Thursday, July 29, 2010

Time Passes Quickly

I'm back in America now. World Tour 2010 is officially over and done. I'm hardly finished with touring this year. I have a new book coming out in September, Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between, and one I edited and co-wrote with Nishijima Roshi, Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika. So I'll have a lot of touring to do ahead of me once those come out.

Still, it's a weird feeling to be done with something that, before I started on it seemed overwhelmingly big. It reminds me of the words you see written on the hans -- wood boards pounded to call people to zazen -- at Soto Zen monasteries all over the world.


Shou ji ji dai
Mu jou jin soku
Kou in oshimu beshi
Toki hitowo matazu

Great is the matter of Birth and death;
Life slips quickly by;
To waste time is a great shame;
Time waits for no one;

There are various other translations. At Tassajara they have a different English translation on each han.

It's astounding how quickly even the most amazing events of your life are over and gone. I had a great time seeing the world. I sat zazen in places I never even thought I'd visit. It's a truly incredible world. I'd have a hard time picking out any highlights because it was a trip filled with nothing but highlights. I kept a diary every day of the tour. So one of these days I'm sure there'll be a book about it.

One of my great problems in life is that I'm the kind of person who feels like he always has to be doing something. I don't relax easily. Zazen for me has been, in part, a way to relax and still not feel like I'm wasting time. Vacations are not fun for me because they feel like a waste of time. I want to always be making some kind of progress.

Of course, this is an illusion. But we all have our illusions. The funny thing about Zen practice is that it will show you that your illusions are illusions. And that is a very big deal. That is tremendously helpful. Most people never get that at all.

But zazen will not get rid of your illusions. It shows them for what they are. But it's up to you to do something about that.

What I'm gonna do about it is zazen. In just over a week I'll be at the Great Sky Zen Sesshin. Registration is closed, so you can't sign up anymore. But think of it this way. Gempo Roshi charges folks $50,000 for five days in his presence based on the idea that five days with an "Enlightened Master" will help you make years of progress in just a few days. Well there are five (5) Masters at Great Sky, all with the same Zen credentials as Genpo has, the same level of recognition as an "Enlightened Master." And you get seven, not five, days with ALL FIVE OF US for a twentieth of Genpo's price! Think of how much progress that will get you! What an incredible bargain!!! Someone ought to do the calculations to see how much money you save!

Anyway, after Great Sky I'm heading for Tassajara where I will spend a month or so as a work-practice student. So I'll be up at 4:30 AM and in bed at 8:30 for the next five or six weeks. Zazen every day. Meal chants at every meal. Assigned work schedules. Lots of restrictions and regulations. And I am doing all of this voluntarily when I could be doing pretty much anything else. I'm a writer for Christ's sake! We can do our work getting up at two in the afternoon and staying in pajamas all day! We can even do it dead drunk.

I got no boss. I got no time clock. I'm living the dream, baby! Flying around the world, hanging out with exotic and weird people, eating bizarre food, the whole ball of wax!

Yet I am choosing deliberately to put myself in a position that is very much like the nine-to-five work-a-day grind I spent so much time, effort and energy to finally escape from. Why would anyone do such a thing?

I think the reason so many human beings do the kind of routine drudgery we all complain so much about is because we like it. We like stability and routines. We don't want to live like we're on vacation 24/7. Most writers I know have to force themselves to follow weird artificial strategies in order to simulate what "normal" folks deal with all the time -- what I dealt with until a couple years ago. It's the only way most of us get anything done. This recent tour got me so out of my routines that I feel like I need something fairly drastic to get back on track.

What this means to you folks out there is that this blog will be going on hiatus for a while. You won't see many postings here between mid August and mid September. There's no Internet access at Hokyoji or Tassajara. Maybe I can find a way to phone in entries. I don't know. But more likely the blog will just go dark for a while.
I'm not going away yet. But that's a heads up to let you know what's in store.

Gotta run! See ya!

P.S. The photo this time was taken while driving in to Tassajara two years ago during the big fires there. It's completely unretouched and un-Photoshopped.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


I'm leaving Japan this afternoon. It's sad to go. I like this country. More than anywhere else in the world, Tokyo feels like home to me. Weird, huh?

I'd like to thank Ren Kuroda for putting up with me all this time. Thanks Ren! And thanks to Nishijima Roshi for the talks and the calligraphy. Thanks to everyone who joined this year's retreat at Tokei-in.

Thanks to Morishima-san ex-prez of Tsuburaya Productions for the pizza. Thanks to Norman England for Birdemic and I Drink Your Blood. Thanks to Takeshi Yagi for coming with me to Ultraman Festival 2010 and to Miki Mochizuki of Tsuburaya Productions for the tickets. Thanks to Ultraman designer Hiroshi Maruyama for a lovely drawing of Godzilla on my notebook for my next book.

Next up is the Great Sky Zen Sesshin in Minnesota. There is still time to sign up. So get it in gear, people. Sesshins like this do not come along often. Be there or be square!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

It’s Not Just About Sex

Today a link to this article by James Ford appeared in my Facebook news feed. It’s a good article. I read it twice and want to make some comments about it. So read the James Ford article and come back here and we’ll chat.

