Thursday, September 27, 2007

ASSWIPE Part 2

First off, a new podcast of an interview with me is up. Click here to listen. Same old stuff from me again…

Also, if you haven't, please read part one of this article below, or at least just the quote from Dogen. It's a good one (the quote, I mean).

The guy who ran away from our retreat wrote me yesterday. He was upset I called him an asswipe on this blog. I’m sorry about that. I thought it was obviously a joke. I didn’t identify him in any way, so it was clearly not a personal attack. My intention was more to make the point that running away from a Zen retreat without notice is not proper behavior. I hoped that by saying so I might make future attendees — not just of our retreats but of Zen retreats in general — aware of this fact. A Zen retreat is not a visit to Disneyland or Club Med. You are not a customer or a guest. It is not the job of the organizers to serve you or cater to you. You are a functioning participant who is expected to work with the rest of the group to make the retreat happen. Leaving without notice is like deserting your job without notice. Everyone else has to take up your slack and that’s a problem.

According to him, “My reason for leaving was simple: It was your attitude. You come off as a self-centered, know-it-all prick in robes – with your conception of Zazen being the only one that matters.” He complained about, “the completely impersonal, mindless format of the retreat itself,” and said, “perhaps if we had been given more time to talk with and get to know each other personally, that wouldn’t have been a problem.”

These are points I think need addressing not just to him but to everyone who reads this page since some of you may be considering attending one of our retreats or attending Zen or Buddhist retreats held by other teachers.

If you attend a Dogen Sangha Zazen retreat it means you are agreeing to spend the time doing Dogen Sangha style Zen under a Dogen Sangha teacher’s instructions. This is the same with any retreat. If I go to an Ashtanga Yoga retreat, I expect to do Ashtanga Yoga and I can’t complain that it’s not Iyengar Yoga. I guarantee you that every decent Zen teacher believes that his or her conception of Zazen is the only one that matters. In fact I’d even say that if you find a teacher who does not appear to believe that you should stay away from that person. That’s one of the clearest telltale signs of a teacher who’s no good and will probably rip you off. All my teachers have been self-centered know-it-all pricks.

As far as the impersonal, mindless form of the retreat, our retreats are probably the warmest, fuzziest, most get-to-know-each-other retreats in the Zen business. From what I’ve heard when you attend a retreat by this fellow’s hero Mr. Thich Nhat Hahn not only can you not talk to the other participants, apparently you can’t even look them in the eye. I’m not sure it’s TNH who does this actually (I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong), but I know it’s the case in a great many retreats. The dude in question wanted to know if he could hold his arms a different way from everyone else because he wasn’t familiar with our form. I encouraged him to do it our way. Shit, if you tried doing it a different way from everybody else in some retreats they’d scream and then whack you with a great big stick! No exaggeration. Sometimes I think we’re just way too fucking nice. Actually we expect our attendees to be a bit more mature than to need to be hit with sticks.

But the point isn’t whether our retreats are warm and fuzzy or not. The point is that you really ought to do some research before you sign up for a Zen retreat. Not just the guy in question, but you out there reading this. Not just our retreats either, but any Zen retreat. Or any other meditation or Yoga retreat. Every time someone gets disgruntled about our retreats it’s because they haven’t got the vaguest clue what to expect. I imagine this is not a problem confined solely to our retreats.

Before I went on my first Zen retreat I'd already read as much as I could about Zen retreats in general so I’d have some idea what to expect. And kids, this was in the days before teh internets so it wasn’t like I could just Google “Zen retreat” and get a million people’s diaries of their retreat experiences. Shit, you were lucky if you could find three books on the shelves of the Akron Public Library about Buddhism. And those were all written in 1874. I’m not just trying to give you the old “I used to walk ten miles through the snow to school” thing here. It’s just that I really can’t excuse anyone in the year twenty-ought-seven for not making the tiny bit of effort it takes to find these things out. Our retreats are basically like a nicer, easier version of whatever you find described elsewhere.

In any case, before next year’s retreat I’ll be making some kind of a guide book or something I’ll put on-line to let people know what they should expect from our retreats.

