Saturday, June 09, 2012

GO TO HARDCOREZEN.INFO

All the fun and merriment you used to have here has been moved to

http://hardcorezen.info

Go there and check it out!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

TOUR 2012?

I had thought that my previous post would be the last actual post on this blog. But I met with the guy who is working on my new website yesterday and it seems like a few more things have to be fixed before we can go live at the new website. So I'm going to leave you with at least one more thing here. Which is about my upcoming travels.

The map above is the basic route I will be following when I make my journey across these United States. You can click on any of these maps to enlarge them. I will leave Akron on June 15th and arrive in Knoxville later that day where I'll meet up with my dad and my sister. Then my dad and I will head for Dallas a little bit later. Maybe the next day. Maybe two days after. Maybe three. We don't know yet.

Here's where you come in. I have already accepted a speaking gig in Las Cruces, New Mexico (the date has yet to be finalized). It occurred to me that I might be able to fit in a couple other speaking gigs on the way out to California.

In order for me to make it to any venue that might want to have me, the venue would have to be able to schedule the talk for sometime after June 17th and definitely before the first week of July is over. We'd need to coordinate with the people in Las Cruces in case there's any conflict. And you'd have to be somewhere on or at least not too far off the route you see on the map above.

For example, Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock, Tuscon and Phoenix (among many others) are all on the route I'm taking. Atlanta, Chattanooga, Birmingham, Shreveport, Oklahoma City, Austin, and Lubbock (among many others) are not on my route but are not inconceivably far off of it. Omaha is too far. Denver might be do-able, but it's a pretty long way from where I want to be. You get the idea, I hope.

This may not work out at all. The time frame is short. It's really hard to say with these things. But if you're interested in trying, please send me an email at spoozilla@gmail.com.

I'm specifically looking for speaking gigs or one-day retreat type things. I probably can't accept your kind offer to meet up for coffee. I would consider places that might offer me a couch for the night, though we'd have to see if that kind of thing would work out with the schedule and what-not.

***

People in the comments section seem concerned about the new website, especially its comments section. I'm talking to the guy who is doing all the tech stuff about various options. I do like the free-form feel of the current comments section in principle. But in actual practice, it often just gets screwy in there. What I'm hoping to do is have some kind of free-form area of the new site where people can post whatever they like as well as an area where people who actually want to discuss serious stuff can go. I'm not sure if this will be possible or not. That's what most of the discussion last night was about.

Personally, the comments section can get very taxing for me. I don't think a lot of the commenters understand that I am an actual human being just like them. The mean nasty hurtful stuff does actually hurt me sometimes. If I were Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern and I got paid big money to be the target of abuse by strangers, that would be a different matter. Or if I felt there was some way in which my being a punching bag helped the dharma somehow, that would also be different. Or even if I were just a guy who enjoys arguing with people... But I am none of these things. And other people get abused in there as well. It's really sad. So the comments section as it stands now often devolves into a big, depressing energy suck that has no value at all for me. Sorry to say this. But it's the truth.

It's not always that way. In fact sometimes it's really good and stimulating. But as it stands now it's just too prone to running itself into spasms of stupidity. I want to find a way to allow a good, stimulating space for real conversations to happen that I can involve myself in, while simultaneously having another section where people can go nuts. I would probably never even set foot in the go-nuts section .

I started moderating the comments section on the last post and all kinds of people are sending in comments screeching about "censorship" and "the truth." Look, folks. It's just the comments section of a blog. There's nothing in the Constitution guaranteeing you the right to vent in there. Please just try to relax a little. Maybe do some zazen instead. Or if you want a blog to vent on, start your own. It's easy and it's free. No one will stop you. No one will censor you or moderate you.

According to Blogger's statistics, over 52,000 comments have appeared on this blog since it started. Fifty two thousand! My God. That's a lot. A lot of people have used this space as a way to broadcast their opinions. And a lot have abused the privilege. The comments section of this blog is so notorious that Tricycle magazine singled it out in a piece called Dharma Wars about the way Buddhist blogging often gets out of hand. And they were right to do so. Some of what's gone on in the comments section of this blog is really shameful and embarrassing.

I have really done a lot to allow for an open forum. And it has come at a cost to me in headaches and heartaches.  So please understand why the new website will be different in this regard.

Monday, May 28, 2012

ULTRAMAN DESTROYER and THE END OF HARDCOREZEN.BLOGSPOT.COM

I just put my Ibanez Ultraman Destroyer guitar up on eBay. The bidding starts at the inconceivably low price of $1500. There were only two (2) of these guitars ever made. I designed it myself for a promotion Tsuburaya Productions teamed up with Ibanez for at the 2005 NAMM show. This is my own personal guitar and it's very important to me. But I'm getting rid of stuff and this is one thing I'm getting rid of.

Go bid on it now. It will be up there for a week. And please, please do not get cheap on me people! This is one of a very small number of things I own that are actually worth something both personally to me and monetarily because of the incredible rarity of the item. Like I said, I designed it. I chose the Ultraman image and the guitar model it would go on, then placed the image where it is, then approved a test version and finally got me a guitar. This is probably my personal favorite image of Ultraman. One reason is because you can actually see a little of the man inside the costume (Bin Furuya) peering out through the mouth of the costume. It looks like maybe Ultraman has a tongue. But that's really Mr. Furuya's chin. It's form the first episode of Ultraman originally broadcast in 1966. The photo used was printed from the original negative from Tsuburaya's archives, not some cheezy JPEG some dude found on the Internet.

I played this quite a bit and recorded with it. But it has never been used on stage. So it's like new, even though it's technically a used instrument.

The money this generates will go to help pay for my upcoming move and for my friend Catie's wedding since Catie has been storing this for a couple of years for me.

The URL of the eBay listing is:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=120922276476M


***

The next bit of news I have to announce is that the blog you're reading will soon vanish! But fear not. I've been working with my good friend Jayce for a few months now to design a brand new website that will be far better and more professional looking than this old blog.

I'll have more specifics in the next couple of days. But I thought I'd give you a heads up now. The new website will go live in June and this one will go dead at about the same time.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Stuff Part 3

Last night I reread the previous thing I put up here, "Stuff Part 2." And I realized that what I wrote could be taken two ways. In one sense it's about a guy trying to throw away stuff that he's accumulated in a storage unit. But it could also be taken metaphorically.

I'm kind of dumb that way. When I read the Bhagavad Gita  a long time ago, I thought it was a story about God coming down and helping a guy in a battle. Someone had to tell me that the five horses of Krishna's chariot represent the five senses, that Krishna and Arjuna represent the personal self and the more elevated self riding in the same chariot of the body, and so on. I was too dense to get that on my own. Seems I'm the same way with my own writing.

Our personality, our ego, is like a storage unit in which we keep all the things we don't want to let go of. We know that eventually we'll have to let go of everything. But right now we don't. So we keep it. Some of us are very protective of our storage units. We spend a lot of time organizing the stuff inside, reminding ourselves of what's there, defending it against those who might want to steal it, or just defending it against the unavoidable decay that all things undergo. Others of us are less protective of our stuff. But we keep it anyway and we don't really want to let it go anymore than the more protective folks do.

If you realize that you have to let go of the stuff in the storage unit that is your self, and you know you need help to do that, who would be best to call upon? Going back to my own actual concrete and metal storage unit in Durham, NC, I was very lucky to have my friend Catie help me.

Catie understood very clearly what I was going through last weekend. She has her own stuff. She doesn't care much about Ultraman and Godzilla junk. But she's a huge fan of Morrissey. She's even gone so far as traveling to England or far flung parts of the USA just to attend his concerts. The way she tells it, even waiting in line for tickets to see Morrissey is a magical experience for her. She has, in her apartment (the Lady Cave) what she calls her Shrine to Morrissey. In this shrine is a collection of memorabilia collected during those journeys. She may not understand what I see in a kids' TV superhero show from Japan. But she knows what it's like to have stuff that's important to you and that other people can't really understand the significance of. In the more metaphorical process of cleaning out the self, you need that kind of helper.

A lot of people will reject certain teachers because they believe they are flawed and therefore cannot teach them the perfection that they seek. They search, instead, for teachers who they view as pure and untainted. But what they're seeking when they look for that is someone to help them get rid of the stuff in their storage unit who cannot understand why they're keeping stuff in a storage unit at all. I'm not really sure that would be the best kind of help one could ask for.

