Friday, August 26, 2011

I Am So Over This Buddhism Shit!


Brad is at Tassajara Zen Monastery where there's no Internet access. Here is one last oldie but goodie written for SuicideGirls to tide you over till he gets back.

So I’m sitting cross-legged in the meditation hall at the San Francisco Zen Center a couple days ago. Incense wafts through the air, bells are rung, ancient chants are intoned, and then profound silence descends. The assembled monks embark on their meditative journeys to the centers of their minds. All at once a thought bubbles up to the surface of my consciousness, like an arrow piercing the cold emptiness of the pre-dawn air.

I am soooo over this shit.

God how I fucking hate it. After 25 years of doing this stupid crap, stick a fork in me I am done. When I was a youngster the mere idea of sitting in a temple with a group of dedicated monks all pursuing the sacred Dharma gave me an iron-hard boner you could have sliced pound cake with. How I longed for that serenity, that peace. How I fantasized of ascending to the heights of Supreme, Unsurpassed, Perfect Enlightenment. How I dreamed of the day I might be in the very spot I’m in right now, living the life of a wandering monk, flitting here and there from temple to temple absorbing the words of the wise and dispensing my own wisdom to those new to the Way, spending my days deepening my practice.

But god-dammit I’d rather be at Amoeba Records right now. It's just up Haight Street. I could be there in 20 minutes. I think that new Om record must be out by now, the one they recorded live in Jerusalem. Maybe even that new Robyn Hitchcock boxed set. But noooooo. I not only signed up for this shit, I signed up to do a five-day long zazen intensive at the Berkeley Zen Center right afterwards, followed immediately by two weeks cloistered at Tassajara monastery deep in the mountains of Carmel Valley - where there are no record stores at all. Fuck. What in God's name was I thinking?

One of the greatest things about Zen practice is that it's incredibly portable. You don't need anything special. You don't need a temple or monastery. You don't need to memorize any chants or read any books. You don't need a congregation. Zen goes anywhere you go. You can do your sitting on a rolled up towel in your dorm room, which is how I started.

But human beings like to do things together. We're social creatures. And so a monastic tradition also developed within Buddhism. A lotta folks think that if you're not hip to the monastery thang you ain't no Buddhist. They're wrong. Shakyamuni himself did not come to his understanding as a member of any religious order, and there is a laundry list as long as your arm of other great teachers who either shunned monastic life, or came to monastic life after establishing the Way on their own, or who did a bit of the monastic stuff when it was necessary but largely stayed away from it. The non-monastic tradition in Buddhism is just as vital as the monastic one.

But the pull towards making Buddhism a social thing, and only a social thing, is strong. In America, we seem dead set on turning Buddhism into a string of socially agreed upon cliches and buzzwords.

A couple weeks ago or so I put a post up on my blog in which I moaned about some of the buzzwords and neo-traditions that have become au currant among American Buddhists these days. One was that dependable puppy dog of a word, "mindfulness." Christ I hate that word. The word seems to indicate some vague state of thinking hard about what you're doing. And I know we're all taught that we should think about what we're doing. But that's not the Buddhist approach. Do what you're doing. When thinking becomes a distraction, stop thinking and get back to doing. I'm also sick to death of hearing hipster Buddha dudes use the word "skillful" to describe things they like and "unskillful" to describe things they don't. It's a total misuse of the old Buddhist idea of upaya, or "skillful means," by which ancient Buddhist teachers are said to have taught in unorthodox ways. These days it just means whatever's under discussion didn't rub the guy who called it "skillful" the wrong way. I'm also fed up with the concept of the "dharma talk," which has come to mean something like, "guys in funny robes using buzzwords like 'mindfulness' and 'skillful' to lull people who think of themselves as 'spiritually minded' to sleep." I'm tired of watching entire audiences nod out like opium addicts while smiling knowingly whenever a favorite word or phrase floats through the haze.

Whatever. Anyway, after I said this stuff a whole buncha folks got really mad about it. Fine. Be as mad as you want. I, myself, am not the least bit angry about this. I was just fed up with it and continue to be fed up with it.

Back when I was first in punk rock, the thing that irked me the most, and finally drove me out of punk rock altogether, was the fact that the philosophy we espoused was all about questioning things. And yet you were not allowed to question punk rock itself. It was great to question Reagan and nuclear proliferation and the cops and school. But if you started asking things like, why do we all have to wear leather jackets, or why can't we have vocal harmonies in some of the songs, or why can't I grow my hair long if I want, that was taboo.

American Buddhism as it stands today is pretty much the same way. Buddhism isn't that way. But the stuff that lotsa people call "Buddhism" is. It's a subtle distinction, I know. But an important one.

