Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Writing Course


So I'm sitting here trying to think of ways I can continue to buy Fancy Feast for Crum the Cat. Several people have proposed that I ought to start doing dokusan sessions online via Skype and charge money for them. But that idea, frankly, makes me want to vomit. Dokusan, for those who may not know, is a private personal interview with a Zen teacher, usually conducted as part of a sesshin or Zen retreat. Though participants usually pay for Zen retreats, and though some of that money normally goes to the teacher, it is not customary to charge specifically for dokusan. Besides which, if it's not done in the context of a retreat it isn't really dokusan, at least in my understanding of what dokusan is supposed to be.

I've been sending my resume out to colleges and universities who run writing programs to see if they'll hire me to teach creative writing. Then it occurred to me. Do I really need a university to hire me to do that? Maybe I could do that myself and eliminate the middle man.

My upstairs neighbor Dave teaches writing at the University of Akron. So I went up there and asked if I could borrow a syllabus from one of his classes. I looked it over and figured I could adapt his strategy to an online course in creative writing to be taught by me.

I'm thinking I could offer a ten week course with 4 - 6 writing assignments that I would personally evaluate. Students would get the benefit of my experience as a professional writer, which is something I've been doing for at least ten years before Hardcore Zen came out in 2003. I was writing all sorts of stuff for Tsuburaya Productions. And before that I wrote for zines and science fiction mags. That's like 20 years as a writer, not even counting the comic books and shitty poetry I wrote starting when I first learned to write.

I couldn't help get anyone published. I could tell you how I went about doing it. But I have no connections that are going to work for anyone else. I can show you how to make your work publishable, though.

In order to make this worth the time and headaches it would cost me, I'd have to charge at least $350 per student. I may have to charge more, in fact, because it would be a whole big bunch of work for me. The going rate for online writing courses appears to vary between $300 and $800. Although I haven't been able to find any examples of someone like me, an independent published author, offering such a course. I'm sure such examples must exist somewhere. I would imagine the prestige of the writer in question would determine the price. Does anyone know of a writer who independently offers online writing courses?

So the question I'm asking all of you nice folks is: Would you be interested in taking such a course? I doubt that most of the regular contributors to this blog's comments section are going to want to do it. So I'm hoping to hear from a few ordinary citizens. This page gets a thousand or more hits a day. So I know that it's not just those same five guys reading it.

Remember Crum the Cat is depending on you!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Enlightenizer

For those of you who are not yet listening to the Hardcore Zen Podcast, here's a taste of what you're missing:



If you want to hear more podcasts, go to http://hardcorezen.libsyn.com/ and start listening today!

I've been messing around with the iMovie program on my Mac. I once had Final Cut. But the program I bought no longer works on the machine I'm using. This iMovie thing does a lot. Although there are a huge number of counter-intuitive aspects to it. And the current iMovie program is far more difficult to use than the earlier versions of iMovie.

I wrote this first as an audio commercial. My friend John Graves put it together. Steve Velerio and a special mystery actor did the voices. Today I decided to put together a very quick cartoon based on the audio. It's kind of crappy. But it's also kind of funny. I've never drawn a backhoe before today.

The commercial is a parody of Big Mind™, Sedona Method, Mind Master and all the rest of the ever growing number of Enlightenment-in-a-box things that are raking in tons of dough these days. I know I go on and on about these things. But somebody's gotta do it. And I guess it's gotta be me.

I will be in Los Angeles in March. If you want to come meditate and hang out with me, here's where you can go:

March 10, 2012
10 AM until 3:30 PM
Hill Street Center
237 Hill St.
Santa Monica, CA 90405
This is Dogen Sangha LA's monthly all-day zazen get-together. This one will be extra super special because they'll be filming part of the documentary movie they're making about li'l ol' me. Come and be a STAR!!

If you can't do the whole day come just for the morning or show up at around 12:30 and do just the afternoon. The filming will be in the afternoon.

March 15, 2012
7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Against the Stream
4300 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90029
This is the regular Thursday night Against The Stream meeting. I'll lead it zazen-style rather than doing the usual guided meditation.