Besides that, I think these kinds of "perfected teachers" are mostly the stuff of legend. They're mythical creatures much like the Loch Ness Monster. I use Nessie as my example because I, Brad, the guy writing this, truly wants to believe that the Loch Ness Monster is real. I want to believe that there actually is a living plesiosaurus swimming around in a lake in Scotland. Seriously. But I've looked at the evidence and none of it holds up to careful scrutiny. As much as I wish it were true, I have to admit that it's probably not.

The greatest teachers, in my estimation, are those who understand what it's like to have a storage unit of the self. Oh Jesus what a horrible clunky metaphor! But I'm gonna run with it. My teachers, Tim and Nishijima, are not ego-less "perfected masters." They are, in fact, both people with very strong egos and very clear attachments. My troll Gniz was criticizing me recently for not pointing out the flaws in my own teachers. I refrain from doing so because they're also my friends, and you don't go on the Internet and reveal the hidden flaws of your friends. That's not nice. That's also a good way to lose a friendship.

But suffice it to say, they have flaws. It's not that they have no stuff in their storage units that appeals to me and works for me. Rather it's the way they deal with the stuff they've chosen to keep in there. It's very different from the way that most people deal with it. The differences are subtle, so subtle sometimes that most people would miss them completely. But they are deep and profound. These men have discovered a way to both keep that stuff in their storage unit and not keep it at the same time. It's the kind of trick that I would have thought impossible. And I've spent years and years and years with both of them watching very carefully for signs of sleight of hand. But I've come away convinced that what I'm seeing is actually true. And because it's true it cannot be magic. It must be something that I can do too.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi said that, in practicing Zen, you have to clean out your room. He followed up by saying that sometimes you'll bring all the stuff back into the room after you've taken it out. But, he said, you have to take it all out first. I would also add here that most people will end up throwing away a lot of things, but still taking back the most important ones. This is precisely like what you do when clearing out an actual storage unit.

If you threw everything away, you'd also throw away those things that make you most effective in helping others clean out their storage units. You'd throw away the attachment to your stuff that makes you a good sympathizer to someone who needs it.

Understand that this stuff doesn't necessarily need to be actual physical stuff. Some people have no possessions at all, yet still manage to cling very hard to their personal stuff anyhow. Sometimes the very fact that they own nothing becomes a huge thing that they own and are completely unwilling or even unable to get rid of.

Anyway, those are the thoughts on this matter that were swimming around in my head and demanding to be written down when Crum the Cat woke me up this morning. I was unable to go back to sleep, even though I seriously needed to, until I typed them out. And so now here they are for you to enjoy.

And with that, I will begin another day of getting rid of stuff. Yesterday I sold six big boxes of books, DVDs and CDs. Today I'm hoping to cut things down even more. I will not get rid of all of it. Not just yet anyway. But the time will come eventually. Do please consider making a donation to help me move the important stuff I have to keep. I hate to say that shit and sound like a damned televangelist. But this move is costing me a god-damned fortune no matter how much junk I unload and my battered PT Cruiser is going to need some upkeep in order to make it out to the West Coast in one piece.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stuff Part 2

So I pared the contents of my storage space down to ten of what the US Postal Service calls "large" Priority Mail boxes. They're really not very large, if you ask me. The dimensions are 12 inches x 12 inches x 5 1/2 inches. Those of you reading in countries where they use the metric system, please do your own conversions. You can't even get record albums in them because the dimensions are just a hair too small.

I was able to do this because of the cooperation of my good friend Catie Braly. I gave her the authority to tell me to get rid of my stuff. I voluntarily submitted to her. And I paid her for this service. I told her that I'd split whatever I made from selling my stuff and give her half. She probably would have done it for free. But I would've felt shitty about that, especially since she's trying to get money together for her upcoming wedding.

Our arrangement resembled what happens when one hires a personal fitness trainer, a martial arts instructor, or when one works with a Zen teacher. You willingly submit to authority in order to do something that you find yourself unable to do alone.

In my case, I had a strong attachments to what was in that storage unit. It wasn't a lot of stuff compared to what most American males my age own. But it was stuff I'd spent years acquiring through long travels and through personal connections. There were things in that storage unit that certain nerdy people would just about kill for. Some of the items I managed to get my hands on while I worked at Tsuburaya Productions were made available exclusively to employees of the company. They trade for handsome amounts of cash among Japanese collectors.

Now I had to get rid of it and there was really no way to sell it to the people who would actually pay what it was worth. Imagine you have a vintage Mercedes in mint condition, it runs great and there's not even a speck of rust anywhere on it. But you're in a land where nobody drives cars or even knows what one is. So you have no choice but to donate it to an elementary school where they're going to gut it and put it out in the playground for the kids to climb all over. You can tell yourself "at least the kids are going to enjoy playing on it" all you want. Even so, you're still gonna feel kind of bad about it.

But, as anyone who's gotten rid of stuff can tell you, it also feels good to dump your junk — even if it's good junk. If I didn't know I would feel better once this stuff was gone, I wouldn't have enlisted Catie's help to get rid of it.

I asked Catie to be ruthless and she was. Whenever I said, "I want to keep this," she would ask why. When I gave my reasons, she'd ask why again. With her help I was able to get rid of a lot of things I probably would otherwise have kept. We established a safe word — "watermelon" — which could be used if I really couldn't let go of some particular thing. I only remember using it once. That was when I found an old issue of Freakbeat magazine containing an interview with me during the days when I was making the Dimentia 13 albums.

In Zen training, you have to accept a certain amount of authority. I know I've been outspoken in the past about questioning authority. And I stand by what I said. But I feel that the real problem is belief in authority. When you hire a personal trainer, or ask a friend to help you get rid of stuff, you don't usually end up believing that your personal trainer or your friend is some kind of almost divine being who knows all and sees all. You view your trainer or your friend as an equal to whom you have provisionally granted a limited degree of power over you, usually in exchange for something.

Zen teaching relationships can also work the same way. You acknowledge that your teacher has some basis for being able to teach you. He's had training and experience. Perhaps he exhibits some kind of personal charm or charisma that attracted you to him in the first place. That's all fine.

But there is always a mutual exchange going on. Your Zen teacher is also learning from you. He isn't learning the same things as you're learning from him, or learning what he learns in quite the same way. But it's not a one way street. It's not some kind of mystical download from on high.

It's important in these relationships to grant the teacher respect. But you should also expect to be respected in return. Each side of the relationship is different, though, and the ways in which respect is shown and help is offered by each side is also different

For example, last weekend I allowed Catie to be a bit short and curt with me. I needed someone to say a short, sharp "No!" to me. It didn't always feel good to hear that. But it was part of the process. If I'd put forth my personal desires things couldn't work out to my own ultimate benefit. So I had to allow someone else the authority to deny me what I thought I wanted.

In Zen teaching and other spiritual relationships, this aspect of mutual respect often breaks down into a kind of worship. I know there are schools of thought that say this sort of worshipful attitude can be used to benefit students. I don't believe that.  That always seems like a perversion of what the relationship ought to be, even when such perversions are enshrined by tradition. It's too easy for this to mess up both the students and the teacher. You end up with a teacher who owns a few houses and a couple dozen Lamborghinis but has lost sight of whatever made him a great teacher to begin with and a bunch of students who think the whole point is to purchase gifts for their beloved master.

Actually, the process last weekend was a lot easier than I'd feared it might be. I found it fairly easy to let stuff go. I guess all that zazen pays off sometimes. Even if it feels like you haven't really grasped its lessons, sometimes things happen and you realize you have.

In the end, a little boy named Blixa, the son of Catie's friend Drea ended up with a collection of Japanese monster stuff. Blixa is a big fan of Ultraman, having been turned on to it by his dad. That's him in the Ultraman costume on the photo at the top of this blog. The stuff Blixa got might look like mere toys to the untrained eye. But most of it was not. He ended up with some high ticket collectibles that I sincerely hope he will not bash around as if they were $5 action figures from the local WalMart. But I have no way of controlling what happens to those things anymore. I have to be OK with that. And surprisingly, I am.

Just before I left, Blixa brought over a gift he'd made for me as his exchange for the stuff I gave him. It's a picture he drew of Ultraman's goat. I never even knew Ultraman had a goat!