So when I started calling bullshit on the idea of mindfulness, and skillfulness and "dharma talks," the reaction was almost identical to what used to happen when I'd go onstage at hardcore shows in the early 80s with long hair and bell-bottoms. You can't do that! We can challenge everything in the world, but don't you dare challenge us!

If Buddhism can’t be challenged it isn’t Buddhism anymore.

We're all looking for a place to settle. We want stability. We want something dependable. Buddhism is all about addressing that very issue. It aims for the ultimate stable resting place. But Buddhism takes things in a very different direction from our habitual way of dealing with our longing for stability. Religions and subculture movements like punkrock want to reduce things to formulas. Believe that Jesus Christ is the one true Son of God and you're all right. But the words "Jesus Christ is the one true Son of God" mean something absolutely different to each individual who uses them. Words such as “mindfulness” and the like take on all kinds of different meanings when they reach the mass culture. And when they stop meaning anything useful it’s time to retire them.

This is hard for lots of folks to get a grip on. They want Buddhism to be like a bumper sticker, “Buddha said it, I believe it and that settles it.” But that’s not the Buddhist way.

At any rate I’m totally over all that stuff big time. And yet, by the time you read this I’ll be finishing up one retreat and heading off to another — being all “mindful” and listening to skillfully delivered Dharma talks.

Sometimes even when you’re over stuff you still gotta do it anyway. Sometimes you gotta do it especially when you’re over it.

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

#1

Don't be so lazy shameless censor. Give us the date when this was originally posted. You are not appreciated fyi.

Anonymous said...

yes! I totally feel the same way. I particurly hate this whole "metta" thing. What about when you need to say fuck you to somebody's face, when saying fuck off is the most skillful thing to do? so over alot of this buddhism shit..

Dharma Sanctuary said...

Dynamite! Tell it like it is...write from the heart...bypass convention...speak your truth..

Erin Hoffman said...

It is interesting how the whole memetic re-use of a word like "mindfulness" or "skillful" becomes in itself a sort of grasping at permanence (maybe these are just buzz words too?). It's funny how mindfulness can spin right around and become the opposite of what it's supposed to mean.

In business buzzwords are notorious for driving everyone crazy. But they seem to exist as a kind of group processing method. The goal is actually to change the thinking, and so the group uses the latest new word over and over again until they've exhausted the meaning of it, at which point it falls out of use. The problem is when knowledge of the buzzword becomes a different kind of false permanence, which is the judging of merit. "Skillful" gets right under my skin for that reason. But the minute any such word stops being questioned seems to be the minute it should be discarded.

Agree about doing it when you're over it. Thank you for posting this.

Anonymous said...

1

I am so over comment moderation. Turn it off!

Anonymous said...

0 comments yet? WOW! So nobody will write this cilly #1 stuff this time! Yeah!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

Sai Kumar Reddy said...

Nice One, Read it a long time ago but a reread is not a bad thing. It is these kind of posts that remind me why people like to read his Blog. All those long hours of Zazen seems to have given him the ability to write well.

Khru said...

This is probably the worst comment thread I've ever seen on Bradley's blog...

Wayne Allen said...

Hey Brad,
I've been sitting off and on since 68, and base my counselling practice on Zen... so I end up with a lot of Buddhist and yoga folk. I continue to avoid buzz-words, as my clients love debate.
I think they think that mindfulness (or whatever we call it) is about thinking. I'm not so sure. In the UK, in the subway, the sign reads, "Mind the gap."
I suspect that mindful means "aware-ful." My clients hate this, as this requires that they exit their heads and actually pay attention to what is right in front of them.
Which in turn, as you note, means escaping the thinking and engaging the doing.
Love this article, as sitting while being over it is so very...
dare I say it... Zen!

Anonymous said...

Keep your Metal out of my Hardcore - Keep your Hardcore out of my Punk and please Keep your Punk out of my Zen - You are one Corny Mofo Brad Warner - signed GG ALLIN bite it!!

HandBannana said...

I agree with most of what you said... but this:

A lotta folks think that if you're not hip to the monastery thang you ain't no Buddhist. They're wrong. Shakyamuni himself did not come to his understanding as a member of any religious order, and there is a laundry list as long as your arm of other great teachers who either shunned monastic life, or came to monastic life after establishing the Way on their own, or who did a bit of the monastic stuff when it was necessary but largely stayed away from it.

Shakyamuni wasn't a part of any monastic order on his path, but was the founder of one... and the practices that he did that led up to his enlightenment was more hardcore than GG Allen... hell, the Buddha's Middle Way as he practiced it was WAY more hardcore than anything around today.

