Friday, July 17, 2009

EGO AND HUBRIS

I received this photo from Ryan MacMicahel who writes a vegetarian themed blog called Veg Blog. It's of his daughter Rasine who spontaneously chose to pick up and read a copy of Hardcore Zen from her dad's bookshelf. Maybe she will learn to be as angry and hateful as I am! Wouldn't that be sweet?

I was reading the comments section of the last post sorta scratching my head about why this whole "Brad is so angry" business had started up again. Then I remembered that I had called Genpo Roshi a scumbag. I guess that makes people think I'm angry at him. I'm not angry at him. I just think he's a scumbag for deliberately lying to people about Zen practice in order to make himself rich, that's all. You don't need to be angry at someone to feel that way about them. Whatever.

Oh and to the commenter who thought the bird in the photo I posted last time was "about to take a shit in that girl's mouth." That's no girl in the picture, it's me! And Sunny was such a cool bird that he would not take a crap on you. He'd fly away somewhere else and do it. We never taught him that, but he somehow worked it out that we didn't like him pooping on us so he stopped.

Oh & before I begin, another reminder that the usual zazen at 10 am this Saturday July 18th at 237 Hill St. Santa Monica 90405 will happen & I'll be there. But don't park in the lot because it's being used that day for some event at the church. This will be a regular sitting not one of the all-day things. The all-day one will be on July 25th. Sunday July 19th at 11am I'll host zazen at Against The Stream, 4300 Melrose Ave LA 90029.

I've been thinking about the subject of ego lately because it keeps coming up in my writing for the new book I'm working on. When Eastern religions, including Buddhism, first started washing up on our shores the buzz on the streets said that meditation was all about giving up, transcending or sometimes even destroying the ego.

There is some truth to that. But a lot of times the word "ego" is used as a synonym for self-esteem. In fact if you look it up using the thesaurus tool on MS Word that's one of the synonyms that comes up. It's often paired with the word hubris, which means excessive pride.

In some of the interviews John Lennon gave in the early Seventies you can see that he, for one, picked up on this meaning of the word ego. So he spent a lot of time cutting himself down, destroying his self-esteem and the natural pride he felt in his work. I'm sure a lot of people did this and probably are still doing it.

This is one reason why I avoid using the word "ego" in this context. It's unhealthy to try and get rid of your self-esteem and there is no sin in pride as long as it doesn't get out of control.

Ego, in the sense that it's used in Buddhism, is not self-esteem. In fact, your ego can often be enriched even better by a negative self image than a positive one. I am worthless, I am ugly, nobody loves me. All of this just builds it up even more.

Also, in a somewhat related topic is the idea of using positive thoughts to try and combat negative ones. This never works either. Because every thought includes its opposite. White is white precisely because it's not black. "I am a good person" is what it is because it contrasts with "I am not a good person." And so on and on and on and on. It's all just more thought.

If you're absolutely drowning in negativity maybe the contrast can lift you up a little. But it's not going to hold for long. The trick is to see that none of the ways you characterize yourself are ultimately any better than any other.

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

Two can be as bad as one!

alan said...

My impression of American culture is that it is fairly uncommon for someone to call someone else a scumbag without the caller meaning it in an angry way.

So when someone uses the word scumbag, we assume that they are angry at that person.

Silly we.

Maybe if Brad put a smiley face after his "angry" words?

Like Louis CK says :

"Suck a bag of dicks. And I mean that in a nice way."

Anonymous said...

I have never posted here before, but I have read all of Brad's books, and read the blog regularly. It is interesting to me that so many of you label Brad as angry. I mean, the whole draw Brad has is that he cuts through the over-mystified crap that so many others espouse to provide a common sense, "you can do this in your own life" approach to Zen. The funny part is where so many of you take issue with the same sarcasm that makes his books and this blog interesting.

Café Zen said...

The only thing we lack is a separate self: that's the whole point of Buddhism. There's no self to begin with. As Yasutani Roshi once said, "When you hear about no-self, don't be sad. Thanks to no-self, the entire universe is self."

Adam said...

