Monday, August 16, 2010


Man it was hot at the Great Sky sesshin! And the mosquitoes were vicious beyond belief. You'd spray yourself with more bug poison than any human should ever apply to his skin and they would still bite. I have little red splotches up and down my legs even now, two days later. Whenever I'd go to the outhouse as soon as that one portion of my body that was not doused with bug spray was exposed they'd be right there trying to take a bite. I had to admire their tenacity.

There's an old Zen saying, "When it's hot let the heat kill you. When it's cold let the cold kill you." Good advice, to be sure. But gosh dang it was hot!

And there were thunderstorms. Because the prairie is so flat out in that part of Minnesota you could see the lightning flashes sometimes as much as four hours before the storms actually arrived. There were a couple times the strikes must have been right there outside the zendo because the thunder came simultaneously with the flash and was loud enough to shake the building. BA-BOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!

As most of you reading this probably know, a Zen sesshin is an intensive period of concentrated Zen practice that usually lasts 3-7 days. This was a 7 day one. They wake you up at 4:30 in the morning and the first practice begins at five. The photo above is the tea house at Hokyoji at 4:30 AM. That's where folks go to caffeine up for the coming onslaught, unless you're me and you can't handle caffeine anymore and have to make do with vitamins. The day is broken up with a few chanting services, a dharma talk, a couple breaks and a work period. But for the most part you are sitting, staring at a wall all fucking day long. It's brutal.

And Great Sky is probably the gentlest Zen sesshin out there, except maybe for those Thich Nhat Hahn things where you do like 20 minutes of zazen a day and even that's optional. Or something like that. I've never been on one, but word on the street says there's very little actual zazen required.

The dharma talks this year by the five of us teachers who were there tended to interlock, which was an interesting new development. One of the themes that seemed to come up in nearly all of them was the subject of kensho experiences.

Kensho (見性)means "seeing into one's true nature." In some circles a kensho or satori experience is held out to be the greatest thing a Zen practitioner can hope for. Lots of Zen folks drive themselves to have one of these great breakthrough moments. The literature is full of different words for these; "opening experiences," "enlightenment," "awakening," the list goes on.

This is, of course, the premise behind the whole Big Mind® scam and other similar abuses of Zen practice. I can't remember what the other teachers and participants said about these experiences, but I can give you my opinions, informed by what I heard last week.

It's not that there can never be any value to such experiences. You can find value in any experience. It's just that afterward it's just like any other cool thing that happened to you. "Dude! You shoulda seen the sunset I saw in Maui when I was totally high!" or "I banged the captain of the cheer leading squad/football team/both at once when I was in tenth grade!" or "I had the biggest Enlightenment experience ever in the world!" are all pretty much the same thing. They're just events from our past that we latch onto in order to define ourselves.

Enlightenment experiences are particularly good for this. In fact, they may represent the ultimate among all ego trips. What could be bigger than being one with the entire universe? What could make you more massive and heavy and ultra super duper rad and cool? Nothing I can think of, that's for sure.

It's not hard to induce some big ass experience. Tonen O'Connor, one of the Great Sky teachers worked in the theater for many years before she became a Zen teacher. She said that this was their stock in trade when they put on shows -- exciting people's emotions and giving them an experience they'd remember. This is why she was initially unimpressed when she first encountered Zen at a temple in Japan that emphasized these kinds of "breakthrough moments." I've participated in similar things in the world of rock'n'roll. Inducing Big Wow moments like this can also be a very powerful way of making people feel they owe you something.

Making someone have a breakthrough moment very early in practice may be the best way of killing that person's potential to truly come to terms with who and what they actually are. And that's pretty sad. Also, at some level of understanding, a so-called "kensho experience" and what most of us would call a nervous breakdown or even psychosis aren't all that different. It's dangerous mojo to play with that kind of stuff.

Anyway, whatever. You've heard me say all this before and you'll probably hear it again. I can't convince anyone of anything, particularly those unfortunate enough to have had their own so-called "breakthrough moments" far too early. I can just make it abundantly clear that I, for one, will forever and always oppose that kind of bullshit.

This year's Great Sky sesshin was a particularly harrowing retreat for me. I don't think I've ever sat a sesshin that was quite as difficult. But it was good. It's what I needed.

In becoming a celebrity and touring the world I've been concerned that I was losing touch with the practice. I needed something pretty strong to bring me back. The Great Sky sesshin was the first part, and the month I'm going to spend at Tassajara is the next.

For those of you keeping track at home, I will be at Tassajara from on or about August 18th until on or about September 14th. It's guest season down there and I'll be a work practice student for most of that month right until the day I magically transform into a teacher and give a couple of talks down in the valley just before I emerge into the so-called "real world."

