Wednesday, August 26, 2009

MY BOTTOM LINE


Amazing Euro premier of Cleveland's Screaming last night. Lots of terrific questions from the audience. Who'd've thought the Finns would be so into Ohio punk? Not me.

Tonight I'm at Balderin Sali, Aleksanterinkatu 12, Helsinki at 6PM.

I've been doing interview after interview after interview since I've been here. And there's one thing I've found myself saying over and over. It's that I got into the practice of zazen because it was practical and useful for me. I did not get into it because I had any desire to be "a Buddhist" or because I wanted someday to be a monk or a teacher of Buddhism. I don't self-identify as a Buddhist or a monk except when it's necessary because of the job that I do. In fact I don't even know if I really qualify as a monk by most people's standards. I use the term because after I took jukai with Nishijima Roshi I asked him, "Am I a monk now?" and he said, "Yes. You are a monk now." His attitude is based on Buddha's who ordained monks by just saying, "Welcome monk."

This relates to my bottom line. I can't remember if I've told this story here already or not. But last year I went to a sesshin at Berkeley Zen Center. I signed up for dokusan with Sojun Mel Weitsman. During the dokusan I complained to Mel about some problems I'd been having with my little Saturday morning group in Santa Monica. They seemed to see me as something I clearly was not, a kind of a spiritual leader or some shit like that. By extension a lot of the people I was talking to on tour or via Suicide Girls and this blog also seemed to see me that way.

Mel said, "What's your bottom line with your Saturday morning group?" I said that as far as I was concerned, I sat zazen on Saturdays at 10 AM at Hill Street Center and the door was open for anyone who wanted to join me.

It was a funny moment because up till then I'd never really thought of it that way. But I said it very easily and spontaneously. That's the magic of dokusan with a good teacher, I guess.

This is also my bottom line with everyone to whom I introduce this practice. It's something that I do, which I have found extremely useful and you can do it too. That's pretty much it.

I didn't get into this because I wanted to try and live up to someone else's bizarre ideas of what a Buddhist ought to be. There have been occasions when I've tried to do that and it made me intensely miserable. I didn't get into Zen practice to be miserable.

I only do what I do to the extent that it helps make my life a little better. I allow people access to my personal story because I think they also might find something beneficial there the way I found it beneficial to hear my first teacher Tim's and Nishijima Roshi's stories.

Sometimes when I complain about my current job people say, "Why don't you just quit and go work in an office or something?" But I've lived long enough to know that no job is ever without problems. And I know myself well enough to know that I'll always complain. Big deal.

But I also know that it doesn't make any sense to simply up and quit your job because it's not perfect. The next job you get won't be any more perfect. I only quit a job if it becomes totally unworkable (that's a grammatically odd sentence but I like it, so I'm leaving it). So far this one has not. At least not yet.

I have yet another interview to go to, so I'm gonna leave it at that for now. Just thought you might like to know.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

CLEVELAND SCREAMING EUROPEAN PREMIER TOMORROW

Tonight's talk at the Helsinki Zen Center was a smashing success in spite of my total unfamiliarity with the customs of Philip Kapleau Roshi's lineage.

Tomorrow it's three interviews with Finnish punk magazines and then at 6:00 pm a panel discussion with bunches of Buddhists at Balderin sali, Aleksanterinkatu 12, 00710 Helsinki.

Then at 9:00 pm Espoo Cine International Film Festival will show the European premier of my documentary movie "Cleveland's Screaming!" in Tapiola, Espoo. Rock'n'roll in deed!

Wish I could tell you more but I'm about to collapse. Good night!

Monday, August 24, 2009

TURKU DONE, NEXT STOP HELSINKI


Too tired from Turku to talk.

Tomorrow I've got four (4!) interviews including one with MTV-Finland, which is not Music Television, but apparently one of the biggest TV networks here. Gosh.

The gig tomorrow evening is:

•August 25, 2009 (Tues) 6 - 8:00 pm Helsinki Zen Center, Kalevankatu 4, second floor, Helsinki, contact Sami Mänty-Aho helsinki@zazen.fi

Other upcoming Finnish gigs are on the link to your left.

Come see one before I finish with the Finnish!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

FINLAND IS WHERE I AM!


I just arrived in Finland last night. They're racing me all over the country starting in about an hour. So I have no time to write anything profound.

The Frankfurt sesshin was wonderbar! Many thanks to everyone attended and big special thanks to Regina Oberndorfer for making the whole thing happen. The photo is a shot of the whole group on the last day. The quilt I'm wearing over my shoulder is actually a kesa made by Michel Proulx from fabric scraps donated from all over Europe. Groovey!

