Tomorrow, April 13, 2009 (Mon) at 7 pm I'll be talking & signing books at Davis-Kidd bookstore 2121 Green Hills Village Dr., Nashville, TN 37215. Be there! I wanna see you too, Jack White! I know you live here!
The image attached was sent to me by Hanny van de Weert, straight out of Holland. It's from the Dutch Buddhist magazine Vorm & Leegte, "Form and Emptiness." Hanny's translation follows:
I am going to play your society reporter for a while. Because there is a Zen riot going on on the Internet. In the left corner: Dennis Genpo Merzel, American Zen teacher, writer and founder of the worldwide spread Kanzeon Sangha. In the right corner: Brad Warner, American Zen teacher, writer and punk musician. Merzel works together with spiritual superstars Ken Wilber and Eckhart Tolle. Warner publishes, nicely perversely, on the alternative soft porn site Suicide Girls.
Merzel is very busy with his Big Mind Process, a method to get a sort of spiritual breakthrough really fast. I have written about that positively in this magazine before. Since then Big Mind became really BIG, even outside the Zen environment. There is now a fine looking website where you can buy books and DVDs and where you can read enthusiastic recommendations.
Whoever gives a huge donation to the charitable corporation Big Mind Inc, can practice Big Mind intensively with Merzel in a small group .
Warner sees Big Mind as a commercial circus. And he says so in very clear language you could expect from an old punk. "Bullshit" here, "crap" there. That is scary for the western Buddhists, used as we are to softening our language. But what scared me more were the reactions to Warner. Somebody from the Big Mind Big Heart Institute responds the criticism as follows: Merzel is a Roshi, Warner ‘not yet even a Sensei’. In other words: Merzel is as a teacher of the highest rank, Warner should shut up.
Disappointing. Because it is not a question of Warner having enough Zen stripes on his sleeve to be allowed to criticize. The question is if his criticism is valid. To be honest: spiritual teachers make mistakes on a regular basis. That was the case with gurus and swamis the generation of my parents had to deal with. And that will undoubtedly be the case with some spiritual bestseller authors of today. Nobody is above criticism on beforehand.
Eckart Tolle is joining Oprah. Is that a good idea? Ken Wilber sells an Integral Life Practice Starter Kit for $199.20. Is that over the edge? Big Mind Inc asks a minimum donation for five days with Merzel of $25.000. Is it strange when people start to put question marks? I too ask myself on a regular basis where this will end. What we need now more then ever is discussion, debate, bold criticism. Our virtuous, naïve little world really needs some punk right now.
Tim Ikkyu den Heijer is text writer and zen student.
He said it, not me. (And, again, if Gempo is a "Roshi" then so am I since I have also received Dharma Transmission. But really, as Tonen O'Connor pointed out last time I said this, no one ought to call her or himself a Roshi. Other people call you that. It's not a title or a rank, it's an honorific.)
Also check out this other link on the same subject. Again, they said it, not me.
But let's get back to Nashville. The retreat was neat. I was here once before about three years ago. I think we got about seven people that time. The body count was much better this weekend. And the retreat as a whole proceeded much more smoothly.
I did lots of dokusan, private talks with participants. Several songwriters came to the retreat. It took me till about the third one before I said, "Oh yeah! This is Nashville!" A couple were hoping the practice might help them out with inspiration for their work. I think it can. It loosens a lot of the barriers to the unconscious.
I was a songwriter for many years, and still write them from time to time. When I had my band/project Dimentia 13 I was writing a song a day for a while. Most were shit. But a few were good. And a very few of those were really good. I know the process well. In order to write a good song I had to kind of space out and let them come to me. I couldn't produce them on command. I mean, I could. But those were always garbage.
Prose writing works somewhat similarly. These road reports you've been reading are sometimes a teeny bit forced. Other stuff just comes rushing out even when I don't want it to. See my new book for an example of that. That wasn't the book I wanted to write. It just barged its way in upon me and insisted to be made manifest. I'd rather have written something much more tame and far less personal.
I am in the weird position of having published a book that I'm a little embarrassed to have people read. I can't read much of it out loud, as they often expect you to at book signings, without blushing. The article that ran in Chapel Hill's paper The Independent was really great and very well timed. I'm deeply indebted to Adam Sobsey for having written it. Thank you! But at the same time, it was kind of hard to face my best friend since 7th grade, Joe, who now lives in Chapel Hill, when he read the line about two hot babes out loud to me at dinner. But ultimately it was fine. No biggie, really.
The lesson of which is, I suppose, write what needs written rather than what you want to write. It's better that way and you can handle blushing a little bit.
Back to the retreat! At the end of it, Taiun Michael Elliston of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center came by to do a jukai (precept giving) ceremony for three members of the Nashville group. That was nice. I'm not big on such ceremonies. But this one was done in a sweet, low key way without too much pretension and bally-hoo. I even enjoyed it a little.
My next Suicide Girls piece goes live at 6 AM Pacific Time tomorrow. That's a leisurely 8 AM here in the Music City. I'll post a link tomorrow morning.