That drawing is priceless! It's one collector's item I'll be holding on to!



Hardcore Zen Strikes Again

ADDENDUM

In the comments section someone said:
Aside from Baker Roshi... name another zen teacher who lives in opulence from the donations of their students.

It's true that generally speaking Zen is mostly free of masters who live high off the hog from donations. At least in the West.

In Japan things are different. I found that most of my "normal" (ie, not involved in Buddhism) friends had no respect at all for Zen masters. The general feeling seemed to be that Zen masters were lazy rich people, driving around in fancy cars and working only when necessary to do funerals and other such ceremonies. They were seen as taking advantage of the poor and uneducated.

How much of this is actually valid, I do not know. Some of it surely must be true because the stereotype was quite common among people I knew over there. The people I knew who held this stereotype were generally young, educated artistic types. They viewed Zen masters in much the same way that same segment of the US population views televangelists.

I was also obliquely referencing others on the spiritual scene who are not connected with Zen, or who use Zen as just one piece of their smorgasbord. But I find it's best not get too specific. There's no point in riling up the followers of some guru by citing him as an example, especially when the problem is so pervasive. It's not really necessary to name anyone in particular.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Stuff

I'm stuck here at a Days Inn in Wytheville, Virginia after my alternator belt broke just outside of Bland, Virginia (yes, it's a real place) on the way down to Durham, North Carolina to clear out a storage space I rent down there. I'm gonna type a blog post until the repair shop calls me. Hopefully this will be short!

The reason I have stuff in storage in Durham is because a couple years ago, I decided I had to leave Los Angeles. I was paying a lot of rent on an apartment I wasn't even living in half the year as I traveled around spreading the Good News of Zen to the people of the world. But I wasn't earning as much on these trips as I was paying to rent that place. Something had to give.

I'd heard good things about the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area and had a few friends there. So I decided I'd move to Chapel Hill. I was about to leave for two months in Europe. So I packed up everything and sent it to a storage space in Durham. Then I lived in other people's houses, apartments, closets and floorspace for nearly a year. At the end of that year I decided I didn't want to move to Chapel Hill. After a brief stint in Brooklyn, I ended up living in Akron. But I didn't intend to stay in Akron for the long haul. So I just left my stuff in Durham.

I used to scoff at people who had storage spaces. If you had so much stuff that you needed to put some of it in a place where you couldn't even get to it, then you had too much stuff! And now here I am having to deal with my own stuff...

There's an idea that a good Buddhist should have no stuff at all. She should only own one bowl and two robes. She should live off the good graces of people who respond to her calling to the truth by supplying her with food and shelter.

That's a nice ideal. Buddha's original group of monks and nuns were able, it is said, to live like that in Northern India 2500 years ago. But times have changed. I doubt many people could live like that in Northern India today let alone anywhere else in the world. I also have nagging doubts about Buddha's original monks actually having lived that way even back then. For one thing, to "leave home" in those days meant going a few miles or less away from home. Which meant you could leave your stuff there if you needed to. I'll bet you a case of doughnuts a lot of monks and nuns did just that. Of course, some were probably very strict with themselves about this. I just doubt that all of them were.

There are lots of misconceptions about contemporary Buddhist monks with regards to stuff. For example, one would think that a guy whose nickname was "Homeless Kodo" probably owned nothing but his robes and a change of underwear. In fact, the word yadonashi (宿なし, homeless) that was applied to Kodo Sawaki referred to the fact that he did not have his own home temple like most Zen teachers. He did, in fact, have a home to live in. What's more, his student Kosho Uchiyama complained that as Kodo's attendant he was required to lug mountains of Kodo's books whenever Kodo went out on the road to lead retreats. Homeless Kodo had stuff.

Like Kodo, most of what I own is books. It's probably no shock that most writers are terrible book fanatics. I've got a Kindle and I can see the logic of it. But I'll never get over my affection for actual books on real paper. Which is unfortunate because books take up lots of space and they weigh a ton. They are made of wood!

Every Buddhist monk, male or female, that I've known has owned stuff. Most of them are fairly modest in terms of what "normal" people own. But they all have more than their begging bowls and their robes. Most of them, in fact, suffer from the same book collecting disease as I do. Though most of them have "better" books than me. I have lots more Three Stooges books than any other monk I know.

Stuff is a burden and a responsibility. I wish I had less of it. I understand that my inability to simply get rid of things is a sign of being too attached to them.

But it is much easier to espouse an ideal of living simply than it is to actually throw things away that you put a lot of effort into acquiring. If you've tried it, you'll know exactly what I mean. This weekend I have enlisted the help of my good friend Catie who I have instructed to ignore my pleas when I tell her that I absolutely have to keep certain things. I'm very lucky to have a friend like that. Plus I'm giving her some of my collectibles so she can sell them to pay for her upcoming wedding in exchange for this service.

I always feel unburdened whenever I can get rid of things. And yet, having things is not always bad. It is because some people held on to their stuff and took care of it that we know about our history. My friend Jimi (lead singer of 0DFx) is a pack rat who collects all kinds of stuff related to Northeast Ohio rock and roll history. He'll be exhibiting some of his stuff soon in downtown Akron (I'll have the details when I get them). I'm very grateful for his work. Historians everywhere are grateful for pack rats like Jimi. This includes Buddhist historians. We wouldn't even have some of our most important sutras if it weren't for people who valued their personal stuff and kept it nice. There were times in history where Buddhism was persecuted and most of these precious materials were destroyed. At the time, those who had the few copies left may not have known their real value and may have been inclined to just toss them away and go off wandering. I, for one, am glad they didn't.

Which isn't to say that's the same as me and my Three Stooges books. It's just that to universally condemn the habit of holding on to stuff is a big misunderstanding.

Buddhism is always about doing what is better. It's not about being austere for the sake of being austere as if austerity itself were a virtue in its own right. For some, giving up all possessions, having no job (in the usual sense) and living off the good graces of others is freeing. For some, this would be intolerable. I'm one of the latter. There is too much Midwestern work ethic instilled in me for me to ever be comfortable living that way. So I work in the world and as a consequence of that I have stuff. It's a matter of exchanging one sort of burden for another.

I would not encourage Americans, Canadians and Europeans — or in fact most Asians, Indians, Africans or Inuit — living in the 21st century to try to adopt the ideal lifestyle espoused by the earliest Buddhists. It's too hard to make that sort of thing work anywhere in the world these days. Sure, it was not easy 2500 years ago either. But nowadays it's damn near impossible.

Plus I don't think it really helps others that much. In the society we live in today, it's important for everyone to contribute economically. It's OK to go off on a retreat for a while, maybe even for a few years, to get yourself together and suchlike. But I believe it's also important to be part of the regular world. A retreat is just that. It's a retreat from the world. Sometimes it's necessary and honorable to retreat. But I don't think we should live our entire lives in a state of retreat from the world.

Hey! They just called about my car! Hooray!!!

(The photo I've chosen to illustrate this piece is NOT my stuff, by the way!)

In case you missed them last time, here are the new Zero Defex videos



Friday, May 18, 2012

NEW ZERO DEFEX VIDEOS!

Here are two new videos by Zero Defex for songs from our forthcoming album "Caught in a Reflection." The album will be available on CD at our shows at:

May 26, 2012
Now That's Class
1213 Detroit Avenue  Cleveland, OH 44102
with Killer of Sheep, Gun Parole and Dead Federation
a record release party for the album by Cleveland punk legends The Guns

June 8, 2012
Old Haunt's Tavern
1527 E. Market St.
Akron, OH
with The Vulcanizers


ARMAGEDDON
This video features dancers Cherry, Nina Fukuzato and Zingara Amore. The song was brought to the band by drummer Mickey "X-Nelson" Hurray and subsequently pounded into shape by us. Rumor has it Mick wrote the tune on piano! A first for Zero Defex! The video was shot in Wadsworth, Ohio at their public access cable facility. I slaved over a hot laptop for hours making all the weird psychedelic effects.


ANYMORE
This song was brought to the group by guitarist Jeff "Ghoul" Hardy who also provided the fine insightful lyrics. Vocalist Jimi Imij mostly edited the video although I got it started. But I didn't have the guts to cut it up as much as Jimi did. The beginning and ending are from a one-of-a-kind record Jimi found at a thrift shop. It was recorded at a school in West Virginia sometime in the 1940s.

