Sunday, March 18, 2012

Authenticity in Los Angeles

I just got back from Los Angeles and boy are my brains tired.

I always find that shorter distances are more difficult than longer ones when it comes to jet lag. I can usually recover from a trip from LA to Tokyo, with a time difference of ten hours, in a couple days. But it always seems like it takes me a week to recover from the three hour time difference between Ohio and California. So I'm all spaced out right now.

And, of course, as soon as I leave Ohio, the weather gets nice here. I think the temperatures were warmer on average in Akron last week than they were in Los Angeles.

I did two Zen events while in California, one all-day zazen micro-retreat at the Hill Street Center in Santa Monica and a talk at Against The Stream, Noah Levine's place in Hollywood. I also appeared on Suicide Girls radio with hosts Nicole Powers and Darrah De Jour. The other guests were two women who work at The Dominion, an S&M club on Venice Blvd. in LA. Snow Mercy was a tall dominant and Koko was a teeny little submissive. It was a pretty interesting chat.

We also filmed some more of the documentary they're making about me. I'm determined that this will not be the standard type of reverential fluff-piece that usually comes out when people are doing documentaries about so-called "spiritual teachers." So I've been doing my best to try and trash any hint of that. Hopefully the finished product will at least be funny and entertaining. The photos on this post are stills from last week's shoot.

I think it's really vital to destroy the image that has been built up of what a "spiritual teacher" is supposed to be. I feel like no good can possibly come of the belief in supposedly perfected beings. They simply do not exist.

On the other hand I have no doubt I'd be far more successful in the way that term is usually defined if I just played the role that's expected of someone in my position rather than constantly questioning it. I just don't see that as a way to do anyone any good. And not only that, I wouldn't enjoy it as much as I enjoy acting like an idiot in front of a camera or an audience.

People in this Eastern spirituality business often talk a lot about something they call "authenticity." But usually what they call authenticity seems to me more like fitting into a mold of what someone else imagines authenticity ought to look like. I think it's time someone tried being truly authentic for a change. It's more fun that way anyhow.


Harry said...


Harry said...

Hee hee, ye Wild Colonial Boyz ain't fast enough for the original of the species. Nyuk Nyuk.

Blessins of St. Patreek on blighted livers everywhere!

'Authenticity' is a very intewesting angle, by-the-way... the whole Japanesey fetish thing creeps me out a bit too at times (most times it's just none of my business tho).

The notion of zen practice and 'authenticity' can have an interesting bearing on what we might term 'the arts' (whatever tha hell 'they' are any more)... and on our regular everyday behaviours.

Just to stir things up (who, moi!?), and to poke at the smelly old carcass of the late 'mindfulness' horsey: is there, say, an 'authentic' way to take a shit as opposed to an 'inauthentic' way to dump one?

An 'authentic' way to play bass, as opposed to an inauthentic way?

...and, shazaam...

An 'authentic' way to do zazen as opposed an inauthentic way...?

In the face of staid and stilted institutionalisation, or other cultural/social/historical stasis, the tendancy might be to swing to extremes where, actually, a simple practical point might clarify the matter in a fuller way.



K Grey said...

One of my random Twitterings comes to mind: "Authenticity" simply means you are the author of your own BS."

anon #108 said...

Speaking of authentic Eastern spiritual teachings...

I (‘jiblet’) have written a review of Mike Luetchford’s translation of, and commentary on, Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika – the same text that was translated, with editing and commentarial help from Brad, by Gudo Nishijima and recently published as “Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way”. Mike’s version is called “Between Heaven and Earth”. The review includes criticism of Gudo’s translation and Brad’s involvement in it. (Wars have started over less.) You can read it HERE.

anon #108 said...

Hmm. I can't figure out why the hypertext link isn't working. I suggest copying and pasting.

Anonymous said...

Authenticity issue is fab.

Who determines authenticity?

What is not what it is?

What is what you do not want it to be?

Jinzang said...

Shunyata, as Luetchford makes clear in his introduction, is a term used in the earliest Buddhist texts to refer to a real state in experience, not merely an abstract notion, and where appropriate - by no means always - his translation adopts the earlier understanding.

The "earliest Buddhist texts" do not use the term shunyata in the same sense as the Perfection of Wisdom sutras or Nagarjuna use them. Trying to treat Buddhism as a single philosophy where terms are used univocally can only lead to confusion.

