Thursday, January 26, 2012


I have a silly question. When meditating, I've read one is to be aware, and not much else. However, when thoughts calm down, what is one suppose to be aware of. I check posture. But is the mind suppose to settle on something. Or simply search out--thus disturbing the calm--something to be aware of. I don't know if there is an answer--non-thinking maybe it. But I'm not sure I truly understand non-thinking.

There are no silly questions. Only silly people!

No. I don't mean that really. I don't know why people always want to belittle their own questions. This one's a pretty common one.

The real question is; Does awareness need an object? Or does awareness only appear when we divide subject and object?

In practical terms, when my zazen gets screwy I fix my posture. When it gets screwy again, I fix my posture again.

But there's no real need to be aware of anything specific.

One thing I was wondering if you'd written anything on is the uneasy relationship of zazen and intellectual discourse. This point is difficult for me because I'm sometimes irrepressibly intellectual, and reading Western philosophy has shaped me as much as my practice, but in different ways. Anyway, at times I detect a subtle hostility or contempt for intellectual argument in zen practitioners that I find baffling. For instance, one newcomer recently had mentioned having read up a bit on Zen practice, to which a more experienced practitioner responded, "Oh, no need for those books. Reading just confuses you in my experience." Now, of course she was referring to reading about Zen philosophy, or maybe philosophy in general, but in any case it felt a little knee-jerk. It reminded me of all those times I've been in discussions about X spiritual matter and when I asked--in as humble and sincere a way as I am capable of mustering--for clarification on some point or other, I was met with one of two reactions: A) hostility, because they regarded me as an ill-intentioned provocateur, or B) condescension, like I'm some clueless hyper-educated idiot. Or just frustration, that happens a lot too. And again, most of this stuff is pretty subtle, probably unconscious, but the underlying message less so: Just shut up and accept what is being said. I'm in total agreement that there are limits to how you can talk about, say, the nature of reality or the basis of ethical action, but just because those limits exist doesn't mean that you can't explore the space they contain. Or that, given that teachers use of natural language to explain concepts, you can't prod a little bit in hope of gaining some new perspective. (But yeah, it's a thin line between that and just dickheaded arrogance.) This happens mostly in discussions of the idea of one's "nature/essence," what "energy" is, or "enlightenment." It's all the more esoteric stuff, so not terribly important to my practice. But it does come up every once in a while, and then I feel like people are throwing around terms without a very coherent picture of how they fit together. In other words, I hear a lot of what is flawed logical argument that then retreats behind "the intuitive" when you point out how the logic is whack. To me that is bad dualistic thinking trying to pass as non-dual, where the non-dual answer would seem to call a lot of these concepts deeply into question, including the very idea of an opposition between intuition and intellect.

Oh just shut up and believe what I tell you to!

No! Sometimes this is a knee-jerk response. Sometimes it's a guy trying to be dogmatic about Zen. But often it's neither. You can only take intellectual discussion so far. After that it just becomes pointless. Intellectual discussion is limited by what the brain is able to conceive. The brain thinks it can conceive anything. And in a sense it is limitlessly able to box the universe up in new ways. There is no end to the ways we can frame things for ourselves and for others. But that's all we can do, frame things in different ways.

Dogen was also an intellectual. That's why he wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. He really attempted to frame things for us in the most accurate way possible. But he was also keenly aware that there was no ultimately accurate way of framing reality. So his writing is full of contradictions.

I have trouble keeping my eyes still while doing zazen. I have practiced for several years at this point, and my eyes move around just as much as at the beginning, though my legs have settled into half-lotus, my spine gets in a nice comfortable balance and so on.

Is this part of the posture, keeping my eyes in one spot? That is, should stillness of the eyes be a goal that I should work towards, just like getting into half-lotus posture was for me a few years ago?

I am aware that my eyes moving around is not some random, purely physical, automatic phenomenon. I have at least noticed that moving my eyes is connected to the flow of my thoughts. So another way of phrasing the question is: in your experience, is it best to treat compulsive motions like this as something I need to work on outside of the practice, as I would by stretching my legs, or should I look at it as part of the practice, bring to it the same kind of unattached attention as I would a fly buzzing around the room or the stream of thoughts in my mind?

