Monday, June 29, 2009

FATES WORSE THAN DEATH

There's an interview with me up now on Buddhist Geeks. So go read it. Or listen to it. Or both. Or neither. Or both and neither. Or neither both nor neither.

Also somebody sent me this funny article that reveals the truth about Zen.

I've been thinking more about death. A friend of mine told me his mom is dying of cancer right now. I like his mom. She's very cool.

But after watching what my own mom went through I know there are many fates worse than death. And I don't really think dying is all that bad of a thing just in and of itself. Of course it's best to postpone it as long as feasible. I plan to live as long as I can.

I can't say I have no fear of death. But I no longer have a fear of annihilation. Annihilation goes on all the time. If you're gonna fear annihilation at the moment your body ceases functioning, you might as well fear it right now because the you that started reading this article is utterly gone.

That thing that you call "me" has no limits. Birth and death can't touch it. And yet there will come a day when you'll be gone, daddy, gone. And nothing will bring you back again. What you really are is more real, and more you, than anything you can conceive of.

When death comes naturally, it should be allowed to happen. Sure. Fight it off when you have a fighting chance. But when it's time to go, go in peace knowing there is nowhere to go but here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY (NOT!)

That interview about dating I just did (see post below) is on line now. click here to see it!

As most of you have heard by now, the music world lost one its great legends, a performer who changed the direction of pop music forever and influenced a generation in terms of style and sound. I'm speaking, of course, about Sky Sunlight Saxon, legendary front man and bassist for The Seeds.

Although best known for their biggest song, Pushin' Too Hard, The Seeds were more than one-hit wonders. Sky Saxon continued to pilot various line-ups of The Seeds right up until his death on Thursday. Though they never became as famous as the people they influenced, The Seeds' sound is clearly apparent in a host of more popular performers including Iggy Pop, The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The White Stripes, Nirvana and many others.

I was the proud owner of some of Sky's later albums on which he expanded The Seeds original pounding garage punk into brutally beautiful slabs of twisted madness, often lasting an entire LP side and consisting of just two chords that pummeled the listener into psychedelic psubmission.

In other news Farrah Fawcett Majors passed away yesterday. When I was in junior high I had her poster. You could see nipples! And I think one of the Jackson Five died too. They used to have a cartoon show. Or maybe it was one of The Osmond Brothers. I always got them confused.

Ironically, the morning of the day all this news broke I attended the cremation ceremony for a close friend of one of the people who comes to the Saturday morning Zazen classes at Hill Street Center (info to your left, I'll see you there tomorrow!). Buddhist cremation ceremonies generally consist of some chanting, followed by covering the body with flowers, followed by some more chanting and the offering of incense. It's a nice ceremony. Short and sweet.

The person in question happened to be a priest in another Zen organization in town. I was not there, but I was told that one of the other priests in his organization took the opportunity of his passing away to deliver a lecture about how a newly departed person searches for his or her next mother for 49 days before reincarnating. I could be mistaken about the contents of this particular lecture. But this is not at all an uncommon topic of talks following the death of a monk or Buddhist practitioner.

I get kind of annoyed when people use death as an opportunity to air all their superstitions, especially when those people airing the superstitions do so cloaked in the guise of religious authority. I know that it's done partly as a way to ease the pain of those in mourning. But I don't see why we need grand speculations on topics that nobody could possibly know anything about in order to comfort those in mourning.

The Universe is vast and mysterious. We know that neither matter nor energy is ever created or destroyed. The Heart Sutra says it this way, "No one is born or dies." Those who pass away remain with us as long as we remember them. And more than that, their life never really departs from this very place because there is nowhere else to go. Beyond this, everything else is pure speculation.

I'm not convinced that it's ultimately useful to escape into the world of fantasy after someone we know or love dies. I can understand the desire to turn away from the pain of reality. It often seems too much to cope with. I know my mom's death in 2007 sure did -- and still does sometimes. But we can never truly escape from that which is real. We can cover our eyes. But even then we're confronted with the reality of our own covered eyes.

Too often, though, the occasion of death is taken as an excuse to indulge in fantasy. We don't simply take a break from the pain of loss to remain quiet and absorb its lessons. We fly away into the false beauty of our imaginations. Not that imagination is a bad thing. But it isn't good to get lost in it.

We think that reality might be more than we can handle. But I'm not certain that's ever true. Much of the pain of grief is often fueled by imagination too. We imagine life without our loved one and speculate about how we won't be able to cope. But such speculation is as fanciful as imagining our loved one with wings and a halo walking streets paved with gold way up high in the clouds. I don't think we cure our pain by any kind of speculation.

