Thursday, October 07, 2010

New York City!

Greetings and bon jour from Montreal!

Before I go any further I have to plug two events I'm doing in New York next week. The first is a book signing at 7 pm on October 15th at the Iinterdependence Project in the East Village. Swing by, get a book, get it signed, have a grand old time.

The other is a bigger event. The following two days, October 16th and 17th, we're having a two-day non-residential retreat at the Interdependence Project in the East Village. This is a terrific opportunity for anyone who wants to get a real taste of what zazen is all about. The retreat is open to beginners, no experience necessary. It will be focused on shikantaza style zazen as taught by Dogen Zenji. It's non-residential, which means you get to go out and have a night on the town in Manhattan afterward instead of being cooped up with a bunch of Zen nerds all night.

I get sick of people who hype these kinds of things as big enlightenment orgies, so I tend to downplay them and say it's boring. But, honestly, I wouldn't run so many multi-day Zen retreats unless I thought they were truly worthwhile.

You might imagine that sitting on your own at home and staring at a wall is the same thing as joining a group of people to do it. But it's really not at all. There's a power to the practice when it's done with a group that you can't find any other way. And long sittings are a way to dive deeper into the practice. It's almost impossible to find the self-discipline to do a long-form sitting alone. When you're with a group you draw upon the shared commitment of others and what was impossible becomes easy.

I really urge anyone within the area who is on the fence about this whole zen deal to come try it out for yourself in this relatively painless way. In some strange way these sittings are actually fun. You learn a lot about yourself that you never knew. I do every single time and I've been sitting gosh knows how many per year for more than half my life. DO IT!

I'll also make myself available for private talks during the weekend.

OK. So I've been doing tons of press for my new book Sex, Sin and Zen, and each time I do an interview or a talk I learn more about the book.

The reviews have been very interesting because this time even the bad reviews are exactly the kind of thing I had hoped the book would stimulate. When I first encountered the third precept, the whole "do not misuse sexuality" thing, I was confused. I'd heard right-wing Christian nut-cases talk about what they viewed as the misuses of sexuality and assumed that Buddhists must be talking about the same thing. In spite of my first teacher's attempts to make me see things differently it wasn't until I went and lived in Japan that I found out it's not the same thing at all.

The guy who interviewed me today wanted to talk some about my "voice" in my writings. He wanted to know if I deliberately stir up trouble or if that's just how I naturally am. He talked about my radical views on sexuality and whether I was airing those just to get a rise out of people.

And I thought about how I live in this kind of funny dual world. To a lot of the people I know from Suicide Girls, the punk scene, and just life in general, my views on sexuality seem positively prehistoric. They're not radical at all. I seem like a bit of a fuddy-duddy. Then I step into Buddha Nerd Land and I seem like a foul mouthed pussy-crazed heathen waving his dick around at everybody. So I figure what's really going on is that I'm treading the middle ground.

A lot of people seem fascinated by what they see as the dichotomy between how I am when I write and how I am when I speak in public or when I speak to them in person. But I don't see it that way at all. They accuse me of inventing some kind of fake hipster persona that is not the real me. I don't think I do anything of the sort.

But all of this is really terrific because what I wanted most from the book is to get people talking about stuff they haven't really been talking about. Because this stuff needs to be aired in public. There are too many wrong assumptions going on, like my assumptions about the third Buddhist precept being a call to be just like the kids at Rex Humbard Evangelical College for the Chaste and Pure.

See you in New York City!

53 comments:

Anonymous said...

BONJOUR!

ginger said...

hi.

ginger said...

by the way, i'm really looking forward to reading the new book.

enjoy new york!!

laura jean said...

So instead of hardcore zen, maybe it should be moderate-core zen?

Anonymous said...

"I seem like a foul mouthed pussy-crazed heathen waving his dick around at everybody."

Woo Hoo!

Anonymous said...

Just to let you know, Brad, this guy (student of Suzuki Roshi) mentioned Big Mind calling it crap: http://emptybowlsangha.org/cms/talks/WhyWePractice.mp3

PhilBob-SquareHead said...