After that I have a few gigs in Northern California. They're listed at this link. So stop by if you can. Then Zero Defex is playing at the Kent Stage in Kent, Ohio on September 25th. After that I'm speaking at the Cleveland Buddhist Temple in Cleveland, Ohio. I'll be in New York in October. I'm working on a few more East Coast things to try and take advantage of being on that side of the country. So stay tuned.

Some folks are managing my Twitter account while I'm away. So if you subscribe to that there might be updates there before I get out of Tassajara.

Meanwhile, copies of my newest book, Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between, have already started appearing in the shops. I have it on good authority that there's a copy at a book store here in Milwaukee. If they've penetrated this far into the Midwest there may be some at stores near you too.

So as soon as I get out of the monastery, the madness will start right back up again full force. Hopefully the time away will help me settle into it easily.

I think we all need a bit of time away from the world. This is why people take vacations. But a Zen sesshin is more than a vacation. It's a time of deepening practice that you can't really get any other way. There's stuff you get into on day three or four that you couldn't possibly get into just sitting for a half an hour at home.

Still, that at-home practice is the most vital thing. It's like visiting the dentist. If you never brushed your teeth and just went in for a cleaning every six months, it would be hard for your hygenist to do much for you. Same with Zen. If you expect, as some folks seem to, that you can get your Zen practice done all in one super intensive week, well, it just doesn't work that way.

Anyhow, this will probably be my last post for a while. Unless I get held up in San Francisco waiting for a ride up the mountains and down into the canyon where Tassajara sits. So enjoy the respite from all of my noise while you can!


It's really interesting to see how upset people get when I question anything about kensho/satori/enlightenment/awakening etc. Immediately after this post went up I'm accused by the usual anonymous posters of "teaching Zen without having insight into (my) true nature," and "talking out my ass like (I) usually do." It seems to really touch a nerve when you question these things.

Even the venerable Jinzang says that saying kensho is unimportant is the same as chasing it, only with a "fucked up layer of repression added to it."

But why such fussing? If kensho is real, then who cares what I think about it? It's not gonna make it less real. Or is it? Are these anonymi simply eager to protect those poor souls, less enlightened than anonymous blog posters, who might be mislead by Bad Ol' Brad?

In Hardcore Zen I talked about two events that happened in my life. One time I was walking to work and all of a sudden everything fell into place. All kinds of crazy shit Tim McCarthy had told me when I first started sitting made sense like, "It's more you than you could ever be." I can't recall when this happened. Not even what year. It occurred completely outside of time and space as I knew it up until that moment. It occurred every day since time began and until time ends. It flashed through all living and non-living things in the cosmos.

My life was divided in two on that day. I describe the whole thing in great detail in the book, so I won't regurgitate that here. That moment has informed everything I've written about Zen ever since. It was an important day.

It was not dramatic at all. It was perfectly normal. Nothing has ever been so normal.

It was not kensho.

I also talked about another experience. In that one I saw my whole body and being spread throughout the cosmos. My mind was the mind of God. All of time was my creation. I was the Biggest, Baddest Thing That Ever Existed.

That one fucked me up but good. And just like the anonymi who post comments to this blog, I was terribly upset when Gudo Nishijima dared — DARED — to question me — ME!!! — about the reality of this.

And then I thought, "Why would God His Bad Ass Self be worried what some little old man thought of him?" And then I ate a tangerine and got over it. Which was also a very big deal. I did not get over it easily. I'll leave it at that. I got over it screaming and kicking and cursing.

The former is not something you can bottle and sell. The latter is what guys like Genpo are tricking their followers into believing is "Enlightenment."

It's fucking them up big time.

But I digress.

If you experience even something like the former too soon and without proper grounding, it's exactly like psychosis. It will make you crazy. It is not a good thing. I suspect maybe Charles Manson had an experience of something like real awakening but he had it when he was not ready to understand what it meant.

Even with 20 or so years of Zen behind me, that experience by the river has had some seriously weird effects in my life. The song 108 Sacred Stages I posted here a while back is about some of that. Something like that happens and you're cool for a while. But then you're all like, (whiny voice) "How come it's not like that anymore?" "How can I make it happen again?"

Oh it's still there, somewhere. But it's not of time. It's the very ground of all being and non-being, including my shitty-ass life of sleeping on other people's floors and hoping my next book sells enough that I can live somewhere decent, of getting horny and looking at Suicide Girls, of mosquito bites and record shopping, of buying books about Jesus and listening to experimental electronic music from the 1950s. It's you too, whether you know it or not.

But there's a strong, strong habit we all have of grasping at things to make them "mine." That day was not mine. "It does not linger in the vicinity of the personal self" as Dogen put it. But you want it to. Believe me, YOU want it to. You want it to bad. And I mean you. And I mean BAD.

Kensho is bunk. Satori is bullshit.

And I'm sleepy. Good night.


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Harry said...


801: A Zen Odyssey.

