Wednesday, May 19, 2010

MGMT and ULTRA SIMPLE ZAZEN

First this is my new favorite song in the world. I don't care what it's about. You don't need drugs. Just listen to this! It's called "It's Working" by MGMT. The whole album is amazing. I'm so jazzed that something really good is popular.

Although, I have to add that this is something like what I was trying to do with Dimentia 13 (altho MGMT does it sooo much better). Just sample this from the first Dimentia 13 LP.

I don't have a whole lot of time for a report. We'll be on our way to Warsaw in just a few minutes. It's been raining like cats and dogs the whole time I've been in Poland. I know because I stepped in a poodle!

But seriously, folks, the rain has been so bad that a lot of the roads are washed out, trains are stopped, all sorts of chaos has ensued. But we made it to Katowice last night and had one of the best talks ever with the group from the Bodhidharma Zen Center. As usual with the talks that end up being good, this one was probably not recorded. The iPhone my host Slawek used to record it was acting weird the whole time. So maybe something made it on to the hard drive but probably not the whole talk.

Which is sad because you'll miss out hearing the crazy woman who came in, asked a few bizarre questions and then left in a huff when the answers I gave didn't satisfy her. She was very mystical and was apparently testing my ability to see Beyond The Beyond or some such thing.

After she left the discussion settled a bit. One of the questions I was asked concerned mistakes Westerners make in Zen. I get that one a lot. But last night, for some reason it sparked a memory from when I worked for Tsuburaya Productions.

Ultraman is one of the most incredibly simple designs in the world. Look:

It's very straight-forward and that's why it works and has become so iconic. Even 6 year old kids can draw Ultraman.

I have a friend, Hiroshi Maruyama, whose job it used to be to design the new Ultraman characters. He told me once that all he could ever do with that design was mess it up. It was perfect as it was. The only thing you could do was ruin the beautiful simplicity of it.

Here's one of the later Ultraman characters to give you an idea what he meant. This is actually not one of Maruyama's designs. His are a lot more successful. When they got to this character they had someone else work on it and all they did was add unnecessary shit on to what was already complete in and of itself. And this isn't even one of the worst. They'd add horns and noses and big ears and all kinds of crap.

I think this is what often happens with Western Zen. We seek to "improve" something that has already undergone thousands of years of refinement. All we can do is add extraneous garbage to something and ruin its original simplicity.

Zen is stupidly simple. It needs to remain stupidly simple.

We do this not only culturally, but in our own practice. At least I do! I'm always looking for something more complex to add to the practice. But it's fine just as it is. You don't need to explain it. You don't need to tack on a lot of pop psychological bullcrap. Just leave it be! Leave Britney alone! And leave Zazen alone!

76 comments:

Anonymous said...

Adam Spafford is king

Wiseass Zen said...

KISS
No, not the band, but what my mom would say: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Straight and to the point, nicely done.

Anonymous said...

Too bloody right!!!
OzMatt

Anonymous said...

Keep Zazen simple! A statement so simple that it almost says something, instead of just sounding like it says something.

Anonymous said...

people are difficult to understand.

Brad likes Alex Chilton, Hitchcock.

Brad likes pure crap like Kiss, MGMT.

Go figure.

Mr. Reee said...

"She was very mystical and was apparently testing my ability to see Beyond The Beyond or some such thing."

Eh. I've seen Bed, Bath and Beyond a couple of times. Nothing special. Kinda tacky.

One Step Beyond is pretty cool tho. John Newland is so under-appreciated. Everyone thinks Serling was the shizz but Newland was the bomb.

Anonymous said...

Haha.. The Ultraman design was perfect as it was. That's funny Brad. Are you sure that isn't Ultrawoman? He has very nice boobs and he's hung like an Irishman. I don't get your 'beautiful simplicity of Ultraman' talk either. Just because you once worked for Tsuburaya Productions doesn't mean Ultraman is anything other than tacky.

anon #108 said...

Yeah. Ultraman is rubbish. You're wierd.

Cyril Coombs said...

My Physics professor used to have a quote at the front of the class. It said "Physics is simple but subtle."

Cyril Coombs said...

