Thursday, December 31, 2009

HAPPY NEW YEAR and "HARDCORE ZEN TOUR: The Movie" Saturday at Hill St. Center

Happy New Year!

Hope your year is wonderful. I'm busy doing a half-assed version of 大掃除, which is pronounced "oh-so-ji"and means "big cleaning." It's something you do on New Year's in Japan. You clean up every damn thing in the house. I'm not going quite that far, but I'm doing some special cleaning tonight. Which is why this is gonna be short.

Today I finally watched Sike Sillanpää's film "Hardcore Zen Tour," a 30 minute documentary about my tour of Finland this summer. I'm really impressed. Sike followed me around almost 24/7 while I was in Finland this August filming every damned thing I did. He cut the footage into a 30 minute piece that he is trying to get exhibited in Finnish TV and elsewhere. I really love it.

For those of you who wondered, we will have our regular Zazen thing at Hill Street Center on Saturday, January 2nd starting at 10 am. The complete info on how to get there and all that is at the link over to your left that says Weekly Zazen Classes on Saturday Mornings (or just click on those very words in this very sentence).

I'm guessing we won't have a lot of people this coming Saturday. But for those of you who do show up, as a special treat I will show the movie! So be there if you wanna see it.

OK. Gotta go now.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


I am sitting in the Plaza de Armas using the free wi-fi kindly provided by the city of Queretaro, Mexico to write this message to you out there in Blogger Land. My dad, sitting right next to me and using a Windows based computer (an Acer, it seems) can't pick up the signal that I'm getting. Computers are mysterious.

The photos on this page are from the nearby Plaza Zenea, where they have very cool displays of the Garden of Eden and Hell. I mentioned this last time, but now I've got photos to prove it! You can click on the photos to see them bigger if you want, by the way.

Also in the photos you can see a little friend I picked up at a toy stall here. I am calling him Gayzilla because he is so very festive and pink. I find pink festiveness to be very gay and happy, full of light-heartedness and merriment. Of course, as my friend Leilani pointed out, he may be a she (or perhaps trans-gendered! Don't want to leave anyone out!). But that doesn't make her (zir?) any less full of light-heartedness and merriment, so the name sticks!

What can I tell you about Mexico? I don't really have anything at all to report about the Zen scene here. I don't even know if there is one. But I didn't come here for the Zen. I came here to hang out with my dad, who is down here (see first paragraph).

The Hell display is intriguing. It gets a lot more traffic than the Eden display next to it. I've noticed that the rock scene in this city seems to be very oriented towards metal, the more satanic the better. Maybe there's a connection. The city's seemingly lone record store -- called Rockland, I believe -- seems stocked mainly with metal. Though they do have a healthy selection of punk and prog rock.

I also saw some metal/punk bands playing outdoors on the town square last night. One band played Judas Priest's "Breakin' The Law" and the old Them chestnut (via The Doors, I'm guessing from the singer's Doors T-shirt) "Gloria" with lyrics in Spanish. Another band played the Pistols' version of Eddie Cochran's "Something Else," also with Spanish lyrics. Those guys had two foot tall mohawks all around. At one point I caught a whiff of something that smelled like modeling glue and realized it was coming from one of those guys' hair! My friend Mike Mohawk used to use shellac to keep his mohawk up. So maybe glue works too.

This is a very religious country. Or at least a country in which the outward displays of religious-ness are highly valued. The place we're staying is decorated with crosses everywhere you look. The taxi drivers display pictures of Jesus on their dashboard. Both the friendly guy who drove us to the local Wal Mart (ugh! not my idea!) at a normal pace and the surly guy who drove us back to town like a deranged maniac had Jesus on display.

I don't really know what to make of it all. I can't speak enough Spanish to get any sense at all of what this stuff means to anyone here. The presence of so much satanic metal imagery along side all the religious stuff gives me some kind of hint. It seems like the younger people take pleasure in flaunting their irreverence for what the priests have taught them. I wonder if they ever have religious folk protesting the metal shows the way we do up North.

All right. My dad wandered off so I better go fetch him.

See ya!

