Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tattoo You

Gene Simmons bragged that KISS fans often got tattoos of the band. He said, "When you're in the KISS Army, you're in for life!"

I've already countered that boast by posting some photos from people who have had the cover images from my books tattooed on their bodies like this one and this one. But now I have an even better thing to brag about.

This afternoon I finished up a harrowing three-day zazen fest in the city of Bielefeld, Germany. Harrowing because I was pretty ill for the first day or so.

Remember that massive infection I told you about that I went to the hospital in Berlin for? Well, apparently something they gave me for that did not sit well with my body because I ended up covered in bright red itchy spots. So I spent a good portion of the first day of this retreat in yet another German hospital trying to figure out what the heck made me all spotty.

Turns out that no one knows. But they shot me up with cortisone and that seemed to help. The spots are now mostly gone.

But in spite of my spotty condition, a group of about twenty intrepid meditators joined me for three days of zazen practice at a yoga studio here in Bielefeld. We lost one guy on the first day. I'm not sure exactly what the problem was. He just bolted some time while I was in the hospital. Perhaps I was too spotty for his liking. A couple other members of the group took the second day of the retreat off, having caught colds of their own. But both were back by day number three.

But here's the funny part. One of the people who came to the retreat was this guy named Daniel. It turns out that Daniel had received a copy of the German edition of Hardcore Zen as a gift about a year ago. Iris, the person who gave him the book, had me sign it when I was in Bielefeld last year.

As I usually do, I drew a little Godzilla-type creature next to my signature. Daniel really liked the book and really liked the little Godzilla-type creature. He resolved that he was gonna get me to tattoo that creature on his leg.

Of course, nobody informed me of any of this. But at the end of the retreat, Iris asked the group if anybody knew of a tattoo parlor in Bielefeld that might be open on a Sunday. It turns out that two of the people at the retreat, a couple, actually run a tattoo parlor in town. Iris told them what Daniel wanted. And they said they could help. They'd show me how to run the tattoo gun and I could tattoo Daniel, they said.

I was pretty nervous about the idea. I have no tattoos and I have never even thought about tattooing anyone else. But Daniel really, really wanted this done. So I said I'd do it.

Even after we got to the tattoo parlor I tried to talk Daniel into having me just draw the monster on his ankle with a pen and have a professional trace it over with a tattoo gun. But he wasn't having it. It had to be by my own hand!

I got a quick lesson on how to use the tattoo gun and practiced a few times on some plastic "fake skin" material designed to react like actual skin to a tattoo gun. After a number of marginally successful attempts on that stuff I was as ready as I was ever gonna be.

It was a pretty tense experience tattooing someone. I have no idea how real tattoo artists manage under that kind of pressure several times a day. Every fuck up I made will be etched into Daniel's skin for the rest of his life.

Luckily I didn't screw it up too badly. The eyes are a bit more crossed than I would have liked and there's some unfortunate doubling up of lines on the tail. All in all, though, it came out pretty good I think.

But I'm not planning to make a career out of this!

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Today I'm about to start a three-day zazen retreat in the city of Bielefeld, Germany. After this I have one-day zazen retreats coming up in Essex, England on November 5, Antwerp, Belgium on November 13th and
Manchester, England on November 19th

I'm not sure what people expect when they sign up for a Zen retreat with me. This has been my on-going concern throughout this tour.

A typical zazen retreat involves a lot of zazen and not much else. These days, though, you have a lot of what seem to me to be sort of "zazen lite" retreats. I blame Thich Naht Hanh. His most popular retreats, as I understand it, involve very little actual zazen practice but include a lot of fun activities.

This is certainly not the worst way a person can spend a day. And perhaps one or two of the hundreds of people who come to that kind of a retreat will take up a more serious practice. Which is not a bad thing.

But it's not a Zen retreat. At least not in the traditional sense.

The point of zazen is to do just one ridiculously simple activity in a very, very thorough way. You can explain all anyone needs to know about zazen practice in a couple of minutes. Here it is on line with a pretty girl demonstrating. Now you everything essential about zazen practice. I'm not trying to be funny here. This really is all anyone needs to know.

On this tour I've been trying to deal with numerous and widely differing sets of expectations. Some people are very hardcore about their Zen and view me as being way too easy. Some people are scared to death of zazen. They're like people at a swimming pool sticking their toes in and then screaming about how cold the water is. It's all they can do just to get through a half an hour of sitting, let alone a full day of it.

The only way to solve this problem is for me to simply do what it is that I do and let people decide for themselves if it's for them or not.

As I said earlier, I may, in future, devise a more introductory type retreat for those who are terrified of zazen. But for now, for the rest of this tour, I'm sticking to a somewhat more standard approach.

I think some people who read my books are shocked that I'm fairly traditional in my approach to the practice. But I always have been. And I think that comes through in the books if you read them carefully. So please don't be shocked if you sign up for a retreat with me and it's not a bunch of slam-dancing (aka moshing) and guys in monster costumes. More likely you'll be looking at a wall for a long, long while.

