Wednesday, March 31, 2010

GODZILLA RETURNS

There have been a slew of news reports lately that Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros., the combo responsible for the current remake of Clash Of The Titans, will be producing a new Godzilla movie for release in 2012.

It's kind of funny to see this. It's part of a story I've been following for the past few years. A guy named Yoshimitsu Banno -- named in the story linked above as one of the film's producers -- has been making the rounds in the US entertainment industry trying to get a new Godzilla project off the ground since at least the late 90s. Banno is an intriguing character. He is the only person to have directed just one Godzilla movie (not including the last US-made catastrophe in 1998). Most Godzilla movie directors get asked back after they do one movie. Banno apparently made the execs at Toho so mad they never asked him back.

Banno's Godzilla movie was 1971's Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster, one of my personal all-time favorites of the series. It turns out that Banno didn't just pick a pollution-based monster as Godzilla's enemy because it was a trendy topic at the time. He was and is a big environmentalist. It has long been his dream to remake Godzilla vs The Smog Monster with a big budget as a way of calling attention to the serious environmental issues facing humanity today.

Apparently, Banno managed to purchase the rights to remake Smog Monster from Toho. But his efforts to get it going haven't been all that successful until now. Last I'd heard before this news came about was that he was trying to get a 15 minute Imax version made somewhere in South America. Or something like that...

ANYWAY, this all got me thinking that one of the FAQ's I get fairly often when I'm on tour from people who've read Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate is, "What the heck ever happened with your job at the Godzilla company?" (which was not the company that made Godzilla, but was a company founded by the guy who invented Godzilla)

I left that unresolved at the end of the book because at the time I finished writing the book it was unresolved. What ended up happening is that I got fired. That's in the book, I think.

But then in September of 2008 I went to Japan to lead the annual Dogen Sangha retreat and scheduled a meeting with the company while I was there. It was at this meeting that they proposed for me to come back to Japan and work for them again at the Tokyo office.

I really hemmed and hawed on this one. I desperately wanted to return to Japan. I feel more at home there than I do anywhere else. And yet returning to my old job sounded unappealing. Besides that, Zen Wrapped in Karma was set to be released in the Spring of the following year and I wouldn't be in America to promote it if I took the job in Japan.

At the end of 2008 I had to make my official decision. So I moved in to the San Francisco Zen Center for three weeks, finished off the book, then called up Tokyo and told them I was staying in America. I officially quit.

And that's the story!

Remember that this weekend I'll be in Brooklyn at the Zen Center there running a retreat. There's still space available. All info is on this link here.

Then it's on to Baltimore and following that, Richmond, Virginia. All info is on the link referenced above.

Monday, March 29, 2010

NAZI "BUDDHISTS" IN SRI LANKA FUCK OFF! and CHRISTIANS IN THE ZENDO!

Here are some "Buddhists" who don't have a fucking clue what Buddhism is all about.

This story just disgusts me to no end. I have no idea what the fuck is up with these so-called "Buddhists" in Sri Lanka. But I do not represent them and I want nothing at all to do with jack-offs like this. I hope they ban my books over there too. This kind of nonsense makes me embarrassed to call myself a "Buddhist."

The Jathika Hela Urumaya (the hardline "Buddhist" ruling party in Sri Lanka) can bite me! More power to you Sarah Malini Perera. This shit makes me want to convert to Islam too!

How's that for a typical Brad Warner style reasoned argument?

ANYWAY, the 2010 Southern Dharma Retreat Center Zen retreat with Brad is now done. So let me tell you about it.

I counted 18 or 19 brave souls up there in the mountains of North Carolina. As always this was a very interesting group. People come to Zen retreats for all kinds of reasons. One woman was a born-again Christian and missionary to Africa who wanted to check out this Zen stuff. One other woman was drafted in by her friend when her friend's daughter who'd originally signed up came down with strep throat. One guy went to Woodstock. One guy was a Rinzai priest (the enemy!).

Someone asked about doing zazen retreats for the "wrong reasons" or something like that. But I don't think there are wrong reasons. If you just come along to experience three days of peace and quiet away from the job and the kids, that's just as valid as someone who's all gung-ho about The Great Way of the Buddha. Maybe more so.

