Thursday, April 30, 2009

RIDING THAT TRAIN *NOT* HIGH ON COCAINE

This is my second posting from a moving train. Today's journey is taking me from Montreal through Toronto and then on to Windsor, where Vince from Still Point Zen Center in Detroit will take me across the border. Zero Defex is playing tomorrow at a place in Detroit called The Comet. We haven't played together in a year. The rest of the guys have been rehearsing without me and I've been practicing on my own. So we should be fine.

The last gig Zero Defex played in Detroit is written up in gory detail in Hardcore Zen. The main things I recall are frozen feet and carbon monoxide. There were at least three bands and assorted fellow travelers packed into an Econoline van along with a drum kit, a half dozen guitars and some amplifiers, all rolling aro0und on top of each other to make the 6 hour journey from Akron to Detroit. The van had rust holes all over the place that allowed the exhaust fumes to seep inside until all of us were woozy. I heard a story later that the Nazis designed a van quite similar to this to kill Jews even before they reached the concentration camps.

It was the dead of winter and freezing cold. I was probably in a pair of Converse High Tops. I don't know for sure. But anyway they were thin and inadequate and my feet froze up. As soon as we got into the venue -- a club known as The Freezer! -- my frozen feet started to swell up from the warmth and itched like crazy. I had to take off my shoes and let them cool back down by walking barefoot on the frigid concrete of The Freezer's floor.

Then our start time kept getting pushed later and later to accommodate Negative Approach who suddenly decided they needed to play a set even though they weren't on the bill. I hated them for years because of that. This was really bad for us because we were set to drive back to Ohio that same night and wouldn't even get on the road until something like three in the morning. We survived, though.

Hopefully tomorrow night's gig will go even better.

Now the train I'm riding is in Brockville. Don't go back to Brockville!

I had a terrific time in Montreal, which becomes more like home every time I go. Linda Dydyk and her husband Bogdan played host. I loved them both and all of their cats. They live in NDG, a very cool part of the city. Montreal is covered in graffiti. Some of it is quite good. Most of it sucks ass. But you could say the same about the other forms of advertising that decorate the buildings.

I got interviewed by the CBC twice, by CJAD once, by The Mirror and by WatchMojo.com. On the CBC I was harassed by a Hare Krishna caller who wanted to warn the audience of the dangers of the impersonal and abstract philosophy of Buddhism. I guess I asked for that cuz I said how I hadn't been very engaged in their philosophy. It's nuts, I tell ya! Actually, it's just old-time religion with a blue god who screws hot Indian babes instead of a white god who shoots lightning bolts. But their food is terrific.

The CBC interviewer mentioned local hero Leonard Cohen and the rumor that when he flies overseas he spends 13 hour plane flights seated in meditation. She asked if I did that. I told her that Leonard Cohen probably flies first class where the seats are roomy enough to do that. I always fly coach.

Wow. We just passed a field in which stood a giant turkey fanning his tail feathers. Life is good.

I talked with a lot of people. Went out with my friend Maya to see a punk rock show. Went to eat Indian food with Thibault, the guy who got me my first gig in Montreal. That was in 2005 when I spoke at Casa del Popolo. I was there again and it was fun. I did my acoustic version of "Drop the A-Bomb on Me" to end the show and opened with a solo version of "God Part III" from Dimentia 13's Flat Earth Society album (1990). In between I got a lot of good questions and did my best to answer them. The first one was, "Can Buddhists jack off?" So you know it was a very cool audience.

I met the Chinese/Japanese girl from Montreal who I wrote about in my current book and her new boyfriend. I was happy and sad at the same time. They seem very good for each other. So that's OK, he said silently holding back a single tear.

I spent hours talking to a beautiful mysterious film maker who didn't want to talk very much. She was super cool but I should have shut up. I spent more hours talking to a beautiful bubbly journalist who told me about vandalizing locker rooms and puking multicolored Gatorade puke. I like Canada.

I met a woman who writes a blog called Full Contact Enlightenment that she says trashes me. She was nice. I haven't been able to get the blog to load up yet. The wireless on this train is free but, like I said, oh so slow. I met a guy who wanted to hypnotize me, but I didn't have time. Or maybe he secretly hypnotized me while we were talking and I am now doing his bidding! I met some students at Dawson who played "Oh Darling!" from Abbey Road on guitar and asked great Zen questions.

I visited the used book stores of the city and picked up a couple of old books about sci-fi films that I didn't have. And a copy of the Battlefield Earth DVD for 4$ Canadian. Battlefield Earth is a bad movie classic that must be seen to be understood and appreciated. I bought a red hoodie with a maple leaf on the breast.

We're passing now though wheat fields, past rusted cars and cows. The train is shakier out here than it is in the city, but we're moving faster.

Whenever I give a talk, a bunch of people come up afterward to chat. And that's fine. But I think maybe from now on I'm going to go out and try to talk to people who don't line up to chat. I think they might have stuff to say as well.

