A few days ago a writer for Huffington Post named me as one of twelve Buddhists to follow on Twitter. Ever since that article appeared, people have been adding me like mad. Since I usually post links on Twitter to any new blog post I put up here, I thought I’d take the time to write a little intro to this blog for all those potential new readers.
I started the prototype for what became this blog about ten years ago. At that time I didn’t even know the word “blog.” It was a website that I updated once a week with a new article. Many of those early articles formed the foundation of my first book Hardcore Zen. Sometime later I found out I didn’t need to spend hours and hours writing HTML format, that there were lots of free on-line thingies that would do that for me. And thus this blog in its current form was born.
I try to update it about every three days. Unfortunately I don’t have something profound to say every three days. I know Zen teachers who refuse to give dharma talks more than once a month. They’re smart. Preachers give sermons once a week in general. Also a good idea. Profundity every three days? It ain’t gonna happen.
So sometimes this blog is about something I think is important. Sometimes it’s about Buddhism. Other times it’s about a book I’m reading. Or it’s a link to a video I found. Often it’s a list of upcoming live appearances. People get annoyed by my use of the blog for promotion. But I can’t understand why. If I don’t promote my speaking appearances here, then who’s going to promote them? And where?
I don’t really make money from this blog. I’ve heard that lots of people make tons of cash from writing blogs. I wish I had a clue how that’s done. I have a few ads here. But they generate laughably small revenue. I think I cleared $75 last year from blog ads. I installed a donation button last year and that brings in a bit more. In fact some people have been really surprisingly generous. Since my books don’t generate a huge income, those donations really help.
I’m up in Arcata, California right now to give some talks and lead a day-long zazen retreat. Here’s the link to info about that and here is a link to a list of other upcoming appearances (note the plug). That link, by the way, is always on the left side of this page at the very top of the list of links.
The guy I’m staying with said to me, “Whenever I think of your blog I just think of Whack the Dalai Lama!” He is referring to an article I put up here several years back called Whack the Dalai Lama. It upset a lot of people.
But the reason that article upset people – if you want my analysis – is because they didn’t read anything except the title. The title came from a song by The Dickies. What I wrote in that article was about how I, in fact, did not want to whack the Dalai Lama. I consider Mr. Lama to be a basically decent human being but also to be fairly irrelevant to me in terms of my life as a Buddhist. The article was about fame and celebrity and how that can get in the way of real spiritual practice.
What I’m trying to get at here is that this blog sometimes seems to upset people. No matter how many times I say this people don’t believe it, but I swear to God that 90% of the time this blog upsets people I have no clue why. People assume I am trying to be controversial. But I almost never am. In fact the few times I deliberately attempt to be shocking nobody seems to notice. It’s almost always when I say things that to me seem incredibly obvious that people get upset. Like in the aforementioned Dalai Lama bit. The song I referenced in the title is over a decade old for gosh sakes! (Here are the full lyrics by the way)
Which brings us to the comments section of this blog. In 2009, Tricycle magazine published an article called Dharma Wars. The article talked about the phenomenon of flame wars on various Buddhist blogs. This very blog you’re reading now was singled out for special attention. The writer says, “Warner’s posts often draw hundreds of comments from readers, some of whom throw insults at each other—and at Warner—with abandon.” Then he goes on to completely misconstrue a few things I’ve said about why I think that happens. So it goes.
In any case, enter the comments section of this blog at your own risk. It should start to get a little better, though. Because as of yesterday the comments section is now being moderated. A guy who regularly reads it was complaining of how incredibly awful it had gotten. So I asked him if he wanted to be the moderator. He did and now he is. But he prefers to remain anonymous. I can understand why.
I’ve asked him to only delete comments that are wildly inappropriate or obviously spam. He discovered that my spam filter was actually filtering out real comments. So some of you who were getting deleted by the spam filter will now be heard. But people who just want to post irrelevant nonsense will have those comments deleted. I’m not asking him to delete comments by people who disagree with me, though. So go ahead and dissent all you want.
