Thursday, August 28, 2008

ZAZEN INSTRUCTIONS with LIZA ROSE


I just added a link over there to your left to a page I put together of instructions on how to do zazen. The model is LizaRose from Suicide Girls. The photographer was Svetlana Dekic. She took the photo of me on the back cover of Sit Down And Shut Up as well as the one that will appear on Zen Wrapped In Karma Dipped In Chocolate. She's at Burning Man now, rockin' out no doubt. The pictures were shot at the Hill Street Center where we hold our weekly zazen things, in case you ever wondered what the place looked like. I can't take a whole lot of credit for how nice the pictures turned out. I wasn't even really aware what Svetlana was shooting. I was just off to one side telling LizaRose where to put her feet and stuff. She's a Yoga teacher and had done some Zen practice before so it was pretty easy. The idea for the shoot was mine. There are a million how-to-do-zazen things all over the web. And they're nice. But I thought I could use my Suicide Girls connections to put together something a bit more interesting. This is by far the best looking of all the zazen instruction pages I've ever seen! Again, no kudos to me on that. LizaRose and Svetlana are the real geniuses. Enjoy.

Yesterday I saw the movie The Wrecking Crew. It's a documentary about the studio musicians who played on a ton of big hit rock songs from the Sixties including most of Phil Spector's sessions, most of the Beach Boys stuff like Pet Sounds, the Mamas and Papas sessions and a crap load more. It's a great film. See it if you have a chance. It's about time someone recognized these guys' (and gals, don't forget the great Carole Kaye, bassist extraordinaire) contributions.

Also, my friends and regular zazen-sitters at the Hill Street Center Saturday things, Deep Six Holiday, are playing a show in Los Angeles tonight, Thursday, August 28th at Molly Malone's (575 S. Fairfax Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90036) from 10 PM, the cover charge is a mere $6. You can also find them on MySpace.

Not to belabor the point on the precepts. But there's two really key things I want to say. The first is that the precepts are only to be used as a guide to gauge our own behavior — not the behavior of others. I said this before but I cannot stress it enough.

When the precepts are used to judge the behavior of others we're back into the same sick game every religion plays where we are the morally righteous and the unbelievers should change their ways. Buddhists must never be like that.

The other thing is that the point of the precepts is always to do whatever makes the situation at hand better. If I were going to add an eleventh precept it would be just that. And then my precepts would go to eleven! But I'm not gonna add one. I think it goes without saying. Or it should. The precepts we've been given by those ancient precept writer people are just examples of things that are almost always the right way to go. But sometimes they're not.

The best example I can think of along those lines is that of my first Zen teacher. He's now a part-time euthanasia technician for the State of Ohio. One night, at about 3 AM, he got a call. Someone had run into a large dog on a lonely stretch of country road. The dog was severely injured and would not recover. But it was still alive and in terrible agony.

My teacher went out to the scene and saw that the dog's body had been nearly torn in half. In spite of this, it was still very much alive and howling in pain. My teacher got out his kit and give the dog an injection of strong narcotics, something he always does to ease animals into the process. As the drugs took effect, the dog licked his hand then quietly passed away.

Had my teacher obeyed the precepts in their literal sense — by not intoxicating the dog or killing it — it would only have extended and deepened the animal's suffering. Here he disobeyed them and made the situation better.

This is only one example. Our lives are full of such instances, some far less clear cut. Intuition is important and this can be developed through zazen practice.

So go look at that instructions page and then do some!

ADDENDUM

Since a few people have asked, the hand position in the kinhin photos is the one favored by Kodo Sawaki. I learned this position from my teacher Gudo Nishijima, who was Sawaki's student. I've since noticed a few other Zen practitioners doing it this way. It sort of serves as a little secret acknowledgment of Sawaki's influence. The more standard way practiced at Eiheiji, SF Zen Center and many other places has the hands positioned such that the left hand fingers' are against the chest. Go look on the Internet and I'm sure you'll find a photo.

