Monday, May 31, 2010

SUOMI ONCE MORE

I'm back in Finland. Yay! My tour page has been updated with all the latest info. Go here to see it all.

This is a land where the doors have no knobs on the outside, where they have brushes beside the entry ways to wipe off your shoes, and where the sun never sets in the summer.

Actually last night it was still bright enough to read outside at midnight. It finally got dark an hour or two later. Then the sun comes back up at like three or something. This is fucking with my circadian rhythms big time. I usually wake up pretty early, but I woke at about nine this morning feeling like I'd been run over by a truck. Which may be because I went to Linnnamaki amusement park yesterday and rode lots of rollercoasters and whirly thingies.

I made it through Germany unscathed. But that was also a whirlwind. Three cities in three days. I managed to see a bit of Berlin by night thanks to my friend Vajra and my wonderful hosts at Dharma Buchladen who took me to see the gate and the old Soviet monuments and stuff. The rest of my German tour was sort of a blur of things seen from the autobahn on which I spent much time fahr'n.

By the way, small towns in Germany have been invaded by alien beings who set up gigantic machines then went back to their home planet. No one knows what these are for or why the aliens put them there. They may be weapons, or surveillance mechanisms of some sort. Perhaps they intend to use them to move the planet into a new orbit. It's unclear. Attempts by the Earth people to destroy them have all failed. Just so you know.

I'm not sure if non-Facebook people can see this link about my upcoming talk in Helsinki or not, or if you can read this link of questions for the talk. But there it all is. Maybe some genius can re-post these in the comments for non-FB people or maybe everyone can read them anyhow.

The theme of the talk is Zen, punk and politics. I've never been too interested in politics. Zero Defex was considered a "political" band. But we weren't really political in terms of taking specific stands on specific issues. "Political" in our scene just meant that you tried to be more involved with general social issues and suchlike rather than merely thrashing out for the fun of it. Even the "fun" bands in our scene would get a little political, like Starvation Army with "Political Song" and The Offbeats with "Who the Fuck Do You Think You Are?" (about Zero Defex, I'm told).

I have no idea how I'll answer the Finnish political questions on these pages. My biggest concern is that I have no idea what the word epistemology means. So I hope they don't ask that question. I once looked it up and even the definition left me confused.

I also feel like Zen should not be politicized. I really hated it in the early 80s when all the televangelists used their position to push the Reagan agenda. These days I see a lot of Buddhist organizations using their positions to push left-wing politics, which I think is a similar abuse. Because I've said this some people imagine I must be a neo-Nazi. Because in certain circles the view seems to be that anyone who doesn't shout the praises of liberalism from the rooftops at every opportunity has to be a neo-Nazi. But I promise you I'm not. I just don't think Buddhism ought to get mixed up in such matters.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the come-back. "What if the fascists come back in power??? What if your neighbors are being rounded up and sent to re-education camps???" I'll worry about that if it actually happens. For now, there's no good reason to mix the two.

It's like vegetarianism. I've been a vegetarian longer than I've been a Buddhist and I'm pretty committed to it. Yet I try very hard not to use my position as a sort-of-but-not-really-very famous Buddhist teacher-thing to push vegetarianism. This came up at one of the talks in Germany, where someone asked if it was necessary to stop eating meat to be a good Buddhist. I told him "no."

Which brings up another thing I did want to mention. Poland, the land of keilbasa and blood sausage and pork in every dish including salads, has its own chain of vegetarian fast food restaurants called Green Way. They're fantastic! Why are there none of these in the US?

In any case, I'm not gonna try to address these political questions here. At least not today. But I'll record the talk and maybe see what I can do with the recording if it comes out any good.

Friday, May 28, 2010

ACHTUNG!

Zero Defex had a song called Schwinehundt Doggen aka Swine Hunt Doggen, aka Sine Hunt Dogen. You can listen to a sample of it on the CD Baby page I've linked to. The song is 34 seconds long but the sample they give you is like 30 seconds, so you don't miss much. But you do miss Jimi Imij shouting "Achtung!" at the beginning, which is what I think of every time I see that word written on something here in Germany.

Today is my last talk here, in Berlin, by the wall, where I'm 5 foot 2 inches tall. And if anyone gets that reference...

I had the great honor to be introduced to Kaz Tanahashi by my friend Regina Obendorfer of Dogen Sangha Frankfurt. That's a photo of us on Regina's porch on the bottom of this page. The photo on the top is off a postcard I bought in Frankfurt that I thought was really funny.

I got no time to write today. But I've been trying to update this page every three days or so. So this is it.

I've been thinking of trying to write about a phenomenon I've noticed on this tour. It's that when I talk, people seem to come expecting me to sell them my religion. It's always exciting when someone does that. They make beautiful promises of what will happen if you accept their belief system. You can argue about it with them and watch them defend it. You can think about whether they might be right or not. I used to have lots of fun doing that kind of stuff.

But that's not what I do. I wouldn't say I don't care whether or not the people who come see me talk go out and start practicing zazen. It would be nice for them and for me if they did. But I don't want to waste my time, effort and energy trying to convince anyone to do it. It's none of my business, really.

Obviously I have yet to come up with a way to articulate what it is I want to say about this. Maybe one of these days I will.

Also, a lot of people I meet on the road want me to become their master. Like that dog in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons who follows Bugs around saying, "Will you be my master?" If anyone knows which cartoon that was, let me know.

Anyhow, I always tell them that if they lived near me they'd ultimately be terribly disappointed in me. Disappointment is a necessary part of this game.

Oh shit. I gotta get outta here. More later, when I have a chance!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

NOW IN GERMANY! HARDCORE ZEN ÜBER ALLES! and MY IMPRESSIONS OF POLAND

I arrived in Germany yesterday. Here's the schedule of talks I'm doing:

•May 26, 2010 7:30pm - Frankfurt, Zendo - Verein für Zenmeditation Frankfurt e.V. Galgenstr. 18 Weitere Infos:regina@dogen-sangha-frankfurt.de Fon: 06101 813 383

•May 27, 2010 7:30pm - Bielefeld, J.Kamphausen Verlag & Distribution GmbH Buddestr. 9 - 15 Weitere Infos:dirk.grosser@j-kamphausen.de Fon: 0521 560 52 12

•May 28, 2010 7:30 pm - Berlin, Dharma Buchladen, Akazienstr. 17 Weitere Infos:info@dharma-buchladen.de Fon: 030 - 784 50 80

In mid-June I'll be returning briefly to Germany to do another talk in Wuppetal. I'll get that info up in a couple days. As usual all info for the European tour is at http://web.me.com/doubtboy/Site/BookTour_2010.html.