As for me... my info is all listed in the link under the "Who Wrote This" section to your left. It says, "I'm a Zen monk, writer, bass player and film-maker. I wrote the books Sex, Sin and Zen, Hardcore Zen, Sit Down And Shut Up and Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate. I received Dharma Transmission from Gudo Nishijima Roshi, who received his transmission from Rempo Niwa Roshi who was the head of the Soto Sect in Japan. I was also a student of Tim McCarthy, who was a student of Kobun Chino Roshi. I enjoy getting your e-mails. But please be aware, if you send me e-mail, I may use it in a blog either here or on Suicide Girls." I write for Suicide Girls too, by the way.
So there you go. There’s your introduction to the blog.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Monday, July 25, 2011
Suicide is stupid.
When I heard that my friend David Coady killed himself, I posted a link to an obituary about him followed by the words, “suicide is stupid.”
I was not trying to say that people who commit suicide are lacking in mental capacity. David Coady was a very smart guy. Maybe too damn smart for his own good. Lots of people who commit suicide are too damn smart for their own good.
I was trying to insult suicide. I was trying to hurt suicide like suicide has hurt me. I could have said, “suicide sucks.” But that didn’t seem to get it. I could have said, “suicide is shit.” But I didn’t think that would be understood. So I said, “suicide is stupid.”
I’m not exactly sure where I first met David Coady. It was probably at the San Francisco Zen Center during one of the times I gave a talk there. But I do clearly remember the first time I really bonded with him. I was walking around Tassajara breaking the rule of not singing by quietly singing the chorus to a Bob Dylan song called Odds And Ends. It’s from his Basement Tapes album. The final line of the chorus is, “lost time will not be found again.”
That line reminded me of the poem that’s carved into all of the hans at Tassajara. A han is a little wooden board that’s struck with a wooden mallet to call people to zazen or other events. On each one is written a translation of the following Chinese poem.
Shou ji ji dai
Mu jou jin soku
Kou in oshimu beshi
Toki hitowo matazu
(This Japanese phonetic translation does not follow the Chinese exactly)
Great is the matter of Birth and death
Life slips quickly by
To waste time is a great shame
Time waits for no one
There are different translations on each han at Tassajara. I’ve posted a photo of the han that was nearest to my room when I stayed there last summer. I wrote a piece about this poem last year.
David immediately recognized what I was singing. He told me that he was a great fan of Dylan. He said that before he moved to Tassajara he’d had a massive collection of CDs. The only ones he’d brought with him were a set of bootlegs of rare Dylan recordings, many from the same sessions that produced the Basement Tapes album. He asked if I wanted to copy them. I did. And the copies of those files are still on the computer I’m using to write this.
Later on a fire swept through the valley in which Tassajara is located. A small group of monks stayed behind and saved most of the monastery from burning. Only a couple of structures burned. One of those was David’s cabin. All of his Bob Dylan CDs melted into goo.
Some time later I bought David a copy of a book called Million Dollar Bash. It’s all about the sessions that produced that Dylan album. I gave the book to him the next time I saw him at the Zen Center.
Maybe a year ago David Coady attempted suicide at the San Francisco Zen Center. He failed that time. I can’t remember if I gave him the book before or after that. I also can’t remember if I copied those Dylan songs off my hard drive onto CDs for him. I think I did. My memory is shit. Always has been. As long as I can remember, anyway.
I know I didn’t see David more than a couple times after his suicide attempt. I know that at least one of the times we talked, the subject came up and we swiftly moved on to other topics. It seemed like it was deeply embarrassing to him.
David Coady was a funny guy. He should have gone on the road with a stand-up act. I told him that once and he said people were always telling him that. He said he didn’t feel he had it in him to talk in front of people. But he was naturally funny and always poignantly so. He was from Boston and talked in a really heavy Boston accent.
I’m very sad that he’s gone now.
Suicide is stupid
Posted by Brad Warner at 6:53 AM
Friday, July 22, 2011
I just put up a brand new page about my current Zen tour. For those of you who aren't seeing that link, the page is:
That link will always be available on the left side of this blog about halfway down.
A couple things. First off, Gerd Wessling who is organizing my retreat in Bielefeld, Germany on Oct 27-30, 2011 wanted me to remind you that there's still lots of spaces left. You can sign up by going to the following page:
There are several other retreats on that page with links to their respective sign up sites. I'll be in Germany, The Netherlands, England, France and Belgium.
