Thursday, November 29, 2007

SILENCE IS ALWAYS AVAILABLE


I guess not so many readers of this page are into Godzilla movies. Your loss. Anyhow, the book about Eiji Tsuburaya consumed most of my working hours for the past five years and it's not right to exclude it from my work as a writer. It really is a groovy book.

ANYWAY, I've been thinking some about silence lately. I started to say this at my last talk at the Hill Street Center. But I wasn't in the mood that day to get too deep and "spiritual" so I don't think I conveyed the idea very well.

Simply put, my feeling is that the silence that underlies zazen practice is always available. In fact, this profound and mighty silence underlies all of our experiences -- from a long day of zen practice in a noble temple, to a KISS concert at Cobo Hall in Detroit circa 1977 (Love Gun tour, my favorite era), to a torrid night on the windswept dunes with the object of your affection bathed in silver-blue moonlight, to an afternoon cleaning up shit off the bathroom floor when the toilet has overflowed. Every experience rides atop an ocean of deep, deep silence. So deep and so silent you could never touch bottom. It makes the little bubbles and flotsam floating on its surface seem so insignificant they hardly matter at all. And yet though they (we) are just temporary shapes thrown up out of that endless silence, they (we) are made of nothing but silence. As silence we are endless, without boundaries, without names.

A lot of times people approach Zazen practice as if they have to forcibly generate silence into being. I've followed that rewardless path a hundred thousand times. But there is no need to try and create silence. It's always there, always flowing through you, creating you and creating the world that surrounds you. All you have to do is to allow it to be what it is.

Silence is never apart from you. It supports you through every experience. It carries you like a mother carries her child, protecting you from all harm. Silence is the strongest thing there is.

When you sit, don't worry if inner thoughts intrude or if outer disturbances interrupt your futile attempts to overcome them. Just allow the silence that manifests as every distraction to be what it is. Including your distraction at being distracted. It's all nothing but silence forming itself into temporary shapes. No matter what comes up, just return your attention to the silence that underlies everything.

I gotta go stop being a pretentious fuck. Later, dudes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

MY SECOND AND A HALF BOOK


I keep forgetting to mention this. But my second and a half book came out in November. It's called Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters: Defending the Earth with Ultraman and Godzilla. Even though the author credit is August Ragone, and even though August is a real guy and he wrote the text, and even though my name only appears buried deep within the acknowledgments section (thanks), it's really my book as much as it is his.

Here's why. I sold the idea of a book about the life and work of Eiji Tsuburaya -- the man who did the special effects for the classic Godzilla films of the 50s and 60s -- to Chronicle Books a number of years ago. That was the easy part. Then I had to sell the idea of the book to Tsuburaya Productions. That was like pulling teeth. But eventually I pushed it through the layers of corporate bureaucratic dumbness and got things rolling. Then I had to get the book itself together. As with most books Chronicle publishes (like The Beatles Anthology or Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd or even What's Your Poo Telling You?) the focus was going to be more on photos than text. So I had to run all over Japan and America rounding up cool photos of Eiji Tsuburaya at work on Godzilla movies and Ultraman TV shows, paying special attention to pictures that hadn't been published a million times over already. I then had to figure out who owned the rights to these shots and secure permission for their use as well as arrange proper payment to the rights holders. Then I had to write captions for all the pictures and tell the book designers which chapters they went with.

On the writing side, I had to commission August to write it and see that he got paid. After he turned in a manuscript nearly three times as long as we could use, I had to work with Chronicle to decide where to cut it. Then I had to go through the entire text, with August's MS on one side of the desk and a pile of Japanese books about Eiji Tsuburaya on the other, and fact check everything, making corrections where needed. August very definitely wrote the text of the book. No question about that. I don't make any claims to having written anything but the photo captions and my own sidebar, as well as ghost-writing Akira Tsuburaya's sidebar based on interviews with him I conducted for the book. But there wouldn't have been a book to write without the stuff I did. So I feel like it's my baby, and maybe August is my (gulp) boyfriend... (to extend the baby metaphor to a highly uncomfortable degree)

I'm really happy with the way the book turned out. I think it's one of the best books on the subject of Eiji Tsuburaya's life and work ever done, even including some of the terrific ones available in Japanese. August turned in a fine piece of writing and the designers did an amazing job of taking what we gave them and turning it into a very classy book.

Aside from being a cool book about guys dressing in rubber dinosaur costumes and knocking down miniature recreations of Tokyo (which is enough right there if you ask me), it's an incredible piece of social anthropology. The very first Godzilla film (available on DVD as Gojira / Godzilla Deluxe Collector's Edition (Gojira/Godzilla [1954] / Godzilla, King of the Monsters [1956])) was probably the very first film about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Watch the Japanese version sometime. It's a fairly grim and serious movie, with the monster as such an obvious stand-in for the bomb you can't possibly miss it. Eiji had done special effects for Japanese propaganda pictures during the war, and it was those techniques he put to use on his monster movies. But his work on propaganda films got him blacklisted by the US occupation forces, which is why he didn't do much work under his own name for the first few years after the war. Godzilla was a movie that could not have been made under US occupation censorship rules. It's significant that it was made just a couple years after the Yanks left.

So there ya go. All you folks who are saying you want to read another book by me, there's your chance. Makes a great Buddha's Enlightenment Day (Dec. 8) gift!

Monday, November 26, 2007

NEW SG ARTICLE, DREAMS, NIRVANA DVD

For those who've asked, the part of the song "She Evil Carries Roses" about the dream is the verse that starts off, "Rushing past the mirror on the door." That pretty much recounts the dream casting the protagonist as the "she" of the title, rather than me. There was a mirror on the door of the room I slept in whenever I visited. In the dream, I woke up (though I wasn't actually awake, that was part of the dream) and walked toward that mirror. I noticed my own image inside was crying. So I reached into the mirror and grasped myself by the shoulders to calm myself. At that moment a very serene me peered in from behind the crying me, just quietly observing the scene without any emotion.