Nagarjuna and the tradition that followed him treat shunyata as a negation or an absence. Taking it as a thing or an experience misses the point badly.

This is not a niggling point about an outdated philosophy. If you go looking for something in your meditation, you may find it, but i won't be Zen.

roman said...

to support Brad's opinion I have knowsn for a few years, I wrote this The Show Called Zen

Harry said...

I think that if we look at Nagarjuna from the point of view of his being simply a clever philosopher with a negative philosophical method then it might be possible to think of his idea of shunyata as just a philosophical negation.

But it seems to me that Nagarjuna was an *authentic* Buddhist ancestor, and that his position was not nearly so limited.

I agree with Murti: "Negation is not total annulment but comprehension without abstraction".

That, if we want to test it and realise it, is something we are required to do, very much in keeping with the Buddhist tradition...

Is this really 'experiencing shunyata'? I think so; othewise Buddhist philosophy is meaningless nonsense and Nagajuna was a nihilist, not an proponant of a 'middle way'.



Harry said...

...the active, experiential principle 'learned' therein is generally discussed in terms of prajna, of course.



Anonymous said...


(that's *two* 1's in a row, Harry)

Harry said...


alan sailer said...


It's bodhisattva, not bunnisattva.

Unless your vow is to save all candied Easter eggs....


anon #108 said...

The "earliest Buddhist texts" do not use the term shunyata in the same sense as the Perfection of Wisdom sutras or Nagarjuna use them. Trying to treat Buddhism as a single philosophy where terms are used univocally can only lead to confusion.

That's exactly how it seemed to me at first, Jinz - and still does, sometimes. BUT....Harry puts it well enough.

If you go looking for something in your meditation, you may find it, but i won't be Zen.

I think I see what you mean - "emptiness" as an state of experience to be sought after. Not good. Not what zazen is about. Fair enough. But it's not like that. No one, certainly not Mike Luetchford, is suggesting we go looking for emptiness. But there is a state that naturally occurs in zazen; a state of absence of intentional thinking and perceiving, absence of discrimination - Murti's "comprehension without abstraction"(?). Is that state completely unrelated to the abstract notion of absence of self-nature in phenomena usually understood and perceived to be substantially self-existent?

What was Nagarjuna trying to tell us? I'm not sure. I'm not sure, either, that Harry's right when he says "...otherwise Buddhist philosophy is meaningless nonsense and Nagarjuna was a nihilist, not an proponant of a 'middle way'. But it's well worth considering.

Harry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Harry said...


Nagarjuna speaks pretty clearly about the nature of understanding in our 'being empty'... he's clearly not talking about just kicking a philosophical ball about:

MMK Chap. 22 v. 13 & 14 from Mike L trans:

"By whom is held firmly the understanding that a solid tathagata "exists," conjecturing, he would also imagine "he does not exist" in the ceased state."

"And with this being empty ["sunye asmin"] in respect of self-nature, the thought is never plausible [That] beyond cessation a buddha either "is" or "is not".

So, the point in a buddha's 'being empty' is not simply to affirm or refute terms or, as Dogen expressed it vividly and positively in Genjo-koan, 'The Buddha way, basically, is leaping clear of abundance and lack'.



Pedant said...

Trying to to be authentic is not being authentic it's trying to be what you think authentic is. Being authentic is probably more about being congruent that is being entirely what you are while not trying to be what you think you should be or what others think you should be. Or not!

Sally anne - anne with a E said...

Hi Brad

Will you please describe in your own words "Authenticity".

And also how does one know or spot the difference between inauthentic and authentic.

Thank you in advance

anon #108 said...

(...)he's clearly not talking about just kicking a philosophical ball about.

Agreed, H. No doubt about it.

Mike's interpretive version of those verses (from the "Examination of Buddha-Nature" chapter) is easier to read, I think:

"Someone who believes firmly that a concrete buddha exists
Would also imagine that when he enters Nirvana he ceases to exist.

But since this real Buddha is beyond [the concept of] self-determination,
It is inappropriate to think about whether a buddha exists or does not exist after cessation."

Interesting choice, Harry. And better understood in the context of the whole chapter. Of course.

john e mumbles said...