***

And don't forget to order your copy of  Hardcore Zen Strikes Again from Amazon today! Order six! They're low in polyunsaturated fat!

I pity the fool who don't get enlightened!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

HARDCORE ZEN STRIKES AGAIN!!



My brand new eBook, Hardcore Zen Strikes Again is out now! Hooray! You can get it at the following link:

Hardcore Zen Strikes Again

If you are in the UK, you can order it from Amazon UK here: Hardcore Zen Strikes Again


I'm not sure why you have to order it from Amazon UK to get it over there. Maybe they've added extra u's to words like color and flavor for their version. 



In Germany, you can get it at this link: Hardcore Zen Strikes Again


As far as I know it's still in English even if you order it from Amazon in Germany. Thanks to Oliver Wunderlich for providing me the link.


For the moment, the book is available only as an electronic version and is being sold exclusively through Amazon. After 90 days, the ebook will be available from other retailers. There will be a printed version as well. I'm still waiting to see and approve the galleys on that. After the approval is done and it goes on sale, I'll let you know where you can order it. You should also be able to get the print version at stores, but you may have to ask for it. Again, I'll let you know once I know.


The book itself is a collection of articles I wrote for the old Sit Down and Shut Up website that I maintained from 2001 until maybe 2004 or so. These are some of my earliest writings about Zen. They're generally a lot snarkier and more acerbic than my more recent postings. It will be interesting to see how some of the people who like to say, "Brad was so much better before, he sucks now" will feel when they actually see some of that old stuff again. 


The book contains such gems as "Zen is Punk," "Zen is Not Punk," "The Whole Vegetarian Thing," "Losing My Religion," "The Source of All Religion," "Explaining the Unexplainable" and many more blasts from the past.


In addition, I have written new introductions and afterwords to each of these pieces (of what?) as well as a new introduction and a new afterword for the book itself. How much more could you possibly want?


But wait! There's more! There's a spiffy cover by David L. Angstead that's simply to die for! 


Although these pieces have previously appeared on the interwebs, I took them down ages ago. If they're still on line anywhere, I don't know how to find them. (And I really don't need any clever-trousers putting links to them in the comments section. Thank you!) So even if you've read some of this stuff before, it's not likely you've read it in the past eight years. Plus the new intros and afterwords talk about how I feel about what I said all those years ago, and nobody's read those before anywhere.


So go to Amazon now and download your copy today!







Saturday, May 12, 2012

When You Reach Pure Awareness You Will Have No Problems

My name is Brad and I subscribe to Deepak Chopra's Twitter feed.

Hi Brad!

I don't even really "get" Twitter. I'm not sure just what you're supposed to do with it. The best stuff I've seen there has been funny one-liners like Shit My Dad Says or my friend Precious Veal.  She's a hoot!

A lot of "spiritual" type guys are on Twitter these days throwing out little sound bytes of spirituality. But I doubt there's anything truly worthwhile in the realm of spiritual practice that can be reduced to 140 characters.

Of course, having said that I also have to mention that there is a tradition in Zen of so-called "turning words." These are short phrases that, when heard by just the right person at just the right time, have a profound effect. One such phrase that often gets quoted is, "From birth to death it's just like this." A lot of the koans end with "turning words." For me, hearing the phrase "form is emptiness, emptiness is form" really blew my head right off when I was about 18 years old.

But I seriously doubt that a Twitter feed is the best way to disseminate "turning words." It's not like those ancient Zen guys subscribed to a service that would sling random "turning words" at them from multiple sources of varying quality at a rate of four to six an hour popping up on their cell phones among fart jokes from drive time DJs and news about Paris Hilton's latest Brazilian wax job. It was a different sort of thing altogether.

I've responded to a couple of Deepak's tweets already. But one came up last night that I think really needs to be addressed in detail.

Right at the outset I want to emphasize that this is not about the man Mr. Deepak Chopra himself. It's about what he tweeted. It's not even about everything he tweets. It's about this one specific tweet. I don't know enough about Mr. Chopra to criticize him as a human being or even as a brand. I know he's got a comic book series and a bunch of TV shows and even a video game. As dubious as the spiritual applications of these things seem to me, I'm not even all that fussed about them. If someone wanted to make a graphic novel or a video game out of Hardcore Zen, I'd probably do it. So this isn't about that.

It's about what Mr. Chopra says in his tweet. And what he says is this:

When you reach pure awareness you will have no problems, therefore there will be no need for solutions.

Let's analyze that for a minute.

When (in the future, not now) you (who exist now and will continue to exist in the future) reach (whatever you imagine to be) pure awareness you (who exist now and will continue to exist in the future) will have (in the future) no problems (for your self), therefore there will be (in the future, not now) no need for (you to have) solutions (and won't that be wonderful, over there, past that hill, just out of sight, let me sell you a way to get there).

If it were only Deepak Chopra who believed this, it wouldn't really matter much. But this is how pretty much everyone approaches meditation practice and it's why meditation practice seems to fail those people. It is certainly how I myself thought of practice for a very long time. I wanted something for myself. I might have even thought of what I wanted to get in terms of "pure awareness." I read enough shitty books that used shitty phrases like that.

There is no pure awareness for you.

That might sound harsh. But really it's not. What you are can never enter that place. Because you are the subject that sees things in terms of objects. Joshu Sasaki put it like this in his book Buddha is the Center of Gravity; "The God that is standing in front of you as an object says, 'I am your God.' But he is not. Even if that God has great power, he is not the real God."

Pure awareness, whatever that is, or God (my preferred term), cannot be the object of you, cannot be the possession of you, it isn't in your future, it isn't something you can ever possibly reach. It will not solve all of your problems. It couldn't even if it wanted to. It's a fantastic dream that can never come true.

This doesn't mean everything is bleak and horrible and hopeless. It just means that approaching it in terms of you and the things you want to get cannot possibly work. It can't work precisely because thinking of things in terms of you and what you want to get is exactly the thing that blocks it.

The attitude expressed in Mr. Chopra's tweet sits right at the very epicenter of where things have gone wrong for mankind. It is the source of all of our troubles. The solution to what's wrong in the world is not some distant dream of pure awareness. It's the understanding that what exists right now is pure awareness, is God, whether you know it or not. We, who seek to know it and possess it, are the very thing that makes it so hard to understand that.

A couple of blogs ago Broken Yogi made a comment that, "Brad is mixing categories. I can't pole vault 18 feet like a top Olympic athlete, but I doubt that athlete would call me physically ill because I can't do that... Likewise, I'm not enlightened, but I'm not spiritually lame either."

In response I said something like, "Enlightenment (I hate that word) isn't like pole vaulting 18 feet. It's more like walking to the bathroom, if we were to continue that analogy. Most people, instead of walking to the bathroom, which (let's say) just happens to be 18 feet away instead try to pole vault to the bathroom. And they can't do it because the ceiling is too low. Yet they try anyway and keep injuring themselves. The pole keeps breaking, they keep hitting their heads, they keep beating themselves up over not being able to do it, and they still have to pee. The only thing an enlightened person (I hate that term) does differently is that she walks straight to the bathroom, does her business and then goes back to bed."

Enlightenment or pure awareness or God or whatever isn't some complicated thing we have to chase after far, far away. It's the chasing itself that gets in our way. We wear ourselves out running in circles to try to arrive at the place we already are.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Goalless Practice



This is an excerpt from an interview conducted by Jan Becker at Against The Stream, Noah Levine's place on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.

Goalless practice is a koan. All the thinking mind can do with the idea is create an endless feedback loop. The goal of the practice is to have no goal, but "having no goal" is also a goal, so how can I have a goal that's no goal, but how can I have goalless practice without knowing that the goal of practice is to be without a goal...? And on and on and on.

Trust me, kids, I've been down this loop a bazillion times. There is no way out of it. Nothing your rational brain can come up with can ever break out of this box.

The only solution is to step completely aside. Allow your goals to be as they are and press on. Leave your goal seeking mind yammering away the way it always does and just sit with that.

Saying the rational brain can't break the loop does not mean that you have to go into irrationality or become illogical. The goalless state is very rational in the sense that it is very orderly and serene. But the rational part of the brain cannot grasp it. That's just the way it is.

