I passed by that church on the way up I was behind a big red pick-up truck with a bumper sticker that said, "I'm a coon hunter." Raccoons, right? Uh-huh. On the way into SDRC I went over several bridges that spanned a winding waterway called French Broad River. I wondered if it was OK to name a river French Broad River without specifying which French broad it was named after.

The retreat was sold-out. The body count was 27 people including me. A transvestite who’d signed up left within the first hour we were there, before we’d done any zazen or talks or even eaten dinner. Apparently he (she?) told someone, “To think I gave up tickets to see the Dalai Lama for this!” and stormed off in his (her?) pick-up truck in a shower of gravel. OK. Bye.*

The retreat itself was fine and dandy as far as I could tell. I had to design the schedule and tried to make it easy enough not to kill any newbies to zazen yet tough enough to qualify as a decent Soto-style Zen retreat. On Saturday we had nine rounds of zazen starting from 6:30 AM, mostly 30 minutes each except for the first one of the day, which was 45. On Sunday we followed the same schedule but ended things at Noon, as per the center’s usual policy. There were two lecture/discussion periods, one each day. I made time for dokusan (private talks with me, like anyone really needs that). Meals were semi-formal, taken in silence with meal chants beforehand, but not served in oryoki style (this video was done at a retreat I led in Shizuoka, Japan). They do buffets at SDRC and they are de-freaking-licious, by the way. They cook all their own stuff and use locally grown ingredients as much as possible. The bread is to die for.

The group was pretty homogeneous. A few college students, a few older people, a few metalheads, a few punk rock folks about my age. About half-and-half women and men. If the transvestite had stayed the balance might have been tipped. But in which direction? Among the metalheads was none other than D. Randall Blythe of Lamb of God. It was cool to see him there. I like Randy and I’m getting into Lamb of God.

At the end of the last day people got to turn in their evaluations of the retreat and its teacher. Most were positive, some positively glowingly postive. But, as usual, I focus on the negative. One review said something like, “The teacher was very close-minded and attached to his belief that zazen is best. The four foundations of mindfulness (or some such thing, I can’t remember) are the basis of Buddhist practice! Immature teacher.”

My response to that is to say that in my considered opinion the person who wrote that assessment is a poopie head. A stinky, smelly poopie head, at that.

Actually, this brings up a point I’d like to try and address. There’s a kind of expectation among people in the USA who are into Buddhism that teachers of Buddhism should be sort of pan-Buddhist teachers. That is, that they should not represent any one tradition, but should, instead embrace and teach all forms of Buddhism. And a whole lot of teachers out there do this. They’ll mix all kinds of traditions up into a sweet ecumenical stew that doesn’t really represent any specific lineage but includes everything. I say fuck that. It’s bullshit Buddhism.

If I go to a Baptist minister I might be impressed if he’s well read in the Torah and the Koran. That would be a nice little bonus. But I don’t go to a Baptist minister for a Bar Mitzvah or advice on how to celebrate Ramadan. Any Baptist minister who offered such services could only ever do them in a really half-assed way anyhow. In fact, I’d personally prefer my Baptist minister to have focused specifically on studying the teachings of the Baptist lineage of Christianity and not know much about the Torah or the Koran. Furthermore I’d be far more confident in what he had to say if he told me straight up that he thought that Judaism and Islam were fundamentally flawed. If he didn’t think so, why would he choose to be a Baptist minister and not a Rabbi or Iman? Of course it’d a whole different matter if he went from that idea to saying let’s convert all the Jews and Muslims and kill all the ones who fail to see the light. But that would be something else entirely.

See, I don’t know shit about Vipassana or Tibetan Buddhism or even Rinzai style Zen, or any other sort of Buddhism. In fact I don’t even know a fuck of a lot about any forms of Soto style Zen outside of the ones I specifically learned from Tim McCarthy and Gudo Nishijima. I’ve never practiced the other ones in any serious fashion and I’ve never been very interested in trying. I’m aware of some teachers within those other lineages whose work I think is pretty decent. But I’m still just not all that intrigued by them. I don’t want to destroy any of those other lineages. But honestly speaking I think the lineage I studied in is better and closer to what Buddha really intended. If I didn’t think so, why would I teach it? Why would anyone teach a style of Buddhism they were not convinced was the best one? Who would bother listening to such a teacher? Not me.

Buddhism is essentially an oral tradition passed down face-to-face from one teacher to the next. It is not necessary for a teacher in a specific lineage to know anything at all about any form of Buddhism other than the one they received from their teacher. It might be a nice little bonus if they do. Or it might just get in the way (it usually does if you ask me). In any case it’s not a requirement, nor should it be an expectation of their students. It’s good to get along with other lineages, and we all pretty much do. Some of my best friends are Rinzai! But we don’t need to try and incorporate their teachings into ours in order to satisfy some misguided notion that all Buddhist teachers should embrace all forms of Buddhism. Why should they?

The “four foundations of mindfulness” or whatever the fuck that person wrote are just words that try to frame what Buddha was getting at in a specific way. But what Buddha was getting at was not a matter of words. My words or Nishijima’s words or Kodo Sawaki’s words are exactly the same. But if you go to a teacher within a specific lineage, don’t expect that teacher to frame the truth in the same way as someone from another lineage.