I'd like to direct your attention to the page linked over there to your left about my tour in case you're in Finland and want to see some of the stuff. It's over there<<<<<<

Here's where I'll be today:

•August 24, 2009 (Mon) 4 – 5:30 pm Zazen at Joogastudio Samadhi, Askaistentie 89, 20810 Turku, After zazen there will a talk and open discussion. Contact: Ari Vuokko studio@olen.to
•August 24, 2009 (Mon) 6:30 - 8:00 pm, public lecture at Turku Main Library's lecture hall (Studio) Linnankatu 2, 20100 Turku.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

NO FRANKENSTEIN CASTLE

I did not go to Frankenstein Castle today :-( But I did go to every record store in Frankfurt. Found the CD edition of Zappa's 200 Motels. It came out in '97, but for reasons that escape me I never bought it. Now it's out of print. So it was a lucky find.

The Zen significance of this is that my first Zen teacher, Tim McCarthy, used to quote from this all the time. "Manuel, the gardener, slid his mutated member into her quivering quim!" Yes, folks, I come from a long and glorious Buddhist tradition!

Tomorrow is the start of yet another darned sesshin. 34 people signed up for the thing! Can you believe that? Who in their right mind would put themselves through such torture? Three days of wall gazing and sleeping on thin futons in a group on the floor in the Buddha hall then waking up at nothing o'clock in the morning. But it looks like the food will be good.

Uhhhhhh... I wish I had some great philosophical gem to leave you with. But they're watching Pimp My Ride or some such thing in here where the Internet access is and it's scrambling my synapses too much.

Next report, from Finland! See you there!

(PHOTO CAPTION: Great Sky 2009. This was the first time I've ever been served macaroni & cheese oryoki style at a Zen Sesshin! But it was held in Minnesota...)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

HAMBURG, PREFERENCE and DOGEN SANGHA


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 16, 2009

ACHTUNG! ICH BIN IN DEUTSCHLAND!

I arrived this morning at 9:30 in Frankfurt, Germany after eight days in the back woods of Minnesota. The photo I put up here is the view I saw for most of those eight days. Literally. The schedule included nine 40-minute periods of zazen per day, beginning at 5 AM and ending at 8:50 PM. And that board was what I looked at. See if you can spot the images of Johnny Ramone and the words "Brachiosaurus," "Pepper" and "Znorft" in the grain of the wood. I did!

Speaking of Brachiosaurus, the Chicago O'Hare Airport has a gigundous skeleton of one in Terminal 2 (I think it was 2). Who'd have thunk? That was pretty cool.

ANYWAY, this was my third Great Sky Sesshin and one of the most funnest. Minnesota hospitality is warm and bendy. The Great Sky was especially great this year with the Leonid Meteor Shower. I spotted a few big ones. Also lightning bugs, which they don't have in California. It's nice to see them again.

The experience of a sesshin is probably the exact opposite of the experience of looking at the Internet. When I opened up my computer for the first time in a week I saw there were something like 270-some comments on my last post! You guys have been busy.

I suppose I was busy too. But in a very different way. Dokai Georgeson, the resident monk and abbot of Hokyoji, where Great Sky is held, gave a talk about, among other things, that old saw horse Faith Mind Inscription by the Third Patriarch of Zen in China. That's the one that goes, "The Great Way is not difficult, just avoid picking and choosing." It's funny how you can hear something a few dozen times over the course of a few dozen years and just barely get it, but then someone says it just once more and it falls into place. Then it slips away again.

Rosan Yoshida gave a really good talk in which he came up with a really neat-o way of explaining Dogen's old adage that practice and enlightenment were one and the same. He talked about mountain climbing. It's hard work to climb a mountain. Lots of physical strain and sweat. If you just wanted to know what things looked like at the top you could rent a video. But it's not at all the same thing as climbing the mountain yourself. In a very real way climbing the mountain and reaching the top are not two distinct activities. And climbing back down is also a necessary part of the process.

I thought that was kind of nice.

We're going to Hamburg tomorrow. I'm gonna look for the Kaiserkeller and the Star Club.

Friday, August 07, 2009

ON MY WAY TO THE EDGE OF CIVILIZATION

I'm sitting at Chicago O'Hare Airport waiting for a flight to the edge of civilization. Actually it's a flight to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where I will be picked up and driven to the edge of civilization. Tomorrow is the first day of the 2009 Great Sky Sesshin in Hokyoji monastery near Echizen, Minnesota. For the next eight days or so I will be inaccessible to Internet, cell phone and most other forms of communication with the outside world.