Friday, December 25, 2009



Feliz Navidad and Merry Kwanza from the city of Queretaro, Mexico. I'm down here with my dad who has been looking into places in Mexico to retire for the past 15 years or so. This is the fourth of these exploratory journeys I've made with him. The first was to Valladolid and Merida in the Yucatan, the second was to Guadalajara, and the third was to Puerto Vallarta to check out some city north of there. So even though I've been to Mexico a few times I still can't speak much Spanish beyond "donde es el bano?" and "soy vegitariano." But that's all you really need.

This time it's Christmas. That's a first for me and it's been kind of fun. Down in the town square they have a display of various Biblical events in papier mache. They have a little Garden of Eden with happy animals and Adam and Eve with big ol' fig leaves covering the naughty bits. There's also Hell, which was very cool. Much cooler than Eden, if you ask me!

Last night there was a big-ass Christmas parade with floats depicting Bible scenes. They had "El triumfo de Judith," "El sacraficio de Isaac," "El Becerrode Oro," and many more. They also had booths where you could get your picture taken with the Three Wise Men or Santa Claus.

I like Christmas. It could be all the collective effervescence as my friend Jamie says. Or maybe it's the music. I love Christmas music even more this year than I did in the past thanks to a couple of people who know who they are. Maybe it's just the lights and decorations and stuff. I have a lot of "alternative" type friends who hate Christmas seemingly just because everyone else seems to enjoy it. But I like it.

I stopped by a Catholic mass with my dad and we peeked in. Couldn't tell much of what was happening. Spanish, though, always sounds a lot more holy somehow than English. It's impossible to imagine what the rituals and whatnot mean to those who participate in them.As a kid I remember feeling a little left out when my Catholic friends, like the Kashingakis in Nairobi, used to get to do all those cool rituals and I didn't.

I think rituals are important for human beings. It seems like we need some kind of rituals to keep us happy and contented. I like the Zen way of dealing with rituals by doing them but not really believing in them. It seems like a rational solution to the problem.

OK. My dad's talking to me so I'm gonna go.

Merry Christmas to all!

(By the way I am still on the look out for a car...)

Monday, December 21, 2009


It's a long story, which I'm tired of telling. But the end of it is that I do not have a viable vehicle. And I need one starting on December 29th.

Anyone got a car they wanna get rid of?

Contact me at

Thanks! And Happy Winter Whatever!!

Friday, December 18, 2009


I recently watched most of episode one of AMC’s remake of the classic Sixties TV show The Prisoner over at my friend Nina’s house. She has cable and TiVo and I have neither. Unfortunately her TiVo thought the episode was an hour long when it was actually longer than that. So it cut off before the finish.

In any case, I wasn’t too upset. The show was good enough that I’d like to have seen the ending. But not so compelling that I can even recall now exactly where things were when the TiVo decided to stop recording.

I don’t think I could have been anything but disappointed in any remake of The Prisoner. The original show was a big part of my education as a young man. I first watched it with my first Zen teacher, Tim, on his little black and white portable TV set in his basement apartment in Kent, Ohio. Tim didn’t have cable then either (probably still doesn’t) and it was on a UHF station. So the reception was always lousy. And yet the show was so amazing that its power came through in spite of only barely being able to tell what was going on half the time.

The show was the creation of its star, the late lamented Patrick McGoohan. It was a profound meditation on the individual and his place and role in society, about personal freedom vs. one’s responsibility to one's fellow human, about the very nature of existence itself. And this was a TV show, for God’s sake! Not even some highbrow PBS thing either. It was made for commercial television, for mass audience consumption.

The problem with the remake is that the producers just don’t seem to get what The Prisoner was about. They seem to have a vague comprehension that the show was cool and mysterious. But they either don’t understand the underlying message or they don’t care. There is no burning desire here to say something heartfelt. At best, the folks who made the remake seem only to desire to make something weird. And while the original was indeed weird, it was much more than that. What we get in the remake is more like a low rent knock-off of LOST. It's certainly not the worst thing on TV. But it could have been so much better.

I suspect the problem is that while the original series was completely the brainchild of one single individual, the new one seems to have been made by a committee. Of course Patrick McGoohan didn’t make The Prisoner all by himself. He had writers, directors, actors and a whole lot of other people involved. But he did personally oversee every aspect of the show. It’s obvious that the new series has no such guiding hand. And it suffers for that, as does all art created by committee. This is also why most Hollywood movies are so incredibly bad – they are made by committee.