Anonymous said...

agree.... America has a push to "market" everything.... religion, health, morals...... it is pushed to citizens from birth, patriotism is pushed from birth. having left the USA 11 years ago and visiting it yearly, I see it clearer. silly. i like the UK because like to be cynical about themselves......

Stinks of Zen said...

"Every revolutionary ends by becoming either an oppressor or a heretic."

THOMAS AMUNDSEN said...

I remember reading this one. I believe it was back in the summer of 2008. Fucking awesome.

Although I do think there is value in monastic buddhism...

Anonymous said...

If Buddhism means sitting around, fartin' tofu hotdogs, count me out!

gniz said...

Just realized today that I would miss reading Brad's words if he stopped writing this blog. Curious to whatchya gotten up to Braddy boy.

Korey said...

Brad, I'm so over you, ya fag! Nah I'm just playin brother lol

Enter Zen said...

I like it! Buddha would get a laugh I'm sure! Don't let your Buddhism be Shouldism.

Anonymous said...

The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise

To set up what you like against what you dislike--
This is the disease of the mind:
When the deep meaning [of the Way] is not understood
Peace of mind is disturbed to no purpose.

Why u still make preferences?

Laurent said...

To Handbanana : Shakyamuni did not create a monastic order, it was his disciples to do it. And when he died that was the beginning of a great fuck all about what is the real buddhism....and it still is lihe that!
Words....are a creation of our own mind. Do we want them to become as a magic power out of our person, that we activate when we pronounce them, like a magic formula???
Oh yeah!!!...In France were I live, we have some japanese mantras that we took from Deshimaru master.
Mushotoku, Hishiryo, I shin den Shin, and so on....it sounds so well, so deep and mystic when we use them!!
The people who are new practicers are seduced by the spell!!! Those who use them envelop themselves in a mysterious aura of magic words and they seem to know something "ordinary person" can't understand!!
But what remains when all that mystery stuff is cleared?? When you know the exact signification of the word you use??
NOthing so special!!

What the buddhism??? Clearing your bowl!
What a fucking mysterious thing to realize!!

Anonymous said...

I was tickled to see your Tassahara punk Mohawk earlier this year (or was it last year?), you wrote something about it at the time--it was a big deal for you to do the mohawk: you acknowledged other punks who had suffered bodily injury for sporting such 'dos back in the day....
and yet, when you was back in the day, as you write here, you dressed, looked like a 'hippie' boy: long hair and bellbottoms...

seems you enjoy challenging the (sole) use of appearance as a means of 'knowing' another.

I share a similar wise-assedness myself, for me it plays in the borderlands of conservative/liberal--to others wanting to 'peg' me, I can't be pinned down, I walk the DMZ, a foot on each side.
But this is my 'truth' if you will, I don't mean to be difficult for others to 'size up.'

There is a function we borderlanders serve, and it's not just to confound befuddle confuse annoy and bejeeber others, although others unable to hang with the rough ride of one moment finding themselves at ease with us (we meet their expectations) and the next being jerked mercilessly into the experience that any contact with us is untenible (our behavior runs counter to expectations--really, really counter).

From my perspective, challenge to one's thinking is very good and necessary; As irksome and confusing as it may be, it can also be very exciting. I think it is as healthful and natural as the body's immune system being challenged: it's what contributes to staying healthy even if you feel under the weather or get sick for a few days.

So Brad, challenge away, and thank you!

Doug said...

One was that dependable puppy dog of a word, "mindfulness." Christ I hate that word.

That's an excellent point, Mr. Warner. I realized too that that word really irks me also.

I've read various sermons of the Buddha which do teach the importance of being aware of whether you're experiencing anger, joy, pleasure, aversion, whatever, and it makes sense. Somehow though, it feels like it's been misappropriated and given a aura of mysticism that frankly feels really weird.

Most of what I know on Buddhism I learned from my spouse, who's Asian, not American, and various other similar sources. Every good sermon (not dharma talk) I've heard from a Asian priest never uses the term mindfulness. They teach mindfulness of course, but just do it in a more subtle way, without having to resort to buzzwords and such.

I think Western teachers really need to challenge themselves to be more effective teachers, and rather than criticizing their Asian brethren for their cultural "accretions", they oughta stop and learn from the experts and accept that their own training may only be half-baked. :-/

Anonymous said...

I really like your books but your liberal slant and bias is extremely annoying.

coburn Seattle said...

You too, too funny Warner.

Anonymous said...

Why would any liberated being be irked by superficial, surface
realities. Be mindful of how you
create duality.