Here are a few other iMovie experiments I've made lately.


This is the latest commercial for Dave Materna's presidential bid.


This is a cover of the Sex Pistols "Pretty Vacant" done up psychedelic style. I once had the idea to do a whole album's worth of psychedelic covers of punk rock classics. But I only got as far as this one. That's not me singing. But I wrote the arrangement and played the guitars, bass and mellotron.


This one's a video for the first song on the first Dimentia 13 record. That's me playing and singing everything. I was 21 years old. This is about what I imagined Satori would be.


This was a song I contributed to a flexidisc given away with a British neo-psychedelic magazine called Freak Beat.


And this is a song of mine from probably the late eighties that I found while trolling through things I hadn't listened to in a long time.

Friday, February 17, 2012

What I Really Do


You must have seen a dozen of these "What I Really Do" things by now. Some of them are kind of funny. Most are kind of dull. I thought I'd do one for myself before somebody else did. Click on it and you should get the full sized version. If you've never seen one of these & want to know what they are, just enter "What I Really Do Meme" into your favorite search engine.

So I just found out this blog gets over 10,000 views a week and over 7,000 visits. I'm not sure what differentiates a visit from a view. But that's a lot of people. Where are my Gempo Roshi-like piles of cash?

Eh. Whatever.

I'm kind of all Zenned out at the moment. I've been answering loads of questions as Tricycle magazine's Meditation Doctor. If you want to read some of that stuff go to this link. It's interesting that it all kind of boils down to just one question and just one answer. Some ancient Zen teachers noticed this and responded the same way to everyone who asked. Like Gutei, who would just raise one finger whenever someone asked him anything. I get that. But somehow I don't think Tricycle's readers would be satisfied if I just kept flipping them the bird.

Uh oh! The latest question is from someone who says they've been "experiencing deep, absorptive states." Not sure what I'm gonna do about that. I guess we'll see once I start writing my answer. I think Bounty is the quicker-picker-upper for deep absorptive states!

I kid! I kid! Hey! Don't forget to tip your bar tenders. I'll be here all week. Be sure to try the vegetarian imitation veal.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Goodbye Fuck You Bob


I heard last night that Fuck You Bob was dead and it made me sad.

The Record Pub website put up this obituary about Bob. The Kent Patch put up an article about his memorial service. And Nick Rock put together this video tribute to him.

Bob's friends are making an effort to put the proper spin on his life as an artist and his contributions to the town as a philosopher and intellectual. I appreciate that. I think it's a good thing. But the tribute-makers seem to want to avoid the one thing that most people remember best about Bob. And that is the fact that Bob Wood walked around Kent, Ohio for decades telling people to fuck off.

I first encountered Bob when I was a freshman at Kent State University. I was sitting in one of the big lecture halls one night to see a movie. It was some sort of indie artsy film. Maybe Eraserhead or something along those lines. I don't remember the movie at all, though. What I remember is Fuck You Bob.

I was there with Mick Hurray, the drummer of Zero Defex. Bob was directly in front of us. And he kept giving us the finger. He never turned around. He never said anything. He just flipped us the bird over and over. And he was doing it in a really weird way. He kept turning his hands at different angles (he was giving it to us with both hands) so as to make certain we got his message.

We thought this was hilarious. So we gave him the finger back. I'm not sure if he saw this, though. Like I said, he never turned around. We weren't angry or offended at all. It was much too weird for that.

Throughout my time as a student at Kent State I saw Fuck You Bob around town. He had a load of bizarre behaviors. For example, I once saw him walking down the middle of a busy street. Every time a car would come by, he'd jump up on the sidewalk and wait for it to pass. Then he'd get back into the road and continue walking.

Several years after this I moved back to Kent after living in Chicago for a while. I was walking down Franklin Avenue from downtown toward the Kent Zendo, where I lived. I saw Fuck You Bob coming my way. I wondered what he was going to do. He didn't say anything as he passed me, didn't even give me the finger. And I found myself being a little offended at this. He said "fuck you" to everyone else in town. He'd even said "fuck you" to me on more than one occasion. Was he snubbing me now? What did I do to him?

