Sunday, April 29, 2007

THE RINZAI STOOGES


Before we start off, reports are coming in from across the nation — my new book, Sit Down & Shut Up! is available in the shops. Some people who ordered it on-line already have their copies. So what are you waiting for? Go out and get yours today!

I spent some time this afternoon at the UCLA Book Fair signing copies. But my first official book signing is scheduled for May 17th at the Bodhi Tree Book Store in West Hollywood. On Saturday June 2nd I'll be at the Phoenix Zen Center with a couple other locations in Phoenix on the following 2 days. Then it's up to San Francisco the week after that. I'll post a full schedule soon.

Today's offering is a kind of "bonus track" to my latest piece for Suicide Girls (see the link to your left). In there I mentioned some crates of records I found while cleaning out my dad's closets. I also found a bunch of my old comics that my parents had saved. When I started college I was an art student. My ambition at the time was to be a professional cartoonist. But I wasn't quite ambitious enough. My teachers never really got anything I did. It was far too low-brow for them to comprehend. I mean, my lord, The Three Stooges?!?!?!

This here was the first piece of Buddhist inspired writing I ever did. Click on the picture to enlarge it to readable size. The Rinzai Stooges was the first and the second was Bedlam in Nirvana, which I'm saving for next week's Suicide Girls page. The date on that one is December 1984, so this one must be a month or so earlier. Tim McCarthy, my Zen teacher at the time, loved this and encouraged me to do more. But I only ever did those two.

The katakana in the final frame is completely wrong, by the way. All I knew of Japanese came from a book I got out of the library. It's supposed to say "Curly Roshi."

Enjoy!

Monday, April 23, 2007

BORIS YELTSIN, APRIL 28th ZAZEN, OTHER STUFF

First off, in tribute to Russia's fallen statesman, Boris Yeltsin, I present the following video. Some of you have seen this before. It's My Niece's Foot, the band I was in in Japan in 1993-94. The song started off as a weird Russian inflected country hoedown jam by Nick (violin) and Sam (guitar). I started shouting, "Boris Yeltsin! Boris Yeltsin!" in hardcore style and so the song was born. Later on when Emily (vocals, tambourine, Asprin bottle) joined we added the heavy metal bit in the middle. That part began life as a separate song titled "Depressing Zoo," all about the very depressing little zoo in Takaoka, the town where we lived at the time. Parts of the video come from the gig we did on a moving street car.



Also, I'd like to remind everyone that on April 28th we'll have our monthly one-day retreat at the Hill Street Center. Details are over there in the links on your left. Come along and spend a day staring at walls together with us! I'm still amazed at how few people show up to the Saturday Zen classes. Last week there were 6 of us, including me. When I give a talk lots of people show up. But ask people to try out a little of the practice and they all scatter. I know many of you are nowhere near Santa Monica. But I'm also aware that many of you are very near Santa Monica and still don't show up. It's not that scary. OK? I don't yell and scream. I don't bite. No one will hit you with a stick. No one will try to make you join the group.

There was other stuff I was gonna say, but now I can't remember what it was. I gotta go do my real job anyway.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

SOTO IS GOOD

My friend Tonen O'Connor of the Milwaukee Zen Center took umbrage at some of my comments about the Soto school of Zen in my previous post. So I thought I'd clarify a bit. I love the Soto school! Some of my best friends are part of the Soto school!

But as a comedian in all seriousness, I really don't have any big problems with the whole of the Soto school. Both of my teachers were (and are) Soto guys. Tonen is part of Soto. Most of the places I go speak are affiliated somehow with Soto. If you're looking to study Buddhism I still think your best bet is to hook up with a teacher from the Soto lineage (though I should also mention Still Point in Detroit, part of a Korean lineage and a really terrific place).

That being said, there is also a gigantic corporation in Japan called the Soto-shu. As you can see on the Wikipedia entry I referenced above, there are 14,700 Soto temples with 7 million adherents. It's a pretty big machine. I have very little to do with that machine, although I am a card carrying member. My first teacher's teacher Kobun Chino resigned from it, I think, though his own brother was the head of the organization for a while (I'm not 100% certain about Kobun's resignation, if anyone out there knows for sure, please let me know). My teacher, Gudo Nishijima was ordained by the then current head of Soto-shu (not Kobun's brother, though) but still tends to avoid any involvement with the organization as a whole. Big organizations are all pretty much the same. Obviously some are more evil than others and the Soto-shu does a lot more good stuff than bad. But, like all big organizations, they tend to function like a gigantic machine. I'm not really into bureaucracy.