However it is vital that a teacher be true to his (or her, but I’m gonna skip the “or her” from here on) tradition and – even more importantly – to his own personal understanding of that tradition. All that touchy feely pan-Buddhism is nothing but watered down teaching. It satisfies folks who strive for some kind of illusion of political correctness. But it’s false. You see guys running around these days claiming to be versed in twenty different traditions each of which takes decades to even begin to understand. Unless they’re 400 years old they’re feeding you a line and you’re a sucker if you fall for it.

Whatever. Hope you enjoyed the rant. Feh!

If you're not too pissed off at the foregoing come see me at the following places:

April 29th at 7 PM, talk at Warren Wilson College’s Buddhist Studies Group in Asheville, NC.

May 3rd my band 0DFx will play at Pat’s in the Flats in Cleveland with This Moment in Black History.

And on May 4th, 0DFx will play at the Kent Stage in Kent, Ohio in commemoration of the 38th anniversary of the infamous shootings by the National Guard.

On Friday May 10th we'll play an in-store show at Square Records in Akron's Highland Square.

Saturday May 10th at 7 PM (or maybe 6, they need to decide yet, call before you go) I'll do a book signing and talk at Visible Voice Books in Cleveland, Ohio’s Tremont neighborhood. I think we're showing my movie Cleveland's Screaming! afterwards.

On May 17th and 18th I'll lead a 2-day retreat at the Milwaukee Zen Center.

I'll be one of the teachers at this year's Great Sky Zen Sesshin August 9-16. Check out their webpage for details.

The annual Dogen Sangha retreat in Shizuoka, Japan will be September 20-23.

*No offense intended to those who choose to cross dress or change sexes. I just honestly don't know the appropriate term of address.


George James said...

Come to Chicago, now!

Mysterion said...

His Bradness sed:

"There’s a kind of expectation..."


nuff sed


Sue Thornbury said...

Asheville, Tennessee (?)
I heard the gunshot - very deliverance-y.
If one wants other than Soto (Dogen-style)...why attend?
Break-a-leg tonight...Sue Thornbury

Namu Amida Butsu said...

Any method, practice or teaching is a tool, an instrument, to bring about Buddha Mind/Being.

This being so, there certainly seems to be place for a variety of tools.

But there also seems to be place for both those who emphasize and specialize in one particular instrument[like Brad] and those who learn to use various, complementary tools and instruments. Neither should be granted unquestioned privilege.

Namu Amida Butsu

ATLawyer said...

Thanks for a great retreat, Brad. Hearing that gunshot during zazen definitely stopped my wandering mind for a few moments ... until it got me thinking about "The Deer Hunter".

Jules said...

"JESUS REDEEMED US FROM THE CURSE OF THE LAW" ... I thought he reinforced the validity of Moses' law. Or am I interpreting that wrong?

FYI, If you see long hair and makeup, then it's "her" and "she." Just ignore the stubble and Adam's apple.

It's trickier going the other way... sometimes it's hard to tell whether the person is transgender or just butch.

Blake said...

Preach it, Brother!

Kahleida said...

I thought the retreat went very well and it surprises me that someone would call you 'close-minded' based on what you talked about. It's like calling a French chef close-minded because they think French food is the best. Makes no sense...

I'm definitely on the newbie side of meditation, though I've been reading the theory for awhile, and this retreat has really inspired me to take up a daily practice.

spice said...

Haven't read the whole article yet, but re terms of address, it's best to go with the person's stated preference if at all possible, failing that go with the mode of presentation.
So if you see someone who looks (conventionally) male but introduces herself as "Joanne", you would stick with female pronouns. If you haven't been introduced, go with what they're wearing - if it's long hair, makeup, and a dress, go with feminine pronouns despite obvious 5 o'clock shadow, etc. The trick is when it's not obvious (e.g. trans or butch? sometimes hard to tell), in which case common courtesy and avoidance of specific pronouns tends to function fine until further information is provided.


That's sweet. Lamb of God is awesome.

I agree with your sectarianism, Brad :) Although I don't ascribe to your (Nishijima's) lineage! :P

Anonymous said...

As a guy who wears skirts, kilts and other unbifuricated garments from time to time I'd suggest that "Hi" or "Hello" is a suitable form of address.

I presume the guy has a name so you can use that as well.

There's no point in pretending that the guy is anything other than he is. Just accept him as he is. Some want to be seen as women, some as men in dresses and some as themselves. There is no difinitive answer.

Not everyone you meet will fit into your nice little neat categories. Haven't you learnt anything? ;-)

You are happy to push your punk ethos, hang with SGs, write punk songs, be called a porno buddhist, all these things you are happy with,

But you meet a guy in a dress(?) and you no longer know what to do or how to behave - as if there was a right way.

Not a rant, just amusing. Maybe you should sit zazen in a kilt for a while...

Anonymous said...

OBTW, since I make the stuff I wear you can argue the toss as to whether or not I too am a transvestite.

Since I made the clothes and designed them to fit my body does that mean I'm trying to pretend to be a woman or am I merely a man who likes extra ventillation?