Good Zen teaching doesn't happen by committee any more than good art can be made by committee. This is why the Soto-shu, the organization that's supposed to represent Dogen's teachings in the modern world, can't ever hope to succeed in doing so. This is why most teachers name a single successor, not a board of directors.

Only Patrick McGoohan could make The Prisoner correctly. No one else could ever make The Prisoner the right way. They could certainly make their own show, which embodied the same attitude as The Prisoner. But they could not make The Prisoner.

Watching the remake made me think of the teachings of Buddha, Bodhidharma, Dogen, and all the rest of those guys. What’s interesting about really good teaching or really good art is that it bypasses the individual who expresses it and enters into a whole ‘nother realm. The Buddha’s teachings are not unique to the man Gautama Buddha. They are something universal that Gautama Buddha was able to express. This is why you don’t necessarily need to study what Gautama Buddha said in order to understand it.

Gautama Buddha expressed that stuff in a way that was uniquely his own, that came from his distinctive personality. So did Dogen and Bodhidharma and Gudo Nishijima and Dainin Katagiri and all the rest of them. Yet in a very real sense the greatest thing any of these guys did was develop the ability to step aside and allow the universal teaching to flow through them.

Yet that they let it flow though them is the key. They expressed this universal something in their own way. They did not immitate anyone else. They didn't do a bad remake of their teachers. They were not tribute bands. The old koan about Gutei’s finger expresses this very well.

Whenever Gutei was asked to express Buddhism he held up one finger. Guetei had a student. And whenever that student was asked about Buddhism, he imitated Gutei by holding up one finger. When Gutei heard about this he called the student to his room and asked him to say something about Buddhism. The student held up one finger. Gutei took out a knife and sliced the student’s finger off. The student was bawling his eyes out when Gutei said, “Hey kid!” The student looked up. Gutei held up one finger. At that moment the student got it.

Any truly great work of art expresses something universal that goes beyond that piece of art itself. The Prisoner expressed something essential and true. That’s why it still haunts those of us who watched it. The folks who remade the show were unable to catch on to what the show was expressing. Same with the guys who remade Godzilla. Same with almost any remake of anything. The rare cases where remakes work only occur when the people doing the remake either get what the original was about or when they use the original as a template to express something they themselves feel passionately about.

I’m not nearly old enough for anyone to start concerning themselves with whether I’ll leave a dharma heir or not. And yet a couple of people have already expressed worry about that to me. But I’ve already decided I will never name any dharma heir or successor. That would just encourage someone to do a poor remake of me, which would be truly awful. I’ve seen some poor remakes of great teachers already and they’re just as bad as AMC’s version of The Prisoner. Not that I’m a great teacher by any stretch of the imagination. Which makes it even more urgent that I leave no successors. Imagine a bad AMC remake of Petticoat Junction or That Girl or some other show like that. A dharma heir of me would be even worse.

What does that mean for my own dharma reception (reception being the other side of transmission)? I don’t know. Nishijima Roshi seems convinced I have manifested something of the attitude he received from his teachers. I can’t possibly judge if he’s correct or not. I suppose if I ever did see something like what I’ve grokked from my teachers in someone who sat with me I might be inclined to make some kind of formal recognition of that. But I think I’d probably keep it on the down low even if that happened.

Remakes suck anyway.

Monday, December 14, 2009

War Is Bad, Death Row Tull, Top 15 Books for the Holiday Season, Tiger Woods

Lots of little things this time...

First check out this link:

Elephant Journal's Top 15 Books to Give as Holiday Gifts

Yep! Elephant Journal sez to give your loved ones a little Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate for Hanukkah, Kwanza, Rohatsu or Christmas this year! They'll love you so much they'll lick you on the ears for it! Thanks Waylon!