I used to put a little dot on the wall and stare at that because I had much the same problem. This is kind of an unorthodox answer, though. I don't think Dogen would approve. But he's dead so we can't ask him what he thinks.

I'd say to try to work on this in terms of movement of the eyes. So rather than trying to stop thinking, maybe you can just try to stop your eyes from moving so much. I had some problems with twitching several years ago. I'd get a lot of random muscle twitches. My thumbs would jump up of their own accord and so forth.

I worked on that my waiting to see what happened when a muscle would jump. I didn't try to stop it from happening. Quite the opposite. I wanted it to happen so I could observe how it worked. I found that there was one specific state of mind that I'd go into just before the muscles would twitch. It's impossible for me to describe that state of mind. It was sort of foggy. That's all I can really say.

Anyhow, I found that I was able to avoid lapsing into that state. By avoiding that state of mind, I was able to stop the twitching.

I also found there was no real difference between what we call "voluntary" and what we call "involuntary" movement. That is, there was some aspect of what we usually call "voluntary" movement even in those movements we usually label as "involuntary." I never reached this level, but I would assume this is the kind of thing yogis who can slow down their heart rate or raise their body temperature at will do.

What is a "zen monk"?

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that it may tend to incriminate me.

But really... what in gosh's name is a zen monk?

For me it's like this. I studied with a Zen teacher for several years. At some point he asked me to go through this weird ceremony called shukke (出家), which means "home leaving." There was also no "or else" element to his request. I could take it or leave it. But he thought it would be a good idea.

I wasn't interested in doing this stupid ceremony. But this was the first time Nishijima Roshi had ever given me any kind of unsolicited advise. He'd answered questions before this. But he'd never told me what he thought I should do. So I figured this must be important.

The ceremony itself was fairly painless. I felt vaguely silly for about 45 minutes and then I was done. After the ceremony I asked Nishijima if I was a monk. He said, "Yes you are a monk."

A couple years after that I decided on my own to do the more "official" shukke ceremony through the highly official Soto-shu organization, a gigantic evil religious institution in Japan (but with Nishijima Roshi officiating, since he is a card carrying member of Soto-shu). That ceremony was far more inconvenient and way more embarrassing. I had to shave my head! I looked like Nosferatu for two or three weeks while my hair grew back. It was also really hot the day I did it. And I had to wear these horrible ugly white pajama things and have my photo taken in them. It was pretty awful.

But having done that I can now really call myself a Zen monk. It's even written down on a piece of paper somewhere in an office in Japan, filed away with all the other dumbasses who've done that silly ceremony.

On the other hand, many people have argued that I am not a monk. Their definitions of what is and is not a monk are different.

Becoming a monk isn't something you can just do on your own. You can't just decide to call yourself as a monk and expect anyone to take you seriously. You have to go through some kind of social ceremony in which someone else declares you a monk. But once that happens, you're a monk.

Of course people still might say you're not a monk. But, to take me as just one example, if someone says I'm not a monk they've also got to say that everyone registered with the Soto-shu of Japan as a monk is also not a monk. And many people do say that. Or else they have to set up their own standards and say that some of those monks are monks while others are not. But these are both iffy positions because you're going up against a really big organization who, though they are evil, have a lot of respect. Which doesn't stop some people from doing so anyhow.

The extent to which you're taken seriously in the big wide world as a monk is determined by the extent to which the organization that gave you the designation is taken seriously in the big wide world. If, for example, Joe's Zen Palour in Ravenna, Ohio calls you a monk that probably won't carry as much weight as the Soto-shu of Japan calling you a monk.

This is the reason I did the Soto-shu ceremony. At the time, I thought it was important to be seen as a legit monk. I now place far less importance on the matter.