Here are the schedules for the upcoming retreats:


10:00-10:30 Zazen
10:30-10:40 Kinhin
10:40-11:10 Zazen
11:10-11:15 Prepare for Service
11:15-11:30 Service
11:30-12:30 Dharma Talk
12:30-1:30 Silent lunch
1:30-2:00 Work or Free Time
2:00-2:30 Zazen
2:30-2:40 Kinhin
2:40-3:10 Zazen
3:10-3:20 Kinhin
3:20-4:00 Tea (silent)
4:15-4:45 Zazen
4:45 Chanting Refuges


09.30 - 10.00 aankomst/arrival
10.00 - 10.30 introductie/introduction, zazen+kinhin instructie/instruction
10.30 - 11.00 zazen
11.10 -11.20 kinhin
11.20 -11.50 zazen
11.50 - 12.10 koffie- or theepauze/coffeebreak (silent)
12.10 - 12.40 zazen
12.40 - 12.50 kinhin
13.00 - 14:00 lunchauze/lunchbreak
14.00 - 14.30 zazen
14.30 - 14.40 kinhin
14.35 - 15.00 zazen
15.00 – 16.00 lezing en vragen/talk and q and a
16.00 - 16.30 zazen
16.30 - 16.40 kinhin
16.40 – 17.00 afsluiting/conclusion (chanting refuges)


10:00-10:30 intro to Zazen
10:30-11:00 Zazen
11:00-11:10 Kinhin
11:10-11:40 Zazen
11:40-1:00 Dharma Talk
1:00-1:45 Silent lunch –or folk can go and get lunch
1:45-2:15 Zazen
2:15-2:45 yoga
2:45-3:15 Zazen
3.15-3.30 Kinhin
3:30-3:45 chanting
3:45-4:00 finishing talk
4.00 finish

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I've decided to add a Buddhist service to the daily fun at my upcoming retreat in Bielefeld. I may even wear robes like in this photo. But my mohawk has grown out.

Here are the texts I've chosen.

Those of you who are doing retreats with me in England and Belgium, if you'd like to add this to the stew too, let's do it!

Woo-hoo! Chanting!

All Buddhas ten directions three times
All honored ones, bodhisattva-mahasattvas
Wisdom beyond wisdom
Maha Parjna Paramita


Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, when deeply practicing prajna paramita, clearly saw that all five aggregates are empty and thus relieved all suffering. Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness, emptiness itself form. Sensations, perceptions, formations, and consciousness are also like this.

Shariputra, all dharmas are marked by emptiness; they neither arise nor cease, are neither defiled nor pure, neither increase nor decrease.

Therefore, given emptiness, there is no form, no sensation, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of sight... no realm of mind consciousness. There is neither ignorance nor extinction of ignorance... neither old age and death, nor extinction of old age and death; no suffering, no cause, no cessation, no path; no knowledge and no attainment.

With nothing to attain, a bodhisattva relies on prajna paramita, and thus the mind is without hindrance. Without hindrance, there is no fear. Far beyond all inverted views, one realizes nirvana. All buddhas of past, present, and future rely on prajna paramita and thereby attain unsurpassed, complete, perfect enlightenment.

Therefore, know the prajna paramita as the great miraculous mantra, the great bright mantra, the supreme mantra, the incomparable mantra, which removes all suffering and is true, not false. Therefore we proclaim the prajna paramita mantra, the mantra that says: "Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha."

Kan ji zai bo satsu. Gyojin hannya haramita ji sho. Ken go un kai ku. Do issai ku yaku. Sha ri shi. Shiki fu i ku. Ku fu i shiki. Shiki soku ze ku. Ku soku ze shiki. Ju so gyo shiki. Yaku bu nyo ze. Shari shi. Ze sho ho ku so. Fu sho fu metsu. Fu ku fu jo. Fu zo fu gen. Ze ko ku chu. Mu shiki mu ju so gyo shiki.
Mu gen ni bi ze shin i. Mu shiki sho ko mi soku ho. Mu gen kai nai shi mu i shiki kai. Mu mu myo yaku mu mu myo jin. Nai shi mu ro shi. Yaku mu ro shi jin. Mu ku shu metsu do. Mu chi yaku mu toku. I mu sho toku ko. Bodai sat ta e hannya haramita ko. Shin mu ke ge mu ke ge ko. Mu u ku fu. On ri issai ten do mu so.
Ku gyo ne han. San ze sho butsu. E hannya haramita ko. Toku a noku ta ra san myaku san bodai. Ko chi hannya haramita. Ze dai jin shu. Ze dai myo shu. Ze mu jo shu. Ze mu to do shu. No jo issai ku. Shin jitsu fu ko ko setsu hannya haramita shu. Soku setsu shu watsu.
Gya tei gya tei hara gya tei
hara so gya tei
Bo ji so wa ka.
Hannya shingyo

(Kannon Sutra for Prolonging Life)


(Kanzeon: Veneration to the Buddha. With Buddha I have origin; With Buddha I have affinity; Affinity with Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha; Eternity, joy, self, and purity. Mornings my thoughts are Kanzeon; Evenings my thoughts are Kanzeon; Thought after thought arise in the mind; Thought after thought are not separate from mind.)


The mind of the Great Sage of India is intimately transmitted from West to East. While human faculties are sharp or dull the Way has no northern or southern ancestors. The spiritual source shines clear in the light the branching streams flow on in the dark. Grasping at things is surely delusion according with sameness is still not enlightenment.

All the objects of the senses transpose and do not transpose. Transposing they are linked together, not transposing each keeps its place. Sights vary in quality and form sounds differ as pleasing or harsh. Darkness merges refined and common words, brightness distinguishes clear and murky phrases. The four elements return to their natures just as a child turns to its mother. Fire heats, wind moves, water wets, earth is solid. Eye and sights, ear and sounds, nose and smells, tongue and tastes, thus for each and every thing according to the roots the leaves spread forth.

Trunk and branches share the essence. Revered and common each has its speech. In the light there is darkness but don’t take it as darkness. In the dark there is light but don’t see it as light. Light and dark oppose one another like the front and back foot in walking. Each of the myriad things has its merit expressed according to function and place. Existing phenomenally like box and cover joining according with principle like arrow points meeting.

Hearing the words understand the meaning don’t establish standards of your own. Not understanding the Way before your eyes how do you know the path you walk? Walking forward is not a matter of far or near but if you are confused mountains and rivers block your way. I respectfully urge you who study the mystery don’t pass your days and nights in vain.