There's probably some deep psychological meaning behind that. But who cares? I don't know how old I was when I had the dream. But I would guess between 14 and 18.

I put a new article on Suicide Girls today, that I kind of like. You don't need to be a member to see the articles and you won't accidentally see any naked boobies unless you pay to see them. I know some people can't access SG from various places. I wish I had a solution for you. But I don't. I'm not supposed to re-post the SG articles anywhere else according to my contract with them. It's pretty stupid anyone would block the non-pay portion of their site since there's no "porn" in that part. Such is puritanism, I suppose.

My first teacher Tim wants me to write him an article about the creeping threat of standardization in American Buddhism. Gotta get to work on that. On the one hand, I understand the desire for standards to keep it from being a case where just anybody can say, "Yup, I'm a Zen Master" and get away with it. That's happened before and will probably happen again. But I figure the Sixties and Seventies are over, no matter how much everybody keeps trying to revive them. People in general aren't quite as naive about Eastern religions as they once were. Once we're more acclimated to Zen teachers and other Buddhist types in our midst, we'll be less likely to be so awe struck by anyone who uses words like "karma" and "dharma." Less likely to drop our panties for anyone in a set of robes. Which I admit is a bummer for me, but a boon for the philosophy.

Still, we do have crap like Big Mind® (whose funding comes from Zen Master Rama, referenced above -- big surprise!) and all that still making cash. So there is need for some kind of general knowledge. But I don't think making sure everybody wears the same robes and chants the same chants is gonna help very much. Anyway, I'll give this whole thing some more thought and get down to cases writing the article.

Yesterday I went out and bought the Nirvana: Unplugged In New York DVD. As I'm sure I've bragged before, 0DFx played with the Meat Puppets in 1983. They were without a doubt the band I was most impressed with of all the bands we opened for. The Misfits were close. But the Meat Puppets were better. When their second album came out it just blew my brains out. It's the only record I ever literally wore out by playing it too many times. After several weeks it just sounded like complete shit because the grooves had been worn down. I had to buy another copy.

I liked Nirvana from the start. But when they invited the Meat Puppets on their MTV unplugged show and played three of the songs from Meat Puppets II that clinched them as a truly hip group in my mind. It's so sad Kurt Cobain couldn't get his shit together in the end.

Pretty spiffy DVD. But I agree with the review on Suicide Girls about the extras. The interviews with people who were there pretty much tell you all you need to know about how fucked up things were towards the end. Seeing a buncha fuckin' clueless executive types in the front row all nervous because Kurt invited the Meat Puppets as guests instead of Eddie Vedder or whoever could hardly have been inspiring.

I gotta go. Have a nice one!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

SHE EVIL CARRIES ROSES

Here's an old song of mine I've been listening to:

She Evil Carries Roses

This concerns a dark-haired girl in Chicago who, at the time, I was painfully enamored with. It seems to be a put down because I say she "evil" carries roses. But the song was meant affectionately. I think. I was in a weird frame of mind at the time. She was "evil" in the sense of being mysterious and impenetrable. But not in the sense of being bad. Her name was Monica. We worked together at a Woolworths where we often had to carry plastic fake roses up and down the stairs to the stock room in the basement. These fake roses were bought by people who put them on graves. Or I assumed that's what they did with them. Years later I tried to call Monica and she refused to speak to me.

It also concerns a dream I had while staying at my recently deceased grandmother's house while I was a child or maybe a teenager. The dream has stuck with me all these years. I must have had the dream about 10 years before I wrote the song, if not more and I wrote the song some time in the 80s, yet I still remember the dream.

It's a sort of creepy song. Don't get creeped out by it.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL

Here’s the second case in Dogen’s book of koans, Shinji Shobogenzo:

Master Obaku Ki-un on Mt. Obaku in the Ko district ask Master Hyakujo Ekao, “When I want to share with others the teachings which you have given us, how should I preach them?”

Master Hyakujo just remained sitting on his cushion without saying anything.

Obaku Ki-un said, “How can I teach sons and grandsons of disciples in the future?”

Master Hyakujo said, “What you have said shows that you are a real person.”


This is one of the questions I get so often I’m thinking of putting it into my F.A.Q., which I haven’t updated since the Bronze Age, by the way. People always want to know, “How can I teach Buddhism to others?”

The short answer is, don’t.

Of course I don’t mean totally “don’t.” But in most cases you don’t really need to teach anybody anything. Leave it alone, give it a rest, as Brian’s mom says in Life of Brian. If your friends and family want to know about Buddhism they’ll ask. Otherwise the Buddhist policy is: (If they) Don’t ask, don’t tell.

This was brought home to me recently when a certain Buddhist Master started to try and kindly bestow his teachings upon me. Jesus God Almighty if there is anything more annoying than that I really don’t want to know what it is. I finally figured out how to set my Spam filter to direct his e-mails right into my trash, so at least I don’t have to read that shit anymore.

But I imagine anyone who reads my stuff shares my disdain for teachers who try and push their teachings on you. Gawd, I hope no one out there is trying to push the stuff I say on anyone. Still, maybe you have some feeling that this or that friend of yours could benefit from the practice and you’d like to give them the chance. That’s nice. But, unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do.

Trying to teach Buddhism to someone you know is like trying to get someone you know to sleep with you. You can’t push the issue or you’ll just scare them off. Or worse, they’ll feel like you’ve raped them with your religion. It just doesn’t do any good at all.

