Tuesday, June 28, 2011

WHY I MATTER


Two articles about me have come to my attention recently. They are:

Why Brad Warner Matters

and

Brad Warner Vs. The Maha Teachers

It's weird to read about yourself. You quickly realize that the "Brad Warner" people write about is not the same guy who does my laundry, stands in line at the DMV for my plates, and eats alone with me at a Taco Bell somewhere off Interstate 35. The "Brad Warner" they write about is some kind of abstraction created by the writers themselves. I have only minimal control over this "Brad Warner."

The fact that I have such little control over "Brad Warner" is the cause of a lot of grief for this Brad Warner. People are constantly nagging me to make that "Brad Warner" more like they think he ought to be. But I can't even make that "Brad Warner" more like what I think he ought to be! I've even seen photos of Noah Levine labeled as "Brad Warner," to give you an idea how little control I have over that "Brad Warner" guy.* Grrr...

Take the those weirdos who chose to write obscene emails to Barry Magid after they read the post I put up a few weeks back. Please! I still don't understand why anyone would do that. It makes no sense at all. Were they trying to be like me? If so, they weren't being like me at all. But possibly they were acting like the "Brad Warner" they had created for themselves. Or, quite possibly, they were people who don't like what I do, who chose to pose as my fans to try and make me look bad. God only knows. I certainly do not.

People constantly demand that I take responsibility for this stuff. But I really can't. It's like saying The Beatles shouldn't have made the White Album because it inspired Charles Manson to kill Sharon Tate. You cannot control the bizarre ways people take what you do. You have a responsibility to present yourself honestly. After that, there's not much else you can do. I'm sorry. There really just is not. I've tried.

In any case, about these new articles. Why Brad Warner Matters is the view of one person schooled in Tibetan Buddhism as to why the "Brad Warner" he has invented for himself matters. It's nice to read what he says. But at the same time, slightly embarrassing to read the quotes he pulls from my books. They're all real quotes. But they certainly aren't the ones I would pull out myself to express what I feel are the core things I wanted to get across in those books. Interesting.

My favorite part of this article is the final line, "I invite you to be like yourself."

The other article, Brad Warner Vs. The Maha Teachers, is about the recent piece I put up regarding the Garrison Institute's Maha Teacher Council.

The most interesting part of this article is not in the article itself but in one of the links it presents to another article by the same writer. This other article is called "Nice" Buddhism. It puts forth the idea that what is being called "Buddhism" in mainstream America these days isn't really Buddhism at all. It's a Buddhist-influenced form of progressive Christianity.

I have long believed this was true. My teacher, Nishijima Roshi, noticed it even more keenly than I did. He used to often lament that what certain Buddhist teachers propagate is not Buddhism at all but a kind of Christianity.

The author likens contemporary American Buddhism to post-hippie politically correct "nice" Christianity. This "Buddhism" ignores the difficult parts of Buddhism and shoehorns the rest into the accepted norms of polite, feel-good Christianity -- but without all that messy Jesus stuff either. So it's neither good Buddhism nor good Christianity, but something that's not quite either one, and above all absolutely inoffensive.

Both of these articles cite my book Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate. The "Brad Warner" people invent as a result of reading that book causes lots of trouble for me. But I think it was really a necessary book.

A couple of points the guy who wrote about "Brad Warner" in Brad Warner Vs The Maha Teachers need qualifying.

He writes, "He has no organization, so he can’t be dismissed as a cult leader." I do have some kind of organization. But it's so disorganized it hardly qualifies. It's true I don't currently have anyone working with me. I read all my own emails, I write all the replies myself, I book all my own speaking events, I don't have a temple of any kind, etc. But some folks out in California are working on setting up a non-profit religious corporation (or whatever you call it) with me as the leader. So maybe I'll develop that into a cult one of these days. (cue laugh track)

He also writes, "He does not charge for teaching, so he can’t be dismissed as a spiritual entrepreneur." This is a tricky point. I do very happily charge for speaking events. That's a perfectly legitimate way for an author to earn a living. I also accept dana (donations) when I speak at Zen centers and lead retreats. I really couldn't do these talks and lead these retreats any other way.

I try to leave monetary considerations out of actual Buddhist teaching as much as possible. That's not because I am so pure and holy. It's because I think that once money gets involved it changes things so radically that Buddhist teaching can't happen. I almost feel like if I could charge money for teaching and still teach I'd probably do it. It's fucking hard work.