So you’ve read the article now? Good! Remember I’m saying here at the beginning that I like the article a whole lot and I agree with most of it. I want to be very clear about that right from the outset before saying some things about it I think need to be said.

Much of the article concerns the recent hubbub about Eido Shimano Roshi and his alleged affairs with students. Someone posted one of the letters written by one of those students in the comments section of the previous article on this blog. It was posted three times, so I deleted the two extra postings, but left the first one.

Here’s the letter:

August 5, 1993

The Board of Trustees
Zen Studies Society
223 E. 67th
New York, N.Y. 10021

Dear Board of Trustees,

On September 3, 1992, I arrived alone at Dai Boatsu Zendo with much anticipation. This was to be my first experience at a Buddhist monastery and I naively did not know what to expect. I looked forward to zazen, Buddhist studies, Dokusan, and koan study with Eido Roshi. He had been highly recommended as a great teacher by my well respected peers and instructors in XXXXXXX.

From the very beginning, I felt Eido Roshi "noticing" me. He would often stop me in the hall or call me into his meeting room to give me a small gift, I assumed he was this way with everyone. However, my assumptions changed the first night o f Dokusan during Golden Wind sesshin when he pulled me toward him and kissed me on the mouth! He said, "The first time I saw you, something clicked into place for me. Perhaps something will happen between us in the future... hmmm?" This was the first time physical contact had occurred between us. This same behavior continued during 80% of subsequent Dokusans, but he progressed from hugging and kissing me to touching my breasts. At one point, he told me that he wanted to make love with me. I told him, "No." He looked directly in my eyes and said " don’t wait too long." I experienced his statement as a veiled threat that he would abandon me spiritually and emotionally if I did not comply with his wishes. So, due to my own weakness and fear, I did as he wanted. At the end of "Dokusan" he would make a date with me to visit him in his quarters that night where we would have sexual intercourse, He made it clear to me that no one was to see me entering his quarters as it would cause him "a lot of trouble."

During three different occasions I expressed my concern to him that I was deceiving my dear friends, XXXXXX and XXXXX, and my fiance, XXXXXX. I told him that I wanted to tell them because I did not feel right about keeping a deliberate secret of this magnitude. He said, "Lie." I was literally sick after he said this. I felt poisoned. On one hand, I did not want to cause trouble for him, and on the other hand, something was extremely wrong for me! This miserable affair lasted until I left the zendo on December 11. 1992.

That’s some pretty heinous stuff! But then again, I wasn’t there and this is not my Zen center. I feel like it’s not really my business to comment on the specifics in detail. So I won’t.

What strikes me about James Ford’s article responding to this material is when he says, “Here I see the lack of larger institutions that oversee teachers and communities is a major problem. Not just about sex, but it is a good placeholder for all the complex issues of human relationships.” Then he says, “At this point the only larger institutions to emerge that have ethical codes with teeth are the San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC) and the Kwan Um School of Zen, both institutions having experienced very rough times around sexual conduct of teachers pretty early on. It would be very good if we can find a pan-lineage organization with some teeth, as well.”

So James Ford seems to think the solution to the problem is that we should have a large Zen institution in the West (specifically the US) that has an ethical code with teeth. I hope I’m not misrepresenting his position. Any even if I am, I feel like there are many who believe this. If there weren’t, then SFZC and the Kwan Um School wouldn’t have those toothy ethical codes.

But I have to completely disagree. Because the Holy Roman Catholic Church is a gigantic institution with a very toothy ethical code and still sexual abuses of all kinds continue. Sure, when ethical abuses occur there are consequences. But only when the code is properly enforced by ethical people. And I’ve seen too many instances where that has broken down to believe that the simple existence of a big institution with an ethical code with teeth will always prevent abuses, or even prevent most abuses, or even prevent the worst abuses.

In the case of Zen, there is also something much more fundamental at stake, and that is the very existence of Zen itself. I don’t believe Zen can really be practiced at all unless its teachers are totally autonomous and not beholden to institutions.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I feel that Zen teachers are more like artists than like religious instructors. If you bind artists to institutions, you kill their ability to create art.

Let’s say we required all poets to be part of the International Poets Association because we felt too many poets were taking sexual advantage of their students. Maybe you think the losses wouldn’t be so great. A few less poems about heartache and deception, perhaps.

But institutions have to justify their existence somehow. They have to keep doing something. When legitimate problems fade away they tend to start making up new things and labeling them as problematic so that the institution has something to do. That’s when all poetry starts to have to follow the same rhyme pattern and be about what the institution considers uplifting subjects and so on and on and on and on…

I've talked here before about how the so-called "negative" aspects of punk rock saved my life. They let me know that there were other people out there who were as frustrated at society as I was. Without that "negativity" I might have continued believing I was alone. An institution that governed what kind of music could and couldn't be produced would certainly have banned that kind of music as having detrimental effects. And I would have committed suicide for sure. An institution that governed what was and was not acceptable Zen teaching -- and I'm certain any large institution eventually would start doing so -- would produce sterile lifeless Zen that did no one any good at all.

