Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I'm back from Hamburg. Eberhard Kuegler took me on a tour of the Reepabahn where we found a whole bunch of famous Beatle sites. It was the 49th anniversary of the day The Beatles played their first ever show in Hamburg at the Indra club. The Indra is still there, but was closed that day. Still I got a photo of the plaque commemorating the event. In spite of the date stamp which I can't figure out how to turn off that says every photo was taken on Oct. 1, 2003, the photo was taken on Aug. 17th.

We also visited the former site of the Star Club (now torn down), the Kaiserkeller, the church behind which the Beatles reportedly pissed because the Kaiserkeller's toilets were so foul, a pub where Paul McCartney had a tab from 1962 that he finally paid off in 1989, and an abstract statue of the late Stu Sutcliffe, the Beatles' original bassist. We looked for the Bambi Kino, where The Beatles slept and burned a condom stuck on the wall, but we couldn't find it. All this stuff is within a couple blocks.

I also discovered Pranke, the world's coolest monster movie mag! Gosh!

So I was thinking about how to describe this whole "avoid preferences" thing. I think most people, when they first hear it, think of it the way I did when I first heard it. You think, "Oh my God! I like vanilla better than chocolate! I like The Ramones better than Air Supply! I like laying on the beach better than getting hit in the face with a 2x4! What am I going to do???"

In other words you think, like I did, that preferences are a solid thing that must be gotten rid of. You imagine that there must be some kind of bizarre mental gymnastics involved in forever ridding yourself of all like and dislike so that someday when you go to Ben & Jerry's and they ask you what flavor you want you'll just smile beatifically and say, "Give me whatever you like, for lo, I am free from preferences."

But it's much more immediate and direct than that. It's also the answer to one of my most frequently asked questions -- the one that goes, "My brain is all clogged up and scattered when I do Zazen. Am I doing it wrong?"

The answer to that question is directly related with the matter of preferences. Your brain is all cloudy but you'd prefer that it not be. The difference between what you are and what you think you ought to be causes your imagination to leap wildly. You try to go from where you are to this idealized state. But it's a losing battle because the attempt to change from what you are to what you think you should be is the very problem itself.

The solution is to simply forgo preferences. Don't make any effort to be what you're not. Just allow what you are to fully manifest. Keep your posture and stay still. Sit with it. Don't go against it.


On a completely unrelated topic, since I'm going to be speaking to lots of Dogen Sangha folks on this Euro trip, I've been thinking a lot about what Dogen Sangha ought to be.

Truth be told, I'd like nothing better than to give up Dogen Sangha entirely. I am not interested in being the head of an organization at all. I don't like institutions. I don't like clubs. I am not a group joiner and I don't even have the slightest interest in being the leader of one.

I'm not really certain what Dogen Sangha should be. But I know what I don't want it to be. It can never become an institution along the lines one of those giant soul-killing religious machines. I won't name names because that just makes people mad. But there are dozens of these monsters roaming the world eating up people and turning them into mindless clones who only seek to extend the size and power of the institution.

Institutions like these develop something like a mind and will of their own. It's hard to say just how this happens. But I've been watching this work over the past few months in a couple of places and it's very, very scary. Individuals begin to bend their own will to the will of the institution and are very quickly turned into its pawns. They have no idea this is happening. They'll even claim to be going against the will of the machine while simultaneously doing exactly what it wants. Even the leaders of these institutions are powerless against their institution's will.

I want nothing at all to do with anything like that and I will walk away from Dogen Sangha if it ever begins to function in that manner. At any given moment I'm about a half second from cutting all ties with Dogen Sangha and this will probably remain the case until the day I finally get totally fed up and do so. If that becomes necessary. I hope it doesn't. I think it probably will...

The only aim of Dogen Sangha is to make Dogen's philosophy and the practice of zazen available. That's it. The organization should remain very loose, a vague affiliation of like-minded people. I'm not going to keep a roster of members or make pronouncements about what the members of the group should and should not believe or do. I don't really care, actually. I can't be bothered to spend any effort worrying about that kind of thing.

In the event someone should start doing something truly bizarre in the name of Dogen Sangha, then I might have to take some action. Until such time each local group should just carry on doing whatever it is they do.

That's all for today. Maybe I'll come up with some other stuff later.


Ethan Noah Jundo and Genpo said...

Oh, you mean Ethan, Noah, Jundo and Genpo. Maybe they are just more popular than you.

