Tuesday, April 29, 2008

JESUS REDEEMED US FROM THE CURSE OF THE LAW

That's what it said on one of those little light-up signs on wheels with the flashing arrow parked in front of a low slung baby-blue brick building on the road to the Southern Dharma Retreat Center (SDRC) near Asheville, North Carolina, where I led a retreat last weekend. Actually, SDRC is "near Asheville" in much the same was as Tassajara is "near Big Sur." Which is to say it's not really all that near. It takes an hour and some to get there from Asheville up a winding mountain road and then an unpaved single lane driveway that seems to go on forever around a lot of very precarious drop offs. The driveway is shared by some other houses up in them there hills, so at times you have to back up and pull into little tiny, hard-to-see turn-off to let hairy guys in big ol' pick up trucks loaded with firearms pass by. Actually, I didn't get a good look at any of those guys or their trucks. I’m sure they’re nice. But I did hear gunfire during one of our sittings. And when I passed by that church on the way up I was behind a big red pick-up truck with a bumper sticker that said, "I'm a coon hunter." Raccoons, right? Uh-huh. On the way into SDRC I went over several bridges that spanned a winding waterway called French Broad River. I wondered if it was OK to name a river French Broad River without specifying which French broad it was named after.

The retreat was sold-out. The body count was 27 people including me. A transvestite who’d signed up left within the first hour we were there, before we’d done any zazen or talks or even eaten dinner. Apparently he (she?) told someone, “To think I gave up tickets to see the Dalai Lama for this!” and stormed off in his (her?) pick-up truck in a shower of gravel. OK. Bye.*

The retreat itself was fine and dandy as far as I could tell. I had to design the schedule and tried to make it easy enough not to kill any newbies to zazen yet tough enough to qualify as a decent Soto-style Zen retreat. On Saturday we had nine rounds of zazen starting from 6:30 AM, mostly 30 minutes each except for the first one of the day, which was 45. On Sunday we followed the same schedule but ended things at Noon, as per the center’s usual policy. There were two lecture/discussion periods, one each day. I made time for dokusan (private talks with me, like anyone really needs that). Meals were semi-formal, taken in silence with meal chants beforehand, but not served in oryoki style (this video was done at a retreat I led in Shizuoka, Japan). They do buffets at SDRC and they are de-freaking-licious, by the way. They cook all their own stuff and use locally grown ingredients as much as possible. The bread is to die for.

The group was pretty homogeneous. A few college students, a few older people, a few metalheads, a few punk rock folks about my age. About half-and-half women and men. If the transvestite had stayed the balance might have been tipped. But in which direction? Among the metalheads was none other than D. Randall Blythe of Lamb of God. It was cool to see him there. I like Randy and I’m getting into Lamb of God.

At the end of the last day people got to turn in their evaluations of the retreat and its teacher. Most were positive, some positively glowingly postive. But, as usual, I focus on the negative. One review said something like, “The teacher was very close-minded and attached to his belief that zazen is best. The four foundations of mindfulness (or some such thing, I can’t remember) are the basis of Buddhist practice! Immature teacher.”

My response to that is to say that in my considered opinion the person who wrote that assessment is a poopie head. A stinky, smelly poopie head, at that.

Actually, this brings up a point I’d like to try and address. There’s a kind of expectation among people in the USA who are into Buddhism that teachers of Buddhism should be sort of pan-Buddhist teachers. That is, that they should not represent any one tradition, but should, instead embrace and teach all forms of Buddhism. And a whole lot of teachers out there do this. They’ll mix all kinds of traditions up into a sweet ecumenical stew that doesn’t really represent any specific lineage but includes everything. I say fuck that. It’s bullshit Buddhism.

If I go to a Baptist minister I might be impressed if he’s well read in the Torah and the Koran. That would be a nice little bonus. But I don’t go to a Baptist minister for a Bar Mitzvah or advice on how to celebrate Ramadan. Any Baptist minister who offered such services could only ever do them in a really half-assed way anyhow. In fact, I’d personally prefer my Baptist minister to have focused specifically on studying the teachings of the Baptist lineage of Christianity and not know much about the Torah or the Koran. Furthermore I’d be far more confident in what he had to say if he told me straight up that he thought that Judaism and Islam were fundamentally flawed. If he didn’t think so, why would he choose to be a Baptist minister and not a Rabbi or Iman? Of course it’d a whole different matter if he went from that idea to saying let’s convert all the Jews and Muslims and kill all the ones who fail to see the light. But that would be something else entirely.