Someone asked recently what the difference between Buddhist teaching and therapy is. I said some stuff about the way therapists try to make a person fit in with society, while Buddhists see the value of being able to deal with society. But we question its core values and don't really try to make people fit society's warped mold, only deal with it.

But really, the biggest difference between therapy and Buddhist teaching is that therapists charge for their work. And they should. I wouldn't do that job for free! But this creates certain expectations. When you pay for a service you have a right to demand results. If people start feeling they have the right to demand results from Buddhist teachers, Buddhist teachers can't do their work.

Yet Buddhist teachers have bills to pay just like everyone else. It's hard to figure out where to draw the line. I have not succeeded in finding that just perfect spot to make the division between what I do as a writer/lecturer and what I do as a Buddhist teacher yet. I probably never will. And so the question of whether or not I "charge for teaching" is and will probably always be arguable. Ah well.

Anyway, nice articles.


*The photo of Heaven's Gate cult leader Marshall Applewhite on the top of this article is one of several oddities that came up on a Google image search of "Brad Warner."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Talk At Ordinary Mind Zendo


It's my mom's birthday. So here's a photo of her and me in Nairobi, Kenya on some Christmas in the 70s. Happy Birthday mom, wherever you are!

And before you go making up your own versions of what transpired last Saturday at Ordinary Mind Zendo in New York, please have a listen to the recording of the talk.

For those who may not be seeing that link, here's the URL:

http://hardcorezen.libsyn.com/transference-transmission-adolescence-adulthood-life-and-death

It will also appear shortly on iTunes. Search for Hardcore Zen Podcast. The title will be something like "Transference, Transmission, Adolescence, Adulthood, Life and Death." Last I checked (11 AM EST 6/23/11) it wasn't up yet. But it'll be there soon enough.

By the way, I got a very nice email from Mr Magid explaining his side of what happened. I think I didn't quite grasp how people were feeling about Joko Beck's death. You'll hear that I faltered badly in my attempt at saying something about it at the beginning of the talk. Having botched this, I decided to change gears and go right into what I'd prepared. The talk had been advertised as being about my new book Sex, Sin And Zen. So that's the talk I gave.

In any case, as I said before, I enjoyed this talk. I thought it went really well. Honestly.

And Barry Magid said he got some obscene emails from people who saw this blog. STOP THAT SHIT. Seriously. That's not nice.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Being Grown Up & Europe Tour


First & most importantly: If you have communicated with me by email regarding my upcoming tour of Europe or any other upcoming talks (see this link for details) please write me again. I lost ALL of the emails regarding this tour (as well as hundreds of other emails) when my computer was being worked on at the Apple Store in Summit Mall, Akron, Ohio. Thanks!

Next up, I've been monitoring the comments left about my previous post. It's fascinating. Lots of people seem to believe the post was an effort to enact some kind of revenge upon Barry Magid and the Ordinary Mind Zendo.

In fact, I do not feel vengeful at all. I kind of enjoyed the talk in a perverse way. No. Scratch "kind of." I very much did enjoy it. It was fun. I'm not angry at all. I'm mostly just confused.

There were a few people who took the opportunity to trash talk Mr Magid and his group. Since I don't censor those who trash talk me (and there are always plenty) I don't censor those who trash talk anyone else. But please don't read my not censoring them as some kind of expression of support on my part. I do not censor anyone. I really don't know what to think of the whole thing. People are mysterious. Most people's actions make no sense to me. This talk was just another in a long list of things I've participated in that I couldn't understand.

I thought the email I published was interesting. The writer's opinions seem to match those of the two people from the film crew who are doing a documentary about me who were also there. These film crew people had never seen me speak anywhere before and had never read any of my books. They also suspected the event had been set up as a way for the Mr Magid to attack me in public.

At the time I didn't feel I was being attacked or set up. Not exactly. I felt like I was being challenged by the woman who raised the question about "transference." I felt that Mr Magid's question about my "acting like a perpetual adolescent and refusing to become an adult" was extraordinarily rude. It would have been rude coming from anyone. But it was especially so coming from the leader of the community who invited me to speak.