Buddha was born in Kapilavastu,
enlightened in Magadha,
taught in Varanasi,
entered nirvana in Kushinagara.
Now we set out Buddha's bowls;
may we, with all beings,
realize the emptiness of the three wheels:
giver, receiver, and gift.

We reflect on the effort that brought us this food
And consider how it comes to us
We reflect on our virtue and practice
and whether we are worthy of this offering.
We regard greed as the obstacle to freedom of mind.
We regard this meal as medicine to sustain our life.
For the sake of enlightenment we now receive this food.

First, this is for the three treasures;
Next for the four benefactors;
Finally, for the beings in the six realms.
May all be equally nourished.

The first portion is to end all evil;
The second is to cultivate all good;
The third is to free all beings.
May we all realize the Buddha way.


Buddham saranam gacchami
(I go to the Buddha for refuge.)
Dhammam saranam gacchami
(I go to the Dhamma for refuge.)
Sangham saranam gacchami
(I go to the Sangha for refuge.)

Dutiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami
(For a second time, I go to the Buddha for refuge.)
Dutiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchami
(For a second time, I go to the Dhamma for refuge.)
Dutiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami
(For a second time, I go to the Sangha for refuge.)

Tatiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami
(For a third time, I go to the Buddha for refuge.)
Tatiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchami
(For a third time, I go to the Dhamma for refuge.)
Tatiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami
(For a third time, I go to the Sangha for refuge.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

T-Shirt from Berlin

Hello sports fans! Today will be my final day in Berlin. I finally got out yesterday and went to see the famous Prenzlauer Berg area. This was once part of East Berlin but now has become hip and trendy. My friend Vajra lives here now and he kindly showed me toe sights. I met Vajra a couple years ago when we were both washing dishes for rich people at Tassajara.

Before I leave Berlin I have to thank whoever it was that gave me the lovely t-shirt shown above. I did my lecture last Wednesday at Dharma Buchladen. That was at the height of my massive infection (see previous blog post below). But I didn't know I was massively infected at that point. I just thought I had a fever and the world's worst headache.

Anyway, after I gave the lecture I chatted with several people. One of them handed me a small sort of tubular shaped package. It was soft. I wondered if it might be a roll cake. It turned out to be a nice t-shirt, which I'm wearing today. But I didn't get the guy's name. He probably told me. But I was pretty much just trying to keep it together at that point. So thank you, danke shoen, whoever you are!

Last night I finally finished watching the film The Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich. Oy vey! What a film!

I found that I didn't like the main character at all. He even killed his own dog for gosh sakes! How did the filmmakers expect you to sympathize with such a character? I would have rewritten him. Maybe given him a quirky sense of humor or a funny catchphrase to say each time he entered a room...

OH STOP IT! I'M JOKING! Jeez. Settle down. OK?

I gotta go. Bye!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Spınal Tap

Last night I had a spinal tap in Berlin.

Y'know, it didn't actually hurt that bad. I'd heard the people that made the movie This is Spınal Tap picked the name because it was supposed to be the most painful medical procedure. Apparently the fictional band said they wanted a name that represented dominance and pain. And when a doctor gives you a spinal tap he's dominating you and causing you pain.

It hurt. But it was only a little worse than the usual jabs you get from doctors. If you want to know more about what a spinal tap is go here.

The reason I had my spine tapped is because that illness I told you about last time just kept getting worse. The main symptom was a massive headache. My friend Jan took me to the local emergency room. He said that I should expect to wait there for four or five hours. Luckily it was a slow day and we got in within a few minutes.

They drew some blood and saw that I had a "massive infection." They kept repeating this diagnosis throughout the evening. I want to call my next band Massive Infection.

Since the only symptoms I had were a headache and fever, the doctor was extremely concerned I might have meningitis. Oh dear! I kept thinking, "second rate Buddhist author Brad Warner, who was never nearly as good as Deepak Chopra or Eckhart Tolle, died in Berlin of meningitis during a largely unsuccessful tour of Europe."* That's just what I need as an obituary. "Warner was known mostly for making fun of much more important Buddhist masters by using a sock monkey."

Anyway, the spinal tap showed no signs of meningitis. And I am not paraplegic, which was one of the risks of the procedure listed on the form I had to sign before it was done. So that's good news.

The bad news is that I had a buttload of tests. Gosh only knows what that's gonna cost me. They even did a CT scan. And in the end they couldn't determine where the infection was. I suspect it's a bladder infection from my previous stuff and it just wasn't showing up on the tests they gave me. With all this I was in the ER for around eight hours. Mostly waiting.

They wanted me to stay in the hospital for about three days while they did more tests. But I knew I'd never be able to afford that. They gave me the option of taking a general antibiotic. The doc said he was 80-90% sure it would be effective. So I went with that. Now, about 12 hours after taking the first dose, it certainly feels like it's working.

Because of this I had to cancel my appearance at the German Buddhist Union's conference on sexuality. This was a huge disappointment because that was one of the ones I was really looking forward to. But God will not be mocked. And when he says you're not gonna do something you'd best listen.

As for zazen, I gotta tell ya, it's hard to do that shit when you're sick. I've managed to do a bit here and there. Finally this morning I got through a half-hour sit. It's not a miracle cure, but it helps.

I always go with what's most practical. If my body is screaming "lay down!!!" Then I'll skip zazen until things improve. You shouldn't do zazen if your body is crying out for bed rest.

But last night when the intensity of my headache made it impossible to sleep, I got up and did a little zazen. Oddly enough I started getting sleepy! Which was a very good thing. So I went back to bed after a little while.