Anyhow, there'll be more interviews like this coming soon.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

MCA RIP

I didn't hear about Adam Yauch (aka MCA) of the Beastie Boys' death until a day or maybe two after it happened. But I was really sorry to hear that he'd passed away. I hope he made it to whatever bardo he was aiming for. Personally, if I were a Tibetan Buddhist, I'd aim for the Bridgette Bardo!

Ar! Ar! Ar!!

The fact that Adam Yauch was a Buddhist is something that has been brought to my attention by well-meaning people for years now. "Do you know the guy from the Beastie Boys is a Buddhist?" they'd say. Yes. As a matter of fact, I do. Thank you. Now that he was a Buddhist instead of is a Buddhist, I suppose I'll keep hearing it, but phrased in past tense. Which is fine. I don't mind. It's just kind of funny what little Buddhist factoids get pointed out to me repeatedly.

I was never a huge Beastie Boys fan. I liked them. But I never followed their career or bought any of their records except for the greatest hits compilation Sounds of Science. And even that I bought used years after it came out.

I was pretty excited, though, when they came out with their Japanese monster movie inspired video for the song Intergalactic. I can even tell you where exactly they got some of the ideas. The scene where you see the monster's foot crash through a miniature building from the inside is from something Tsuburaya Productions did a lot beginning around the time of the Ultraman Taro TV series in 1973-74. The octopus head monster appears to be inspired by Emperor Guillotine from Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot (by Toei, not Tsuburaya Pro). I was working for Tsuburaya at the time the video came out and tried desperately to get our management to understand what that meant for us and how we might capitalize on it. But to no avail.

I know that Adam Yauch put his Buddhist faith in song in a tune called Boddhisattva Vow. But I never thought that was one of their best. It was too self-conscious and obvious for me. Not that I think it's a bad sentiment or anything. It just lacked any subtlety and it wasn't even a very catchy piece of music. Fight for Your Right to Party was a lot more fun.

When  Fight for Your Right to Party came out I remember thinking, "Wow! These guys stole the Beastie Boys' name!" Because I was aware of a NYC based hardcore band called the Beastie Boys from a couple years before that. At the time it didn't occur to me that it could possibly be the same guys. What self-respecting hardcore band would do a song like that? Then I found out it was the same guys and I got the idea that the song was a joke. Once you know that it's hilarious.

I don't know much about Adam Yauch. But it seems like he saw some of the same things in punkrock that I did and saw the connections between punk and Buddhism. In that sense we shared something. And he was the bass player for the Beastie Boys when they played their own instruments.

A little before Adam Yauch died, Howard Hutchings of the Kent, Ohio band Hyper As Hell died. We (Zero Defex) played a tribute show in his memory last Saturday. Howard, Adam Yauch and I were all born the same year, so it was a reminder to me that we all are gonna pass away one of these days. But Nishijima Roshi said, well into his 80s, that he was always happy to wake up each morning one notice, "Wow! I'm still alive!" Crum the Cat always checks on me in the mornings to make sure I'm still alive to feed him by biting my toes.


In the comments section Matt from Houston said...
Brad: the thing is that to a lot of people a little younger than you, MCA demonstrated very publicly that you could be a dope musician, be irreverent, use naughty words, love punk and hip hop and still be a committed Buddhist focused on doing lots of right in the world. I know that that's old news to you (and, to some extent, the Brad Warner® Brand), but it was a pretty important revelation to a lot of us kids.

He also demonstrated very publicly that you have no obligation to be the asshole you were when you were a 20-year-old asshole. I know that without his example my mind might not have opened to the Dharma. So there are a bunch of us who owe the dude some gratitude...AND THAT'S RIIIIIIIGHT.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Crazy Train

First off, tonight May 5, 2012, Zero Defex is playing at the Stone Tavern, 110 E. Main St, Kent, Ohio. There are six bands on the bill and the show starts at nine pm. So go!

Anonymous in the comments section of my previous post said:
The serious question then - does being enlightened give you any insight - from a theoretical perspective, not how to fix it - or what mental illness is? Or more broadly, do eastern spiritual leaders have something to say about this more than similar edicts about booze or sex?

This is a very good question. It's also an important one because a lot of people assume that an "enlightened" eastern spiritual master does have that kind of insight and are willing to follow their advise on the subject.

I can't answer for all spiritual masters. And I don't want to get into what it might mean to "master" any given form of spirituality. Nor do I even want to poke at what the term "enlightened" means right now. But still, I can answer for myself based on my experience. And I honestly feel that my experience is universal for others in my position.

Anyway. What insight do I have into what mental illness is?

I feel like I understand what that thing we label "mental illness" is in ways that neither I nor anyone else could possibly understand without decades of meditation. But that doesn't mean I know how to treat it or cure it or even deal with it when it confronts me on the street. That is an entirely different sort of problem.

One thing I understand is that the condition we call "normal" also probably ought to be labeled "mental illness." And I expect that in the future this will become clear. People will look back at us in the early 21st century and marvel at the fact that almost the entire world was what they will call "mentally ill." Though perhaps their term for it will be different.

I feel that when we call someone "mentally ill" all we're really saying most of the time is that the person in question is unable to function in what we call "normal society." Of course there are different degrees of this. If a person's inability to function creates a danger to society, society has a right and duty to protect itself from that person. If that person isn't dangerous but is unable to look after himself, that's another matter. There are millions of degrees to the problem of mental illness. But at its core it's still the same problem.

One important thing to bear in mind is that none of us can deal with "normal society" all the time. I know I sure can't. Some people solve this problem by inventing sub-societies that protect them from the larger society, yet still manage to function with it. A monastery would be an example of one such place. It's a place of shelter from the wider more pervasive mental illness, a place one hopes is a bit less mentally ill. But even the best of these still have their own sorts of dysfunctions.

When I was at Tassajara last year there was one day when I simply had to hide in my room for about 24 hours because I could not deal with the relatively sane sub-society I had voluntarily committed myself to. I told people I was sick. But I wasn't. This sort of thing happens all the time. Nearly everyone who goes to a monastery — even a good one  — has this happen at some point.

The easy answer that Anonymous is looking for is that all mental illness comes from a mistaken identification of the ego as one's true and fundamental self. But that's such a cliché I wonder if it has any value at all anymore. Be that as it may, it's true that nearly everyone identifies her ego as her true self. But I think most people, whether they know it or not, have some basic intuition that this is not really the way it is. To the extent that they can put this false sense of identity aside, they can function with others and form a reasonable society.

An insight into the deeper origin of mental illness doesn't help a person be able to treat mental illness. This is because even if I understand that you are stuck in believing that your ego-structure is really you, I do not know the details of the stories that you tell yourself and I do not know the extent to which you are prepared to go to defend the false reality you believe in. Some people will kill to defend theirs. I like to stay well clear of those people.

One may, in fact, believe in their own ego-self so deeply that their belief has caused the very chemical structure of their brain and body to be altered to the extent that it's impossible to function in "normal" society without the help of chemicals. It may go so deep that one seems to have been born with this condition. Or that one seems to have had events in one's past that forced this upon the person. This doesn't mean their past is unreal nor the bad things that were done to them were unreal in the conventional sense.

Remember you're reading the words of a Buddhist who believes that even normal conventional notions of what constitutes reality are false. That's an important point. It's the position a lot of the supposedly more enlightened spiritual masters often are too "enlightened" to really understand or convey clearly.

And I am using the word "belief" in a way most people don't. There are aspects of life that are related to what we commonly call "belief" or "habit" that go much much deeper than the way we usually think belief and habit operate.

Also, we all have the same problem. The habit of falsely identifying with the ego self doesn't simply vanish just because you've noticed you're doing it. Noticing this habit is just the first step. But since most people don't even get to this first step, it's a significant one.

So yes, from a theoretical perspective many eastern spiritual masters or leaders or whatever may have some insight into the origin of mental illness. But merely explaining what that insight is may be deeply problematic. Because even mental health professionals are mentally ill in the sense that they are what we falsely call "normal." They're not, by and large, ready to even understand what these eastern spiritual guys are talking about, let alone put it into practice. They haven't done enough meditation to be able to grasp what's being talked about.