I don't really follow the ins and outs of who's who and what's what in the Soto organization. So most of my info comes from the same Internet sources everyone else has access to. As I've said before, most of the Zen I've run across on the World Wide Web is — I was gonna say "crap," but I stopped myself, see how mature I am! — let's just say I'm not interested in it. It's mainly a lot of noise and distortion with very little real substance. But I think that's because most of the good teachers are not really writers. Why would they be? They have a lot more important work to do than typing stuff onto their laptops and shooting it off into cyberspace.


ANYWAY, I just wanted to make sure nobody thought I hated all the Soto teachers in the world. Though sometimes I wonder why anyone cares what I think. That's a photo of me at a Suicide Girls party last night. Do you really care what a guy like that has to say about what Buddhist temple you ought to go to? It's really up to you. Go out, listen to the teachers in your local area and judge for yourself.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

UG KRISHNAMURTI, THE SOTO SECT, AND COOL HAIRCUTS


I was kind of bummed to hear recently that U.G. Krishnamurti had died. I can’t say I was ever any kind of follower of his. I never read any of his books or attended any of his talks. I only know him from the little sound (video?) bytes you can find on YouTube and the bits and pieces of his talks that appear on the Internet sometimes. It's always possible he said something really idiotic I don't know about, so don't take this as some kind of endorsement. OK?

I first heard about U.G. the way I first heard about Robyn Hitchcock. When I began putting out psychedelic records under the name Dimentia 13, reviewers kept saying they sounded like Robyn Hitchcock or his band the Soft Boys. I’d never heard either one. But I bought a few and enjoyed them and had to admit that my stuff did sound a little like his. When I first started going on-line as a Buddhist dude people would say I reminded them of U.G. Krishnamurti, who I’d also never heard of. So I looked him up and I could see the reason for the comparison. I never went on to become a fan of U.G. the way I’m a fan of Robyn Hitchcock (I’ll be at his show at Spaceland tomorrow night, by the way). But I did like what I read and heard of his work.

The only real criticism I have of U.G. is pretty much the same one I have for Jiddu Krishnamurti. I think they may have been just a little too intelligent for their own good. Or, perhaps not for their own good, but maybe for their followers’ good. Both men obviously had a grasp of what is true and what is bullshit. But they both completely negated the value of any kind of organization or methodology.

In the intellectual sense, you might be inclined to say that all methodologies are ultimately wrong. It’s obviously true that even people who’ve spent decades practicing Zazen can be complete assholes with absolutely no understanding of reality and nothing at all of any value to say. This happens when people use their time on the cushion to get deeper and deeper into their own delusions and when such delusions are encouraged by poor teachers — I remained convinced, though, that folks like this are the minority. So you can’t even hold up something called Zazen and say, here it is, this will automatically work for everyone every time.

On the other hand, I do say that and I do believe it. Because part of Zazen practice is the cultivation of the proper attitude towards one’s own delusions.

ANYWAY, I think both U.G. and Jiddu Krishnamurti rejected methodologies like Zen a bit too rashly. Still, I’m often tempted to do the same. For example, being part of the Soto stream of Zen Buddhism means that I am seen as one among that group. Outsiders, then, tend to assume that I agree with everything other members of the organization, particularly its supposed leaders, say and do. I mean if I meet a guy who tells me he’s in the Ku Klux Klan I tend to assume he hates Blacks, gays and Jews. Maybe there are guys in the KKK who just join so they can go to the barbeques and who don’t really care about its political message. It’s possible. Still, I, as an outsider, tend to assume all members must agree with its positions at least a little.

In terms of the Soto organization, I do not care for a lot of what it appears to stand for. I’m not into the whole expensive funeral thing, which seems to have become its major function in Japan. And I’ve already mentioned how I’m not too happy to be associated with what some of its American teachers are doing either. Still, I haven’t renounced the Soto sect yet. Gudo Nishijima always makes a distinction between the organization in Japan called Soto-shu and the stream of teachers descended from Master Dogen, who brought the Soto lineage to Japan. But he hasn’t resigned his commission with the Soto-shu and I doubt he ever will. Neither have I.

I think it’s kind of a matter of taking a practical approach. As part of Soto, I have access to a certain degree of power that comes with membership in any large organization. For example, when I published my first book, my publishers wanted proof that I was a legitimate, recognized teacher in a legit Buddhist lineage. Because I was able to provide that, I got my book published. Of course things are so wild and wooly in America that just about anyone who’s read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance can set himself up as a Zen Master and no one questions it. Still, real lineages are important. There is a growing awareness of this fact even here in America.