All the Detroit gigs are listed on the link to your left. So if you're in town, please show up at Still Point.<<<<<<

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

NATIONAL POST ARTICLE

Take a look at this article from the Canadian National Post. When I read the opening paragraphs I was like, "Man that guy gets a lot of action! I wish I got that much!"

It's funny how things seem when you read them as opposed to when you actually live through them. It's like when John Lennon started taking heat for his statement that The Beatles were bigger than Jesus. He said something like, "When I said Beatles I wasn't really thinking of us. I was thinking of those other Beatles, the ones that get in the papers all the time." I totally get that. It really does feel that way to me these days. I have no idea who this Brad Warner person people are getting all worked up about is. He sounds like a dick to me!

I wonder if I would even like "Brad Warner" if I wasn't Brad Warner. I think I'd probably be all aloof to him. Like I wouldn't even pay attention. That's how I was when Nirvana was big. These days I realize how great they were. I probably would have realized it even then if I'd bothered to listen. But they were so huge I just felt like they already had enough listeners. Besides, my bands had done that stuff five or ten years earlier and nobody had paid attention. Granted maybe we weren't doing it quite as well. But there were no innovations in Nirvana's music that I hadn't been associated with years before. I guess I mostly hated when people acted like Nirvana had invented everything.

Wow. That was a tangent!

Anyway, I'm not sure I'm anywhere near "the most visible Zen teacher in North America" as the article says. I'm not invisible, I guess. I'm still working on the serum for that.

I gotta run. I'll be at Casa del Popolo in Montreal tonight. Details are linked over there to your left. It should be a fun show. People drink beer there! I don't talk Zen to people drinking beer very often.

Oh! Fun facts you should know about Canada:

• The beer here is stronger than US beer. I'm not a drinker, but I'll have a beer every now and again (6 or 7 beers a year possibly). So I discovered this the hard way. I have an extremely low tolerance for alcohol and went over my very low limit (about 1 and a half in the US is enough to get me totally wasted) much faster than I expected. I'm going Straight Edge for the rest of the tour.

• The Sunday funnies are published in the Saturday paper! Weird!

I'll try to think of more fun Canada facts for next time.

And you Detroiters don't forget the Zero Defex gig May 1st. See the flyer to your left!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

ASPEN SUICIDE AND ME


My friend Aspen Suicide of the Suicide Girls (that's her in the photo) put a conversation we had up on the SuicideGirls website. You don't need to be a member to view this article and you will not be able to see any naked pictures on this page. So don't worry!

I like this article a lot because it's not really a normal interview. Aspen and I have become pals over the course of the time I've been writing for Suicide Girls. She's very interested in Yoga and spent several months one year in India on an extended retreat. She's not so interested in Zen, although she has made it to the Hill Street Center a couple times sometimes with her fellow Suicide Girl James (there's some extra incentive for you to show up!). As she says in the piece, our usual routine is to eat burritos and complain, which is always a lot of fun (seriously). Sometimes we watch LOST together and I point out all the really ridiculous faux Buddhist nonsense. I love the show, the same way I loved Kung Fu, which was also full of faux Buddhist nonsense.

Aspen wrote this piece by typing out what we were saying as we talked. So it's not really a transcript of exactly what was said. Like when she asked what I was suffering about and I said "cookies," it was more to get a laugh out of her as she typed up the answer. Although I do suffer an awful lot about cookies, I have to admit. And the comment about "going back to Knoxville" refers to visiting my sister there. In the context of the piece it sounds like I once lived there, but I never did. Anyhow, it's a fun article.

As a quick aside here, someone recently asked me if I felt any qualms about writing for a website with the word "suicide" in its name. The writer felt it might offend people whose lives have been touched by suicides.

As a person whose life has been touched, perhaps irrevocably altered, by the suicide of an acquaintance who I deeply admired, I don't find the name of the website particularly bothersome. You can't possibly avoid offending everyone, so I don't even bother anymore. I know some folks think it's vital that no Buddhist should ever do anything that anyone anywhere in the world could possibly take offense to. But I disagree with that completely. I'm sorry if it might turn people away from what I write. But, then again, if something like that turns you away, you're probably not the type of person who would enjoy what I write anyway.

I do know that the name of the website derives from the old term "suicide blond." A suicide blond is someone who bleaches her hair. It's a joke that "she dyed by her own hand." I've also heard Missy, the co-founder of the site, came to regret its name. But by then it was too late to change it.

Also, Phil Fox Rose quoted me in his Busted Halo column.

If you want to read this blog in Greek go here. I'd say "It's all Greek to me," but that'd be too obvious, so I won't.

Also Gustav Ericcson just started a really wonderful blog about Gudo Nishijima. Go take a look!

My next live gig is at Dawson College in Montreal tomorrow (Mon. April 27, 2009) at Noon. Then I'm at Casa del Popolo, also in Montreal, Tuesday at 7 PM. All details are on the link over to your left, as well as info about upcoming stuff in Detroit and Saskatoon.

