Friday, December 31, 2010

Setting Intentions??? Please!


Look. The people who are doing this are friends of mine and I hate to be mean. But I just got a thing in the email about an "Intention Setting Ceremony for the New Year." It says, "Each New Year’s Eve a large group of us gather to set our intentions for the coming year and to recommit to our spiritual practices."

Fun. I wish I could go.

But, PUH-LEEEEEEZE! "Setting Intentions?" Seriously? If you're going to make New Year's Resolutions then make flogging New Year's Resolutions. Do we really need to put a big huge "I'M A BUDDHIST, LOOK AT ME!!!" button on for absolutely every occasion?

I've been hearing this "setting intentions" business for the past year or so now. I'm sure it's older than that. But I wasn't aware of it before.

I was, however, aware of a huge argument between Nishijima Roshi and one of his students about whether zazen was a state with or without intention. N's contention was that zazen was a state completely without intention. He would not back off from this position at all. He is a stubborn guy.

I have to agree with him. Zazen is, indeed, a state without intention. Sure. Of course. Everyone who gets into Zen practice gets into it with some kind of intention. I did. Buddha did. Dogen did. That's fine.

But zazen itself needs to be a state without intention, a state in which you give up all intention. This is not easy. But it is the most essential point of Zen practice. Without it, you have no real Zen practice.

So what do you do? You can't even intend not to have intention, since that is an intention as well. At least not in the usual sense.

That's your koan, right there.

The only hint I can possibly provide is that intention occurs within the realm of thought. To intend not to intend is kinda like what Dogen describes as "thinking the thought of not thinking." How do you do this? Dogen only says, "It's different from thinking."

Of course zazen as a state without intention and an intention setting ceremony for the new year are completely different animals. The only relationship is the use of the word "intention." There are realms of life in which intentions are absolutely necessary. I'm making some new year's resolutions of my own. You need to have some kind of intentions to get through life. So I'm not saying the folks who are doing this ceremony are bad or wrong, or that I'm better than them or anything like that. Except that I do think that calling new year's resolutions "new year's intentions" just to make it sound more Buddhist is really, really gag-worthy. Just my opinion. You are free to ignore it.

Happy New Year everybody!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

ASK ME QUESTIONS FOR MY VIDEO



Hey everyone,
it's Skylar and Brad.(:
We will be making a NEW VIDEO, Not our Christmas one, a new one for YOU. The fans!!
Ask us questions, comment us, and ask us ANYTHING YOU WANT (Unless it's insulting) and we will answer all of them . AS LONG AS THEY ARE QUESTIONS, not just random dumb posts.
But ask us, really. I promise all will be answered, we will be making the video tomorrow afternoon, so hurry and ask soon!!
Brad and Skylar.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

JESUS, CHRISTMAS and VEGETARIANISM


My latest post on the Safe For Work Suicide Girls blog is up now. It's called "Jesus is the Reason for the Season?" Read it by clicking on the link.

I'm at my sister's house in Knoxville, Tennessee to celebrate Christmas. My sister is a Christian and so is her daughter Skylar. Her son is a Jew. Most of the rest of the family are committed agnostics. It's very confusing!

Back when Westerners first started encountering Buddhists it used to be the thing to do to show Zen Masters the Bible and ask them to comment about Jesus. There are a few stories like this still in circulation. One of them has someone reading some old Zen Master the parable about the lilies of the field. The Zen Master claps his hands and says something like, "This fellow is very close to Enlightenment!"

I remember someone asking Nishijima Roshi what he thought about Jesus. Nishijima said, "I think he was a historical person." Meaning he thought of Jesus as a figure from history and not as God incarnated in the flesh. Other than that he didn't have any opinions on the man or his teachings.

People aren't quite as interested in what younger Western Zen teachers think of Jesus. But I have a lot of interest in the subject myself. I've recently been reading a stack of books on the subject. While I was at Tassajara this summer I read Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite. I've also gone through several of Bart D. Ehrman's books, the best so far being Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, though I have yet to read his latest, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them). But it kinda looks like it's the same book. I also took The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition out of the library, which is pretty good, though I haven't finished it.

It seems to me that Jesus was, indeed, a historical person. The evidence isn't enough to absolutely prove his existence. But it's convincing enough. It's hard, though, to know just what exactly this person did or said. It seems unlikely he claimed to be divine, or of he did make such claims, they were much inflated after he died.

There are stories of someone similar to Jesus studying at a Buddhist monastery in Norther India during what would have been the "lost years." This is based mainly on evidence presented in Nicolas Notovitch's 1894 book The Unknown Life Of Jesus Christ. But lately the sources of those stories have been examined and found to be highly questionable.

Some other theories for the missing years even place Jesus in Japan studying Shintoism! Here's a nice webpage that lists most of the major theories.

The idea that Jesus was influenced by Buddhism is an interesting one. It's certainly possible he traveled to India or met Buddhist missionaries who were active in the Middle East during his lifetime. But there's no real compelling evidence, so all of that is just speculation, and probably will remain speculation forever. It's tasty brain candy. Nothing more.

A number of Buddhist authors have turned out books that compare the sayings of Christ and Buddha. Some want to claim Jesus studied Buddhism. Others just want to show how their messages are basically the same. I've leafed through a few of those, but they didn't look compelling enough for me to want to take them home.

I don't think the parallels between the sayings of Buddha and Christ suggest necessarily that Buddhism influenced Christ. To me it more suggests certain universal truths that underlie what we call "Buddhism" and what we call "Christianity." Both of these philosophies have grown and developed over the course of history to become something different from what their founders began.

But it's Christmas I'm in Tennessee to celebrate. I'm a vegetarian. I started being a vegetarian maybe 6 months to a year before I started doing zazen. I'd been a half-assed vegetarian for maybe 4 years before that, basically all through high school. YOU try being a full-assed vegetarian as a teenager in Wadsworth, Ohio in the early 80s!

None of the rest of my family is vegetarian and I'm in Knoxville, Tennessee, which is hardly the easiest place to go meat-free. But I'm sure I'll survive.

When I got into Zen, I started hearing all the counter arguments against vegetarianism. And there are a lot of them. The most compelling one I've heard recently is that conscious meat consumption is less environmentally destructive and can be personally healthier than the kind of willy-nilly vegetarianism most of us veggies practice.

To give just one example, a lot of vegetarians refuse to buy leather. I did for a long time. I'd go to places like Payless to get imitation leather shoes instead. Then I realized I was probably supporting child labor and sweatshops through those purchases.

I'm far too lazy to get as deeply into this kind of stuff as some folks do. But it's just one example of how a decision to be mindful of the suffering of animals can lead you to create more suffering among people.

Anyway, when I started hearing stories about Buddhist masters who weren't vegetarians, I asked my teachers, both Tim & Nishijima, if I ought to drop the vegetarianism stuff. Neither of them are vegetarians.

They both encouraged me to keep being a vegetarian. So I still am. I think it's a good habit. I would only advise vegetarians not to be too full of themselves about how much better we are. Of course, we are better. We just need to not be so full of ourselves over it! Because we may not be as angelic as we think.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ultra Christmas and Anger


Ultraman Ace episode #38 has got to be one of the weirdest Christmas episodes in all of TV history. If you can read Japanese, here's a synopisis of the episode. It's got lots of neat frame grabs from the show even if you can't read the text.

Basically, the snow monster Snowgillon attacks Tokyo. A gigantic mustachioed, but beardless Santa Claus (see photo) battles the creature. I think he gives Ultraman Ace some kind of special ray power to deal with the beast too. Then Santa turns out to the Father of Ultra, the daddy of all the Ultramen. In the end he flies away on a silver sleigh along with the Minami, who had been part of Ultraman Ace's alter ego (it took two people to transform into Ultraman Ace, Hokuto, a man and Minami, a woman, but Minami left some time in the series).

Weird. Just weird.

My friend Takeshi Yagi directed a far less weird Ultraman Christmas episode called "Ellie's Christmas" in 2005 for the series Ultraman Max. There's a brief synopsis of that episode here.

I'll be spending Christmas at my sister's house where my dad is coming to join the fun. I like Christmas. It's fun.