There are men who wear blatantly feminine garments and men who wear 'masculine' skirts and kilts.

Where does one become a transvestite instead of a man wearing a skirt/kilt/non-dual-pants?

Mysterion said...
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Mysterion said...
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grisom said...

Just to play Devil's advocate a bit here:

In fact, I’d personally prefer my Baptist minister to have focused specifically on studying the teachings of the Baptist lineage of Christianity and not know much about the Torah or the Koran. Furthermore I’d be far more confident in what he had to say if he told me straight up that he thought that Judaism and Islam were fundamentally flawed.

Honestly, if I met a Baptist minister who assured me with confidence that Judaism and Islam are fundamentally flawed, I would expect him (or her, but that's rare among Baptists) to be familiar with the teachings of both of those religions. Otherwise, how can he possibly know whether they're flawed or not? Someone like that I'd write off as a brainwashed loon.

All the same, I agree that I'd be more willing to trust a minister teaching a Baptist Christian lineage that's survived several hundred years than someone trying to teach some manner of Baptist/Sunni/Reform hodgepdoge that he invented himself. I mean, his new thing might be right after all, but... nobody's test-driven it yet :)

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
buddha-builder said...

Well said! That's what sold me on Zen -- the mind to mind deal, not the "my dogma is better than your dogma", and certainly not watering everything down to mushy unfocused teaching.

I like your writing style!

Anonymous said...

There’s a kind of expectation among people in the USA who are into Buddhism that teachers of Buddhism should be sort of pan-Buddhist teachers. That is, that they should not represent any one tradition, but should, instead embrace and teach all forms of Buddhism. And a whole lot of teachers out there do this.

Apart from people who write books about buddhism., I've yet to encounter an actual buddhist teacher who claims to teach several buddhist traditions. I don't think many people expect a buddhist teacher to actually embrace and teach several traditions or pan-buddhism. I do think they expect a buddhist teacher to respect other buddhist traditions and not to engage in sectarian one-up-manship. I tried hindu mantra meditation (om) briefly when I first began to meditate. I found it seemed to make me spacey. Instead of sticking with it, I followed my intuition that it wasn't right for me and moved on to zazen. Just because I conclude that a certain meditation technique or teaching is not right for me does not mean that I label it as completely 'wrong' or inferior for everyone. Mantra meditation may be fine for others, but I felt no affinity with it.

It has nothing to do with being politically correct. Just that it wasn't right for me. It didn't 'work' for me. Zen has been very much what works for me. The operative word being 'works'. Not what is most comfortable, easy or cool. But what relieves suffering and leads to greater understanding.

Similarly, the full lotus posture is what works best for me. I don't insist that every zen person I meet must sit in exactly the same posture I use or that all other postures are inferior or that you can't do 'real' zazen in any other position. The 'easiest' way I've found to do zazen is by sitting full-lotus. The word "easy" here obviously doesn't mean what is most comfortable physically.

In fact, I’d personally prefer my Baptist minister to have focused specifically on studying the teachings of the Baptist lineage of Christianity and not know much about the Torah or the Koran. Furthermore I’d be far more confident in what he had to say if he told me straight up that he thought that Judaism and Islam were fundamentally flawed. If he didn’t think so, why would he choose to be a Baptist minister and not a Rabbi or Iman?

You want a teacher that admittedly knows little or nothing about other religions but at the same time declares those other religions to be "flawed". How could they even know if they were flawed? This is like a little child declaring that hamburgers are the best food in the world and that pizza sucks without having even tasted any other foods. He too could say that 'If I didn't think hamburgers were the bestest of all foods, why would I eat them instead of pizza, etc.?" You admit you know next to nothing about other forms of buddhism, yet habitually declare them to be inferior to your own sect.

But honestly speaking I think the lineage I studied in is better and closer to what Buddha really intended.

This whole piece sounds like an elaborate rationalization for dogmatic sectarianism. How could you even know that it is better? You know what the Buddha intended ? Even without actually studying other buddhist traditions? Does the Buddha appear to you in dreams and tell you his orginal intentions? Do you contact Gautama via oiji board?

If I didn’t think so, why would I teach it?

Maybe because by studying that tradition and practicing that form of meditation you have found relief from your own suffering, insight into the nature of your own mind and the capacity to help others who suffer similarly. It isn't necessary to incorporate other traditions or meditation styles into your own teaching in order to admit there may be more than one single way to skin the cat. If I hear a teacher declare that all other sects and religions or teachers are inferior to his own, I run the other way.

Instead of the twisted rational that you attempt to give, there is a far simpler explanation for thinking your own religion / sect / meditation method / teacher is superior to all others.

Why do the vast majority of French people believe their own country is the best nation in the world? Why do Americans declare theirs is the most free, most wonderful nation on earth...even while never traveling to other countries? Why did the Japanese believe they were a superior race that was destined to rule the rest of asia?