So sorry again to you, Mr. Wipe. Nothing personal. But thanks for the opportunity to make these points. And again, please understand this is not directed at you alone (I wouldn't waste the two hours plus it took me to compose this just to get back at some specific person). It’s really a much more general and widespread problem.

Over and out.

ADDENDUM:
Just to be clear, it is always perfectly acceptable to leave a Zen retreat at any time for any reason. But when doing so you need to tell one of the organizers directly. This goes across the board for all retreats in all traditions.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

RETREAT REPORT and GENERAL GRIPING

I'm back in Tokyo now after the annual Dogen Sangha Zazen Retreat in Shizuoka, Japan. A good time was had by all. Except for one guy who literally ran away. Well, I'm not certain if he ran or walked. But he left the zendo during one of the kinhin periods and just never came back. This created some problems for us later on because we began finding certain jobs left not done as they'd been assigned to him. So if you're going to leave a retreat, leave. But tell someone you're leaving. Or risk being called an asswipe on this blog.

Asswipe.

A little aside while I'm thinking of it, you must RSVP for the day-long micro-retreats in Santa Monica. In case people show up by accident thinking it's a regular Zazen day, we'll start announcing it's a retreat at the beginning. But if you see a lot of food service stuff being brought in, that's a clue. The schedule, once I know it, is always posted on this blog in the links over there to your left. And speaking of that, you're allowed to help us carry stuff inside, people. I guess everyone's too busy chatting to notice us huffing and puffing and lugging a million things into the house.

The Shizuoka retreat went well. What minor problems there were all came from people who spaced out and did not pay attention to what they'd been assigned to do. For example, five minutes before the beginning of Zazen a big wooden thingy is struck to call people to the zendo. This only actually happened at about half of the sittings and never once happened at the mid-morning sitting. I've got too much on my plate at these retreats to go yelling & screaming about stuff like this. I may need to hire a drill sergeant type for next year.

A couple of people were really concerned about what to do mentally during Zazen. Dogen's instructions in Fukanzazengi just say "Think the thought of not thinking. This is different from thinking." Some people really, really wanted me to give them permission to count breaths or to do one of those Tich Nhat Hahn-isms where you're like, "Breathing in I breathe the thought of compassion. Breathing out I breathe the thought of a pizza with mushrooms and anchovies." Or whatever. Actually the dude who left was the one who wanted to do that.

Here's what Dogen says in Eihei Koroku regarding breath counting:

In our zazen, it is of primary importance to sit in the correct posture. Then, regulate the breathing and calm down. In Hinayana, there are two elementary ways (of beginner's practice): one is to count the breaths, and the other is to contemplate the impurity (of the body). In other words, a practitioner of Hinayana regulates his breathing by counting the breaths. The practice of the buddha-ancestors, however, is completely different from the way of Hinayana. An ancestral teacher has said, “It is better to have the mind of a wily fox than to follow the way of Hinayana self-control.” Two of the Hinayna schools (studied) in Japan today are the Shibunritsu (the precept school) and the Kusha (the school based on Abhidharma-kosa).

There is also the Mahayana way of regulating breathing. That is, knowing that a long breath is long and that a short one is short. The breath reaches the tanden and leaves from there. Although the exhalation and inhalation are different, they both pass through the tanden. When you breathe abdominally, it is easy to become aware of the transciency (of life), and to harmonize the mind.

My late teacher Tendo said, “The inhaled breath reaches the tanden; however, it is not that this breath comes from somewhere. For that reason, it is neither short nor long. The exhaled breath leaves from the tanden; however, it is not possible to say where this breath goes. For that reason, it is neither long nor short.” My teacher explained it in that way, and if someone were to ask me how to harmonize one's breathing, I would reply in this way: although it is not Mahayana, it is different from Hinayana; though it is not Hinayana, it is different from Mahayana. And if questioned further regarding what it is ultimately, I would respond that inhaling or exhaling are neither long nor short.


Next, in case you're wondering, the image on this post is the cover of the new Puffy (I refuse to call them Puffyamiyumi) CD, Honeycreeper. It was just released in Japan and it's fuggin' awesome. Plus the photos in the little booklet make me melt.Here's the new video for the song "Oriental Diamond." Dig the glokenspeil.