That last post was kind of like a half thought... I tend to think half a conversation or thought in my head then speak/write the rest of the thought... mind reading anyone? lol

In any case, I'm on the 3rd reading of "Sit Down and Shut Up" and it seems particularly relevant to this post. For instance, even though Brad really "dumbs" down Dogen, meaning taking the crazy vocabulary and making it more contemporary and just explain the shit so I can understand it, I still have to read over and over...some of the concepts are like wtf??? But those things and zazen are pretty straightforward and direct.. At least sometimes I get that sense. Perhaps it's because I'm so used to thinking so much to solve things that I over think with zazen and make it much more complex than it really is too.

All I know is that when Brad talks about sitting (and to paraphrase) with the beginning full of back pain, leg pain, random thoughts running around and you just want to get up and scream or sing "Enter Sandman" at the top of your lungs... I know that feeling well.

Maybe it's because zazen is so direct, and I'm so used to listening to the bullshit in my head that doesn't even matter.

Anonymous Bob said...

There's nothing subtle about Ultraman. He sucks. Things Zen on the other hand can be quite beautiful. Brad's a philistine.

CAPTCHA : weigig : I kid you not

Anonymous said...

Zen has undergone thousands of years of refinement and Ultra-man was designed over a weekend.

Mumon said...

I think this is what often happens with Western Zen. We seek to "improve" something that has already undergone thousands of years of refinement. All we can do is add extraneous garbage to something and ruin its original simplicity.

Zen is stupidly simple. It needs to remain stupidly simple.

We do this not only culturally, but in our own practice. At least I do! I'm always looking for something more complex to add to the practice. But it's fine just as it is.


Brad, of course you can't not try to complicate it. Our brain is wired to try to find patterns, referents, "hooks" and structures for us to make sense of things. And of course it's all manifestations of what our mind makes up. It's the cerebrum's equivalent of a scratchy nose.

But I'll repeat a line I say often: your zazen shouldn't be only only on the cushion.

Sebouh said...

Re. Mumon's comment "But I'll repeat a line I say often: your zazen shouldn't be only only on the cushion."

I'm not so sure about that anymore. Sometimes I take my sitting zen out with me and forget that I'm standing. I've been leaving my zazen on the cushion lately, and it, as well as life, seem to be more fun (for now).

"The present unrestricted state of dignified behavior of acting buddha is restricted by the state of buddha, in which state, because the vigorous path of "dragging through the mud and staying in the water" has been mastered, there is no restriction," says Dogen (yup, I'm on Volume II, Chapter 23).

CAPTCHA: Ovenst (in Cliffside, NJ, we added nst to sarcastically negate something. If someone had a totally uncool oven, I guess we would say "Nice oven'st").

Seagal Rinpoche said...

There is no point in thinking that a past did exist that we could have now. This is now. This very moment. Nothing mystical, just now, very simple, straight forward. And from that nowness, however, arises a sense of intelligence always that you are constantly interacting with reality one by one. Spot by spot. Constantly.

Mumon said...

Sebouh:

Can I take that as an agreement?

:-)

Anonymous said...

In musical taste, pop culture views, social/political commentary and what passes for his "Buddhist teaching", Brad's pretty lightweight and naive. Some may think of his treatment of Dogen as "simplifying for the masses", but really it is just shallow and dumbed down. Let's face it. People new to Zen like Brad, they like the book with the toilet on the cover, so it is not all bad. But there is no real meal beyond Brad's fast food drive through.

Cyril Coombs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cyril Coombs said...

I absolutely do not get the sense that Brad's talking about any immediate gratification when he writes about Zen. In fact, he denounces the easy path as bullshit time and again. There are some things I connect with, e.g. the explanations of Hyakujo's fox or the Genjokoan (or the pay me $200 for instant satori.. kidding) among others where it's like oh wow, that's what he was saying? That's my personal experience at least, and that's what keeps me reading .. but to each their own. Unless their own of course is bullshit (unless you're a fly). hahahaha

Sebouh said...

Mumon:

Yes, I just realized that I completely agree.

(I like the extra "only" in your comment).

Anonymous Bob said...

Apparently Brad is teaching that taste is just conditioning. Rightly so. But he still has his preferences.

CAPTCHA : fujonse : fujoshi?

anon #108 said...

Hi 7.45am,

In...what passes for his "Buddhist teaching", Brad's pretty lightweight and naive...there is no real meal beyond Brad's fast food drive through.