But that's OK. It's their job to try and deal with the concrete problems of mental illness. It's just that when these folks talk about mindfulness or even meditation many of them don't really get what they're dealing with. For one thing, they tend to seriously underestimate the real power of this stuff. They often seem to think it's just a way to make you calm down a little.










Here's a photo to show you what I had to deal with while writing this. Crum knows he's being obnoxiously cute. I'm sure of it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Guided By Voices?

First up. Here is a very nice review of the new audiobook edition of Hardcore Zen. Thanks, Punk Globe!

But it's not all positives! Oh no! Gempo Roshi has lashed out against the audiobook in this new video:


Also, Zero Defex has been hard at work on a video shoot. Here's a still from what we did on Monday at Wadsworth High School (of all places).


 We'll be playing in Kent, Ohio this Saturday May 5th, 2012 at the Stone Tavern 110 E. Main St. in Kent. The show starts at 9. We go on later than that, though. Come and see Mick Hurray's head float through the air!


I got an interesting email the other day that went like this:

I read Hardcore Zen when I was in college about 8 years ago, thought it was pretty excellent and then promptly forgot about it.  In between my mind exploded, I was diagnosed with probably every major mental illness that existed and I've been drugged to the gills by people who think they are 'helping'.  I heard voices and still do occasionally.

The only thing besides a really incredible wife that has really helped me not put a bullet in my head is meditation and Buddhism, even though I hate almost everyone and everything that surrounds it.  After losing my mind a few times, I remembered reading somewhere something to the effect of "I don't understand why people that hear voices listen to them. I'd tell them to fuck off and get a body".  And for a long time, I thought, whoever this guy is a total fucking asshole who has no idea what he's talking about.  It's about as funny as a dead baby joke to someone who actually has a dead baby., It's bad advice, too.

So a few days ago I'm in a hippy-dippy used bookstore and I found your book and read it again.  And it resonated with me much more than it had 8 years ago, it's a fantastic book and it's wonderful to hear someone else's frustrations with the bullshit that surrounds Buddhism.  And then I found the quote that had stuck with me so long - in your book - and it sort of reflected everything else about Buddhism - that most people in these communities don't know shit about mental illness, they're just terrified of it and want to get away from it.

Why am I telling you this? Not to pin the blame on you over one fucking sentence in a book you wrote years ago and not because I believe you are intentionally perpetuating this prejudice.  Because if you consider yourself a teacher, I want to tell you that statements like these, while funny and true, cut deep.  They drive away people like me that need to know reality and need to know they aren't alone at the same time that many mental-health practitioners are pushing shitty drugs and Orwellian doublespeak under the banner of mindfulness.


This is how I replied:

I just recorded the audiobook version of Hardcore Zen and when I came to that line I wanted to change it. This was before I even read your email. But I left it in because I feel really strongly that people who change works of art suck. Like George Lucas did with Star Wars. Ugh!

The reason I wanted to change it is that I'm now a lot more aware of the realities of mental illness than I was in 2003. So I realize now that joke is not really very good. On the other hand, it's an honest statement of what I thought at the time. I feel like that's often useful even when it's wrong. Does that make sense? If people are put off by that statement, maybe they should be. It shows that I don't have all the answers and people ought to know that.


Anyway, I know now it's not as easy as what I wrote. I think I knew it at the time too. I think possibly what I was getting at was the Buddhist notion that you have to learn not to believe your own bullshit. Not everyone hears actual disembodied voices. But everyone tells themselves things & then believes those things. We all need to learn to tell ourselves to fuck off.


I'm really sorry the statement caused you trouble. I'm glad you're getting better now. 


The issue of meditation and mental illness is really complex, especially these days. Traditionally, Buddhists have almost always touted meditation as a better treatment for mental illness than the standard medical methods. For example, somewhere in Shobogenzo Dogen gives a list of advice for practitioners. One of these is, "Don't take medicine for mental illness."

Of course the medicines prescribed for mental illness in Dogen's time (13th century CE Japan) were not like the ones we have today. It's hard to even imagine what he might have been referring to. Nor was mental illness understood in the way we understand it today. Which isn't to say we have a complete understanding of it even now. But I think it's safe to say our understanding of metal illness today is objectively better than it was in Dogen's time.

Even so, these days a lot of meditation teachers still insist that meditation is a better treatment for mental illness than drugs. I tend to agree somewhat but only with some very significant reservations. I think ultimately, in the very long term, if one is extremely committed to meditation practice, with an exceedingly patient and loyal teacher, that meditation is probably a better way to go. But I think it's extremely rare for all these conditions to come together. For example, I don't think I could be patient enough to deal with a student who was seriously mentally ill no matter how dedicated he was. It also depends on the severity of the illness in question. These days medication for mental illness is prescribed for a lot of people who really don't need it. That's a whole debate in itself, which I'm not going to get into. 

There are a lot of people who really need these medications just to have any semblance of a normal life. There are a lot of people who might benefit from meditation, but who will not dedicate themselves to it enough for it to be really effective. In the real world it isn't always possible to establish ideal conditions.

It's kind of like dieting and exercise. I think it's pretty clear that the best, most natural, least complicated way to slim down is through diet and exercise. But it's a very different thing for someone who is twenty pounds overweight than it is for someone who is three-hundred pounds overweight. Somebody who weighs 450 pounds might die before diet and exercise could have a significant effect — even though he can take off twenty pounds through diet and exercise just like a slimmer person. He may therefore need something more drastic. Meditation and mental illness work something like that. But this is still a very incomplete metaphor.


*****

In case people don't get the joke with the video above, I was referencing a series called Ask Roshi. You can find several examples on YouTube. There's one about The Law of Attraction in which Genpo tries to draw in fans of The Secret. There's one on Why We Suffer in which Genpo identifies himself on screen as a "Zen Master." Like I've said before, anyone who would use such a term except as a joke doesn't have a single clue what Zen is about. These videos each have well over 10,000 views. 

It's really warped what the general public thinks is significant and serious in terms of Zen or meditation in general.  I aim to spend the next couple years doing some significant damage to this bullshit.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Going to California


I'm now committed.

On Friday my friend Pirooz, director of Shoplifting from American Apparel, signed a lease for an apartment in Los Angeles, California that he and I will move into in June, 2012. On that very same day — perhaps at the exact same moment — I signed a contract with New World Library to publish my next book There Is No God And He Is Your Creator. This could come out as soon as Spring 2013 or might be pushed back to Fall. We're not sure yet.

In the meanwhile, the audiobook of Hardcore Zen is on sale right now. Just in case you've forgotten.

And a new eBook collection called Hardcore Zen Strikes Again will be out any minute now. I think they're still working out some kinks in formatting. I realized I couldn't do it myself so the fine folks at Cooperative Press in Cleveland are handling that part. Up till now they've only done books about knitting. But Shannon, who runs the company, is a fan of my writing. So this will be their first non-knitting related title.

Hardcore Zen Strikes Again is a collection of essays I wrote for the old Sit Down and Shut Up webpage. Many of the articles I wrote for that page ended up reworked into chapters of Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth About Reality. Many did not. Others were so thoroughly reworked you wouldn't recognize them. It is articles from the latter two categories that I chose for Hardcore Zen Strikes Again. I've also included a chapter that was cut out of Hardcore Zen and an article I wrote for a Japanese monster fanzine consisting mainly of things I wrote about my work at Tsuburaya Productions that were also removed from Hardcore Zen. So the book is sort of like the bonus disc for Hardcore Zen. Hence the title. The essays are each accompanied by new introductions and afterwords talking about how my views on things have totally changed now and why the essays are shit.

Not really. But I am not nearly as loud in my writing as I was in 2001. I say pretty much the same stuff, just in a different way.

Those of you without Kindles or iPads or Nooks need not fret. There will be a print version as well. But the print version will be produced in limited quantities. Whether you'll be able to find it in stores or not is still an open question. Probably you will.

Going to California is a big move for me, and, in some ways a thoroughly stupid one. It's stupid because I could have saved myself a lot of hassle and just stayed in Los Angeles. But, really, things there at the time had become un-workable and I needed a change. It's also stupid because I'm now making way less money than I was when I moved away and am going to a place where the rent is more than twice what I'm paying in Akron.