See, I don’t know shit about Vipassana or Tibetan Buddhism or even Rinzai style Zen, or any other sort of Buddhism. In fact I don’t even know a fuck of a lot about any forms of Soto style Zen outside of the ones I specifically learned from Tim McCarthy and Gudo Nishijima. I’ve never practiced the other ones in any serious fashion and I’ve never been very interested in trying. I’m aware of some teachers within those other lineages whose work I think is pretty decent. But I’m still just not all that intrigued by them. I don’t want to destroy any of those other lineages. But honestly speaking I think the lineage I studied in is better and closer to what Buddha really intended. If I didn’t think so, why would I teach it? Why would anyone teach a style of Buddhism they were not convinced was the best one? Who would bother listening to such a teacher? Not me.

Buddhism is essentially an oral tradition passed down face-to-face from one teacher to the next. It is not necessary for a teacher in a specific lineage to know anything at all about any form of Buddhism other than the one they received from their teacher. It might be a nice little bonus if they do. Or it might just get in the way (it usually does if you ask me). In any case it’s not a requirement, nor should it be an expectation of their students. It’s good to get along with other lineages, and we all pretty much do. Some of my best friends are Rinzai! But we don’t need to try and incorporate their teachings into ours in order to satisfy some misguided notion that all Buddhist teachers should embrace all forms of Buddhism. Why should they?

The “four foundations of mindfulness” or whatever the fuck that person wrote are just words that try to frame what Buddha was getting at in a specific way. But what Buddha was getting at was not a matter of words. My words or Nishijima’s words or Kodo Sawaki’s words are exactly the same. But if you go to a teacher within a specific lineage, don’t expect that teacher to frame the truth in the same way as someone from another lineage.

However it is vital that a teacher be true to his (or her, but I’m gonna skip the “or her” from here on) tradition and – even more importantly – to his own personal understanding of that tradition. All that touchy feely pan-Buddhism is nothing but watered down teaching. It satisfies folks who strive for some kind of illusion of political correctness. But it’s false. You see guys running around these days claiming to be versed in twenty different traditions each of which takes decades to even begin to understand. Unless they’re 400 years old they’re feeding you a line and you’re a sucker if you fall for it.

Whatever. Hope you enjoyed the rant. Feh!

If you're not too pissed off at the foregoing come see me at the following places:

April 29th at 7 PM, talk at Warren Wilson College’s Buddhist Studies Group in Asheville, NC.

May 3rd my band 0DFx will play at Pat’s in the Flats in Cleveland with This Moment in Black History.

And on May 4th, 0DFx will play at the Kent Stage in Kent, Ohio in commemoration of the 38th anniversary of the infamous shootings by the National Guard.

On Friday May 10th we'll play an in-store show at Square Records in Akron's Highland Square.

Saturday May 10th at 7 PM (or maybe 6, they need to decide yet, call before you go) I'll do a book signing and talk at Visible Voice Books in Cleveland, Ohio’s Tremont neighborhood. I think we're showing my movie Cleveland's Screaming! afterwards.

On May 17th and 18th I'll lead a 2-day retreat at the Milwaukee Zen Center.

I'll be one of the teachers at this year's Great Sky Zen Sesshin August 9-16. Check out their webpage for details.

The annual Dogen Sangha retreat in Shizuoka, Japan will be September 20-23.

*No offense intended to those who choose to cross dress or change sexes. I just honestly don't know the appropriate term of address.

Friday, April 25, 2008

RETREAT!!!

I seem to be spending a lot of my time retreating lately. In March I lead a retreat in Atlanta, tonight I'll be starting one in South Carolina, a couple weeks after that I'll be leading one in Milwaukee, then it looks like we'll have one in Southern California on Memorial Day (still waiting for confirmation), after that there's the Great Sky Sesshin in August and another sesshin in Japan in September (info for all the upcoming retreats is below). Along with this I did two weeks work practice in Tassajara Zen Monastery in early April and I'll be going back for another two weeks in June. All in all, a whole lot of my year 2008 will be spent retreating.

A few years ago I wrote an article for my webpage called "Retreat!! (Run Away!!)" I just went searching for it and it appears to have been lost in the Internet ether, wherever those things go. I don't seem to have another copy saved. No big deal. It probably sucked ass anyhow.

But I remember that the year I wrote that article my friend Miki couldn't attend the retreat because she was going to the Fuji Rock festival (not that she ever attended any of the retreats anyway, but nevertheless). I was trying to explain why a Zen retreat was different, perhaps (dare I say it???) better than a rock festival — at least if your intention is to find a way to enjoy life more and a way to make the world a nicer place.

Last week I put an article up on Suicide Girls in which I talked about how I felt that retreat centers were a good place to learn how not to waste your life. The article was met by the now tiresomely typical outcry from readers who thought I was the most egotistical asshole in the world to even suggest that a time spent away from society in quiet might be better than frittering away your days looking at titties on the Internet. But titties on the Internet pay my bills, so I can't complain too much. So it goes.