I have to agree. The term "Ego" has become a word lost in it's own definition which was forgotten long ago. Now it appears in everything spiritual, metaphyisical and religious. People are even trying to apply it and squeeze it into ancient texts where it doesn't belong. It's the spiritual buzzword of our time, and I don't think it's going away anytime soon.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Well, I've gotta disagree with Brad on this one. Bullshit like Bigmind pisses me off. So does Ken Wilber's pseudo-scientific claptrap and Eckhart Tolle's creepy narcissism. These jokers are selling the spiritual equivalent of carbon monoxide, which not only isn't oxygen - but it tricks your red blood cells into thinking it is better than oxygen. And so you suffocates - even though there is still plenty of oxygen. Why shouldn't that make me mad?

Al said...

It seems strange to me that so many people who read this blog attack Brad for being "Angry." Actually, it is strange that anyone who seems hell bent on attacking Brad every time he criticizes someone else would even waste the moments of their life reading this blog.

I feel justified in wasting my time reading this blog. Brad's "anger" and irreverence are the vessel through which I came to Buddhism. I'm sure his writing has inadvertently helped the lives of many others as well.

You can't attack an angry person without being angry yourself.

doug rogers said...

This article on Enlightenment Therapy from the NyTimes site also speaks to this.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/26/magazine/26zen-t.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

"… Because being alone
Has penetrated the bone,
I have misplaced the meaning
of pleasure; displaced
the measure of its loss.
Because being lost
has become my treasure,
daily I grow more flagrant
in my courtship of vagrant nowhere …"

"In fact, your ego can often be enriched even better by a negative self image than a positive one. I am worthless, I am ugly, nobody loves me. All of this just builds it up even more."

All in all this is a difficult place to overcome.

Anonymous said...

Some of you could give Brad a literal, physical blowjob and it would be more dignified than your comments.

amanda said...

oooh! pick me!

Jinzang said...

If we could start arguing about what Brad said, and not whether he was angry when he said it, that would be a big improvement.

Jinzang said...

Deliberately not thinking negative thoughts is not as effective as seeing the irrelevance of all such thoughts, but until you can see that, it will help, and has been recommended by the Buddha in the sutras.

Anonymous said...

You do kinda look like a girl.

BuddhaFrog said...

Brad worte:

Sunny was such a cool bird that he would not take a crap on you. ... he somehow worked it out that we didn't like him pooping on us so he stopped

Smarter than a lot of people.

Mumon said...

I just think he's a scumbag for deliberately lying to people about Zen practice in order to make himself rich, that's all.

I wouldn't use a construction like that.

I agree with your basic point about "Big Mind" of course. But there could be myriad reasons besides lying to make himself rich that he spouts what he spouts.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

"literal, physical blowjob"

I don't think I've ever seen that combination of words before. Interesting. A "literal physical" blowjob sounds a lot better than a metaphysical blowjob. Or figurative, immaterial blowjob.

Mysterion said...

Freud, although 'faking' some of his lab work, reinvented Ego.

Ego = I

From ego (Latin, "I") you grasp the meanings of egocentric, egomaniac, egoist, egotist, and alter ego.

Our distorted perception of "I" (self) leads to sources of endless comedy for others. If you have an Ego, a self, an "I," then:

You are what you are
and NOT what you think,

To a blind horse a smile
is as good as a wink.


From a distance, I am nothing to you - or a blind horse. The blind horse has no reason to acknowledge that I exist - unless I feed him a nice carrot every time I pass by. Then I become the carrot bearer.

From a distance, Brad is nothing to you - or a blind horse. The blind horse has no reason to acknowledge Brad - unless Brad feed him a nice carrot every time he passes by. Then Brad becomes another carrot bearer.

Except Brad comes bearing three books. And if they do not suit your taste, go search out a book that does. However, beyond being a bearer of books, Brad is a huxter of Zazen to a younger - post baby boomer - generation. For that, I appreciate him. Do I care if he happened to repeat the "shoes outside the door" scene at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center?

Actually, I found it 'cute.' It brought a bit of a smile to my face - an understanding of what it must be like to mot just live day-to-day, but to live day-to-day with a sword of Damocles.

Whatever.