But it's also a good move because I liked living in California. It's sunny. It's warm. It's L.A., with all the weirdness that means. I'm going to try getting a teaching gig out there or maybe work in the film industry. Pirooz has a company, which is mainly just him right now, called Sangha Films. Years and years before I ever met Pirooz I had the notion that maybe there could be a Buddhist sangha whose livelihood was supported by making movies. Lots of Buddhist sanghas support themselves with commercial endeavors. Some sanghas make tofu, some bake bread, San Francisco Zen Center runs a luxury tourist resort (Tassajara). So why not movies?

I'm hoping to talk Pirooz into moving in this direction with me. But every time I say something about it he just sort of grunts noncommittally. We'll see. I envision it as sort of a Zen version of Troma Films. Not in terms of the gore and splatter. But in terms of the way Troma is fiercely independent, knows its audience thoroughly, and makes its way in the world by producing movies that will never be big hits but always sell to its loyal core audience. Pirooz wants to make a zombie movie next. I'm trying to convince him to make it a Zen zombie movie. We'll see...

Every choice a person makes in life affects their future in ways large and small, foreseeable and unforeseeable. Even a smile or a frown can make a huge difference. But some decisions seem more momentous than others. Signing that book contract and committing to a huge move in the same day seem pretty momentous to me. To be honest, I'm scared shitless. Maybe a year from now you'll find me living in a cardboard box on Venice Beach trying to sell CD-Rs of my audiobook in order to buy burritos. But maybe not.

Sometimes you just gotta make a move.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Three Stooges

On Tuesday night I watched the new Three Stooges movie directed by the Farrelly Brothers.

I've been a big Stooges fan since I was a little kid and watched them on VOK (Voice of Kenya) in Nairobi. It was the publication of Moe Howard's autobiography Moe Howard and the 3 Stooges: The Pictorial Biography of the Wildest Trio in the History of American Entertainment that really sealed it for me, though. That book humanized the trio and I began to like them not just because they were funny, but for the story of who they were. Since then I've read everything I could find about the Stooges including not one, not two, but three biographies of Larry Fine, the Stooge in the middle. (One Fine Stooge: Larry Fine's Frizzy Life In Pictures is the best, by the way).

I attended a 9:40 showing at a multiplex on Akron's west side. I was the only one in the theater in which the Stooges film was shown. That was pretty weird. I've been to a few showings at such multiplexes where very few people showed up. But this was the first time I'd watched a movie in a theater completely alone. Would they have shown it at all if I hadn't been in there? Is this a koan?

I liked the movie but I didn't love it. I wanted to love it. But I couldn't. Here's what was good about the movie. Larry David was terrific as Sister Mary-Mengele, a nun who bears the brunt of most of the Stooges outlandish behavior. All of the actors who play the Stooges do a tremendous impressions of the real guys, particularly Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe. He really has the voice and the mannerisms down. And there were some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. I'm usually not the type who LOLs at movies even when there's an audience in the theater with me. But I actually laughed aloud several times during my private screening.

But maybe I came to the film with too many fanboy hopes. See, if I were to make a Three Stooges movie, I would recreate some of the iconic Stooge moments. I'd have Curly trap himself in a maze of pipes while trying to fix a leak. I'd have Moe do the Niagara Falls routine. I'd have them do the maharaja routine. I'd hire Samuel L. Jackson in a cameo to do Dudley Dickerson's "This house has sho' gone crazy" line. I'd get someone to say "Hold hands you love birds." I'd also put in some references to Shemp, Joe Besser and Curly Joe DeRita. There is one scene in the movie where a rat makes Shemp's trademark "Eep-eep-eep" sound. But that's as close as we get. Maybe I'd have them get a sandwich at De Rita's Delicatessen or have them meet a character who does Joe Besser's effeminate mannerisms and make something out of how that would play in the 21st century.

The Farrelly Brothers seem to understand that part of the key to the Stooges' humor is all about the lower classes making fun of the upper class. But they never really take it far enough. The representatives of the upper classes are bad people because they're plotting a murder. In the Stooges' films the upper classes were always just twits because they were twits. Not that the Stooges were intrinsically better. I think what I like best about the Stooges' films is that in them everybody is an idiot, even the main characters (the Stooges) you're supposed to identify with.

It's funny to see the Stooges portrayed as they were in the 1930s having to come to terms with contemporary American society — like having Curly try to use an iPhone and Moe getting cast on The Jersey Shore. But even these feel a bit half-hearted. Why not do a whole movie about this? It's never really explained why the Stooges alone dress, talk and act like people from the 1930s while everyone else exists in 2012. I kept wondering if these bits were left over from some unused version of the script in which the Three Stooges time travel to our era.

All in all, it's a good movie, but not a great one. Am I weird for thinking there actually could be a great movie about The Three Stooges?


Monday, April 23, 2012

Dogen Sangha International Post Mortem



I'm going to keep posting commercials until everyone in the world buys a copy of the Hardcore Zen audiobook.

This one came out pretty good. This was a surprise because I'm working with iMovie, which is a pain in the butt compared to Final Cut. I used to use Final Cut. But now the program no longer works so I'm stuck with iMovie. iMove is made for dad to edit out the parts where little Molly drools on the dog and then upload it to YouTube and not much else. Bending it to do what I'm doing takes a certain amount of what feels to me like fooling the program into doing things it doesn't want to do.

Be that as it may. I was talking with Tim McCarthy, my first Zen teacher, yesterday about the demise of Dogen Sangha International (DSI) and about lineages in general. Tim pointed out that the Asian model for passing on lineages in things like Zen, the martial arts, tea ceremony and so on goes something like this. A teacher will often appoint several successors to whom he (or she, but I'll use he for now) gives his blessing to teach as part of his lineage. When the teacher wishes to retire or feels he's about to die, he will often single out one of these successors to inherit whatever that teacher has established in the form of a school. There may be property involved, there might be money, there might be a roster of students, teachers and other such members of that school.

In the case of DSI, the school was almost entirely conceptual. There was no property or money passed on to me and not even a list of members. The only property DSI may or may not have held were certain intellectual property items in the form of the copyrights to certain of Nishijima's written work in English.

I say "may or may not" because even this was never really made clear to me. However, I had long believed that if there was one thing all of Nishijima Roshi's dharma heirs agreed upon it was that some one person or entity should take charge of Nishijima Roshi's written work. There has been a hell of a lot of bickering about Nishijima Roshi's written material in English because he did not produce any of it by himself. He always worked with some native English speaker to turn his ideas into publishable English.

I had believed that all of this had been settled. I was well aware that a number of people were not entirely happy with the way it had been settled. But I had believed at least they accepted things. When I published my last blog I found out immediately that this was not true.

If I felt that Nishijima Roshi's written legacy in English might disappear unless I entered into the fray and fought for DSI to administer all of this material, I might be inclined to fight about it. But everything is available, even if there are several sources for it. What matters is that it's out there. Since this is true it doesn't seem important to me to spend any effort on consolidating things.

What has happened in DSI regarding this material is precisely what always happens when people produce some kind of collaborative piece of art without stipulating one single person or entity as the sole owner of that thing. This is why filmmakers these days are usually very meticulous about having everyone involved sign contracts specifically stating what sort of compensation they will receive and what, if any, rights of ownership they'll have over the finished product. You don't want some guy whose only role in Titanic was to go "Arrrrrggghhh!!" and fall off the ship to start saying he now owns the whole movie.

There are currently no legal versions of any of the Ultraman programs made between 1966 and 1974 available outside of Japan because of problems of this nature. Eventually all the animosity involved in this tore the original Tsuburaya Productions apart. None of the Tsuburaya family are involved in the company that now bears their name.

Some of you who like to post in the comments section appear to believe that, as far as spiritual organizations go, this situation is unique to Dogen Sangha. This is because Dogen Sangha is far more open about our own shortcomings than anyone else in this business. We don't have professional PR people, legal departments and so forth to promote a false image of solidarity like other spiritual organizations do. And trust me folks, they really do. Even the ones headed by those beatifically smiling faces you see on all the covers of the Buddhist mags. Especially them! This is one of the things I like about us. We are honest and open to a fault. It's one of the reasons Dogen Sangha will never be as "successful" as those other spiritual organizations. But in my way of thinking this is the true success of Dogen Sangha.