As a monk or bodhisattva, how is sexually expressed vulgarity gonna bring anyone to the dharma?

Brad, if you have found a platform to gain muchos tail, then good for you. But I thought the purpose of the zen teacher was to bring others to "enlightenment (lol)"? Hell, the least you could do was hook a brother up!!!!

tattoozen said...

Its always astounding how people who have supposedly spent years unchaining themselves of conditioning and striving to see the world as it is instead of as their filters see it can get hung up about "vulgarity" or "bad" words. If I sat zazen for 20 years and still got upset at someone else using words I didn't like i would have to consider my 20 years wasted.

Its a shame that in some respects George Carlin was more of a zen master than all these Zen-ie people who get all choked up by talking about sex or swear words.

Heaven Slicer said...

Big Mind, Big Bucks, Big Ego.

Certificates for under $25,000.

Lunches under $10,000.

Cup of bathwater under $1,000.

Signed square of used toilet paper $100.

Kate said...

I'm incredibly bummed that I can't make it out that weekend. I'm sure moving into my apartment will be just as fun....

Anyway...

I'm not sure it's possible to be entirely on either side of the sexual spectrum. No matter what your views are on what constitutes "acceptable" conduct, someone will always think you're a prude and someone will always think you're a heathen. I could abstain from sex entirely (I won't, but I could) and there will be someone in the world who will think the way I dress is sexually inappropriate.

Given the knowledge that you're guaranteed to be in disagreement with most of the world most of the time (and the knowledge that your celebrity guarantees that those disagreements are going to piss off most of the world most of the time) the point of being at peace personally with your conduct is driven home. Acknowledging that you have a dick at all, regardless of whether or not you're waving it about, is bound to ruffle some feathers.

So in all eloquence... Fuck 'em. Wave it.

Mumon said...

Loved the T-shirt. I just had to send a business e-mail with the word "gerund" in it.

Mumon said...

One more thing:


I get sick of people who hype these kinds of things as big enlightenment orgies, so I tend to downplay them and say it's boring.


Y'know when you get old this goin' to sound really whiny instead of insouciant.

sexist pig said...

If it looks like a duck, and quakes like a duck, its probably a duck.

Start talking about sex and the skirts sure come out!

More photos of women in tight t's, please.

Harry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Harry said...

108, in the last episode: I'm no physicist, but it makes sense to me that all actions, all events, rely on prior causes and conditions completely, not just "to some extent" - including our actions... For that not to be the case, for me to "have free will" there has to be something other than the causally determined, co-dependently arisen physical processes of my brain and body that instigates and effects action. In other words, a self; a will; a soul. I see no evidence for such a thing. It doesn't make sense to me.

Hi 108,

I think while you look at the problem of action from the point of view of a fiction called 'the self' who 'has free will' then it won't make sense, like trying to affirm the existence or non-existence of real horses by researching unicorns.

We clearly have a level of autonomy in which we can act with a level of independance from both our environment and, with the right sort of effort, from our habitual conditioning.

We can act, we do act, at the only time when we possibly can regardless of whether we will it or not. Carrying out an act of will is an event based on prior circumstances and current perceptions and interpretations (such as a sense of self as opposed to a perception of 'other'); carrying out an act that is independant (in that we don't act on will/ perceptions/ desires etc) of current circumstances and perceptions is not really seperate or 'free of' will and perception, a sense of 'self' or whatever, it can't be said to be completely 'free' of it because all that stuff that contributes to a sense of self is still there, and yet it is effectively very different. The very stuff of willful intent (arising wants, perceptions etc) shows us in zazen that we needn't follow through on it: it realises us, we realise it (to look at it in split-up terms).

In the real situation it may be very complicated and is not as clear cut as we may like to think and rationalise it. Dogen revelled in the 'complicatedness' of it. His commentary on the Wild Fox koan springs to mind, as does Shobogenzo Katto.

'Is the person of great practice free of cause and effect?'