I just spent the whole morning writing a Christmas-themed article, which will appear on the Suicide Girls Safe For Work Blog on Monday. I'll put the link up here once I get it. So I'm not gonna write a lot about Christmas here.

Here's a question from the mailbag:

"What is wrong with my anger at why the world is wrong? The Clash gave me a code to live by in the song 'Clampdown,' 'let fury have the hour,anger can be power.' What I want to know is, why must I kill my anger toward things which are wrong? Exploitation of workers, rape, sexism, racism, fascism, conservatism, militarism, Islamic female circumcision practices, universal health care, and most importantly, the environment are my biggest concerns. And for as long as I can remember, the complete lack of general concern for these issues has thoroughly pissed me off. But like The Clash said, anger can be power and I have always believed that getting angry, really fired up about the world's problems is the best way to solve them. When I get angry about, say litter, it just reminds me to recycle a little more and consume a little less.

You get the picture right? Anger can be useful in solving problems, in dealing with injustice. Do I still have to kill my anger toward injustice?"


My answer:
(I always start with "my answer" because these articles go up on Facebook and all the careful formatting I do disappears)

The answer is that there is nothing "wrong" with your anger. People are constantly characterizing me as an "angry" person based on my writing. I think that I'm not as angry as I used to be, but I'm still just as angry as I used to be. Which is a typically contradictory "Zen" way of saying that even though I'm angry still, I don't get angry about my anger like I used to.

In other words, the emotional component of what we call "anger" is clearly useless. It doesn't help anything. And yet when I hear about the stuff you've described, it pisses me off. Lots of things piss me off.

I just saw an interesting talk by Alan Senauke from the Berkeley Zen Center. Alan wrote a very cool book called The Bodhisattva's Embrace: Dispatches from Engaged Buddhism's Front Lines. He's into the whole engaged Buddhism thing. He works for a lot of causes. He goes places. He does stuff.

But when questioned in a similar manner about anger over the troubles of the world after his talk, Alan said something to the effect of, "I try to limit my intake of TV news." I like that advice. Our duty is to deal with the shit right in front of us. But we get sidetracked by the tons and tons and tons of information we are now able to receive about things we really can't deal with because they're too far away or they're too big, etc.

You can easily drive yourself into a tizzy over all the stuff there is in this world to get angry about. I have no doubt that if/when we establish communications with creatures from other planets, it won't be long before there are people on Earth wringing their hands over the unfair treatment of the Krell in the Gomular fields of Regizon IV. It's just human nature to feel like that.

But anger as an emotion gets in the way of what you need to do to effectively deal with those things you're angry about. It blinds you with rage and you don't see the real solutions right in front of you.

Sure anger, in one sense, can be power. But the emotion of anger isn't very powerful if you ask me. It's debilitating.

So it really depends what you mean by the word "anger." I'm angry at sexism. But it doesn't do me any good to sit and stew over it. When there are cases of sexism that I can do something about, I do what I can do. Like maybe if I was there when Ultraman Neos was fondling that poor girl in her Santa outfit I might say something. But not if she was clearly enjoying the attention. My general feeling of anger over the issue remains as part of my personality whether I'm acting on it or not. But it makes no sense to get emotional about things I can't do anything about. The general overall problem of sexism is far too big for one person to fix.

This doesn't mean I have a lack of concern. The whole idea that being all emotional about big issues is a way of being concerned is kind of a red herring. It's something that seems to be relevant to the issue at hand when it really isn't.

When you talk about "being fired up," I think what you're really referring to is holding on to a part of your sense of personal self. You fear that if you don't hold on to your anger, it will go away and you'll just be complacent. In my experience this is not what happens at all. You don't become complacent. You become more relaxed and more realistic about where you can help and where you cannot.

I hope that made some kind of sense.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

THE ECONOMICS OF ZEN


The sexy website Lucrezia Magazine has published some stuff from my new book Sex Sin and Zen.

Here's their review.

And here's an except they published from the book.

Thanks!

And speaking of that book, I have about 6 copies of Sex Sin and Zen, maybe eight of Hardcore Zen and a few Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate but no copies of Sit Down and Shut Up (sorry!). So for a limited time, I will sell you a personally autographed copy for just $25 (it's a rip off! You can get 'em for way less than that without someone's writing inside!). Send in a donation (the button is on your left) and attach a note saying which book you want and who you want it signed to and the address to send it to. I can't promise they'll make it in time for Christmas. But I'll do my best. If I happen to get orders after the books are gone, I'll refund your donation.

Why am I doing this? Because New York is like a giant vacuum cleaner sucking up all my money -- even though I have the most amazingly cheap rent you could ever imagine.

So I thought it's about time I wrote an article I've been thinking about for a good long while. I've called this "The Economics of Zen." But it's more the economics of Brad. Still, I think there's a lot in my specific personal experience that relates to many people in this business. I hope this post won't come off like a bunch of whining, but instead be somewhat instructive and useful.

Before I begin, I want to state clearly that even though I will be referencing some future speaking gigs that I'm in the process of setting up, none of what I'm going to say here should be taken as any kind of a veiled message to the people I'm organizing those gigs with. Whatever I've needed to say to you I have said or will say directly. But the examples are too good to pass up. So I'm going to use them. Just don't read anything into this stuff. OK? Thanks!

OK. I often receive invitations to speak in cool exotic places. And I love speaking in cool exotic places. This year I've been to Tel Aviv, Warsaw, Helsinki, Belfast, Wupetal and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, just to name a few! It's great.

But I think a lot of people who send me invitations don't really get what all's involved. Many people assume, for starters, that I make a decent living off of book royalties. Not so. What I get from book royalties alone keeps me well below poverty level. There is no way I could live off just book royalties unless maybe I moved to a corrugated cardboard box in the basement of Shinjuku Station or something. Seriously, though, I did search for a place in the USA that I could afford just on book sales and came up with nothing. Not even in Akron, Ohio!

Like almost every author I have to supplement my income somehow. What I've been trying to do the past two years is to do what lots of writers do and supplement my book earnings through speaking gigs.

Let's say you invite me to come speak in Bloomington, Indiana. You get me for two days. You offer me a generous $200. Hey! That's $100 per day. Not bad! And really, if you think of it that way, it's not.

But for me to get to Bloomington, Indiana, I have to spend three or four days just getting there and getting back home. And in order to be able to be available for a gig in Bloomington, I can't be holding down a regular five-days-a-week 9-5 job. No job I can think of would be happy with me running off at random intervals for a week at a time.

This is why I usually ask for traveling expenses and a speaking fee. My fees, by the way, are really low from what I've been able to learn about what other writers and Buddhist teachers charge.

Some people invite me saying that I can collect donations (dana) and sell books. That's OK. But sometimes I get to a place and sell three books and the dana ends up being like $75. It's too risky for me to give up other potential income (like a 9-5 job, for example) on that kind of a gamble.

Remember there's no retirement plan in this and no health insurance scheme. Then there's the car and its insurance. It's all gotta come out of my pocket.

Various people I've encountered or read about in the Buddhist teacher business have different means of dealing with this sort of thing. Many belong to large organizations who have networks of temples and can support them should donations not be enough. One guy, a Canadian I met in Japan, was from a sect that doesn't allow him to handle money. But I found his tactics a bit suspect. He was very slick about getting the people around him to pay for all kinds of stuff that I couldn't afford -- and I was working a real job at the time I encountered him. I wouldn't feel right doing that kind of thing. I'm too proud and Midwestern maybe. I could do the Genpo Roshi thing and ask for $50,000 to spend five days in a luxury hotel with me. If anyone wants to make that offer, I'm ready to talk. Yeah, right.

I talked to a Zen teacher I respect in California who told me that what he does is ask for a "minimum dana." I haven't tried this myself yet. But I might.

So now I'm thinking about what to do next. All the traveling I'm doing is fun, but it wears a fella out! Plus it's only just barely covering basic living expenses. I'm really grateful for all the donations and suchlike I've received. It's a beautiful thing. I can't tell you how wonderful. I know a lot of people are digging deep for my sake. It's a tremendous thing. But, at the level I'm at now, I'd have to be traveling almost constantly just to get by.

