Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I put three more videos up on YouTube yesterday for those of you who like that sort of thing.

This is from the band I was in when I first moved to Japan in 1993-94. "Like A Virgin" was one of our most fun songs to play. I brought the song to the group and made up the arrangement. It's not really complex. But it was a challenge to turn a disco number into something that could be played on acoustic guitars. The theme of My Niece's Foot was to be an unplugged rock band and not in any way a folk group even though we didn't have electric instruments or drums. The group was (from left to right on this video) me on bass, Emily Iarocci (vocals), Sam Flemming (guitar), Nick Wilding (guitar, violin). I don't think Sam and Nick ever really liked the banter Emily and I did on stage that much. Originally it had been their band and Emily and I joined and sorta changed things. They got used to it.

From our reunion show in Monterey, California in 1997, this is one of Sam Flemming's songs and I think it's really good and extremely commercial. If Pearl Jam or someone like that had done this song it'd have been all over Top 40 radio. If some guy on American Idol or one of those things did it now it would be a huge smash. Anyone who wants to cover it, write me and I'll give you Sam's contact info. Maybe he'll cut me in on the royalties when it's a number one.

Here is another Dimentia 13 song from the Friday Club in Chicago in 1988. Oh the hair! Oh the boots! This is from the second Dimentia 13 LP, "Mirror Mind". At the time I thought this was a hit single. Maybe it would have been in 1966 with somebody else singing. But it was 22 years too late and several semitones too off-key. That's my real hair, but I didn't normally douse it with that much cheap hairspray.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I'm here in Gulf Shores, Alabama with my nice niece Skylar (age 12) who has asked me to let her post a special message from her on this blog. So here's SKYLAR!!! (check out Skylar's Blog too!)

hey people,
its me Skylar im BACK! you probablly remember my interview in 2007. well its almost 2009 now and so we should have a hilarious new video up soon. ok so i went to Kentwood Louisiana because im A HUGE Britney Spears fan. and i got her autograph how cool is that! anyway i hope all of you are having a fun fall break and send me a lot of fan mail because i want to be a moviestar tell everyone you know about me HA HA! you can e-mail me by sending an email to brad and he will forward it to me. but if your going to be mean i dont want to hear from you. also if you've seen or heard Britney's new song womanizer you know its the best song in history. if you havent yet LOOK IT UP! (unless your mindless)
Skylar (i like bananas)

Monday, October 20, 2008

NEW SUICIDE GIRLS ARTICLE (Rock-tober 20,2008)

I got a new article up on Suicide Girls.

I'm out in Gulf Shores, Alabam-y now visiting with my dad and my sister and her family. I saw a church out here with a sign out front that said, "Aren't you glad your mother was pro-life?" I guess they don't get too many morose people passing by who feel otherwise. You don't see slogans like that in front of churches in Los Angeles.

And in case the Suicide Girls piece isn't exciting enough for you on a Monday morning, here is a piece of avant garde music I made when I was about 16 or 17. It's called:


It actually had a bunch of different titles over the years. Originally this was just a fairly non-descript recording of a pretty lame pop song I made up. I used to overdub by recording my guitar with an el cheap-o cassette deck then moving the recorded cassette into another el cheap-o cassette deck. Then I'd play back the stuff I'd recorded while simultaneously playing something else and recording the results with the first cassette deck.

Anyway this was originally one of those. But the tape got eaten by the machine. After I carefully removed the masses of chewed up tape from the machine and stuffed them back into the cassette I played it back. The tape had gotten turned around backwards and sounded very cool. So I took that tape and recorded it onto my dad's open reel recorder, which had this button that said "sound on sound." If you pushed that button while you were recording you got this weird echo on everything. I don't know if that's what the button was supposed to do. But that's what it did.