'Do not ignore cause and effect'.

On which Dogen commented:

"Those who say "one does not fall into cause and effect" deny causation, thereby falling into the lower realms. Those who say "one cannot ignore cause and effect" clearly identify with cause and effect. When people hear about identifying with cause and effect, they are freed from the lower realms. Do not doubt this. Many of our contemporaries who consider themselves students of Zen deny causation. How do we know? They confuse "not ignoring" with "not falling into." Thus we know they deny cause and effect".

The implication for the problem of 'free will' here might be that positing that there must be a 'self' who 'has free will' is 'identifying with cause and effect' too much, coming to a conclusion that is extra to what actually happens in the real situation.

We can 'identify with cause and effect' more directly while dropping off the need for a seperate, autonomous, metaphysical 'self' that is in any way seperate to or superfluous to the cause and effect of the total situation at any given moment. To do this is an act free of will, in contrast to, say, an act of will in reference to a sense of self which is inherently not free of the will to preserve and promote the impression of self.

To sum up the problem of 'free will', or, more importantly and effectively, 'free action', in a few words I would say that (although we mightn't always realise it) we are free to be stuck, and stuck to be free.

Regards,

Harry.

Harry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Harry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Harry said...

...sorry for the miltiple post.

Anonymous said...

Harry, Why did you replace your picture with Anton Chigurh's?

Harry said...

As a cause... for effect?

108 the merciless said...

If I see a television advert for double meat pizza and I run out to get one, is that not free will?

Harry said...

108.1,

Yes, I think it is. You're free to act willfully based on what you want. That seems to be a pretty widespread idea of what 'free will' is: I want my pizza so I should be able to get it.

Looked at outside of your own perceived need to eat that lovely, drippy pizza it could be seen to be pretty deterministic though as it is a fairly basic stimulus and response event.

A lot of what we Western people consider 'freedom' seems to be along these lines. The 'freedom' to consume what we want, what we MUST have, it's our RIGHT. It's what drives the neoliberal feeding frenzy.

... Maybe if you ate enough of those yummy pizzas (until you were sick of 'em) you'd be freed of that 'free will'?

Enjoy!

Harry.

anon #108 said...

Hi Harry,

I'm not sure, but I suspect we might be talking at cross purposes. The "free will" that I'm querying is a very specific, far less speculative thing than the notions you're discussing and attempting to clarify. My 'proposition' has nothing to do with decisions being influenced by "personality", "environmental factors", "social conditioning" etc, but with a view of the physical Universe of which I assume I am a part and how I believe it functions.

I believe that I am nothing nothing more than an assemblage of physical elements, bio-chemical and/or electrical (I'm no scientist, but I hope that covers it). If I'm right, then what I experience as my self/my consciousness/my will is merely a phenomenon produced by my conditioned physical body. It is wholly conditioned because all things in the Universe are - by immediately prior events, back to the big bang.

Aside from scientific observation and measurement it seems self-evident to me that the Universe operates by cause and effect and that we apparently sentient beings can be no exception. Of course, any such perspective may be an illusion - is almost certain to be an illusion of sorts, but as that illusion, supported by scientific observation, is all I have, I'm content to draw provisional conclusions from it. However, the fact that our sense of self tells us otherwise; tells us that we act freely (albeit within constraints), unbound by cause and effect (or maybe 'just a little bit' bound [huh?]) through the exercise of the self's "will" or "intention" strikes me as a bigger illusion. Of course, I, like everyone else, still proceed through life as a conscious, will-ful self, and I 'take responsibility' for (what appear to be) 'my' decisions and actions. While the problem of free will v determinism - or more particularly of free will as an aspect of an autonomous self - occasionally interests me, the subject isn't one that affects how I live my life. At all.


We clearly have a level of autonomy in which we can act with a level of independance from both our environment and, with the right sort of effort, from our habitual conditioning.

I'd say "We clearly appear to have a level of autonomy..."

In the real situation it may be very complicated and is not as clear cut as we may like to think and rationalise it.