Oh! And the hardcore band I play bass for, Zero Defex will play The Comet in Detroit on Friday May 1st with The Amino Acids. Be there!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

GETTING LOTS OF PUSSY IN MONTREAL! and INTERNET ZEN


I've arrived in Montreal. And true to my history in this city (if you've read my new book) I am already getting tons of pussy. Linda Dydyk, my kind host here, has been providing me all the hot pussy I can handle. Yep. She has four kitty-cats; Squishy, Stinky, Freddy and Lola Granola. Sounds like the line-up for some undiscovered British beat group from the Sixties.

In completely unrelated news, my long-suffering publicist Kim Corbin forwarded me this message:

I did get to see Brad at a book signing, and asked him a question (which he said, coincidentally, was the same question that had been asked to him earlier in the day). The turnout was good, about 30-40 people on a Saturday afternoon at the bookstore. I didn't chat with him afterwards because he had a long line of Zen groupies waiting to meet him ;) but you can tell him that the girl with the bodacious tata's, tattoos and questions about group practice really enjoyed his lecture!

Which brings up an important message, girls with bodacious tata's and tattoos please push those Zen groupies out of the way and come talk to me at book signings! Or girls without tattoos, or with non-bodacious tata's, or anyone who is not a Zen groupie.

I really don't mind answering people's Zen questions. But, honestly, after a lecture I'm usually kind of "zenned out." Which is not my way of trying to set up the opposite problem and make people shy about asking heartfelt Zen stuff. Please ask (see first sentence of this paragraph for further clarification)! But also remember I'm a human being, not a Zen Answer Machine. It's often refreshing at these things to talk to someone about anything other than Zen.

The tour has now passed its halfway mark. Though it looks like a slight extension is in the offing. I'll be in New Mexico from May 20-23 for talks in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and El Paso. Details soon. I get around, baby!

Here's a question from the mail bag, variations of which I've been getting at several of my talks:

Where I live right now, there's basically no sangha at all. While yoga joints dot the landscape like dandelions, the nearest Zen groups seem to be hours away. I've seen the odd online groups, like Jundo Cohen's Treeleaf Zendo, but I'm not sure whether something like that would be beneficial or harmful to me as I get myself back into an everyday, active practice of zazen. What do you think about online groups like that? Do you think they can be valuable to someone who can only actually travel to a real zendo rarely? What do you advise for someone who's in the middle of nowhere, about going it mostly alone?


A guy in Dallas also asked me what I thought of the Zen groups on Second Life.

A number of older Zen teachers have asked my opinion on the on-line sangha phenomenon as well. I guess they expect me to be a kind of tuned-in member of the cyber generation. But, although I blog and use the Internet pretty frequently, I'm not all that crazy about it. I don't surf the web. I don't frequent chat rooms. I've never really gotten what things like Second Life are all about.

The most I do on the Internet other than blogging is look for oddball video clips on YouTube. I just got a Twitter account. But I don't really get that either, although I update mine most days. I know you young whipper-snappers are looking at that stuff on your new-fangled portable telephone contraptions, but that's about it.

The problem I see with the on-line stuff is that it's all very much in the head. It doesn't address the rest of the body. Take on-line dokusan for example. Dokusan is supposed to be a face-to-face meeting with a teacher to talk about practice. Nowadays some teachers are using Skype, webcams and other such technology to offer cybernetic versions.

But talking to someone on a webcam is not the same as talking to someone in the room with you. The smell of the person, the shared physical space, that little bit of electrochemical interconnectedness that occurs when you're near a person, these subtle but vital areas of communication are lacking. Yet the webcam and other such technologies do such a tremendous job of mimicking those few areas of communication our thinking minds take note of (visual and audio) that we are easily fooled into believing we're having the same experience as being in the room with the person.

It's very easy for the Master to appear more ethereal and holy when you can't smell the garlic on his breath or let your eyes roam around and see the unwashed tea cup over in the corner or feel the subtle charge of tension he exudes when you step into the room. It's deceptive nonsense to claim that any cyber sangha is just the same as a brick and mortar zendo.

That being said, they can serve a function. In the past Zen teachers have communicated with students at a distance through letters. Some of Dogen's most famous pieces, such as Genjo Koan, originated as letters to students living in far off places. I've had a lot of heart-to-hearts with my teachers via telephone when I was living away from them (but I knew them in person first, an important difference). The newer technological communication tools can be used the same way.

The problem is our unfamiliarity with these tools of communication and the aforementioned ability of these tools to fool us even more effectively than the tools we had in the past.

Nobody in the 13th century would have thought a letter from Dogen was the same as a meeting with him. But folks in the 21st century are often fooled into thinking a Skype chat with someone where both parties have webcams (or whatever) is the same as actually meeting them. I feel this very keenly when I talk to people about their various cyber excursions. It's like they really do believe they've gone to these places and talked to these people when all they've actually experienced were icons and typed messages on a screen. "I talked to so-and so," they'll say. And I'll often ask, "Did you talk with him or did you type messages to each other?" Usually it's the latter.