This did not make me angry, just confused. Why would someone behave that way? It was weird. I still don't know. I've written to Mr Magid. Maybe he'll tell me. Maybe he won't. Maybe even if he tells me I still won't understand. Who knows? And, really, who cares?

In any case, I would like to speak to the matter of "acting like a perpetual adolescent and refusing to become an adult." Some of this will be what I said last Saturday. Some will not.

This is actually something I've heard before. In fact, I hear it quite often. I have put some thought into the matter and have decided that I do not, in fact, act like a perpetual adolescent and refuse to become an adult.

Yet there are times I wonder if it's true. I wonder if I really have somehow failed to become an adult. But then I have to write a check to my insurance company, file my taxes, take out my trash, plan a speaking tour of Europe, deal with divorce-related matters, fix my car, etc., etc., etc. I left my parents' house when I was 18 years old and have been living on my own ever since. I have actually managed to become an adult quite nicely, thank you very much for your concern.

I think this relates to something that happened to me a few years ago when I first started teaching Zen. One of the older guys in Nishijima Roshi's group took me aside and said he thought I did not take Zen very seriously. He found my attitude too light-hearted for his liking. He said that, for him, Zen was "a matter of life and death."

At the time all I could do was sort of wimper in response. This was someone I respected, someone I thought of as a friend. His tone was extremely angry. It made me sad. It made me confused.

But then I thought, fuck you. Fuck you. This is not an angry "fuck you," by the way, for those of you unfamiliar with uses of this phrase other than to express anger. It is a way of expressing that what someone has said about you is entirely wrong.

I do take Zen very seriously. It is the most serious thing in my life. And my attitude is a manifestation of just how seriously I take it.

I realized during my teenage years that my life might get cut short very quickly by a really nasty disease that ran in my family. At that point it became urgent for me to find out what life was really about. I jumped into my Zen training with an almost desperate sense of urgency and seriousness.

I have one life and one life only. I refuse to waste it. I don't care if the way I choose to live does not measure up to the way you imagine I ought to live. I don't have the time to waste on caring about that kind of trivia.

To me, what Buddha was really looking for was a way to live a life that doesn't suck. Hedonism didn't work because hedonism sucked. It looked like fun, but it really wasn't. Austerity sucked too. It provided a kind of high, but that high didn't make him happy. Instead he found the Middle Way between the two.

Buddha was not looking for a way to make all of us clones of whoever comes along claiming to be the manifestation of "adulthood." He was not looking for a way to make us all "serious" in the conventional sense. He wasn't an authoritarian leader looking for obedient followers. He was looking for a way to help people live a life that did not suck.

Buddhism is about enjoying your life. The goal of zazen practice, if there is one, is to learn how to enjoy living as thoroughly as you can. This is what I am working on. Nothing else. I am working on having as much fun while I'm here as I possibly can without hurting anyone or impeding their ability to have fun.

This is why I sit and stare at walls every day. No other reason.

And that's my bottom line.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Someone Else's Impressions of My Talk at Ordinary Mind Zendo in New York Last Weekend


After my talk last weekend at Ordinary Mind Zendo in New York, I posted my status on Facebook as :"Weirdest. Zen talk. Ever." Lots of people asked what that meant. I was considering writing up my impressions of the event. But before I even got started I received an email from a guy who had been there. He attached an email he sent to some of his friends about the event. I asked if I could reproduce it on this blog. He said OK as long as I kept him anonymous.

So here it is, one anonymous person's impressions of my talk at Ordinary Mind Zendo on Saturday June 18, 2011. Take it away anonymous:



...totally by coincidence i went to 'ordinary mind zendo' (nyc branch of joko's teachings) on saturday to hear brad warner talk about his new book 'sex, sin and zen.' the zendo is actually an upper west side apartment, very beautifully polished and japanified with a lovely enclosed garden patio.

there had been a funeral service in the morning before i got there and there was a table out in the garden with a lovely photo of joko beck and flowers, incense, etc. with the surrounding garden it reminded me of one of those grottos with shrines to the virgin mary. i read joko's books long ago when they first came out but i couldn't remember anything about them. i know she's much loved--er--she was much loved. brad warner didn't have much to say about her except that he had imagined her to be much younger--as had i, but i see by the wiki that she was in her 40's before she started doing zen.