Also, here's a little holiday gift from me to you. Can't remember if I put this up once before. But I don't think I did. Check out:

Black Sabbath by Death Row Tull

Death Row Tull was a concept for a band that never came to be. This was one of several demos I did that were intended to set out what the band was going to be like. That's me on guitar, bass and Mellotron. Bret Johnson did the drums and engineered the recording. My friend Leilani did the vocals. The idea was to have her, a five foot tall Filipino girl, front the loudest band in the world. I had her sing this as "cute" as possible (listen to the "Is this the end my friend" bit). I was real happy with the ultra-fuzzy guitar tone. Turn it up to eleven!

Couple of things in the news caught my eye. Last Friday the LA Times had a headline that said, "Some wars keep peace, Obama says." He is quoted as saying, "Part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths -- that war is sometimes necessary and war is at some level an expression of human beings."

I really liked that statement. Out here in Santa Monica it seems like every third car has a bumper sticker that says, "War is NOT the answer." But the sad fact is that those bumper stickers are not true. War is very often the best solution to complex human difficulties. That is the problem!

If you say that war is never the answer, you're just hiding from the facts. And hiding from the facts isn't going to solve anything. First start from the understanding that -- horrible as it is -- war is the answer many times, then try and figure out why that is and what can be done about it. After we come to truly understand why war works so damn well we can start to build a world where your bumper sticker is true. Wishing everyone could just join hands and sing Kumbaya won't fix a damned thing.

Too many people equate Buddhism with naive pacifism. Of course, Buddhism is all about trying to move humanity toward a more stable and peaceful situation. But it's also about facing the true facts as they are. War is bad. No doubt about it. But if you want to do something to end all war you need to acknowledge that, as things stand right now, wars are all too often necessary.

I wish war would go away too. But wishing ain't gonna cut it.

The other thing I've been looking at in the news is all this fuss about Tiger Woods. Twitter contributor Shit My Dad Says quotes his 73 year old dad saying, "I like See's candy. Put me in a See's store, I'm eating candy. The whole world is Tiger's See's store, and the candy is vagina."

The plain fact is that no matter what he did or who he fucked it's really none of our God damned business. He's a golfer, for Christ's sake! What does any of this have to do with golf?

Feh. People are so fuckin' dumb sometimes.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


Here's an audio file of my talk at Dharma Field in Minneapolis last Sunday, December 6, 2009.

12/6/09 Dharma Field

Those of you who've heard my talks before will recognize that the first 15 minutes are a variation on my standard introductory stump speech. This is the autobiographical how-I-got-into-Zen thing I do a lot. But after 15 minutes, the Q&A started and it went in some interesting directions, I think.

I went several of places this time out. I started off in Vancouver, where I did a public talk on the theme of Buddhism and sex. This was my first time doing a talk specifically about that subject. But it came off (heh-heh) pretty well, I thought. The Q&A started right in, within about ten minutes. That's the kind of talk I like. I video taped this one, so maybe when I get my new website together you'll be able to download it.

Next I led, or oversaw, or something-ed an afternoon of Zazen during which the group got treated to some kind of disco music from downstairs for about half the sitting. Then we had a break, went out to eat, and many of the same people returned to the same place to watch Tank Girl and then dance around like crazy. That was fun.

Finally I did an introduction to Zen class at a Yoga studio, which went really well, I thought. I'd like to do more of those. The Yoga folks in Vancouver seemed pretty interested in Zen. Plus, for once, the women outnumbered the men in the room. I want more women to get into Zen, and not for any pervy reason either. There really is too much testosterone in most Zendos and that needs to be rectified.

Then it was on to Victoria. Victoria is near Vancouver, but it's on an island. The island, just to be confusing, is called Vancouver Island even though Vancouver itself is not on the island. The Canadians are a curious race. Their ways are strange, and their customs confusing.

Anyway, over in Victoria I was hosted by the Victoria Zen Centre. They are part of Joshu Sasaki Roshi's lineage. Or maybe they aren't. Apparently there was a split between the folks in Victoria and the head office of Sasaki's group down here in California. But in any case, they are Rinzai style Zen. And, as you know, Brad Warner thinks that Rinzai is evil. I know this about Brad Warner because I have read it on the Internets. And they can't say anything on the Internets unless it's true. Therefore Brad Warner thinks Rinzai s evil.