The other problem is there is way, way, way too much information for anyone to ever take in. So we have a tendency to want to try to absorb everything, which leads to skimming over stuff in a very cursory manner rather than getting very deeply into just one thing.

This is a common trend in the age of information overload. We think we have to audition absolutely everything before we can commit to anything. But there's no way we can possibly look at everything that's out there. So we never end up committing to anything at all. It may have been better before when our choices were more limited.

This is why I always encourage people to go to their local sangha no matter what it is before they start doing the virtual zendo thing. I've seen people pass up really terrific places right around the corner because they've gotten it into their heads that some guy with a website (maybe even this guy -- me -- with a website) is better because he's more famous. It ain't always so. And, in my case, it almost certainly is not so.

But, yeah, just because something comes to you via the Interwebs does not mean it's bad. I'm certainly not saying that. You can find good people who will help and support your practice that way. Still, it's not the same as face-to-face communication -- even when you can see their face on that little plastic screen.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

ACCEPTANCE, TROUSER ARMADILLOS and TEXAS


Tonight April 21, 2009 (Tues) at 7:30 I'll be at Legacy Books 7300 Dallas Parkway, Plano, Texas 75024. Be there! Then it's on to Montreal, Detroit and Saskatoon. The dates for the rest of the tour are linked to your left<<<<<<.

I just got done with Austin, San Antonio and Houston. I must say I'm very well impressed by the great state of Zen in the great state of Texas. All three Zen centers I visited were terrific. Those of you who live nearby should be glad there are such solid places in your area and you should visit them often.

It always makes me a little sad when I visit tremendous Zen places like these and then afterward get told, "That's the most people we've had in here in ages! We've never seen half those people before." It's hard for me to comprehend anyone going out of their way to hear the likes of me talk. But, then again, I'd travel a long way to see KISS. So quality may not be a factor in what makes people go see stuff.

I think a lot of people are afraid of Zen. It reminds me of what the members of Spinal Tap say in the film This is Spinal Tap when asked why there are so few women in their audience.

Martin DeBergi(interviewer):
The make up of your audience seems to be predominantly young boys.
David St. Hubbins: It's a sexual thing really. Aside from the identifying thing the boys do with us, there's also a reaction of the female to our music.
Nigel Tufnel: Really they're quite fearful. They see us on stage with tight trousers and we've got, like, armadillos in our trousers. It's really quite frightening, the size. And they run screaming.

I think a lot of people see the "armadillos in the trousers" of Zen and run screaming. If you've seen the film, it's revealed later on that the bulges in the trousers of the band are zucchinis taped to their legs. Such is the way of Zen. What might appear metaphorically to be "armadillos in the trousers" of Zen teachers* are nothing more than zucchinis.

What I mean by that is much of the fear people have of going to Zen centers is based on unreal images of what they think goes on inside. For example, many people are terrified they might get some of the steps wrong in the various rituals. But, really, it doesn't matter. Everybody gets the steps wrong! Even the most highly trained monks sometimes make big errors.

And you know what happens then? Nothing. Nobody cares. You just recover and move on. In most Zen centers they won't say anything or even look askance at you if you blow some of the steps. The worst that might happen is someone whispers in your ear or just waits till you notice what everyone else is doing. There is no need to fear the trouser armadillos of Zen. How's that for a quotable quote?

ANYWAY, I had an especially great time with Gaelyn Godwin of the Houston Zen Center. She is a truly terrific Zen person. Very impressive.

I started thinking about her and why I liked her so much and what she had in common with other Zen teachers -- and just people in general -- who I like and respect. It's acceptance. Most religious teachers are extremely unaccepting. They want to push you into a mold they've created. There was some nastiness in the comments section of this very blog recently created by a Zen teacher who wanted to force others into the mold he created. So even Zen teachers are not beyond this.

But the Zen teachers (and other people, but leaving them aside for the moment) I have the most respect for are the ones who accept everyone as they are. This might be a good answer for the question I always get asked; "What should I look for in a good Zen teacher? And what should I look for as a sign a Zen teacher might not be so good?" Acceptance is the key. Can they accept you or do they want to force you into a mold?

There's a funny thing about this in Zen, which relates to the whole "trouser armadillos" matter above. And that is that communal Zen is often very ritualized and depends upon people doing the same thing at the same time. It stresses conformity and discourages overt displays of individuality. But this aspect of the practice is fairly superficial (with some caveats, see below). It's there to make sure the group functions smoothly.

But it's also not superficial. We human beings have individual personalities that are not alike. Yet we are social animals who cannot survive on our own. We're a lot like ants or bees in that respect. We love to pretend we aren't entirely dependent on others. But it's all bullshit.

So we have to learn to function smoothly in a group. And much of Zen training is aimed at making that happen. But it should do so without denying what each individual is. We do not want to strip people of their uniqueness. Far from it! We want to celebrate that uniqueness. But we also strive to show people how to blend smoothly into society.