i don't think i've gone to see a 'spiritual teacher' in years and years (and i exempt the dalai lama as more of an international monument like the eiffel tower where i think 'i live in an era where instead of climbing the mountains into secret tibet i can just buy a ticket to the beacon theater'); but i do go to hear authors read and there's a lot i've liked about brad warner's cheezy books. i also like that he's very outspoken about the big mind fraud and when there was a huge furor about genpo's sex life, brad said the sex was no big deal, that genpo was charging rich people $50,000 for 'big mind' training was the real scandal.

brad is in his mid 40's but looks like he's in his 30's. he was wearing a black tee shirt with "shoplifting from american apparel" printed in white on the front. it turns out that's the name of a novel and he's acting in a movie being made from it.

i would say this was a case of the guy being exactly like the author--he's not real charismatic, he makes terrible puns and giggles at them, he's confessional to a fault; his views are clear and consistent. he lived in japan for 11 years and is Nishijima Roshi's chosen dharma heir--he's studied dogen and is steeped in the zen culture--but his affect is as if someone selected a guy out of a crowd at random and dubbed him a zen master. i suppose this could be seen as a cultivated act, but my impression is it's quite genuine. he read a little bit from the book and tried to engage the group in conversation.

i would like to live in that beautiful polished apartment, but my impressions of the group weren't so great. i arrived at 11:40, as told, for a noon talk. when i stepped in nobody said anything to me, i said hello to a few people and they ignored me. everyone was sitting on zafus chatting, and all the spaces were taken, so i finally just stood in one place. after about 10 minutes a nice guy introduced himself and showed me a place to sit, but soon after i sat down a woman came and said that was her place. brad apologized for missing the morning zazen. barry magrid (psychoanalyst and zen teacher who heads up the zendo) said, 'with that shirt we would have thrown you out. it's inappropriate for a funeral.' if he was joking, it didn't come across that way and nobody laughed.

brad did his reading and talked a little--his theme had to do with sex and authority and how the zen teacher's practice is to deny and undercut his own authority and the student's desire to have an authority (pretty standard zenspeak i'd say)--and then opened the floor for questions. a woman announced that she was a psychotherapist and reminded brad that barry magrid was also a psychotherapist (brad winced and said something about being very afraid). she started talking about--actually said, "we call it 'the tranference'"-- and how painful to her brad's 'glib tone' was because he wasn't taking seriously the transference relationship.

i think i mentioned to you recently the wittgenstein workbook question, 'does the fact that someone feels strongly about something make it more likely to be true?' i was sitting a couple of feet away from brad and i felt the attack vibrations: 'i'm in pain so you must be wrong' kind of force. she contrasted his attitude with her own, which was to take her work very seriously. brad said that he was basically trying to give an entertaining talk; that his zen teaching would take place one-on-one or in a small group where he knew people well. then the other psychotherapist--barry magrid--said, 'do you think that unresolved problems in your childhood might have something to do with your acting like a perpetual adolescent and refusing to become an adult?' so, i thought, the head of the zendo had said two things to his guest speaker and they were both public insults.

in zen circles brad warner is pretty famous and it seems to me that barry magrid would have known what he was getting. was the invitation to speak an opportunity for him to put brad down? that's what it seemed like to me. it would have been more honest to invite him to a debate. i felt that he was put on the defensive and was a little shaky because of it--but perhaps it's typical experience for him. there's endless talk in some zen places about how wild and iconoclastic zen is, but the tiniest departure from conservative behavior is greeted with gasps and condemnation.

someone asked brad 'why do you teach?' and after saying he didn't know a few times he basically boiled it down to that his teacher had asked him to (and sort of tricked him into it) and that he needed a job and thought he could maybe get by giving talks and writing books (he also has a punk band but i get the impression it's not a money-maker). this seemed pretty honest to me. i also feel like most (not all) of the problems about zen and authority and sex would be cleared up by eliminating the job of teacher. then meditation would be communicated like sewing or carpentry--but, of course, this is idealism on my part and, anyway, i'm sure there are institutes of sewing and carpentry where authority rages.

i can't resist the urge to pick up on one other thing he talked about briefly which is the organization of the "zen community." i wanted to draw the parallel to yoga. 30 years ago (or so) the American yogis started campaigning for certification. the Indian yogis weren't really into it. they had the long tradition of a teacher deciding when a student was ready to teach, and a sort of freewheeling mode without any central organization. iyengar, one of the biggest of the Indian teachers--said if person practiced ten postures they could teach ten postures. but there is no money in that, and the Americans kept pressuring their teachers, saying there had to be "standards." nowadays of course yoga is a completely bogus practice that has nothing to do with it's aims or origins, but everybody is certified. i hope brad will keep up his protest.