Also, institutions tend to reflect the lowest common denominator of what their members understand as acceptable behavior. They are bound to come up with the most conservative definition possible. People who don’t agree that democracy is best often speak of democracy as the “tyranny of the masses.” And this is what happens with Zen institutions. It becomes more about what the greatest number of members think they want than what’s actually necessary for Zen teaching to occur. This can never be decided democratically.

There's another aspect to this I also think needs stating. I ought to be careful saying anything negative about SFZC since I have been invited to speak at Tassajara in September. But I don’t think I’m saying anything members of SFZC haven’t said themselves when I make my observation that about 97% of the available time, effort and energy at SFZC seems to me to be directed at maintaining the social structure of the institution. This leaves very little time, effort and energy for the real meat of Zen practice. The fact that any kind of Zen manages to get through at all at that place is a minor miracle. And it does sometimes get through or I wouldn’t have recommended to numerous people to go study at SFZC. So maybe I ought to start believing in miracles.

When SFZC was going through all of its troubles in the 80s, several people told them, “It doesn’t need to be so big.” They could have solved their problems a different way. They could have dismantled the gigantic institution that had developed and instead broken up into smaller more autonomous units. As a matter of fact, both Kobun Chino Roshi and Katagiri Roshi did just that, they broke away from SFZC and created something far smaller. Mel Weitsman at Berkeley Zen Center is another example of this.

As Ford says in his own piece, “I don’t think I’m going into anything in great detail, it isn’t what blogs are made to do.” Such is the case with this piece, too. The very nature of blogging prevents being able to give this the depth it deserves.

But I really believe that large institutions are not the way to go with Zen. They may be able to preserve the superficial structures. But they will damage the real core of the practice itself.


Another somewhat related matter is how one defines what is and is not acceptable. James Ford touches on this issue in his piece, but I'd like to say a little more.

When someone hears that So-and-So Roshi had sex with his student many immediately imagine a lurid scenario like the one described above regarding Eido Shimano Roshi. But it’s not always like that. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s almost never like that. I do not believe that teachers taking advantage of students the way Eido Roshi allegedly did is really a major problem in Zen as a whole.

Remember we are talking here about relationships between consenting adults. If we were talking about something other than consenting adults we wouldn’t need a Zen institution to take care of that. The law already deals with those kinds of things.

Sexual relationships between consenting adults are complex matters. They happen for a lot of reasons and develop under a lot of different and often highly unusual and surprising circumstances. Think about some of the ones you've been involved in yourself if you have any doubts.

Also there’s the issue of what constitutes a teacher/student relationship in Zen. To me, simply going to a few meditation classes does not make one a student of some Zen teacher the way, say, signing up for Mr. Sprankle’s 10th grade biology class makes you Mr. Sprankle’s student. The formal teacher/student relationship in Zen is something very different. It’s almost like a marriage. Which may be part of the problem. But I digress.

From the sound of it, Eido Shimano Roshi violated this formal teacher/student relationship. But again, I think his case is not the norm when it comes to instances of relationships that develop between teachers and students in Zen in general.

And then there’s the whole issue of the words “teacher” and “student,” which immediately makes one imagine an adult and a child whether one chooses to do so or not because of the deep unconscious associations these words have.

Like James Ford said, a blog is not the place to get into the depth these discussions deserve. But I thought it was important to put this out there anyhow, even if I can’t get into it the way it ought to be gotten into.


In a completely unrelated aside, I recently came across this gem on the Internets that expresses very clearly what’s wrong with Big Mind™ and other stuff of that ilk:

It reminds me of the Indian guru back in the 60's, who, when a hippie was extolling the virtues of LSD and how it promised instant insight and a path to liberation, said to the hippie, "Show me a drug that can make someone a doctor or a lawyer or a university professor just by taking a little pill, and then I'll believe that someone can become an enlightened guru just by taking a little pill." To paraphrase: Show me a two-day workshop or a book that can turn someone into a doctor or lawyer and then I'll believe that someone can become a profoundly awakened being in minutes.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Over the last couple months while I've been traveling two more Dimentia 13 downloads have become available. I've been scurrying around too much to promote them like I should have been. So here goes:


Flat Earth Society is Dimentia 13’s pop album. It was 1989 and I had been making Dimentia 13 records for five years. Two years before the first Dimentia 13 release I’d been a member of the hardcore punk band Zero Defex who had also been on a few compilation albums. After seven years in the music business at age 25 I had yet to be able to earn anything close to a living wage and I was getting desperate. It’s amazing how old you can feel at 25.

In spite of being known as a hardcore punk guy in Zero Defex and a psychedelic dude in Dimentia 13, I had always been interested in pure pop music for its own sake. In those days I wrote songs constantly. When preparing the Dimentia 13 records I tended to pick the most psychedelic pieces from among the dozens of demos I made each year. Or else I’d dress up the pop songs I wrote in psychedelic clothing, adding vintage Farfisa organs or Mellotrons or fuzztone guitars to disguise the goofball pop songs underneath. Which is what most of the original psychedelic bands of the Sixties did anyway.