Amen! (Caveat: the real situation may be so very simple...but same difference).

Commenting on Dogen re Hyakujo's fox, you wrote:

The implication for the problem of 'free will' here might be that positing that there must be a 'self' who 'has free will' is 'identifying with cause and effect' too much...

This and your subsequent closing remarks are gonna take some pondering! I think I glimpse what you're trying to say. I'll re-read slowly a few times ;)

I just want to reassure you and any other concerned readers that I'm quite ok. If it's 'true' that I am merely a biological machine manifesting one tiny element of the destiny of the big bang, It doesn't bother me. I reckon I am probably just that, but I suspect I'll always feel that I'm a unique, conscious, freely functioning individual being...who doesn't ever expect, or need, to 'know' for sure.

anon #108 said...

HERE's an article on free will by (zazen practising) Dr Sue Blackmore from the Guardian. She explains it better than I.

Annoying intro...annoys me anyway, but HERE's a podcast interview with Ms. Blackmore. Sadly, Dr. Sue's Radio 4 lectures and discussions are no longer available.

anon #108 said...

(That Guardian article isn't by SB; it's a very brief summary of some of her ideas. Got some good links, though. I didn't read it before posting it. Haven't checked the "good links" either. Not my fault. Predetermined).

Mysterion said...

Rex Humbard...

LOL

Thanks

Speaking of gods, this girl was in a fern bar and met this dude who she took home for the weekend. Monday evening, she herd a knock on her door and it was him.

"I have a confession to make." He said. "I am Thor."

"You're THOR!" she said with a lisp.

The clouds are a nice effect - not.

Harry said...

"Aside from scientific observation and measurement it seems self-evident to me that the Universe operates by cause and effect and that we apparently sentient beings can be no exception."

Hi 108,

I think science has proved that, despite our observations and common sense conclusions which may (or may not) be reliable, there is a 'wildcard' element in how the Universe operates. It still has secrets, 'God plays dice'. That's why we are not all making a good living from betting on horses (or unicorns for that matter!)


"...Of course, any such perspective may be an illusion - is almost certain to be an illusion of sorts, but as that illusion, supported by scientific observation, is all I have, I'm content to draw provisional conclusions from it."

I'm glad you seem to realise that it's a unreliable refuge.

"...However, the fact that our sense of self tells us otherwise; tells us that we act freely (albeit within constraints), unbound by cause and effect (or maybe 'just a little bit' bound [huh?]) through the exercise of the self's "will" or "intention" strikes me as a bigger illusion."

Thankfully we can clarify this directly for ourselves in our own lives and experiences and so we don't have to rely on shaky theories. The point of Buddhism, as far as I'm concerned, is not to negate the valid sense of self (as effective actor), but is to 'drop it off' and realise it in it's real, broader context...


"...Of course, I, like everyone else, still proceed through life as a conscious, will-ful self, and I 'take responsibility' for (what appear to be) 'my' decisions and actions."

I'm glad to hear it, I think we all do to various degrees. It may be the difference between an ideology of 'self' (a belief in an eternal soul, or a culture of individualism for e.g.) and a practical acknowledgement that we effectively do have a level of autonomy and freedom to act albeit with no abiding 'self' or 'soul' basis. Also, there is the other provisional, functional matter of our individual acts on our individual consciousness: This is described in the 'alaya consciousness' or 'storehouse consciousness' theory of Buddhism where our very own past acts are stored as trace potentials effecting present and future potentials.

Regards,

Harry.

Mysterion said...

"Free will" vs. error.

In describing WHY gravity is the weak force, physicists have come up with "M" Theory in which giant soap-bubble like membranes once bumped and one (the void - us) assumed the error terms from the other (a filled membrane). It's shades of Matrix theory.

Seagal Rinpoche said...

A single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us. To live is to be slowly born.

Malcolm said...

108 - You screwed up again. That Guardian article IS by Sue Blackmore. But it's not much cop. The podcast is better.

anon #108 said...

No free will = no screw up. Get stuffed.