Mysterion said...

August 26, 2009

Brad said: "In fact I don't even know if I really qualify as a monk by most people's standards.

to wit the mysti one sed:

most people's standards?

F*ck those people - and the horse they rode in on! see

"Les Kaye has been integrally involved in developing an American Zen practice both at Haiku Zendo and at Kannon Do. He was ordained as a Zen monk by Shunryu Suzuki in 1971.

One day, Les Kaye said to Shunryu Suzuki: "I want to be a monk."

"O.K." said Shunryu Suzuki. "You are a monk."

Read a recent interview with Les HERE.

Les is Suzuki-roshi's gift to my generation. Brad is Nishijima-roshi's gift to YOURS.

Get it?


Where were you first made a monk?

In your head! As soon as the idea occurs to you, it is a Fait accompli.

The rest is crap!


I have lots of papers, certificates, credentials, and various and sundry degrees. None of them amount to a pile of beans for a good fart compared to the simple decision to be buddhist and not wander too far afield of the path.

To the profoundly insecure, THEIR papers, certicicates, stamps, coins, &c., matter to the highest degree imaginable.

That stuff is all just BULLSHIT, waiting to be burned at the gates of the city. Leviticus 16:27

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

DELL 804

Mark Foote said...

Left a long comment last night, redisplayed the page to see that it was there, but today- poof! gone. Anybody seen it?

Oh well.

I got a tour of Haiku Zendo a couple summers ago, and saw the garage where Kobun Chino Otogawa lectured. I drove off, with my host pointing back toward the highway, and me shouting that I wanted to go the other way- stubborn, but it was a beautiful tour of west Palo Alto.

My father drank martinis, and listened to Alan Watts on KPFA. I learned how to sit zazen from the instruction in the back of Three Pillars of Zen. Later I had a brief correspondence with one of Kapleau's disciples, who said that Kapleau never intended that anyone would learn Zen out of his book. Probably true, but I am one who sees the posture and the practice as synonymous, and he attempted to teach the posture. I did some Judo, all my various instructors taught the posture of the throws slightly differently; it's not the posture that you can make happen from someone's description, it's the one that unfolds from the inside out. Someone online who said they studied with Kapleau offered that Kapleau did indeed intend for his readers to learn Zen, or something of it, from his book. There was a great book by his disciples on the theme of what became of the emphasis on kensho among his followers. For most, it was a bust, if I read them right.

too bad about that posting last night- t'was about the quackery of the cranial-sacral rhythm, as evidenced in this picture, wherein Isis thrusts the ankh (a symbol that roughly matches the neck vertebrae of a cow) into Queen Nefertari's breath:

Isis and Nefertari

Anonymous said...

Mysterion said...

"...Isis thrusts the ankh (a symbol that roughly matches the neck vertebrae of a cow) into Queen Nefertari's breath."

I thought she was picking her nose.

The Papyrus of Ani identifies the ankh as an allegorical resurrection (e.g. sunrise).

In the old vampire theme, Anubis (the soul eater) is unable to harm someone who possesses an ankh.

The sun-disk upheld by the two arms is the emblem of life (Ankh)
American journal of archaeology (1917) Vol. 21, p. 64

It is widely known that Akhenaten wrote Psalm 104 - Ankh related.

I often wear an antique ankh from the 1914-1918 time frame.

Ankh is an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic representing life, resurrection, or the power to give or restore life. Ankh is frequently translated as simply 'life.' But is is also the sunrise over the Tau cross or "truth." (Sometimes Thoth).

Superstitions vanish when exposed to the light of day. Another definition of enlightenment - as used in the Age of Enlightenment.

"From Darkness to Light."

From ignorance to knowledge.

see also THIS

and a bit off topic, THIS

anon #108 said...

Hi Mark Foote,

I've only seen one comment of yours: on the previous page, about 2/3rds down, @6.40pm.

Three or four times recently I've posted a comment (not a 'too big' comment) which has appeared on the comment page and the main page and then disappeared without trace. I've even checked twice on the main page and seen it only to find it gone the next time I look. It's a mystery. ("Too big to post in one go" comments do get posted, IME).

I recall saying once before that I'd like to follow what you write, but I'd have to know a lot more than I do about the body to understand and appreciate it. I just had another look at your site and a lovely site it is. I vow to give it a proper go. But don't expect much in the way of feedback or conversation from me. While I find what you have to say very interesting, for the most part I'm content just to do it :)

anon #108 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

To Jinzang,

In case you are still reading but not commenting. Your input here is missed by many of us. Your perspective on many issues was interesting and often helpful.

You said you will no longer comment because what you write here seems to make some people angry. Sorry, but that does not fly. Harsh disagreement or criticism of your views of the dharma have been written here many times over the years and you've never seemed especially bothered and have usually given back as good as you've received.