I'm not a generally sickly person. But this unsettled lifestyle is doing me in. So I will not be touring again like I have been in the past. Maybe this is God's way of forcing me to set up some type of center where people can come to me instead of me always coming to them. I'll still travel. But I'll limit it to single events.

For now, I'm still planning on seeing most of the rest of this tour through. Although I may cancel a few events to try and limit my travel. Those of you who ought to be contacted about this, will be.

Once I'm feeling up to it.

Enjoy some rare Spın̈al Tap I dug up on YouTube:

* Just so you know, I don't think this tour has been unsuccessful at all. I just imagine that's how it might be reported.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


The photo is from former East Berlin, Karl Marx Strasse with Dunkin Donuts taken yesterday by me. Dig Dirk from Sprockets dancing on the Don't Walk sign!

I have over-extended myself and it has bit me on the ass. I am sick in Berlin. It's 2:30 and I have yet to leave the apartment of the wonderful Jan & Angela who are kindly hosting me.

One perk of traveling and staying at people's places is that I almost always end up staying somewhere much nicer than my own apartment. This one is definitely one of those. So that's nice.

But I got a fever of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. I'm usually below 97, often 96.8 just to make things dyslexically confusing. So 98.6 is a low grade fever for me. I rose all the way up to 101.6 last night, which must be like 103.6 for a normal person. I'm sure that what did me in was just too much of everything.

When you're in a foreign nation, even normal stuff can be a bit stressful. Like buying a train ticket! Hey people who've lived in Japan! European train station ticket machines do not take paper money! They look pretty high tech, but alas they are not. I'm pretty sure even the Los Angeles subway system ticket machines accept paper money. Get it together, France and Germany!

This caused me a lot more frustration than it should have a few days ago in Paris. It was like I was thrown back into the Angry Brad I was about fifteen years ago when I'd just yell and scream about every damned thing. I took that as a signal something was askew. And now this fever has confirmed it for me.

I've noticed that lots of people who comment very eruditely upon the Zen Precepts don't really understand what anger is and why we should avoid it. Anger is not merely being unhappy with a situation and making direct efforts to change it. That's not really anger at all. Though some folks who comment on Zen seem to believe it is.

Anger is when you allow your natural dissatisfaction with a given situation to become emotional. That's where you always have trouble. If you can deal with dissatisfaction without becoming emotional, you're good to go.

You need to avoid it for various reasons, the main one being that it's not good for you. A kind of conscious selfishness can be your friend. It appears that now that I've done a lot of Zen practice the rebound from bouts of anger comes very quickly. I'm running a temperature for a lot of reasons, mostly exhaustion. But if I had been more willing to manage my anger at those French ticket machines, I'm sure I'd be feeling better today.

I say willing because it's hard to do this. I was right! Those machines were wrong! I already told you why! They should have accepted what was perfectly legal tender! I've put paper money in train ticket machines a 100,000 times in my life! I know what they're supposed to do, dammit!

You see how this works?

Then I got sick. I'm pretty sure it always worked like this. I just failed to notice. So many, many, many things I failed to notice.

The best effect of decades of zazen? I notice things a little tiny wee bit more quickly.

Oh my God it sounds like there's an oompah-oompah brass band with a tuba out on the street! I'd better go.

I will NOT cancel my appearance tonight at 8 pm (20:00) at Dharma Buchladen no matter what! Info is at Be there!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Report form France

I'm in Poitiers, France now. Yesterday I ran a day of Zen for 10 people at my friend Arnaud's house here. It was very interesting and very tiring.

The people who attended the event were not zennies for the most part. I know at least one of them had done zazen at a Zen temple setting before. I think the others had done zazen but only as parts of other forms of meditation. Some were students of another guy named Arnaud, Arnaud Desjardins who was an interesting spiritual teacher here in France. He was trained in the Advaita Vedanta tradition by a teacher named Swami Prajnapad. But he also sat zazen with Deshimaru. So he taught that as well. Arnaud passed away in August. So his loss is still keenly felt by his students.

Some others were students of an American teacher named Lee Lozowick who based himself in France. Lee is the author of a book called Zen Trash: The Irreverent and Sacred Teaching Stories of Lee Lozowick. They gave me a copy yesterday. I haven't read it, but I like the title. Lee passed away last year, so his loss is also still keenly felt by his students.

They were a pretty sincere group. I liked hanging out with them for the day. But this was only my second try at improvising a day of Zen Lite for people who were interested enough in zazen to want to do a day-long event but too inexperienced to feel up to handling the rigors of sitting zazen over & over & over & over for the entire day.

Lots of Zen teachers would just say, "Screw 'em if they can't deal with it!" and make the participants do a full-on day-long sitting. That's what my teachers did. That's what they'll do if you go to places like San Francisco Zen Center or pretty much any training center in Japan such as Antaiji.

But I'm trying out something new here. So far the results have been just sort of OK as far as I'm concerned. The problem is that it's too damned exhausting for me to do three hours straight of dharma discussion with a group. So I need to find other activities that will work and still not be too goofy. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

The day before that, Friday, I was the guest at a soirée (literally) held by Giles Farcet author of The Anti-Wisdom Manual: A Practical Guide To Spiritual Bankruptcy. I gave this book a glowing review last year. Maybe I'll dig that review out and put it back up here. Although I think they should re-publish it with a catchier title like How To Ruin Your Spiritual Life and a funnier cover.

I gotta run. But I've included some photos from France. The first is to prove to my friends in Montreal that the stop signs here in France say "stop" not "arret." And that Kentucky Fried Chicken is called KFC here, not PFK*. The final photo is to prove to the world that there is no such thing on the French McDonald's menu as a Royale With Cheese. But there are several sandwiches called "Royal" including the "Royal-o-Fish" and the "Royal Deluxe."