How about a run-down of some of the stuff I did while I was in Warsaw...

Lemme see. Yesterday I visited several of the record stores of Warsaw guided by my Brad-sitter, Kaja. That was her designation by the folks at ELAY, my Polish publishers. Luckily she is as big a record store fanatic as me and was eager to take on the task.

First we went to Megadisc. In spite of a name that conjures up images of a Amoeba Records style superstore, Megadisc is actually a tiny little shop situated in a courtyard between some big buildings. You go through an entrance way, look around, get confused, go back to the entrance way to make sure you did see a little sign that said Megadisc on the wall, go back into the courtyard, look around some more and then you spot the store owner putting a little sign out in front of a ramp leading into the little basement room that is the store.

It's tiny, but well stocked with psychedelic and prog rock reissues. You can sorta tell what kind of store you're in by seeing what they do with The Beatles section. This place did not even have one. Which shows that they are far too hip to carry anything as passe as The Beatles.

I purchased a copy of The Moving Sidewalks' "Flash" album on CD with 5 bonus tracks from their early singles. The bonus tracks are essential. This is a fantastic LP, but you must have the early singles to complete the picture. Some CD reissues don't include these.

For those who do not know, The Moving Sidewalks were a Texas psych band fronted by Billy Gibbons who later became the bearded guitarist of ZZ Top. They toured with Jimi Hendrix who, it is said, was highly impressed by Gibbons' guitar style. And you can tell from the album that he was equally impressed by Hendrix. Fave track: Reclipse, a psychedelic sound FX collage in the manner of Revolution 9.

I also spotted Time to Suck by Suck an early 70s hard rock band from South Africa. As I went to pay for this, Kaja snatched it from my hands and purchased it for herself. Darn her to heck!

Next we visited Muzant. This one was also impossibly hard to find. It was in the basement of what appeared to be one building of a large apartment complex. There was no way in Heck you'd ever spot it from the street. The stock was all used. They seemed mainly focused on jazz and blues, though the rock section was pretty good. The prices were great. I got the double disc reissue of Motorhead's Rock'n'Roll for 30 zlotys, which is like $10.

We also visited a place called Hey Joe, which looked very cool from outside, but the organization was really bizarre. The CDs were displayed in these weird bins with metal cages on top. So you could flip thru and see what was in there. But you couldn't pick them up and look on the back at the track listings. Annoying. Plus I couldn't work out any sort of order. Was it alphabetical? By genre? Completely random? I could not guess.

Last we visited a chain book and CD shop called Traffic. As we walked in I thought there wouldn't be anything much in the place. It looked like a Barnes and Nobles or something. I was very surprised to see they had a selection of psych and prog rock reissues to rival even Megadisc. Plus you could listen to anything in the store by scanning its bar code on one of the conveniently located listening stations throughout the store. I played The Jody Grind, The Legendary Pink Dots, Blue Cheer, Road (with Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience) and a Hawkwind compilation before they came to take me away.

And where did they take me away to? To a rehearsal by the band Kryzys, Poland's very first punk rock act. Their drummer Magura came to the Zen retreat I led in Warsaw and asked me to jam with him and one of their two (!) sax players after the rehearsal was done. Groovy!

The rehearsal was held in the basement of a big ugly industrial building in central Warsaw. There were people inside washing massive mountains of dishes, but there didn't seem to be any restaurant nearby. Could it be that restaurants sent their dishes to this place to be washed? I don't know. Outside the place were flags for Solidarity '80, who, I was told, aren't actually the "real" Solidarity but a more radical offshoot group. Like all punk rock rehearsal places it was dank and dark, filled with musical equipment, junk food wrappers and discarded furniture with egg cartons nailed to the walls in the usual futile attempt to provide some kind of sound-proofing. Just like back in Akron!

Earlier in the week, as I mentioned in a previous entry, I had been the guest on a radio show hosted by Tomek Lipinski, who had been a member of Brygada Kryzis, which was an offshoot of the original Kryzis. Though Lipinski is better known for his band Tilt.

After the rehearsal we went and saw Men Who Stare At Goats, which I thoroughly enjoyed. But the drive back to the Bodhidharma Zen Center was the real entertainment for the evening.

I don't know if they're reporting this outside of Europe -- when I searched on CNN I couldn't find a word about it -- but Poland is getting flooded like crazy. The water under the main bridges throughout Warsaw was almost up to the tops of the pylons. We had to drive back along a whole bunch of detours since several main roads were closed. Eventually we were driving on a dirt road through the forest. But we made it back alive.

Oh and the Zen? Philip Kapleau visited in the 80s and established the center where we camped out for the last 5 days of my stay. We held a 3-day retreat there, which was attended by 10 people. Pretty much par for the course Zen-retreat-wise. A lovely time was had by all.

The folks from the center who attended were more used to the Rinzai style of shorter sitting periods but more of them and koans. But they did fine.

This little traveling Zen circus I'm putting on all over the globe these days is kind of fun. Hope to see a few of you at the talks!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Paying For It" and "Who Is The Most Enlightened One Of All?"

I'm at the Bodhidharma Zen Center in Warszawa. That's how they spell Warsaw around these parts. They pronounce it vor-sha-vah. Crazy, huh?

So this morning at breakfast the woman who seems to be in charge here was asking me about my practice and my teacher. The usual Zen small talk. When I told her how Nishijima Roshi lived his life during the time I was with him in Japan she said, "So his students didn't support him financially?"

I said that they didn't. He had a regular job and he always encouraged the teachers he ordained to do the same. Then something popped out of my mouth that surprised me. No, not a lump of half-digested oatmeal! It was when I said, "I'd never want to be supported by students. Then the students would feel like they could control me!"

Perhaps this is exactly why Nishijima chose to live the lifestyle he did and encouraged others to do the same. When the students pay for the teacher's rent and food they naturally feel they deserve to receive some return on their investment. If the teacher fails to teach them what they want to be taught, the students figure they have a right to complain. Poor service! I'm payin' you for this stuff, buddy!