Mysterion said...

an understanding of what it must be like to >mot< not just live day-to-day, but to live day-to-day with a sword of Damocles.

oops.

stuff happens

Anonymous said...

i heart ego waffles!

barry

amanda said...

lego my ego!

cute.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes Brad does seem angry. But I think that the people calling him out on this perceived anger are worrying about the wrong person.

Klifford T. Kapus DDS, MSD said...

The word "ego" in common parlance has come to mean ego-centric or self aggrandizing. Ego = Egotistical for most people.
Frued first brought "ego" into psychological parlance and conveyed its meaning as being the bridge between the "superego" (which is the self-imposed sense of morality and proper social behavior) and the "Id" which was the representation of base, instintual urges (fight, eat and reproduce...)
James Austin in "Zen and the Brain" gives an interesting explanation of the Buddhist take on "ego" in that he suggests the goal of Zen practice is to actually enhance it! In this he means to increase awareness of the part of the consciousness that mitigates the balance between self-control and spontaneity (the Freudian implication). I think this is an interesting perspective. While the long term practice of zazen should ultimately help reduce the selfish "I/me/mine" part of the brain, it can also enhance the balance between base impulse and self-imposed control (a nod to Nishijima Roshi's ingenious hypothesis).
To put it in simpler terms: Zen practice can help you be less of a selfish prick without destorying your sense of identity!
-K2

Klifford T. Kapus DDS, MSD said...

Er.... "Destroying"

(Unfortunately Zen practice seems to have no influence on your ability to spell or type...)

Mysterion said...

Blogger Klifford said...
"(Unfortunately Zen practice seems to have no influence on your ability to spell or type...)"

I wonder... As I really got into Zazen, I no longer obsessed over correct spelling (or usage as far as that goes). The Etymology of words is entomology (it bugs me).

If spelling checker substitutes the WRONG word, I'll leave it as a minor challenge for those foolish enough to even read what I am writing. This is only exercise to stave off Phalangeal atrophy.

A very rough approximation of spoken language is often close enough. My students have learned to take notes because - in mid sentence I will key on an obtuse concept and chase it far afield. Then, five or ten minutes later I will ask them what I started to respond to in the first place - so that we can finish that initial discussion. Sometimes we never do.

That is Zen. Time, whatever that is and thought, whatever that is and experience, whatever that is.

Ask the blind horse, I certainly do not know.

Sean said...

This reader is delighted to see so much as the title, and as I see this is on an entry in Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen blog - and wow! To respond, directly: Even before you take the discussion, rhetorically, to the subject you identify in the title of the work, I have an impression that you're already making, to the reader, an enlightening view on the matter.

Not as if we could take implication so much to the stuff of rhetorical response, but this is how I feel about it, at least.

To quote! No less, and while furthermore extemporaneously retaining your emphasis:

I am worthless, I am ugly, nobody loves me.


That indeed! and that I can respond as so, and be certain that the author is not hurt with any secondary echo after the response.

I have not been the active, vocal proponent of my own views of Buddhism, such that the Internet might be said -- by anyone else, perhaps -- said to seem as if it was suggesting that one should just jump up and be. I am sometimes a student of older Buddhist texts, and I sometimes have an abrasive tone, to what I say. Such is me. Inasmuch as me is. or would seem to be. Or would seem to me to be. Or would be made by me to be, in what interference I might just try to make about the way things go. or seem to go. or are supposed to go. or are made to go, then do really go.

Whether priding oneself or insulting oneself, as in "I am beautiful" or "I am worthless", it is like talking to a reflection in the mirror, then clothed with smoke and dust. So! It is not the mirror. It is not the hand that holds the mirror. but it would so affect the person with that hand holding that mirror.


To address a concern I have run into, previously, then: I cannot allow myself to fall mute because of it, but so much of communication is like talking to such garbed-up reflections in other people's mirrors, then. It, I think, is unnerving, to say the least about it. Speaking, of course, in the general case: To walk around in your reflection, and decorate your reflection, and send your reflection into a fight with another's reflection? whether or not the one returns the blow. Why!?

If there is ignorance that leads to it, I do not know why I cannot leave it at that, but I cannot, not even rhetorically.