By the late 80s a lot of vaguely psychedelic and overtly Sixties inspired bands were selling records and getting noticed by the emerging “alternative” scene — bands like REM, Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, The Stone Roses, and a boatload of others now long since forgotten. I wanted a piece of that action. So I decided to tone down those elements I felt were tying Dimentia 13 to the narrow confines of garage/psych revival scene. There would be no Mellotrons or Farfisa organs, no sitars or backwards tapes, the fuzztone guitars would take on a more contemporary sound, and I would admit musical influences and lyrical references from after 1967.

I also worked out a new guitar sound I was particularly proud of. I bought a giant red hollow bodied Eko guitar, made in Italy in the late Sixties and plugged it into both a bass and a guitar amp at the same time, added some vintage spring reverb and turned it up to seventeen. In the studio it sounded amazing. Unfortunately that sound didn’t transfer well to tape. You get a hint of how awesome it was on the James Bond theme-inspired riffing of album’s first song Can This Be True Love but elsewhere it gets lost.

The band on this album was me on lead vocals and lead guitar, Jeff Lisk on drums, Joe Nofziger on bass, and Louanne Varholick on vocals and keyboards. Jeff was a hot shit drummer in Chicago at the time. He was very good and he knew it. His playing on the record is really sharp and precise, but it's a little too clean for my tastes these days. Joe had been my best friend since seventh grade and kindly drove all the way up to Milwaukee from Columbus, Ohio to play on the album. Louanne had been the bassist on the previous album, Disturb The Air. But she was a better keyboard player and singer so I had her do what she did best instead of being hampered with the bass, which she was never all that enthusiastic about. The musicianship on this album is far tighter and more professional than on the previous Dimentia 13 records.

I hoped the resulting album would help me break out of the tight bound confines of the pysch genre and maybe even make some money. In the end, though, it didn’t sell any better than the previous Dimentia 13 records. In fact, it did a little worse than the albums that came before. In the end, it was the final album I put out on Midnight Records.

It took me a long time to start liking this album again. At the time of its release I thought it was great. But when it met with poor sales and critical indifference I started looking at it as a failure, a reminder of a bad time in my life and a misguided attempt to sell out and be commercial. Nowadays I can listen to it and enjoy it, but for years I couldn’t.

These days I sometimes play a couple songs from this album when I give talks about my books. Buddha Was A Good Ol' Boy always gets a laugh and God Pt. III, which I also play at speaking gigs sometimes, is a prototype for some of the topics I write about these days. In fact the lyrics on most of the album are really philosophical and very much inspired by the Zen training I’d been going through for close to a decade by then.

Here to tempt you into buying the album are two tracks that I had intended to include as bonus tracks on the download. I’m not sure why I didn’t. I think I just spaced out and forgot to send them to the people at Smog Veil Records who arranged the download. The good news is that you now can have them absolutely free of charge. Hopefully they will act like the first taste of crack a dealer gives you and make you need to buy the rest.

This instrumental was meant to be a bonus track on the original CD release. But it never made it on there and I don’t remember why. It’s based on a riff I once heard the Meat Puppets play. It’s also the most overtly psychedelic song recorded during the album sessions. So maybe that’s why it was left off. I like it a lot now and if I could I would make this the first song on the album.

This is probably the most overtly pop song recorded for the album. Again, I don’t recall why it was dropped. In fact, I didn’t even remember recording it for the album until I found it on a cassette about a year ago. I remember thinking at the time I wrote the song that it had the potential to become a college radio hit. So why would I have left it off the record? Who knows? Anyway, I was especially proud of ripping off one of the riffs from the 70s prog rock masterpiece Hocus Pocus by the Dutch band Focus in the middle section.


This was the final album I recorded as Dimentia 13 for Midnight Records. It was never released by them, though, because I had a huge argument with the record label. I felt like I deserved to be treated better. In retrospect they treated me pretty fairly. It’s just that they were never very open with me about what they were doing. Whatever.

I remember trying to correct some of the mistakes I’d made on Flat Earth Society with this record. I was no longer so obsessed with making a contemporary sounding album. So some of the overtly psychedelic sounds I’d eliminated on Flat Earth Society are allowed to return. The result is a much more balanced album. It’s still more of a pop album than the early Dimentia 13 records. But it’s truer to what I really wanted to hear.

Because of the disputes with Midnight Records, this album was never really finished. I made a mix that I submitted to Midnight. But it was awful. I was trying to recapture the sound that Glen Rehse had created when he produced the Disturb The Air album. But I didn’t really know how he accomplished it. So I just overloaded every track with reverb and echo until the whole thing sounded like it had been recorded in a cave. It was a murky depressing sound and for years I thought of this as a murky depressing album.

Then late in 2009 when I was cleaning out some old boxes I came across a cassette of rough mixes for the album. These were created as reference mixes to guide in making the final mixes later. I told the engineer to simply make all of the tracks we recorded audible and not add any effects. When I listened to these again I discovered that the album itself was not murky and depressing at all. It was just all that reverb and shit I added on later.

For the currently available download version, I used these rough mixes and ran them through a digital mixing system to bring out some of the nuances. The only song on which I used the mix I had considered “final” back in 1991 was Anjalina. The rest are rough mixes.