I had this happen once in a really blatant way when someone complained about the way I ran one of the retreats I held at Tokei-in temple in Japan. He literally said, "I paid Brad Warner $250 for that retreat" and went on to say how he felt ripped off. As it so happened, he was entirely wrong there. I had paid the same $250 to the temple as him and everyone else at that retreat. He didn't pay me anything. But his attitude showed pretty clearly how these problems arise. He felt entitled to demand the retreat be what he wanted because he paid for it.

This assumption is not really so unreasonable. If you pay for a hotel you deserve clean towels. If you pay for a KISS concert you can complain if they don't play Rock And Roll All Night. The situation at a Zen retreat is different and it needs to be made clear from the outset. Which I have endeavored to do at each retreat I've run since that one.

But there's a bigger issue here, which is the issue of how a Buddhist student who supports his or her teacher financially can feel entitled to demand specific services in return. If a Zen teacher gives in to such demands, Zen teaching cannot happen. I suspect a lot of what we see in Zen today comes down to this problem.

In my case, I've taken Nishijima's advice. My day job is "writer of lousy comedic books with a Zen angle" and I'll take as much money as I can get from that gig. And when I play that role I cater to audience demands to the same degree as any writer. A good writer has to find a balance between what the audience wants to read and what the writer wants to say or nobody buys his books.

But in Zen teaching it's vital not to accept any demands at all from one's students regarding what they think you ought to teach them. A Zen teacher has to be, in some sense, entirely selfish and self-indulgent. But it's a different kind of selfish self-indulgency than you get most of the time. It's a selfish self-indulgency that includes the students as well as the teacher within the realm of "self." The "self" that is being indulged is not limited to the teacher's individual being. The teacher has to be as hard on students as she is on herself. And that often hurts. In both directions.

I'm not saying a Zen teacher who is financially supported by students cannot do this. It can and does happen. Often. But it's much more difficult, I think. Or at least it would be for me.

So ANYWAY, the other night on Roxy.fm in Poland Tomak Lipinski and his co-host Vienio asked a lot of really great questions. But one theme that kept coming up is one that occurs in this ancient video of a Q&A with Nishijima Roshi:



Do you see how the woman questioning him keeps wanting to draw the discussion into the area of how and why Nishijima Roshi is superior or more enlightened than she is (or so she appears to believe) (by the way, the second questioner is me)? I sort of felt the same area was being entered into last night. And it's been a common theme throughout this trip. The crazy lady in Katowice was trying to test me to see if I was as cosmic as she felt I ought to be. She said some weird thing about "the sounds of the butterfly" and I said "maybe" because I wasn't sure what the hell she was talking about. She replied, "A Zen Master must have no doubts!" When I said I had a lot of doubts I think that's when she started getting mad. (I don't even wanna get into the whole "Zen Master" deal, see a few entries below)

In France and in Poland variations on this theme keep coming up. Some seem to want to test me to see if I live up to their expectations of a "true Master" or whatever. Others assume I must be a "true Master" and want to know what secrets I hold. How does the "enlightenment" they believe I claim to have make me special? And is it worth the bother?

There is something that comes with extended Zen practice over a period of several years. No doubt about it. But it's not something that others don't possess. Or that you don't possess already before you begin practice. It's more a matter of finally coming to terms with, and maybe even getting comfortable with that something. Not fighting against it all the time.

The crazy rain we've had here for the past week has finally ended. But now the people of Warsaw are worried that all the water from the south will flood the big rivers. There were all kinds of folks standing on the bridges last night to watch it come in. Is God trying to tell us something with all this rain?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

MGMT and ULTRA SIMPLE ZAZEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Zen Master? ...Moi?

Apparently some Polish Zen chatroom has been all abuzz with questions of my legitimacy as a Zen teacher. The matter also came up on the comments section of this blog, so I thought I’d try to explain. I’ve gone through this a few times before and it’s never satisfied everyone. But then again you got the “birthers” in the US for whom no amount of evidence of any kind will suffice to prove that President Obama was born in the USA and is not a Muslim. In any case, here’s the deal on my qualifications.

When I established my first Zen website in August of 2001 the hook-line I used on the initial page was “I am a Zen Master.” This was supposed to be funny because it appeared beside a photograph of me dressed in the costume of Alien Benzen from the film Ultraman Zearth aka Urutoramann Zeasu (Tsuburaya Productions, 1996)(see photo at the top of this article). My intention was to try and deflate some of the pomposity surrounding so-called “Zen masters.” I had achieved the same exalted status as all these guys with their pretty robes and their fancy titles and yet I was a total moron.

A lot of people took it far too seriously. I think some of this was because in them days there were people who still switched off image loading on their computers to make web pages work faster, so they didn’t see the photo. Others just didn’t seem to get the obvious ridiculousness. They got mad that I would dare call myself a “Zen master.” Ah well. I agree with what Kobun Chino would say any time someone called him a Zen master; “Nobody masters Zen!” Whenever I have used the term “Zen master” for myself it has been with the intention of being ironic.

The guys in Poland who were worried about the legitimacy of my so-called Zen master credentials apparently didn’t read the things I’ve written very closely and/or are not familiar with the difference between Soto and Soto-shu, since their beef seems to have been about whether I had completed the proper training course required for the title. To put it more diplomatically, perhaps I failed to spell this kind of stuff out clearly. So I’m going to attempt to do that now.

Soto and Soto-shu:
Soto-shu is a monstrous bureaucratic institution formed along the lines of the Catholic church. One of the things they do is certify Zen teachers in the Soto tradition.

Soto (without the shu), on the other hand, is the common name for the lineage that Master Dogen brought to Japan from China in 1228 (some say 1227) after he received dharma transmission from Master Tendo Nyojo in China. But Soto-shu, the organization, does not own a monopoly on Soto the way the Catholic Church is the only form of Catholicism. You can be a teacher within the Soto tradition without being certified by the Soto-shu. I am not certified as a teacher by the Soto-shu, although I am registered with them as a monk. We’ll get to that. Don’t worry.

Becoming a Zen Master:
The process for becoming a certified “Zen master” (for want of a better term) in Soto-shu usually involves completing a specific training curriculum involving time spent in a monastery doing zazen and learning how to run funeral ceremonies. It’s something like the Catholic seminary.

But it doesn’t always work this way. In fact most Western teachers certified by Soto-shu have not followed this curriculum, and neither have a great number of Japanese teachers. When I asked Taijun Saito, a friend of mine who is certified as a “Zen master” in Soto-shu, how I could get certified, she explained the process.