We divide ourselves up into countless groups, nations, religions, races, in-groups and out-groups and then identify with our particular group. I identify with a particular lineage or teacher and then someone crticizes or insults them. I then feel hurt and angry as if I've been physically threatened. All because we tend to confuse various concepts and images with our 'self'. My nation, my race, my political party, my religion, my family, my teacher. Me, me, me. When taken to extremes, such delusive thinking results in attempting to wipe out competing religions or nations. But it is the same delusion even when there is no thought of physically destroying the other.

You may believe you are selfless while thinking 'my emperor is the greatest being' or 'my president is the wisest' or 'my sect is the most perfect', this is still ego. Ego can identify with races, nations, religions, most anything. My, my, my. And the unfortunate thing about ego is that it is blind to it's own delusion.

Zazen is about examining directly 'what is'. Zazen is radical honesty. It's not about special experiences (as you rightly point out), nor is it about special postures or dogma.
This ego-identification with 'my sect' is the most obvious reason for believing your way, your method, your teacher, etc. is the best. Why compare at all? It is possible to practice the Buddha's teaching without ego becoming identified as "I am a buddhist". It is possible to practice zen without believing it is the best religion. It is possible to practice shikantaza without believing it is the only real way to meditate.

You wrote a whole essay on 'why koan practice sucks ass'. And yet you admit you've never practiced koan zen. That's like me writing an essay on" why Brad's music sucks ass" and then admitting I've never actually listened to any of it. You are adept at calling other teachers out on their BS. How are you at examining your own?

Mountaintop Rebel said...

"Why did the Japanese believe they were a superior race that was destined to rule the rest of Asia? "

According to Brad, none of that ever happened. Zen had nothing to do with it if it did though.

"How are you at examining your own?"

He kinda sucks at it, but if I allowed Zen groupies to kiss my ass all the time (especially if they were minor celebrities I could namecheck) I might start thinking I was infallible too.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading zen books for a long time. When I read yours I felt like throwing the others away. After reading your post on lineage I'll give the other books to the library, but I still enjoying reading about zen so what would you suggest?

Anonymous said...

Reb, where exactly does Warner make this denial?

I've heard him use the WW2-era Japanese Zen community as an example of religious leadership gone horribly wrong.

In fact, I think his fiercest condemnations are saved for people in the Zen camp.

Arturo said...

Hi Brad
I agree with your assessment that it is smartest to teach the tradition you studied. A possible explanation for why there is some pan buddism out there is because we are in the West. I follow mainly the Soto Zen tradition, because I'm exposed to it where I live. If I were in a different part of the world, I might not find teachers of that tradition and have to resort to a different practice. Even here in this city, there is a group I ocassionally go to, about which I wrote to you offblog, which declares itself to be pan-buddhist. But no one is trying to convert anyone else to something different. We just have speakers from very many of the traditions (Mahayanan, Teravadan, Zen, Tibetan, etc.) I've learned a lot by being exposed to the different forms, even if I'm most confortable with the Soto Zen lineage.

z0tl said...

run it by me again, how is death a curse again?

some entities fucked up in the other direction (i've heard at least 5 of the 8 immortals aren't happy with their options plan) and are seeking death like it's a miracle impossible to ever attain.

someone please offer the webster definition for 'death' if you feel the need to hop on this train of thought.

my friend, death implies a brain that functions within a dual world. have you heard the notion that even if you were to unravel the mysteries of countless worlds, you still have attained nowhere close to enough wisdom to comprehend even the words of the lotus sutra?

come back to me as 3 boxes of kleenex and teach me the dharma of the snot!

until then, for fukkssakes, more sitting and less mental masturbation.

Anonymous said...

"After reading your post on lineage I'll give the other books to the library"

Yes, you should listen only to Brad. Read only his words or those he approves of. He holds the great mystic transmission handed down from the Buddha himself and knows the buddha's original intent. Burn those heretical zen books, I say.

But if you haven't already downed that last gulp of kool-aid, try googling some essays by Stuart Lachs:

Means of authorization: Establishing heirarchy in zen / chan buddhism in america

Richard Baker and the myth of the myth of the zen roshi

Coming down from the zen clouds

Also might take a look at

Shoes outside the Door by Michael Downing
Zen at War by Brian Victoria

note also that Victoria is a longtime Soto priest.

Just as there are all sorts of problems believing that all the mahayanna sutras are the actual words of the buddha, there are serious problems with the belief that there's been an actual, unbroken mind to mind transmission from then to now.

Anonymous said...

"After reading your post on lineage I'll give the other books to the library,"

I think reb is probably referring to Brad's writings defending Kodo Sawaki. Brad begins with the conclusion that Kodo could not have been complicit in any of that nasty warmongering since he was Nishijima's teacher.

"Victoria identifies Sawaki Kodo (1880-1965), one of the great Soto Zen
patriarchs of this century, as an evangelical war proponent. Serving in
Russia as a soldier, he happily related how he and his comrades had
"gorged ourselves on killing people." Later, in 1942, he wrote, "It is
just to punish those who disturb the public order. Whether one kills or
does not kill, the precept forbidding killing [is preserved]. It is the
precept forbidding killing that wields the sword. It is the precept that
throws the bomb."