So I did that and then I sped up the tape. The results are what you hear on the MP3 I linked to. This is all that remains of what used to be about 20 minutes of this stuff. At one point I dubbed the most interesting bits onto a tape for some friends. I found that tape about a month ago. The original is long since lost, alas. I know you'd have wanted to hear all twenty minutes!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I keep forgetting to post this.

Peter Rocca kindly posted all the talks I gave at the recent Dogen Sangha retreat on his blog, The Stupid Way. He's a fellow dharma heir of Gudo Nishijima and his blog is really good.

Now back to whatever you were doing...

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I tried to show this video to the folks that came to the Hill Street Center last weekend. But it didn't work.

This promo concentrates on the sexual stuff. But there's a whole lot more than that going on. And, really, the sex stuff is not even the most interesting or scary aspect as far as I'm concerned. You can find the entire program at the following links:

Part 1

Part 2

I doubt these links will be there for long since I don't think National Geographic authorized them.

The matter of what is and what is not a cult is something that has bugged me for a very long time and will probably continue to bug me for the rest of my life. It's a very key matter to me because of how close I came to joining a very dangerous cult when I was a young spiritual seeker. I've recounted that story so many times regular readers can probably regurgitate it on cue. I even referenced it in the post just below this one. The full story is in my first book Hardcore Zen (follow the link to your left to check it out).

My friend Nina showed me this program a few days ago and my immediate response was to want to burn my kesa and transmission papers, cancel all further classes at Hill Street Center and renounce my status as a monk. I later decided that would be a bit too drastic. But for a good few hours I was thinking hard about it. Especially since people are starting to ask me about doing precepts ceremonies, in which I'm supposed to give them new fake "spiritual names" just like Michael Travesser did with his culties. This kind of thing fills me with a lot of worry.

When I look at a show like this I don't think, "Gosh, look at those weirdos over there. I'm sure glad I'm not like those people!" or even, "Look at that scumbag cult leader. Jeepers, I'm sure glad I'm not like that!" No. I look at these people and I can only see myself on both sides of the equation. It's important, I think, never to see yourself as above or immune to this kind of behavior.

One real important point that often gets lost in examinations of cult behavior is the responsibility of the members of the cult. It's very easy to point fingers at the leader and say he's a sleezebag. But this stuff doesn't just flow in one direction. In order for a cult leader to have power, someone's got to give it to him. It's amazing how willing people are to give up their own power. I've even had people try to give up their power to me -- of all people. Could you find anyone more likely to abuse such power? A good Buddhist teacher will always hand your power right back to you. If you find one who accepts your power, please run away as fast as you can.

Having said that, I have to also say that there are situations where a certain degree of reasonable exchange of power needs to take place. If you live in a monastery or any other form of communal living situation, for example, you need to defer a bit of power to the group and its leadership in order to have things run smoothly. You have to take your shoes off before you step into the zendo, no matter how much you love your brand new Docs. You gotta turn clockwise on your cushion even if you feel deep down in your heart that you just have to turn counter-clockwise.

Everybody talks about the so-called militarism of Japanese Zen. And a bit (not a lot) of that does exist. But because this charge has been leveled so often it's become a cliche, there's a tendency for some people to see everything that happens at a Japanese style Zen monastery or temple as an example of militarism. "Oh my God! They all eat at the same time! So does the army! It's MILITARISM!!" Personally I've never encountered anything I'd call militarism from my teachers or indeed from any teacher or temple I've visited.

At any rate, cults usually work things out so you give up a certain degree of reasonable power at first and only later on are you asked to surrender things that are unreasonable. Clearly giving your wife or daughter to "consummate" with a cult leader who claims to be the Son of God is completely unreasonable, as is being the one who willingly "consummates" with the leader. But we can surmise that this is not how things began. It took a long process to get there.