Since I had a Soto-shu certified Zen master (Gudo Nishijima) who would vouch for my training, I could forego the monastery time and would just need to complete three ceremonies. The first was a precepts ceremony through an official Soto-shu temple, which would confirm me as a Soto-shu monk. This I did. The second was a question and answer test of my understanding. This, Taijun said, is highly formalized. The questions and answers are set and I would only need to memorize my responses as well as the various dance steps involved in the ceremony. Finally I would need to do a ritual in which I was symbolically installed as abbot for the day of Eiheiji or Sojiji, the Soto-shu’s two main temples. All of this, she said, would take a few months to complete and would cost me a “donation” to Soto-shu amounting to around $2000-$3000. Oh, and there were special clothes to buy as well, another $1000 or so.

At that point I decided to drop the whole plan. I just wasn’t interested enough to put in the required time, effort and cash. It wasn’t at all related to the things I got involved in Buddhism for. In fact it seemed to me to be the very antithesis of what I was interested in.

The Traditional Ceremony:
By the time I’d asked Taijun about this, I had already gone through a dharma transmission ceremony with Gudo Nishijima. That ceremony occurred April 28, 2001 and is described in Hardcore Zen. One detail I always felt bad about leaving out of the book was that my friend Peter Rocca took the ceremony with me (see photo below -- that's Taijun adjusting my robe). I wrote a different draft of that chapter in which Peter was mentioned. But my editor and I thought that introducing a new person into the narrative at the point in which the ceremony occurs was a little like adding a new character to a novel. The reader would want to know more of his story and that seemed to be beside the point of the story we were telling.

Anyhow, Nishijima is very much a traditionalist about how these things are done, much more so than the Soto-shu. He goes strictly by what Dogen wrote about dharma transmission and performs the ceremony according to those instructions. And Dogen says nothing about registering with the Soto-shu. The Soto-shu itself was not established by Dogen but came into existence long after his death. It’s pretty evident from his writing that Dogen would not have been a supporter of the contemporary Soto-shu. Nishijima calls them a “guild of funeral directors” and this seems a reasonable assessment to me.

Nishijima is not the only Soto-shu teacher to buck the system as far as dharma transmission is concerned. Kobun Chino, whose brother was a high mucky-muck in the Soto-shu, was also famous for giving transmission in what Soto-shu would surely consider unorthodox ways and for failing to register his transmitees with the organization. And there are several others who disagree with Soto-shu and do not do things their way.

Why Register in Japan?
This whole registration with Soto-shu stuff has been an issue within Soto Zen Buddhism outside Japan for a long time. It’s considered perfectly legitimate, even in Japan, for a Soto-shu teacher to grant dharma transmissions in any way he or she sees fit without registering them with the organization. Given this, is there any good reason any non-Japanese dharma heir of a Japanese teacher ought to register with Soto-shu of Japan?

If you ask me, the answer is no. But many choose to register anyhow. Some see registering with Soto-shu as a way of making their status more legitimate. Others do it for the experience. They feel that they establish more of a connection to the lineage by doing the ceremonies. Some do it for the prestige involved. But many, like me, are just not interested in that stuff.

And when it comes to the non-Japanese heirs of non-Japanese teachers, is there any reason at all to register with a Japanese organization? None that I can see.

Towards a Western Version of Soto-shu:
These days there are a few organizations in the West who would like to provide the kind of certification to Zen teachers that the Soto-shu does in Japan. Like the Catholic Church, such an organization would in effect take responsibility for the teachers it registers. That way you could know if the Zen master you met in, let’s say, Dandelion Springs, Nebraska was OK’d by them by checking the organization’s website or whatever.

Such an organization would check each registeree’s pedigree and make sure all their ducks were in order. If a registered teacher later got out of line, the organization would be able to cross him off their list. Or they could try to reform him, I suppose. The organization could also make it difficult for teachers with forged credentials or guys like “Zen Master Rama,” who received his transmission in a dream, to operate.

The problem with this is that such an organization would need to decide what it considers the minimum qualifications for a teacher. And there would be teachers who are perfectly legit whose dharma transmissions do not measure up to the standards of the organization -- like me, for example, and like many of Kobun Chino’s heirs, and a number of others in different lineages. These teachers would then be seen as less legit unless they went to the organization and did whatever the organization required of them. Do you see where this is going? Good. Enough said.

What To Do:
I don’t have the solution to this dilemma. But I do believe very strongly in lineage. Please understand, though, that this does not mean I think someone must have a Zen lineage in order to have something relevant to say. In fact, a lot of people outside the Zen world have plenty to say that puts most Zen teachers to shame.

But if you call yourself a Zen teacher, you’d better have some kind of lineage. Because by calling yourself a Zen teacher you are drawing upon the collective history of Zen as a sort of authority. Or at least as advance advertising. It’s like how you can choose to start your own perfectly delicious burger stand or you can purchase a McDonald’s franchise. If you go with Mickey D’s you get the benefit of their name, their logo, the ads they take out on TV and so on. If you start your own burger stand, you have to do all that stuff yourself. Your independent burger stand will probably be way better than any MacDonald’s, but you’ll have a much harder time making it in the business.

Calling yourself a Zen teacher without having a proper lineage and transmission is cheating. It’s like calling your indie burger stand a McDonald’s. Maybe you serve great burgers. But you’re not a McDonald’s. For better or for worse.

I’ve often considered dropping the whole Zen thing, like I think Bernie Glassman did. Glassman’s not my favorite example in the world. But I can see why he dropped the Zen thing. It’s got a lot of drawbacks and ties you to a lot of people and institutions you might not agree with. Like the way I’m now tied to Genpo Roshi in some manner.

But, in my own case, I would consider it also a form of cheating to drop the word "Zen" from my lexicon and thereby pretend I came up with whatever it is I’ve come up with strictly on my own. I did not. I did it through Zen training and practice. And whatever you may think about the garbage I now spew, I was authorized by a legit Zen teacher to spew it. My transmission comes from Gudo Nishijima, his transmission comes from Renpo Niwa, and I’ve got a piece of cloth at home that lists the whole lineage right back to Buddha his-very-self. Whether you believe the entire lineage or not -- and I don’t -- it does go back through verifiable generations at least a few hundred years.