But a couple seconds after he passed I heard him say, "Suck my dick." And you know what? I felt good. I'm not even joking. I still remember how nice I felt to have been told by Fuck You Bob to suck his dick. If he hadn't said anything to me that day I'd probably still feel I'd been slighted.

I never encountered Fuck You Bob again after that day. But I remember being in Japan and hearing from friends back home that Bob had gotten better. He was getting his art exhibited around town. He was studying for his Master's degree. And shockingly, he wasn't saying "fuck you" quite as often anymore. Though I was relieved to hear that he still did it sometimes.

Bob had a lot of what most people think of as "mental diseases." A lot of people said he had Tourette's Syndrome. But I never heard of anyone having officially made that diagnosis. Still, he was an odd character.

I always wondered if his habit of telling people to fuck off ever got him in real trouble. Kent State University is not one of those schools that attract the best and the brightest this nation has to offer. Heck, I even went there! One of these days I'll tell you about my first roommate. God that guy was as dumb as a box of putty. If Fuck You Bob was flipping the bird to guys like that, especially when they were drunk, which they always were, he was surely getting the crud beat out of him on a regular basis. I hope he was at least targeting wimps like me who weren't likely to get very mad at him.

The concept of mental disease is an interesting one. We know enough about the proper functioning of the kidneys or the bladder or the spleen to be able to diagnose when they're working incorrectly. But when it comes to the brain, things get a bit murkier.

Take someone like Bob. In many ways it would be easy to dismiss him as crazy. But from what I can tell and from what I've heard he lived pretty much the life he wanted to live. He was by all accounts a very intelligent and even kind person. He probably had no desire at all to fit in with regular society. And he didn't. I admire him for finding a way to live his life on his own terms.

He was also, from what I've heard, kind of a pain in the ass to people who knew him. I don't know the details. But I can guess. I mean, for gosh sakes he was saying "fuck you" to everybody in town all the time. That alone is hard to deal with.

One of the things Zen has helped me with is my own tendency to be a sort of Fuck You Bob type character. My difficulties in dealing with society are not as deep seated as his were. But I too have some serious problems reconciling what I know to be true with the bullshit most people seem to believe. I could have easily gone in a direction that would have ended me up in much the same shape as Bob. The Zen thing helped me be able to laugh at the collective illusions society shares and yet still play the game well enough to get by.

This is why I get so annoyed when some people try to turn Zen into what most religions these days have become, a way to placate people so they're numb enough to function as cogs in the social machine. It's not about that.

To me it's about finding your inner Fuck You Bob and making peace with that. But without killing it off or boxing it up either. That's also important.

I'll miss Fuck You Bob. I wish I could've met him just once and sat down and told him how much it meant to me when he told me to suck his dick. I really wonder what he'd have said. Maybe he'd have told me to fuck off.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

CAT ZEN


I'm pretty happy with my life in most respects. I wish I could afford an Electro Harmonix Ravish Sitar pedal and an Italia Rimini 12 String Electric Guitar. But then again, where would I put them? Besides material possessions are always a burden. And the cause of all suffering is desire for guitar equipment, right?

I've still got Crum the Cat. I'm having to learn to modify my mudra during morning zazen. A mudra is a hand position. The one you use during zazen is called the Cosmic Mudra. You can see an example of it in this photo set that I put up forever ago.

Problem is that Crum likes to sit in my lap and purr during zazen. So I need to accommodate by finding a place for my hands that works when a cat is there. I'm working on this.

Zen and cats have a very long history. In Japan zen temples almost always have several cats. I've never been to one that doesn't. The one at the end of the road where I used to live had at least half a dozen that just hung around all the time. I'm not really sure where this tradition got started. But even Dogen moans about it somewhere in Shobogenzo. I'm not talking about his famous commentary in Shobgenzo Zuimonki on the koan "Nansen's Cat." I know there's some chapter near the end of the Shobogenzo proper where Dogen is bitching about how degraded temples have become "these days" (the 1240s CE) to the extent that they even keep cats as pets. But I can't recall exactly where that was anymore.