Anonymous said...

No sit in Montreal though...? I know that at least two of us over here on the east coast would drive the 800km's for it... Any chance of that happening at all?

Anonymous Bob said...

Happy 70th John Lennon birthday to all John Lennon fans.. If you're not a fan get stuffed!

CAPTCHA : imina : I kid you not

Anonymous said...

will to imagine

Anonymous said...

obey

john e mumbles said...

GOD by John Lennon (Plastic Ono Band)

God is a concept
By which we measure
Our pain
I'll say it again
God is a concept
By which we measure
Our pain
I don't believe in magic
I don't believe in I-ching
I don't believe in Bible
I don't believe in tarot
I don't believe in Hitler
I don't believe in Jesus
I don't believe in Kennedy
I don't believe in Buddha
I don't believe in Mantra
I don't believe in Gita
I don't believe in Yoga
I don't believe in kings
I don't believe in Elvis
I don't believe in Zimmerman
I don't believe in Beatles
I just believe in me
Yoko and me
And that's reality

The dream is over
What can I say?
The dream is over
Yesterday
I was the Dreamweaver
But now I'm reborn
I was the Walrus
But now I'm John
And so dear friends
You'll just have to carry on
The dream is over

Anonymous said...

anon108,
I've been a huge fan of Sue Blackmore for years. She is a longtime zen practitioner. She's also an atheist. Apparently she and I are not true zen buddhists in Brad's playbook of god-believing zen. Susan rocks.

Anonymous said...

Who knew Brad's horn was on his forehead! You leave those innocent young women alone - monster!

Anonymous said...

Does a dog have buddha-nature or not?
Studies say YES!

anon #108 said...

Harry,

For those of us (all of us?) who are predetermined sometimes to ponder and to communicate our ponderings, the effort we make - rather than arriving at conclusions - is what matters, I think: to make the effort and then do the next thing lest, indeed, we get stuck.

Maybe you've been following the chat over at ZFI re conciousness? Alayavijnana recently made an appearance. I'm admiring Shonin's brave efforts to pull the discussion out of the metaphysical realm and back to what we know we don't know. But they're all having fun, so... There ain't arf some clever bastards over at ZFI!

**********************************************************************
Hi anon 5.55pm,

Before she moved to (I think) Devon SB used regularly to sit with my teacher, Mike Luetchford in Bristol. I've never met her.

I once asked Mike if SB had ever discussed free will in the group; more particularly whether she'd ever challenged Gudo's analogy of a pearl (me) balanced on a razor blade (the present moment) falling to one side or the other, demonstrating how we are free to act in the present, even though from the point of view of sequential time we are clearly bound by cause and effect. I once pointed out to Gudo on his blog that without an agent to push the pearl one way or other, his analogy was a perfect demonstration of cause and effect, not of free will. For however slight the force that influences the otherwise perfectly balanced pearl, there has to be something that causes it to fall, or it stays there forever. Gudo agreed that an agent, an actor was necessary to incline the pearl to fall. In my book, that gets us no further: Gudo's pearl/pushing agent must be equivalent to the free will/self - we're back at square one; something that exists outside cause and effect that acts despite it. Mike told me no, SB had never discussed free will or Gudo's pearl/razor analogy in the group.

"God" doesn't do it for me either. I'm content with a wonderful and 'impersonal' "Universe". My guess is that Brad doesn't mind one bit. And I don't mind one bit that "God" does it for Brad.

anon #108 said...

...Even if Gudo's analogy is faulty, the fault may be one that's unavoidable.

I suppose that it's impossible to reconcile a view of the world from the perspective of sequential time with one from the perspective of the present, instant moment - we can't conceive of a truly instantaneous event; all events must have duration, without duration nothing can exist. It seems.

As usual, we're caught trying to express the inexpressible. Maybe someone with a philosophy degree can help me out. Not that I'm in need of help, y'understand.

"What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence." L. Wittgenstein

"The stars are matter. We're matter. But it doesn't matter." The Captain.

anon #108 said...