*Actually everybody in Montreal knows this already. So the photos are provided for them to show the language police up there.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


One of the great joys/challenges of doing what I do is negotiating foreign supermarkets. Or markts as they seem to be called in many countries in Europe.

My friend Robin has an apartment in Amsterdam that he rarely uses and has kindly allowed me to stay here. It's like having my own swingin' bachelor pad in the city. But a bachelor needs to eat breakfast. So I had to go hunt down some foodstuffs.

The big supermarket chain in The Netherlands, or at least here in Amsterdam, is Albert Heijn. You don't pronounce the J. It's smaller than most US supermarkets but about the same size as the ones in Japan. At least in Japan, though, I could read the packages. Here I had to guess. I figured that "roomboter" in a yellow package was probably butter. I was right! I also got some cereal and some halfvoole melk, which I believe to be 2% milk. I'm guessing "halfvoole" is "half whole" and therefore half the usual fat of whole milk, therefore 2%. Deductive reasoning! Or something...

They say — somebody says anyway, I can't remember who (which may be relevant) — that one way to avoid becoming senile in your old age is to never get into a rut. You've got to keep changing your habits and not get stuck in routines, apparently. If this is true I ought to be in good shape. It's pretty intense when even basic things like figuring out what's edible become problematic. I suppose our ancient ancestors had to do a lot of that, though.

Friday I'll be in Paris. Then the following week I'm in Berlin. Leonard Cohen took Manhattan first and then Berlin. But I'm starting with Paris.

The rest of my schedule is at this link. There are still a bunch of things you can participate in. So if you're in Poitiers, Berlin, Munich, Bielefeld, Östringen, Essex, Antwerp or Manchester your plans are already made!

See ya!

(Here is a video of some cats I stayed with in Nijmegen, Netherlands)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hello From Rotterdam

Two days of day-long zazen retreats are done and all participants survived. On Saturday I was in Bonn, Germany leading a day-long retreat on a street called Adolf Strasse. I did three and a half hours of dokusan (private one-on-one talks) in a single straight sitting and came back to tell the tale.

It was a groovy group of fun seeking zennies. I really enjoyed the retreat. And I was wrong when I said I'd never been invited to speak at an AZI group. The group in Bonn is affiliated with AZI.

Yesterday I did another day-long zazen thing in Amsterdam. This time we skipped the dokusan. It was logistically impossible given the nature of the venue. But I did have longer group discussions to try to make up for the lack.

Another fun group and very talkative. Maybe we'll get that talk up on the podcast one of these days.

Tonight at 8pm I'll be speaking at Tegen de Stroom In in Rotterdam, Netherlands. All humans in Europe are required to attend.

Also, Monk Fish Books just told me that Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika by Gudo Wafu Nishijima and me is now officially out and available. So get yours while they're hot.

The tour has been great fun so far. But the economic aspects are not so encouraging. Here's the lowdown on that.

• My recent hospital visit forced me to cancel the highest paying gig I had scheduled in Europe. So I lost that money.

• In order to rebook the flight I missed I had to pay an additional $600.

• The hospital bills have not come in yet. But I expect to have to shell out at least $3000. I have the highest deductable in the world, making my health insurance pretty much useless unless I get into some kind of really devastating accident or something.

• Last time I did a European tour I did not have an apartment. I was homeless Braddo. This time I do. So there goes another few hundred bucks.

So I'm hoping at least to break even on this thing. It seems unlikely I'll come out ahead. If I'm lucky the tour won't cost me money. But so far it is definitely costing me money to be here.

So Gempo's out there with his three houses and his Harley collection and here's me trying to figure out how to afford a studio apartment in Akron. Which is "comparing mind," I know. But I guess I'd rather be Husker Du than one of the Spice Girls. Which is to say that integrity is something I value.

Then again, so is the ability to pay the rent...

So yesterday at the day-long retreat I got into this thought loop of trying to envision how I could get more butts in seats at my retreats. Should I have fewer periods of zazen? Maybe more interactive social type activities? Maybe give everybody free hash-laced brownies (it is Amsterdam, after all)?

If I did that, what I'd be offering would cease to be true Zen retreats. But then again they wouldn't necessarily be bad things. There'd be a bit of meditation. And maybe people would get a taste and keep it up. Maybe they wouldn't. But it would still be an honest endeavor. Thich Naht Hanh has adopted this model for his retreats. It's not a scam. It's not even really watering things down as long as you don't present it as something it's not.

If I followed that model I might be able to continue traveling and talking. Maybe I could offer a mix of Zen Lite weekends along with some real Zen retreats for those who wanted to go deeper.

And yet the prospect of doing it that way isn't so appealing. Which is not to say I wouldn't do it. It's just not the kind of idea that has me jumping for joy. It would feel a little bit mercenary.

I love what I do. I love sleeping on mattresses on the floors of people's apartments in weird cities, being accosted by their cats in the morning and trying to figure out if anything in the fridge is butter. I love talking to people who are struggling with the same shit I struggle with. I like meeting younger people (both in age and in spirit) who aren't interested in getting ahead in society, who really want to get to the core of what's most vital in this world. There are lots and lots of us all over the world. It's nice to know that.

I'm not sure I even want three houses and a Harley collection. Or in my case a collection of vintage bass guitars. Would I even take $50,000 for a weekend retreat? Offer it to me and see!

The point is, I still think that I seem to get exactly what I really want in life. It's dangerous to say that everybody does. But I sure seem to.

I seem to want to struggle this way. It makes me feel more alive.

Still, if I could just get enough ahead to afford the Beach Boys' Smile Sessions Box Set that's coming out in a few weeks...