We cure our pain by feeling it as it is, not adding to it and not trying to make it stop. The pain of loss is just what it is. We feel it and then we move on.

Monday, June 22, 2009

HOLLYWOOD, DATING, AMMA


I got an e-mail yesterday from a blogger who wanted my Zen dating advice. The blog is gonna come out next week and I'll link to it so you can see what I said. (Now it's up click here to read it.)

It's weird she should ask me this now because I've been thinking quite a lot about the subject lately. I am a Zen teacher and I am now well and truly free of any romantic entanglements. No girlfriend, no wife, none of that stuff. I told the interviewer "I am dating." And this, for her intents and purposes and ways of defining things was true. People who are not attached or celibate are "dating." At least I think that's how it works these days.

I suppose I'd say I am "open to dating." Of course, basically no woman in Southern California will touch me with a barge pole because I am too old and not a "player."*

I had this weird experience at a party last week in which I was talking to a woman. Once she figured out that I could not help her career or whatever she wanted from the men she chose to speak to she started looking around the room for someone better to talk to. It was extraordinarily rude behavior. But this is common practice in Los Angeles. I don't even take offense anymore. I am clearly not a "player." There are certainly a whooooole lot of ways I can help a person. But I cannot help them be successful in "the business" in this town.

I know those of you who don't live here are probably thinking there could have been lots of other reasons for such behavior and that I'm being defensive or what have you. Maybe my breath smelled. Maybe I was boring. Maybe I'm ugly. All kinds of stuff. But I've seen this enough that I can be sure I'm calling it correctly. Whatev's.

When someone doesn't want to hear what I have to say, I'm not going to waste my time saying it. This goes for any situation, whether dating or the potential thereof is part of it or not. There's really no point.

For those who asked about Amma, I did talk a bit about her at Noah's place on Sunday. I thought the one guy who made a comment about it in the post below this one accessed what I said pretty accurately. I don't hate Amma. But there's nothing in it I'm really interested in except as an example of what's wrong with so-called "spirituality" these days.

It's also a good example of Hollywood spirituality, while we're on the subject of Hollywood. Very glamorous and flashy, but with almost nothing at its core. Like a typical Hollywood film or anything they make in this city.

But before I get too deep into trashing Los Angeles, there is certainly a lot to like here as well. The natural setting, the weather, a certain vibrant, optimistic tone to the people -- even though much of that is woefully misdirected.

So there's my little tirade for today.

Cheers, m'dears!


*That's sexist and untrue. I know that lots of women around here are not that shallow. But a lot of people here, male and female, are amazingly blind to anything except that which will help further their ambitions in show biz.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

AGAINST THE STREAM Tomorrow June 21, 2009 at 11 AM

Tomorrow at 11 am I will be speaking at Against The Stream (aka Dharam Punx, aka Noah Levine's place). Here is the into about the place from their website:

Against The Stream Buddhist Meditation Society is located in a historic building in East Hollywood, one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city. It is on the corner of Melrose and Berendo, near LA City College and Vermont Avenue where you can find many small restaurants, bakeries and shops.

4300 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90029


I'll probably say mean stuff about Amma...

See you there!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

ALL-DAY ZAZEN JUNE 20, 2009 -- SIGN UP IF YOU WANT TO EAT LINCH!

There will be an all-day zazen at Hill Street Center this Saturday, June 20, 2009. Details are on the link over there to your left that says Monthly Zazen Retreats in Santa Monica. If I haven't added the date June 20, 2009 by the time you click on the link just pretend it's there, all right?

If you plan on eating the oryoki lunch you must send an e-mail by Friday June 19, 2009 to Rob Robbins at Smoggyrob@gmail.com. Lunch costs $10. Brief oryoki instructions are on the page about the all-day sittings and someone will be there to remind you how it all works once we get set up to start eating. Don't worry about screwing it up. Everybody screws it up! I screw it up half the time. You are also free to participate without eating the oryoki lunch or to come for just part of the day.

OK? See ya there!

Monday, June 15, 2009

NEW SUICIDE GIRLS ARTICLE

I got a new article up on Suicide Girls today. Hope y'all enjoy it.

Also, thanks to everyone who responded about my video tape problem (below). I'm going to sift through all of the suggestions I've received and get back to everyone who wrote in sometime this week.

Rock on!

Monday, June 08, 2009

DIGITAL BETACAM IN PAL FORMAT

OK. Time to test the power of the Internet. I know this blog has thousands of regular readers in several different countries. Perhaps somebody somewhere out there can help.