I don't know if the position I've shown was invented by Sawaki or if it came from somewhere he practiced. I've heard somewhere that the style Sawaki did is favored by one part of the Soto line in Japan (Sojiji maybe). But I don't know. It's not Rinzai as far as I know. I'm not sure how they do it. They jog around for kinhin. It's wild!

Kinhin itself is a bit of a mystery. In the past the word kinhin referred to a number of different things Zen monks did between periods of Zazen. It's only more recently that walking around the zendo has become the standard form of kinhin. The details are in a book called Zen Ritual. I don't own a copy, so I can't refer to it. I was reading it last time I was at the Milwaukee Zen Center.

In any case, either position will do. Minor variations like this don't make a huge difference. It's important, though, that everyone in the zendo be doing pretty much the same thing. A couple times I've had people ask me if they can hold their hands the way Yoga meditators do during zazen. They sorta rest their hands, palms up, on their knees and make an "OK" symbol with the thumb and forefinger. I usually say I'd prefer they don't. To me that's too much of a variation. The kinhin thing seems far more minor and less liable to call attention to the one doing it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

NO YOUNG BUDDHISTS RETREAT (and PRECEPTS STUFF)

I just got word today that the Young Buddhists Retreat in Montague, Massachusetts has been re-scheduled to March, 2009. So I'll be in Santa Monica this Saturday. I think a couple people wrote inquiring if I would and I said I would not. Now I can't remember who wrote. I'm sorry. So if you were one of them, I told you wrong. Precept breaker that I am!

I've spent the whole day today trying to sort out some weird bank shit. I am no good at this. If there was some kind of Enlightenment that fixed all your banking shit forever you bet I'd sign up in a heartbeat! But I'm afraid there isn't. I'm on hold right now listening to an instrumental version of the old Carpenter's hit Top Of The World. Oh God! It ended and now the very same version of the very same song is playing again!

... Right after I wrote that someone finally picked up the phone. I have to do my banking shit in Japanese, by the way. Just to make life more absurd and complicated. I was multi-tasking there just then. Something I've heard Tich Naht Hanh (however you spell it, extra h's in every name) never does. I also find multi-tasking to be largely unnecessary. We live in a world where people will try and make you think it's something you have to do. But it's really not. So get the frickin' iPod buds out of your ears and take off that stupid hands-free cell phone thing that makes you look like a slave of the Borg Empire. I multi-task sometimes. But it just turns each of the things I'm doing at the same time into pure slop. You're always better off doing one thing at a time.

And speaking of precept breaking, I was just going over this article I wrote to try and submit to one of the Buddhist rag-o-zines. It's about how the Buddhist Precepts are like koans -- you know, those absurd questions like "What's the sound of one hand clapping?". Morality is a very key part of Buddhist practice. But teachers in the Zen school don't talk about it in a lot of detail. That's because morality is very subjective. When you try and turn the precepts into a code of rules you're just back into the same sick game every religion plays. The Buddhist Precepts are vague and, when you get right down to it, absolutely impossible to follow. Yet we follow them anyhow. That's why they're like koans.

It's also absolutely un-Buddhist to point at another person and say that person is breaking the precepts. You cannot know what the precepts are to someone else. Trying to insist that others live up to your interpretation of the precepts is a recipe for misery anyway. They never will. I guess it's a good way to make yourself feel morally superior for a few seconds. But that never really lasts. Might as well give up the game.

Anyway, that was the gist of the piece. Maybe one day I'll finish it up and send it off.

Here's a quote from Nishijima's little pamphlet on the precepts. I use this in my third book (in stores Feb. 2009):

Q: If we’re afraid we won’t be able to keep the precepts what should we do? Does that mean we can’t become Buddhists?

A: To answer your question we should consider the intent or purpose of the precepts. In most religions, precepts are considered to be commandments or laws of God. They form the basis of the religion itself and they must be adhered to strictly. But in Buddhism the precepts are fundamentally different. Keeping the precepts is not the aim of Buddhist life. Perhaps this sounds strange to you but it is the fact in Buddhism. Master Dogen said that following the precepts is only the custom of Buddhists; it is not their aim. He felt that the precepts were only standards by which to judge our behavior. As such they are very useful to us, but we should be careful not to make them the aim of our life.