The band on this album was the live version of Dimentia 13 as it existed in 1991. I sang lead vocals and tortured the guitars. Joe Nofziger, my best friend since seventh grade plays bass and sings backing vocals, and Steve McKee, once the drummer of my favorite Akron-based punk band The F-Models plays drums.

The lyrics are a kind of autobiographical rock opera about my return to Akron after three years in Chicago. But that would have been such an incredibly mundane subject for a rock opera that I never let anyone know that’s what it was. The Pamela Song is about a girl I dated in Akron. The Calico Girl in the song of that name is someone I left behind in Chicago. That same girl is also the subject of Panther.

Anjalina isn’t about a girl at all, but is about my friend Jim Bradler who had died a few years before very suddenly when he was only 25 years old. The song lists off a whole string of phrases he used to say, like “give me her number.”

Precious One is my attempt at writing a Badfinger song. But I was too embarrassed to use the original heart-on-my-sleeve romantic lyrics I’d written and instead wrote a bunch of psychedelic sounding nonsense. Love Song '73 was my attempt to write the kind of song The Partridge Family might have played in 1973. Again it’s about someone I knew. Walk Like An Insect contains my poor attempt to do a rap about the then-current state of the country. Another Song About Heaven is a parody of the band Warrant, who were huge at the time. The reason I wrote a Warrant parody is because Joe had been in a band called Blu whose drummer Steve Chamberlin had moved to California and joined Warrant. We’d both been friends with Steve and were kind of amazed by this.

Honey I'm Your Ghost was an attempt to write a Cramps song. Lux Interior was from Akron. Smash Your Head was about the frustrations of trying to make it in the music business. Somehow all of this stuff related to Akron and what was happening in my life there at the time.

I still really like this album. I know it sounds egotistical to give your own record a glowing review. But I was trying to write and record songs that I personally liked. So, of course I’m gonna like them! But I feel like this is a happy, upbeat album even though some of the specific subject matter is not. It’s an album about fighting the good fight even when you feel like you’re probably going to lose in the end.

Here is my favorite song from the MOTH LP, available for free on this here blog to hopefully make you feel guilty enough to buy the rest:


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Zen Hobo

Here's another one of the shots I took of the Zen(?) monk in front of the Zen Mall. I originally didn't use this one because it's kind of blurry. It's the first of five shots I took and I was rushing to get it, hence the blurriness. But in retrospect this one shows the monk better.

I've been scratching my head over one of the comments regarding the previous post. It says, "I guess Brad does not know his Buddhist monks. Funny for a guy who says he was trained as a Buddhist monk in Japan. Oh, sure, clothes and sects are not important at all, but makes you wonder what else he doesn't know."

This was in response to my calling the monk in the photo a Zen monk. Actually I don't know if he's a Zen monk. He could be Jodo-shu. He could even be Nichiren-shu for all I know. I'm not sure what those guys wear. Though he looks Zennish to me. He is definitely a Buddhist monk or some sort. Or somebody who wants to look like one. And it's certainly funnier if he's a Zen monk at the Zen Mall. So I went for the joke.

I'm not sure what the purpose of comments like this is. I imagine the writer intends to cast doubts upon my veracity as a monk or as a teacher or some such thing. But why bother? I suppose I'll never understand this kind of behavior. Who are these people? Do they have some kind of agenda? Are they fans of Genpo Roshi or something? Anyhow, the comments section is still free to all who wish to use it. So there ya go.

My friend Regina in Frankfurt, Germany sent me an email that said, "Isn't it a wonderful discussion on your blog? You gathered a nice community together." I think generally that's the case, especially recently. I've been trying to encourage that trend a little by commenting in there myself now and then. But I rarely have time to read the whole discussion. This in itself is nice; that there's so much there I can't keep up with it.

I've been thinking about the life I've been leading for the last several months, and how much I like it. I gave up my apartment in Santa Monica as of March 1, 2010 and have been living in other people's houses, apartments and squats ever since. Initially this was supposed to be a transitional phase with the idea that I'd find somewhere and settle there at some point. But now I'm wondering when that will be or even if it's strictly necessary.

My current plans have me staying at my sister's house after which I will go to the Great Sky sesshin (there's still time to sign up, so do it!), after which I'll go to Tassajara and be a guest student, following which I'll be a guest teacher at Tassajara (ironic, huh?), following which I have some gigs in the San Francisco Bay area where I'll be staying with friends...

It just goes on and on and on.

Of course at some point I will have to stop being a leech on society. But for now this hobo existence is working out pretty well. Yet I'm still taking suggestions for places to settle. I've had a couple interesting ones that I've got to follow up on.

I wish I had some great Zen lesson to leave you with. But I don't. So instead I'll leave you with the trailer for Birdemic. The scene shown when the video is paused on YouTube doesn't give you even a hint of how awesomely insane the trailer is. It's not a sex film.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My Trip to Japan

Last night I went out with Hiroshi Maruyama, Takeshi Yagi, Norman England and Jim Ballard. Those of you who don't know your Japanese monster movie stuff will not recognize those names. Which is fine. I don't wish the level of geek-dom required to recognize that list of names on many people.