Even in my position these days I don’t really tell people I meet about Zen unless they ask. Even then I usually throw out facetious jokey answers the first few times in order to see if they seriously want to know. If someone isn’t really very sincerely desirous of the teachings there is no point at all in trying to bestow them upon them. They’re not going to listen with the necessary intention anyhow, so you’re just wasting your breath and making yourself look silly.

Anyway, that’s my little sermon for the day. Have a good one.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

THANKSGIVING DAY SALE

Happy Thanksgiving Day everybody. At least all you Americans. The Canadians have it on a different day and those of you outside North America don't have it at all. Count yourselves lucky! I was never big on this particular holiday. Tomorrow is Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, as everyone scrambles to get X-mas presents at bargain prices. And here I am, as a truly compassionate Buddhist Master, giving you the chance to get a jump on the day.

I've put some items of mine up for sale on eBay. Here's the scoop.

This is my Peavey bass guitar as seen in the film Cleveland's Screaming! A piece of my history, up for grabs because I don't wanna move the sucker. It is a truly great bass.

This is the toy bug I wrote about in a long-ago piece on my webpage. I have no idea if the piece is still up there. But lots of people seem to remember that one and write me about it still. I gotta give up the little guy, though. So here's your chance to own him for yourself! Beware. He's an expensive sucker.

Here's a boxed set of the TV show SPECTREMAN. Everybody remembers Spectreman from the 70's and 80's, one of the coolest Ultraman imitators of all. In fact, I like it better than Ultraman myself.

Megalon and Jet Jaguar figures by Microman. Nuff said.

Gamera from the film Gamera 3: The Advent of Irys. This figure is too rare to even believe I'd sell it. But there ya go.

DVD boxed set of War of the Colossal Beast and a bunch of other movies with a limited edition Colossal Beast figure! God I hate to give this one up.

DVD boxed set of the film Valley of Gwangi also with a limited edition figure. I so love this one. The figure is sooooo fuckin' cool. Give it a good home (sniff).

Godzilla 1998 figure. Also super duper cool. Please give him a good home, too.

Figure of the giant walrus monster Todora, from Ultra Q who also appeared in the movie Gorath, in which he was named Magma. The Americans cut him out of the US prints of the film! Bastards.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Want A Job, Want A Job, Want A Good Job...

Nobody remembers that bit from the movie Sid And Nancy, do they? Some bus driver (I think) is telling Sid Vicious he wrote a punk rock song and asks if Sid wants to hear it. He does. It goes, "I want a job, want a job, want a good job, I want a job that pays. I want a job, want a job, want a real job, one that satisifes my artistic needs."

Anyway, this post supplants the one below, which, I realized was a bit vague.

The day job I've had with Tsuburaya Productions for the past 12 or 13 years is over and done with. I'll collect my final paycheck on December 31st. I've saved enough that I won't starve to death or anything. And the pittance I earn from writing will help. But I gotta get out of L.A. because this town will drain that stuff in mere months, whereas most other places I could go, I could hang on for a while on that money.

So I'm more looking for a place to go than a big fat paycheck. My destination of choice is Montreal. I may go there anyway. Or somewhere else in Canada. I've been considering just walking the Earth like Caine from Kung Fu. But that's probably not the best plan. I've received a few nice ideas, which I am considering. But more are always welcome. Even if it's not Canada. Any place has potential to be a great place. And what I think is right may not be what's actually right.

My Zen teacher, Nishijima Sensei, always advises his students not to quit their day jobs. There are a lot of good reasons for that. But the first and foremost is that people who do quit their day jobs to be full time Zen teachers so often seem to turn bad. They get into the Zen drama way too deep. I actually love the fact that I never have time to engage in that shit and I plan on keeping it that way. So a job I will seek and seeking a job will be my job for the time being, with little time left for much else. This being-too-busy-for-Zen-drama is a teaching by example I've received from the two greatest Zen teachers alive today, Gudo Nishijima and Tim McCarthy.

I don't want to criticize anyone else's way. Well, actually I do. I enjoy it. But it always gets me in trouble. And with the whole dead grandma thing, and the moving thing, and the seeking a job thing, and the worse-than-I-expected jet-lag thing from two weeks in the Eastern Standard Time Zone right when Daylight Savings Time ended thing, and the trying to finish my third book thing and all the rest of it, Zen drama is not what I need at the moment. Or any moment. So post away, anonymous trolls. But I won't be engaging in it. I'm a bit sad right now and it's not gonna help anything.

Y'know, here's a clue to understanding how I approach this Zen stuff, in case you're into clues. Maybe I've said this before. But I never wanted to be a Zen teacher. A lot of guys out there did all of their training and practice in a continuous state of chomping at the bit for the day they could finally put on some robes and become a Zen teacher. Not me. I just took up the practice because it worked for me. I accepted ordination because Nishijima Sensei wanted someone to fill in for him at his lectures. It took me almost a year to finally give in to his request even then. I've continued doing teaching because, like the other aspects of the practice, I've found that it works for me. But I still fucking hate it. Hate, hate, hate it. Do not like it at all. Nope.

This is why when you come to one of my sittings at Hill Street Center you'll often find me in a somewhat cranky mood at the start of the day. I know it's a great thing to teach this stuff to those who are interested. I know it's valuable and I know that I am good at it (Sorry if that sounds like bragging. Deal with it.). But I hate it. I just want to sit quietly by myself and here are all these people vying for my attention, thinking that I have something I can somehow bestow upon them. I got nothing. Why don't they ever learn? I cannot muster up whatever you need to muster to be the bright, cheery, warm and welcoming presence I probably ought to be when folks start arriving because -- may Jesus forgive my immortal soul -- at that moment I usually just want them to go the fuck somewhere else and leave me be.