You will also notice a lot of these dates are incomplete. That's because I don't have the information. If you are organizing one of these dates and you don't see any specific info on the location or a website to contact etc., that means I don't have that information. How am I even gonna get to your place if I don't know where it is? Please send me the relevant info. Thanks!
Posted by Brad Warner at 8:16 AM
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
First off, The Zero Defex will play this Thursday night (July 21, 2011) at the Beachland Tavern 15711 Waterloo Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44110. We're headlining. Before us you'll see Marky Ray and 100,000 Leagues Under My Nutsack. I can't get those MySpace pages to load on my computer. But maybe you can.
Next up, the folks at Dogen Sangha Los Angeles have uploaded yet another video from the interviews they taped with me last year. It's about time:
If you can't see that, go to http://youtu.be/SYRNr8Y-hpA
When I say it's about time, it really is about time. The interviewer asked me to explain my understanding of time, so I did.
What I'm saying in this video is my caveman interpretation of Dogen's 有時 (uji) or "Being Time." Here is Gudo Nishijima's translation and commentary on Uji. Here is Kazuaki Tanahashi's translation. And here is an exhaustive comparison of several different translations of Uji. Phew!
Watching this video for the very first time last night (I never watched it after it was taped), I realize I sound like I'm contradicting myself. First I say that there's no way we can undo what we've done in the past. And then I say that the past may be changeable.
I was trying to squeeze a huge number of concepts into something that could be edited into a short video. I'm not suggesting at the end of the video that it actually is possible to go back and change your past. It's not. This is why you have to act very carefully here and now. Nothing you do in this moment can be undone later on.
At the same time, we assume that the past is a solid unchanging single thing. But I suspect it isn't. And whether it is or it isn't doesn't matter much. In practical real world terms, the past is constantly changing. All we have to refer to when speaking of the past is our memories and our incomplete physical records of events (documents, photos, video tapes, etc.). These documents don't record the past in its entirety. And our impressions gleaned from viewing them are not at all the same as the impressions of the people who were there at the event.
For example, here's a video of Zero Defex playing our song Two Minute Hate at The Dale, a bar in Akron, sometime in early 1983. This isn't the best example. But on parts of the video this was excerpted from, The Dale looks positively huge. This is because it's dark in the club and one tends to assume the camera must be somewhere in the middle of the place. In fact the camera person was backed up against the front wall of the place. She was as far away from the band as she could possibly get. Which means she was about seven feet away from us.
My memories of the place are somewhat different from this video. And yet my memories of the place have now been changed by seeing the video, which I had not seen at all before 2005. So it's hard to say what's real. The actual event is gone. Are my memories correct? Or is the mechanically preserved image correct? It's hard to say. The camera saw a perspective of what happened that I could not see at the time. It's in front of the band, whereas I was over to the extreme right of the screen (I don't appear on camera at all in this clip). The camera was not playing bass at the time either.
Dogen believed that being and time were the same thing. We are not entities who exist within time. We are time itself. This view of what we are is radically different from the view we are used to.
Dogen also believed that all of time is contained in this single moment. The entire past and the entire future are right here.
And yet our experience of time is one of being cut off from all other moments of time and all other places in space except where we are right now.
In conclusion, TIME IS WEIRD. So don't take it for granted that it's exactly the way you think it is.
And that's about as deep as I can get on a hot and sweaty morning in Akron, Ohio.
Posted by Brad Warner at 7:20 AM
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
I recently got into a fairly ridiculous debate on Facebook with some people who think that psychedelic drugs can get you to the same place as meditation. I don’t really know why I bothered. Except that people who advocate this position are so passionate about it and it’s really easy to pull their chains. It makes them crazy when someone with meditation experience disagrees. It's like when you bother a fire ant mound.
During the discussion, one of the supporters of drug abuse as a way to gain spiritual insight started in with the time worn cliché that drugs are like taking a helicopter to the top of a mountain rather than climbing it. You get the same breathtaking view as someone who has climbed the mountain. But you get there much quicker and more easily. “You can’t deny it’s exactly the same view,” one guy said. But, in fact, I would unequivocally deny that it’s the same view. It’s not. Not at all.
Metaphors always fall apart if you press them too much. But I like this one because it shows exactly what the problem is when you start saying drugs will do for you the same thing as meditation but faster and without all the muss and fuss.