So, this mirror and her reflection, and the hand of the guy who holds this mirror. Already, I don't polish this mirror. I do like to shine it around, sometimes, but even in that, I try to keep the significance of it -- which is only a significance to myself, truly, even if anyone plays along -- I try to keep it to myself. so I've been doing, anyway

(ominous pause)

The reflection in the mirror is as transparent as the surface of the mirror, before its shiny visually reflective skin.

I just be, and that's enough for me. While I be, though, it's been fun to be here, ego being brought up, in discussion (for once in all recent history of humanity!) as well as that -- even in so far as ego is taken to, in real human behavior -- it is not irrelevant to self, nor irrelevant to identity of self.

honesuckle anyway.

PS Dresden Dolls rock

Sean said...

To clarify my comment, briefly: That I mention a situation of sending one's reflection in to fight with another's reflection, it is not to speak of the real substance of any altercation. Indeed, it is truly not.

PhilBob-SquareHead said...

So, are you saying these old Norman Peale books on 'the power of positive thinking', that I found on my father's dusty bookshelf, are just a load of crap?.......damn. What a waste of reading time.
I seem to wallow in negative thinking.

Anonymous said...

Klifford DDS: are those caps on your teeth? Not a good thing for a dentist to have.

Klifford T. Kapus DDS, MSD said...

All me, baby.
Floss 'em if you got 'em.

Mysterion said...

Blogger PhilBob-SquareHead said...
"...Norman Peale book 'the power of positive thinking'..."

Thinking, emotions, and behaviors intertwine very closely and each can change the others. more

"I Wish You Health and Happiness

When I talk about cognitive therapies in my classes, I mention the longstanding western concepts about the "power of positive thinking" and how those concepts parallel ideas in eastern philosophy. For example, elements of the Buddhist Eightfold Path include "right thinking" and "right speech." By thinking and saying positive thoughts about and to others, you gradually can create a positive change not only in the other person, but also in yourself." read more

It is difficult to be a serious student of psychology without delving into Buddhism.

Ga-sho-dang-so

amanda said...

M- I think of Cognitive Therapy and "positive thinking" quite differently, the former as an attempt to eliminate distortions in thought and to bring one's thinking closer to reality. When I hear the term "positive thinking" I always picture Stuart Smalley. It's just another distortion, albeit a more pleasant one.

Where do you teach?

Anonymous said...

Brad, I know you have a full plate.. But would you please consider translating Nishijima's recent blog posts into a recognizable language. Help your teacher not waste his precious time.

Zenleo said...

Al said:
"You can't attack an angry person without being angry yourself."

Fuck you Al ;)

Zenleo said...

...oh and I still think Brad is an angry little douche bag. When I say that though, I'm not angry or mean-spirited. Not at all, I'm simply saying that I think he is an angry little douche bag. So don't go around saying that I'm bitter or angry just because I stated that about Brad. Thanks much for being smart enough to know that I'm not angry.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Brad needs to look at himself and figure out why his blog attracts the angry like flies to shit. No wonder the comments here depress him, they are all directly or indirectly about his attitude. What good is twenty some years of zazen if he can't figure out any connection. Just wondering..

hockeybuddha said...

Well said Brad. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

hockeybuddha!!!

where do you skate?

this is the time of year which passes oh, so slowly.

it takes forever for summer to finish up and get to HOCKEY again

I mean, summer is ok and all for other people

to add to your ego as tire, the more you try to submerge your ego, the stronger it gets
best to just let the ego find its balanced state--the state where all forces are equalized

Sean said...

Well I think we're all walking around with mirrors in our hands, and dancing through and among our respective reflections.

If I seem to have flashed my mirror at you, then, or have tried to capture you in my mirror, but for whose is the hand that holds the mirror, who is that?

Mysterion said...

Actually calling somebody a 'scumbag' has little anger in American Culture. It's taken as an off-hand comment.

Now 'steaming sack of liquid crap' has the element of anger in it.

Mysterion said...

Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)

Huckster \Huck"ster\, n. [OE. hukstere, hukster, OD. heukster,
D. heuker; akin to D. huiken to stoop, bend, OD. huycken,
huken, G. hocken, to squat
-- the peddler being named from his stooping under the load on his back.

Mysterion said...

Blogger amanda said...
"M- ... Where do you teach?"