The "precept throws the bomb?" This is an astonishing abuse of Zen
language. Kodo also advocated, as did other Zen teachers, that if
killing is done without thinking, in a state of no-mind or no-self, then
the act is a expression of enlightenment. No thinking = No-mind =
No-self = No karma. In this bizarre equation, the victims are always
left out, as if they are irrelevant. Killing is just an elegant
expression of the koan. When Colonel Aizawa Saburo was being tried for
murdering another general in 1935, he testified, "I was in an absolute
sphere, so there was neither affirmation nor negation, neither good nor
evil." This approach to Zen is ultimately a perverse narcissism or even
nihilism. Of course, the obvious question that was never asked - if
there is no self, why is there any need to kill?

Victoria has brought to light the actual words of these leaders and the
written record of this period. Zen at War contains dozens of similar
passages from leading teachers, proving that this distortion was the
rule, not the exception."

Brad contends that the phrase: It is the precept (against killing) that throws the bomb. is a mistranslation, but no one has yet to come forward with another translation of this text.
If anyone would like to research this, Kodo's words were translated from his essay "zenkai hongi o katuru" part 9 in the january 1942 issue of Daihorin.

Such twisted views were very commonplace at that time in japanese zen and it wouldn't be surprising if master Kodo also held such views. I find it no stranger than 'The sword that kills is the sword that gives life'.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the above post should have referenced this comment:

"Reb, where exactly does Warner make this denial?

I've heard him use the WW2-era Japanese Zen community as an example of religious leadership gone horribly wrong."

Mysterion said...
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Anonymous said...

Normally I don’t comment on stuff that I read on line, I don’t usually think it’s worth while, but your post has been bugging me since I read it yesterday. Probably because I like your books so much and because they had a real impact on me...Anyway...Why even mention the fact that the woman who left the retreat early was transgendered? I don’t believe you brought it up because you were legitimately confused as to how to refer to her, you’re a smart guy if you really didn’t have a clue you could just do a Google search and figure it out. I think you through in the Man/Woman? He/She? stuff to try and be interesting or funny or whatever. But it’s neither of those things it’s just disrespectful, and you knew it was, the only reason you included the little footnote at the end was to try and inoculate yourself against criticism because you knew what you wrote was fucked up. I’d don’t even know what I’m posting this, just disappointed I guess.


Patricia said...

I read your April 29th blog about the Southern Dharma thing and I felt I had to reply. My name is Patricia and I am the "transvestite" that left the retreat early. First of all , let me set the record straight: I am a TRANSSEXUAL, not a transvestite. A transvestite is someone who gets sexual pleasure and/or relaxation from the wearing of the apparel of the opposite gender. Transsexuals are people who outwardly display one gender while feeling that inside they are the other gender...the classical "woman trapped in a man's body". I know that I did not look like much when you saw me but try driving for six hours on a hot day with a pickup truck with no air conditioning and getting stuck in traffic for a good hour and a half in Knoxville. Hard to look presentable under those conditions. I am truly sorry that I did not get to hear your lectures as I really enjoy your books. My departure had NOTHING to do with you or anything you did or said. I feel that I had been duped by the hosts. The week previous, I had tickets for the Dalai Lama presentation in Ann Arbor, Michigan. After conferring with a friend who wanted to go but did not have that much cash, I discounted my tickets to her and took the money she paid me for them to put enough gas in my truck and some money in the bank for the retreat fee. I felt good about helping her out and the prospect of finally meeting you. After that horrendous trek to get there, I was greeted with a myriad of problems that the hosts had not bothered to mention at all. First off was the loosely graveled parking lot set at an angle of about 30 degrees which, if you were as unfortunate as me, you found yourself unable to get back uphill after going to the bottom to find a parking spot. Then there was the postage stamp sized camping platform next to a gully with a trickle of water in it that I had been told was a "rushing mountain stream". The platform was set up some 100 to 150 yards downhill from the main lodge as you know. The bathrooms were woefully inadequate. We
were all summoned by the hosts at 6:45pm to be briefed. There, we were told by the hosts, in a "oh by the way" fashion that the place was infested with ticks, ground yellow jackets, copperhead snakes, the stray bobcat or two, and a bear somewhere up on the hill. During the briefing, the hosts pointed out the items about the mealtimes and I heard them say "practice portion control". Not very reassuring words for me to hear as I am diabetic and had no spare food with me as I thought that there was going to be plenty. Being a newby to zen, I had no idea what they meant when they said words like "dokusan, kinhin, etc." The straw that broke the camel's back was when they mentioned that there would be no talking from dinner than night until the end of lunch on Sunday. WHAT? No talking? Silence?? How am I supposed to learn about buddhism and talk to the other retreatants about their experiences if we can't talk? When you all got up to eat, I left, went down to my platform, gathered my stuff, put it in the truck and left...yes,in a cloud of gravel. Before leaving my male host came to me and we had words.
He described his place as "rural" and I told him it wasn't as I live in a rural place at home and that his area was more appropriately described as "primitive". I was fortunate that some of the guys that were staying there helped me push the truck up the loose incline so that I could leave.
I don't like being lied to even if those lies are only "half truths" like some people say. I was not told the full truth about the situation there or I would have just not gone there. I will not be going back there...EVER...not even for the Dalai Lama himself.
There are some people out there reading this that will say "what a WUSSY", but they are not 59 years old, on high dosage estrogen, diabetic, new to the Zen scene , and expecting to have a sex change surgery in about a year. Your opinions are your own. I did not go to that retreat expecting a SPA but then I was not expecting a cross between boot camp and a cheap "Zen Themed" hostel either.
Has this soured me on Zen and Buddhism in general. NOPE! I have started a practice of my own about a month or so ago and I will continue it...as well as I understand it. Will I continue to read Brad's books? Just as fast as he can write them! I will, when I save up some more cash, even attend a lecture of his at another location close to where I live.
I am done. I admit that I did not represent "transgenderdom" very well the other day but you just have to put yourself in my shoes. For you out there that understands what being transgendered is all about, you know that my life is tough enough already without people being less than honest with me. I just came there wanting to have some fun, meet some people, share some ideas, etc. It just wasn't going to happen. I am glad that I left.