Then again, knowing me, I'll buy it whether I can afford it or not.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Me & Steve Jobs: Three Degrees of Separation

Today I'm headed for Bonn, Germany where I will lead a one-day zazen thing at the San Bo Dojo. I hear it's a sell-out crowd. But if you stand around outside in the rain and wait, maybe I'll wave to you as I pass by in my limousine.

OK. It's actually a pretty small room that couldn't hold very many people.

The following day, Sunday, I will lead another one-day zazen thing in Amsterdam at the Against The Stream center there. As far as I know there are still spots available. You'll get higher from zazen than you can at the coffee shops and have more bliss than in the red light district!

The day after that, Monday, I'm speaking at the Against The Stream center in Rotterdam. That's just a talk. No zazen required. So you must be there.

I had a great talk in Nijmegen, Netherlands last night. Thank you to everyone who showed up!

For more info on my upcoming dates in Germany, France, England and Belgium go the this link.

* * * * *

I was sad to hear about the death of Steve Jobs. I never really followed his career. But I am a long-time user of Apple products. I am typing this on my MacBook. Apples were the first computers I ever used. I never have been able to find my way around Windows very well.

Just after Jobs died I started hearing people say stuff like, "Did you know he was a Buddhist?" I thought that was sort of interesting. I figured maybe he was into Tibetan Buddhism or possibly Sokka Gakkai. Whenever you hear that someone famous is "into Buddhism" that's usually what it means.

Then a Facebook friend of mine named Austin Conquest sent me a link titled The Zen of Steve Jobs. It was from CNN, so I figured by "Zen" they meant just something vaguely Eastern and spiritual. Although I, myself, have been on CNN. So perhaps I should give them more credit. It's just that mainstream news sources rarely get any of this stuff right.

Lo and behold, the article is actually about the Zen of Steve Jobs! And what's more, Jobs wasn't just into any old Zen dude. His teacher was Kobun Chino Roshi! Kobun was the teacher of my first Zen teacher, Tim McCarthy. So there you go. Three degrees of separation between me and Steve Jobs. Me > Tim > Kobun > Steve Jobs!

The CNN piece also references a hilarious graphic novel about Jobs' relationship with Kobun. Check out the four pages they show you at that link! Kobun apparently was a mix of Yoda from Star Wars and the Zen master from the old Kung Fu TV series starring David Carradine. I never knew!*

Aw. I shouldn't be mean. I know. It's great that a guy like Kobun gets any recognition from the mainstream at all. I guess you gotta present Zen in this way in a comic book since you have to explain so much in such a small space. I'll probably buy the book. UNLESS THE PUBLISHERS WANT TO SEND ME A FREE COPY TO REVIEW. Which I will do if I get one. Write me at and I'll send you my address.

* This scene supposedly takes place in Tassajara. Where, in Tassajara, is there a rock and an open field like that? And why does Kobun suggest they go to Denny's? That would require that they drive up 14 miles of dirt road at roughly 10 mph just to get to the nearest paved road. From there they'd need to drive another hour or so to get to Carmel Valley. I'm not sure if there's a Denny's there. But my guess is there probably isn't or that there wasn't one in 1986, even if there is one now. So that means another hour and half drive to Monterrey. Double that for the drive back. That's a lot of work for a sundae. And there's probably some decent left-overs in the walk-in fridge next to the kitchen.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Current State of Zen in Europe

Here is a photo of me in Amsterdam lamenting that reality is based on space and time.

Or is it... ?

I recovered from the recent hospital stuff and now my European tour 2011 is well and truly on. The first date is in Nijmegen, Netherlands (where I am writing this) tomorrow at 7 pm. The info for tomorrow's date is at this link.

The next stop will be Bonn, Germany on Saturday at the San Bo Dojo. That will be a day-long zazen thing. This will be followed by another day-long zazen thing on Sunday (the next day) in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Info for that and for the talk I'm giving in Rotterdam the following day (Monday) is at this link.

Find out about the rest of the tour by clicking here.

This is the second European Zen tour I've done. I'm gradually becoming familiar with how Zen is perceived over here. It's a bit newer to Europe than it is to the United States. That is to say, Zen literature got to both places around the same time. But it seems like the establishment of actual practice centers lagged a little behind the US.

The largest Zen organization in Europe appears to be AZI, which stands for Association Zen Internationale. This was established in France by a Japanese monk named Deshimaru. Deshimaru and my teacher Nishijima Roshi were friends. Even so, I've never been invited to speak at an AZI center. I think they're very particular about having only people from their lineage speak at their places. Fair enough.

Noah Levine has authorized a few teachers to start Against The Stream groups over here. And I'm speaking at a couple of their places in The Netherlands. Noah isn't a Zen teacher. But he's "Zen friendly." I've spoken at a number of the places he established in the US, Canada and now Europe.

Over in Poland and Finland, where I spoke last year, Philip Kapleau established a few centers that are still active. Kapleau was the author of the highly influential book Three Pillars of Zen.

The San Francisco Zen Center has a couple things over here, I think. But they run their organization pretty loosely. When a teacher from SFZC leaves, she or he usually establishes a place that has no official ties to San Francisco. However, the centers they establish all seem to network quite closely with each other. The only place I've been to in Europe that was started by an SFZC teacher is the Black Mountain Zen Centre in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

There are a number of other teachers over here on the continent. One of those I met last year was a Dutch guy named Ton Lathouwers. He was a fun and funny guy. He studied with Masao Abe.

All of the foregoing doesn't tell you much about the overall state of Zen in Europe. And it's hard to say with any authority what that is. I've encountered a number of very sincere practitioners working hard at making Zen available. It's not all good news, though. Genpo Roshi is quite active here in The Netherlands. But his influenced has waned considerably lately. It's hard to tell if that's just because of the very highly publicized and largely meaningless sex scandal or because people realized what a joke the whole Big Mind® thing was.