Malcolm, I can't get the link to fly for your article (either one), but would certainly like to read it.

As to authenticity:

"What others criticize you for cultivate, for that is you."

-Jean Cocteau

Hey Brad, isn't that the shoplifting movie director guy in bed with you in the photo (I mean besides what looks to be a female)? Is he doing this bio thing, too?

anon #108 said...

Hi John,

Hmm again. You could try the link in the first post here:

...if it works. Or go to Amazon UK --> Between Heaven and Earth, Michael Eido Luetchford --> reviews. Apparently I can't put it up the Amazon US site unless and until I buy a book from Amazon US. Is this true? Anyone know?

anon #108 said...

As for the authenticity thing as explained by Brad, and Roman, and Harry - I agree.

anon #108 said...

...and Pedant.

anon #108 said...

...and anonymous. Nite nite.

Harry said...

"Interesting choice, Harry. And better understood in the context of the whole chapter. Of course."

And better understood again in the context from whence it came, M; that is, *authentic* practice ;-)



john e mumbles said...

Yeah the Zen Forum International finally got me to Amazon UK, 108 thanks!

I especially enjoyed Anders Honore's insightful comments regarding your review on ZFI. So, win win.

Jinzang said...

nalrestExplaining what I think is the relation between emptiness and practice is a little involved, so I posted it on my blog instead of here.

Hope you don't mind the blog whoring.

Brad Warner said...

Harry, do they celebrate St Patrick's Day in Ireland the way Americans do? Over here it's a big drinking fest. But it seems more popular on the East Coast and Midwest than on the West Coast of the USA. Maybe because there are more Irish immigrants in the East.

Culturally curiously yours,


Brad Warner said...

Hey Brad, isn't that the shoplifting movie director guy in bed with you in the photo (I mean besides what looks to be a female)? Is he doing this bio thing, too?

Good spotting! Pirooz Kaleyah is the director of both. My doc started filming first, but SFAA got finished much quicker.

Khru said...

This is the worst comment thread ever: far, far worse than that shit-fest from last March.

Jamal said...

Forget about Pirooz.
Who is the little hottie between you two?
She seems authentic.

Broken Yogi said...

My general rule is that anyone who is concerned about authenticity is harboring deep doubts about their own authenticity.

anon #108 said...

Yes john e, Anders is a clever bloke (rarely an insult in my book). Some of the other comments were very helpful too.

Thanks for the link to your blog post, Jinz. More than one way to skin a cat - that's all I got :)

Harry said...


The quick answer to your question is 'yes', St.Patrick's day is basically a booze-fest.

Every town has a St.Patrick's Day parade, which lends a social element for people, and is fun for kids, but the big thing is getting smashed on booze really.

It's a bit like Halloween over here: It's an old Celtic festival that never went away, but it's like we imported elements of what we already did in from the US, so now we have plastic pumpkins where we used to have lanterns made from turnips (seriously), and we have 'trick or treat' that was never a big part of it 'in my day'. Likewise, on Paddy's Day, we have bright green leprachaun hats and red wigs and all that Irish kitch stuff... It's like we've bought into what somebody else's distorted image of Irish-ness... even Mr. Potatohead is at it!



anon #108 said...

I got some more, Jinz-

From your blog post (no comment section, so I’ll respond here) : "The philosophy takes this form because it was developed out of the experience of meditation. The experience of things as they are is beyond conceptualization. Hence the philosophy of emptiness, which is shaped, by this experience…” That sounds pretty darn close to Mike L's understanding of emptiness, I'd say. And his translation of shunyata seeks to make that point. (Note: Mike makes what I think is a very valid distinction between shunya, the adjective ['empty, bare, raw, unadorned], and shunyata, the abstract substantive, which he reads as "the simple natural state of action that is empty of thinking and perception...the "zero" point at which opposites are in balance...neither mental nor perceptive discrimination").

By “remov[ing] the false concepts which obscure things as they are” (your phrase) we can become “happy, free of hindrances” – as Nags writes in his opening dedication.

So “a purely negative critique”? I understand what you mean – Nag’s method is to deconstruct - but the outcome, what’s left, while conceptually empty, is experientially positive.

Sally Anne -Anne with a E said...

Brad thank you for avoiding my question.