I've been well impressed by a number of teachers I've met in my travels and in my life. To name a few, Tim McCarthy, Gudo Nishijima, Tonen O'Connor, Gaelyn Godwin, Zuiko Redding, Greg Fain, Dokai Georgeson, Mel Weitsman... There are many more whose names I'm blanking on right now. But they've all exhibited the quality of radical acceptance.

They all could accept anyone, whether they agreed with or even understood them or not. And that's such a rare thing. You can't overstate the preciousness of meeting someone who accepts you as you are. I've fallen in love with people solely because they showed me that kind of total acceptance (there's a dating tip for you!).

When I interviewed her, Nina Hartley said of Mel Weitsman (abbot of Berkeley Zen Center), "He was the first person who ever showed me compassion. Mel was the first person who ever looked me in the eye. He was very direct, very there, relaxed, open, not expecting, not judging. I recognized it as something I’d never had before, something I wanted more of, but something I could barely stand. For 37 years I have been circling that moment, really trying to become centered in it." That's the kind of thing I'm talking about. Find that and you've found something really special.

I was also interested to learn from Gaelyn that much of her congregation is -- gasp! -- Republican and even -- deeper gasp!! -- supporters of George W. Bush and John McCain. Why should this strike anyone as ironic? A koan for you all!

(Secret Answer: It isn't ironic at all.)

Big, big thanks to Mr. Lauren Crane for all his help in making the Texas leg of the tour happen!

*Or literally in my case!

Friday, April 17, 2009

THIS IS AUSTIN NOT LA!

Here's a Wikipedia entry for those who don't get the reference in the title even after looking at the picture.

Tonight April 17, 2009 (Fri) I'll be at Austin Zen Center 3014 Washington Sq., Austin, Texas 78705. Come at 6 pm for Zazen or at 7 pm for the talk. You can skip the zazen if you want. I'd be more likely to skip the talk! But that's just me. Either way is fine with the folks at the Zen Center.

Tomorrow, April 18, 2009 (Sat), is really busy. I'll be at San Antonio Zen Center, 1442 W Woodlawn Ave. San Antonio, TX 78201. They have 8:45am Zazen and at 10am I'll give a talk. At 11am I'll do a book signing. Come to all or any.

Then the very same day (4/18/09) at 3 pm I'll be at Book People bookstore 603 N. Lamar, Austin, Texas 78703.

The next day, April 19, 2009 (Sun), I'll be at Houston Zen Center 1605 Heights Blvd., Houston, TX 77008. 8:20 am is zazen. 9:45 am I'll do a Dhrama Talk followed by book signing supported by Brazos Bookstore. Both are open to public, and it's OK to attend just the talk if you're lame (or just can't get out of bed that early).

After that I travel to Dallas in time to be at Legacy Books 7300 Dallas Parkway, Plano, Texas 75024 at 7:30 pm on April 21, 2009 (Tues). What do you call a book signing in Plano? Plano book signing!

It's raining like cats and dogs here in Austin! And, just to emphasize things further, the guy I'm staying with, Lauren Crane, has a cat and a dog that constantly stage wrestling matches with each other in the living room. The TV weather people have been advising people to stay home and stay away from windows lest they get klonked on the noggin by hailstones the size of watermelons. So here I am blogging away. Ate a lovely dinner at a vegetarian place called Mother's last night.

I've been reading a neat book called Living And Dying In Zazen: Five Zen Masters Of Modern Japan. Josho at the Chapel Hill Zen Center kindly gave it to me. Thanks! It's got some great stuff about Kodo Sawaki and a bunch of other Zen teachers.

The back cover blurb says, "The deification of Zen teachers by their followers has been a problematic issue in American Zen; this book provides a healthy antidote, presenting four men and one woman who have lived and died in Zen within the rich context of their personal lives and their culture, so that we can fully understand what makes a Zen master in Japan." That's sorta what my new book is about too. Only Arthur Braverman came up with the idea four years ago.

This kind of ties in with something I've been wanting to say about monastic Zen practice. Number one, I don't hate monastic Zen practice! I've been noticing a lot of people think I do. I don't. OK?

But I do think there's been a tendency for people, both here and even more so in Japan, to view monastic Zen as the only authentic Zen practice. And that's just not so.

Buddha himself was not a monastic until after he established his order of monks. And, they say, he established the order of monks somewhat reluctantly because he believed, at first, that the understanding he'd come to couldn't be transmitted to others. They had to find it for themselves. Lots of the greatest Zen teachers were not monastics.

Monastic Zen developed as a way for people who were interested in Zen as a personal matter to practice in groups. All of the rules of monastic Zen are almost purely arbitrary. You turn on your cushion clockwise so you don't bump the person next to you. If it had been established that you turn counter-clockwise that would work just as well. You fold your oryoki napkins in that funky way so that everyone is doing the same thing and gets done at the same time and it looks neat and tidy when they're done (tidiness is very important in communal living). You could just as well fold them up a different way. And so on and on and on for about a zillion more rules.