But I don't think Rinzai is evil, in spite of what that Brad Warner has to say. Screw him! I really enjoyed sitting with this group. I did a Zen talk, a public talk and a one-day sitting. Because they are evil... I mean because they are Rinzai, they did 25 minute sits with fast kinhin in between. They do kinhin outside in the rain in Victoria.

Which brings up another cultural difference. The folks up there apparently don't know enough to use umbrellas when it's raining and will happily walk around uncovered in weather that would have anyone in Southern California ducking for shelter. In fact even a transplanted Ohioan like me was having difficulty adjusting. But I guess if you ran for cover every time it rained up there you'd be running for cover a whole lot.

I did a lot of dokusans with that group, cuz in the Rinzai tradition everyone at a retreat does dokusan, which they call "sanzen" because they are evil. For those of you who don't know what either one is, they are private interviews with the teacher of the retreat. In traditional Rinzai practice sanzen is where you present your understanding of the koan your teacher has assigned to you. But I didn't do any of that stuff. I just chatted with people.

After Victoria I went and visited my dad in the Dallas suburbs for Thanksgiving. My sister, her husband and her kids all were there too. Hence the videos with my nice niece Skylar that I put up a couple entries ago. Here's another one for those who haven't had enough.

Family! Oy vey and gevelt!

After that it was up to Minnesota for a public talk at Macalaster College. This was a lot of fun. Macalester is an interesting place. On the door to the room downstairs from where I gave my talk was a note advertising a "Feminism and Theater of the Oppressed Workshop for female-identified members of the Macalester Community." That kinda says it all. I like places like that and I'm glad they exist, although sometimes I have trouble understanding them.

I led a short retreat there the following day, which was fun. As always, far fewer people showed up for the Zen practice than for the talk. But then again, I did perform "Buddha Was a Good Ol' Boy" on banjo at the talk, but not at the Zen retreat.

Finally, I did a talk at Dharma Field, the place run by Steve Hagen, author of Buddhism Plain and Simple and Buddhism Is Not What You Think: Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs. That talk is linked at the top of this page if you want to hear it.

I had a very good time everywhere I went. I'll be parked in California for a little while. But I'm already working on more out of town gigs. Looks like I'll be in Houston and Austin, Texas and then at the Southern Dharma Retreat Center in Hot Springs, North Carolina in March. Also working on a gig in New York City in early April. I'll very likely be in Europe after that.

Anyone who wants me to come to their town, please write me at and I'll see what I can do!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Happy B-day, Nishijima Roshi & Macalester College Today at 4:45

Nishijima Roshi turned 90 on November 29th! The photo to your left is from the party held for him by students of Dogen Sangha in Tokyo, who meet each Saturday at Tokyo University's Young Buddhists Association. I guess 90 is pretty young! At the bottom of this post is a video made for his b-day by one of the Dogen Sangha groups in Frankfurt, Germany.

I'm in St. Paul today enjoying their double good hospitality and warmth. I sat in on a poetry reading at Macalester College last night, which was a lot of fun. Especially the poem about burgers! In just a few hours I'll be speaking at the college.

I'm kinda nervous as I always am before these talks. This will be my second talk about Buddhism and sex. It's the subject of my forthcoming book from New World Library. The book isn't due out until next Fall. But it's mostly finished at this point. Still, everything I write is a work in progress as far as I'm concerned -- even after it's already on sale in the stores.

What I've tried to do in the book is take a personal view of Buddhism and sexuality as it has developed for me. It wasn't until I started writing the book that I realized I lost my virginity and began my Zen practice at roughly the same time. So almost all of my life as a sexual being has been affected by Zen practice and Zen philosophy. Whether I am a shining example of how to reconcile the two remains to be seen. I think I'm a little better at it than a few and a lot worse than others. In short, I handle it about as well as can be expected.

But I really believe that the Buddhist approach has been invaluable in allowing me to have a pretty happy sex life without a lot of the intensity and weirdness I've seen a many of my friends deal with. Sure I've had some heartbreak. I break pretty hard when I break. I've done a few things I shouldn't have. But overall, I feel like it's been mostly really, really good -- even when it's been bad. That's probably the part where the Zen stuff helps the most. It's a way of maintaining some kind of balance even when you're freaking the fuck out.