New Age stuff is as much a booming business in Europe as it is in America. This stuff always has a kind of run-off effect upon Zen. New Age book shops usually stock a few Zen books. Which is good in that it gets the written part of Zen out there. But one wonders if purchasers just combine all that stuff in their minds into one big eastern spirituality blob the way Americans tend to.

I'll be seeing a lot more Zen in Europe over the coming six weeks. I'll let you know what I find.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

JUGGLING (the whole article reposted)

Here is the article I put up on Suicide Girls a few days ago with a little bit of bonus mnaterial at the end:

A guy named Brian who posts on my blog ( asked:

“I'm wondering how you feel about stories of Zen masters who endured what would normally be insane levels of pain through the discipline of zazen? No doubt some of the stories are fanciful, but we have on video the monk who set himself on fire and didn't flinch until he was dead.

“Do you think you could do that after so many years of sitting or is something missing? Or is that really not the point of zazen, just a type of parlor trick that's cool to know can be done but isn't the primary purpose of meditation?”

Around the same time I got a message from one of my Facebook friends mentioning this video by Ken Wilber:

In case you can’t view it, this is a video of the uber-spiritual wonderman Ken Wilber hooking himself up to a machine that supposedly demonstrates how he can voluntarily stop his brainwaves.

This stuff kind of reminds me of juggling.

When I lived in Santa Monica, I used to walk down to Venice Beach on weekends. There would always be lots of talented people on the boardwalk doing various tricks for chump change from the tourists. One of these guys was a juggler. He was absolutely amazing. He had this trick where he’d climb up on a balance board on top of a top of a rickety wooden ladder and juggle like five butcher’s knives, all while making clever jokes at his own expense. It was astounding. Take a look:

Like most people on the boardwalk, I’d watch his act, be amazed and then put a dollar or two in the bucket he passed around at the end. I was a local, and hence a cheapskate. Maybe the tourists slipped him fives and tens. Or maybe some of them were cheaper than me and just threw in quarters.

I’ve done twenty plus years of daily zazen meditation plus more intensive retreats than I care to remember. Having been through some interesting scenes during practice I can understand how one could use meditation practice to learn to do some pretty impressive tricks. I personally could not sit still while I was on fire and I doubt I could wire myself up to an EEG and make the indicators do whatever I wanted. But I can see clearly how that could be done.

Let me try to explain what I mean by saying I can “see clearly.” It’s like if you learned to juggle three tennis balls. Having done that, you’d be able to understand clearly how you might eventually be able to sit on a balance board on top of a rickety ladder and juggle knives. I’m not talking here about comprehending something intellectually as a concept. Anyone can do that. You’d have to at least accomplish three tennis balls at once before you could truly get a handle on how juggling knives isn’t as superhuman as it seems to people like me who can’t even juggle one tennis ball. There’s a kind of body/mind comprehension that goes beyond just getting something as an idea.

Having understood how you might one day be able to juggle knives on a balance board, you’d have to ask yourself if it was worth it. It would take years of tremendous dedication to accomplish such a trick and you’d have to forgo a lot of other things in life just to devote yourself to the task. So you’d either have to really, really, really, really want to juggle knives. Or else you’d have to have some other motive, like believing that if you could juggle knives on a balance board you might be able to join Cirque du Soleil and make a living at it. Either way, you’d need some kind of motivation.

The problem I have with Ken Wilber, as well as others like him, is all about motivation. Ken Wilber seems to imply that his accomplishments indicate that his meditation is somehow qualitatively better than other peoples’ and that without such accomplishments “something is missing” as Brian my commenter asked. While I admit these accomplishments do indicate a commitment to something, I’m not sure it’s something I’m interested in committing to.

To me, Wilber’s goal in meditation appears to be to get more advanced at it than anyone else in the world and to be known for having done so. It’s very competitive. This assumption appears to be borne out by the comment I received when I said that I thought Wilber’s trick with the brainwave machine looked phony.

“Brad, just because you can't do it doesn't mean it's fake,” said the commenter. True enough. Maybe he actually is going into Nirvikalpa Samadhi, whatever the blazes that is. It might not be a fake. But it’s the “just because you can’t do it” part that’s telling.

Wilber may say he doesn’t intend people to take it this way. But that would be disingenuous. He knows full well people are going to take it this way. The message my commenter got is, “Ken Wilber is a better meditator than Brad Warner.” It’s the kind of message I’m sure most people take away from Wilber’s various demonstrations of power.

If meditation is a competition, I don’t want to play that game. But it’s not. So I meditate.

In the case of those Vietnamese monks who burned themselves, they appear to me to be deeply confused people. When I see that damned video I just get incredibly angry and sad. What a fucking waste. What they did amounted to the most macho display of macho-ism ever. What could be more macho than burning yourself alive and not flinching? The fact that you actually had to die to prove how macho you were just makes you that much more macho.

If what they did had actually made any difference in the war, maybe I’d think differently. Sadly, I don’t think their tragic wasteful ugly deaths did anything to stop the war in Vietnam. They could have done a lot more by staying alive and working for peace.

I’ve seen enough in my own personal practice to be quite convinced that I could do a lot of impressive things with this practice if I wanted to direct my efforts that way. But why would I do so? I can’t think of any compelling reason to pursue such things. It would take a lot of hard, hard effort. It doesn’t seem worthwhile to me at all. I’m not interested in being macho. I don’t need to display my meditative achievements to the world.

Which is not me saying I’m better than those guys because I don’t want these things. It’s just a fact. I don’t have the desire. Being better has nothing to do with it. You can put in all that effort and still end up as confused as anyone else. It looks like a big waste of time to me and I don’t have time to waste.