Nearly forgot...

"He who in order to relinquish all views
Taught the true dharma
By compassionate means -
To him, to Gautama, I pay homage."

Nagarjuna
(my faulty translation)

PhilBob-SquareHead said...

Fuck the Beatles. The Meatmen are gonna have to change this to "2 down, 2 to go!"

TREELEAF said...

http://www.shambhalasun.com/sunspace/?p=18744

TREELEAF said...

Shambhala Sunspace writes up Warner

john e mumbles said...

Whoever linked the sunspace excerpt above, thank you! I thought it pretty great Brad. Good insights.

Mr. Reee said...

Re cause and effect, something else to toss in:

One of the more interesting things Alan Watts spoke of (credit where credit is due) was of our ideas about our relationship to the past from the perspective of the present --which, I presume, would also include our ideas about cause and effect, since causes are found 'in the past' and effects are found 'in the present.'

It went like this, more or less:

'Imagine you are riding on a ship, looking over the rail, at the wake trailing the ship. Our ideas about the past are a little bit like assuming the wake is driving the ship forward, instead of simply trailing it in the present time. In much the same way, we are always creating our past from the position of the present.'

So, for the sake of discussion, if our ideas about the past are as illusory as the appearance of a wake driving a ship forward, then how do we sort out cause and effect?

anon #108 said...

Thanks, Mr Reee.

I've said before that AFAIC Alan Watts is cool, and that ship/wake analogy is cool too.

I guess such images and the paradoxes they present can only be explained as examples of irreconcilable viewpoints. Is one or the other viewpoint true? Are all viewpoints, even if contradictory, simultaneously true? Are no viewpoints true? It is indeed a mystery, Mr Reee.

From another viewpoint, when we act, we cast of viewpoints. Actions/events can only take place here and now, and are different animals from viewpoints.

Anonymous Bob said...

Brad, I too enjoyed reading the Sunspace article.

"The real root of our problems as human beings is the way we fly off into imagining how things could, or should, be."

I agree. What is the actual difference between the past and the future? There doesn't seem to be one..

CAPTCHA : resson : I kid you not

Harry said...

Watts: "...In much the same way, we are always creating our past from the position of the present."

Hail All,

Dogen went further with this and said that time can flow in all directions, for e.g., the future can flow into the present (thinking about an outcome can contribute to how we act and therefore manifest the present in our action).

Mr. Reee "So, for the sake of discussion, if our ideas about the past are as illusory as the appearance of a wake driving a ship forward, then how do we sort out cause and effect?"

It may not always be useful to consider it in terms of 'illusion'. From the point of view of zazen, of realising 'time-being' ('Uji'), to put it in Dogen-speak, there is no illuison, just things (be they thoughts, perceptions, memories, inclinations to act etc) as they are coming forward and 'dropping off' as current existence-time.

Our experiences of the past cetainly 'drives us forward', sometimes with great use and validity and to good ends, sometimes with not-so-good results. It may not substantially be a matter of illusion vrs 'reality' (because reality is, of course, totally inclusive) but of just what sort of reality we want to make/effect and, via realising 'existence-time', our being able to conduct ourselves in accordance with real time.

Regards,

Harry.

Cyril Coombs said...

My fav quote of all time lol "I seem like a foul mouthed pussy-crazed heathen waving his dick around at everybody."

proulx michel said...

OpenID tattoozen said...

Its always astounding how people who have supposedly spent years unchaining themselves of conditioning and striving to see the world as it is instead of as their filters see it can get hung up about "vulgarity" or "bad" words. If I sat zazen for 20 years and still got upset at someone else using words I didn't like i would have to consider my 20 years wasted.

Reminds me of that Vipassana teacher who, to my mentioning that I had first been annoyed by a neighbour who had a sneeze and kept sneezing, and then told myself "What's the use of this practice if you let that annoy you?", replied, "What's great with this practice is that nothing can bother you".

kittent said...

I really really really want the t-shirt. Poly but not a grammar nerd.