Anonymous said...

MMMMMM Hamburgers

K said...

Just dissolve the order of Dogen Sangha and tell em all that truth is a pathless land. Oh, and that you are not the world teacher.

Anonymous said...

good !!!

Justin said...

On 'no preferences' - I agree completely

On 'big institutions' - I'm not keen on them either

R said...

Ah... Hamburg. My wife and I got married in Denmark and honeymooned in Hamburg. That was back when the show Dallas was big, and there was a wall between east and west. We stayed in a nice little hotel, a little to close to the red-light district as I recall - but it made for some really interesting evening strolls.

Kathy said...

Since no one else did it, I'm claiming first.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should organize a Znorft Intergalactic Sangha and let a lieutenant run the less grand Dogen International Sangha.

Anonymous said...

SO jealous of the Godzilla T-shirt Brad, but I suppose I could use the internet to order meself one! :)
So easy to gratify one's needs these days.
Really enjoyed your take on "no preferences." I've seen "spiritual" people, some who call themselves Buddhists fabricate this blissed-out self never bothered by anything "positive" or "negative" because hey, there's no such thing after all so they drives themselves crazy with pretending nothing bugs them; in effect, they misinperpret "no preference" as meaning they can't think, feel, have emotions and try their dardist to never get mad or express any dislike because everything is "all good."


Al said...

Great post Brad!

spellbound said...

Mindless Clone sez:

"Klaatu barada nikto"

booger said...

BTW: The remake sucks snot.

Mysterion said...

His Bradness said:

"The only aim of Dogen Sangha is to make Dogen's philosophy and the practice of zazen available. That's it."

Yeah, but the others can't handle that delimitation. Some have Nixonian visions of "the office of the presidency."

"I recognize that the House Judiciary Committee has a special responsibility in this area, and I want to indicate on this occasion that I will cooperate with the Judiciary Committee in its investigation. I will cooperate so that it can conclude its investigation, make its decision, and I will cooperate in any way that I consider consistent with my responsibilities to the Office of the Presidency of the United States." SOURCE

Some of these folks honestly do not comprehend the depth of their own sicknesses.

They no more reflectively consider that any more than pigs fly.

Stephanie said...

Great post on preferences. Thanks, Brad.

I got stuck on that point some time ago, thinking it was "Buddhist-ly incorrect" that I had so many things I liked so much better than others. But then at some point I realized this was human and unavoidable, and actually an enjoyable aspect of the human experience, so I stopped worrying about it.

The only time preferences get you in trouble is when you absolutely have to have things your way or else. I suppose people's mileage varies, but life has taught me some pretty hard lessons in this department. IMO the spiritual path has been about learning that you have to be ready and able to lose and give up everything. Even the things it seems are necessary and that everyone 'should have a right to.' Life, and nature, don't discriminate or listen to your well reasoned objections. Everything means everything. I'm still learning...

Mysterion said...


Steinbeck, from the "salad bowl."

I thought this was a kind of (tongue-in-cheek) Zen moment:

The La Ida has housed the longest-running business in the neighborhood, Hemp said. "Nobody on Cannery Row has been in business as long as she has, not Ted Balestreri, not any of those guys," Hemp said. "She's been a step away from closing or from dying so many times over 50 years." And that's the karma of Cannery Row, where cannery barons made "millions on the backs of laborers making 35 cents an hour. No minimum wage, no hours, no retirement, no safety net, no nothing," he said.
"It's been a hell of a place to survive," Hemp said. "It's just been a hard, abusive street. It always has been."

Small book, easy read.

Anonymous said...

"Institutions like these develop something like a mind and will of their own. It's hard to say just how this happens. But I've been watching this work over the past few months in a couple of places and it's very, very scary."

This is called an egregore.

Anonymous said...

stay funny !

Matt said...

Hi Brad. I actually ran a fencing club in this way, sort of in response to a local guy trying to "gain territory" with his McDojo-style ways. It worked pretty well for my students: Fencing was available to them, I would coach them, and they got out of it what they put into it. It worked well. Not everyone showed up all the time, and a few really dedicated ones practiced all the time. It showed, but everyone had a real groovy cohesion because they were allowed to bring their own best qualities to the group. We hit tournaments in different parts of the country, and it was cool because we could go to a national caliber tourney or a local novice one because we had people of all stripes, and we were regarded either positively or negatively, depending on the club we were at.

The difference was almost always how institutionalized the other clubs were.