It was a bit of a hard retreat for me because I caught a cold on the first day. It was all I could do to just get through all the talks and stuff without keeling over. I felt a little bad about that. To make up for my lack of energy I read the group the intro to my new book, which takes place at the Southern Dharma Retreat Center.

See, last year, just before that retreat I'd been dumped by a woman I was truly crazy about (perhaps literally so). And I was feeling pretty broke up the entire time. I figured that story would be a good intro to a book about sex and zen. The rest of the book is less personal than that. I guess that's kinda sad for all the anonymous commenters who got all worked up that the book was gonna be a big catalog of my sex life. Maybe next time.

Did I mention I got recognized by random people while I was in Austin -- twice? No? It's true. The first one was a college student on Spring Break who turned around as we waited for a light to change and asked my name. I thought he was gonna try to sell me something! Turns out he's an avid reader of this blog! I'm sorry I've forgotten your name if you're reading this. But I forget names as fast as I learn them. The next was a guy at a CVS. This is getting spooky! (Hence the photo above)(It's a joke)(The star is for H.B. Warner, a popular star of the 30s now sadly forgotten)

This weekend I'll be in Brooklyn at the Zen Center there running a retreat. There's still space available. All info is on this link here.

Then I'll be at Sheppard College in West Virginia. The date is April 8th, but I don't have the other specifics yet. Then it's on to Baltimore and following that, Richmond, Virginia. So be there or be a Sri Lankan hardline "Buddhist!"

(And this: Oh my God(zilla)!)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I SURVIVED THE AUSTIN DHARMA PUNX RETREAT

Here's a photo of the survivors of the Austin Dharma Punx Zen Retreat 2010. We all made it through alive, but just barely!

The retreat was held March 18-21 at the Recreation Plantation campsite a little ways outside of Austin, Texas. My first teacher routinely runs retreats at campsites in Ohio so I figured this would work out OK. But I was too busy with moving across the country to attend to the specifics of the event and did not realize what I'd gotten myself into until I got there.

The zendo was to be a covered pavilion. I had imagined an enclosed space. I should have looked up the word "pavilion." It turned out to be basically a roof over some picnic tables. This obviously wasn't gonna work. So we decided to use the nearby covered stage for a zendo. This at least had a floor. It was a raised stage, about three feet tall with a roof but with no walls.

The weather was good on day one, and I was starting to become hopeful that the retreat might work out. It certainly wasn't an ideal situation to sit zazen in the open air. But it was do-able. The ten of us made it through, a little chilly but OK.

That night I spent my first ever night in a tent. It was freezing cold, which kept me wide awake until close to midnight. I finally slept. But at about three in the morning I woke up to a rustling noise outside. It sounded like either a person or an animal as large as a human being walking around in the grass just outside my tent. Since the nearest other tent was about fifty feet away and down a hill there was no good reason any of the retreat people might have been hanging out in front of my tent at that hour.

I switched on my flashlight and tried to sound threatening as I squeaked out, "Wh-who-who's there?" I unzipped the tent flap and saw nothing but grass and trees. It was then that I realized the wind had kicked up during the night and that what I was hearing was just the rain fly of the tent rubbing against the tent itself.

After a while I settled down enough to sleep, although the cold was even more intense now, which made sleeping even harder. But I'm a light sleeper so every time the rain fly rubbed against the tent I was up again. I wasn't scared anymore, but I couldn't sleep through it.

The next morning the wind was a lot harder than it had been on the first day. We'd set up a tarp on one side of the "zendo" to provide some kind of a wall so that participants weren't staring out at the pavilion. But the wind started whipping the tarp around like crazy. We'd weighted it down with heavy rocks and a cinder block. But the wind was strong enough that these were sliding all over the place. I cut the morning zazen short so we could fix the problem.

It was clear we weren't going to be able to continue this way. So we reconvened and decided to pay an extra fee to rent a tiny cabin on the site. This was basically a two-room shack, about the size of a large bedroom. We managed to squeeze all thirteen participants (three more had arrived on the second day) set up our Elvis Buddha on a book shelf to make a kind of altar, took off our shoes and got down to some zazen.