If you think the truth can only be expressed in erudite philosophical formulations, then Brad is definitely not your man. And Zen is probably not your way.

What are you hoping to find? Perhaps that there's something else - something other than 'just this'?

anon #108 said...

The 'meal' is your life. No one can live it for you.

Anonymous Bob said...

Brad just being Brad. No one eats his meal for him. I wonder if he found a Polish Taco bell?

Captcha : mysedon : Whatever became of him?

Wolf said...

There is also a a very zenny story, making exactly that point.

Master and student are sitting around a fire.
Master: "You are getting a great and important zen lesson now, so better listen closely and do exactly what I tell you: Set up the pot."

The diligent disciple takes out the pot and with the usual zen like attention to detail, fiddles around until it is perfectly straight (it's an important lesson after all!) and then turns to his master.

Master: "You fool, you did it wrong. Try again."

The student, worried about not having gotten the lesson, thinks about it.
"I'm dumb! Master wants to cook something, so I have to fill the pot with water!"
The student runs to the river, fills the pot, sets it up above the fire in perfect alignment. The water filled pot stands with the quiet dignity of a stone in a zen garden.

The master topples it.
"Idiot, you are doing it wrong. Try again."

The whole scene repeats itself again and again. Even after preparing a whole meal, the zen master still is not happy.
"The soup was good, but you still did it all wrong."

Days go by, with the master constantly scolding his student for his continued bad performance.

One evening the student is fed up with all the bullshit.
"No matter what I do, it's not perfect enough for the old geezer."
So he takes the pot out and just puts it on the fire.

Master: "That took some time..."

Steven said...

I have been reflecting on how we complicate and fix Zen a great deal lately. The transmission ceremonies, the Soto and the Rinzai..., who is "authentic" and who is more authentic. It seems if you teach Zazen and avoid teaching things that are harmful, and try to guide the student from self delusion, then Zazen will unfold if the conditions are conducive. Myself, I am not convinced that Buddhism, religion, myths and other inspirations add value.

I can understand that someone who teaches would not support someone who they are working with to teach unless the person is considered "ready" and won't do harm.

We like our lives and ourselves to be heroic and interesting. Meanwhile, life is the taste of the inside of your mouth.

Rinzai till i die said...

It's very simple, oh so simple. You are born out of the nothing. You grow, you get a job, get married and have kids maybe, you grow old and then you die and return to the nothing from whence you came. So what's the problem? There is no problem.

Lone Wolf said...

I'm currently reading Ending the Pursuit of Happiness by Barry Magid. He's saying in his book many of the same things Brad is saying from a slightly different perspective.

Magid says something like we don't do Zazen with some kind of aspiration or enlightened experience but to become aware of these "curative fantasies" or "secret practices," or the yearning for some kind of special experience of enlightenment, so we can let go and touch the ordinary present moment without all the "if only" thoughts about fixing ourselves. Simplicity. Nothing special. I like his method of being emotionally honest and accepting all of our stuff (longing, selfishness, anger, along with gratitude, compassion, etc) as a starting point to see what needs to be done moment by moment. Like Shunryu Suzuki said, "All of you are perfect just as you are, and you could use a little improvement."

Anonymous said...

"I think this is what often happens with Western Zen. We seek to "improve" something that has already undergone thousands of years of refinement. All we can do is add extraneous garbage to something and ruin its original simplicity."

I hope Brad doesn't mean that zen as transmitted to the west is some pristine form not to be tampered with. The chinese added all sorts of things to chan. Koans, for example. At some point the government insisted chan monks pray for military victory and emperor wellbeing. Before this petitionary prayer was unknown in chan. Baizhang added his rules and changed the sect completely by insisting monks should work for their upkeep instead of just begging as in the original Indian forms. Then during Sung times all sorts of ideas and practices from other sects were added to chan (zen). Zen students began to combine pureland chants with zazen. I'm not suggesting all of these things were improvements, but they were changes. The japanese also modified zen in all sorts of ways over the centuries. '

I see no reason to insist that all change should suddenly stop now that zen has come to 'the west'.
Some changes may be good, others not so good. I think Brad has dropped many of the formalities and ceremonies associated with zen himself. Nishijima roshi has reinterpreted zazen along western physiological lines and this could be considered tampering with zen itself by some people. He and Brad's outright rejection of the rebirth doctrine would also be considered a radical change to traditonal zen. (one that I agree with btw) Brad seems down on 'western zen', but I see many healthy changes taking place as well as kooky complications.

old blind Po said...