So I guess I'm saying running an organization has been done in this way with success. An Anarchist Society is not an oxymoron, in fact it's often a real good thing.


Anonymous said...

I prefer to eat a hamburger at dogen sangha.

Anonymous said...

The First Rule of Dogen Sangha is:
Do not talk about Dogen Sangha.

The Second Rule of Dogen Sangha is:

The Third Rule of Dogen Sangha is:

Anonymous said...

hamburgers, they recognize each other without question, if anyone tells you your hamburger is the sutra, pay no attention, your hamburger is the lotus sutra !

robjones said...

Mach schau, mach schau!

Anonymous said...

I'll name some names:


Probably missed a few.

Rick said...

So the secret handshakes and the colorful patches are out?

Anonymous said...

It feels like a new lie about health insurance reform crops up each day. Government taking over all health care? Not true. Euthanasia for seniors? Couldn't be more false. Rationing of care? Reform will stop rationing, not increase it.

These lies create fear and anger, and we're seeing the results around the country. Frightened crowds have flooded town halls, and the office of a Georgia representative was defaced with a swastika.

It's time to set the record straight -- and, more importantly, expose the special interests and partisan attack organizations behind the lies and misinformation.

That's why we created our new "Setting the Record Straight" site.

amanda said...

Would any of you fine folks like to share how it is that you find the discipline to sit everyday?

For me, making a zabuton and keeping it in a space that I pass frequently has helped immensely.

I have several friends who say that they want to practice zazen, but TV and other distractions lure them away from even starting.

This may just be a matter for each person to sort through on their own,but if there is something that helps you, perhaps you will be so kind as to share?


Anonymous said...

I never stop being amazed at the levels of stupidity that people are capable of reaching. In no way am i saying that my thoughts or actions are immune to such lameness, but people please read your comments before you post them and ask yourselves, is this really how I feel and WHY.

Tirso said...

Wanting to not want to lead anymore....hmmmmm ;)

Anonymous said...

Reminder: President Obama is holding a National Health Care Forum TODAY for all Organizing for America supporters.

The forum begins at 2:30 p.m. ET/1:30 p.m. CT/12:30 p.m. MT/11:30 a.m. PT and should last approximately 90 minutes.

Sign up now to participate:

This is an incredible opportunity to meet with the President, ask questions, and discuss how we're going to pass real health insurance reform this year.

Mr. Reee said...

Re: Steinbeck, Cannery Row. Steinbeck and his buddy Ed Ricketts were dharma brothers it seems. Ed in particular. He had this homegrown philosophy he called 'non-teleological thinking' that bears a resemblance to both Tao and Zen.

He was also well-read, so maybe he picked it up that way. But in his view, and Steinbeck's, there was value in not picking and choosing, and they may have seen this in the real Cannery Row. It certainly seems to have informed the book.

Anonymous said...

Hi Amanda. In response to your question regarding how some find the discipline to sit everyday. I try to set a specific time, eg. every morning at 6AM and evening at 7:30PM barring any emergencies etc. I find if I have a certain time I know I'm supposed to be sitting, I start to feel sorta "bad" if I'm not doing it. Now if my dog or one of my cats or my partner is getting sick or I'm sick etc. I don't adhere but largely, I do. That way, it is built into my routine. If there is something that absolutely needs doing at those times, I sit after or before and thereby incorporate some flexibility but I always tell myself how important it is that I sit and make it a priority.


Anonymous said...

strange brad, the two posts in the same post are very similar. The first one identifies the issue of desires leading a preference of being. Then you bring it home with a description of your own preference toward what seems to be the conceived notion of what dogen sangha is becoming and your actions if it does this. A second analogy of preferences would have clarified the information given. It however would not have been such a cool look into what you were then to describe going on in your own life. Nice.

PA said...

Re:Amanda's question.

I reckon, you start to sit regularly when you want to and are ready, as 'Zen' as that sounds.
From personal experience, that has been the case anyway. No amount of forcing myself to sit worked for ages - I'd sit off and on for years - but then going on a week's retreat it finally sunk in and now I sit daily and twice daily at the weekends and have been for almost a year now.

So I reckon, a good retreat could help form a daily sitting habit.

Rick said...

About the discipline to practice. After a while, practice takes on a quality like gravity. Things may happen that get you away form it for a little while, but there's no escaping. It always pulls you back.

sexshop said...

I absolutely match with everything you've presented us.