Also check out "Kuchibiru Motion" (the sexiest promo video ever created) and "Boom Boom Beat" (with the line "You all wanna see, us act happily, not reality") also from the new record.

I'm staying with Ren Kuroda swordsman extraordinaire and his tolerant wife Hiroko and cute baby Ton-chan (little pig). The view out the window looks exactly like a miniature set from a Godzilla movie. I'll see if I can upload a photo.

Finally, some people talked me into adding the Google ads to this site and the very first one that came up is for the dreaded Holosync. The Holosync sucks. Don't buy it! I'm working on elmininating that ad. I don't know if I'll keep up with this ad stuff if it keeps being for bullshit products.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

IMAGE DOWN

First off it's Brad's new favorite song time! A new feature I plan to update every time I feel like updating it. Hooray!

Today's song is IMAGE DOWN. Here is the original version by the Japanese new wave band Boowy circa 1982. I heard this while shopping in a video store here in Tokyo the other day. And here is a late Nineties cover version by Puffy aka Puffyamiyumi to folks in the US of A. The Puffy version may be the keeper, although the original gets props for being the original. Have fun. I'll take these down soon to save my bandwidth. So those of you reading this in the future (hello, future people!) may find only dead links. Don't write me complaining about it, though. Especially don't write me complaining about it from the Ganymede colonies in the year 3567.

I'm in Tokyo meeting with the company I work for who just got sold. That's going weird as Hell.

Nishijima is alive and well. Very sharp and very much on the ball.

Tomorrow begins the annual 4-day Zen retreat in Shizuoka. That should be fun.

My new column on Suicide Girls has gotten more Diggs than any ever before, although the little Digg indicator at the top disappears every other time I access it. I don't even really get this whole Digg thing. But it seems people either like or are infuriated by it.

I'm staying in a section of Tokyo heavily populated by embassy people. There are little children outside the window talking English. It's strange to hear that over here.

Wish I had more to say. You want some Dharma? Shee-it.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH

I'm back from Colorado now. Back at sea level where the air has oxygen in it. That's nice. I didn't learn until my last day there that newcomers should take Asprin regularly to dialate their capilaries and get more oxygen into their systems. I guess I shoulda read up on it before going.

While I was there Kyle Larson gave ma a copy of a book called I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter. He's the guy who wrote Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which I never read. I'm just starting on I Am a Strange Loop but it's pretty interesting so far. Hofstadter thinks that the self is just a strange loop of energy within the brain that has no intrinsic reality. Something Buddhists have been saying for 25 centuries. It's good to see a Western scientist (or is he a philosopher?) saying the same thing. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Related to that I was hanging out with Kyle's wife Jessica and their 2 year old daughter Sophia (who is also called Chuck). Jessica mentioned that she could see Sophia gradually developing a sense of a separate self. She said that it seemed that her daughter was just beginning to get the idea that, for example, her mom was an independent being and that she herself was too.

I remember Nishijima saying that by doing Zazen "we come back to our childhood." It's true. As your practice deepens you can begin to recall the view of the world you had before you developed this idea of a separate individual self. Normally we think that the ideas we had as little children were mistaken and that the adult idea is a truer representation of reality. But I don't agree at all.

Big thanks to Waylon Lewis and the staff at Elephant magazine for their kind hospitality and to the folks at Denver's channel 7 news who had me on their daytime news show. If only LA was that hip. Thanks to Kim Corbin at New World Library for arranging that, too.

Anyway, all day Zazen retreat today so I gotta go.

I'll be in Japan from Sept. 19-28 if anyone's looking for me.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

THE NAKED APE



Couple things to get out of the way before we begin. I've received a lot of e-mails and comments lately expressing concern for my financial situation. I'm sorry to have made anyone worry. But, really, my financial situation is just fine for now. I'm trying to get rid of stuff because I have way too much*, not because I need the money. I am still employed. For the time being anyway. And if/when that finishes I'll find another job.