Then there's the old story about tying up the cat during zazen. That one's pretty funny.

"When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice. Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice."

I've been busting my balls for the last few days writing. Hope this next one sells a few copies. I owe pretty much everything I made in Germany last year to the hospital I went to who insisted I needed a spinal tap and a CAT scan. Speaking of cats...

I've also put a bunch of blasts from my past up on YouTube. Here's a sampling:

Here I am as American News reporter Bradley S. Warner in the theatrical feature film Ultraman Zearth from 1996.

The French reporter is Nathalie Delin, another person who worked for Tsuburaya Productions' International Division. Nathalie was probably a lot more "professional" in terms of the TV and film biz than I ever was. And perhaps as a result of that she didn't last nearly as long as I did at the company. But she made it through a few years. I haven't seen or heard from her since then.

**

Here I am in the late-night horror TV series Moon Spiral. I'm playing a vegetarian ghost.

The star of this show was Mariya Yamada who went on to become a huge star in Japan for a while. She also appeared in the Japanese edition of Penthouse magazine, though she did not remove all of her clothes for the shoot. She was just 16 when she appeared in this TV series playing a psychic girl who works with a couple of detectives. It was sort of X-Files-ish. I think there were only six episodes. But not because it got canceled. A lot of shows in Japan just run a few episodes. The mini-series concept is much stronger over there.

This show was written by Masakazu Mighita who also wrote The Calamari Wrestler, Executive Koala and Pussy Soup (which I first heard of just now when looking him up on IMDB. I gotta ask what that was!)

**

Here's a clip of me getting blowed up real good in Ultraman Tiga episode 51

I wrote about this in Hardcore Zen. I had a crappy copy of this up on YouTube for a while. But now I've replaced it with this better one.

**

It's harder to spot me in this. But I'm in most of the crowd scenes in the Ultraman Neos pilot film.

I'm also the guy on the right at the end of this, the one who points up at Ultraman Neos flying overhead.

**

I'm playing the monster Powered Baltan in this Tsuburaya Productions commercial from 1995.

The best view of me comes at about 1:00 or 1:01 in this clip. Those are my big blue lobster claws waving in the air. I was selected to play Powered Baltan because he was a monster from the only Ultraman TV show produced in the United States. Unfortunately, that happened to be the worst Ultraman TV show ever made, as well. Noboru Tsuburaya is the singer you see at the beginning. He was the president of the company and the man who hired me to work at Tsuburaya Productions.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

THE LANKAVATARA SUTRA


First off, does anyone want a cat? His name is Crum and he is the best cat in the world. He belongs to my neighbor, Kim. But she can't keep him. He's been staying at my apartment for the last couple days. But at some point I'm gonna need to leave for an extended period, and then do that over and over and over again. So this isn't gonna last for long.

This cat is so sweet it's unreal. This is a photo of him keeping me company this morning while I wrote what you're reading now.

Oh. And someone find me a teaching gig in Southern California. Thanks.

Oh! And doesn't anyone out there want me to come speak anywhere? It's weird. I was getting so many offers I couldn't handle them last year and now here in 2012 -- nothing! Did I do something that offended everyone?

Now onto the main topic.

The nice folks over at Counterpoint Books sent me a review copy of Red Pine's The Lankavatara Sutra: Translation and Commentary. Thank you, Counterpoint Books!

I gotta say that I was kind of intimidated at first. I don't do sutras very well. I managed to dig through Dogen's Shobogenzo and even write a book about it. But that doesn't mean I'm one of those guys who sits around reading ancient Buddhist texts for fun. Generally speaking ancient Buddhist writings baffle me about as much as they baffle everybody else.

Take the Lotus Sutra -- please! I mean, I know I'm supposed to love the thing. I know that Dogen loved it. People I know have read it and said it's the greatest thing since sliced cheese. But I have never been able to get through the confounded thing. I can't get past the part where the author is telling you the names of all the Bodhisattvas and their uncles and how many Buddha realms they've conquered and where they shop for shoes and why you should definitely copy the sutra a thousand times and how many dragon kings were sitting around while Buddha impressed everyone by shooting rays out of his forehead... and so on and on and on and on.