This went all right in spite of the cramped quarters. In fact the small space made for a nice sense of camaraderie among those involved.

For the second night I and one of the other participants elected to move into the shack rather than sleep in tents. The others bravely stayed outside. Which was fine until 6 A.M. when a huge thunderstorm hit. The temperature dropped by something like 20 degrees in an hour or so. Lightning was flashing on all sides and the rain was as hard as I've ever seen. Oddly enough 6 A.M. was the time we were to begin the day's zazen.

We decided to follow the schedule at least until lunchtime. We'd be OK in the cabin. At lunch we had a mass meeting and decided we were going to finish out the day. But there was no way we were going to spend the night in the mud and rain.

I'd promised to do dokusan in the afternoon. One of the participants offered her tent. So I bundled up with two jackets, two hats and a big black thermal blanket and started doing one-on-one interviews with the members of the group who'd asked to speak with me.

This actually went better than I'd have imagined. But I was surely glad when the final interview was done and I could go into the cabin where it was a couple degrees warmer.

We tore up stakes then and went to one of the participant's houses for dinner. Several of us were from out of town. Space was donated by kind local folks and we all went back to sleep in warm beds or at least couches.

The Austin Zen Center was nice enough to let us use their space to do the last couple of sittings the following morning. That's where the group photo above was taken.

As you can see we all made it through. It was hardly a disaster -- in fact it was kind of nice all things considered. Even so, that's the last time I agree to do a retreat in a campground without an enclosed space for zazen.

Phew.

Tomorrow begins the 2010 Southern Dharma Retreat in Hot Springs, N. Carolina. At least they have a fully enclosed sitting space and nice, heated living spaces for everyone involved! Then it's on to Brooklyn and Baltimore. For full info on where I'll be check out this link. See ya there!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

TOUR PAGE UPDATES and GOODBYE ALEX CHILTON

I've updated the page about my tour. The address I originally had for the Brooklyn Zen Center was incorrect. So don't go where I said before because they've moved!

Also, I got more complete info on my talk at Baltimore Zen Center and that's up there as well. Go read it for yourself. What am I? Your mommy?

Sitting here at the Austin Zen Center waiting to see if someone is picking me up to go to the retreat today. So far it's 9:30 am. The retreat starts at noon. And I haven't heard a word yet about how I'm supposed to get out there.

So maybe I'll just hang out and see some more of SXSW. Apparently Cheetah Chrome is playing tonight, so if they don't call I'll just go see that.

I am supremely bummed that Alex Chilton just died. I love Big Star a whole bunch, and just got that massive boxed set Rhino put out of their stuff. I listened to the whole gosh darned thing as I drove across country the week before last. Not a single bad track on any of the four CDs. Chilton was also very briefly a label-mate of mine when he put out an EP on Midnight Records in the mid-80s. I'm really broke up about this one.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

THIS IS AUSTIN NOT L.A.! (Year 2) and ZEN AS ART

I thought I was being sooooo clever using the title "This is Austin Not L.A.!" since I just arrived in Austin. Then I went looking for an image for the piece and found out I'd used that title a year ago, the last time I came to Austin.

Fuck it. What else is there except for maybe an Austin Powers reference? So I'm just recycling the old title. It's good for the environment!

So I gave my talk in Houston, stayed there with the amazing and wonderful Gaelyn Godwin, who runs the show down there, then got driven up here by Vicky from the Zen Center. And now here I am in the Austin Zen Center library typing this for y'all.

But the big news is that a friend of mine got tickets to see MOTORHEAD tonight. Wooo-hoooo! They're here for South By Southwest apparently. I didn't even know there still was a Motorhead. I hope they play Ace of Spades and Iron Fist. Motorhead were the first metal band the punk rockers accepted. Now you can't even tell the difference between the two genres.

So anyway, when I was in Houston the talk I gave was about my growing conviction that Zen teaching should not be seen as a form of religious instruction but as a form of art instruction. I admit it's an uneasy fit. But so is considering it religious instruction.

The general public doesn’t really have a clue as to what a Zen teacher is. So the model they usually chose to base their assumptions about what a Zen teacher ought to be is that of a religious instructor.