I made things work for most of 2010 by not having an apartment of my own and just trusting things would work out. They did. But being homeless is tough. Think about it. Where do you pick up your mail? I've had about six temporary addresses this year. A lot of important stuff has gone missing.

I have gigs in February and March that'll probably come close to covering my rent. Hey, I may even make a little scratch. But after that I'm seriously considering packing in the traveling author/teacher thing and just getting a normal job again. That is, if there are any of those left anymore.

I hope this doesn't sound too complaining. Sometimes the few people who already understand what's involved take things I say about this stuff way too personally and think I'm whining about them. I'm not. Or else people bitch in the comments section about how I promote my books and stuff. Yes, I do. I have to. Nobody else is doing it.

I'm not really complaining. Life is good. I just feel like, since I get so many invitations all the time, it's good to let everyone know what it is they're asking when they invite me to come speak somewhere.

And for all of you wondering where the "dharma" is, well, this is it. Lots of folks don't talk about this side of it. But it's there and it always has been.

Thanks for listening!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Bodhi Day? Schmodie Day!

One of American Hardcore author Steven Bush's favorite hardcore bands is Zero Defex from Akron, Ohio! Click on the sentence to go read him say it!

Also I now have a French author page. So go see that if you're French or Canadian or Ghanian or wherever else-ian where they speak French.

Also part two of my interview on Dr. Dick's Sex Advise is up. So you can go listen to that.

Yesterday I went to the John Lennon memorial in Central Park on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Lennon's death. I didn't shoot this video. But this is pretty much a visual account of what I experienced when I was there (you just don't get a sense of how frikkin' COLD it was):



I think I must have gotten there a few hours after whoever shot this video. But it was basically the same scene. And I stayed for just about as long as this video runs. I think I heard three or four songs. I couldn't see the musicians, just like whoever took this video couldn't. I think they were in the center of the circle somewhere. There was a trumpet player joining in by the time I got there. I don't know how anyone could play guitar in that cold. Then again, it was freezing cold on the roof of the Apple offices when The Beatles played their final concert (the one filmed for Let It Be).

When I posted some of this same stuff on Facebook, some people there marveled at the fact that I would post about John Lennon's death rather than about Bodhi Day, the supposed day of Buddha's enlightenment, which also is commemorated on December 8th.

But Bodhi Day never meant all that much to me. None of the teachers I sat with ever made a big deal out of it or held Rohatsu Sesshins, which is the common practice in a lot of Zen centers this time of year. Nishijima Roshi was always a bit of a curmudgeon about anything that seemed the least bit ceremonial or superstitious. I think the idea of doing a special sesshin on a day when Buddha probably didn't even actually get enlightened seemed pretty ridiculous to him.

I don't feel like it maters much. Sometimes you just pick an arbitrary time to do a thing, and doing a sesshin around December 8th is as good as any other day. So why not? I'm planning on attending a rohatsu sesshin this weekend here in New York.

But I do tend to agree with Nishijima's feelings about making certain days more "holy" than other ones. I mean, I love Christmas even though I'm not a Christian. But it's no more or less holy than any other day.

The idea of things like a Christmas ceasefire in a war always baffled me. I mean if you can have a ceasefire on December 25th, why not just stop firing at each other all together? Makes no sense to me.

I sit zazen every single day unless some really difficult circumstance prevents it. That's the most essential part of Buddhist practice. Saving all your zazen up for a sesshin in early December makes no more sense to me than calling a ceasefire on Christmas. It's sort of the same attitude, really. Of course it's a less violent expression of that attitude. But it's still pretty much coming from the same place.

Monday, December 06, 2010

New Suicide Girls Piece: :Living Simply

OK. I got a new Suicide Girls blog up. It's called Living Simply and you can find it by clicking on the words "Living Simply." How simple is that? And this is the safe-for-work site. No naked boobies or buttocks!

Got a Skype call last night from a friend of mine in Japan. She had just returned from a 5-day Zen retreat in another lineage, which shall remain nameless but rhymes with Barada Basutani. She showed me these big huge bruises on both shoulders from severe beatings with the kiyosaku (stick of discipline). She said they didn't even stop smacking her when she cried. Guys in the zendo were yelling "Mu! Mu! Muuuuuuu!" as they sat. Apparently of her group three people got enlightenment. She was not one of them.

The whole thing sounded intensely ridiculous and even comical. I'm glad I never went to any of those kinds of Zen retreats. I would have rejected it right away. Maybe when I'm not so tired I'll write up a piece on why this kind of practice is so incredibly silly.

For now I'm just baffled.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

PODCAST, OFTEN AWESOME, URBAN ZEN and PROPER POSTURE (yet again)


First up the Hardcore Zen Podcast has recently been updated. It's all about SEX! So go have a listen.

I'm also now up on another podcast: Dr. Dick's Sex Advice.

Secondly, now that the Christmas season is here, I wanted to once again direct your attention to Often Awesome, the group of friends of mine who have joined together to help their friend Tim LaFollette in his battle with Lou Gehrig's Disease. It's a damn shame to live in a country where the only way a guy like this can get the help he needs is by begging from strangers. But that's the U.S. of A. for you. Don't get me started... Just donate something!

Back to questions from readers. I don't have a specific email for my first question. It's just something that keeps coming up especially now that I have moved to New York City. The question goes something like this: How can I practice in an urban setting with all the noise and hassle and speed and distractions?

I was just reading Shohaku Okumura's Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen's Shobogenzo last night and came across the answer. Okumura cites the old Japanese folk tale about the rabbit in the moon. The story, which I have cut and pasted from this website, goes like this:

"The Old-Man-of-the-Moon one day looked down into a big forest on Earth and saw three friends sitting together around a fire. These three were a rabbit, a monkey and a fox. Amazed at seeing a group of friends like this, he went down to Earth and changed himself into a beggar. He told the three friends that he was very hungry. On hearing this they all ran of to find him some food. The monkey brought back a lot of fruit to the man and the fox brought back a big fish. However, the rabbit was unable to find any food for the man, and so asked the monkey to gather some firewood and the fox to build a big fire with the wood. Once the fire was burning very brightly, the rabbit explained to the beggar that he didn't have anything to give him, so he would put himself in the fire and when he was cooked the beggar could eat him. Just before the rabbit jumped into the fire the beggar turned back into the Old-Man-of-the-Moon and told the rabbit that he was very kind, and that he shouldn't do anything to harm himself. Because he decided that the rabbit is the kindest of the three, he took him back to the moon to live with him."

Okumura writes that as a young Buddhist monk he often felt like that rabbit. He was ordained at 21 and began living off the donations of others. He says that as a result he never developed any skills that would allow him to have a regular job. He often felt guilty about receiving donations from people who did "real work" when he could offer nothing in return. All he could offer was his practice. He says, "I tried to practice zazen as if I was offering my body and mind to all Buddhas." And, of course, by "all Buddhas" he means everyone.

In New York City people like to blow their horns. It's not quite as bad as Cairo or Jerusalem because you can actually get fined for unnecessary use of your horn here. Although I doubt if anyone ever really is fined for that. In any case, whenever I hear some asshole honking his horn for no good reason* I recall that I am doing my practice for him. I am training myself to be better able not to add to the stress and frustration that causes guys like that to have to lash out at others. Every little bit helps.

TODAY'S FIRST EMAIL QUESTION:
A really awesome friend of mine is typing up this question for me because I am in prison right now. In your book “Sit Down and Shut Up” you said Dogen says not to study Buddism without a teacher. But what about when you’re in a place without a teacher? I’ve read all of your books more than once. I’ve read books by Gudo Nishijima, Dogen, et cetera. I lend time to zazen everyday. What else can (or should) I do? Is there anyway to study Buddhism without a teacher?

MY ANSWER:
I get a lot of "how can I study Buddhism when I'm so far away from a teacher woah is me" type questions. And I'm not incredibly sympathetic because I managed to find a great teacher in Kent, Ohio in 1983, a time and a place where there should not have been anyone to teach me Zen. I'm aware of magnificent teachers in such far flung places as Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Helsinki, Finland. There are amazing teachers all over the damn place of only you take a look. A lot of people who ask this question are either too lazy to look around or too fussy about finding a teacher who fits exactly their preconceived notions. If I had waited for a teacher who fit my ideals about a teacher I would never have studied with Tim McCarthy or Gudo Nishijima.