The precepts have been described as a fence that surrounds a very wide, beautiful meadow. We are the cows in that meadow. As long as we stay within the fence our life is safe and serene and we can play freely in the meadow. But when we step outside the fence we find ourselves on shaky ground. We have entered a dangerous situation and we should return to the pasture. When we do, our life becomes safe and manageable again.

So to return to your question, as Buddhists we realize that in our long life there will be many situations in which we will be unable to keep the precepts. This should not prevent us from receiving the precepts. We receive the precepts sincerely, recognizing their value and purpose in our life. We esteem the precepts but we don’t worry about them. This is Master Dogen’s theory. It is our way.

Q: You mentioned that the moral code of most religions is based on the word of God. What is the basis of the Buddhist moral code?

A: The basis of Buddhist morality is reality itself. It is the order of the Universe itself. It is the facts of life, which are facing us at every moment. In Buddhist theory the most important thing to see is what there is. Buddhist morality is here.

In other words, Buddhist morality has no basis other than Buddhist morality itself. To understand this point we must realize that morality is not a theoretical or intellectual problem. Morality is a practical problem — a real problem. What to do here and now is the problem and the answer is contained in the situation itself. This is the fact, and facts are the basis of Buddhist morality itself.

Q: So what is the relationship between the precepts and morality?

A: The precepts guide us in our life. They have come from the experience of the truth in the past, so we can say they are based on reality. But our lives are tremendously complex and varied. If we try to apply the precepts too strictly we may lose the freedom to act. We are living here and now so we must find rules that can be used here and now. We must find our precepts are every moment. Reality is changeable so our rules must also be changeable. True rules must work in the real world. True precepts are changeable and at the same time unchangeable. This is the nature of Buddhist precepts. They help us live correctly. They provide a framework which is exact and rather narrow. And yet we are free to act in the moment by moment situation of our life.

A Chinese priest once said, “No rule is our rule.” This statement expresses the Buddhist attitude precisely. The precepts are valuable to us. They can help us before and after we act. But in the moment of the present we cannot rely on any rule. We must make our decisions directly. At the moment of the present to be without precepts is our precept. No rule is our rule.

Q: So is it important to keep the precepts or not?

A: It is important to keep the precepts.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

CNN FACES OF FAITH

Here it is:



I had a haircut the day before. I'm wearing a Godzilla T-shirt under my robes. Anyone who knows how Buddhist robes are supposed to be worn could see I'm wearing them all wrong. Also I don't, in fact, work for the company behind the Godzilla films. I work for the company founded by the guy who did the special effects for the classic Godzilla movies of the 50s and 60s. But the company I work for doesn't actually do the Godzilla films. No biggie. Even in Japan people make the same mistake and I probably wasn't clear enough with the guy who did the pre-interview. I'm really impressed that's the only thing they got wrong. Kinda restores my faith in TV news.

Big thanks to the guy at CNN I talked to for about 12 seconds who read my books and got me on the show. Write me some time. I was too nervous to remember your name and that's a shame.

I was surprised and glad they asked about my supposed "obscene speech" or whatever all those people who have nothing better of their own to say always carp about me doing. Truly I would never have bothered with Buddhism had the first Buddhist teacher I met been reluctant to say "fuck" or to call certain Buddhist teachers dildoes.

It takes all kinds, as they say.

Friday, August 22, 2008

CNN Appearance and More Great Sky Photos


I will be on CNN Newsroom Sunday on Sunday August 24, 2008 during their Faces of Faith segment at 7AM. I don't imagine they're gonna do the whole show just on me. So I'll be on sometime around 7-ish. I also don't know if that's 7AM throughout the country or just 7AM Eastern Standard Time, which'd make it 6 Central, 5 Mountain and 4 over here on the West Coast. Maybe they have some system in place so that it runs at 7 across the country. Check your local listings as they say. I don't have cable TV so I won't see this myself. If anyone can tape it for me that'd be really sweet.