Being Here Now

Jeff said...

Has Brad ever claimed to be a "liberated being" (whatever the fuck that's suppose to mean anyway)?

Anonymous said...

I'm at peace with being bored. I'm at peace with this blog. boring is good.
boring is good.
boring is good.
boring is good.
boring is good.

Andrew said...

Very good piece, Brad. And ever more relevant. Keep going.

Anonymous said...

A liberated being is not a dreamer
who is asleep. What is claimed
are words in a game.

Female of the Species‏ said...

THIS is the Brad I like reading about and am interested in the thoughts and opinions. For me personally, I don't feel comfortable or part of the Buddhist culture around pretty and tranquil beings of light. I'm not a “punk” but I am different then the average bear... My point is that the traditional ways do not work for everyone and I see no problem or conflict with adapting the core beliefs and practices with modernization.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back to 'civil'ization, Brad!

Mark Foote said...

I've read that Gautama invited the five ascetics to join with him by saying, "come, live the life of purity to make an end of suffering." That was the extent of the vows the first five members of the order took.

Over and over Gautama pointed to setting up mindfulness, inhalation and exhalation, ease and joy followed by equanimity. I think I need to reread some of it, but my guess, it's about the ability to feel in body, feelings, mind and consciousness. Looking for the ability to feel, waking up and falling asleep.

I've read that the Gautamid walked a lot, 20 miles in some days as he moved between villages. Too bad you can't do that, Brad.

Anonymous said...

There are some good people who have dedicated themselves to doing this stuff and (I think) this rant, while clever and funny and perhaps popular with most of your readers is also dismissive and scornful. Glad you are still "doing it". Hope you get over the need to diss it. Soon.

Leah McClellan said...

Good one, and good stuff to think about on top of some excellent entertainment value :). But I'm thinking of how Thich Nhat Hanh uses "mindfulness" and "skillful." I've read a lot of his books and listened to some of his talks, and I think it's helped me a lot. For me, I see mindfulness as being aware of the mind, observing it and remaining aware of how that brain of ours plays little tricks and letting it do its thing even while we might choose to let the thoughts flit by...in many cases so we can be more "skillful" in our choice of words and actions, especially in our relationships. If I'm not "skillful" it's because I'm not mindful or I haven't learned some better way to handle something, and I'm acting (or not acting at all when I should be) in a habitual knee-jerk reaction to my thoughts, conditioned over so many years, unconsciously, not mindfully, not out of compassion.

Not that I talk about this stuff very much. I'm not much for buzzwords either--and I've seen them used in odd ways. But oh well. Sometimes things don't need words anyway.

Anonymous said...

"..in many cases so we can be more "skillful" in our choice of words and actions, especially in our relationships. If I'm not "skillful" it's because I'm not mindful or I haven't learned some better way to handle something, and I'm acting (or not acting at all when I should be) in a habitual knee-jerk reaction to my thoughts, conditioned over so many years, unconsciously, not mindfully, not out of compassion."

Yes, while your practice may be
casual your practice is deeply
comprehending.

Leah McClellan said...

Thanks, Anonymous. That's what I've figured out, such as it is, and of course it's easy to understand intellectually or on the cushion or to practice during the average day-to-day. Not so easy to practice in challenging situations. But of course that's the reason for "practice," at least to me.

Tao1776 said...

Well congratulations Brad you dumb shit!!! L O F L.... When you fully realize that you get up, live the day, go to sleep, and then do it all over again and do it all over again until the day that you die.... and all the noise between your ears is just noise....you finally say, Fuck it. Which is what all spiritual teachings allude to.

Anonymous said...

I feel that way some days, especially at the beginning of a retreat. After I settle in a couple days they pass and I don't feel this way any longer.
Just passing emotions and thoughts. The longer I practice Zen, the more I see 'religion' being a container which holds the real practice, zazen, in place. You sure sound like an old punker here in this entry. Just blowing off steam seems to me.

I do agree with your take on dharma talks of late @ SFZC centers. Just not worth the listen and not suited to the audience at hand. Either they're overly esoteric to unsophisticated 'dharma Sunday Brunch' audience or the speakers seem bored to tears by their own talk.

Before this Sangha I would hear powerful talks coming straight through samadhi from priests who had something to give their listeners. There's no doubt this group has the finances, name and container down pat - but lack the teachers who can supply that dharma energy through (you guessed it) skillful means.

Anonymous said...

You came to my college and pissed people off, but i still bought your cd. You embody punk better through Zen than you did in NODEFX.

Anon said...

So you gave up being a Buddhist, did you?