It's important to note that none of the rules are magic or holy at all. But it's also important when you're in a monastery to follow their traditions and not do things your own way. Because doing it your own way screws it up for everyone else. It's an important reason but that is the only reason it's important.

Monastic practice becomes more complex the more people you have doing it. A single person alone can just as easily set up her own version. This is perfectly legit since all the monastic traditions started from the personal habits of specific teachers.

There is no fundamental reason monastic practice is any more "authentic" than practice by yourself or with a small informal group. Smaller, less structured groups might have a tendency to get a little sloppy. I once sat with an informal group in Japan who had a big beer drinking party after their sittings. I didn't go back. But then again, large monastic institutions have a tendency to focus on keeping their arbitrary rules at the expense of honest and sincere practice. Either way is bad for practice.

OK? Enough for today!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

TAKING A REST

I got the following e-mail from Nishijima Roshi yesterday:

Dear Ven. Brad Warner,

Recently I am afraid whether you have entered into a too much tired condition, and so I would like to ask you to take a rest as far as possible.

Sometimes I feel that even taking a rest can be a human duty, and so we should be sometimes necessary to do our human duty.

Fortunately our important job of translating MMK in English is going to arrive at the aim in near future, and so it is not so bad for us to take a rest for a while.

With best wishes Gudo Wafu Nishijima


Following his advise, I am deliberately doing nothing of consequence today. Well, I am doing my laundry. But that's it! I swear!

Taking a rest is obviously important to human beings. So much so that the Bible mandates it as a direct order from God (all that stuff about the Sabbath, you know). It's also important in Buddhism not to over-exert yourself. Our tendency to overwork comes from an indulgence in idealism. We see what's possible -- or at least what seems to be possible -- and we overwork ourselves trying to accomplish those things.

Anyway, I'm back in Knoxville. I'll be flying out to Tex-Ass tomorrow. Got plenty to do there! Take a look at the tour schedule on the link over to your left if you don't believe me.

There is definitely a growing interest in Buddhism in the Bible Belt of the American Southeast. I think people are frustrated with religion. We can no longer believe in things that contradict science. Of course there are plenty of people who say they believe in such things. But that's an intellectual game. You can't read tirades against science on your laptop computer without feeling some sense of irony, even if you don't acknowledge it. Science obviously works.

And yet science can't provide all the answers. We used to think it could. It seemed to be moving in that direction. But it never got there. And it's clear by now that it never will. We need a philosophy that is neither idealism nor materialism.

Whatever. Writing about that stuff is too much like work for me!

I gotta say, I am very impressed with my sister. She's a public defender and does a lot of good for a lot of people.

The Dodge Avenger survived the trip. I gotta make sure Ben checks out that squeaking noise, though. And cleans out the car. He's a teenager for God's sake! How can you make out in the back seat if you can't even find the back seat?

Oh! Sounds like my laundry is finished! Bye!

Monday, April 13, 2009

NEW SG ARTICLE: IS ZAZEN SAFE FOR TRAUMA SURVIVORS

My newest article for Suicide Girls is up now!

And don't forget,tonight 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. See you there!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

NASHVILLE SKYLINE and THE DUTCH ON BIG MIND®


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.

Friday, April 10, 2009

DC REPORT

The guy who organized the talk in DC put up this report by a guy who was there. Click here to read it. He also put up some photos. Click here to see them. It's an interesting perspective. Thanks!

My sister's bird is going spazz-o downstairs.

The Avenger made it the whole way from Chapel Hill (actually Efland) to Knoxville without blowing up. But I can't find my sunglasses anymore.

I gotta run or I'll be late for the retreat in Nashville.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

ON TO NASHVILLE

I'm leaving North Carolina soon on my way to Nashville. Details of where I'll be next are linked to your left.<<<<<

Last night I saw Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3 at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC. Amazing. They are one of the best bands out there and you should go see them.

Me and Sock Monkey both feel pretty run down from the tour, but we are holding up nicely in spite of everything. I just submitted a new article to Suicide Girls which will go live at 6AM PST on Monday. It's about whether or not zazen is dangerous for trauma survivors.

Sock Monkey peeked in the comments section for the SDRC piece and said, "Some of those people are absolutely hopeless!" I told him to stop reading it. He just kept shaking his little sock head. Personally I don't even want to know!

Gotta go pack my stuff in the ol' Dodge Avenger and hope it makes it. That little squeaky noise continues. Teenagers and their cars! I tell ya!

Special thanks to Joe and Linda for putting up with me these past few days and for all the food and other stuff. Oh, and the potato gun! Who knew they'd move out to the woods and turn into pyromaniacs!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

WELCOME TO MY LIFE TATTOO (that's a reference to The Who, in case you don't know)

I once saw an interview in which Gene Simmons was bragging that KISS was cooler than any other band because people tattooed the KISS members' faces and the KISS logo on themselves. "When you're in the KISS ARMY," he said, "you're in for life!"