I know teachers who just eat that shit up. They love, love, love having a bunch of people around who think they're the Bee's Knees. They're so eager to bestow their teachings upon the poor lost souls who come to them for their sage guidance. Feh, I say! Feh! Feh! Fehh! I've run away from a lot of those guys and I have no patience for them whatsoever. If you like that kind of shit, go to one of those guys. I really do not care.

But anyway I always soften up towards the end of a sitting and get really happy I'm able to share the quiet time with others who value shared quite time. I end up being deeply touched that you're there (though I will never admit it). So please don't be put off by the ogre I always seem to be when you arrive. Just don't bug me too much or I'll throw a cushion at you. There are plenty of people out there who come off as big, warm, caring huggy bears, when behind the scenes they're nasty, deceitful, hurtful, cut-throat, passive-aggressive, power hungry fuck-faces*. Be careful of those guys, OK? Be careful of me, too. Please. Always be careful.

Gosh. I really wandered off topic that time.

Anyway. If you guys got any good ideas for future career moves or places to go, keep sending them in. And thank you! I really appreciate it more than my cranky demeanor will ever allow me to show.

I'm gonna write a review of the Puffy** show last night soon. But I want to give folks a chance to respond to this first.

* If I was referring to someone specific I'd say so. Rest assured of that. But there are really too many of these asswipes to single out any one of them.
** I refuse to call them Puffy AmiYumi.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

DAYTON and MY JOB and LOS ANGELES

Yet another in a continuing series of blog postings written at while waiting to board a plane at an airport where they offer free WiFi. Today it's Dayton. I'm against paying for WiFi at airports. I figure for the length of time I'm in one I hardly need to be connected. But if I get it for free I'll take it. Dayton gets props for offering free WiFi, but they get points taken off for blocking the Suicide Girls site. Lots of places do that and it makes no sense to me. But, then again, I am the "Porno Buddhist" according to some.

My grandma's funeral yesterday was uneventful. Just a funeral. A nice Methodist minster named Valerie officiated. She did her job competently and professionally. My dad talked some. I didn't say anything this time. Dad's talk was enough and there wasn't anything I could add.

I'm on my way back to Los Angeles. I'm not sure how long I'll stay in L.A. from here on in. My job with Tsuburaya Productions is, for all intents and purposes, already finished. I'll collect my last paycheck on Dec. 31st. After that I'll no longer be able to afford to live in La La Land. With just over a month left, I haven't made any final decisions about where to go. If anyone wants to offer me a job, I can speak, read and write Japanese and have over a decade of experience in the Japanese and American film and TV business. I'm house-broken and make my bed every morning. People say I rite gud. I will rite stuff for you if you gimme money. I can sweep floors and do windows. I'm an ordained Zen Buddhist priest. My e-mail address is brad.warner@mac.com if you have any serious offers. I have an actual resume I can send. Please don't just yank my chain, though. OK?

As soon as I get to California I'll need to get rid of lots and lots of stuff. I'll probably be dumping it on eBay. I'll put links up here in case anyone wants my junk. I got some good junk.

There are nice things about Los Angeles. Sunshine. The people who come to the Hill Street Center. Warm days in December. Thai food all over the place. Amoeba Records. Los Feliz. India Sweets and Spices. But it's also a place where you have to drive everywhere. It's way too fucking expensive. The rent I pay is absolutely without any doubt criminally high. When I become President of the World I'm imposing the death penalty on landlords who charge that much. Everybody there is far too ambitious. I just don't have that much ambition. I'm very happy with that fact, too. Ambition is a disease. I know some decent people who love Los Angeles and do not appear to be mentally ill. Still, after three years there I just don't get it.

Looks like they're about the start boarding. Bye!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

GRANDMA

My grandmother, Marian Warner, died at 4:55 this morning, Thursday November 15, 2007. My dad, my aunt (her daughter), my cousin Trisha and her son Robbie were there along with a lady from the local hospice who happened to be named Stacey (same as my sister) and whose husband is Brad (not me, different Brad).

My aunt woke me up about an hour before she passed away because the hospice lady had woke her & my dad and told them that grandma’s breathing and vitals had changed and she thought it might be time. My aunt asked if there was any religious thing I wanted to do. So I rummaged around my bag and found the little booklet of sutras I carry with me. I lit a stick of incense and chanted the Heart Sutra. Grandma’s breathing was heavy and her eyes were closed most of the time, though she did open them occasionally and acknowledge us. As her breathing began to settle I chanted once more. I was still chanting when she took her final breath. My aunt was holding her hand. My dad and Trish were standing at the foot of the bed.

Gone.

That was just seven hours ago. It’s a mistake to write about such a thing in a public forum so soon after it happened. For practical purposes I’m posting this mainly to let those who signed up for the day-long retreat at the Hill Street Center this Saturday (Nov. 16) that I won’t be there. But the retreat will still go ahead as planned. Kevin Bortolin, another Dharma Heir of Nishijima Sensei will be there. Maybe he’ll say a few words at the end.

I’ve hashed and re-hashed my whole what-happens-when-you-die schpiel a dozen times this year, I think. I don’t mind letting people in on the secret. It’s just that I don’t have a whole lot of confidence most folks grasp what I’m saying when I try to explain it. Which isn’t to say that I’m all Enlightened and you’re all dumb-asses. It’s just that it takes a certain amount of serious, dedicated practice before these kinds of things are gonna make sense. And most of you haven’t done that. No judgments there. It's just a fact.