Friday, June 17, 2011

New York, Sex Sin & Zen Review, 1-2-5

Where I'll be this weekend:

• Dharma talk Sat. 6/18 at Noon (12pm) at Ordinary Mind Zendo 107 West 74th St between Columbus & Amsterdam Aves Apt. BR New York, NY 10023

• Reading on Sat. 6/18 at 8pm Melville House 145 Plymouth Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Nice review of my new book:

http://www.modern-dharma.net/2011/01/sex-sin-and-zen-book-review/

Cool video:



Link to the video if you can't see it: http://youtu.be/KZXkzao9KvA

Interview with Scott Edelstein that says stuff about my first Zen teacher:

http://sweepingzen.com/2011/04/21/sex-and-the-spiritual-teacher-an-interview-with-scott-edelstein/

I'm going off now to film more of Shoplifting From American Apparel....

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

NEW INTERVIEW & SHOPLIFTING FROM AMERICAN APPAREL STUFF

Here's a new interview with me on Reality Sandwich. It's at:

http://t.co/bGVxTGH

I don't think I actually said "look" that much.

Here's an article about the filming of Shoplifting From American Apparel in Youngstown. It's at:

http://www.wkbn.com/content/news/local/story/Film-Crew-Shoots-Movie-Scene-at-Boardman-PD/dxeurPWfNk63MFOGuOf9ZA.cspx

Here are some photos from the shooting:

Jam session with most of the cast and crew.

On the beach in Mentor, Ohio with (L-R) Noah Cicero, Me, Jordan Castro and Pirooz Kaleyah

Me in the helmet-mounted "Cassavetes Cam" trying to get a clandestine shot inside America Apparel itself. Watch the film to see what transpired.

The Shoplifting Band with me doing David Bowie/Mick Ronson "licking the lead guitarist as he solos" thing. Jordan Castro (actor/associate producer) on acoustic guitar, Zowie on rhythm guitar, Mark Parsia (producer/actor) on drums, Sonny Mishra (actor/composer) on lead guitar, me on bass

We are on our way to New York City in a few minutes for more shooting there. I think New York will be even more fun than Youngstown!

For more on the movie go to http://shikow.blogspot.com/

If you're in New York and want to hear me talk about Zen and stuff, come see me on Saturday:

Saturday June 18th at Noon at Ordinary Mind Zendo
107 West 74th Street
between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues
Apt. BR
New York, NY 10023
T 917-608-3348

(zazen starts at 10 am, talk comes after that)

Monday, June 13, 2011

APPOLOGIES TO THE GARRISON INSTITUTE


Last weekend I was contacted by Erin Koch of the Garrison Institute, the people who put on the Buddhist Maha Teacher Council I wrote about on Suicide Girls. She said:


"I respect and appreciate the teachers I have worked with for the past year I also respect difference and open communication. I am very sorry you did not receive your invitation. I have a record of your invitation (Dec. 9).

"I do wish you had corrected your blog and facebook page to reflect the truth. Criticism of the event aside, you were invited and your contributions would have been welcome. Noah Levine asked me to invite you which I did on Dec 9. I think of you as sangha and I want the dharma to be of benefit to us all.

"I feel that your post has given the Garrison Institute a negative appearance to many people who had not previously heard of us and this is upsetting to me. Critiquing the event would have been fair and interesting, but suggesting we are closed network that excluded you is just not correct. Even if you had not been invited, you could have contacted us. Many teachers that were unintentionally excluded from the invite list asked to come and none were turned down.

"I wish you and your students all the best and harbor no bad feeling."


So first off, I apologize to Erin Koch and the Garrison Institute for unintentionally misrepresenting them. I don't recall receiving their invitation. But if she says they sent me one, then they must have sent me one. So I was wrong when I said they didn't invite me -- although I didn't know I'd been invited.