But some people, like the guy who wrote me, really are in positions where a teacher is absolutely not available. To them I say, just continue your practice. There are points in practice where you genuinely have to have an outside opinion. I often cite the story of Shoko Asahara, the dick-wad who decided he was Enlightened and that this meant it was OK to jump start the Apocalypse by putting poison gas on the Tokyo subways as an example of what can happen when you try to teach yourself to meditate.

That's a very extreme case. You probably won't do something like that. I hope. Most likely your zazen will be sort of boring and maybe a little confusing. You might feel like giving up sometimes. But you'll be OK. Wait it out a little and you will probably find yourself in proximity to a teacher at just the moment you truly need to be. I really believe in the old cliche that "when the student is ready the teacher appears."

Guys who try to solve the problem of students who feel they need a teacher RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE by being available too easily are probably not doing anyone any great favors. The difficulty involved in finding a teacher is often part of the process that makes you ready when you do finally find one.

As fro what you can do besides zazen and reading... I don't know. That's all I've ever really done for my practice apart from talking to my teachers. Joshu Sasaki said to read lots of good books. I've always liked that advice. I made my own webpage of Zen books I think don't suck.

SECOND EMAIL QUESTION:
I have been reading your excellent book Sit Down and Shut Up and I have a question about the chapter 'Proper Posture Required.' It is not clear from the way the chapter is written the extent to which you think Zazen is possible in other positions. Whilst I have been taught that posture is very important, I have also been taught that it is possible to practice Zazen whilst kneeling on a bench, sitting on a chair, walking and even lying down, as long as the zazener is paying proper attention to their posture. I do not current possess the flexibility to practice in the iconic lotus positions, so I use a meditation bench. Do you think my meditation practice is completely shot as a result? Because I don't! However, I do not currently have a ready-made Sangha to visit to ask questions!

MY ANSWER:
As I've often said, the posture in zazen is not arbitrary. It is part of the practice. No decent Yoga teacher would let a normal healthy person sit in a chair and bend forward a little then tell them they were doing the Downward Facing Dog pose just like the rest of the class. But if that Yoga teacher saw that sitting in a chair bending forward a little was the best approximation a certain person could do of Downward Facing Dog, she'd do her best to help that person in the hopes that maybe with a bit of work she could do the posture correctly someday.

I think Zen teachers who tell students that sitting in chairs, on benches or even lying on the floor are the same as sitting cross-legged on a cushion are not doing their students any great favors. Yes I KNOW that the full lotus posture is a bitch. YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO THE FULL LOTUS POSTURE! I don't know why every time I say anything about "right posture" a million commenters immediately assume I mean full lotus and get all red-faced and angry about it. I have always been very clear on this. Even Dogen doesn't insist on full lotus and he's about as hard-line on matters of posture as anyone you'd ever want to encounter.

But unless you really, truly, no bullshit, absolutely cannot sit cross legged on a cushion in any way shape or form then you really have to sit cross-legged on a cushion to do zazen correctly. Here's Gudo Nishijima explaining how to do it.

Your meditation practice is NOT completely shot because you do it on a bench. Do I need to say that again? Maybe I do because so many people seem to miss it when I make statements like that. So here goes:

Your meditation practice is NOT completely shot because you do it on a bench.

Those kneeling benches come kinda sorta close to getting you into a decent zazen posture. But it's still not the same. I would keep working on my flexibility. Try some Yoga classes. They're good for you! You might meet some cute people there too! Then after a while you can put away the bench until such time as you're old and arthritic and can't do the posture anymore. Then when you actually really do need the bench, pull it out again and use it.




* And I do mean "assholes honking for no good reason." I got honked at once here during the 1.7 seconds it took to shift my car from neutral to first gear. I also heard another guy get honked at because he failed to run over me when I was crossing the street in front of the guy who was in front of him (I had a walk signal too, by the way, as if that would even make a difference).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

DEATH AGAIN


Eric asks:
"While you've talked about death in all of your books I can only remember you mentioning the fear of death once and it was to say in effect: Buddhism can't do anything about our fear of death. And wouldn't life kind of suck without it anyway? I disagree. If I could live the rest of my life without the bone-chilling fear of non-existence then I would be MUCH happier. When I read that I supposed that you were referring to the biological fear hard-wired into us by evolution that makes most of us avoid things like playing chicken with trains and drinking Draino on bets with our friends. If that's what you mean I totally agree. But what about the more 'existential' fear-- angst I guess, or Nausea in Sartre's formulation-- that arises upon the contemplation of our death. When I squarely face the fact that my awareness will be annihilated in just a few short decades-- six or seven at the most-- it is enough to 1) keep me from sleeping and 2) make me really depressed. Now, I know that Buddhism says we die all the time. I know that there is no essential self that coheres through the years of a person's life. But it is still scary as hell to contemplate nothingness. So does zazen remedy that? If it does, great. But if it doesn't then why do zazen as opposed to obliterating yourself with video games, wild sex, and booze? Or whatever. Saying the practice is its own reward is all fine and dandy but if it is still going to leave us blanched with terror and sadness at the omnipresence of death then what's the point?"

Brad says:
Zazen will not get rid of your fear of death. Or maybe it will. But booze, wild sex and video games won't. At least not that I've ever heard. Though I've never really played video games and I don't like being drunk* and as for wild sex, I'll leave that to other bloggers to speculate about.

But I'm guessing you mean more generally distractions that help you forget about serious stuff. So maybe in my case it'd be Gamera movies, pad thai and... uh... wild sex (as if...). And you're wondering if Zen practice will blot out your fear of death permanently in a way these temporary fixes do not.

I can't tell you what it will do for you. I won't make any guarantees or even promises. I can only say how it's worked for me.

Like you, I found myself terrified of death. When I was a teenager I realized there was a horrifying hereditary disease in our family that often crippled and/or killed people before they reached the age that I am now. I didn't think I had long to live and I was scared shitless.

But for whatever reasons I didn't do my searching the way most people seem to. I didn't look for an escape from life. When I looked into religions it was all about escape. They offered ways by which they said you could escape from this life into a life in Heaven or Krishna Loka or a variety of other places. They didn't deny death. They were obsessed with death. But they denied life. What they said translated to me as something like, "Trade your life now for a chance at something amazing after you die."

They made the trade sound reasonable. I only get to live in this world a few decades. But the afterlife, they said, is eternal. So I was supposed to live a bland, boring , restricted, white bread and mayonnaise life now in the hopes of a really super terrific future in the afterlife that would last forever.

Problem was, I couldn't believe in the afterlife. The evidence for its existence was not convincing at all.

But I knew I was living this life. So my quest became about how to make this life better. It seems like most people when they search for a way to make this life better turn to the pursuit of hedonistic pleasure. Drugs, sex, money, material goods... these things seem to be the way to Earthly happiness without regard to any belief in life after death.

This didn't work for me either, for much the same reasons. There isn't a whole lot of evidence that money, power, sex and all that really lead to happiness. I was already well aware of the excessive lives of people like Elvis Presley or Howard Hughes who had all they could possibly want and were still miserable. Later on there was Kurt Cobain who did exactly what I'd been hoping I could do, parlay a shitty paying career as an indie rocker into superstardom. What did it get him? Then I started working in the movie industry and routinely associating with famous people who were absolutely loaded with cash and I saw that they were also just as unhappy as anyone else.

Zen practice was all about this life and how to make it better. It didn't offer any magic solutions, which was appealing because I didn't believe in those. It never got into questions of the afterlife, which was great because I didn't believe in that either. It demanded a moderate degree of austerity but not because you were trading austerity today for a future of wonders in Paradise. It recommended a certain degree of austerity because it said that chasing after money, fame, sex, material goods and power just added unnecessary stress to your life that would not be rewarded when you got those things. I knew this was true. I could see it for myself.

But what about the fear of death, then? What of the fear of future oblivion?

I came to understand this fear better through my practice. I began to see that the root of this fear was a projection of myself into an imaginary future. I started seeing it was a fear of things that were not real right here and right now.