Still, I've done the ceremony. Actually these days I'm somewhat embarrassed by that fact. I'm not so sure I'd call it a mistake. But it's not something I would do now if I hadn't done it 12 years ago. For better or worse I am a monk and I'll be a monk for life unless I choose to renounce what I did all those years ago.

As for what it means to be a monk, which is probably your real question... that's a lot harder to say. For me it means I've made a public commitment to zazen practice. That's pretty much it. For others it means following a strict set of regulations. For still others it's a badge of identity.

But these are the only-est Monks who really matter!


From the comments page-
@Brad, you wrote:
"But it's not something I would do now if I hadn't done it 12 years ago."

Can you give a reason? Or is it an emotional thing, being annoyed by the 'label' you are carrying with you since then?

I feel now like registering with Soto-shu was unnecessary. At the time I figured it was now or never. Meaning that while I was living in Japan in close conjunction with Nishijima Roshi, registering with Soto-shu would be relatively easy. I knew that if I waited and then later on decided to do it, the process would be extremely difficult. For example, if I waited till Nishijima Roshi was no longer with us there would have been a lot of bureaucratic steps involved that N was able to bypass. Or if I waited till I got back to America there would be the extra expense of going to Japan.

I'm not sure how much I benefited from the registration. It's likely that Wisdom Publications took my manuscript a tad more seriously because I was registered. But I think they would have considered my having been given dharma transmission by Nishijima Roshi enough.

I hope the distinction is clear. I did two almost identical ceremonies. One was with Nishijima Roshi in his dojo. That ceremony was not registered with Soto-shu. A few years later I went through almost the same ceremony but performed at Tokei-in temple. Again Nishijima officiated. But this time there were three monks from the temple in attendance, photos were taken, forms were filled out and mailed in and a few weeks later I got my certificate. With my name misspelled! So perhaps some guy named Bradely Warner is a Soto-shu monk while I am not.

I feel like the first ceremony with Nishijima at his dojo was my real ordination, while the second one was just a formality to get me on the books with an organization I have rarely interacted with since then.

I don't regret the ceremony with Nishijima. Although I'm still somewhat ambivalent as to what it really meant. The second ceremony with Soto-shu was something I did for pretty much all the wrong reasons. But I did it and it's done. I've done lots more regrettable things than that in my life.

Also, the dharma transmission ceremony was yet again a whole OTHER thing.

I could have had that formalized by Soto-shu as well. I looked into it. But it would have been really expensive (I think I worked it out that I'd have had to spend between $2000 and $5000 to get it all taken care of). It would also have been patently ridiculous.

One of the steps involved was to do this kind of Q&A session designed to check if I had truly mastered the dharma. BUT both the questions and their answers are already set. I'd have just had to memorize them and spit them out on cue.

Then you get to be honorary head of Soto-shu for a day or some shit. But you can't, like, disband the whole organization or decide to change everyone from black robes to pink tutus or whatever. Which would have made it worthwhile. No. You just get to sit in a special chair or something. Big deal. I'm not into that kind of nonsense. So I'm not gonna pay a couple thousand dollars to do it.

The whole thing just sounded like a parody of what Buddhism is really about.


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Noiretsym said...

Never trust a hypertext link.
Especially if it's posted by someone whose username starts with the letter "M".
Or ends with the letter "N".
Or has the letters "Y", "S", "T", "E", "R", "I" or "O" in the middle.

Anonymous said...

two ooh one

sorry... just couldn't leave it alone... mind's like that isn't it?

Mysterion said...

"stupid poodle"

He is neither stupid nor a "poodle."

He is a Westie-poo.

james said...

Salutations. In a couple of Buddhist magazines, I've noticed the idea that we should discard the narratives we create about our lives. Why is this so? Also, if I think of the concept of Karma as simply cause and effect, and I then say, "I did this and the effect was that", isn't this already a narrative? How do we stop thinking this way?

Brad Warner said...

Thanks. For your books. Anyway I have a question:
Any parenting advice from a buddhist perspective? Jenn

I'm not a parent. So I feel like I'm not really qualified to dispense parenting advice.