You think I'm making this up? Have a look for yourself.

So when I saw this book in my mailbox, I thought, "Good gosh, now I gotta read the thing!"

It turns out that the Lankavatara Sutra is much easier going than the Lotus Sutra. At least for me. It doesn't take nearly as long to get to the point. And its philosophical doctrines aren't expressed in extended metaphors or stories. In many ways it's a much more modern sounding piece. The author of the sutra frames it as a long Q&A session between a guy named Mahamati and Buddha. Of course, Buddha was long since dead by the time this sutra was composed. But the literary device works to express a lot of the then-developing theories in Buddhism that would later become the basis for much of what is taught in Zen Buddhist temples even today.

What really makes this book work for me is Red Pine's (aka Bill Porter) introduction. It's a very honest essay. The author even says that it was his need for the advance money from his publishers that really tipped the scales and finally got him working on the translation in earnest. Apparently he'd had it on the back burner for years. But when he ran out of other sutras to translate, he reluctantly went back to the Lankavatara.

I'm happy he did because it's a very good book. It's not an easy book to read. Nor would I recommend it to someone just starting out with Buddhist philosophy. Stick to Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind or even Hardcore Zen if you want that. Or you can try one of the books on my Zen Books That Don't Suck page.

But if you've already got a foundation of basic Buddhist philosophy and you want to know where some of the peculiarly Zen stuff comes from, this is a pretty interesting and valuable book. It's a fine resource for some of the earliest manifestations of what coalesced into the Zen approach to Buddhist teaching and practice.

For example, you know how I'm always ranting against people who try to sell the idea of instant enlightenment? Remember how I compared thinking you could get enlightened right away to thinking you could learn to play Eruption by Eddie Van Halen after a single guitar lesson? Some of you assumed I just pulled that out of my ass. Well, in fact, I did. But in the Lankavatara Sutra, Mahamati asks, "How is the stream of perceptions of beings' minds purified?" Buddha answers, "By degrees and not all at once... like when people become proficient in such arts as music or writing or painting." So there!

On the matter of God, Mahamati asks, "In the sutras the Bhagavan (aka Buddha) says that the tathagatha-garbgha (womb of the Buddhas) is intrinsically pure, endowed with thirty-two attributes and present in the bodies of all beings, and that, like a precious jewel wrapped in soiled clothing, the ever-present unchanging tathagatha-garbha is likewise wrapped in the soiled clothing of the skandhas, dhatus and ayantas and stained with the stains of erroneous projections of greed, anger and delusion. How is it that what the Bhagavan says about the tathagatha-garbha is the same as what followers of other paths say about a self? Bhagavan, followers of other paths also speak of an immortal creator without attributes, omnipresent and indestructible. And they say this is the self."

Buddha says, among other things that, "The tathagatha-garbha is taught to attract those members of other paths who are attached to a self so that they will give up their projection of an unreal self and will enter the threefold gate of liberation." This doesn't mean there is no tathagatha-garbha. Just that Buddha considers it a better way to describe reality than to describe it as self.

Like I said, I'm working on a whole book to explain why I think it makes sense to use the word "God" in the context of contemporary Buddhism. And it's not just to play nice with religious folks. But I'm not gonna try and get into that here. It's just nice to see that this question goes back a very long way.

In any case, the foregoing quotes ought to give you an idea what to expect from a book like this. If you don't know what a skandha or a dhatu is you're going to have a tough time. Red Pine assumes his readers know at least the basic terms. However, he provides copious footnotes which are presented such that the sutra itself is on the page on your right and the footnotes are on the page on your left. This makes it very easy to go from one to the other. You don't have to skip to the back of the book or even to the bottom of the page to find them. This is very nice for people like me with short attention spans who forget what the term they're looking up even was by the time we manage to find the footnote explaining it. And there's a glossary of terms at the end in case you really do need to know what a skandha is.