Mysterion said...
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Anonymous said...

"There are some people out there reading this that will say "what a WUSSY", but they are not 59 years old, on high dosage estrogen, diabetic, new to the Zen scene , and expecting to have a sex change surgery in about a year."

Damn! If I had known Mysterion would be there, I'd called in sick and made it to the retreat.

Brad, I hope all the gals at Warren Wilson College, with armpit hair, didn't scare you. A couple of 'em used to give me a hard time for butchering meat at a popular Asheville grocery store.


- Phil

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


I'm afraid that earlier long comment by Anonymous really nailed you. I like your books, and your blog, but he's right; you shouldn't trash other traditions, especially when you know nothing about them. It's childish. A lot of your reactions to criticism are childish.

And I was quite moved by Patricia's comment. Unfortunately, though, retreats are in silence, and need to be. They should have told you that.

zen girl said...

"I hope all the gals at Warren Wilson College, with armpit hair, didn't scare you."

Philbob, they obviously scare you.

Patricia, thanks for adding your comments. I think hosts of Zen retreats should give really specific descriptions of what goes on at them. The term "retreat" can be misleading for someone new to Zen. It happened to me on my first one. Zen lesson #1 for me: Nothing is ever what we expect it to be. I stuck it out in my case (though it was not "fun" in the commonly accepted sense), but no one is a wuss for leaving if a sesshin not the thing for you at this time in your practice.

The whole "transvestite" thing on Brad's part clearly relates to his (imo, of course) apparent weirdness regarding sex / sexuality generally. The "butt-buddy" flap last year was another one of these moments.

And hey, while I'm on ths sex subject, I don't see anything wrong with his column being on a porn site... but at times he goes so far as to imply that Zen and porn are somehow compatible. I have a problem with this. Zen (ideally at least) = less suffering via less craving/desire. Porn = making lots of money by creating and perpetuating endlessly unfulfilled desire. I'm not saying porn is wrong, but I don't know that it is really a productive addition to anyone's zazen practice. He himself says in SD&SU that one result of Zen practice is lessened desire. Where does porn fit into this scenario? I fail to see it.

Like Patricia, I will continue to read Brad's observations about Zen practice because, in a lot of cases, they seem to jive with my own personal experience of Zen. However, the disrespectful "titties" references, and the thinly veiled jab at what he presumed to be Patricia's gender identity, the lack of criticism of Nina Hartley's (again, imo - feel free to disagree) problematic statements regarding Zen - I don't know, because of his affection for her because he whacked off to her in the 80s?, the butt-buddy thing as a gay-based insult... all these things point to a certain 15-year-old boyish, locker-room immaturity with regard to sex and sexuality.

Sure, this qualifies as "expectations" on my part, but I would prefer it if he'd just talk about Zen and zazen and ways to approach one's practice (without insulting someone else's when he admittedly knows nothing about it), and leave the sex stuff and the derisive comments out of his writing.

But then, judging from many of the comments on here (Philbob!), this is a forum for Duddhists anyway, so I'm sure they love to read about titties with their Zen. Cause otherwise Zen would be boring, right??

Jinzang said...

In my experience,if you ask a Zen Buddhist why Zen is the best tradition you'll get an answer like, "It cuts to the heart of what Buddhism is without all the inessential, extra stuff." If you ask a Tibetan Buddhist the same question, they'll say, "It has such a wide variety of practices. There's something to suit everyone." Two completely different standards. Who would have thought it? People have different standards and opinions!

I agree with Brad that you shouldn't mix traditions or teach a practice that you don't have any accomplishment in. But I haven't seen much of this in Buddhist circles, just the local Catholic Zen group. Brad says it's common, so things must be different in Lotus Land.

Kahleida said...

I must say it is really interesting reading other people's experience of the retreat. It's almost like we were at two different places.

My own personal experience was that Souther Dharma represented themselves accordingly, at least from what I read on their webpage before signing up. The website states that the center is isolated, secluded and forested. It also states that silence is an underlying thread. They also provided pictures that I think accurately showed what the place looks like.
About the gravel road, the website states that, " The last mile of the road can be a challenge if one is intimidated by a gravel, one-lane mountain road with a steep drop-off on one side. Although the road is well maintained, has no ruts, is safe, and sufficiently wide enough for one lane, participants who would rather not drive on such a road may want to call the Southern Dharma office (828-622-7112) to arrange for pick-up by the staff at the bottom of the mountain."