Anyway, we all imagine that this thing we call “me” is the personal property of us as individuals. That, in itself, is a weird idea and provides a clue to how absurd the view is. I own me. We posit not one but two individuals. There’s me that I can describe and name, and then there’s a more nebulous, indescribable me that owns this describable, nameable me.

The real situation is that this thing we call "me" is not our property. It is an expression of the Universe. As such there is nowhere it can possibly go when we breathe our last. This me is not a soul that flies up to Heaven or descends to Hell. It is not an Atman that reincarnates in a different body. It is not a True Self that merges into the All-ness of Being. It can’t be limited in any of those silly and trivial ways. Even what I just said about it being an expression of the Universe puts far too many arbitrary limits on it.

My grandma’s dead and gone, waiting soon to be buried. She’ll never return. And yet the Universe of which she was an expression can never die, can never go anywhere, can never be extinguished.

Whatever.

The funeral will be Saturday afternoon. If you want to do something for me to ease my grief then go see Puffy Amiyumi at the Key Club tomorrow (Friday Nov. 16th) and take some good photos because it looks like I won’t make it. I may make it to their show Sunday in Annaheim.

When I lay dying you can light some incense and chant the Heart Sutra, put on The Beatles White Album, hold my hand (but not if you’re a dude, cuz that would be gay, dudes can sorta pat me on the shoulder in a manly way*), or be very quiet. I’m guessing I’d appreciate the silence more than anything else. Though I really like the White Album. Play that when you think I still have a few hours left then be quiet afterwards. That'll work.

My grandma lived a good life and died peacefully at home. May we all be able to do the same.


* Dammit it’s a joke. Stop taking everything so seriously.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

SCREAMING SMOLDERING BUTT BITCHES


Last night I shot photos for a new Akron band called Screaming Smoldering Butt Bitches. My fave shot is the one on your left. You can find more on their MySpace page, which is linked above. It's a new page, so there's not a lot on it. But most of the photos I shot last night are there. I heard their rehearsal and predict great things for these bitches.

I'm done with Akron and the gigs with Zero Defex. I wrote a bit about that in my latest Suicide Girls article. A good time was had by all. We'll probably play again in Kent, Ohio on May 4th for part of the annual commemorations of the events at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. And if you don't know what happened at KSU on May 4, 1970 you ought to go edumacate yourself on an important event in American history.

I'm in Hamilton now visiting my very sick grandmother. I'm still planning to be back in Los Angeles for the monthly day long Zazen retreat at the Hill Street Center in Santa Monica this Saturday (November 17th). Fingers firmly crossed. I may end up running back to Ohio pretty soon thereafter. Nobody knows at this point.

Being back among all the drama and chaos of my Akron friends reminded me just how valuable Zazen practice can be. I love them all but damn it was an exhausting week.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I DON'T WANNA ROCK AND ROLL ALL NIGHT OR PARTY EVERY DAY


OK. I talked at the Akron Public Library on Wednesday. Did a show with 0DFx that same night. Did some 0DFx recordings, hopefully for a new CD out soon, on Thursday. Showed Cleveland's Screaming in Cleveland last night (Friday), played another 0DFx show right after that, and tonight (Saturday) we have yet another 0DFx show. On Monday I'm going down to manly Mansfield for yet another Zen talk (info is linked at the end of the post below this one). Yeesh. The photo is of Jimi Imij (lead throat shredder of the mighty Defex) at the show Wednesday. On his chest is written "R.I.P GUNS." The Guns were a two-piece hardcore band that used to play loads of our shows. Sadly both have now passed to the Great Mosh Pit Beyond. We did one of their songs.

Last night I got to sleep at 4 AM, which is half an hour before I'd be waking up on a Zen retreat. I can do this kind of thing from time to time without any major ill effects. But I don't think I could keep it up on a regular basis. It's better for me to have a schedule that's a little closer to normal. I don't like waking up at 10 or 11. I used to do it all the time. Now I feel like I've missed the whole day. I guess the difference is in having experienced the morning -- I mean the real morning, just at dawn. Once you've experienced that it's hard to go back (like once you've gone Black). I don't think we're nocturnal creatures.

So anyway, being back in my home town means being back in the drama of friends and family. Oy vey. I hate god damned interpersonal bullshit drama. But there's one real important message I keep trying to convey over & over to all you Zen fans out there in Internets Land. And that is that there is no escape from interpersonal bullshit drama. People sometimes get this vision that they'll run off to some Zen temple or monastery and escape forever interpersonal bullshit drama. It won't happen. Never has. Never will. Forget it. This is one reason why Nishijima likes to expose all the interpersonal bullshit drama of Dogen Sangha to public view. It's far more honest than hiding it like most Buddhist groups do (you know who you are).

Sometimes when I read Dogen I notice that even he had to deal with this shit at his temples. You can see it in his talks to his monks. A lot of the hard to understand stuff in Shobogenzo and his other works can be traced to just this kind of stuff. You'll find it in Buddha's talks to his followers too. Don't let the arcane, ancient language fool you into believing those monks were not real people just like your idiot friends.

There should be a difference. And in the best of cases there actually is. But not that often. And the difference is that someone who does the practice should be aware of the fact that the drama is just drama and that it doesn't need to be quite so dramatic. The nasty thing that happens in Buddhist bullshit drama is that people go into passive aggressive mode. "Gassho, brother, (I hate your fucking guts) the Dharma, skillfull means, Compassion, blah-blah-blah (I'm sleeping with your girlfriend and I know you know and that's why I'm gonna do it again tonight), be well my brother, Gassho."

Gassho my fucking ASS. You know what? I propose a ban on ending e-mails with "gassho" or "deep bows" or any of that stupid passive aggressive hypocritical faux Buddhist bullshit. Banned forever! Done.