I have found, though, that I have a somewhat different attitude towards retreats and suchlike from a lot of folks in the Buddhist community who I meet at the retreats I attend and run. I think retreats are a great thing. Great. Wonderful. This is why I go on so many of the damned things. However, the real meat and potatoes of Zazen practice does not happen at retreats. The most important Zazen is the Zazen you do every day at home during the course of your real life in the real world.

I've been highly disappointed to discover that this attitude does not seem to be at all commonplace among the kinds of people who like to attend Zen retreats. Much more common is the attitude that one can get all one's Zazen out of the way in a few intensive days (or weeks or months) and then just basically let things slide the rest of the time. I'm really shocked to find that a lot of people who you see at Zen retreats don't have any daily practice at all. I just can't comprehend that. I did daily practice for over ten years before I went on my first retreat. Which is not to say how phenomenal I am. I just mean I wouldn't have considered going on a retreat except as an extension of my already established daily practice.

The other thing I find is that most retreats I attend are a bit too intense. I still do them. I don't think they're necessarily bad. But I do think they sometimes go overboard with practice. See, what happens when you concentrate a whole lot of Zazen into a few days (or weeks or months) is that you can end up feeling very high (insert Towely voice here). You have what appear to be very deep insights into life, the universe and everything and you walk out thinking you're some kind of spiritual superhero.

The problem with such insights is that they fade very quickly in the light of day, like a wonderful dream that you can't quite remember. The more Zazen you try to pack into the smaller number of days the more likely this is to occur. Or, what's worse, is when the ego latches onto that initial "spiritual superhero" feeling and you remain convinced you're God's gift to meditation long after whatever insights you had during your practice intensive have crumbled into dust or been fixed into sharply etched memories that you return to again and again and again. Guys who can manage this often end up making lots of money as spiritual masters. But what they do and say is just a waste of time.

This is why the retreats I lead, the ones where I can set the schedule at least, follow Gudo Nishijima's method of being intentionally quite a bit less intense than what seems to be the norm for Zen retreats. The insights to be had from such a practice are often not quite as deep seeming as those to be had from a very intense schedule. But they last a lot longer and mean a lot more when you re-enter the "normal" world. This, I think, is far more important. Plus, ultimately, these types of low intensity retreats allow you, over time, to actually go deeper into your practice and stay there.

Anyhow, these are just some random thoughts as I get ready for yet another retreat. See ya when I come back!

Here's the upcoming schedule:

April 25 - 27 leading a retreat at Southern Dharma Retreat Center in North Carolina.

April 29th at 7 PM, talk at Warren Wilson College’s Buddhist Studies Group. Also in Asheville, NC.

May 3rd my band 0DFx will play at Pat’s in the Flats in Cleveland with This Moment in Black History and on May 4th, 0DFx will play at the Kent Stage in Kent, Ohio in commemoration of the 38th anniversary of the infamous shootings by the National Guard

Saturday May 10th at 7 PM (or maybe 6, they need to decide yet, call before you go) at Visible Voice Books in Cleveland, Ohio’s Tremont neighborhood. NOTE CHANGE OF DATE!

On May 17th and 18th a 2-day retreat at the Milwaukee Zen Center.

I'll be one of the teachers at this year's Great Sky Zen Sesshin August 9-16. Check out their webpage for details.

The annual Dogen Sangha retreat in Shizuoka, Japan will be September 20-23.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

BIG MAN IN JAPAN

See the trailer for the movie I always wanted to make...

(Seriously, I wrote a proposal for a film like this that was rejected by Tsuburaya Productions way back in 1995. Glad to see somebody did it. I wish I could see it!)

Monday, April 21, 2008

CHECK THIS OUT



Haw! Zero Defex was "along with NEGATIVE APPROACH, the most outstanding early-80s Hardcore-band from Midwest-USA!" Yeah, that's right all you, "oh he just writes about his shitty band from a million years ago" weasels! Suck it up!

If anyone knows where the royalties from this release are going, please write me. Cuz none of us knew it was even being made until we stumbled on this link...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

GIG LIST (Life Is Tough, Suck It Up!)


People always bitch when I put up lists of upcoming gigs here. But when you tell me a better way to announce this stuff I'll do it.

Anyway, I just spent all morning writing a new column for Suicide Girls that's up now. I'm too tired to write anything else. Here are the gigs:

April 25 - 27 leading a retreat at Southern Dharma Retreat Center in North Carolina.

April 29th at 7 PM, talk at Warren Wilson College’s Buddhist Studies Group. Also in Asheville, NC.

May 3rd my band 0DFx will play at Pat’s in the Flats in Cleveland with This Moment in Black History and on May 4th, 0DFx will play at the Kent Stage in Kent, Ohio in commemoration of the 38th anniversary of the infamous shootings by the National Guard

Friday May 10th at 7 PM (or maybe 6, they need to decide yet, call before you go) at Visible Voice Books in Cleveland, Ohio’s Tremont neighborhood.