Let’s say you met a veteran mountaineer with over a quarter century of climbing experience, a person who has written books on mountain climbing and routinely personally instructs others in the art of climbing. And let’s imagine what would happen if you tried to convince this guy that people who take helicopters to the tops of mountains get everything that mountain climbers get and get it a whole lot easier.
The mountain climber would certainly tell you that the breathtaking view a guy who takes a helicopter to the top of a mountain gets is not in any way, shape or form the same view that a person who climbs the mountain herself gets.
To the mountain climber, the guy in the helicopter is just a hyperactive thrill seeker who wants nothing more than to experience a pretty view without putting any effort into it. The helicopter guy thinks the goal of mountain climbing is to be on top of the mountain and that climbing is an inefficient way to accomplish this goal. He just doesn’t get it. At all.
The helicopter guy misses out on the amazing sights there are to see on the way up. He doesn’t know the thrill of mastering the mountain through his own efforts. He doesn’t know the hardships and dangers involved in making the climb. And he’ll never know the awesome wonder of descending the mountain back into familiar territory. All he’s done is given some money to a person who owns a helicopter. He probably couldn’t even find the mountain himself, let alone make it to the top. When there are no helicopters around, the poor guy is helplessly grounded.
If the helicopter guy claims that he has reached the same place as the mountain climber, the mountain climber knows in ways the helicopter guy can’t even fathom that the helicopter guy is a fool.
To a mountain climber, the goal of mountain climbing is not the moment of sitting on top enjoying the view. That’s just one small part of the experience. It may not even be the best part. To a mountain climber, every view, from every point on the mountain is significant and wonderful.
People who think that the pinnacle of the experience is that moment of being right on the tippy-top, don’t understand the experience at all. The poor attention addled things probably never will.
What I am working on in meditation involves every single moment of life. So-called “peak experiences” can be fun. But they no more define what life is about that so-called “mundane experiences.” When you start making such separations, you have already lost the most precious thing in life, the ability to fully immerse yourself in every experience.
No. Taking a helicopter to the top of a mountain is not at all the same thing as climbing it for yourself. To insist that it is proves that you don’t understand the first thing about mountains.
My attitude about drug use and its relationship to spiritual experience has been characterized as intolerant and fundamentalist. One clever-trousers on Twitter said, “Brad Warner's shadows are bigger than Genpo Roshi's. The guy is so blind he probably shouldn't even have a driver’s license.” Whatever that’s supposed to mean. But my attitude has no more to do with fundamentalism or conservativism than our fictional mountain climber’s attitude about rich, hasty pleasure junkies who take joy rides in helicopters. It is unambiguously clear that drugs and meditation cannot take you to the same place simply by the very nature of the experiences. They are not even in the same league of things. The comparison between the two is entirely spurious and unworthy of examination.
People who say these things about drugs and meditation may have tried drugs but most have never really attempted much meditation. Oh maybe they’ve gone to a handful of yoga classes and done shavasana. Or maybe they’ve been to a Vipassana retreat or even rented a cabin at Tassajara one summer. But they don’t have any real depth of experience with meditation to compare to their drug experiences.
I’ve run the mountain metaphor into the ground. So I’ll stop here. I’ll leave it to the people in the comments section to come up with unnecessary and wrong-headed further variations on the metaphor (like talking about the views you can get from helicopters that mountain climbers can't see or some such dumb ass thing -- metaphors can only be stretched so far before they become absurd).
But here is a brilliant song (probably) about drugs by Gene Clark:
Posted by Brad Warner at 7:52 AM
Saturday, July 09, 2011
First, I got quoted by a Huffington Post writer about Kalachakra, a big feel-good "Buddhist" festival going on right now in Washington DC. Here's the article: http://tinyurl.com/3texsfo.
I just returned from spending four days at Starwood, a pagan festival held in the Wisteria campgrounds in Pomeroy, Ohio. They had wifi there, which surprised me. But I was there to present two workshops and also to gather some data of my own, so I didn't spend much time on the web.