Sorry. Where was I? Oh yeah. Human drama. What to do? I wish I had an easy answer. I mostly ignore it as best I can. I also take sacrcastic people's sacrcasm at face value. Why thank you, this is a lovely pair of checkered bermuda shorts I'm wearing! Or whatever.

I gotta go do stuff. Enjoy life.

Gassho my dick.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

YET AGAIN MORE SNAPPY ANSWERS

A couple more questions from the readership:

I finished reading your book about a month ago and I really enjoyed it, I’m 17 and for the past 3 years I've been trying to figure out what life is all about. I started reading books on buddhism by tich nhat hanh, surya dass, and the dalai lama. But I was always a bit turned off by zen, Im not sure why, it just seemed really esoteric. Well, I was wrong. Your book was great, it painted an amazing picture of what zen is, and I've been trying to do zazen ever since. But I have a question, where do buddhist morals come from? In a religion that believes in a god or gods, they are the ones that decide what is right and wrong. How does zen make a distinction from what is moral and what is not?

You’re starting early! And I’m starting late because you asked me this over a year ago and I’m only just now getting to it. Now you’re 18 and you’ve probably moved on to cooler things than Buddhism. But here goes anyway.

Buddhist morality comes from the situation at the moment. I know whenever I say this people scream and cry and tear their hair out yelling, “That’s situational ethics!” As if that’s a bad thing. But I really don’t think it is.

I guess when people say “situational ethics” they mean an attitude where you change your ethical stance on a whim according to whatever suits you at the moment. Buddhist morality isn’t like that.

We have guidelines in the Ten Precepts. You can read all about those by downloading this pamphlet. But as it says in the pamphlet, Dogen said that the precepts were the habit of Buddhists, not their goal. Nishijima’s Q&A at the beginning of this pamphlet really lays out the Buddhist view on morality way better than I’m able to.

In real life the proper course of action always presents itself clearly. But we are usually unable to discern it because we have a strong habit of shouting down our intuitive response with thought. Part of the reason we do zazen is to learn to ignore thought and pay attention to the intuitive response.

Morals are not decided by the opinion of the majority, even if that majority calls themselves “Buddhist.” As I’ve mentioned recently, there’s a tendency among American Buddhists to apply the precepts the way the Ten Commandments have been applied by some Christians, as a way to criticize or even ostracize others. It’s as if no one read The Scarlet Letter when it was assigned in ninth grade, or at least they didn’t get it. The point of the precepts is not that they be used as a guideline to judge whether other people are good or bad. They’re to be used as a guideline for our own behavior in times when intuition fails. But, as I’m sure I’ve said, intuition never really fails. But we do screw our bodies and minds up to the point where we become unable to see it clearly.

Another question:

I've been a Buddhist geek for a long time and have been sitting zazen every day for about a year. I'm also and electrician, a job that requires random drug testing --no problem. I was called in for one such test about a month ago and got a case of stage fright resulting in my inability to produce a sample and the subsequent loss of my job. This has been a problem for me since I was ten and, while I've noticed some improvement since I've been sitting, it's by no means cured.

So, I went to my doctor, a man who I respect very much. He called it paruresis --a mild anxiety disorder. He wrote me a note to challenge the loss of my job and prescribed me some medication. One of these pills I'm now taking is Zoloft.

Here's my question: While I haven't noticed any effect on my sitting zazen, I worry that this kind of treatment will cheapen my practice and ultimately do more harm then good. What do you think? Again, I know you're busy and I'm only asking your opinion because I'm between zen teachers and I respect your take.


I get questions like this a lot and I’m always a little hesitant to answer them. The reason I’m hesitant is that I really don’t know the people who are asking these things personally, so I can’t assess their situation in any reliable way.

In general, I’m pretty much anti-drug all the way down the line. I don’t even like taking Asprin, though I will take it sometimes. So I’m not a big fan of drugs like Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac and all the rest of the modern miracle cures for whatever ails you. I’ve gone through some serious depression in my life and I am sure that, had I gone to one of the kinds of doctors who deals in these wonder drugs during those times I’d surely have been prescribed them. Had that happened I’m certain I’d still be dependant on them to this day. So I thank God I’m just a little too old, so that those drugs hadn’t yet been invented yet when I “needed” them.

To me, your particular problem seems a bit simpler than it’s being made out to be. I mean, if it were me, I’d have gone out and bought a huge thing of lemonade and drank it all in one go. Or just sucked on the cold water tap in the bathroom for a few minutes before entering the stall. The biological urge would then overwhelm any stage fright. Still, having been prescribed the drug by a physician gives you more leverage to take action against your former employers. So I think it’s a good thing to have done in that sense.

In most cases I’d guess the problem is a lot simpler than the cure. Once when a friend of mine who was studying clinical psychology told me about the side effects of the various drugs her profession used, I said it sounded like tuning a piano with a sledge hammer. Maybe the one string you were trying to fix would get tuned up that way, but you’re gonna wreck everything else in the process.

Still, I want to be careful. There may be times when a medical solution is called for. But, to me, the decision to go for the medical solution is like the decision to declare war. It’s something you want to hold off on until there are absolutely no other options. Nobody was gonna stop the Nazis with diplomacy, so war had to be declared. But unless you’re up against someone like the Nazis it may be better to avoid declaring war. My take on the use of anti-depressants and similar drugs is like that.

I'm still in Ohio. Here's the gig list again:

November 7th at 7PM I'll be at the Akron Public Library downtown.

November 7th (same day) 0DFx (the hardcore band I played bass in in the early 80s) will play the Matinee in Akron after the talk at the library.