Well here you go Gene Simmons! IN YOUR FACE!! Check out this tattoo from Jorren, who came to my book signing at The Regulator bookstore in Durham, North Carolina on Monday! When you're in the Hardcore Zen Army, you're in for life! Is this the Number of the Beast? Will we all one day be required to have Johnny Crap's drawing for the cover off Sit Down And Shut Up tattooed on ourselves lest we be cast out of the Antichrist's dominion? Who knows? But I think it's very cool.

The talk at the Regulator was groovey. Many good questions were asked. I was nervous as hell because two friends of mine from high school were there. I received Southern hospitality far beyond the call of duty from the most wonderful Lori and Catie who invited me to their pad around the corner to watch the UNC game. Don't tell anyone in Detroit that I was watching it. But if someone asks, I was strictly non-partisan. I'm not a big basketball fan. Most sports sort of confuse me. I think sports are great. They just confuse me.

The talk last night at Chapel Hill Zen Center was totally different. Man, they have a most impressive set up. The closest to a traditional training temple I've seen outside of SFZC or some of the places in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Josho runs a tight ship there! I love the place! I always feel a bit out of sorts in temples like that because I came from a tradition that is so loose about forms. But I have mighty respect for traditions that are strict with them.

I really have to go write a new Suicide Girls article like RIGHT NOW. So I'll sign off here. Next stop is Nashville. Details are on the link to your right. There's a retreat and a book signing. Be there! Then on to the great state of Text Us!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

SOUTHERN FRIED DHARMA

This morning I bid a fond farewell to the Southern (fried) Dharma Retreat Center of Hot Springs, North Carolina, leaving behind my little plastic bag of toiletries in their lovely Teacher's Cottage for some future archaeologist to dissect and discourse upon. Meaning I forgot to pack my dog-goned little bag with my toothbrush, deodorant, soap, shampoo, floss, nail clippers and all that kind of stuff in it. And my electric razor! Man, am I bummed.

But the retreat was a very cool one. Diversity was the name of the game this weekend. More women than men, which has got to be a first for a retreat I've run if not for Zen retreats in general. Two devout Christians stayed through the whole thing and sat just as hard as anybody else. A group, for once, not made up entirely of white folks. Motley heavy metal dudes mixed with middle aged ladies. Hearing the language of the Bodhisattvas spoken in that melodic lilting down home drawl. An astounding scene. A truly southern dharma retreat!

We did a ton of zazen, raked a bunch of leaves, cut some wood, talked, read bits of Joshu Sasaki's "Buddha is the Center of Gravity," ate spectacularly great food, walked and talked some more. Many corn muffins and beans were consumed. Many farts were stifled in the silence of the zendo. Demons were wrestled with and conquered, though K.O.s were scored on the demons' side, ka-blammo by the zendo doors. Poetry was exchanged and dead dogs duly mourned. Live Buddha cats were petted and purred. The sun shone. The rain rained. The wind howled and roared. Sexy white butted deer trotted down mountainsides followed by Carolina panthers. Doubts were raised about swallowing the Kool Aid from trusted teachers.

A splendid time was had by all.

Then I raced down the mountainside in my nephew's squeaking Dodge Avenger to Asheville to speak in a reconverted chapel designed to mourn those dead from AIDS and now transformed into a tranquil sitting space. Six people showed up. But two of them traveled three hours just to be there and all were serious practitioners who cared deeply.

Tomorrow the Deep South Leg of Kalpa Long Cassidy Tour '09 continues. On April 6, 2009 (Mon) at 7 pm I'll be at The Regulator Bookshop 720 Ninth Street, Durham, NC 27705. On April 7, 2009 (Tues) at 7:30 pm I'll do a Dharma Talk at the Zen Center of Chapel Hill, 5322 North Carolina Highway 86 (2.5 miles north of I-40 Exit 266) Chapel Hill, NC 27514. After that I'll be at the Nashville Zen Center. Then on to T for Tex-Ass. Details linked to your left as always. So take a look!<<<<<<<<

Thursday, April 02, 2009

TOURING, TOURING IS NEVER BORING


The title is a line from one of the later Ramones songs.

My appearance on Geek Entertainment TV with Violet Blue is now on-line. You can watch it, but I can't. The Internet connection here craps out before the interview ends. Which may be just as well because I can't stand watching myself that much. This, by the way, is the reason there aren't more podcasts and suchlike on my site. I do all this stuff by myself, and much of what I do and don't do comes down to how much I can stand to look at and listen to my own blathering. I'm taping nearly every appearance on this tour. But I don't want to watch them! If anyone out there is geeky enough to want to deal with this stuff maybe we can talk...

Speaking of which, while I'm chilling here waiting for the Southern Dharma Retreat Center retreat to begin, I thought I'd let you know how this tour is operating since a lot of people keep asking.