"I hope Brad doesn't mean that zen as transmitted to the west is some pristine form not to be tampered with."

Brad, I'm not sure I understand what you're driving at either.. Are you saying that Genpo's Big Mind Method isn't an improvement? How do you feel about cyber-sanghas?

Cyril Coombs said...

Are there improvements or do the skillful means adapt to different cultures?

Uku said...

Homeless Kodo said:

Being watched by zazen, cursed by zazen, blocked by zazen, dragged around by zazen, every day crying tears of blood – isn’t that the happiest form of life you can imagine?

Oh yes!

R said...

I have earlier mentioned that I have asked Nishjima Roshi on his blog what action is.

SR's last one (@ 7:31 am, about the only one I've read, sorry) made me remember it.

Here it is with regard to his.

edit said...

should be an "i" after "Nish" and before "jima"

japanlifeandreligion.com said...

I think this is what often happens with Western Zen. We seek to "improve" something that has already undergone thousands of years of refinement.

Very well said, indeed. Having seen the beauty of Asian Buddhism as it is, I found efforts toward reductionism, or modernization pretty silly.

Wrote something similar on the subject myself:

http://japanlifeandreligion.com/2009/02/18/whos-who-in-buddhism-part-3-fudo-myoo/

In short: don't criticize Buddhism as it is until you've done your homework. There's quite a lot of nice stuff under the surface. :)

Jinzang said...

It's not Zen that needs to be stupidly simple. We need to be stupidly simple. It's when we take what's right in front of us us and try to improve it, that we go wrong.

Jinzang said...

MGMT song is okay. I'd like to hear Shonen Knife do a cover of it. How sick and twisted is that?

john e mumbles said...

My article on Dzogchen, "Maha Ati: Natural Liberation Through Primordial Awareness" drops at BuddhistGeeks.com this Friday.

Lone Wolf at 11:43, I agree, Barry Magid's work is well worth a look.

Oh, did I mention My article on Dzogchen, "Maha Ati: Natural Liberation Through Primordial Awareness" drops at BuddhistGeeks.com this Friday.

Yeah, blatant self-promotion. Blatant.

Captcha: blatent I kid you!

Troy Troi said...

Did Dogen say it's ok to blog about zen? How did Kodo Sawaki feel about zen teachers on YouTube?
I'm pretty sure the Buddha was against any of his monks appearing on CNN or playing bass in a punk band.

Anonymous said...

Hey Troy!
Long time...

Brad's post is entitled:

"...ULTRA SIMPLE ZAZEN"

He signs off with, "leave Zazen alone!"

That, Troy, was his main point, as I read it. The bit about "Western Zen" needing to remain "stupidly simple" refers to the practice of zazen, or 'Zen' for short. So I think you misunderstand. Partly Brad's fault. But mainly yours ;)

Point is, is it ok with you if Brad plays in a band, blogs, or appears on TV?...The point for you, not me - I don't care whether you approve or not :)

Anonymous said...

...You're not the only one to have misunderstood. So let's make it 50/50: misunderstanders/Brad.

Unless I've misunderstood. But I really don't think so.

Lone Wolf said...

Barry Magid quotes:

Zen demands that we resolve for ourselves the tension between maintaining what is traditional and authentic in its transmission and the need to constantly be adaptive and responsive to a changing world. We need to simultaneously see with our own eyes and look through the eyes of our ancestors.

................

When we read about how Zen has traditionally been practiced over the centuries in China and Japan, or even when we think about how the previous generation of teachers were trained, we must decide how much we can simply follow in their footsteps and where we need to branch off onto our own path. How much of Asian culture must we learn and assimilate in order to maintain a genuine connection to our spiritual ancestors? ...We likewise have to ask ourselves how much we view particular rigors of traditional monastic training as a means to and end, and end we might conceivably accomplish in different ways, and how much we see the forms of traditional practice as the very life of practice itself, a form of life that we cherish for its own sake. But if we practice from a stance of no gain, and practice is not a means to and end, can we conceive of practice manifesting itself in myriad forms, lay as well as monastic, as multiple and diverse as the lives of its practitioners?