There is a certain class of people who enjoy bragging about their supposed spiritual accomplishments. They’ve been around for a long time. But the truth is most of us who meditate don’t learn to do tricks. And if we do, we generally keep it to ourselves.

Dogen, the 12th century monk who founded the sect of Buddhism in which I practice (and who was also the loose basis for a character on the TV show LOST), tells a story about people who brag about their spiritual accomplishments:

At that time a certain Sanzo from India arrives in the Chinese capital, saying, “I have attained the eye that intuits the minds of others” (This is supposedly one of the powers of a Buddha). The emperor decrees that the National Master (his personal Zen teacher) should examine him. As soon as Sanzo meets the master he prostrates himself at once and stands to the master’s right. The master says, “Have you got the power to know others’ minds?”

Sanzo answers, “I would not be so bold (as to say so).”

The master says, “Tell me where this old monk is just now.”

Sanzo says, “Master, you are the teacher of the whole country. Why have you gone to the West River to watch a boat race?”

The master asks a second time, “Tell me where the old monk is just now.”

Sanzo says, “Master, you are the teacher of the whole country. Why are you on Tianjian Bridge watching someone play with a monkey?”

The master asks a third time, “Tell me where the old monk is just now.”

Sanzo takes a good while but he does not know where the master has been. The master scolds him, saying, “You ghost of a wild fox, where is your power to know others’ minds?”

Sanzo has no answer.

Most people interpret this story as saying that the master imagined watching a boat race and Sanzo guessed it, then the master imagined watching a monkey and Sanzo guessed it, then the master put himself in some kind of formless Samadhi (perhaps like the one Ken Wilber supposedly enters in the video) and Sanzo couldn’t see it because he wasn’t as advanced as the master. The master wins and Sanzo loses. One traditional interpretation Dogen sites says, ““The first two times the master’s mind is concerned with external circumstances; then he enters the samadhi of receiving and using the self, and so Sanzo does not see him.”

But Dogen begs to differ. It isn’t about what sort of mental states the master enters. And it has nothing at all to do with winning and losing. First off, Dogen points out that the National Master never actually says Sanzo got it right the first two times. Then he goes a little deeper.

Dogen says, “The National Master’s words ‘Where is the old monk just now?’ are as if to ask ‘What is the old monk?’ ‘Where is the old monk just now?’ asks ‘Just now is what kind of moment?’ To ask ‘where is (the old monk)’ asserts that ‘This place is where something ineffable exists.’”

In other words the master is not asking Sanzo to read his mind. He is asking Sanzo to tell him where the real person who stands in front of him in this concrete reality (i.e. the National Master) is right now. He wants Sanzo to tell him what this real world is. He wants to help Sanzo see what is actual.

Sanzo has only succeeded in demonstrating a parlor trick — if, indeed, he has even demonstrated that much. He never gives any indication that he really understands the fundamental nature of reality.

It annoys me to see someone like Ken Wilber who does tricks — ones that nobody can ever even verify he’s accomplished, by the way — make tons more money than that street juggler down on Venice Beach who does something far cooler. I guess people are impressed by imaginary stuff.

I don’t see any great value in most of what passes for “altered states of consciousness.” Every possible state of altered consciousness is contained within this state of consciousness you possess right at this very moment.

It’s true we are evolutionarily developed to filter consciousness in a particular way. And most of us assume that this particular way is the only way available. There are methods by which you can learn to filter your consciousness in different ways. And perhaps there is some minor value in knowing that there are other ways of filtering things. But it’s just another sort of filter. It’s the difference between looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses and looking at the world through green-tinted glasses. You’re not getting the true picture either way.

So maybe Ken Wilber really can trance out on Delta waves. I’m more impressed with the guy who can juggle butcher’s knives on a balance board. Look at both videos. Honestly, which one is more impressive to you?


That piece was re-posted by a few people on Facebook. One of the friends of someone who re-posted the piece responded as follows:

If someone is holding themselves out to be a teacher or some kind of adept, I think they should at least be able to do something with an EEG machine. If they can't demonstrate the correlates of at least one of those deeper states, then I don't think they could be said to be adept at any kind of meditation.

There are so many people on the internet claiming enlightenment and claiming non-dual realization, but I think they are referring to many different things, often things not relating to enlightenment or non-duality much at all. It's good to have a way to separate the charlatans from the real McCoys.

I've read this comment a number of times now, and it just baffles me. I'm not sure what to make of it. What's weirder (to me at least) is that a number of other people appear to believe this comment makes sense.

People often ask me how to recognize a good teacher. I'd say that anyone who demonstrates his supposedly deeper mind states by hooking himself to a machine and showing you what the dials say is someone to stay far away from. As for "separat(ing) the charlatans from the real McCoys," such demonstrations would do a tremendous job. Anyone who indulges in them is out to get your money and power.

There seems to be a big push these days to try and find some way to objectively qualify meditation teachers. I've already written extensively about the various organizations that attempt to provide verification of their member teachers. The sentiment expressed above appears to me to be yet another variation of the same general kind of thing.

I really don't even know what to say to this. It's so outside my own means of accessing my teachers that I can't even relate to it. I didn't ask my teachers for test scores or for proof of membership in certain organizations. I just had a feeling. And that's very hard to explain.

I've been reading a book lately called Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. The introduction tells the story of the Getty Museum purchasing what was purported to be an ancient Greek statue. Every objective test they put the statue to verified its authenticity. The dials all registered what they were supposed to. The spectrometers aligned as they should have. Yet when a few people who knew ancient Greek sculpture intimately through personal experience saw the statue they knew at first glance it was a forgery. And it was.

How did they know? The experts themselves had a hard time articulating it. They just kind of knew.

Trust your intuition folks. Objective facts lie.