This festival is held by a group called A.C.E., the Association for Consciousness Exploration. Near as I can tell from simply walking around, watching and listening (and not doing any in depth research at all), ACE appears to be a group of older hippie guys who did a lot of their exploration of consciousness back in the sixties and seventies through ingesting large amounts of psychedelic substances. Some seem to have moved on to other things. Some have given up the drugs as their main form of exploration and now just smoke a little weed to get mellow. Others are still pretty deeply committed to so-called "entheogens" as a means of accessing so-called "higher states of consciousness."
Anyone who has read my book Hardcore Zen or, indeed, spent much time reading this blog knows already that I am not a great champion of the use of drugs as a means of spiritual advancement. I don't feel bad about not being a convenient go-to guy for encouragement to pollute the body/mind with toxic substances in order to achieve great awakenings at a cheap price. There are already plenty of people out there who advocate that.
While I was at Starwood, I was getting mightily annoyed by all the people out there who were deluding themselves and others into believing that a cheap dose of acid, 'shrooms, peyote, "molly" or whatever was going to get them to a higher spiritual plane. So I logged on to facebook and I wrote:
Drug users annoy the fuck out of me. Losers.
This received 49 "like" votes and has so far gathered 96 comments, the most recent of which showed up just six hours ago even though the status update appeared around 36 hours ago (if my barely adequate math skills are correct). I have no reason to believe the comments have stopped completely yet.
This is how I felt at midnight after spending several hours around some really energetic, intelligent, creative and fun kids who were loading themselves to the gills on psychoactive substances. Many of these substances appear to have been provided by older folks in the community who believed they were helping these young folks explore the frontiers of human consciousness or some such thing. Again, this is just my "eyeball" observation and is not based on in-depth research into the source of the drugs they were using. It was certainly clear that some of the older folks were very much encouraging this behavior even if they were not directly contributing to it.
These young stoned kids were really nice people, by the way. They went out of their way to generously provide free food for anyone who showed up at their campsite. And their food was way better than the overpriced stuff down at the main cafe on site. So I ate a lot of it.
I found myself becoming extremely fond of these folks. They were definitely a lot more fun to hang around with than just about anyone else at Starwood. They seemed to be asking questions rather than trying to revisit their glory days or wallow in a sea of bad cliches and dull role-playing games.
And yet they were destroying the very things that made them like that by numbing themselves to the real world with dangerous drugs. Moreover the very people who should have known better and should have been guiding them away from that kind of behavior were, instead, encouraging it.
I am not a fan of drugs. Never will be. And that makes some people really mad. I'm guessing these people feel like if they could convert me to their way of thinking it would be a double delicious coup. Getting someone like me to say drugs were The Way would count way more than getting Terrance McKenna to say it for the 30,000th time. But it's not going to happen.
At the same time, I am a huge, huge fan of much of the drug-influenced art, music and writing of the sixties and seventies. While I was at that campsite I sat and read most of the book The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (aka Baba Ram Dass, later of Be Here Now fame). It's a book about the authors' deeply mistaken reading of the Tibetan Book of the Dead as a guide for the drug taking experience. It is also the inspiration for The Beatles marvelous song Tomorrow Never Knows.
It's a pretty cool book. I even went on-line and ordered a copy for myself. The fact that it's dead wrong doesn't make it any less cool. But, folks, that book is as old as I am. We're both copyrighted the same year! The brave new world Leary and Alpert envisioned would come about in the 21st century (aka now) when everybody tuned in, turned on and dropped out never happened.
Drugs did not make everybody become beautiful and loving and spiritual aware. Instead they led to death and crime and waste. Lots of my friends were bright young consciousness explorers when they were the age these kids I hung out with are now. Some cleaned up, some became waste cases, a few are dead.
It was one thing to believe in 1964 that a brave new tripped out age was about to dawn. It's quite another to still believe that now, having seen what the last 47 years have shown us about where that path leads.
If you want some examples, how about Jimi Hendrix, Sid Vicious, Syd Barrett, John Entwistle, Kurt Cobain... Do I really need to get so cliched with this? Come on now.
A number of people on my Facebook page took me to task for what they saw as a violation of "Right Speech." Listen. Right Speech isn't about being meek and mild and only telling people what they want to hear. Right Speech is saying what needs saying when it needs saying. Any speech that supports the use of drugs as a means to really get to know yourself is bullshit. Speech that softens the real hit some people need to get that message is useless.