On May 17th and 18th a 2-day retreat at the Milwaukee Zen Center.

I'll be one of the teachers at this year's Great Sky Zen Sesshin August 9-16. Check out their webpage for details.

The annual Dogen Sangha retreat in Shizuoka, Japan will be September 20-23.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I'M Back and NINA HARTLEY INTERVIEW

Yup. I'm back from 12 days at Tassajara. As soon as I get a minute I'm gonna write down some of my thoughts on Tassajara specifically as well as monastic practice in the modern world in general. Hopefully I won't offend all the very wonderful friends I made up there in Carmel Valley as well as in the Bay Area. My general impression of Tassajara is that I love, love, love the place. But my love isn't unconditional.

Anyway, more about that when I have time to write coherently.

I hope you've all gone over and read my interview with porn superstar and Zen Buddhist Nina Hartley on Suicide Girls. Like all the stuff I write for Suicide Girls, you can look at this without joining the site and without any danger of accidentally seeing naked titties. This represents about half of the actual interview I conducted and I'm hoping the publish the full version elsewhere. Stay tuned.

Those of you in North Carolina and its environs, check out the link in the post below this one for info on the retreat I'll be leading next week at the Southern Dharma Retreat Center. And cheeseheads in Milwaukee take note I'll be in your neighborhood in mid-May. The info is also in the post below.

Rock on.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

NISHIJIMA'S OK and NEWS JUNKIE-ISM

I just got the following e-mail from Peter Rocca, one of Nishijima Sensei’s Dharma heirs and the guy who took over for me doing the Saturday afternoon lectures at Tokyo University’s Young Buddhists Association.

Dear Peter-san,

I just informed by Yanagimoto-san, the organizer of Dogen Sangha's Japanese class of that Nishijima Roshi left the hospital on April 1. He had suffered from anemia and cured by blood transfusion remedy in the hospital, I am told.

I hasten to let you know of the good news.

With best wishes.

SAITO Harumi


He also posted something about his return on his blog. So it looks like he’s OK. Good. I don’t know if I’ll get to speak to him or not before I head off for Tassajara tomorrow. But I’ll try.

Anyway, I just had some thoughts before running off to the mountains about the whole concept of keeping informed. I am totally under-informed and glad of it. People these days seem proud to declare themselves news or information junkies. But I’m not convinced that’s the healthiest way to live. I can’t understand, for example, why anyone would need one of those RSS feeds (or whatever they’re called) so they can instantly know when I’ve updated the drivel on this page.

The other day I got interviewed and the guy asked me my thoughts about the upcoming election. I just didn’t have any. I mean, it looks to me like Obama’s going to win. But who knows what could happen by November? In any case I don’t have any useful thoughts on Obama or Hillary or whoever the Republicans are running. Is it McCain? I used to live in Kenya and Obama's dad is from Kenya, so maybe I should vote for him on that basis.

At Tassajara there are no regular sources of information about the outside world save for the gossip you get from new people coming in. There’s no newspapers, no TV, no radio, no Internet and access to the single telephone in the place is strictly limited. You can write and receive mail, but I don’t think it gets delivered and picked up daily. That’s “snail mail,” by the way, what we in the olden days used to call postal mail.

News Junkie types seem to believe that you’re either stuffed with every fact and opinion being thrown about in the sea of information or you’re just a mindless, ignorant sheep being led to slaughter by the powers that be. But I don’t think it’s all that vital to know every detail of what’s going on in the world. Blissful ignorance isn’t the proper antidote either. The best course is somewhere in between.

Me, I get the LA Times every day. I don’t subscribe, by the way. It just shows up. I assume I’m still on the list because of a former tenant here who subscribed. If it stops coming I probably won’t subscribe. But I might just so I can keep up with LIO. I get enough info by just scanning the headlines. I’m confident that if something really vital to my existence happens, I’ll find out about it.

By the way, it looks like I probably will attend the all-day Zazen at Hill Street Center on April 19th. But I will not be able to accept anyone's reservations by e-mail. Please send your reservation requests to Yuka at yukster1999(at)yahoo(dot)com. OK?

Here are the plugs:

April 25 - 27 I'll be leading a retreat at Southern Dharma Retreat Center in North Carolina. So don't y'all forget about that.

And on on May 3rd 0DFx will play at the Spitfire Saloon in Cleveland and on May 4th, we'll play at the Kent Stage in Kent, Ohio in commemoration of the 38th anniversary of the infamous shootings by the National Guard

On May 17th and 18th I'll be leading a 2-day retreat at the Milwaukee Zen Center. So all cheese heads are ordered to attend.

I'll be one of the teachers at this year's Great Sky Zen Sesshin August 9-16. Check out their webpage for details.

The annual Dogen Sangha retreat in Shizuoka, Japan is scheduled for September 20-23.

Gotta go pack now. See ya in a couple weeks.