But if you are geeky enough you might even be impressed. Maruyama designed most of the Ultraman characters and the monsters they fought from 1995 till maybe 2007 or so when he, like me, was fired from Tsuburaya Productions by the new management (who, themselves, have recently quit the company). Yagi was the director and/or producer of numerous episodes of the Ultraman TV shows as well as the oddly titled theatrical film Superior Ultraman 8 Brothers (you can tell the English titles given after I left the company!). Norman England has written more articles about Godzilla than anyone can possibly count. He's been in Japan since forever reporting on the Japanese monster scene for Fangoria, Hobby Japan and others. He's also made his own movies. My favorite is The Idol. Jim Ballard is a writer for the Sci Fi Japan website.

These people are from a part of my life that I don't think the readers of this blog really care a whole lot about. Which, again, is fine. I'm not saying you should. But I talk about it because all of us in this Zen game get here from somewhere. Most Zen teachers don't talk about their personal lives or what they do outside of when they're being Zen teachers. And that too is A-OK by me. There are a lot of perfectly good reasons for a Zen teacher not to talk much about her or his personal life.

But I think that stuff is interesting. Me, I don't so much want to hear my teachers talk about the ultimate level of reality as I want to hear them talk about where they work when they're not gazing at the walls. I feel the same way when I read about some of the rock'n'roll people I like. I mean, I know most of the indie rockers these days can't possibly make a living by music alone. So how do they manage? I remember reading how Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips kept his job at Long John Silver's even after the band got signed to Warner Brothers. That kind of info turns my crank.

It was cool to geek out with the people I used to work with. I haven't seen most people from Tsuburaya for a long time. And we spent so much time together. I learned a lot of very deep Zen lessons at that little film company in Kinuta. It's gone now. Even the buildings have been razed. There's still a Tsuburaya Productions in name. But it's hardly the same anymore. So sad...

Oh! The photo at the top I snapped yesterday afternoon in Shibuya. Completely unposed. So THIS is where you get Zen from! Genpo Roshi was wrong!

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I'm back from the retreat at Tokei-in temple in Shizuoka Japan. A fun time was had by all.

Usually we get about 20 people at these things. But with the change from September to July we didn't have so many participants this year. But that's no big thing. In fact it was kind of nice to have just nine people. It makes things a lot more manageable and provides an opportunity for everybody to get to know each other. I thought it was great. And the weather, which I'd feared would be intolerably hot and humid, was actually better than it usually is in September. You shoulda been there!

I've been on this computer all morning trying to sort out where I'll be going after I get back to the USA. Anybody got a cheap apartment they want to rent to a guy who's hardly ever around? Seriously. I'll consider pretty much anywhere in the world. Hit me up.

Anyhow, I'm sick of being behind the computer so I'm gonna make this another short one (notice that I deftly resist saying "That's what she said" here. It is because of my tremendous will power!).

About the previous post, people keep thinking I'm saying there's no value at all to the sutras. I'm not. They are very valuable. But Buddhists view their so-called "sacred texts" in a way that is utterly different from how such texts are viewed in most religions.

I think that when I say "Buddhist texts are not the inerrant word of God" or words to that effect, people tend to stick "...and therefore we can discard them" at the end of that statement in their minds. They do this because that's the way we've been taught to look at the scriptures of the Western religious traditions. Either they're the inerrant word of God or they're trash. That's why religious people get so bent out of shape when anyone questions their scriptures.

But there's a huuuuuuuuge middle ground between "inerrant word of God" and "trash." This is the ground that Buddhist sutras occupy.

Somebody quoted Nishijima saying:

"In Buddhism there are fundamentally two ways that can be used to pursue the truth. One is practising Zazen and the other is reading the scriptures (sutras). But some people deny that there is any value in reading Buddhist scriptures and place too much emphasis on the value of practicing Zazen. They insist that Buddhism does not consist of philosophical theories. They say that practicing Zazen only is sufficient to attain the truth and that Buddhist scriptures are useless and in fact harmful to this purpose. Master Dogen, however, did not think so; he esteemed the value of reading the scriptures. He thought that reading the scriptures was an indispensable part of attaining the truth. So he wrote down the true meaning of reading the Buddhist scriptures in this chapter. In his opinion, Buddhist scriptures are not only the Buddhist sutras, but also the Universe itself which shows us and teaches us the true meaning of our lives."

Then someone else said, "That sounds like the Old Nishijima, before the 'all you need is to straighten the spine and balance the Autonomic Nervous System' Nishijima." There is no "all you need is to straighten the spine and balance the Autonomic Nervous System Nishijima." His view on the value of Buddhist philosophy has not changed at all. He busts his ass even at age 90 to try to explain Buddhism in a philosophical way.

I feel the same way as Nisjhijima about the sutras and the writings of Dogen. Or else why would I have written a whole book trying to explain Dogen? Duh!


Also on the "things that bug me" tangent, there's a guy in Europe saying to some of the Dogen Sangha people there that monks in the Japanese Zen tradition don't deserve to call themselves monks because they're not celibate and don't follow the Vinaya regulations to the letter.