It’s perfectly OK to ask anyone who says they’re a Zen teacher about their lineage. And if you don’t get a decent answer, it seems reasonable to me to leave. Because if they can’t or won’t tell you their lineage this indicates that something is being hidden, and quite possibly that they are lying. That seems to me to be reason enough to be very suspicious of the rest of their schpiel.

In the end, though, it’s a buyer beware situation. It’s really up to you to do the investigative work. I don’t believe in institutions enough to trust them to do this sort of thing for me. So even if there were a certifying organization, it wouldn’t really matter a whole big bunch to me personally. As far as I’m aware, the Rinzai line does not have anything analogous to the Soto-shu and they seem to function just fine without it.

So take care, beware, my children. And happy hunting for your dream Zen teacher!

*****

Sidebar: Senseis and Roshis
Once I met a person in California who shook my hand and said, “Hello. I’m XXX Roshi!” Actually the person used a real name, but I don’t want to end up making this seem like a personal criticism.

It sounded bizarre to me for anyone to introduce themselves as “Roshi.” The word 老師 (roshi) literally means “old master.” It’s the kind of thing someone else calls you. You don’t apply it to yourself. That sounds rude. It’d be like me introducing myself as “Brad the Lady Slayer.” It’s just one of those things you don’t call yourself no matter how much you’d like other people to call you that.

The use of the words sensei and roshi as terms of rank is a particularly American development and sounds kind of silly in Japanese. Sensei (先生) is a mild honorific for “teacher” that is applied to a wide range of people. It used to be my nickname at the international office of Tsuburaya Productions because I’d been an English teacher before I entered the company. This use of these terms as ranks only occurs within one specific lineage, which is very minor in Japan but very prominent in the US. I don’t think the folks in that lineage make this clear to their members, who often end up in Japan saying things about senseis and roshis that leave their Japanese friends confused.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sleepless in Krakow or This is the Life

I am writing to you today from a train bound for Krakow from Wroclaw. Krakow, it turns out, is actually pronounced “crack-off” while Wroclaw does not sound like the first two syllables of Rock Lobster but instead is pronounced something like “vrotz-love.” So if you love your vrotz, you’re gonna love Wroclaw! Why the Poles spell things so weird is anybody’s guess.

Anyway, at the bottom of this page is actual video footage of when the people of Wroclaw broke the world's record for the number of guitarists simultaneously playing Hey Joe. No joke!

I’ve done two talks in Poland so far. The first was in Opole University. Unfortunately the fliers were not delivered to the organizers until the day after the talk, so pretty much nobody but the people who set up the talk even knew it was happening. Even so it was a fun small group discussion. At the end of the talk I improvised a theory as to why the original Japanese Godzilla represents the Buddhist view of nature while the lousy American remake in 1998 represented the American view. This theory also explains why the American Godzilla sucked pachycephalosaurus ass. Remind me and I’ll tell you about it one of these days.

The following day I did a book signing at the Narlanda bookstore in Wroclaw. My appearance there had gotten a nice write-up in the entertainment section of the city’s largest newspaper, right below an article about an upcoming concert by Bobby McFarren. Subsequently the turn-out was far better. The place was pretty much packed.

It’s interesting trying to answer questions that are relayed to you through an interpreter. Sometimes the kind of questions I get asked in English are very difficult for me to make much sense out of. I could tell my long suffering Polish translator Kasia was having trouble with some of them. One guy seemed to want to know about predictions of future Buddhas. I did the best I could with that one. I couldn’t tell if he was one of the followers of one of the many supposed future Buddhas working the spiritual scene or if maybe he was trying to connect the approach I advocate with what he’d heard from those guys. I don’t think he liked it much when I compared waiting for the next Buddha to trying to figure out which contemporary sugar-pop band was going to be the next Beatles.

One of my hosts asked me for my one-sentence summary of my feelings about Poland. But I couldn’t give him anything. There are lots of funny things nobody ever tells you about a foreign country. Like how the Polish language sounds exactly like what you get if you tape record someone speaking English and then play the tape backwards. I keep wanting to record people’s voices and then replay them in reverse to check for Satanic messages. Also no one ever tells you that Wi-Fi is pronounced "whiffy" all across Europe.

The people I stayed with in Wroclaw had a 6 month old kitten named Bazilla. Or, anyway, that’s what I named him. His name was actually Bazili. He enjoyed attacking my hands at every opportunity. Unlike the cat I wrote about in Zen Wrapped in Karma, fortunately, he wasn’t actually trying to draw blood.

So far in Europe I have eaten more cheese than any human should ever eat. It’s difficult sometimes to find vegetarian food here that’s not loaded up with the stuff. And while I do like cheese quite a lot, I have had quite too much of a lot of it and shall be endeavoring heretofore to avoid cheese wherever possible. Unless it’s really delicious cheese, of course.

So far Poland kind of looks to me like picture postcards of Poland. Lots of medieval castles and archaic buildings. Rolling hills with ancient barns on top under endless gray skies. They tell me it’s not always this gloomy, and maybe it’s that Icelandic ash cloud still messing up the weather. But it’s been raining the entire time I’ve been here. This my first visit to a former Iron Curtain nation. My family went to Czechoslovakia back somewhere around 1974 when it was still a communist country. But this is the first time I’ve been to Eastern Europe since the fall of communism.

I’ve spent ten hours of my stay so far on trains. So I feel like much of my impression of the country is actually my impression of its railway system, which appears little changed since the days of the Cold War. The toilets are best left undescribed. Kasia told me to avoid the one with vomit all over the floor and instead use the one with no light and a heater stuck on scorch. You had to sort of take aim carefully and then close the door and hope for the best. I could see a lot of others before me had failed.

We’re now stopping at Trzebenia. I have no idea how you pronounce that.

Anyway, in some ways non-communist Poland resembles communist China, which I visited a few times while I was living in Japan. There are McDonaldses and KFC’s wherever you go. There are massive department stores full of consumer goods. There are froofy grocery stores that sell expensive imported foods. Not so different from anywhere else in Europe.

But I get a sense that people here are still adjusting to all this. It’s been 20 years since Solidarity and the fall of the Soviet empire, which means there are people in college who weren’t even born yet when the change happened. But most of the population still remembers.

As far as Buddhism is concerned, from my little perusal of the bookshops I’ve been in, it seems to be pretty much the same as the rest of the Western world. The store I spoke at last night had everything Osho ever wrote, a few Ken Wilber books, plus some Zen stuff by Taizen Maezumi and a few Polish authors whose names I did not recognize. Those were on the very bottom shelf.