Yet just cuz you have transmission from one or even more than one legit teacher in a legit lineage doesn’t always mean everything’s A-OK. Even so, I do not deny the power of such lineages or their usefulness. Just getting transmission is the easy part. The hard part is living up to what has been transmitted.

ANYWAY, although I am entirely certain of what I want to convey here, I have no illusions about my own ability to convey it. Plus anything you say can and will be taken the wrong way by people determined to take things the wrong way. So you just say what you say and make it as clear as you’re able to. Then you go finish your taxes, which is what I'm gonna do as soon as I post this.

ANWAY, I’m a little bummed to hear U.G. died. That’s all. He was an interesting guy with a cool haircut.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

ALL DAY ZAZEN APRIL 28th

I just made a correction to the webpage. This month's all-day Zazen will not be on April 14th as previously announced, but on April 28th. This is because my wife Yuka is being introduced to American culture in the form of our inability to keep our hands off other peoples' property. Her wallet was stolen recently from her work place. And, trust me, ain't nobody even setting foot in the LUSH shop in Beverly Hills that needs to be stealing anybody's wallet. Her bike was stolen from in front of the shop a few months before that. Face it, Americans, we are scum sucking bastards. I'm at a total loss to explain our complete lack of moral standards in this country. There really is no excuse.

Anyhow, her green card was in the wallet & now she has to go to immigration and beg them to let her stay and help rebuild our economy (her shop is doing scads better ever since she took over as manager). Her appointment's on the 14th and since no one comes to these retreats for any other reason than to eat the food she makes, we've had to switch the date.

Friday, April 06, 2007

What, me, angry?

Here's someone at UCLA asking why I don't scream and rant and froth at the mouth in person like I do in my writing:



To those of you who asked about hosting the whole talk, I'm just not up to it technologically. The only way I know of to do something like that would take me a week and crash my hard drive a dozen times. If someone out there is really slick with computers and wants to try it themselves, just write and let me know.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

TALK AT UCLA

Here's some video of my recent lecture at UCLA. This one is about what folks call "mundane experience."



Here's one about my first experience teaching Zen.



And here's one on Zen Trail Mix.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

knowing and KNOWING

In my newest Suicide Girls piece I wrote:

"Knowing that you don't know is a really powerful thing. Knowing clearly that you don't know, you can be certain that no one else knows either."

In response, a guy with the handle Apesamongus wrote:

"I don't know lots of shit that other people do, in fact, know just fine. It's arrogance to assume others share all of your ignorances."

The problem here is that there's knowing and there's KNOWING. Lots of people know stuff I don't know, like how to do their own taxes or play the bassoon or make lasagna. I would never presume that just cuz I don't know these things, nobody else does. There's also a certain degree of knowledge that comes from just occupying space on this planet a bit longer than someone else. My grandma can remember when TV was a new thing, and, having lived through the changes America has gone through over most of this century, she can impart some of that knowledge as well.

Then there's KNOWING. KNOWING is what lots of unscrupulous spiritual master types — as well as politicians, ad men and other dubious characters — pretend they do and you don't. Lately some people have started mistaking me for someone who KNOWS. I keep getting asked variations on a question that goes something like, "What does the world look like to you?" As if maybe they think that when I look at a tomato I see the eight armed cosmic form of Vishnu or some such thing.

I got an e-mail from a guy who told me that when he was having a private meeting with his Master, the guy told him, "You're at level three (of whatever the fuck level of spiritual planes he counted), but I can bring you to level two if you'd like." The teacher, you see, KNEW, while the poor student could only hope to bask in his reflected glory. Folks, if anyone says stuff like this to you, please run away as fast as you can.

The truth is, no one KNOWS. I'm sure some of you are thinking, "Well, how do you know that no one KNOWS? You haven't met Grand Master Sri Sri Rama Lama Whozitsface. He definitely KNOWS." It's fine with me if you want to believe crap like that. I don't. Because KNOWING doesn't exist out there. It's not something someone else has and can sell you. You can't borrow someone else's experience. The old metaphor for this in Buddhist stories is counting someone else's treasure.

Someone else may know themselves very well. But they don't know you and they can't know you. I remember a conversation I had with my first Zen teacher, Tim, many years ago. I said something like, "But you know. You've been through all this." He said, "Brad, I haven't been through anything."

The idea that someone else KNOWS is always a way of deferring your own responsibility to somebody else. They KNOW, so they can tell you and you can just sit back and absorb.

It doesn't work. There are times I wish it did. But it doesn't. Once you get your brains around that you may have a chance of discovering real knowledge for yourself.