And it isn’t just the uninformed masses who do this. A great many Zen teachers conceive of it this way themselves. This is especially true in Japan. The modern Japanese Soto School is essentially an imitation of the Roman Catholic Church. In the Meiji Era, the Japanese looked to the West to provide a framework for understanding the world. They adopted the Western classifications of various forms of knowledge and the divisions thereof, such as science, philosophy and religion.

It’s important to recall that even in our own culture there was a very long time during which there were no such divisions of human knowledge and understanding. There wasn’t really a category of philosophy that was separate from religion. And even aspects of what we now recognize as the scientific view were mixed into a generalized stew of knowledge that included religion and philosophy. Other aspects of human understanding such as mathematics, law, art and a whole lot of other forms of understanding that we now look upon as fundamentally incompatible with each other were also mixed into this stew.

But by the time the Japanese were ready to adopt the Western outlook and way of life, these classifications had already been well established in our culture. These classifications were not, however, nearly so well established in Japan or in the rest of Asia.

So when the Meiji Era Japanese needed a place in which to classify Zen Buddhism, it seemed like the best fit was in the category the Westerners called “religion.”

Once it was decided that Zen was a religion, Japanese scholars and clergy people alike began to look for the commonalities Zen had with Western religions and largely downplay those aspects that did not fit the established Western mold.

And so the idea has come down to us a hundred and some years later that Zen is a religion. I’m aware that there has been considerable debate about this. But mostly the debate has been framed in terms of the question: “Is Zen a religion or a philosophy?” I used to side with the faction that said it was a philosophy. But I’m not so sure this is even the right question anymore.

It has occurred to me lately that Zen is not a religion or a philosophy, but might better be seen as a form of art.

One aspect of religious instruction is that as a representative of some specific religion you usually have an institution behind you. They decide what their reps can and cannot say and how their reps should dress and behave. The institution takes responsibility for the individuals they choose as their representatives. Thus if a parish priest in Des Moines is caught fondling choir boys, the main office in Rome is held responsible.

The Zen model doesn't really function that way except perhaps when it comes to large institutions such as the Soto-shu of Japan and maybe a few others in the West who follow their model -- which, in turn, is based on the Catholic Church, ironically .

Art instruction works differently. I am a competent enough guitarist that I could teach someone the basics of the instrument. I can show you the chords, the blues scale, how to hold your pick real tight and make that squeaky sound like the guy from ZZ Top and so forth. Once I have instructed you, how you use that knowledge isn't really my business. You may choose to use it for good, or you can use what I've taught you for evil purposes, like playing guitar in a Julio Iglesias cover band, for example.

It's really up to you. Furthermore, beyond the basics I teach you, it's up to you to come up with your own style of playing. Your style will be influenced by what I've taught you. But if you're any good at all you'll be able to incorporate those influences into something uniquely your own.

I think that's how good Zen teaching should function as well. Good Zen teachers shouldn't try to unify what they teach any more than poets should try to make their poems all sound the same or novelists should try to write the same book. That would be counter to their art.

As for institutions, I think they kill Zen. Or they can. Which is why Dogen Sangha is such a loose organization (or disorganization) without any of the hallmarks of a religious institution. And I plan on keeping it that way.

Good? OK. Now I gotta go sit some Zen with these Texans and then get ready for MOTORHEAD!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

NORTH CAROLINA > TEXAS

I made it to North Carolina last night, thus completing my trek by car across this great land we call the United States. Drove over both of the country's mountain chains the rocky Rockies and the rolling Appalachians. I had a notion to drive an hour more to the Atlantic, thus touching both oceans. But I was too pooped. And anyway, the next day (today) I had to be on a plane for Houston Texas.

Check out the link to your right that says "Book Tour 2010" or whatever it says for details on my talk at the Houston Zen Center tomorrow morning. And the retreat I'm leading in Austin the following weekend.

I'll try to post again soon. But this one is mainly an excuse to a) plug the Houton talk and b) show you a pic of me and Zuiko Redding outside America's first mosque in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

My plane's about to board so I gotta go!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

SPAWNING GROUND & TV SCREEN HEAD

First and most importantly, the second of the download versions of the Dimentia 13 LPs I recorded in the 80s is now available. You can find it on iTunes or you can download it from Amazon.com by clicking here or by clicking on the link over there to your left. If you want to read about the album for free download this PDF file that tells you everything you could ever possibly want to know about the album. Then buy the download.