I drove there myself in a basic rental car, and had very little problems getting up the hill or out of the parking lot.

As for being informed that the place was "infested", that was not the word I remember being used. And I don't think it is at all absurd that one should be warned about ticks or yellow-jackets when staying somewhere that is in the middle of the woods. Heck I find ticks in my house just from walking my dogs and I live in a city.

I'm not trying to argue with Patricia on this matter. I'm simply wanting to provide another viewpoint. Personally I loved the fact that it was remote, out in the woods, and found the scenery to be beautiful.

Anonymous said...

"Philbob, they obviously scare you."

Dearest Zen-girl, I'm so open-minded, that the sky sits below me.


The dropping of the "SELF" is the same as the dropping off of the "POLITICALLY CORRECT".

I love you Zen-girl
(and even Mysterion too)

- Phil

mysteriondan said...

"I hope all the gals at Warren Wilson College, with armpit hair, didn't scare you"

Wow.. That really is French broad country..

Anonymous said...

News for any who happened upon Zen
after a long, strange trip:

Albert Hofmann is dead.

coop said...

I have also started to think that Brad may never measure up to that ideal zen buddhist teacher personality I had in mind for him. He just reveals too much of what he really thinks. It's just too easy to see he's almost as big an a-hole as I am..

mother earth said...

I always thought western Zen practice was for guys who had a problem with the size of their penis and weren't getting laid.


The Pantom Mullet said...

So what?

As a guy, I can attest that we men are pretty much focused on two things. (1) our penises. (2) how often we're getting laid.

zen girl said...

Yes, Mother Earth, western Zen can be much like a Western. There do seem to be a lot of Zen cowboys around who wanna be the biggest, baddest, roughest, toughest, meditatin'-est, lotus-sittin'-est Dharma transmitted-est hombre in these parts.

As Coop rightly points out, teachers aren't perfect and don't always embody their teachings perfectly and can be a-holes like the rest of us. Luckily, imperfection on the part of the messenger has no bearing on the validity of Zen practice itself.

HezB said...

Insight at last!!!!

About three feet ago Namu Amida Butsu said...

"This being so, there certainly seems to be place for a variety of tools."

Yes, Internet Buddhism certainly seems to accomodate a whole lot of diverse tools. Good luck and safe passage to Patricia in having hers removed... it may strike out on its own and become a Zen master.



Ryan said...

instead of he/she or her/his, ypi could use gender neutral terms like "they" or "their" (both when describing transgender folks or priests).

Mountaintop Rebel said...

"In fact, I think his fiercest condemnations are saved for people in the Zen camp."

Well, all I've seen is him making excuses for why the Zen establishment did anything and trying to downplay it as much as possible.

Mysterion, oh, wow, you've convinced me. See, since there are Buddhist teachings against authority, Zen could never have been used in an authoritarian manner. Also, Christianity has never caused a war because Christ was peaceful and Islam has never caused a war because it's the religion of peace. What rigorous logic!

"Luckily, imperfection on the part of the messenger has no bearing on the validity of Zen practice itself."

But Brad says you can't separate a teacher from his teachings. Oh wait, silly me, that probably only applies to teachers he doesn't like.

zen girl said...

"Luckily, imperfection on the part of the messenger has no bearing on the validity of Zen practice itself."

I just meant that one's own experience with Zen practice is one's own experience. Yes, ideally, teachers should embody the teachings as much as possible. And based on my experience and my dealings with other teachers/teachings, Brad is not necessarily the perfect representative of all things Zen (nor is anybody else for that matter). All he or anybody else can do is offer one perspective.

Zen (again, my experience of it - maybe yours is different) is my own ass on the cushion, recognizing my crazy brain trying to hang onto whatever goofy ideas it has, my aching knees, and my occasional moments of shikantaza. No teaching in the world can make that happen. All Brad or anybody else can do is point and say, here, sit, and here's what might happen (or not happen) if you do. Everything else is just talk - or typing as the case may be.

All I mean is, I'm over all the trash-talk and the titty references. That seems extraneous in a column that's (I thought?) supposed to be about encouraging others in their Zen practice.

Blake said...

I like the titty comments. I mean, it shows that you don't have to act like you are on thorazine if you wish to practice. And it shows that you can look at some titties, say, "My body likes them titties," and go about your day. Why make yourself dislike something you don't? As long as I don't cause any harm, what's the harm?

I was just picturing someone coming in to my office, asking me a question about their assignment and me, just staring at them, in utter blissfullness.

LA-LA-LA! I'm so zen!

seeking said...

the fact that the individual was a transvestite really had no added value to your observation did it?

zen girl said...

I don't recall suggesting that anyone should stop liking women's breasts. Hey, I have a set. If people like them, great. I like them. I've also been known to appreciate those belonging to other ladies. Of course people can be human and practice. That's what practice is about, after all, right?