Tibetan Buddhism is strong, like it is all over the West. Perhaps that’s the form of Buddhism that most appeals to people steeped in the Christian worldview. I’ve been told that Philip Kapleau established some centers here. Kwan Um is represented as well. There are posters all over town announcing talks by some chubby Eastern European Zen Master in a nice set of robes. Sometimes you even see a poster for me, with a view down the hole of an outhouse where a monster is crawling up out of the muck to bite your butt. But there aren’t too many of those.

... It’s now a day after I began this piece and I’m writing from a Buddhist center in Krakow. I had just gathered up my stuff to go and take a shower when, at that very nanosecond, two Polish workman guys appeared out of nowhere, went straight for the shower and started taking it apart. So here I am writing this.

They put me up here for the night. It’s on the fourth floor of a building they told me is 200 years old. It looks and feels to be about 500. The fourth floor in Europe, by the way, is what we in the US call the fifth floor. No elevators, but I need the exercise so that’s fine.

There is a wood burning cooking stove in the kitchen. And not one of those rustic, artsy-fartsy ones either. More like something a bunch of Polish peasants cooked their kielbasas on in 1571. This place is the home of seven local Buddhist groups of various denominations. There’s a Tibetan room for the folks from Karmakamtzang and then there’s a Zen room dominated mostly be Kwan Um inspired decorations, but apparently used by a number of other groups.

Oh! The workman guys left, just as mysteriously as they came. I’m gonna go get a shower before they come back!

... (twenty minutes later) I cannot figure out the showers here. They’re all hand held and the bathtubs are really deep like in Japan. I’m not sure if I’m meant to kneel down and spray myself or if I’m meant to take a bath and use the hand held shower to rinse off. In any case, I was unable to make the hand held shower here work at all. I couldn’t find any sort of button thingy or pull-up push-down thingy or knob or anything of that nature that would make it work. So I washed my hair by craning my neck such that it was under the faucet. Maybe I should’ve asked the workman guys before they left. Or maybe that’s what they were fixing. Only Jesus knows and he’s not telling me.

I have gone full circle at this point in my life. From touring with punkrock bands and sleeping on people’s floors is squats where nothing works, I am now touring behind punkzen books and sleeping on the floors of Buddhist centers where nothing works. Or at least I can’t figure out how anything works, which is the same in the end. I guarantee you the Dalai Lama does not travel like this. Are you sure Thich Nhat Hanh started out this way?

You probably think I’m complaining, but I’m not. It’s really fun doing this and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I went out last night with some students from the local university to a place called the Sacred Cow where they play loud Indian-inspired dance rock and make coffee with caramel in it. Got an interview and a book signing today and then another long trip through the Polish countryside to the next town. This is the life!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Anti Wisdom Manual

One of the coolest things I got to do in France happened right at the very ass end of my trip. My host, Arnaud, arranged a meeting for me with Gilles Farcet, author of the book The Anti Wisdom Manual. In fact, the meeting very nearly made me miss my flight to Karkow. But even if I had, it would’ve been worth it.

A lot of times when someone recommends some spiritual book by some spiritual teacher that he thinks is “saying exactly the same things as you,” I take one look and go, “Oh shit! People think I’m saying that kind of stuff?” So when Arnaud told me he’d set up this meeting I wasn’t overly enthusiastic. I mean, I like meeting pretty much anybody, so I figured it wouldn’t be so bad. But I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy about it.

That was until I started reading the book.

Rather than trying to write a book about what one ought to do on the spiritual path, Farcet has taken the opposite approach. He positions himself as your “Spiritual Enemy” and tells you exactly how to sabotage even the bravest attempts at coming to stabilize oneself in reality. He does this because, he says, he has had a lot more experience in sabotaging his own journey than in doing it right. He bases his advice firmly in all the things he himself has done. Here’s one of my favorite passages among many favorite passages:

Remembering the importance of poor posture begin by pretending to meditate without seriously worrying about posture. Used to holding your body any which way, do not seize the opportunity of an initiation to meditation in order to change your habits. Have the incoherence to approach the exercise often called “sitting” without taking the trouble to learn how to sit. Decide right away that the proposed posture, generally with the buttocks on a cushion, crossed legs touching the floor, is “too hard for you.” Feebly attempt it once, just to say you have tried for appearances sake, then give up at the first twinge of pain. Justify your inability to be asked to make the slightest effort with an argument that stresses the necessity to not abuse oneself, and the absurdity of suffering. Confuse goodwill with complacency, exigency with mistreatment. Never take into consideration, even for an instant, that generations of meditators have, for millenniums, taken the trouble to accustom themselves to a traditional posture in order to later reap its benefits. In brief, don’t give yourself the slightest chance to find yourself one day at ease in a posture which in itself is a teaching.


As regular readers know, I’m not a big fan of the word “spiritual.” But Farcet uses the word differently from most. He doesn’t talk about the spiritual as somehow higher and truer than the material aspect of reality. The Spiritual Enemy goes to great lengths to remind readers to think of their body as “the body that one has rather than the body that one is.” So “spiritual” in his use of the word refers to a point of view that questions society’s usual approach to things and aims at a clearer understanding of true reality, which is neither purely material nor purely spiritual.

Anyhow, I just felt like I ought to mention this book because I really like it. Highly recommended.

One nice surprise of this trip is the discovery that I actually speak a little bit of French. I'm not good at it by any stretch of the imagination. But in France I could read most of the street signs and follow at least the basic thread of most conversations. Here in Wroclaw, Poland, my host speaks better French than English and we've gotten by so far mainly in French. Thank you Mrs. Parillo and Mrs. Petrie, my high school French teachers!

And, amazingly, years of watching Cleveland-based horror host Big Chuck Schodowski has provided me with a tiny little bit of Polish. They really do say "kapusta" and "gatches!" Plus the word for vegetarian is "vegetarianski," which sounds like a joke from a Keilbasi Kid episode!

Polish tour dates are at this link.

Now I gotta go. I got bunches of stuff to do here in Poland. See ya later!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Sister Europe

I come to you today writing inside a train bound for Paris. We were supposed to take a plane. But the Icelandic ash cloud messed that up. Right now we’ve reached the suburbs and I’m being distracted by all the crazy graffiti and ancient stone churches with their flying buttresses.