I highly recommend this book for people who want to deepen their understanding of Zen Buddhist philosophy.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

BUDDHIST LIFE

So I'm digging through my DVDs the other day and I discover a copy of a movie called Buddhist Life. The director was a guy named Luis Carapeto. He was Portuguese. I remember him coming to a number of Nishijima Roshi's talks and retreats. Then he went back to Portugal. Later on he returned to Japan with a couple of people and a bunch of video equipment to make a movie about Nishijima.

He gave Nishijima a copy on VHS, which I then copied for myself and later transferred to a DVD-R. Then, as far as I knew, the movie just vanished. IMDB doesn't list it. I checked around the interwebs and the only reference I can find is this listing from a film festival in Amsterdam. It gives the year of production as 2003. I think the movie may be a couple years older than that. But my memory is not so reliable. Amazon has a listing for it. Though the DVD appears to be out of print. So buy the download because maybe Luis is getting some money from those sales. And I'm sure it'll look and sound a lot better than this third generation copy.

The synopsis on that Dutch film festival's website says:

"I live my Buddhist life from day to day, from moment to moment sometimes in my office, sometimes in my home, sometimes in a temple. In every situation there was just my Buddhist life." Gudo Wafu Nishijima was born in Yokohama, Japan. With a new and fresh approach to the Buddhist view of reality and the sense of balance to the philosophical and scientific investigations from last decades, Master Nishijima gives us the coordinates to start to understand Buddhism with our own method of thinking. He wants to pass the teachings of Buddhism to people all over the world who are searching for "Truth". "We have to say that we live in a succession of moments rather like the frames of a film." In these frames, from the present moment, the documentary is about Master Nishijima´s daily life that is all ready a Buddhist life.


I uploaded the whole thing onto YouTube this morning. Luis, if you're out there and you want me to remove it I will. I'm under the impression that Luis and the others who made the movie have kind of forgotten about it at this point. I'm hoping maybe this blog posting might spark some renewed interest in it. I say again unto thee, buy the download! It's only two dollars, ya cheapskates!

Watching it again I'd forgotten how good it was. It gives you a very honest look at who Nishijima Roshi was when the film was made. It shows him leading one of his annual retreats in Shizuoka for foreigners. It shows him in Europe giving talks and running a sesshin. It shows him talking to students of his from Israel and Ireland. There's also a wonderful scene of him dragging his suitcase through Tokyo Station. He always insisted on carrying his own stuff when he went on retreats. If you wanted to help him out with his bags you'd have to kind of trick him by grabbing them before he noticed. But he was always very quick.

In one of the scenes Nishijima is in his office at the Ida Soap and Cosmetics Company working on the translation of Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika, although the book itself isn't mentioned. This would have been a couple years before I got involved with it. He was working on that thing for ages.

The opening scenes were shot one morning at Nishijima's dojo in Chiba prefecture. It was a thoroughly urban Buddhist living space. At one time it had been Ida's company dormitory back in the days when Japanese companies made new workers live together in dorms. After they stopped using it they gave it to Nishijima to run as a dojo. Then when Mr. Ida died his son decided to take it back and sell the property. Residents were required to sit two periods of zazen each day. Nishijima himself rang a bell at 5:30 every morning to signal the start of the first period. Residents weren't required to attend that one. But the bell was there to offer encouragement to do so. I never lived in the dojo myself.

I appear at about 2:55 into part two sitting next to Nishijima in the zendo at Tokei-in temple in Shizuoka. I think maybe you can hear my voice as one of the people asking questions in one of the lectures too. But I'm not sure if it's me or not.

I have to warn you, though. The movie is painfully slow. If I would've edited it I would've made it a lot speedier. But I think Luis wanted to give viewers a sense of Nishijima's lifestyle. He seems to be attempting to recreate the feeling of sitting zazen in the form of a cinematic experience. You'll have to judge for yourself if he was successful or not.

PART 1


PART 2


PART 3


*At the time I posted this, part 3 was still loading up. So you may have to sit some zazen till it becomes available.