This doesn't really erase the fear of death. When I think about the possibility of Brad Warner disappearing forever, I don't really like it. But I also understand that this fear is completely unreasonable. It's as unreasonable as fearing Godzilla or some other imaginary terror.

What I'm about to say might seem like mysticism, but here goes anyhow. Once you start seeing this moment for what this moment really is, you start to understand that you can never really be annihilated in the ways that you previously imagined could happen. What I think of as "Brad Warner" is a construct in my mind. It isn't real. Yet there is a real something upon which that mental construct I've called "Brad Warner" is based. This something can't really die because it was never really born. At least not in the sense we commonly think of things being born and dying. Yes, Brad Warner was born and yes Brad Warner will die. And yet he is not just an individual entity. He is also a temporary manifestation of something vast and unknowable that has no beginning and no end.

Weird shit, huh? Sorry about that.

So OK. I still fear death. But not very much.

I forget if it was Shunryu Suzuki or Dainin Katagiri, but both of these Zen teachers died of cancer. One or the other of them said, toward the end of his life, "I don't want to die."

I've heard that this statement freaked a lot of their followers out. It implied that either a) an Enlightened master still fears death or b) the master was not actually Enlightened because an Enlightened master can't possibly fear death. Neither possibility was very attractive to those who had put their faith in a master they thought was enlightened and therefore would deliver them from the fear of death.

But I don't think the statement implies a fear of death. It implies that the teacher simply would rather have lived longer. That's not really the same thing. And even if it does mean he feared death, what's wrong with that? I fear dentist appointments. But that doesn't mean I'm scared that I will cease to exist after them.

I used to lose sleep over the fear of death. It used to bug the shit out of me. Nowadays death is about as scary as, say, the idea of a a root canal. It's something I don't want to go through, but it doesn't keep me awake nights.

You have to understand, though, that whatever degree I have achieved of overcoming the fear of death I owe to years of often difficult practice. You don't overcome the fear of death by simply deciding you don't want to be afraid of death. It's not that easy. If it was, everyone would do it.



* Am I the only person in the world who finds being drunk a very unpleasant feeling? I don't mind the effect of a glass of wine or a beer, but actually being drunk feels awful to me, like being sick.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving America and Zen That's Not Called Zen

First, the Suicide Girls Radio interview I did is online now. Listen to it by going to:

http://blip.tv/file/4402557

I feel like it gets better as it goes along, so feel free to skip ahead.

Next, my good friend Marrrrrkus in Finland (home of delicious pippari) told me about a couple articles on li'l ol' me that I had not seen before:

The Brad Warner Paradox

Brad Warner Vs. the Dalai Lama

I don't even know what "Brad Warner Vs. the Dalai Lama" really even has to do with me other than the opening quote. It's mostly a discussion about God.

Then there's Elephant Journal's nice review of my new book. The new book in question is, of course, Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between. It's selling like hot cakes here in New York City. I wish it was selling like books, though...

So tomorrow is Thanksgiving and my sister is on her way to NYC so we can go watch the Macy's parade. Yoiks! This is my second Thanksgiving this year, since I was up in Canadia last month when they had theirs. I think they add a "u" to the word "Thanksgiving" up there, but I'm not sure.

A guy asked me recently about what he called the "Microsoft-ization of Zen." I'm not exactly sure why he used this term. He meant the way there are lots of people out there hawking products that are essentially Zen, but without actually calling it "Zen." They carefully avoid using words like "Buddhism" or "dharma," even though most of their schtick comes straight out of Zen books. Sometimes straight out of my Zen books!

I've noticed this too and it bugs me. I'm well aware that using words like "Zen" or "Buddhism" or "dharma" will essentially cut your potential audience by at least half. Hell, when I make even the smallest mention of Dogen in these pages I get half a dozen comments about how I'm just promoting the "cult of Dogen" rather than "actual Buddhism." I'm gonna try to address that topic another time, though.

But all these dudes out there hawking Zen but not calling it Zen, why would that bug me? It bugs me because they seem to want to imply that you can just decide to be more "in the moment" and it'll happen. Or they offer some new miracle method to get you there "quickly, easily and effectively" (the verbatim claim of one such method I just came across). Those methods don't work, of course. Though they might provide some kind of short term thrills.

It's like if you woke up one morning and realized you were fat. Not only you. You realized your whole society was made up almost exlusively of people who were at least 200 pounds overweight and that every service, entertainment, occupation, etc. in the entire society was geared toward making already fat people more fat. You couldn't just decide not to be fat in such a society. You'd need to spend a lot of time, effort and energy just figuring out how one could lose weight. Your senses might be so dulled by the environment that you wouldn't even be able to recognize someone of healthy weight. Your friends would all describe such a person as dangerously ill.

Methods like Big Mind® and their ilk strike me as the all-cupcake-diets of this imaginary landscape. Some blubbery guy tells you that the best way to get to a healthy weight is to eat as many cupcakes as possible because what you really want is not to be 200 pounds overweight but three or four-hundred pounds heavier than you are now.

Anyway, yeah, the whole idea of cribbing from Zen without really understanding what it is and hiding the source of your inspiration lest it scare away paying customers irks me. And I'll admit it, one of the reasons it bugs me is because I can't do it myself and therefore I make way less money than the people who do. It would feel far too dishonest. Whatever minor insights I have come through Zen Buddhist practice. If I were to deny that I'd be cheating.

Anyway, plenty of people don't think I have any insights at all. I got an email the other day that said "You are an egoist and have no wisdom to offer!" Gee, thanks. That's sweet.

OK. So whatever.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, America! See you down at the parade!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Border Crossing

So let me tell you about my recent adventures. Last Thursday I packed a PT Cruiser load of stuff into my car and crossed the border from Quebec, Canada into New York, USA. I'd already crossed this border twice during my stay in Montreal when I had some gigs in New York. Those times it was easy-peasy. Even with a carload of stuff the Canadian border guard passed me through. So I didn't expect much of anything when coming back into what is, for better or worse, my own country.

But when I arrived at the DMZ separating the Peoples Republic of Canada from the Vereinigtes Großreich von Amerika I soon found out this was not to be the case. I was singled out for a secondary inspection. This involved getting out of my car, leaving my keys with the border gestapo and being taken into an interrogation center where I had to empty out my pockets and turn them inside out, where the little single serving cheese thingy my friend had given me was sliced open to see if it was drugs, where I was asked a lot of questions about my source of income and so on. Look, guys, I'm a US citizen. Even if I was a vagrant without means of support you couldn't send me back to Canada. I think they were a little confused about how this border stuff works.

I took all of this with good humor. What else can you do? But it was annoying and absolutely without even the smallest degree of sense. What does anyone smuggle in from Canada? Seriously. There aren't even any drugs you can get in Quebec that you can't get more of in New York, and I'm sure they're cheaper too. Everything is cheaper in the USA than in Canada. And that bullshit you've heard that the Sept. 11th hijackers came in through Canada? It's not true.

Feh. So after that I made my way to Brooklyn where, much to my amazement, I secured a parking spot just around the corner from the front door of my building. That was Thursday night and the street was closed to parking from 9:30-11:00 on Friday mornings for cleaning. But I wasn't too worried because I've parked in Brooklyn before and it hasn't been a huge hassle.

What I did not know was that about four blocks of my neighborhood is being resurfaced this week, which means parking has become much more difficult. At nine on Friday morning I started driving around looking for a spot. It took well over an hour, much of which time was spent getting a ticket from the NYPD for allegedly violating a "no right on red" that they say was clearly posted. I went back around to the same corner later specifically looking for the signs they told me were there. I did not see any. They had a line of three or four more cars behind me all getting pulled over for the same violation, they didn't see the alleged signs either. This is the New York City equivalent of a deep south speed trap. I'm gonna go check again, but I'm pretty certain those signs — if they exist at all — are deliberately obscured for the sole purpose of generating highly questionable revenue.

All of this coupled with the usual stresses associated with moving and with not having a reliable source of income (You think authors are rich? Guess again.) and a few other stress producing incidents that I'm not going to make public made for one pretty unhappy Bradley.