Your actions speak volumes

Anonymous said...

Sally Anne,

What do you think 'authentic' means in this context - a person operating an establishment in the 'Eastern Spirituality' business?

Fred said...

Sally Anne said : "Will you please describe in your own words "Authenticity".

And also how does one know or spot the difference between inauthentic and authentic."

How does one recognize no Self upon
the Absolute. One doesn't. One is
No Self upon the Absolute.

The differentiation between
authenticity and non-authenticity
is of concern to identification
with an ego and its place in a
hierarchy of other egos.

No Self upon the Absolute has no
concern with dualistic demarcations
It is the Authentic, the Unborn and
the Undead here now.

Fred said...

As for Trungpa meeting with a Sufi
master, the master's name was Jack

Mysterion said...

"I think it's time someone tried being truly authentic for a change"

I think so...

If you are employed by "the state," then "the state" wants you to carry the appropriate "state" papers. Only the 'law cult' few envision such a future for Buddhism in general and DSI in particular.

The state:
1. Do you have your credential?
2. Do you have your fingerprint card?
3. Do you have your TB card?
4. Do you have your _____ card?

You start feeling like a card dealer (e.g. Reno/Vegas).

In Zen, what would be the point?

I have long maintained that Zen is a party of one - even if you are in a big DoJo with 50 other people or Haiku DoJo with 12, you are still there 'by yourself.' Or a "temple" with _____.

BTW, my sister is a retired shift manager at the MGM if you want a job dealing 21.

Just saying...

Manny Furious said...

Well, "authenticity" is a word I often use when talking about "gurus." However, I thought using that word clarified my own thoughts and feelings, when, it seems--as language is apt to do-- that I was probably sharing only one definition of the word (my own).

When I say that authenticity is important from a teacher (of any kind, really), I'm saying that from a more Heidegger-ian standpoint. That that person is who she/he is--nothing more or less. They don't put on too much of a show.

This is, of course, the opposite of most American teachers of "Eastern" practices. As has been mentioned already, the Eastern-ism becomes fetishised, as do certain vague, mythical attributes often associated to the so-called Eastern Mystic.

To me--and I could be wrong-- Mr. Warner comes across as authentic. Not because he has direct dharma lineage to someone in Japan. But because he seems like a real person living a real life in the real world (whatever that means). Of course, he plays up the "Hardcore" aspect of his practice, but I would argue there's a difference between having a "hook" and being inauthentic. Most things, to make anyone interested, need a hook--and different hooks play to different personalities and so hooks are necessary, whereas personas are not.

Anonymous said...

Authenticity is subjective.

No subject no object.

john e mumbles said...

Jinzag at 6:59 PM. Thanks for the link. IMO it can be summed up in two words: neti neti.

Seagal Rinpoche said...

Wisdom is to see that there is nothing to search for. If you live with a difficult person, that’s nirvana. Perfect. If you’re miserable, that’s it. And I’m not saying to be passive, not to teak action; then you would be trying to hold nirvana as a fixed state. It’s never fixed, but always changing. There is no implicaiton of ‘doing nothing.’ But deeds done that are born of this understanding are free of anger and judgment. No expectation, just pure and compassionate action.

buddy said...

Just been reading Dogen man Uchiyama talking about emptiness as interdependence, that nothing exists except in relation to everything else. He quotes an old scripture which seemed salient to the points about negation/absence being made here: 'Truly seeing the aggregation of the world, the view of nonexistence does not arise. Truly seeing the nonsubstantiality of the world, the view of existence does not arise. The view that all things exist is one extreme; the view that nothing exists is the other extreme. Being apart from these 2 extremes, the Tathagata teaches the dharma of the Middle Way: because this exists, that exists; because this arises, that arises.'

Anonymous said...

"IMO it can be summed up in two words: neti neti." - john e mumbles

That's not two words. That's one word repeated twice. What kind of inauthentic scam are you attempting to perpetrate?

Weasel Tracks said...

Max Entropy said...
"IMO it can be summed up in two words: neti neti." - john e mumbles

That's not two words. That's one word repeated twice. What kind of inauthentic scam are you attempting to perpetrate?

That's one word repeated once.

Anonymous said...

Conformity, Inauthenticity, Lostness.