Lately in my Zazen I've been watching my brain invent amazing scenarios based on the most trivial of stimuli. Some idea will pop into my noggin from God only knows where and all of a sudden whole worlds of mental stuff are formed. Sorta like the Big Bang. I've even watched myself start to engage in wholly imaginary arguments over wholly imaginary things. This happens at a subconscious level so that I cannot even comment on the nature and topic of these arguments and what-not because they seem to have none. It's only after they form that anything specific can be assigned to them, more or less arbitrarily. It's just a kind of habitual reaction carried out at a very deep level. So I shouldn't be surprised when people invent vast fictional scenarios about my life based on a couple random sentences in a blog. But, much as I thank you for your concern, there really isn't any need for it.

My new favorite book is The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animalby Desmond Morris. I found it at an outdoor bookstall in Greenwich Village. I knew the book by reputation as one of those classic books that are supposed to be real good. But that was all I knew.

I just finished it about half an hour ago and I think it's amazing. It would be far better for people interested in Buddhism to read books like The Naked Apethan just about any of the dodgy pieces of muddle-headed philosophizing in the "spiritual" section of your local McBookbarn.

The author, Desmond Morris, is a British zoologist who turned his zoologist's eye on human beings. The book examines humans as animals, a brainy and carnivorous subspecies of nearly hairless primates. His conclusions, for the most part, seem to be almost completely valid. He articulates very clearly a lot of the things I've come across in my own practice. A lot of people were apparently very uncomfortable with the book when it was first published in 1967, and it's easy to see why. Instead of presenting humanity as lofty spiritual beings encumbered with unsightly material bodies it shows us as we truly are, a very successful species of ape.

Of course, in the Buddhist view, humans aren't just animals. But that doesn't mean we're not animals at all. Only that we are something rather different from the other animals. But then again elephants are different from all other animals and so are sea slugs and scorpions and any other creature. Like all other creatures we have a material as well as an immaterial side. But, again deferring to the Buddhist view, these sides are actually one and the same. The fact that we are highly successful primates -- with bigger wangs and boobies than any of our primate cousins, by the way -- is part of our spiritual nature. Get stuck into that one!

Morris' chapter on fighting is especially relevant. Virtually everything I said in my latest article for Suicide Girls comes from the same point of view he expresses there**. He even explains the workings of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems in much the same way Gudo Nishijima talks about them. Nishijima's view is that the practice of Zazen works to balance these two oppositional halves of our autonomic nervous system and that the "dropping off off body and mind" Dogen talks about is actually the equalization of our autonomic nervous system. Morris never mentions Zazen, of course. I don't even imagine he knows anything about it.

The chapter on comfort is also really interesting. Morris compares the development of medicine in human beings to the grooming instinct present in other primates. Most of our diseases, he says, emerge not from real injuries or germs, but from the deep-seated need to be groomed by our fellow naked apes. I've often thought this myself, but wasn't ever really able to articulate it as well as Morris does. This isn't to say that there are no real physical diseases. There are. But we would do well to look carefully into their origins.

Anyway, it's a good book. So go get it.

Check the entry below to where I'll be next week and remember your attendence is required. Seriously. Please don't imagine I get zillions of people at these things whether you show up or not and use that as an excuse not to show up. I don't get that many. If you like what I do, please support it. OK?

*Even though I seem to have generally far less than most people I know my age. I think it's because of the nature of my stuff that it seems like more. My friend Bob, who also has loads of monster toys and things says of his own situation, "My apartment looks like a 13 year old won the lottery" -- which is pretty much what mine looks like too.

**Though I wrote that piece long before I got the book. And how come so few of the people who posted comments noticed that I said it was extremely unfortunate that we still need vast armies to potect our freedoms? This fact must change if we are to survive as a species. But it won't change if we can't own up to it. Anyway, I guess pacifists like to get pissed off about things and fight against those who disagree with them... ***

*** Ironical, isn't it?

Friday, September 07, 2007

ELEVISION


For all you folks in Colorado or anywhere West of the Mississippi who are required to attend or be reborn as toadstools for a zillion lifetimes, here's a flier about my upcoming appearance on the Elevision TV show. Click on the image & you should be able to see a bigger, more legible version.