To that I can only answer in the words of the great 60s cult band The Monks, "I'm a monk, you're a monk, we're all monks!"

There are a lot of people who feel this way about Japanese-style Buddhist monks, and a lot who don't. The guy who said this comes from the Korean Zen tradition, where this is a thorny issue. When Japan occupied Korea from the early 20th century until 1945 they changed the rules there and allowed Buddhist monks to marry. When the Koreans threw off the shackles of Japan, some of the Buddhists decided to go back to the old celibate system and some did not. This caused some friction that remains today. Those who reject the non-celibacy thing do so because they see it as a corruption brought over by the nasty Japanese. Those who stayed with the non-celibate style see the easing of regulations concerning celibacy as a good and natural progression of Buddhism.

For Westerners, the idea of non-celibate Buddhist monks doesn't seem so outlandish. We had the Protestant Reformation a few hundred years ago that allowed Christian clergy to marry and generally not be celibate. And Rabbis and Imams have never been required to be celibate. So we generally don't worry ourselves too much when we hear about non-celibate Buddhist monks. But in Asia it's still controversial. And some Westerners who have lived in Asian cultures have picked up on this as well.

It would be different if non-celibacy for Buddhist monks in the Japanese tradition was something that was made up just to placate Westerners, or if it was something weirdos like me had invented. But that isn't the case. There is about 150 years of tradition behind it. In fact non-celibacy for Buddhist monks goes back a long ways before the Japanese government made it official in the 1860s. How do you think the sex based meditation exercises in the Tibetan Tantric tradition developed?

In any case, I'm a bit uncomfortable with the term "monk" myself, but not because I'm not celibate. I think the word "monk" tends to make Western people envision something like Catholic-style monk-hood. For example, it makes them imagine people who enter a monastery and live there for the rest of their lives. But that's not the case in Zen and never has been.

I use the word "monk" sometimes for lack of anything better to call myself. Gradually people are coming to understand what a Zen monk is. I also use it because once my teacher, Nishijima Roshi said to me, "You're a monk." So I accept his definition.

This is a pretty convoluted subject and maybe I'll get into it in a more detailed way one of these days.

Here's a good article on this subject by James Ford.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


First up, here's a link to some of my talk in Nijmegen, Netherlands. It starts off with the same old autobiographical stuff and then goes to the Q&A.

For those who complained about the Podcast, as John said in the comments last time, I do that same talk a lot and then I get to a Q&A, which is different each time. The upcoming podcasts will not be endless variations on my autobiography! In fact, sometimes when I'm taping a talk I don't even start recording till I get to the Q&A.

Odd thing is that when I don't do some autobiographical stuff people kinda get mad. I do a talk and open it up to Q&A and the very first question is an annoyed person going, "Who the hell are you?" (and not as a koan, either!)

ANYWAY, I'm in Japan. The annual Dogen Sangha retreat in Tokei-in temple starts tomorrow. Actually there are now a few Dogen Sangha retreats. So I can't even say "the annual DS retreat" anymore. It's the annual one that I lead, anyway.

What Mysterion said about setting up talks in the comments section last time bears repeating here. So this is it:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'm in Champaign and I would definitely go if you made an appearance here, but I really don't know anything about setting up something like this."

1) go to a few web pages & print them out:
a) hardcore zen
b) sit down and shut up
c) zen, wrapped in karma

2) visit book stores big and small - remember the 'mom & pop' or young progressive types and tell them Brad is driving thru so it's a fee free event - see if they want a "reading and book signing" event.

3) Expect 6 to 8 'no way' answers for every nibble. 1 in 4 nibbles might result in a booked event. But these comments are a prophylaxis against setting your expectations too high. You never know until AFTER the fact.

4) coordinate a schedule with Brad - he has no publicist or booking agent.

The idea is that the store can sell some books and attract some interest - perhaps selling other books too. Authors make a lot more if they sell books but most stores frown on this. However, if they only stock 6 books and 12 people want to buy a signed book, then both store and author make a buck.

The economics are thus: the author gets -at most- $1 (from the publisher) for every book sold. If you are Dan Brown and sell 73 million books, it all works out.

For fringe press, the publisher might front you $20,00 or even $30,000 for a book but then you get NOTHING until 30,000 or 45,000 books are sold. In addition, the publisher might give you two gross (2 x 144 = 288) books to sell on your own or that many at 1/2 price to sell on your own. If you are LUCKY, the publisher will do that on a floating basis - e.g. sell you 288 books periodically at 1/2 the MSRP.

All in all, if you think you can make more than $3000 a year selling your own books, think again. The average is FAR less than that (even when you count in the Dan Browns of the biz).

And by all means, if you have the time - and tenacity - go for it!

Thanks Mysterion!

I'll also add some material for SEX, SIN AND ZEN soon. But the truth is even I don't know how to set these things up. Yet somehow I seem to do it. Most of my gigs come about from fans of my work who find some way of making them happen. Most have never done it before.

Also, bookstores aren't always the best places. There are tons of other venues.