We were born into a world of quiet conformity.
Initially everything we do and say and think and believe
have been done and said and thought and believed before.
The activities we regard as worthy of our time and effort (learning, work, play),
the ultimate values and meanings we pursue (achievement, love, children),
and the particular styles and forms thru which we pursue these goals
have all been provided by our various human cultures.
How different our lives are from the lives of ancient 'cavemen'!

Unless we find ways to wrest control of our own lives from society,
all of our decisions will continue to be made for us
by the unnoticed forces of the cultures in which we live.
We may not be told which spouse to 'choose' or which job to take,
but how free are we to reject both marriage and work as basic styles of life?
How have we been carried along so successfully by culture without noticing it?

'They' even hide the process by which 'they' have quietly relieved us
of the 'burden' of making choices for ourselves.
It remains a complete mystery who has really done the choosing.
We are carried along by the 'nobody', without making any real choices, becoming ever more deeply ensnared in inauthenticity. This process can be reversed only if we explicitly bring ourselves back from our lostness in the 'they'. But this bringing-back must have that kind of being by the neglect of which we have lost ourselves in inauthenticity.

Who Am I?

But if we notice our conformity, inauthenticity, & lostness,
perhaps we have the possibility of emerging from our cultural cocoon
and creating lives that we clearly own.
Initially we are creatures of our genetic make-up and cultural conditioning.
And if we do not notice our conformity and find ways to retrieve our beings,
we will remain in our culturally-given, inauthentic selves all our lives.

However, in addition to being products of human culture,
we are also our powerful and pervasive internal threat-to-being.
On this foundation, we can begin to construct our Authentic Existence.

How Do We Become More Authentic?

What can reverse the process of sinking deeper and deeper into the 'they'?
How can we extract ourselves from our conformity, rise above our enculturation?
How is it possible to become more whole, centered, & integrated
in a world that prevents precisely these qualities from emerging?
Beginning as conformists whose 'decisions' have already been made by culture,
how can we become more free, unified, & focused?

Our Existential Predicament—perceived, perhaps, as ontological anxiety—
is the rope by which we can climb out of the pit of inauthenticity;
it is the handle by which we can grip our own beings.

First we must acknowledge our ontological anxiety.
This includes peeling away the protective evasions we have so cleverly woven
to protect ourselves from the deepest truth of our being.

Once we have revived our ontological anxiety, we must keep it alive,
not allow it to die away into comfortable obscurity once again.
Instead of letting our being-towards-death fade back
into the diversionary small-talk of the 'they',
we must focus our lives around this 'threat'.
Then our ontological anxiety can become the light of our being
—purifying, refining, & integrating
our otherwise diffuse, preoccupied, & fragmented existence.
In the light (or in the shadow) of this constant internal threat-to-being,
we are empowered to choose our Authentic projects-of-being
—those basic endeavors that correlate best with our ontological anxiety.

Kyle said...

Brad, if I may ask, what is your view or feeling on things such as existential crisis, existential despair? While I'm sure others have various opinions to share on this topic, I am interested as to what you in particular might say on this topic, out of curiosity and personal relevance.

Wes said...


It sounds like you are still leading an interesting life!

I have a question for you:

My wife and I have purchased all of your books new. We also have an e-reader, but the price of the books are the same, or sometimes more!

Is there any way to get a deal from the publisher if you already own the printed book? I'm not being cheap, but really, the e-book has to cost a lot less than the printed book.

Thanks for considering it!

Mysterion said...

Sea Gull sed:

"Wisdom is..."

wisdom is OLD. when confronted with a problem, the people would go ask the old man. perhaps he had seen it before. perhaps he would know what to do.

it works

as long as there isn't a tsunami bearing down on your helpless ass...

Anonymous said...

Or the old guy is, well, you know who.

Anonymous said...

"That's one word repeated once." - Weasel Tracks

It really annoys me when someone nitpicks my nitpicking. Especially when I can't think of anything to explain, even in a convoluted, illogical way, that what I wrote was correct. And don't think that I didn't try.

Jinzang said...

Nag’s method is to deconstruct - but the outcome, what’s left, while conceptually empty, is experientially positive.

Sure, emptiness is only negative in the sense of deconstructing false views. In every other sense it's positive.

Rimshot Seagullski said...