I first taught in 1971. I retired after June 2004. But I still teach ad hoc classes in California (Bay Area). Some classes are pro bono publico. Others, some entity (often with connections to the juvenile court system) with money calls or emails. But I may now seriously turn down these jobs so that others can work - owing to the sad state of the economy.

I think unemployment in California is now over 11.5% (and unofficially much higher).
see also

Mudo said...

Yeah, I looked at that picture again (before I read your explanation, Brad) and realized it must have been you. But I was too lazy to bother correcting or deleting my comment.

Anonymous said...

So far I have found the use of word ego, to be causing more distraction and confusion to myself than any other word. Sometimes it feels that there is intentional lying going on. Buddhists want to give impression that more you mediate more you develop morally.

In psychoanalysis, ego is the moderator between the internalized parent or police of the super-ego and the primal drives of the id, those being largely for reproduction and survival. In this sense, ego is an extremely good thing and should be cultivated consciously and without restraint. This definition has to do with the more formal psychological concept of “ego strength,” a strength that is very positive and necessary for the deep and often difficult personal growth that we all want for ourselves. One of the explicit requirements for entering intensive psychoanalysis is high ego strength, the ability to face one’s reality and dark stuff without completely freaking out. Thus, eliminating this form of ego would be a disaster.

In Buddhism, I can't find any meaningful use of the world ego. Getting rid of ego means either realizing the no-self nature of things (practice of wisdom or insight), or becoming more compassionate and less selfish (practice of morality).

I have practiced long enough to see that people can have deep first person understanding of no-self and still act selfish and be assholes. Same way there is lots of people who are genuinely compassionate and selfless, but still have no clue about the no-self.

Can you explain why teachers can't be explicit? Using the word ego usually implies that more you do zazen and more you "awaken", more compassionate and selfless your actions become. Then there seems to be huge amount of explaining away the bad behavior of good teachers. Using two words for two things, would make it easier to explain that you can't become good guy just by sitting zazen.

Tornadoes28 said...

Thank you for responding to the previous post comments. I still don't think it makes any sense for you to call Genpo a scumbag. But whatever. I liked this post very much. Very informative.

Jinzang said...

would make it easier to explain that you can't become good guy just by sitting zazen.

Teachers are still on the path, and thus still have imperfections. Practice makes it easier to be good, but you still have to act on your understanding. In many ways kensho is the beginning of practice and not the end.

Justin said...

In many ways kensho is the beginning of practice and not the end.

I'm sure Genpo Roshi would agree.

Anonymous said...

"If you're absolutely drowning in negativity maybe the contrast can lift you up a little. But it's not going to hold for long. The trick is to see that none of the ways you characterize yourself are ultimately any better than any other."

Brad: I appreciate that you've called out Genpo Roshi for commodifying the dharma in a way not too helpful. But can't you call yourself "scumbag" then as well?

Chris said...

Just wanted to add....

I have to agree with brad warner on this...Genpo Roshi is more or less a fraud. At least what he is selling is. Whether or not he actually has 30 years of sitting under his belt...meh. No idea.

But it is immediately apparent when I hear him talk that what he is selling, instant satori, that it is bullshit. "what it takes is someone who believes that you can make this change, in this case me" what change? there is no change to make! and as if believing has any special powers in and of itself.

Yeah. I agree, he's a scumbag.

Emile Sorger said...

You use the word characterize to describe the way in which we think about ourselves, I think looking at the definition we can see the way in which we delude ourselves by perceiving a character who is good/bad/sad/happy/pissed off what have you. I agree that adding more language to "combat" this is thin, it's barking up the wrong tree and only strengthening our preferences. The practice of mindfulness is used to see the thoughts in a more subtle light, revealing them as never so solid as we had imagined when in their grips.

Thanks for the post, also, thanks for pointing out that honest criticism isn't always malicious and pawning off religion for profit is a douchebag move.

Emile

Anonymous said...

So here's what I don't understand. Is it always wrong to feel angry? Isn't anger sometimes the appropriate response? And if you are angry, is it better to hide the fact that you're angry?

Because frankly, maybe I'm a beginner (and I am), but I would rather be totally authentic about it than pretend to be Ms. Perfect Zen all the time.