The issue of the matter of there being multiple successors with one person being singled out as a kind of special successor, or head successor, or whatever, will always be a problem for organizations like Dogen Sangha. The Western solution in many cases seems to be to either try to create some kind of legal framework around this process or to democratize it or both. That's how we handle things. That's how we arrogantly think things must be handled.

But Buddhism isn't like a government or a corporation. When you try to force it into that mold, it breaks. Lots of people will assure you this is not true. But they're mistaken.

Typically when one person is singled out as some kind of special successor in cases like these, the older members of the group refuse to accept him, those who joined around the same time as the newly appointed special successor may grudgingly agree to go along, and those who join after the appointment has been made simply accept it. This is precisely what happened with DSI.

I don't have any interest in trying to convince Nishijima Roshi's older students to accept me as their new dharma daddy. It's like asking me to join in a fight over who gets to eat the last chicken leg in the Col. Sanders bucket. I'm a vegetarian. I don't care who eats it.

I also have no desire to lead Dogen Sangha International. It's not fun. It doesn't make money. It doesn't make me a hit with the ladies. And worse than that it doesn't even help spread the teachings of Dogen. So why do it? That's a serious question that I have put to a number of people and I have never heard a single convincing answer.

Once when I was having some trouble with my little band of misfit meditators in Los Angeles, I went to see Mel Weitsman of the Berkeley Zen Center about it. After listening to me whine for a while, he asked, "What's your bottom line with your group?" I had never thought about it like that. I said that my bottom line was, "I sit zazen ever day. On Saturdays I invite other people to sit with me." And that was it. That's what was at the very bottom for me.

In that case if someone were to come on Saturday and start making a lot of fuss and noise, they'd be interfering with my bottom line and I'd ask them to leave. If they refused to go, I'd end the practice of opening my place to strangers.

As far as Dogen Sangha (International or otherwise) is concerned, I feel pretty much the same way. My bottom line is that I sit and you can join me if you want. Anything that interferes with that needs to be stripped away. Dogen Sangha International was interfering with that, and now it's gone.


SOMEONE SENT ME AN E-MAIL ABOUT THE SPANISH VERSION OF HARDCORE ZEN. I LOST YOUR E-MAIL. PLEASE SEND IT AGAIN IF YOU SEE THIS!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dogen Sangha International is No More

In one of my comments on the previous posting I said that I might dissolve Dogen Sangha International but not just yet.

 Well, I've thought about it some more and I've decided that now is the time to put the thing out of its misery. As of today April 20, 2012 at 7:00 PM Eastern Standard Time (USA), Dogen Sangha International is no more.

Any groups who wish to continue using the name Dogen Sangha may do so. Not that you need my permission anyway. And that's that.

Phew!

 I've wanted to do this for a very long time. There's really no reason to wait any longer. I'm not retiring my position as a monk or discontinuing teaching Zen or anything like that. I'm simply ending Dogen Sangha International.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Betrayal of the Spirit


I just finished reading Betrayal of the Spirit: My Life behind the Headlines of the Hare Krishna Movement by Nori J. Muster. This in spite of the fact that I have two Zen related books waiting patiently for me to review them. One's about Haukuin, the other is about the Heart Sutra. But, frankly, I'm more interested in what happened to the Hare Krishna movement.

In a nutshell, this book is the tale of Nori J. Muster who once went by the name Nandini and served as a key P.R. person for ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) during its most turbulent years, the late 70s through the late 80s. This was the time from right after founder A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's death through the murders and violence depicted in the book Monkey on a Stick, which covers the debacle of New Vrindaban, the "Hare Krishna Disneyland" (they really called it that) in West Virginia.

The Hare Krishna story in short is that a charismatic, dedicated and sincere monk named A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (the Prabhupada part was added later) came to American with something like $2.75 in his pocket and started a worldwide movement based on the ancient teachings he had studied and practiced throughout most of his life. Then he died without clearly naming a successor. The members of his movement have been fighting about this ever since, although things have settled down a lot in the past twenty years.

I can't find the precise quote because I borrowed the book from the library and didn't want to mark it up (though I liked it so much I'll be buying my own copy). But Muster quotes someone who said that Srila Prabhupada had two kinds of authority. There was the institutional authority conferred upon him by his spiritual master. This made him a monk and a teacher. This type of authority could conceivably be conferred upon anyone who went through the necessary steps to receive it.

The other type of authority Srila Prabhupada had was much more nebulous. It was a personal sort of authority that came through his particular personality and the strength of his commitment to his practice combined with all sorts of accidents of fate such as his coming to America in 1965 just when young people there were searching for gurus.

Not long before he died, Prabhupada named eleven men as having the power to initiate new disciples. Each was responsible for a different territory. But he was a bit vague as to whether these men were gurus like him or not. This has been a point of contention ever since. Be that as it may, Prabhupada could only confer institutional authority upon his disciples. He couldn't give them his charisma or his commitment to practice. And he sure couldn't pass on to them the accidents of fate that made what he did possible.

A few of the men among that group of eleven were extremely charismatic but insane. A few others lacked such charisma but were very sincere and tried their best to follow what Praphupada had taught. A couple of those failed spectacularly in their efforts, thus sullying the movement even more. Just two of these eleven men remained in positions of authority within ISKCON at the time Muster wrote her book (1997).

This is all fascinating to me because I find myself in much the same position as those eleven guys. There is a lot less at stake in Dogen Sangha International (DSI). We have no monetary assets at all, no "Palace of Gold" in West Virginia, no one selling our literature or our delicious cookies at airports. Dogen Sangha International is not even registered as an entity with any government agency anywhere. Dogen Sangha Los Angeles is. And I believe Dogen Sangha Bristol in England may be. Dogen Sangha (minus the international) in Chiba, Japan may also be. It's possible others are legally registered in France, Germany and Israel. I'm not sure. But if they are, they are just local entities using that name. DSI has no worldwide meetings to decide policy, no board of governors, no nothing. It's just a name, really.

Nishijima Roshi conferred a certain degree of what we might call "institutional authority" upon a number of his students, me included. Like Srila Prabhupada, Nishijima could not confer his personal authority upon anyone. The word authority here is problematic. But I'm using it here because I can't come up with a better term.

Nishijima also named me as president of Dogen Sangha International. But he never spelled out exactly what that meant. It was extremely important to him, though. And because it was so important to him I said "yes" even though I'm no clearer on what it means to be president of something that doesn't exist than anyone else is. I have resisted any attempts to make Dogen Sangha International anything more definite than it is. (Dogen Sangha Los Angeles, is something entirely different and I'm working toward establishing that as a religious non-profit corporation in the State of California. DSLA will have no authority over any other Dogen Sangha branch.)

In my book Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate I wrote about what happened when that appointment was made. It was remarkably like what happened to the Hare Krishnas, but without anyone being beheaded by a mad disciple.

I've heard from dozens of people since that book came out telling me how things went precisely the same way in their aikido dojo when the master died, or in their church when the pastor passed on and so forth. It's an incredibly common scenario. It happened at the San Francisco Zen Center when Suzuki Roshi died and, to a lesser extent, at some of the temples Katagiri Roshi established after he died. Paul, Peter and James battled over whose interpretations of Christ's teachings were correct.

It happened after Buddha died too, according to Stephen Batchelor in his book Confession of a Buddhist Atheist. Batchelor believes that Maha Kashyapa, revered by many Buddhists (and pretty much all Zen Buddhists) as Gautama Buddha's rightful successor was more of a guy with political savvy who pulled the ranks together than someone who actually understood what Buddha was on about. In fact, Buddha is on record as telling his followers not to appoint a successor.

And this will happen again, many more times.

So why do guys like Gautama Buddha, Srila Prabhupada, Nishijima Roshi and so many others even attempt to set up these institutions? Are they so naive as to think that their institution alone won't go through what every single other one like it has gone through as far back as the beginnings of recorded human history?

Some of them may be that naive. But my guess is that most are not. Because institutions also manage to preserve these teachings even in spite of the power struggles and suchlike that always take place. We know what Buddha taught (or at least some approximation thereof) because of the institution that wily old politician Maha Kashyapa set up to preserve it. Had Buddha's followers actually taken his instructions not to appoint a successor to heart, we probably wouldn't know very much about Buddha today except as a minor philosopher in ancient India.

And there you have my dilemma regarding Dogen Sangha International, and why I am so wishy-washy as to what to do about it.

Answers on a postcard please.


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