It seems to me that your reaction now is due to some people here attacking homeopathy and defending science. You may wish to ask yourself why this seems to upset you so much more than when someone questions your views on Buddhism or war and peace issues. Why are you so sensitive about this one issue?

You are very intelligent. Is there perhaps some cognitive dissonance going on with you on this issue? Does some part of you wonder if homeopathy is really valid or do you secretly suspect it is based upon quackery? Shine some self-awareness into this area and perhaps you will uncover the source of your overeaction to this latest round of exchanges about science and homeopathy.

In any event, I wish you peace and want to thankyou for the many insights you have shared.

anon #108 said...

Mark F -

I read your site but, as before, got lost in the anatomy.

I wrote "for the most part I'm content just to do it" and added a well-meaning, not intentionally smug smiley. What I think I mean is that, for the most part, I don't like thinking about how I do it (zazen) or how it does me. If that's a mistake, if my contentment is rooted in ignorance, it's not a mistake I see myself rectifying any time soon. Are you merely analysing what naturally occurs when we sit in the zazen/lotus posture, or are you suggesting that by understanding your analysis we can sit better and understand Buddhism better?

I wonder - have you corresponded with Mike Cross about your ideas?

Awakened Yeti said...

(... cock the hammer... cock the hammer...)

Oh, look - a dunkin donuts.

Mysterion said...

I seriously doubt that Brad will read each and every comment...

I already deleted a bunch of mine...

I need to delete a bunch more...

Word Verification = vithin

Anonymous said...

DUDEISM will replace zen.

Mark Foote said...

Thanks to Mysterion and Anon#108 for the feedback. Very interesting, Mysterion; I particularly liked the Psalm 104's. The Ankh, I take to be a symbol of the cranial-sacral system; one of my favorites lately has been Isis and Nephthys, I believe they are illustrating the relationship between weight on the sacrospinous ligaments (from the sacrum to the bottom-front of the pelvis left and right), activity generated in the tailor's muscle, and the uprightness of the spine (dyed):

Isis and Nephthys

The ankh here is the connection between the sacrum and the single-pointed mind, the single-pointed mind generated as the placement of consciousness and the cranial-sacral respiration become a part of length of the pulmonary respiration. The goddess with the akh inserts the ankh into the breath of the queen.

thanks for giving it a look, anon#108. What I wrote are my notes, I guess mostly for me as I try to learn the lotus. I find it helpful, I know it's complicated, and it took me years before I accepted that I would have to study kinesthesiology if I was ever to sit the lotus without pain. I have some numbness, but no pain, since I discovered that the sacrum moves and the place that consciousness is experienced can coordinate the necessary action without volition; the necessary action may get up and walk around, when it enters into the movement of breath. That's my take. I have a blog, please feel free to comment!

zazen notes

& ok, so I'm not crazy, things disappear. Hmmm...

all best regards!

Anonymous said...

thanks brad...great entry. just what i needed!

Awakened Yeti said...

Mark, you may also be interested in this depiction of Horus and Set cooperating to produce a divine work.

Anonymous said...


hujio said...

Feeling sad about your experience. there is no negative in kensho. the aftermath is always good.
there is no realization of god... there is no god...
there is no you...
only true awareness can show you this, there is no way to talk about it.
mind is the obstacle, stop talk about it, stop rationalizing, shut the crazy monkey off:) and enjoy...

Mark Foote said...

Hey, Yeti,

I don't know if you're still following this thread, now that Brad is out of the creek, but if you are I have animated what I take to be the meaning of this illustration (although it was Hapi & Hapi on Ramses II):

from the temple of Ramses II

it's at the end of the animation, if you can bear with it.


Mark Foote said...

just realized, you have to click the "zoom and repeat" button at the end of the first part of the animation, then the "Ramses at Luxor" button, to see the Hapi figures with highlights. The animation I did illustrates the same kinesthesiology, I believe.

Awakened Yeti said...

yes that is quite excellent!

Anonymous said...

An embarrassing case of premature enlightenment... aside from being potentially messy, you'd think it would reinforce the sense of selfishness rather than really getting past it.

Awakened Yeti said...

This Fox has a longing for grapes:
He jumps, but the bunch still escapes.
So he goes away sour;
And, 'tis said, to this hour
Declares that he's no taste for grapes.

Hokai said...

I like to finish this comment section.May future generation look back and have fun or are awestruck.
I more hope you,ve fun. Even if Jinzang has gone forever.
May all of you be happy,

Harry said...

Not so fast, Geraldus!


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

+ 1

Hokai said...

This rub up the wrong way.
maybe when we,ll do that a little longer, we take the 1000.
Or if we discuss something really nasty, others jump on the bandwagon.
Harry, we waste our time, lets do some zazen together. Uups.
I swear I don,t look back,
Reality is a turd,

count your breath said...


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