It was during this recent period of black pessimism and malaise that I began to reflect again on the whole "that's not very Buddhist of you" business. I'm sure lots of people reading this blog are familiar with it. I wrote an article about this in the March, 2008 issue of Shambhala Sun (it's the issue with the Dalai Lama on the cover. Oh wait! D'oh!).

That's when someone who is a Buddhist gets a bit flustered by whatever and all her friends say, "That's not very Buddhist of you!"

I'll tell you what, though, friends and neighbors, if it weren't for my steady practice I wouldn't be able to get through life at all. Forget about being all wide eyed and Enlightened. I wouldn't even make it through the fucking day. This is one of the thousand million reasons I take issue with all those assholes out there hawking meditation as the way to turn an ordinary human into Super Meditation Man, the guy who never gets his hair (or lack thereof) ruffled no matter what hurricanes life sends his way.

Yeah, yeah. I know. I know. You've seen that guy! He's on YouTube! He's got little videos in which he giggles and smiles and talks in this really sweet soothing voice about how he has found the way to be cool as a cucumber no matter what happens. He's the real deal!

You know what? Go follow that guy if you want. Buy his magic potions. I don't care. Just don't come belly-achin' to me when you realize what a scam it all was. That's all I ask.

Any decent actor can play that role for the ten minutes YouTube allows you, or the hour or two he's on stage, or for a 15 minute personal interview session where he gets to ring a bell and send you away the instant things get tense. It's not even a very impressive trick. Real life, however, is entirely different.

This is one of (again) the bazillion and two reasons I'm dead set against the whole on-line Zen Master thing. It's so easy to play the role of Super Meditation Man in a Skype interview where you can't see the mess the guy's room is just off camera (both concretely and metaphorically), where you don't get to see how your teacher acts after spending two hours in gridlock on the 405 expressway, where you can't smell the garlic on his breath.

Bah.

Anyway, last night I went out and had Belgian fries in the East Village and everything got a whole lot better.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

PHILADELPHIA FREEDOM and NISHIJIMA ARTICLES

Here I am at the Philadelphia International Airport with an hour to go before my re-rescheduled flight back to Montreal. I had an extra day in Los Angeles after the first flight I booked got delayed such that my connecting flight wouldn't happen. Now my connecting flight to Montreal today was canceled so I was put on a different one. This is why I need to cut back on travel!

I've been looking at some of the comments, and I'd like to point everyone to a website that's been linked on this blog for ages, but which some of the people who comment on this website seem unaware of:

Lectures and Articles by Nishijima Roshi

One of the comments under the last piece referred obliquely to Nishijima's "very personal and particular interpretation of Dogen." I have to assume he means Nishijima's ideas about the fourfold logical structure of Shobogenzo. This way of reading Dogen isn't simply a personal bias, but the result of decades of working with the text.

Nishijima has written a very detailed explanation of this way of reading Shobogenzo, which is available as a free download at:

Understanding Shobogenzo

Another comment says something about Nishjima being "the ANS/four views crank." Nishijima's ideas about the ANS (autonomic nervous system) are covered in this piece:

Buddhism and the Autonomic Nervous System

I do not find these ideas "cranky" at all. He is trying to use the language of science rather than the language of mysticism to explain the effects of zazen practice. He doesn't claim to be a neurologist or even an expert in the workings of the ANS. This he makes quite explicit in the first paragraph of the piece. But he does find this means of expressing how zazen works far more useful than the older, more mystical sounding language.

It's very easy to condense someone's body of work into a few choice words and thereby dismiss it entirely. D.T. Suzuki did that when he wrote about Dogen. So it happens to the best of us and is often initiated by people with impressive credentials.

I just wanted to give anyone who was interested a chance to check out Nishijima's own words for themselves. Most of the articles on the page linked above are short and easy to read.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

結跏趺坐 or Why The New Shobogenzo is the Second Best Translation

First logistical stuff. If you're in Los Angeles, you still have one more chance to hear me talk. Tomorrow (Sunday Nov. 14, 2010) at 7pm I'll be speaking at the Bodhi Tree bookstore 8585 Melrose Avenue West Hollywood, CA 90069-5199.

Also, the folks from Dogen Sangha Los Angeles have put together some videos of me and stuck them up on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles YouTube Channel. They'll be adding more soon.

Also, my newest book Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between has been nominated as the worst religious book cover by a website called Religious Bulletin. Yay! I hope I win because then they can put "Award Winning Author" on my next book.

Also I just put up a new article on the Suicide Girls' Safe For Work Blog. It's called Desire and you can find it by clicking on the word "Desire" in this here sentence right here.

Ans speaking of Suicide Girls, I'll be on their radio show tomorrow night. For more details on that just click right here!

****

Last weekend I went to the San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC) to participate in an event celebrating the publication of Kazuaki Tanahashi's translation of the complete 95 chapter Shobogenzo.

If you want to see what I said there go to this link and scroll ahead to 36:26 into the piece.

This new English language edition of Shobogenzo is essentially the San Francisco Zen Center edition of Shobogenzo. They own the copyright, they provided the bulk of the funding for the project and 32 priests from SFZC acted as co-translators, the average person working on between one and three chapters.

Naturally, during the celebration this weekend a number of people proclaimed that this was the best English translation of Shobogenzo. And, of course, those of us who worked on or, as in my case, were associated with people who worked on other English translations said that ours were the best. It became a bit of a running gag. If you watch the video of my talk on Saturday you'll see my contribution to the gag. I was the third or forth person that day to make this joke. But it wasn't really a joke.

At one point Kaz said that every translation of Shobogenzo was the best in its own way. Each one provided a unique and valuable perspective. A very diplomatic response! And true. I'm sure he meant it.

I haven't read much of the Tanahashi Shobogenzo yet. I read a few chapters while I was at Tassajara over the Summer and a couple more since I bought a copy for myself ($150, ouch! And that was with a discount!). I am not an expert on it the way I am on the Nishijima/Cross version, which I've read at least four times cover to cover, and have read my favorite bits maybe a dozen times or more and which I produced a book of my own about (see link below). Though I'm still hard pressed to quote chapter and verse even of this version.

Even so, I feel safe saying the Tanahashi Shobogenzo is the second best one available, after the one by Gudo Wafu Nishijima and Chodo Cross, which will always be the best (which is high praise from someone as picky as me, for whatever that's worth) . I'm familiar with the earlier versions of Tanahashi's translations that have appeared in books like Moon In a Dewdrop and Enlightenment Unfolds. During the couple of years when it was tough to track down a copy of the Nishijima/Cross edition, I used to often recommend the Tanahashi books. I felt that they were the closest to the original. Now you can easily find the Nishijima/Cross version on line. (links to follow below)

The main reason the Nishijima/Cross version is best is because it so faithfully replicates the original Japanese Shobogenzo it's almost too much. Even Dogen's odd word order is retained as much as possible. This means it sacrifices a lot in terms of readablity. But then, so does Dogen's original. So that's as it should be. It was never meant to be easy reading.

The other big advantage of the Nishijima/Cross edition are the copious footnotes on every page. All of Dogen's obscure references to ancient Chinese texts are provided. And any time a Japanese word has been translated in a way that might be questionable, the original Japanese wording is also footnoted.

These two factors make for an edition of Shobogenzo that is the closest a person who can read English but can't read Japanese is going to get to discovering a pair of magic glasses that allow them to read the original Japanese. No one is ever going to be able to match it in that way until the day the English language itself changes so much that this version becomes outmoded for that reason. Sorry. It can't be done.

One area in which the Tanahashi version is clearly superior is in terms of poetry. I have to admit, the Nishijima/Cross edition is clunky as hell. It loses a lot of the beauty of the original by trying to stick to a very nuts and bolts literal translation. Tanahashi and his co-translators have done a tremendous job of making an English version that sings like the original.

The reason I feel the Tanahashi edition isn't quite as good overall relates to a lot of the aspects of trying to study something as personal and intimate as Zen in a large institution like SFZC. You can distill the reasons I think this edition is only second best by looking at the way they chose to translate the Japanese compound 結跏趺坐 (kekka fuza).