You just don't have to be locker-room immature about it on a blog that's supposed to represent Zen to a wide range of people. ... and I know Brad is capable of better. His discussion of sex in SD&SU is very human and indeed fun, but in a mature way that doesn't undercut what he's trying to say.

Joe said...

I don't usually finding myself posting comments to these blogs but I did want to toss my two cents worth into the jar as well.

I do think the place was beautifully secluded and really wasn't too hard to get to, although the person I rode up with did comment that she was glad we were in my sedan and not in an SUV and I was thinking an SUV would've been a lot better. Guess it just depends on how comfortable you are on those roads.

I felt like the SDRC also had some of the best vegan/vegatarian food that I've ever had and am definitely recommending it to others. I will also have to agree that the website for SDRC was pretty adequate in their account for their surroundings and anyone who's spent any time at all in the mountains knows full well that the wildlife the hosts mentioned were extremely common to the area. They were doing as anyone would to just give a heads up about stuff. In regards to the portion control issues, I was actually surprised by it or maybe it doesn't happen often there, but there was more than ample food for everyone. Heck, they even had a meal comprised of the leftovers on the last day which was still really good and plenty of even that was left afterwards I believe.

In regards to the pan-Buddhism comments, it really shouldn't bother anyone that Brad teaches what he loves and doesn't touch much on the others. He's found what he's happy with so why can't he have his opinion. I believe, if I recall correctly, Brad actually said he didn't "know dip" about Vipsanna, and maybe the little knowledge he has could've been wrong. Big deal, like no one has ever been given wrong information before. If he is wrong, I don't think (at least I'd like to not think) Brad would really have a problem being corrected. He's not the only person around who's naive about some things and I don't think he needs to be knowledgable about everything. You don't attend college and have the same professor for anatomy as you do for advanced underwater basket weaving, and you would never expect to. You expect a teacher to know what he knows and relay his knowledge to those who are willing to listen. No one ever said a teacher has to know everything he needs to know about a variety of subjects and I'd be highly surprised if Brad doesn't learn things as we do on a pretty regular basis.

Patricia, I realize I may not know exactly what it is like for you on your path to becoming more in touch with who you are, but I'm not really a stranger to the issues people encounter with transgender-ism. One of my very best friends in the entire world is going through a similar thing (FTM) and I was the first person that he told roughly ten years ago. My philosophy is one that I think is at the very core of Zen and Buddhism in general -- do what makes you happy. The one thing that I was and probably always will be attracted to with Buddhism is our tolerance of others and our acceptance of everyone for their own choices in the world. You are (as I am) traveling your own path to finding peace with everything and we are truly no different. I'm sort of surprised that Brad didn't know how to react as he's evidently traveled the world some (including trips to SF), but maybe he wasn't expecting it and it just caught him off guard (like no one's ever been caught off guard before). I really wish I had the chance to talk to you and that you hadn't left. But that was the choice you made and I respect that.

In Metta,

regrock said...

"Why would anyone teach a style of Buddhism they were not convinced was the best one? Who would bother listening to such a teacher? Not me."

You don't understand, do you?

I am not convinced of anything, and I don't think that it is needed for Buddhist practice.

Many ideas inspire us, and we feel more connected to some ideas. Preference is normal but I don't see the point of being radical about my choice. I might have been different for sure.

Self-inquiry starts with doubt, lives trough doubt, and ends in uncertainty. To really accept that is what some call "faith".

We just don't know...

Anonymous said...

"Self-inquiry starts with doubt, lives trough doubt, and ends in uncertainty."

Amazing that anyone would have to point this out to someone that once called himself Doubtboy. I guess his version goes; "and ends in unquestioning, sectarian, narrow-minded dogma." I like Seung Sahn's way better; 'Always keep don't-koow' mind'.

Rich said...

Yes, only go straight, keep don't know mind.

This blog is not so much about Brad's teaching but as a place where people interested in or practicing Buddhism express their likes and dislikes and then usually end up defending their positions. What I would like to hear is more expressions of real experience.

The Doubtboy (in all of us) needs to tell people what the intellect has such a big problem accepting - don't know mind is enough. I do appreciate being able to express here anything, and not get deleted.

Colorless white teacher learns endlessly said...

What is this, a bitch fest? It's a bitch-fest. How does it like being a bitch-fest, bitch-fest?

Patricia D. said...

If you re-read my comment, I said that I had a problem with the parking lot and not the road itself. There was no weight in the back of my pickup and I could not get any traction in the parking lot. Mike Campbell even got behind the wheel and tried and he could not get up his own parking lot in my pickup. A car has enough weight in the rear to negotiate the lot.
As for the road leading to SDRC, it was not bad at all. We have worse right here where I live. I think, in the best of situations, if I could have called in earlier and gotten a private room, thing may have worked out better..maybe.
I did not want to stay in either of the dorms because of the obvious problems that would have cropped up due to my transgendered status.
I am not trying to be argumentative with you either as I like you already because you are a seeker just as I am and we are all the same. I do hope I run into you at some future event and we can get to know each other better.

berto said...

Well, it is ok. Do you have more photos of your equipments.. i have visited the site komatpillar.com it sells a lot of used machineries and heavy equipment. Iam still searching on the internet who sells machineries with the Caterpillar brand.