What I do when interacting with children, though, is to never talk down to them. They may be less experienced. But I don't think they're less intelligent.

This being said, I am terrible with matters of disciplining anyone. One of the things I most hate in Zen retreats is when certain people insist on behaving in childish ways expecting me, as the teacher, to discipline them. It doesn't happen every time. But it happens often enough to be really annoying.

I am really impressed by parents who can handle matters of discipline effectively. I think that must be the most difficult part.

proulx michel said...

Sorry to ask this here:

Malcolm (Anon #108) could you tell me if samadhi is a masculine or feminine noun in Sanskrit?

Anonymous said...

I think the thought of non-thinking when I drink beer !!!

How Beer Saved The World


Lucius Bobikiewicz said...

@buddy at 10:01

Your definition of a monk as someone living in a monestary and practicing celibacy sounds quite American.

In Europe you find hundreds of Zen-Monks. Over here 99% of them would feel embarassed by the term "priest". In fact I have never heard this term being used over her. The monks here are not in the business of providing soule massages to others or performing weddings or funerals.

anon #108 said...

Hi pm,

samaadhi is masculine.

Queen Vaidehi said...

Can anybody find me
samaadhi to love?

Anonymous said...

I can't see anything here past the 200th comment. Is there something wrong with this blog??? No "newest" comment option. Brad please fix or post something new so we cn hav fun again bwaaaaahhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

OK, now its working, what was that, magic? Are you magic, Brad?

I'm with cupid said...

Your mom is masculine.

Julian said...

Hey Brad,
I admire your non-authorative way of teaching. On the way, we stumble across many teachers who teach in a much different way. They want to bring their thoughts and dogmas to the stundent, which breeds confusion.
Thank You.

jizzam said...

"This being said, I am terrible with matters of disciplining anyone."

Is there a differece between disciplining and being undisciplined?

Is Jundo disciplined in his approach to teaching Zen and Brad undisciplined?

Anonymous said...

hmm.. I see that there have been 215 comments made, but when I click on it I can only see 200. Is anyone else having this problem? How would I find out if they were? Dad??

jamal said...

"You can bet your last money, it's all gonna be a stone gas, honey! I'm Don Cornelius, and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!"

Paul Young said...

I've gotten more (not that I was striving for some goal)from sitting on my own and reading Brad and after that Nishijima's work than I've ever gotten from attending a Sesshin, and i've always had great respect for the people and have always left humbled. But It didn't seem like they had a clue any more than any one else. and their discussions or Dharma talks never expressed the truth any better than brad and for the most part worse comparatively and lacking in substance. besides you don't want to waste precious bowing and chanting time. (I'm not saying there's people who aren't way better at it than Brad, I'm sure there are, but I sure as hell am not meeting them, at least I haven't found them yet.) The intellectual part reminds me of sheet music. You can be completely fluent in (truth)the musical language and not know how to read it or put it on paper, but If you can also read and be a gifted musician you can look at someone's sheet music (the intellectual part) and get an idea of how it would sound or what the piece is trying to accomplish. Not until she plays it though will she see and understand the full spectrum and depth of the composition and what she has to do within it. Just like Zazen and it's intellectual part. Until you do zazen or what I like to call sitting you won't understand what it's about. Just reading won't help, but once you do get to have an idea of what the truth is or playing good music than you can learn from text because it mirrors your own experiences, but mirrors need polished and instruments need practiced and the only way to do that is sitting down and getting to it.

If you're mainly focused on the daily practice and support it with some reading in my book that can only help, but reading is only second and can be neglected unlike sitting. (so the individual practice has been more beneficial for me than anything else) also departing from my practice and questioning everything i had been doing was extremely helpful in cementing my practice. a month didn't go by until I was having flashbacks to BW pages because my experiences were rectifying his words. but it wasn't till i experienced it that it meant anything.

important this always threw me off. non-thinking isn't NOT-THINKING. If you're thinking "not-thinking" you're thinking. you're not trying to stop your mind.

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