This is my other favorite of the Dimentia 13 records. It was all recorded at home on 4-track cassette machines. It's a very intimate record.

Today I am reporting from the home of Mickey "X-Nelson" Hurray, drummer for Zero Defex, in Akron, Ohio where I am spending the night before making the final haul of my ass to Durham tomorrow. Right after I get to Durham, though, I am getting on a plane bound for Texas. I'll be speaking in Houston, running a retreat in Austin, then heading back to North Carolina for a retreat there, followed by yet another retreat in Brooklyn. After Brooklyn I'll be in Baltimore and then Richmond, Virginia. All of my tour dates are right here. Or as follows:


TEXAS

• March 14, 2010 (Sun) 9:45 am Houston Zen Center - 1605 Heights Blvd., Houston, TX 77008 (Dharma Talk, public welcome) For info contact info@houstonzen.org

• March 18 - 21, 2010 (Thurs - Sun) Austin Texas Dharma Punx Retreat (registration required). For info write to Bosco at bosco_freak@yahoo.com


NORTH CAROLINA

• March 25 - 28, 2010 (Thurs -Sun) 4 Day Zazen Retreat (registration required) Southern Dharma Retreat Center - 1661 West Rd., Hot Springs, North Carolina 28743 (near Asheville) Register at southerndharma@earthlink.com


NEW YORK

• April 2 - 4, 2010 (Fri - Sun) 3-Day Non-residential Zazen Retreat (registration required) Brooklyn Zen Center 398 9th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215, contact Jacopo Buora jacopo.buora@gmail.com or call (347)237-1702 for more info.

The info for Baltimore and Richmond will be posted as soon as I get it.

I called today's piece "spawning ground" because every time I come to Akron I feel a little like a salmon swimming upstream to mate and die. Only I never get to mate with anyone here and I have yet to die. It;s just that it feels like going back to the land that spawned whatever it is I have become. I still have some kind of deep connection to this place. It's in my blood or some such thing. The taste of Luigi's pizza is like mother's milk or whatever it is that salmon babies eat.

But let me tell you about the rest of the tour so far...

I did that gig in Kansas City I mentioned last time. I was hosted there by Blake and Shari Wilson, who I also mentioned last time. Here's a photo of them so you know what kind of people to picture. It was a terrific gig. The biggest laugh I got that night was touched off by something that came up on the comments section of this very blog.

At one point in the talk I brought up that someone in the comments section here, while talking about the recent broo-haha concerning Jundo Cohen, said something along the lines of, "Why is there so much trouble within Dogen Sangha. Other Buddhist sanghas never have those kinds of arguments." At that point the entire auditorium burst into laughter. I didn't get it at first. But later on someone told me that there were currently some serious disagreements within one of the local Buddhist groups.

Folks, let me clue you in, all Buddhist sanghas -- and I do mean every single one of them everywhere in the world ever since Buddhism began -- has had (or is currently having) problems most of which make the stuff in Dogen Sangha look like tiddlywinks. And, just FYI, Mr. Cohen is not even part of Dogen Sangha and has not been associated with DS for years. In actual fact, lately the Dogen Sangha people have been getting along mightily well together. Knock on wood!

I'm not even gonna go into this subject here. I feel like I already wrote a whole gosh darned book about it! Oh, that's right. I did!

Next stop was Cedar Rapids where I was hosted by the very gracious and wonderful Zuiko Redding of the Cedar Rapids Zen Center. Zuiko is one of the greatest Zen teachers you could ever hope to meet. And she's just out there in Cedar Rapids doing what needs doing with very little fuss or fanfare. I first met her at Great Sky three years ago. You would do yourself well to seek out someone like her in your neck of the woods, or head on out to Cedar Rapids.

My two talks there were very nice. Funny story on that, a friend of mine from the area came out to Cedar Rapids to hang out and hear me talk. She's not a Zennie -- I do have a few friends who have zero interest in Buddhism -- but she was into getting a taste of it. Zuiko was kind enough to give her a spot in the Zen Center to crash, so she got a lot more Zen than she really bargained for.