And, sadly, the economics of which he speaks are pretty much how it goes. I gotta figure out how Dan Brown does it!

Saturday, July 03, 2010


Sometime between August 2 and August 7, I will very likely be passing through the following cities:

Lexington, KY
Indianapolis, IN
Champaign, IL
Bloomington, IL
De Moines, IA
Dubuque, IA

And possibly Cedar Rapids, IA, Iowa City, IA or even Cincinnati, OH.

This would be on a drive from Knoxville, TN to Eitzen, MN where the Great Sky Zen Sesshin will take place (sign up now).

Is anyone in any of those cities or in any cities near those or along the route from Knoxville to Eitzen (it's near La Crosse, WI) interested in having me speak in their town? Hit me up at Please understand, at this point I'm just driving through those cities. There are no gigs set up in any of them.

Otherwise I might just take a plane.

Also anyone who has contacted me about speaking gigs this Fall & has not heard back I probably lost your email. Please contact me again!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Buddhism Isn't Buddha's-ism

Hasn't anyone listened to the Podcast? The end of it is really good. It's at this link. The URL is

Here is an odd email I received this morning:

Last August in Finland you had an interview with yoga mag called "Ananda". In the interview journalist asks, "Are you married?" and you answer something like, "No, I'm a monk and that's why I'm not married." (I'm paraphrasing). This caused some debate when people read it because you were married before. And Japanese monkhood is different than Vinaya so a so-called monk can be married. I find your answer also interesting so can you clarify a little bit?

Of course I never said, "I'm a monk and that's why I'm not married." That would make no sense at all. Monks in the Japanese Zen tradition have been allowed to marry since the 1860s. I was married when I was ordained as a monk by the Soto-shu. Obviously the journalist misunderstood what I said. Like when Ron Nasty of The Rutles was supposed to have claimed that The Rutles were bigger than God. He actually said The Rutles were bigger than Rod, meaning Rod Stewart.

This is why Buddhism is not a religion. This is why a lot of Buddhists fail to quote the words of Buddha and instead are more likely to quote the words of more recent teachers like Dogen, for example, or their own teachers. You can't really rely on what's written in books.

I've been reading about the Koran lately and it's fascinating. In some circles it is dangerous to advance the idea that anything in the Koran might be mistaken. So folks who want to try and modernize Islam are forced to stretch and bend what's written in the Koran to make it work in the modern world. Many Christians, Jews, Hindus and even Buddhists feel the same way about their scriptures. But Buddhists who feel that way about the words of Buddha don't really understand the words of Buddha very well.

This is why Buddha, in the Kalama Sutra, cautions people against believing what is written in scripture. And note that I ironically have to refer to Buddhist scripture here. But understand, it's not because the Kalama Sutra is supposed to be the words of Buddha that impresses me. It's because whoever wrote it, it makes damn good sense. This is also why people in the Mahayana tradition often accept words attributed to Buddha that we know damned well Buddha couldn't possibly have said since he was already long dead when those sutras were written.

It's not that scripture is necessarily wrong. But it is necessarily expressed in words. And words themselves are not perfect. The same sentence can mean vastly different things to different people even if all of the words are maintained correctly and even if everyone speaks the same language.

This might be the key for religious people. Perhaps we can say that our scriptures themselves are perfect but that our human interpretation of them can never be perfect. Just puttin' that one out there for what it's worth...

But getting back to Buddhism; I've been thinking lately that the word "Buddhism" is unfortunate. It was created by Western people who didn't understand what they were looking at when they tried to study the religions of Asia. The word Buddhism tends to suggest a religion that worships Buddha. And, no doubt, the folks who coined the term assumed that's what Buddhism was.

But it isn't.

Calling it Buddhism is a bit like calling relativity theory "Einsteinism." To do so would be a nice way to give due credit to the guy who first expounded the basics of the theory. But it wouldn't follow that people who practiced "Einsetinism" worshiped Einstein. Nor would it follow that the theories of Einstein would be held up as the final word for what was absolutely true in relativity theory. If it were found later that Einstein was wrong about some things-- and I think maybe it already has been -- that wouldn't make the whole of relativity theory wrong. It would just indicate a need for revision.

In the same way, Gautama Buddha did not have the final word on Buddhism. He understood himself clearly. But his followers, who memorized his words, may not have actually understood him very well. Nor did later copyists. Nor, in fact, would we have probably understood what Buddha said even if we'd been alive ourselves to hear his words spoken with our own ears.

If we reduce Buddhism to quotations of the accepted authorities on Buddhism we have not understood Buddhism at all.

This leaves us in a very tricky position. We can't even point to the words of Buddha and say that they are perfect. We don't really know what he said. In the case of someone like Dogen, we can be pretty certain the exact words he wrote have been preserved in most cases. But even that doesn't help a whole lot if we don't understand them. And who can say we have understood Dogen? Only Dogen himself and he's not around to ask.

Buddhism is a face-to-face transmission. When Buddhists say that Buddhism is not in books it's because Buddhism cannot be contained in books. Books are a good way of pointing in the direction of Buddhism. But they always fall short. Blogs, by the way, are pretty useless in doing even that much, if you ask me.