The first four days of my European tour of 2010 were spent in London at the home of Andrew Deakin. Andrew is a student of Mike Leutchford, a fellow dharma heir of Nishijima Roshi. I didn’t do much Zen stuff in the UK except for having long wide-ranging philosophical discussions with Andrew. He kindly gave me his extra copy of Leonard Cohen Live In London DVD, though. Which, he says, has a very Zen feel to it. I’m looking forward to watching it.

After London I flew to Limoges in France. The flight was booked by my host in France, Arnaud Peuch. It was on Ryan Air, Europe’s cheapest airline, and left London’s Stansted airport at 6:45 AM. This meant waking up at 3:30 AM to catch a 4:10 AM Stansted Express train, which left from Liverpool Street Station, luckily a mere 25 minute walk from Andrew’s flat.

In spite of the massive ash cloud from the recent volcano in Iceland making its merry way around Europe, the plane for Limoges left on time. Limoges itself is a pretty nifty town. Not the kind of place I’d ever have thought of going on my own. But apparently it’s a popular destination for touring rock bands. The night I arrived, Atari Teenage Riot was playing a reunion concert there at the Centre Cultural de John Lennon. I wonder if Yoko Ono approved that name.

I did my first European talk at the Bibliothèque Francophone Multimédias, the town library. I wasn’t expecting massive crowds seeing as how none of my stuff is available in French except for on a now long-defunct website. And massive crowds I did not get. But I was pretty impressed that a healthy group of healthy people showed up to see some American Zen teacher they’d probably never heard of before they saw the fliers Arnaud put up around town.

This was the first time I had ever spoken through a translator. Last year when I did talks in Finland and Germany, I did them in English to English speaking audiences. In Finland pretty much everyone speaks English, while in Germany the retreats I led were advertised as being conducted in English so nobody would be surprised.

Nathalie, the translator, did a good job of making sense of what I was saying. But it couldn’t have been easy for her. In my work as a translator in Japan I found that what really made it possible was the fact that I always came to the job with a fairly deep knowledge of the Japanese monster movies the people I usually ended up translating for made. Nathalie wasn’t a Zennie at all and had a bit of difficulty finding French equivalents for words like “Heart Sutra” and suchlike.

The Q&A was interesting in that it seemed to be focused on my spiritual accomplishments. One guy wanted to know if I remained conscious even while dreaming. There were one or two others along those lines. I recorded the talk so maybe I’ll get it up on the podcast we’re working on one of these days.

The following day Arnaud and I sat Zazen with a group led by a female Zen monk who had been ordained by Jaques Brasse. It was one of those rare Zen groups with more women than men, which is always good to see.

After that Arnaud drove me to Toulouse, about three hours to the South. I did a talk there at a sort of collectivist co-op type art space and restaurant. The audience there was far younger. There was a bit of tension with one woman who had a beer in her hand and seemed to be quite upset by what I was saying. I think she wanted some more bells and whistles. It was hard to tell. My friend and fellow Nishijima Roshi dharma heir Michel Proulx, a regular contributor to the comments section, did the tranductions (translation). Got that one recorded as well. It should make for an interesting podcast.

It’s now the day after I began this post and I’m in Paris. Next stop Poland. All info is at http://web.me.com/doubtboy/Site/BookTour_2010.html

See ya!

PICTURES-
Top: Limoges
Middle: Toulouse
Bottom: Paris

Friday, May 07, 2010

In France

I'm in France! Yay!

But I messed up. I announced the talks here would begin at 8pm. They begin at 7. Here's the info:

May 7, 2010 7:00pm - Limoges, Bibliothèque Francophone Multimédias 2 rue Louis-Longequeue 87032 Limoges
May 8, 2010 7:00pm - Toulouse, Salle Terres de Rencontres 47 route de Blagnac 31200 Toulouse.

Here's a song about France:

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

MAD Non-Conformists and More Bitching About Internet Zen

There are a lot of people out there who enjoy adopting the pose of being "freaky" and "alternative." And they do some very superficial things that make them look a little weird. They'll buy some funny clothes, maybe get a couple of body parts pierced or tattooed. All of this shocks those who are easily shocked.

But internally these same people are often extraordinarily conservative and judgmental. Sometimes they're even more conservative and judgmental that more "normal" people. Now that punk rock has become so trendy as to be ubiquitous, you meet a lot of these kinds of people wherever you go.

Long before even I was born, MAD magazine ran a piece in which they contrasted ordinary conformists, ordinary non-conformists and MAD non-conformists. It points out how regular, so-called "non-conformists" always conform to other "non-conformists" but at heart are really just like everyone else. Yet the MAD non-conformist is truly not conforming. I have a copy of this locked away in storage, so I can't quote the whole thing. But I managed to find a couple bits of it on line, where people had referenced it in blogs and suchlike. Here's what I found:

PETS -
ORDINARY CONFORMISTS raise parakeets, cocker spaniels, boxers, collies, turtles, snakes, cats, white mice, snakes and tropical fish.
ORDINARY NON-CONFORMISTS raise Russian wolfhounds, French poodles, Weimaraners, ocelots, minks, deodorized skunks and rhesus monkeys.
MAD NON-CONFORMISTS raise ant colonies, anteaters, falcons, leeches, octopii, anchovies, water buffaloes and performing fleas.

MOVIES -
ORDINARY CONFORMISTS go in for uninspired Technicolor musicals, stories with happy endings, migraine-provoking Cinemascope, and 6 1/2-hour double features that destroy the eyes, ears, nose, and spine.
ORDINARY NON-CONFORMISTS patronize stuffy out-of-the-way movie houses that show "experimental" films, arty-type films, documentaries, and obscure foreign language pictures with the sub-titles in pidgin Swahili.
MAD NON-CONFORMISTS enjoy hand-cranked penny arcade machines which contain film classics like the Dempsey-Firpo fight, Sally Rand's Fan Dance, old Ben Turpin comedies, and Tom Mix pre-adult westerns.

I kind of feel like real Zen practice may be for MAD non-conformists. It's fun and cool to learn a few of the trappings of Zen and show off to people who don't know any better. It's not hard to learn how to ape the Hollywood stereotype of what a Zen guy is supposed to be. But it takes a MAD non-conformist to really do what must be done. You have to be just a bit crazy. Or cracked. Or, uh, National Lampoon....?

I know there's gonna be people in the comments section going, "But I don't own a pet octopus or watch Ben Turpin movies! Are you saying I can't be real Zen????" Or variations thereof. Go for it.