November 9th my movie Cleveland's Screaming will be shown at the Beachland Tavern in Cleveland. There'll also be live performances by 0DFx, CD Truth, Cheap Tragedies and This Moment in Black History.

November 10th 0DFx plays at the Spitfire Saloon in Cleveland.

November 12th I'll give a Zen talk at Lambert's Tattooing and Body Piercing (I kid you not) in manly, he-man Mansfield, Ohio at 7PM (Sponsored by the Mansfield Zen Center).

Saturday, November 03, 2007

MORE SNAPPY ANSWERS TO STUPID QUESTIONS*


I thought I’d try and answer a couple more e-mail questions:

Many times in your writing I come across the idea, in one form or another, that "You'll never be free of your problems, nor would you ever want to be." -- I have some questions about this approach. -- What about the natural drive towards healing and solving our problems that we all have, for ourselves and others? Is this totally irrelevant to actually being happy? Should we just stay stuck in our problems and not try to heal them? Furthermore, what about compassion? Compassion means you see someone in pain, and you want to help them, you don't just say, "This person's problems will never really be solved, so what's the point in helping?" It seems like a basic idea underlying compassion would be the notion that problems can be solved at least a little. Not that you'll ever be done with challenges, but that you can overcome particular humps that are inhibiting your or someone else's happiness. How does this gel with your/Zen philosophy?

Christ, what a question! OK. There’s nothing wrong with having a natural inclination towards solving your own and other people’s problems. That drive is compassion itself.

However the idea that someday you’ll solve all problems and be done with them forever and ever is an unrealizable fantasy. The reason I waste so much time pointing out this incredibly obvious fact is because I’ve seen a lot of Spiritual Master types make a damn good living promising their patented technique will achieve just that effect – Get Enlightened and all your problems are solved for all time! Ain’t gonna happen.

Compassion is a tremendous thing. This is why Buddhist teachers from Buddha to Dogen and on down the list have all stressed compassion. The problem is that there is a huge difference between true compassion and the thought of compassion. The thought “I must be compassionate” often smothers true compassion to the point where true compassion can’t even be expressed.

This is what I was trying to get at when I wrote on Suicide Girls about the whole Myanmar thing. Even if I say it a zillion times, nobody seems to get the point that I see nothing at all wrong with protesting against things like the stuff going on in Myanmar. Protest away! Yay, protesters! You go, girls (and boys)!

The problem is when your concern for expressing what thought has defined wrongly as “compassion” gets in the way of what really needs done. You’re so compassionate towards the monks in Myanmar. But then after the protest you stop by a bookstore, see a book you like on the shelf, leaf through it, decide you want it, look on the back at the price, decide it’s too much, then go home and order it for half that price through Amazon. Where is your compassion for the owners of that bookstore? Are monks in Myanmar more deserving of your compassion simply because everybody you know is talking about them? Maybe the bookstore people don’t deserve your compassion because they’re middle-class Americans and the Myanmar monks are poor and downtrodden. And we all know, middle-class Americans have no problems at all.

And where is your compassion towards the military junta of Myanmar? Without their actions would you even know about the plight of the monks? They were getting shat upon for years before you even heard there was a problem. Now you get to read all about it. You ought to thank those military assholes for their tireless work in exposing the problems of their country!

I’m just trying to give some common and easy examples of a more generalized attitude.

And, by the way, to the nut jobs in the comments section who equate putting a 17 year old blind sheep dog with bad kidneys whose back legs don’t work anymore to sleep with the atrocities of the Nazi regime… get a clue. OK?

Here’s another question from the Peanut Gallery:

I've got a couple of questions to which your answer would be appreciated if you've got the time.
1: are there any books on the subject of zen buddhism which you think are worth reading?
2: i myself am interested at becoming ordained at some point, though most of my knowledge is of the tibetan tradition, what was your monastic experience / ordination process like?


Question One:
To Meet the Real Dragon by Gudo Nishijima
Shobogenzo by Master Dogen
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen and the Way of Being Time by Dainin Katagiri

Question Two:
I don’t really have any monastic experience to speak of. I never lived in a monastery, as such. I don’t think my two years at the Kent Zendo really count. Though in many ways those were as much a true monastic experience as anything. My ordination was just like I described it in Hardcore Zen. Not very exciting. I did two ordinations, actually. After the one recounted in the book I did another one through the Soto Shu (Soto Sect) of Japan. More formal, but pretty much the same.

I never actually wanted to be ordained, though. I did it more because Nishijima Sensei wanted me to be ordained. It wasn’t a big dream of mine or anything. So it’s hard for me to give a lot of advice to people who dream of being monks. Mostly I’d just say it won’t be a damned thing like your dreams.


I'm in Ohio now. Here's the gig list again:

November 7th at 7PM I'll be at the Akron Public Library downtown.

November 7th (same day) 0DFx (the hardcore band I played bass in in the early 80s) will play the Matinee in Akron after the talk at the library.

November 9th my movie Cleveland's Screaming will be shown at the Beachland Tavern in Cleveland. There'll also be live performances by 0DFx, CD Truth, Cheap Tragedies and This Moment in Black History.

November 10th 0DFx plays at the Spitfire Saloon in Cleveland.

November 12th I'll give a Zen talk at Lambert's Tattooing and Body Piercing (I kid you not) in manly, he-man Mansfield, Ohio at 7PM (Sponsored by the Mansfield Zen Center).

*By the way, the title of this piece refers to a feature in MAD magazine.

Friday, November 02, 2007

I GET LETTERS

You guys can say whatever you want. All I know is that the comments section under my Suicide Girls articles is always pleasurable and informative. The comments section here is like a visit to the nut house.