Here's the rest of the schedule:

Boulder & Ft. Collins, Colorado:
• Monday September 10, 2007 - 7:30 pm Boulder Bookstore 1107 Pearl Street - Author Event

• Tuesday September 11, 2007 Noon - Colorado State University Bookstore - The Lory Student Center at CSU Ft. Collins, CO

• Tuesday September 11, 2007 7 PM - CSU Anthropology Club The Lory Student Center at CSU, Ft. Collins - Author Event

• Wednesday, September 12, 2007 Interview for Elevision TV show. Be part of the live in-studio audience! Doors close at 7pm. The show will be at Trilogy, 2017 13th St. in downtown Boulder

Party on!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

BUDDHIST CHANNEL

Yo. This morning I did an interview... another iterview for the CBC up in Canadia! Them Canadians love that Zen stuff. That ain't up yet. But what is up yet is this interview I did for Buddhist Channel.

That's gotta be the worst picture anyone's ever taken of me. The interview was done by Gary Gach, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Buddhism in my friend Frank's apartment in San Francisco, right near the world famous City Lights bookstore and Fisherman's Wharf. There are a lot of hills in San Francisco. Did you know that?

Enjoy it while it's hot.

Monday, September 03, 2007

SUICIDE MONDAY

My newest article for Suicide Girls is up. As I mentioned earlier, they've switched me to Mondays rather than Saturdays and I'm now bi-weekly instead of weekly. So if anyone asks if I'm bi, I guess I can say yes now. I'm bi- - - - weekly! This is my first Monday entry. Enjoy. I'd much prefer you post your comments about it on Suicide Girls rather than here.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

OF MONTREAL and MRIs


Before I forget, check out the new issue of Alternative Press magazine. In issue #231, October 2007, with the band Chiodos semi-nude on the cover you'll find an op-ed piece by little old me on page 26. Alternative Press started out as a local fanzine for the Cleveland punk scene. When they started getting big they gave Dimentia 13 a lot of nice reviews (thank you). Now I got to make my contribution. Though reading the rest of the mag I realize how incredibly out of touch I am with the music scene these days. You kids and your whipper-snappin' punk rock!

I just got back from Montreal last night. The talk at McGill University up there went really well. The previous day I was a guest on a show on Montreal's CBC radio called Radio Noon with Anne Lagace-Dowson. Anne really knew her stuff about my book, which is rare in radio interviewers. I also did an interview with John Maciel of CKWR FM Radio, which was pretty cool too. Those shows generated so much response we got moved from the small room we'd originally been booked into to a larger lecture hall. And even that was standing room only. Gosh. The same thing happened at the Interdependence Project in New York City, the place was packed beyond capacity. Don't people on the East Coast have anything better to do?

While I was up in the Great White North yet another researcher wanted to scan my brain. Last year I got brain-scanned down in the great state of Georgia. So this is the second time I've participated in a study where scientific types have wanted to peek inside the brains of meditators to see if our are different from those of just plain folks. I'm always game for these things. I think it's great that such research is being done and I'm as curious as the next guy to see how it turns out. Maybe my brain is like totally round and has developed a special gland that can shoot out lazer beams or unhook girls' bras from ten feet away or something. That would be rad!

While I really support this kind of research, I wonder if the changes that years of Zazen practice causes in the brain can be measured by MRIs and suchlike. I'd imagine they can. I certainly feel a lot different now from what I did before I started this practice. But I also imagine the chemical and physical changes to the brain might be subtle. But what do I know about brains anyway? I'm like Fred Flintsone when it comes to brains. Ask the Great Gazoo.

Montreal was fun and French. After my brain scan I went with the guy who'd scanned me to sit with the Association Zen de Montreal, a group founded by Taisen Deshimaru. Deshimaru Roshi was a pal of Nishijima's. Both were students of Kodo Sawaki. They used to meet every time Deshimaru Roshi came back to Japan from France. Nice group. I didn't get to see a whole lot, though, in the short time I was there. They sit with black kimonos on, which are provided for everyone who shows up. I've seen other Zen places that do this. It's nice in that everyone gets to wear something very comfortable to sit in no matter what clothes they were wearing when they showed up. It also creates a nice "Zen" type atmosphere to see everyone wearing them. It's probably not a practice I'll adopt because the folks who come to see me sometimes tend to freak out over matters of costuming and suchlike (Calm down, OK? It's just clothes).

I really like Montreal and hope to spend some more time there in the near future. I like places that get cold sometimes.