............

My teacher felt her own traditional Zen training had taught her to treat emotions as an obstacle to practice; in her emotion instead the object of practice. Emotion, or its correlates in bodily tension, are not what we want to feel while meditating. We all inevitably want meditation to create an oasis of that - transiently, or course- but we may not realize that by achieving it, we have made our practice one-dimensional.

Joko always talked about sitting as building a bigger container, and what was contained was primarily emotion. She wanted the container of sitting to hold all the painful, messy, inconvenient things that we usually come to practice to get away from. We sit still with what we've come to avoid. Although the pain we may be most immediately aware of is the pain in out knees, everything we avoid is a a form of pain, and all are ultimately grounded in the pain of embodied impermanence.

Traditionally, staying with physical pain was the paradigm of non-avoidance. If we practice sitting still with physical pain it is no simply to build up our physical endurance, but to practice-, The problem was, it didn't generalize very well to emotional avoidance, and I believe it was Joko Becks's unique contribution to the development of American Zen to bring that part of practice very much into the foreground. She wanted us to be able to sit with the whole range of our emotional life, not just the whole range of physical sensation. She wanted us to be able to sit still with all the feelings that we don't usually want to feel and sit still with. What these are in particular will vary from person to person, and they cover full spectrum of emotional reactions and conflicts around anger, anxiety, sexuality, shame, dependency, and all the rest.

Lone Wolf said...

More Barry:

Zazen is not a technique. It is not a means to an end. It's not a way to become calmer, more confidant, or even "enlightened." Not that we can't be happy (or enlightened), it's just that we'll get there by a very different route than we once imagined - and it may not look anything like what we expected when we started out.
...........

The "uselessness" of true practice keeps it at odds with our various "secret practices," which always are covertly trying to assimilate meditation into one or another self-centered project. With a Zen of "no gain," we step outside of our usual realm of questions and answers, problems and solutions, of the endless treadmill of self-improvement and instead experience the completeness of our life as it already is.

Brad Warner said...

There were no blogs in Dogen's time. There was no YouTube when Sawaki was alive. There was no CNN, no punk rock bands nor even any bass guitars during Buddha's lifetime.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, we don't need to add all this angsty western punk crap to our zen practice!

Anonymous said...

I have two responses, 4.35am.

1. No, you don't. Not if you don't want to.

2. Zazen is zazen. Angsty western punk crap is Angsty western punk crap. Do one, or the other, both or neither. What's the problem?

Anonymous said...

I have two more:

3. Do Zazen...and live your life.

4. Or, if you prefer, leave home, get thee to a nunnery, shave your head and observe every one of the 348 (for ladies) vinaya precepts, like a Proper Buddhist.

john e mumbles said...

Check out Barry Magid online here:

http://www.ordinarymind.com/index.html

Go to "Talks" and find an excellent archive of dharma talks.

Seagal Rinpoche said...

Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.

anon #108 said...

Thanks for the Barry Magid link, jem. I'd not come across him before. Some very good stuff there.

anon #108 said...

...also thank you Lone Wolf for the quotes.

And the captcha is....somelick. Truly.

Anonymous said...

Barry Magid is awesome I always loved Eve of destruction too.

crowrat

Troy Troi said...

"There were no blogs in Dogen's time. There was no YouTube when Sawaki was alive. There was no CNN, no punk rock bands nor even any bass guitars during Buddha's lifetime."

Thanks. You are so awesome and informative, Brad. Just watching you on YouTube makes me wet. And I'm not even a chick. I just get so excited I pee myself.

So master Dogen didn't have any opinion at all about cybersanghas? Was master Kodo opposed to Big Mind seminars? How did the Buddha view combining zazen with the Alexander technique? Did the Buddha often tell those he disliked to fuck-off? What are the pali words for fuck off anyway?

Harry said...

Just re-heard a favourite old joke:

A social worker calls to the house of an 11 year-old kid who has been missing a lot of school lately. She rings the door bell and, a few minutes later, the kid answers in a silk smoking jacket with a big cigar in his mouth, he's holding a big glass of brandy, and there are two half naked hookers dancing around to techno music in the hallway.