“Anxiety may be compared with dizziness. He whose eye happens to look down into the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. But what is the reason for this? It is just as much in his own eyes as in the abyss . . . Hence, anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”

Jinzang said...

There's more than one sense of authentic, as in the phrase "an authentic teacher teaching authentic Zen."

It seems to me that newcomers worry a lot about authenticity because they're afraid of getting sucked into a cult. They're afraid that after the sitting the cups will be handed out and the teacher will pass a pitcher of Kool-Aid around. So the big question becomes is this teacher genuine and how can I tell?

The answer people usually settle on is to judge by conduct. That's an entirely reasonable answer, but unfortunately the wrong one. And it has a bad effect on the teacher who wishes to impress their students, or at least not disappoint them, who reacts by trying to act better than they actually are. Both sides, student and teacher, are perfectly sincere, but the result is that what is taught is not the dharma, but the eight worldly winds.

Teachers should be judged on their motivation for teaching and their understanding of what they are trying to teach. They shouldn't try to hide their faults from their students. But this is not the road to success.

Here's a story about my former martial arts teacher. A prospective student came into the school and spoke to him about joining. After the conversation he decided not to, saying that my teacher didn't look like a martial arts teacher. And he didn't. He looked like a Chinese gentleman rather than the self-important bully the prospective student was expecting.

So the situation is complicated and the new student's position is difficult.

Mark Foote said...

"Authenticity in Los Angeles" is an oxymoron.

An authentic, genuine article, versus the grifter:

'The snake oil peddler became a stock character in Western movies: a travelling "doctor" with dubious credentials, selling fake medicines with boisterous marketing hype, often supported by pseudo-scientific evidence. To increase sales, an accomplice in the crowd (a shill) would often attest to the value of the product in an effort to provoke buying enthusiasm. The "doctor" would leave town before his customers realized they had been cheated.[1] This practice is also called grifting and its practitioners are called grifters.'

(from Wikipedia

In the words of Eustice P. McGargle:

"And if we should ever separate, my little plum, I want to give you just one bit of fatherly advice: Never give a sucker an even break!"

I've read one of Brad's books, and as soon as I laid it down I realized there was no more of being Mr. So-and-So for me. I would recommend it to anyone!

"Just then a bolt of lightning
Struck the courthouse out of shape
And while ev’rybody knelt to pray
The grifter did escape" (apologies to Bob)

proving I'm not a robot: terenumb ndKey

Moni said...

Authentic is: you act according to your own principles, and you act more than you talk about it.

Anonymous said...

my teacher says brad projects most of the time.

sarwar said...

nice work keep it up

Mark Foote said...

Brad projects, you say that like it's a bad thing!

Most teachers project an aura of authenticity and ancestral foundation, don't they? Even math teachers.

Kind of goes with the territory. Charisma helps to make a great teacher, I guess. Also a great grifter. Just because a teacher doesn't project, doesn't mean they aren't a grifter, right?

proulx michel said...

For the Ojibway, the creator god is Nanabush, the Great Hare. He is a trickster, which accounts for the awkwardness of the Creation. Great costume for you, here, Brad!

proulx michel said...

I also suspect that Nanabush was the prototype for Bugs Bunny...

Anonymous said...

"when confronted with a problem, the people would go ask the old man. perhaps he had seen it before. perhaps he would know what to do."

Perhaps he would but you never know.

Perhaps the old man is vain and set in his ways. Perhaps he would proudly insist on doing the one thing which would worsen the problem.

Perhaps the man only imagines himself to be wise. Perhaps he is so narcistic he can't imagine ever being wrong. Perhaps he decided what was true as a youth. Perhaps the old man stopped learning at such an early age that his unsolicited advice is mostly bad. Perhaps he lost what little wisdom he ever possessed. Perhaps he is so opinionated that imagines he has nothing left to learn. Perhaps his main interest is political polarization and dualistic thinking. Perhaps the old man just likes to hear himself talk.

Anonymous said...

Dear Master Seagal,

I saw a commercial for your new TV show. Looks shitty. Anyway, best wishes. I always enjoy your original insights and points of wisdom here on Brad's blog.

john e mumbles said...

Seagal was cool in Machette.

At least he wears an obviously fake-ass rug.

Anonymous said...

mark you said projecting was a bad thing not commenter.