Anyway, as usual I have no clue just what I'm gonna say to the students of Macalester. But I got a few notes written down on a little notepad in my pocket. So I can always whip that out if I completely lose track.

Hope to see you there!

All times, dates, locations and suchlike are AT THIS LINK.

And remember I'm leading a half-day sit at Macalester tomorrow (Saturday) and doing the Dharma Talk at Dharma Field in Minneapolis on Sunday. The info about those is also at the link above (or just click here, lazy-pants!).

And, and, and, as usual zazen at Hill Street Center in Santa Monica is ON this Saturday in spite of the fact I won't be there.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

JUKAI and Why I No Longer Do It...

I promised an piece about jukai, so here it is. I've written extensively about jukai in all of my books. The longest bits about it are in Hardcore Zen, in which I talk about the jukai ceremonies I went through (three of them!) and in Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate, where I talk about the jukai ceremonies I've performed.

For those who don't know, jukai is the traditional Buddhist ceremony of receiving the precepts. A person publicly vows to honor the Three Devotions, and uphold the Three Universal Precepts and the Ten Fundamental Precepts. The Three Devotions are to Buddha, Dharma (Buddhist teachings) and Sangha (Buddhist community). The Three Universal Precepts are 1) to observe social rules, 2) observe the universal rules of morality and 3) work for the salvation of all beings. The Ten Fundamental Precepts are 1) not to destroy lie 2) not to steal 3) not to have excessive desires 4) not to lie 5) not to live by selling liquor (didn't even know her) 6) not to discuss the failures of Buddhist priests and laypeople 7) not to praise oneself or berate others 8) not to begrudge the sharing of Buddhist teachings or other things but give them freely (or give them to Ace Frehley, I can never remember) 9) not to become angry and 10) not to abuse the three treasures; Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Nishijima Roshi says, "The precepts are not rules. They are the common habits of Buddhists." He likes to quote an old Buddhist saying that, "No rule is our rule." Furthermore, the Buddhist precepts apply only to yourself. They are never, ever, ever to be used as a means of judging other people's behavior. You can never say that someone else is breaking the precepts because you cannot know what the precepts mean to anyone else. You can only know what they mean to you.

People often ask me if they should take jukai themselves. The answer is always the same; I have no idea whether you should take jukai or not. If you have to ask a complete stranger, the answer may be that you're not ready. But that's about as much as I can say.

Recently a very close friend of mine took jukai at Green Gulch Zen Farm (where they farm Zen) in Northern California. For her it was a wonderful and moving ceremony. She benefited greatly from it. She took a long time deciding if she wanted to do this. She made the decision when she knew it was her own will to do this thing. Then she went straight ahead without hesitation.

I'm suspicious of teachers who encourage their students too strongly to take jukai and offer it too easily. I always wonder if it's a strategy to increase their market share. Pushing people to take jukai feels wrong. The decision to go through the ceremony has to come from the student, not the teacher.

I've decided to stop performing and officiating jukai ceremonies myself. I'm not saying I'll never do one again. But for now I am no longer offering them to anyone. I made this decision because I found that I am highly uncomfortable with the expectations that often come up from people who have taken the ceremony. I'm not interested in being anyone's "spiritual daddy," and that often seems to be what people are looking for when they ask to take the ceremony. I find that, for me, jukai tends to interfere with the kind of practice I wish to participate in. In my case, for reasons I can't quite understand, juaki tends to encourage dependence rather than independence. So I've decided to drop it. For now.

I'm not doing this as any kind of official stance as head of Dogen Sangha. Other Dogen Sangha teachers can decide for themselves if they want to perform jukai or not. I've chosen not to on my own, for my own personal reasons. Other DS teachers are encouraged to approach the matter in whatever way they are comfortable with.

So there ya go. The jukai article!

Here are the talks I gave recently in Victoria, BC:

Nov. 17th Talk
Nov. 17th Q&A
Nov. 19th Public Talk
Nov. 22nd Zazenkai Talk

Remember I'm giving talks and leading sitting practice in St. Paul and Minneapolis starting Friday. Details are AT THIS LINK.

And the Zazen at Hill Street Center will be held as usual this Saturday even though I won't be there. The meetings are much better when I'm not around, they tell me.