結跏趺坐 (kekka fuza) has one clear and totally unambiguous meaning in English. It means sitting in the Lotus posture (full, half or quarter). There is no other possible interpretation. So we're not talking here about a word that has nuances a translator could argue about. It's a proper noun with a set English equivalent. The word is used often in Shobogenzo as a synonym for zazen.

During the presentations on Sunday at Green Gulch someone (I think it was Kaz himself, but I'm a little uncertain -- it's probably somewhere in that video feed I linked to above) explained something about how their translation was accomplished using the example of how they had chosen to translate this word.

Apparently they'd originally translated it as "sitting cross legged," which is good. I think that's the phrase the Nishijima/Cross version uses. However, some talk arose around SFZC that certain readers may not be able to do the Lotus posture and would feel put off by such a translation. After some discussion it was decided that 結跏趺坐 (kekka fuza) would be translated as "sitting in meditation" so as to allow those who could not manage to sit in the Lotus posture to feel included in Dogen's message.

I admit this is not a major failing. Really, it's pretty much the same thing. It doesn't drastically alter Dogen's message. But it does alter it nonetheless.

It's not that it alters his message in a minor way that bothers me so much as the reasons why the editors chose to alter Dogen's message.

They altered it because they felt the actual meaning of the phrase might limit the book's appeal. They altered it because of a committee decision.

The matter of the Lotus posture in Dogen's teaching is one that a lot of people love to argue about. But Dogen is pretty uncompromising. In Fukanzazengi (Recommending Zazen for All People) he allows for full Lotus or half Lotus and that's it. My own teacher, Gudo Nishijima, extends the meaning of half Lotus to include what is commonly known as quarter Lotus or "Burmese Posture" in the West these days. But Dogen says nothing about using seiza benches or chairs or sitting in any of the other myriad ways you often encounter in Zen centers in the Americas and Europe these days.

I myself have taken some heat for being a stickler about posture. But here's a little secret. Whenever someone comes to me one-to-one and shows me that they really, honestly cannot do full, half or quarter Lotus (incl. Burmese) I always try to work with them to find another way. I'll bet you dollars to donuts even Master Dogen would have done the same in such a situation. Yet in public I never talk about any other postures.

The reason I don't talk in public about doing zazen in chairs or on seiza benches or what-have-you is that it seems like as soon as you mention the possibility of using these things, immediately half of the able bodied people in the room are rushing to get themselves a chair so they can be more comfortable. But zazen is not about comfort. In fact, without a bit of discomfort it's really not zazen.

Be that as it may, this change is just one of several in the book that reflect this attitude. In another instance Dogen's phrase "the kingly Bodhi Tree" was changed to "the glorious Bodhi tree" so as not to seem so sexist. I'm sure other such changes abound. They don't really alter the fundamental meaning of Dogen's prose, but they do alter it, and for reasons that appear to me to be a bit silly.

This is what happens when committees get involved. Gudo Nishijima and Mike Cross had no such problems. There were only two people involved in the nitty gritty of the translation and three or four others involved in editing.

What happened with this new edition of Shobogezo is also instructive in understanding the difference between studying Zen in a large institution and studying Zen in a smaller setting. I am a big fan of the San Francisco Zen Center. I like what they do and I'm happy to support them. I often recommend people to go to SFZC, Tassajara and Green Gulch. They're good places. They're good people.

But the truth is, if SFZC and institutions like it had been the only places I knew of to study Zen, I'd probably have lasted a year at most. That's not my kind of scene.

Is one way better and the other worse? I can only speak for myself. I feel like the Nishijima/Cross edition of Shobogenzo is the best. This doesn't mean I hate every other edition. But only one edition can be the best. As far as teaching styles go, I went with the form of Zen that suited me. If I didn't feel it was best for me I would have gone somewhere else.

Just to be very clear here, the Kazuaki Tanahashi translation of Shobogenzo is a magnificent achievement. Here's a good article all about how it came to be. It's a really, really tremendous translation. I highly recommend it. I spent $150 on my copy, and I can't really afford to do that kind of stuff these days. I did it because I genuinely like it.

But it still ain't the best!

LINKS
Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen's Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye by Brad Warner
Master Dogen's Shobogenzo Book 1 translated by Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross
Master Dogen's Shobogenzo Book 2 translated by Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross
Master Dogen's Shobogenzo, Book 3 translated by Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross
Master Dogen's Shobogenzo, Book 4 translated by Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross
Enlightenment Unfolds by Dogen, translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi
Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi
Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen's Shobo Genzo translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi
Free digital download of the Nishjima/Cross edition of Shobogenzo in PDF format

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Not Really About Last Night

I'll post something about the Dogen Translation Forum soon. But for now here is a a posting from a very unique and interesting perspective.

Also, the stuff I did yesterday is now or will soon be archived. I'll try and get the URL for that soon.

After San Francisco I'm heading south to Los Angeles where I'm doing a busload of gigs.

•November 9, 2010 (Tues) 7 pm - Hill Street Center 237 Hill St., Santa Monica, CA 90405

•November 10, 2010 (Wed) 7 am (yes that’s 7 in the morning!) Dharma Zen Center 1025 S Cloverdale Ave Los Angeles, CA 90019-6733

•November 10, 2010 (Wed) 7:30 pm - Against The Stream 4300 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA

•November 12 (Fri) - 7pm An Lac Buddhist Temple 901, S.Saticoy Avenue Ventura, CA 93004. $2 Donation.

•November 14, 2010 (Sun) 7pm - Bodhi Tree Bookstore 8585 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA


Next I'm heading south to Los Angeles where I'm doing a busload of gigs.

•November 9, 2010 (Tues) 7 pm - Hill Street Center 237 Hill St., Santa Monica, CA 90405

•November 10, 2010 (Wed) 7 am (yes that’s 7 in the morning!) Dharma Zen Center 1025 S Cloverdale Ave Los Angeles, CA 90019-6733

•November 10, 2010 (Wed) 7:30 pm - Against The Stream 4300 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA

•November 12 (Fri) - 7pm An Lac Buddhist Temple 901, S.Saticoy Avenue Ventura, CA 93004. $2 Donation.

•November 14, 2010 (Sun) 7pm - Bodhi Tree Bookstore 8585 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

LIVE ON THE WEB SATURDAY

This Saturday, November 6th at 4pm Pacific Standard Time (PST) I'll be giving a talk at San Francisco Zen Center's Zen Translation Forum as part of a program titled Dogen: Lost and Found in Translation. The program will be streamed live on the web starting at 2 pm PST with an introduction by Steve Stuckey, Abbot of San Francisco Zen Center.

The URL for the live stream is http://www.livestream.com/sfzc. The live stream will also include presentations by Mel Weitsman, Abbot of Berkeley Zen Center, a panel discussion led by Steven Heine and including William Bodiford, Taigen Dan Leighton and Susan Moon. There will be further presentations by Frederike Bossevain, Gaelyn Godwin of Houston Zen Center, Chozen and Hogen Bays and a live calligraphy auction by Kazuaki Tanahashi.

It should be fun. My presentation is titled "Dogen for Punks." It should stick out like a sore thumb among all the serious, scholarly stuff.

They're going to try and open it up to questions from the on-line audience. So try your luck and see if you can get through. My talk is going to be pretty short. So I suggest you get your comments in early.

After San Francisco I'm heading south to Los Angeles where I'm doing a busload of gigs.

•November 9, 2010 (Tues) 7 pm - Hill Street Center 237 Hill St., Santa Monica, CA 90405

•November 10, 2010 (Wed) 7 am (yes that’s 7 in the morning!) Dharma Zen Center 1025 S Cloverdale Ave Los Angeles, CA 90019-6733

•November 10, 2010 (Wed) 7:30 pm - Against The Stream 4300 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA

•November 12 (Fri) - 7pm An Lac Buddhist Temple 901, S.Saticoy Avenue Ventura, CA 93004. $2 Donation.

•November 14, 2010 (Sun) 7pm - Bodhi Tree Bookstore 8585 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA

Now that you've been told you have no excuse to miss any of them!

***

A lot of times when I talk about Zen to audiences made up mainly of people who don't know anything at all about Zen, I have to deal with deeply held misconceptions of what Zen is. Just last week I gave a talk in which I didn't even once mention the concept of non-attachment. When I started taking questions a guy said, "You're talking about detachment and I don't agree that people should try to be aloof and detached with no personal relationships. I think personal relationships even of a sexual nature can be very nurturing things that all human beings need, etc., etc."