My film "Cleveland's Screaming" was potentially accepted into a European film festival. I can't give specifics until it's finalized. However, they need the film on Digital Betacam tape in PAL format. To get this done in Los Angeles costs almost $500, which I simply do not have. The master is on my computer. I have the facilities to dub it to mini-DV or DVD in NTSC format.

SO, among all you thousands of readers all over the world, is there anyone who has the facilities to do this type of transfer cheaply?

Write me at doubtboy@mac.com and let me know. I'll give you whatever details you need.

Friday, June 05, 2009

FOCUS IN ZAZEN

Here's a question that came in the e-mail today:

In a few places in 'Sit Down and Shut Up' you talk about focusing on a particular issue or aspect of yourself during zazen - e.g. 'I've often focused my attention during zazen practice on understanding the real source of anger'. I was wondering what you meant by that, since I'd had the impression that zazen does not involve concentrated discursive thought. I'm guessing that I have not understood what you mean by 'focus'. Since in your writings you suggest that a great many valuable insights came your way as a result of zazen practice I would really like to know more clearly what you mean here. If there is somewhere on your site that deals with this, please let me know.


And here's my answer:

You are absolutely right that zazen does not involve concentrated discursive thought. You're not really supposed to focus on anything in particular, at least in the Soto tradition.

However, that doesn't mean that no one ever focuses on things anyway. Even the most diligent of shikantaza (just sitting) practitioners will, from time to time, use the practice to focus on and deal with something that happens to be a problem for them.

In the case of anger, what I was trying to get at was that I often sat zazen while angry about something -- since I was pretty much always angry about something. So when I was angry during zazen that's what I had to deal with. When you're horny during zazen you deal with that. Or bored, scared, lonely, etc.

So it wasn't so much that I'd plan it out, "I shall now focus on anger -- go!" It's just that anger came up and I had no choice.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

SOLIPSISM

First, although there is Zazen at Hill Street Center this coming Saturday June 6, 2009 at 10 am, you cannot park in the Hill Street Center parking lot that day since there's a parking lot sale sponsored by the church going on.

Second, I managed to kind of solve my AT&T problems. I wasn't entirely happy with the solution. But I managed to get most of the charges knocked off. The woman I spoke to on the phone was very sweet about the whole thing. I'm sure she got hired there because she's got the kind of voice you don't want to scream and yell at. Not that I would have. Anyway, it's OK now. And thanks to the people who donated money. I think I got about $17 from that little mention. So that was cool.

I just wanted to say a little bit here about solipsism as it relates to Buddhism. I was looking at some of what's written on the Internets about Buddhism in English and noticed there's a great deal of confusion. It used to be that people figured Buddhism was a form of Nihilism or a form of Atheism. Those two ideas are kind of out of fashion, though they still persist. Yet the idea that Buddhism, particularly Zen Buddhism, is a form of solipsism still remains.

Lots of people, including lots of so-called "Buddhist Masters," are confused by the idea, which is present within Buddhism that the inner world and the outer world are one and the same. From this idea, they generate the mistaken solipsistic notion that there is no real outer world and that everything we experience is all in our heads. This is not Buddhism at all. It would be just as crazy to say there is no inner world and that everything we experience takes place outside ourselves. We know that's bullshit. Yet somehow it's easier to believe the opposite is true and think that there is no outside world at all.

In Nishijima's translation of Nagarjuna's Fundamental Song of the Middle Way, Nagarjuna says, "The four reliable facts are reason, the external world, the present moment, and reality -- this world -- which seems to be similar to God. A fifth reliable fact can never exist."

So the external world is very real in Buddhism. Do not doubt its existence.

I say this because it's pretty scary to think there are folks out there teaching people not to believe in the outside world. This is a very dangerous notion. If you cease to believe in the outside world you can commit all kinds of horrendous actions against whoever you please, since they don't really exist after all.

In a way this kind of dovetails into my reservations about "cyber-sanghas" -- and even about this very forum you are reading right now, dear friend. Interactions with computers tend to lock you into your head. I see a lot more solipsism in the world of Internet Buddhism than I do in the world of flesh-and-bone Buddhism.

There is a real world "out there." Your perceptions of that world may be limited and faulty. But that doesn't mean it's not there. And it doesn't mean the outside world is exactly the same as your inner world. This is a very important point.

There is just one world, with no division between inner and outer. Yet the two sides are not the same.

Get it? Got it? Good!