I can even imagine how it worked from leader Michael Travesser's side. Through a process of skillfully manipulating his thoughts he's convinced himself that he is the Son of God. Yet he finds he wants to get it on with the wives of certain of his parishioners as well as their daughters. This is normal for any human male. I will vouch for that! But the Son of God is not any human male. The Son of God would never have such thoughts, since the Son of God's thoughts are all pure. So Michael has a dilemma. He needs to justify how he can have these thoughts and yet still be the Son of God. If he can't he's got to admit he's not the Son of God. There's a lot riding on this. So he manipulates his thought process again to create a justification for his lust that allows it to be pure. Then he needs to get support for his ideas from the people around him, since their support would legitimize his thinking. He uses the same justifications with them as he has used successfully with himself and voila!

What makes this even worse is that because he believes he's the Son of God and not an ordinary man, he feels he cannot just fantasize about his conquests like a normal guy who lusts after women he shouldn't touch might. He has given his thoughts tremendous power. He feels that he must act upon them. These thoughts aren't just ordinary thoughts. They are the thoughts of the Son of God.

ANYWAY. It's difficult to say exactly where things cross the line from activities and attitudes that constitute legitimate and reasonable giving up of power into the land of cult-like behavior. The whole notion of surrender is highly questionable, I think. I hear that word thrown around in spiritual groups all the time and it always gives me the shivers. As they said in Galaxy Quest, "Never give up! Never surrender!"

Watching this stuff serves to remind me that we can justify absolutely anything with thought. There are no limits. It is vital to understand this. You, and I do mean you, can make anything at all sound reasonable if you twist your brain in just the right way. And yet all of us have a much deeper sense of what is and is not right behavior. This sense is not a matter of thought at all.

This is the sense that will tell you whether what you're dealing with is a cult or not. It's true that all of our major religions, including Buddhism, could have been defined as cults in their early days. It's also true that there are cults based around all of the legitimate religions. Much of any religion's history from its beginnings as a cult to its emergence as a legitimate religion is a process of stripping away its cult-like qualities.

Whatever. I don't have the final answer on this. It's just something I thought was important to share. I'd like to believe Buddhism is immune to cult-dom. But I've seen enough to prove conclusively that it's not. Or maybe I should put that another way. It's possible for a cult to use the phraseology of Buddhism and to call itself "Buddhist." But culty "Buddhism" is not Buddhism at all.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Here's a funny skit by the Upright Citizen's Brigade:

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that playing the role of the uber enlightened spiritual master is mentally and physically devastating to the people who attempt it. I've retold the story a few hundred times about the serene and tranquil spiritual master I met in my teens who turned out to have been an accessory to murder, very probably at the exact time as I was sitting starry eyed at his feet imbibing what I thought were mystic truths imparted by one who seemed clearly to have transcended the agitated and restless state of ordinary people.

The other day my publishers told me that a lawyer representing "concerned people in the Buddhist community" called them threatening legal action should my upcoming book say anything unflattering about his clients — all serene and blissful Spiritual Masters, I have to assume. His clients needn't have worried their perpetually undisturbed little minds. No Zen Masters were harmed in the making of my new book. None expect me, of course. I come off like a complete and total prick (in more ways than one -- you'll see!). Maybe I should sue!

Such nice people, these spiritual masters. So unruffled by life's troubles.


It's like these guys have to be just as nasty behind the scenes as they are bland and unperturbed in the public eye. It happens so often it's scary. Balance, it seems, will be established of its own accord no matter how we try to tip things in the direction we'd like them to go.

It's too late for these guys and probably their legal counsel too. But maybe the rest of us can learn something. Zen practice is not about trying to re-make yourself in your own image of an enlightened saint. That image is born out of your unenlightened confusion. How could it be worth achieving? No, Zen practice is about seeing yourself for what you really are and working with that. Even Jesus himself wasn't all that "Christ-like" when you met him in person. Not that I ever met him, of course, or imagine I ever will. It's just that "Christ-like-ness" is an image that has no basis in reality.

Our problem isn't that we're so unlike our image of the saints we wish we could be. Our problem is that we make the fact that we're so unlike our images into a problem.