You can comment all you want, but you won't change my mind about drugs. You will always and forever be wrong if you try to equate true spirituality with frying your brain on chemicals (even if they grow inside cacti and fungi). Put it this way, if you want me to say drugs are cool, you're gonna lose. And what would that make you?
Posted by Brad Warner at 6:55 AM
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
I present to you the very first published photo of all four original members of Zero Defex together for the first time since nineteen hundred and (mumbles indistinctly)! Left to right are Mickey X-Nelson, Brad No Sweat, Jimi Imij and Tommy Strange.
Purists may ask where are Johnny Phlegm, Frank N. File and Alan X-Nelson. But the band's first three bass players each lasted a mere couple of weeks, while I was in for the long haul right up till the end. Or at least the first end of the band. So go suck a grape.
This was taken at X-Day 14 down in Southern Ohio where we played last night. I am heading back down to the same campgrounds later today. Tomorrow and Thursday I will lead workshops at Starwood, a big pagan festival down there in the woods at Wisteria campgrounds. I'm pretty sure you can still get a spot there. Click here for details. Cuz I don't really know. The workshops are at 10 am both days.
On the way driving back up to Akron a friend who was riding with me asked that perennial question, "What's the difference between a Zen teacher and a therapist?"
This has come up a number of times since I spoke at Ordinary Mind Zendo in New York where, some (but not me) say I was psychoanalyzed on stage. I've answered in a few really complicated ways. But there in the car I came up with the real answer spontaneously.
A Zen teacher teaches Zen.
The relationship between a Zen teacher and his/her "student" is based on their mutual practice of zazen. If you're not practicing zazen... well, you can ask a Zen teacher whatever you want and either place value on her answers or disregard them. But you won't really understand her answers until you start practicing yourself.
My friend asked if I give people advice about how to live, as a therapist does. I thought hard about the many private interviews I've had with practitioners and I couldn't come up with a single instance where I advised anyone about how to live. Nor can I recall ever being advised how to live by my teachers or any other Zen teacher I've done an interview with. In fact they've all avoided giving such advice even when I clearly and unambiguously asked for it.
I talk to people about their Zen practice, about the things that come up during practice, about how to respond and deal with this stuff. In my case I usually respond by explaining how I've dealt with my practice issues. I don't ever tell people to do it my way because my way is not right for them.
So there you go. The difference between Zen and therapy is Zen.
Posted by Brad Warner at 8:23 AM
Saturday, July 02, 2011
First a couple announcement/corrections.
July 3, 2011 (Sunday) at 11-something p.m. ZERO DEFEX will play at X-Day 14 at the Wisteria Campground near Athens, Ohio
July 6 & 7, 2011 (Wed & Thu) I will be speaking and leading workshops at Starwood, also at the Wisteria Campground
I believe these are both listed wrong on my Book Tour Page. Unfortunately the files with which I created that page are now lost. So I'll have to recreate the entire page from scratch to correct anything on it. I'll get to that...
Both of these events are far out of the range of the kinds of events either I or the band usually do. We're not really hippie-in-the-woods kind of people. So I'm a little nervous as to how they'll turn out. Does a bear poop in the woods? Yes. But I do not usually poop in the woods.
Apparently people often go to these things "sky clad." I will not be sky clad. I'm not sure how much I want to see sky clad hippies with beer guts boppin' around at the drum circle. But I guess I'm gonna see a lot of that.
X-Day (but not Starwood) is a festival run by the Church of the Subgenius. The Church of the Subgenius is a brilliant parody of cults and organized religions that is always tottering on the edge of becoming either a cult or an organized religion itself. Each year the leader of the church predicts that aliens will descend in a fleet of UFOs to pick up the members of the church and blast everyone else in the world to smithereens. Each year the members meet to await the saucers. Each year the saucers fail to arrive. And each year the leader of the church makes a new excuse as to why it didn't happen this year and promises that next year the aliens will come for sure.
I'm a great believer in robbing bad things of their power by making fun of them. So I'm all for the Church of the Subgenius. For all their lunacy, some of the philosophy in their books is pretty deep. And some is just goofball nonsense.
Last night Zero Defex played at Thursday's Lounge in Akron. In attendance was our original guitarist Tommy Strange. He said we played too fast.
The truth is a lie!!!
Posted by Brad Warner at 8:21 AM