I heard that some people are deeply concerned about the forthcoming translation of Nagarjuna's Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way (aka MMK) by Gudo Nishijima as rewritten by me. That's so cute! You guys are funny!

When you look at Gudo's blog, what you're seeing is pretty much the raw material I had to work with. The book that's coming out from Monkfish is not that version. I had to have a lot of discussions with Nishijima Roshi, as well as sit around scratching my head and puzzling over his prose for many, many hours before arriving at the version we're publishing. Please don't worry your poor fevered brows that it's going to be a big long string of crazy Engrish. It won't. Haven't I said this about three times already?

I may publish the intro I wrote sometime prior to the book's release. But I'd need to get clear with Nishijima Roshi and the folks at Monk Fish before I do that. Translation is a funny thing. I used to be a translator and there is no way to translate even the most dirt simple stuff without interjecting your own interpretation. In fact the word "translation" is probably misleading. I don't think there is any such thing. It's all interpretation.

In the world of religious texts, one really good example is Baghavad Gita: As It Is by AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. This is reportedly the most widely read translation of Bhagavad Gita in the world. Yet it is a highly interpretive version of the text.

Still, who is to say it doesn't mean what Prabhupada said it meant? It certainly meant that to him.

I was personally very interested in discovering what Nagarjuna's Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way meant to Nishijima Roshi. I made it my task to try and convey the meaning he found in the text as clearly as I possibly could. If you want a standard interpretation that follows all of the established patterns, assumptions and prejudices of Sanskrit scholarship, there are other versions available. I see no reason that there ought to be one more of those. They do not interest me.

Whether the Nishijima version of Nagajuna's masterwork is "correct" in the eyes of the Sanskrit scholarship community is just not something I can even bring myself to care about. People keep trying to get me to care, though. And I swear to God I really have tried. Maybe I'm kind of retarded or autistic or something in that way. It's like when I used to tell the folks I mentored at the Summit County Board of Mental Retardation to zip up their pants or whatever and they just couldn't see the point at all. That's how I am. It's no use trying to get me to care because I just don't.

The big difference between Nishijima Roshi's MMK and the others I've read is that, once I got through all the Engrish, the Nishijima version actually spoke to me. The others did not. They were intermittently interesting and contained the occasional good idea. But they didn't move me. This one does.

Blah-blah-blah... Now even I'm getting bored with this discussion!

So anyway, after I get done in the backwoods of Minnesota I'm flying straight to Frankfurt, Germany (via Chicago again). After just under a week in Frankfurt I'm off to Finland. Then back to Germany. Then to England, and then to Japan. Yikes!

This will definitely be my last post for a week or so. Maybe longer than that. But I'll report here whenever I can.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

DROP THE A-BOMB ON ME!


I just got off the phone with Mickey X-Nelson, drummer of Zero Defex (0DFx). He reminded me that today is the 64th anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. I'd completely forgotten!

I'm leaving tomorrow to start my next world tour, so I don't have time to pay proper tribute. I'll just leave you with this video clip, that I'm sure everyone who reads this blog has already seen twenty times.

Let's hope no one ever drops another A-Bomb again...

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Sickest Buddhist

Sickest Buddhist from GenerateLA on Vimeo.

Something like five people have forwarded this video to me. So I guess I'd better post it. I've met guys like this. More often, though, it's much more toned down. When you visit a retreat center right after a practice period all the young studs are just shining Enlightenment all over you. It's not quite as obnoxious as the guy in the video. But they are kind of like teenagers the way they now understand absolutely everything. It's cute. I remember my first kensho too...*

Anyway, I guess some people are upset that this video makes fun of Buddhists. That's kind of cute as well.

My favorite line is, "I make the Power of Now look like the Power of Then!"

Oh and to all the commenters planning to write, "The guy in the video is just like Brad!" Ha! I beat you to it! (And he's not. I dress much better.)



* This is a variation on the standard comeback line comedians use to hecklers, "I remember my first beer too." Don't read anything more into it than that.


ADDENDUM:

The folks who own the rights to "The Sickest Buddhist" are apparently asserting ownership claims about it & getting it taken off the Internet. As is their right. I used to do this with illegal Ultraman stuff that showed up on eBay. Though if they want my advice (I doubt they do!), it's probably a smarter move to leave it up there to generate interest in the young unknown comedian who made it (which is why we never complained about Ultraman on YouTube). Whatever.

Anyway, here are some other funny Buddhist themed videos. "Facebook Buddha" is genius! The Dharma Tweet crowd could learn a lot from that one.