But my being invited or not wasn't really the point of the article. I'd wanted to write about the Maha Council event from the first time I heard about it, which was about one week before the event happened. That seems to be about the time they went public with the fact that it was happening, at least as far as I have been able to find out.

When someone on Facebook asked if I was criticizing the event because I was "butt hurt" at having not been invited, I thought that was a good angle to use to say what I wanted to say. Judging by the comments the article received both here and at Suicide Girls, and the emails I got about it, it seems like most readers understood that my not having been invited (or so I thought) was not the main point.

Most of what I wanted to say about the event was covered before I even wrote my article in Marnie Louise Froberg's blog post. It's a bit long. But I think she's on the right track.

My objections to the Maha Teacher's Council probably had as much to do with the event's title as anything else. To call something a Maha Teacher's Council seems to be an attempt to relate it back to the very earliest council's held by Gautama Buddha's followers after Gautama's death. These meetings were intended to unify the teachings and to create a single religion based on what the man had said. In a way that might have been the beginning of the end for Buddhism. But, on the other hand, we wouldn't have Buddha's teachings today if not for those early Maha Teacher's Councils. Stephen Batchelor's new book Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist really does a good job of addressing this particular issue.

I have mixed feelings about these kinds of events. But since it seems to me that most of the people in American Buddhism Land are falling all over themselves to applaud them, I wanted to point out the other side. I feel there is a real danger of people wanting to set up some kind of an American Buddhist Vatican. I truly believe they will eventually succeed in doing so. It's not there yet. But the seeds have been sown. I would like to be remembered as one of the voices that opposed this.

For those who may be wondering, yes, I probably would have gone to the event if I'd received the invitation. I'd have wanted to see how it worked. I'd have wanted to be able to report my findings. I'd have been just as skeptical if they'd invited me as I was when I believed they had not. But saying anything more than that would be to enter into the realm of speculation, and you can't really learn much there.

So I do apologize to the Garrison Institute for misrepresenting them. I suppose I could have asked to join since Ms Koch says, "Many teachers that were unintentionally excluded from the invite list asked to come and none were turned down." But I only heard about it a scant six or seven days before it began. I couldn't possibly have gone at that point even if I'd wanted to. I have to assume the unintentionally excluded teachers she refers to either lived in upstate New York or were independently wealthy and free in their schedules. Good for them!

Still, I think it's absolutely necessary to look critically at events like this and ask important questions about them.

Anyway, my computer is in the shop and I'm writing this on an old machine I keep as a back-up. It's really sluggish and unwieldy so I'm going to stop here.

If you're in New York and want to talk to me about any of this come see me on Saturday:

Saturday June 18th at Noon at Ordinary Mind Zendo
107 West 74th Street
between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues
Apt. BR
New York, NY 10023
T 917-608-3348

(zazen starts at 10 am, talk comes after that)

Thursday, June 09, 2011

UNINVITED TO THE BUDDHIST PARTY


I have a new blog up at the Suicide Girls safe-for-work site. So go look at it!

The article is about the Garrison Institute sponsored Buddhist "Maha Council" going on right now in upstate New York. Marnie Louise Froberg wrote this very incisive critique of the event. Although it's quite long, it's worth reading, I think. My own critique over at Suicide Girls is not quite as cutting as her's.

I don't agree with absolutely everything Marnie says in her piece. But the stuff she says addresses pretty much all of my own concerns about this gathering and gatherings like it. And I agree with most of her opinions. In my own piece I tried to steer away from re-stating what she already said more eloquently.

For those of you who still can't access the SG SFW site, I'll re-post my piece here in a couple days.

Enjoy.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

HAPPY 70th BIRTHDAY DAN WARNER!


Today, June 5, 2011, is my dad's 70th birthday. お誕生日お目出度う, dad.

My dad's been a really important part of my life. As are all dads in the lives of those of us who have dads. Which is all of us. Even those who don't know their dads. But I know mine. Or at least I think I do.

My dad's done a lot of stuff that readers of this blog ought to thank him for. I wouldn't have turned out the way I did had he not made some pretty unusual decisions in his life.

When I was just eight years old and my sister was six, my dad was working for the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. He was right there in corporate headquarters in Akron, Ohio working a respectable middle class job like a good dad does to provide for his family. One day his boss asked him if he would consider packing us all up and moving us to Nairobi, Kenya. He generously gave my dad a weekend to decide.