OK. I’m overstating things. As usual. I always overstate things. That’s one thing you should know. I always overstate. Sorry. Deal with it. Anyway, it’s not a total nut house in there. But it can get scary sometimes. Mostly I avoid reading it. I read all your e-mails, though. But I’m really slow to respond because I get a lot of them. There’s a lot less venom spewing in e-mails.

So I thought I’d answer some questions I’ve received in e-mails here. I picked these first two because they’re fairly representative of some questions I receive pretty often.

I am considering taking up zazen, hoping it might give me a little mental clarity, self-control and understanding, but I have a question that has bothered me. I have come across a few references to studies of possible links between meditation and psychological disorders such as depersonalization and disassociation. I was wondering whether you are familiar with those ideas and what you think of them? That might be a too open-ended question, but I'm not sure how to frame it. To me, sometimes Buddhist ideas about the "true nature of reality" sound a lot like the medical literature describing mental disorders such as depersonalization. Maybe I'm reading the wrong books.

I don’t know what books you’ve been reading. But I’m familiar with the view that meditation practice can lead to psychological disorders. To me, it’s all about what kind of meditation you’re talking about and how you approach it.

Some of the meditation practices I’ve seen promoted out there do strike me as pretty dangerous and potentially damaging. This is why I was so vehement in my criticism of Gempo Roshi’s Big Mind® scam. Any practice that promises Enlightenment experiences quickly is bound to lead to psychological problems. No two ways about it. In fact, even the more supposedly “traditional” approaches to Buddhist practice that emphasize Enlightenment as a goal and encourage students to experience it as quickly as possible strike me as potentially very hazardous to a person’s mental well-being.

In order to live among your fellow human beings you need to be conversant with and able to navigate your way through the consensus view of reality held by most members of the society of which you’re a part. The problem is that this consensus view of reality is utterly mistaken. Buddhist practice can help you see through the consensus view and get to the underlying reality. But you need to take this process very slowly. If you go into it too quickly the shock can be devastating. You've learned this consensus view since the day you were born. You trust it and rely on it. To have it suddenly swept from under you can be extremely scary. It’s this shock that manifests itself as psychological disorders like depersonalization and disassociation.

If you go into your zazen practice slowly and without too much ambition it’s highly unlikely that you’ll encounter any of these kinds of difficulties. You need to slowly acclimate yourself to the truth without trashing the useful aspects of the consensus view.

On the other hand, even people who study relatively slow moving practices can sometimes get over ambitious with it and cause themselves trouble. This is why it’s recommended to have a teacher who can help slow you down if you get too fast. Still, it’s really unlikely you’ll have a need for this during the first months or even years of practice. In my own case, I didn’t have any seriously weird experiences until I’d been at this zazen thing for about five years.

Next question:

I need to overcome being lazy. I've read a lot of books. I've listened to dozens and dozens of dharma talks (ever heard of audiodharma.org?). I have little buddhist one-liners that I've found to be helpful all over my workspace. I've even spent a week out at my favorite Buddhist place in the beautiful hills just out of town with some wonderfully patient Chinese monastics (I ask them questions occasionally but their English isn't all that great), and still.. i think I'm just too lazy.

So here's why: No matter how much I "try" to let go of my thoughts, or see them as thoughts and let them just pass, or to stop trying to do anything at all because I know it's inherently a waste of time to maintain a state of mind that reaches for any particular goal while sitting... nothing seems to work because I end up just sitting there in a dream, not aware of anything except the TV show going on in my head. In other words, every time I try to establish a regular zazen practice, I end up doing well for a short period and then I just give up. It feels as if every time I sit I end up lost. Thoughts are running the show, not me. There is no clarity, there is no cessation of my desire to eat fried chicken, there is no way to not getting carried off by a sexual fantasies, and I spend inordinate amounts of time trying to figure out where I want to go with my next project (I'm a musician too). I try to snap myself out of it, but I spend most of my zazen not really in the moment at all. This happens just about every time I sit so I guess that's why I usually end up just quitting after a while - I mean, I can daydream anywhere, why sit uncomfortably to do it? I think the truth of the matter is simple... zazen is a waste of time. But somehow I don't really believe that. But I just don't know how to muster up any more will to persist.


It doesn’t matter. It really does not matter. If you think your zazen is good, fine. If you think your zazen is bad, also fine. If it seems neither good nor bad, no problemo. The practice goes on in spite of your assessment of it. It’s like exercise. It is exercise, in fact, as much as Yoga or jogging or pole-vaulting. Your muscles get toned up even if you hate doing it. Just do it.

Shunryu Suzuki said, “Don’t think you do zazen. Zazen does you!” This is an absolute fact. The good news is that if you keep up the practice the days when it seems good will start to outweigh the days that don’t. But it still doesn’t matter either way.

While I was at the Great Sky retreat this year, at one point I noticed that zazen went on even when I was thinking and daydreaming and fixing my social calendar. Not to say you should do that stuff while sitting. Avoid it when you can. But know that zazen goes on in spite of whatever your conscious mind is doing to try and interfere with it.

OK? OK!

I'm in Ohio now. Here's the gig list again:

November 7th at 7PM I'll be at the Akron Public Library downtown.

November 7th (same day) 0DFx (the hardcore band I played bass in in the early 80s) will play the Matinee in Akron after the talk at the library.

November 9th my movie Cleveland's Screaming will be shown at the Beachland Tavern in Cleveland. There'll also be live performances by 0DFx, CD Truth, Cheap Tragedies and This Moment in Black History.

November 10th 0DFx plays at the Spitfire Saloon in Cleveland.

November 12th I'll give a Zen talk at Lambert's Tattooing and Body Piercing (I kid you not) in manly, he-man Mansfield, Ohio at 7PM (Sponsored by the Mansfield Zen Center).