While my publisher has been helpful and cooperative, especially their long-suffering publicist Kim Corbin, they didn't set up or finance the tour. I think publishers only do that for authors who are already so mega-popular they no longer need anyone to set up or finance their tours. This is how everything in the entertainment business seems to work. After the tour was already set in motion they kindly sent me some money to keep me from starving while out on the road (thank you!). But setting up the tour and figuring out how to keep from going broke on it has been all up to me.

A couple of people I've met while I've been out here have been surprised to find me wandering around the various places I go on my lonesome. They assume I must have roadies or minders or a retinue like Elvis' Memphis Mafia, like the Dalai Lama or Tich Naht Hahn have. Nope. It's just me most of the time. Groupies? I wish! Not a single pair of panties has been thrown at me so far.

For this leg of the tour I borrowed my 19 year old nephew's Dodge and have been driving myself to the places I need to go. Does His Holiness drive himself around North Carolina and Tennessee in a car full of empty Mountain Dew bottles and fast food wrappers? I doubt it! I'm just sayin'...

In order to finance this little venture what I've done is find gigs in various places that pay and then tack on non-paying gigs in the same geographical area. Book signings at bookstores never pay, for example. The only one I've done that's ever paid me anything was a store in Northern California who gives authors a free book of their choice. Another place gave me a coupon for 10% off. People assume authors get paid to appear at stores and sign books. But I doubt that ever happens except possibly when an author is so mega-huge they don't need to get paid for such things. So it goes.

This is why when people say, "You should come to Fred's One Stop Bookshop in Wallawalla, Washington, they'd love you!" or whatever there's not much I can do with that. If I managed to get a paying gig at, say, the University of Washington at Wallawalla, then I could go do a signing at Fred's One Stop Bookshop. Otherwise I'd have to pay my own way out there and be out-of-pocket for the whole trip. The royalties from the ten books I'd sell at that signing wouldn't cover it.

My philosophy on Zen teaching is that it should be as close to free of charge as possible. Retreats cost money. Zen centers cost money to keep up. Someone has to pay for that. This is why donations are always gladly accepted. But no one should ever be denied the dharma because they can't afford it.

My philosophy as an author, on the other had, is that it's a business. I do it for a living. I have no qualms about getting paid for that because writing is work. It's work I enjoy doing, but it's still work. People should get paid for their work. Artists should get paid for their art. I am very adamant about this point. I have no patience at all with people who believe art should be free. Sure it should be free! And you shouldn't get paid for your days at the office either! Of course there is some overlap in what I do. But that can't be helped.

Most days on the tour I get up, I do my zazen and then I get on the road to the next place. I only talk for 2-3 hours each day. But it's incredible how much energy that takes. Anyone who looks at performers with envy because they only work a couple hours a day has no idea what's actually involved. I overbooked myself on this tour and have been getting pretty wiped out because of that. But I still do my zazen every night before bed. Sock Monkey joins me most days.

I like to see the places I go to, so I'll usually take a look around wherever I am. Sometimes the nice people who host me will take me places. Sometimes I'm on my own. On very rare occasions I get recognized. This has happened three or four times so far. Usually it's when I'm nearby wherever I'm supposed to speak. So like KISS during the make-up era I can be anonymous.

I find it funny when people are nervous about approaching me. I guess I can kind of understand. I'd be a little nervous approaching, say, Robyn Hitchcock or Paul Stanley if I saw them at Ralph's supermarket (I was in line in front of Peter Fonda there one day recently). But I'm fine with it. It's a weird, weird thing having people you've never met know all kinds of intimate details of your life. But as long as people don't invade my space it's fine.

So there you have it! I'm starting a 4-day retreat this evening, so I probably won't post here again till that's over.

My next stop is April 5, 2009 (Sun) at 4 pm at the Asheville Zen Center in the chapel behind WNC Community Health Services, 10 & 14 Ridgelawn Road (near corner of Haywood Road in West Asheville). Then on April 6, 2009 (Mon) at 7 pm I'm at The Regulator Bookshop 720 Ninth Street, Durham, NC 27705. On April 7, 2009 (Tues) at 7:30 pm I'm doing a Dharma Talk at the Zen Center of Chapel Hill, 5322 North Carolina Highway 86 (2.5 miles north of I-40 Exit 266) Chapel Hill, NC 27514. More details are linked to your left<<<<<<.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

MALAPROPS TONITE!


Tonight, April 1, 2009 (Wed) at 7pm I'll be at Malaprops Books, 58 Haywood St., Asheville, North Carolina 28801. For info contact info@malaprops.com.

T-shirts are done and are available in two exciting styles. So you can pick one of those up at any of the events on my tour. All info is at the link over there to your left<<<<.

Gotta go! Hope to see you there! I'm gonna try to find the Laughing Seed Cafe before I go to the bookstore. So if you see me there eating all alone (as I usually do on these tours), feel free to say hi.

I found this nice photo of me and my mom in an album at my sister's house. Of course, I don't look quite like that anymore. But it's a nice pic of my mom anyhow.