After hearing loads of Zen talk and participating in a few of the ceremonies my friend said, "Oh! I get it! Zen people are nerds! It's just like learning to speak Klingon, and wearing Klingon clothes and practicing Klingon customs!"

She didn't mean this as an insult. She's quite a nerd herself (she is a friend of mine, after all). The nerdiness of Zen was something she could relate to.

It's so true, though! I've been using the phrase "Zen nerds" for a few years but it's nice to see someone from outside this particular little subculture say exactly the same thing. In some ways being way into Zen is frighteningly like being a Trekkie or a Star Wars nerd or any of those things. I first noticed this when I saw how much Zen nerds had in common with the Godzilla fanatics I had to deal with at work when I worked in the Japanese monster movie industry.

In any case, I had a grand old time in Iowa. Saw America's first ever mosque, which is in Cedar Rapids of all places. Got to hang out in Iowa City and Mount Vernon, eating cheese sandwiches and licorice flavored caramel.

Last night I hung out with my friend Alex Wald in Chicago. Alex is an amazing artist who I first met 11 years ago when I found his art on punk rock record covers and commissioned him to do some illustrations for Tsuburaya Productions. He was obviously a big Ultraman fan and used to sneak some references to Ultraman into his record covers. Alex is gonna be doing the artwork for the cover of my upcoming book from New World Library.

OK. It's almost midnight and I gotta get rested up to hit the road again tomorrow.

Good night from me & Sock Monkey!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

UTAH IS PSYCHEDELIC!

I made it to Kansas City, where I will be speaking tomorrow night. I'll be at Unity Temple 707 W. 47th St. (47th & Jefferson) Kansas City, MO 64112 from 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm. The event is sponsored by the Kansas Zen Center. Get info by writing to info@kansaszencenter.org. The next day — my birthday — I will be in Cedar Rapids speaking at the Paul Engle Center, 1600 Fourth Ave. SE Cedar Rapids, Iowa at 7pm. For more info on that you can contact the folks at the Cedar Rapids Zen Center. All of this and more can be found on my spiffy new tour page. I'm adding more gigs in Baltimore, MD and Richmond, VA. Details will be forthcoming when I get them.

Oh! And by the way, the issue of Monster Attack Team to which I contributed an article is now available. Click on the link to order. You can even see a photo of my article on the webpage.

Much of my trip across country has been made possible by kind people offering me places to crash and I wanted to thank them for it. The photo above is of the folks I stayed with in Las Vegas, Kristina Intinarelli and her dad Mike. In Denver I would have stayed with Eric Shortridge but I just couldn't make it. I'll tell that story in a sec. Here in Kansas I'm staying with Blake and Shari Wilson and their dogs Lilly and Sawyer, and cats Smeagle and Flea, and five finches. Thank you to everyone!

So I started off on Sunday in Santa Monica with my friend Svetlana who helped pack my PT Cruiser with scientific attention to detail such that everything fit without blocking the mirrors and with the important stuff all accessible. I couldn't have done it without her. It took till about 4 in the afternoon before I was ready to leave. I made Las Vegas by 10. I'd never done that desert trip. It was pretty spectacular.

But things got really wild when I crossed the border into Utah. Man, that is one psychedelic state! As a weird experiment I made a playlist for my iPod containing all of the Beatles' 213 commercially released songs in the order in which they were issued (including the five times when they released two versions of the same song -- Love Me Do, Across the Universe, Revolution, Let It Be and Get Back). Just as I got to the Revolver era, their most LSD-drenched years, the scenery out my windows turned crazy.

Utah along Interstate 70 looks like the Land of the Lost or maybe the Forbidden City from the Planet of the Apes. It feels like you're driving through a Lava Light. The desert keeps throwing up rock formations of bizarre shapes and colors. At one point it looked like the highway was about to run straight into a mountain. But at the very last minute it opened up into a narrow canyon between two gigantic rocky mountains. Every time the road turned there was something else amazing up ahead.