Social worker says, "Are your parents at home, young man?"

Kid says, "What the fuck do you think!"

Regards,

H.

Anonymous said...

kamesu Asaadhu

old blind Po said...

Troy Troi: When you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave.

old blind Po said...

Troy Troi: If a man dwells on the past, then he robs the present. But if a man ignores the past, he may rob the future. The seeds of our destiny are nurtured by the roots of our past.

troy troi said...

Thankyou for the pebble master Po.
I'm off to Thailand for rough sex now.

Anonymous said...

108 said

If you think the truth can only be expressed in erudite philosophical formulations, then Brad is definitely not your man. And Zen is probably not your way.

There is silence and simplicity which speaks endless wisdom, and bull shitting and simple mindedness because someone lacks anything of substance to say.

"Sit Down and Shut Up" was dumbed down Dogen and a lot of the author bull shitting his understanding.

old blind Po said...

Troy Troi: Why go all the way to Thailand when you can slap yourself in the face while watching porno?

Brittany said...

THANKS BRAD!
LUV U

Oldish Newbies said...

To Anonymous 10:14 AM

Who wrote:

"There is silence and simplicity which speaks endless wisdom, and bull shitting and simple mindedness because someone lacks anything of substance to say."

And then wrote:

""Sit Down and Shut Up" was dumbed down Dogen and a lot of the author bull shitting his understanding."

Rinzai till i die said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
japanlifeandreligion.com said...

There were no blogs in Dogen's time. There was no YouTube when Sawaki was alive. There was no CNN, no punk rock bands nor even any bass guitars during Buddha's lifetime.

Heard that the Buddha played a mean sitar though. Shredded some licks and smashed a few onstage from time to time. :)

Ok, now I am done. :p

ginger said...

wow...you guys really like to over-think these posts, don't you?

Anonymous Bob said...

Ginger: You just think we over-think these posts.. Actually they are very under-thought.

CAPTCHA : raire : I kid you not

Anonymous said...

I do think there is great truth and deep wisdom in what ginger says.

I've noticed that Troy in particular gets very upset.

Jinzang said...

There is no real meal beyond Brad's fast food drive through.

"Sit Down and Shut Up" was dumbed down Dogen.


Maybe Anonymous can set up his Anonymous Zen Blog and we can all go and bask in the glow of his wisdom. Or maybe it's waaaay easier to criticize than to say something of sense.

john e mumbles said...

Tomorrow's Friday, that means my article on Dzogchen, "Maha Ati: Natural Liberation Through Primordial Awareness" appears at BuddhistGeeks.com

Captcha: blatunt -I kid you long time!

Anonymous said...

If anyone on this Blog, including Jinz, Harry, or Anon #108, can produce a published work such as "Hardcore Zen", please step up.

If Mr. Warner can complete a work such as Dogen's "Shōbōgenzō", please step up.

If Dogen could have completed a work such as Milton's "Paradise Lost", please step up.

No one's opinion, or philosophy, is greater or less than anyone else's.

Pirooz M. Kalayeh said...

I like that MGMT song. I like the other albums too. Thanks for mentioning the new album. I had forgotten all about it.

Are you recording anything new with Dimentia 13 these days?

jeremy said...

If you meant that you couldn't stand the shitty music that is written in response to the garbage drugs that apparently kicked the wee pussy little asses 'o the masses, then I can see why this may be your current "favorite song." Otherwise, it blows ass.

Lone Wolf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lone Wolf said...

Thanks John! I just finished Magid's book. It was super insightful. He really penetrates the heart of Sawaki's "Zazen is useless" statement and allowed me to consciously see many of the gaining ideas I've been sitting with even though I felt I was "just sitting."

A student, who worked with disabled children, asked Kobun Chino Roshi how she could best help the children. Kobun replied "No thought of helping."

anon #108 said...

Hi anon @ 8.18pm,

Are you the anon that wrote this:

"Sit Down and Shut Up" was dumbed down Dogen and a lot of the author bull shitting his understanding."

And then wrote this:

"No one's opinion, or philosophy, is greater or less than anyone else's." ?

Seagal Rinpoche said...
This comment has been removed by the author.