Now you kids out there have to understand this was way before the Internets were even a twinkle in Al Gore's eye. We were living in Wadsworth, Ohio, a teenie tiny little town without even a well-stocked library. My dad barely knew where to find Kenya on a map. His only sources of reliable information were the World Book Encyclopedia and a couple of people at Firestone he didn't know all that well who had been over to Nairobi. At least they said it was an OK place.

On the basis of this and my mom's enthusiasm for adventure, my dad moved us all out to Africa where we spent a little over three years. If I'd spent those three years, from ages eight to eleven, in Wadsworth, Ohio with its Saturday morning cartoons, its shopping malls and its population of proudly White Americans who do not question their God or their government I would have turned out a totally different person from who I am today. Thank you dad, for saving me from that fate.

I'm not sure my dad ever really understood my fascination with monster movies, rock and roll guitar and Zen. My mom was the arsty one. But he never said a word to try and dissuade me from pursuing the things I loved. He bought me my first guitar and my first bass.

And my dad paid my way through college. Can you imagine that? He decided some time early in my and my sister's childhoods that neither of us would take out loans for our Bachelor's degrees. Some of my friends are still paying off their college loans. But I'm not. Amazing. I can't thank him enough for that.

When my mom became ill dad took it upon himself to care for her. He didn't want her languishing in some medical facility. He made sure that she was with him in her own home right till the end. Lots of people with spouses that have the condition my mom did dump their spouses and don't look back. Not my dad. The sacrifices he made for her... Aw jeez, I'm tearing up just writing about it. Read Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate if you want some more details.

There's so much more I could say. But I'd rather go downstairs and hang out with the man himself. You'll excuse me. Thanks!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

GALVESTON, HOUSTON, DOGEN and BUDDHIST CLERGY


I've just returned from three days of gallavanting in Galveston, Texas. There was lots of sun, lots of surf, lots of camping equipment. My sister and her husband bought themselves an RV and parked down there at an RV park.

Before that I was at the Houston Zen Center with the incredible Gaelyn Godwin. I gave two talks in one day, something I usually try to avoid. The first talk, at around 10 am was about Dogen's statement that:

"Although realization is not like any of the thoughts preceding it, this is not because such thoughts were actually bad and could not be realization. Past thoughts in themselves were already realization. But since you were seeking elsewhere, you thought and said that thoughts cannot be realization. However, it is worth noticing that what you think one way or another is not a help for realization. Then you are cautious not to be small-minded. If realization came forth by the power of your prior thoughts, it would not be trustworthy. Realization does not depend on thoughts, but comes forth far beyond them. Realization is helped only by the power of realization itself. Know that then there is no delusion and there is no realization."

This comes from Kaz Tanahashi's translation. The rest of this passage can be found here. That is, if I didn't mess up the link. Nishijima Roshi's translation is a bit better. But I don't have a link for that, unfortunately.

I recorded the talk and maybe one of these days it'll end up in a podcast. Is anyone listening to these? I think John Graves is doing a tremendous job with them.

The second talk was about my growing feeling that perhaps we really don't need Buddhist clergy anymore -- if we ever did in the first place. The talk was partly based on an article called Church Without Clergy. This article examines the problem of clergy from the Protestant Christian perspective. But most of what the author says could be applied to Buddhism as well.

A lot has been written in books like Scott Edelstein's Sex and the Spiritual Teacher: Why It Happens, When It's a Problem, and What We All Can Do and even my own latest book Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between about the problem of power differential when so-called "spiritual teachers" have sex with so-called "students." I got into a conversation recently with my first Zen teacher about this. And during the conversation the idea emerged (I can't recall from which of us, probably from him) that perhaps the problem is not how to deal with this power differential, but that there is any power differential at all involved. It does not need to be that way. This is a problem that goes far beyond any considerations of student/teacher sex and into the entire structure of Buddhist clergy.

It's a big topic and I've been trying hard to write an article about it. So far I have failed miserably. So you won't be reading that one today. But I think it's a very important subject.

I recorded that talk too. And maybe one of these days it will also end up in a podcast.

I also got to spend some time with my friend Christine Buckley. She writes a blog called Seeking Shama that is very good and wonderful and great. I keep forgetting to plug it here. Sorry Christine!

We ate ice cream and looked at bad art.