It was getting dark by the time I reached the Rockies. But lucky for me it was a full moon. The mountains looked even weirder in the moonlight. And there were several times when some huge craggly summit was illuminated from behind by a red full moon. Unbelievable. Then there was this tunnel that went on forever. In the middle was a sign that said "Continental Divide."

Other notable signs:

•"High Winds May Exist." Is that so! Or they may not. Or they may both exist and not exist, or neither exist nor not exist. So nice of the Colorado Highway Commission to get philosophical.

•"Beaver: Mountains of Fun!" I always thought so! This was in front of a town called Beaver, Colorado.

•A chain of gas station/convenience stores called "Kum and Go." Ah yes!

By the time I got deep into the mountains, though, I'd been on the road for about 12 hours. I was losing it. I had a place to stay for free in Denver. But once I got just over an hour away according to the GPS (yeah, I gave in and bought one of the fascist things) I knew I wasn't gonna last even that much longer. So I called Eric and apologized and got myself a room in a Super Eight motel, lest I run over a cliff or something.

I woke up and started for Kansas City. Oddly enough the flat expanses of Kansas were as fascinating in their own way as the weirdness of Utah, though far less exciting. It really is just plains of brown grass as far as you can see. Everywhere looks like an Ansel Adams painting where you see a lone leafless tree on the horizon far, far away silhouetted against an endless blue sky.

Vegetarian options are few and far between on America's highways. So I mostly ate Subway for lunch and Taco Bell for dinner. Gak! But I survived it.

Been thinking hard as I drove about the idea of Zen teaching as art rather than as religious instruction. Zen doesn't fit any of the ordinary categories. Unfortunately it's far too often lumped in with religions and approached as such. The modern Soto-shu, though Japanese, is just an Asian imitation of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. In the West we've unfortunately been trying to institutionalize things in the same fashion.

I don't know exactly what Zen is. But if we're gonna liken it to other existing categories of human endeavor, I think art is a far better model than religion. Each Zen teacher needs to be free to find her or his own best way of expressing the philosophy and teaching it to others. Attempts to standardize things are wrong-headed.

Of course, there are some standards. But these should not be held to rigidly. Even Nishijima Roshi, Master Dogen's biggest fanboy, admits that Dogen made a mistake by trying to adhere too closely to the Chinese way of doing things. This, he feels, led to Dogen's untimely death probably of tuberculosis. Master Dogen, Nishijima said, attempted to model his monastery too closely on the Chinese ones. But China is a very dry country and Japan is very humid. This caused Master Dogen's health to decline and eventually led to his death.

But it's not just that we need to Americanize or Canadianize or Germanize... etc. Each teacher has to find his or her best mode of expression, just like any artist. The standards are there in the form of the art itself. Painters use paint, guitarists play guitars, etc. But within that form the variations are endless. We have to be careful not to kill that aspect.

See ya tomorrow in Kansas! Carry on my wayward sons!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

THE ALLEGED "ASSAULT" IN TOKYO

I didn’t really want to get into the allegations Jundo Cohen has been raising in the comments section. But I feel it now may be necessary.

First, the short version: After the alleged “assault” that Jundo claimed occurred in Tokyo at a meeting of Dogen Sangha, I read all of Mr. Cohen's claims. I then spoke personally face-to-face with Peter Rocca, the Dogen Sangha teacher Jundo alleges assaulted him. I have known Peter a long time and I trust him to tell me the truth (Peter’s version of events appears in the email below). Furthermore, I spoke with two other people who were present when the so-called “assault” occurred and their versions of events concurred with Peter’s.

If I had had any reason to believe that Peter Rocca actually assaulted Mr. Cohen, I would have taken appropriate action as the head of Dogen Sangha International. However, I could find no compelling reason to believe he had.

Now the long version: At the time all of this was going on and Mr. Cohen was threatening lawsuits and so on, I found it necessary to explain in writing my take on the incident in question to someone I trusted. The following was never intended to be made public. But now I am doing so.

Please also be aware that I am not doing this in an attempt to convince anyone to believe some particular version of this story. I am making this public to make it clear how I came to the decision I came to and why.