If you want to know my opinion about this matter, I devote a chapter to it in my new book, Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between. But any of you who have read anything I've written probably know that I am not sitting here trying to get people to give up all their personal relationships. And if you've even read just the Amazon description of my new book you know for sure I'm not telling people to give up sex!

The point I'm trying to make here is that even though I said nothing at all about having an aloof, detached attitude, this guy had heard a few things about Zen, assumed it was all about being detached, and went after me for what he perceived I was talking about. Although the subject had not come up at all, everything he heard from me was filtered through that lens.

It's interesting how this happens and it will probably be my life's work to untangle all the misconceptions of Zen practice I run into. I came across a book just the other day that said, "Surely the Buddha was right that love is the fountainhead of hurt and misery, suffering and despair. He also taught that life and love were not worth while." Oh boy!

Not that I'm the ace genius who knows the be all and end all of Zen. But some of the misconceptions out there are so vast and deep! Sometimes these misconceptions even lead people to think they can become Enlightened® in an hour...

Here's a song about that:

All Is One

See! I used to know how to program a drum machine!

Just some observations for now. See you this weekend on the Interwebs!

Monday, November 01, 2010

SEX AT DAWN REVIEW and PODCAST

First off, here's a new podcast interview I did:

Find is at http://darrenmain.libsyn.com/sex-sin-zen

I also have a new thing up on Suicide Girls (SG). It's at http://suicidegirlsblog.com/blog/hardcore-zen-sex-at-dawn/. It's a review of the new book Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. I'm going to give the piece a little time there on SG before I comment on it. But there are, I feel, a few other things to say about the book.

The new SG blog site is supposed to be safe for work and it's freely accessible by anyone.

That's it for now. I'll write more on this subject in the next day or two.

OH! And if you're in San Francisco or Los Angeles, I'm gonna be doing a whole busload of talks and things over the next couple weeks. Go to http://web.me.com/doubtboy/Site/BookTour_2010.html for all the details. See you there!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

IS BLAMING THE VICTIM A "ZEN" THING TO DO?

An anonymous commenter on this blog said:

"You shouldn't see people as victims because the victims are the ones at fault. I guess you could say that they really wanted or needed to be abused. Anyway, this controversy doesn't seem to warrant the of time effort and energy Brad would need to devote to it in order to even form an opinion. Dude has got shirts to move."


This was in response to my response to comments regarding allegations against a certain Zen teacher. He's named in the comments section. But I'm not going to name him here. I basically said that I felt the matter wasn't really worth the time effort and energy I'd need to devote to getting to the bottom of it so that I could form an opinion. It would take a lot of detective work to even get a sense of who did what and why among the morass of he-said she-said that is all I have to go by at this point. I expressed the opinion that it's a "buyer beware" situation when you start working with any spiritual teacher. Even if I were to ferret out what I think really happened in this case and make my opinions known, it wouldn't do a whole lot of good. Not everyone listens to me, and even if they do I'd only be exposing one guy. I don't have the time, energy or even the inclinaton to police the entire world of spiritual masters.

I've written a lot in my books, on this blog and in contributions I've made to various magazines and spoken a lot in interviews and public talks about how one might go about detecting the minority of abusive charlatans out there masquerading as Zen teachers and other types of spiritual masters. My friend Scott Edelstein just came out with a book called Sex and the Spiritual Teacher: Why It Happens, When It's a Problem, and What We All Can Do that also spends a great deal of energy trying to address this sort of problem and help prospective students understand how not to fall into the same traps others have before.

There's a movement afoot to try and come up with some sort of data base of approved Soto Zen teachers. The Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA) is a group that tries to police its membership and weed out the fakes. I don't belong to SZBA for a number of reasons, one of which is that ultimately I think this strategy of creating a data base of reliable teachers will have to fail. One would assume that one of the original purposes of the Holy Roman Catholic Church was to try to create an organization that would police itself so that whenever you placed your kids in the care of members of that organization you could be assured someone was going to be responsible should anything go wrong. We all know how well that worked out. The SZBA seems to be pretty good for now, but this is ultimately a losing strategy.*

All you can really do is talk in general terms. I used the phrase "buyer beware" to express that. It's best to keep your bullshit detector in good working order when approaching any kind of spiritual teacher. Buddha himself even said this in the Kalama Sutra, which I've quoted so often it hurts.

There's another deeper issue this comment raises, though. The commenter says, "the victims are the ones at fault. I guess you could say that they really wanted or needed to be abused." I have to assume he is trying to throw back in my face attitudes he believes he has heard me express. But he doesn't get it. So I'm going to try again.

I have often said that I believe whatever we get in this life is, at some level, something we wanted or needed. When I say this I am only applying it inwardly to myself. I never look at someone else in a shitty situation and say, "That person must have wanted it." But I often look at myself when I'm in a shitty situation and ask, "In what way did I want or need this shitty thing to happen?"

The strategy of pointing to others and saying they wanted whatever awful thing they got doesn't help anyone. I highly recommend avoiding it. Everyone will hate you if you say it out loud. If you say it only to yourself you'll end up coming off smug and heartless, and everybody will also hate you then too. So don't even say it just to yourself no matter how tempting it might be. This is a very important point. Don't pass it over, please.

But when I apply this view to myself, my own suffering becomes much easier to bear. I remember one of the first major incidents when I tried applying this thinking to myself. It was in the early 1990s. I was brutally physically attacked on the streets of Akron by people I did not know at all for reasons I have never been able to comprehend. As far as I could tell then and as far as I can tell now in retrospect the attack was absolutely random. And, by the way, these guys were most definitely trying to kill me.

I won't go into the full story here. Maybe I've told it elsewhere, I don't know. In any case, after the attack I thought to myself, "Buddhism teaches that what we get in life is somehow something we wanted, how does that apply here?"

One might assume that this sort of thinking would lead to self-blame and make me feel even worse. But that's not what happened at all. When I began framing it this way to myself I felt like less of a helpless victim and more like a person who could do something active to improve his own life. And I did. I moved to Japan and incredible, wonderful things started happening. For the first time in my life I stopped feeling like a victim of circumstance and really took control of my fate. Had I not started thinking this way I might still be living in Akron feeling sorry for myself.

I don't even care if this idea is objectively true or not. I believe it is or I wouldn't use it. But even if it turns out I'm wrong, this way of thinking has been so incredibly useful I still wouldn't give it up.

While I never, ever apply this sort of thinking to others and say, "Ha! They wanted that awful thing to happen!" I do try and communicate this view to others because it's been so useful to me. Of course the danger is that what I say will be misinterpreted by people like the guy who left the comment. But I've also seen clearly that absolutely anything you say can and will be misinterpreted. Even if you take a vow of silence, that too can and will be misinterpreted. Such is life.

I'd also like to thank the commenter for pointing out the availability of an ever growing variety of attractive T-shirts designed by me over at http://www.redbubble.com/people/bradwarner. Get yours today!

And if you're in Montreal and want to talk to me about this, go to the Chapters bookstore downtown around 7 o'clock where I'll be signing books.


*Which is not to say I'll never join the SZBA. I might someday. But not because I'll change my mind about this particular point.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

HARDCORE ZEN TOUR

Before I forget, I've put a couple new T-shirt designs up on Red Bubble. You can take a look at them by clicking here. The Ultraman one won't be there for long. So if you're thinking of getting it, you oughta do so now.

In 2009 when I made my first trip to Finland, a guy named Sike (pronounced c.k.) Sillanpää (pronounced like it's spelled, if you know how to pronounce things in Finnish) followed me around and made a movie. Sike was an interesting character. He hardly ever said anything and he didn't seem to need to eat. We kept joking that he lived on sunshine and good vibes.

I like his movie a lot. It's an honest documentary of what happened on that tour. He recently put the entire thing up on YouTube and asked me to let all you nice folks in Blog Land take a look. So here it is:

PART 1


PART 2


PART 3


PART 4


If you liked watching this movie, please consider making a donation! (see button on top left of this blog)