*****

Also, I know that a lot of people don't read the comments to this blog. Which is generally a good thing. Though they've been getting much better lately. So I thought I'd share something here that I posted in the comments section. To wit: I'd like to comment on some of the "benefits of an on-line sangha" posted by James:

- Regular access, no matter where you are.

• This creates too much dependence on the teacher. Things that are too convenient tend to weaken people and make them unable to do stuff for themselves. A teacher or sangha should not be so readily available. It's better to have to work for it. It wouldn't be good for someone in therapy to have 24/7 access to their therapist. It'd be a nightmare for the therapist and it wouldn't do the patient much good either. And while Zen is not therapy, I think it may be useful to make the comparison in terms of access.

- Expanded access to much more information and many more teachings than would be available in person.

• Encourages people to be over-intellectual. You don't really need that much information. Most of us have far more information than we can ever process anyway.

- Your choice of teacher, instead of just the teacher who’s closest to you geographically.

• Sometimes choice is the worst thing you can have. I certainly would not have chosen Nishijima Roshi if I'd had a world of Zen Masters only a mouse click away. And that would have been a shame. I really do not believe in random chance. To my way of thinking, and from my experience, there is always a reason you are geographically close to those you're geographically close to. Ignoring or avoiding those near you leads to alienation and loneliness.

- Communication is recorded and saved (via video and forums) so the teacher is held responsible for his or her words.

• Would life really be better if every bit of communication we ever had with anyone was a matter of record, available to be re-examined and re-thought-through, re-interpreted, second guessed, shared with others who were not there when it happened and have no business knowing it? It seems to me a lot of people these days think so and are making efforts to move in that direction.

Some kinds of communication are better left unrecorded. Recordings don't preserve very much of what was shared by people no matter how detailed they are. It's one of the most confused and damaging myths of our time to believe that they do. Someone who was not involved in a conversation can't really know the content of it just by watching a video tape.

This may, in fact, be one of the main reasons an on-line Zen teacher can never be anything like a face-to-face teacher.

When I first started working on what was to become Hardcore Zen, I had an idea that part of the book would consist of conversations between me and Nishijima Roshi. We'd had a lot of really interesting ones in the past, so I thought I'd preserve them.

In order to do this I brought a tape recorder with me and would turn it on when we started talking. To my surprise, the conversations when the recorder was switched on were never the same. That intimacy was gone. The tape recorder became a third person in the room. No. Not a third person, even. It became a potential audience of who knows how many. It was no longer a person-to-person conversation, or even a tight manage-a-trois. It was a performance for an audience. And that's a very different thing. I never used those tapes. My memories of our truly one-to-one conversations were far better.

When you're conversing in some manner that can be preserved and recorded, you're not as free to speak openly as you are when there is no potential audience. Sure, OK, maybe that means a teacher can hit on a student when nobody's watching and then deny it later. But, really, that's hardly the only kind of thing that people share and want to keep private. And, in spite of all the books and net postings it's really not a major component of teacher/student relations in Zen.

Things aren't always private for nefarious reasons. In fact most of the time when something is kept private, there's nothing scandalous about it at all. It's just that the participants know that others would be likely to misunderstand what was said because they wouldn't be aware of a whole world of context outside of the conversation.

In this sense, all conversations held via any kind of media that can be preserved have to -- they absolutely must -- lose the true intimacy necessary for genuine deep communication. Accountability comes with a very high price.

*****

Can you believe I wrote all that while I should be having fun seeing London? The things I do for you people!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Panic On the Streets of London


I've arrived and to prove it I'm here! Here in London, England! Woo-hoo!

This is a brief stop before I go on to do talks in France, Poland, Germany, Finland, Holland, Ireland and Israel. Crazy, huh? But it's fun.

As a result of all this traveling, I haven't had much time to look at the nearly 300 comments posted on the last entry. But thank you for posting.

And before I go further, yet another Dimentia 13 record is now available as an MP3 download! So go get Mirror Mind! It's a trippy record, let me tell you! It features big hits like Twice The Speed Of Time, Roolz Is A Rule, and Psychedelic Mushroom Cloud Explosion! Plus Naked Truth, which is about J. Krishnamurti.

Anyway, I have noticed something funny every time I do a post about Big Mind™, which is that those posts always attract a number of anonymous comments whose purpose seems to be to move the discussion away from anything to do with Big Mind™. Not to get all conspiracy theorist on y'all, but I do know from past experience that some of the Big Mind™ crew take an interest in what I've been writing and have done this same sort of stuff openly on other sites where my comments have been re-posted. Elephant Journal, for example, where the head of the Big Mind™ organization got into some of this last year.

But whatever. But the latest thread started in this vein has to do with, "How dare Brad be so irresponsible as to give advice to sufferers of PTSD!!!" Some of the ensuing discussion has actually been interesting. But I do want to say that I'm unaware of having ever given any advice to sufferers of PTSD (that's post traumatic stress disorder, by the way, if you're not up on the latest American categorizations of life). One of these guys posted something I'd written on Suicide Girls that doesn't sound like advice to me.

In any case, whether I have or have not "given advice," I to tend to assume a certain degree of intelligence among my readership, and I will continue to do so. Dan Savage, who does give advice to all kinds of people, always says that his is an advice column and not binding arbitration, that his readers and listeners to his podcast are not obligated to take the advice he gives. Whoever reads or listens to him, he says, is responsible for themselves.

I completely agree. I assume that people who read my stuff know that I do not know them personally and that I am not omniscient and omnipotent. I don't present myself as having all the answers even for me, let alone for anyone else. I actually try not to say things that appear to be advice, but even if I do sometimes slip and give advice, I consider that whoever reads/hears that advice has to decide for themselves if it's useful or not. I further assume that a fair portion of my readership discards anything I might have to say as the ravings of a lunatic. Or as one guy in the comments said, someone not as "deep" as Genpo Roshi (I certainly hope I'm not!).

My own two Zen teachers were always very reluctant to advise anyone on anything. Even when I specifically asked them for advice, they'd almost never give me any. The best I could get from them was maybe something like, "Well, when I was in a similar situation here's what I did." That seems to me now to be a really good way of handling it. Though it was often frustrating when I really wanted guidance. But guidance is probably not what most of us really need. We need to learn to be our own guide.

In any case, carry on discussing. I'm gonna go see the record shops of Camden Town!