Here is the email:

Between August 21st and September 9th 2009 Jundo sent me 15 emails (I just counted) first inviting me to meet him and escalating quickly into demands for a meeting backed up by threats to disrupt the retreat I was to lead at Tokei-in Temple in Shizuoka Sept. 19-22 with picketing and protests if I did not agree to the meeting. I told him I would not meet him. I did not state my reasons, because I do not need to do so. I am a free human being who can choose who he does and does not wish to spend time with. That has been one of only 3 emails I've sent to him.

One of his many demands was that all members of Dogen Sangha (DS) should meet with him every 6 months (Jundo is not a member of DS). He cc'd almost all of these emails to a list of 29 people, some of whom were Nishijima's dharma heirs and others who were just members of DS. One of those members (not an heir) suggested Jundo should come to one of DS's weekly meetings on Saturday Sept. 12. Jundo said he would. I was in England at the time & very busy.

On September 16th (4 days later) I heard from Peter Rocca, who leads the Saturday sittings, that he had met with Jundo in Tsukuba, the town where Jundo lives, on September 15th and they'd had "a frank discussion for about 40 minutes" about DS etc.

Also on Sept. 16th I received yet another invitation from Jundo to meet for a cup of tea. I had already said no to his previous request, so I did not bother to answer. But when he posted that same note as a comment on my blog I deleted it. I had only sent that one email to him by this point, saying I would not meet him.

On Sept. 17th (5 days after the 12th) I got a long email from Jundo (cc'd as usual to 29 others) describing that he had been punched by Peter Rocca when he attended the DS meeting on September 12th. This email described Jundo as merely trying to sit peacefully with the group. It also included more threats of future protests in front of the building where the meetings are held in Tokyo unless we gave in to his demands for twice annual meetings (please realize that DS members are scattered all over the world & none are wealthy, this is simply impossible even if we wanted to).

On Sept. 18th Peter sent out an email to those same 29 people describing a completely different version of the events on Sept. 12th. He said Jundo came into the room, was being disruptive and had an extremely unpleasant attitude. He was asked to leave. When Jundo refused to leave Peter physically pushed him from the room. He pointed out that Jundo had stayed after the supposed "assault" and they (Peter & Jundo) had had a discussion that day in which the "assault" was not mentioned. Nor was it mentioned in Tsukuba on the 15th. Nor was it mentioned in several emails Peter had received from Jundo between the 12th and the 15th.

I met & spoke with Peter on Sept. 23rd and was satisfied he was telling the truth about the events of Sept. 12th. My opinion was that it was unfortunate Peter had physically pushed Jundo from the room. But it didn't sound like a major thing. It's quite common for people to enter Zendos in an agitated state of mind/body and be asked or even forced to leave. I suspect that Peter possibly reacted more strongly than he needed to. But I wasn't there to judge, so I don't. In any case it didn't strike me as a very big deal. Besides that, Peter's account of events combined with what I knew about both Peter and Jundo made Peter's version of events sound far more plausible than Jundo's.

Since that exchange I have received 30 more emails from Jundo on this subject (mostly cc'd to that big list). These are always very unpleasant, mean-spirited, and full of sarcasm and accusations. Most contain threats of legal action either for assault or defamation of character (because Peter told his version of events to those 29 people on Jundo's mailing list). His story of what happened on the 12th has changed several times. There were various demands. One of these was a demand that I meet him at Nishijima Roshi's apartment the day before I left Tokyo (and was incredibly busy). If I did so, Jundo said, his threats against Peter would be dropped.

This was supposedly an assault by Peter Rocca. How does my meeting with Jundo figure into it? This makes no sense at all. It seemed to me the entire matter was being used as leverage to force me into meeting with Jundo.

I did not want to have this meeting because I felt that to meet with Jundo under threat would be to send the signal that this type of behavior works. I felt he would press his demand for bi-annual meetings and use legal action as a threat. At the last possible minute Nishijima agreed with me (we really argued over this) and canceled the meeting. I was prepared to have the meeting up until Nishijima canceled. But, quite honestly, I am extremely glad Nishijima canceled.


There you have it. That is how I saw things, and, rereading this in light of the recent comments and so forth see no reason to change my mind.

I have an 11 hour drive ahead of me today, so that's quite enough for now.