The show tapes at 9AM on Saturday, which means I'll be late for zazen at Hill Street Center. But I got people taking care of that and I will be there after the interview is done. Oh! And pleeeease don't just show up for zazen tomorrow without notifying us first (see link to your left). Drop ins are fine at the normal Saturday morning zazen things. But once a month we do an all-day thing with an oryoki meal. If you just drop in on those days we can't guarantee you'll get fed.

I have no idea what the CNN people ask or what I'll say. I'm hoping it isn't the same old thing as always. But given that this will be an introduction for most viewers, I imagine I'll end up doing the usual, "I was into punk and then I found out Zen was more punk than punk" thing.

Maybe I can get a plug in for my third book which, I've just been told, will hit the shelves of a bookstore near you in February, 2009. New World Library is, once again, my publisher. It'll be called Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate. It's a chronicle of the year 2007 in which my mom died, my grandma died, I lost my job, my wife decided she didn't wanna be my wife anymore, I did a million talks about Zen all over the country, sat a bunch of sesshins, smoked pot for the first time in twenty-odd years (and hated it), got attacked in public by some of my so-called "Dharma Brothers," plus did a couple other naughty things I'm not even gonna go into here. The moral of the story? Well, you'll just have to get the book to find out. I'm just writing this to whet your appetite. Like I told you, I won't whore out Zen but I'll whore out myself as a writer like nobody's business. Anyway, I just figured if someone was gonna write a Shoes Outside the Door about me, it was damn well going to be me. Not you.

I've read all those books too, y'know. Even Natalie Goldberg's The Great Failure: My Unexpected Path to Truth. Katagiri Roshi had sex!! Oh. My. God. The Dharma is ruined! Ugh! I agree it's high time we thoroughly trashed the image of the Eastern holy person. In case you don't think anybody buys that shit anymore here's a link to a story you should read. The easiest way to trash the idea of the infallible incarnation of God on Earth was to trash myself. If you can read this book and still believe Brad's a guru there's no hope for you. I hope that a few readers will draw the inference that it's not just me I'm talking about and that maybe there are no spiritual supermen at all and never ever were. Never. Nobody. But I'm guessing the majority will just think it's all about how I, personally, am not The Guy and won't give up their quest for the ever and always elusive True Holy Man with divine light shining out his lotus asshole. Good luck.

Speaking of which, I got an e-mail just the other day asking me:

Your Sengawa Bridge experience......

I know it doesn't matter, but what does it mean? What IS it?

Your Universe glimpse....

Again... what IS it?

Is the Universe the delusional one, and the Sengawa the glimpse? Are you able to understand them better now, or perhaps tell them apart?


This is a reference to some stuff I wrote in my first book, Hardcore Zen (link on your left). I get asked about this a lot. But the answer is stated in the question: it doesn't matter.

Look. Anyone can tell you a pretty story and say they had Enlightenment. Anyone. Even me. Stories are just stories. Story-tellers are just story-tellers. J.R.R. Tolkien could make you believe in Middle Earth. Doesn't mean you can go there. And you can't go any of the places your favorite "spiritual" authors describe to you either. If you do, it only proves you've entered their imaginations. So what? A journey to the Fourth Level of the Bardo (or whatever) that sounds just like the one in the Tibetan Book of the Dead is no more real than a journey to Middle Earth for a chat with Bilbo Baggins.

Don't believe what you read. I try to write as honestly as I possibly can. But the act of describing something is always the act of lying about it. Can't be any other way.

As for "what IS it," it's a story in a book. Both of them. That's all.

P.S. So are all the stories in all the other books.

Rock on.

Monday, August 18, 2008

NEW SG ARTICLE and MORE ABOUT GREAT SKY


My newest article for Suicide Girls is up now. It's about non-attachment. I wanted to put one up about Great Sky. But I rightly figured I'd be in no shape to write an article in the 24 hours between my arrival back in Santa Monica and the article's due date. So you get this one instead.

And speaking of the Great Sky sesshin (which we were yesterday), here's a photo the likes of which you won't often see — me in Buddhist robes with bunches of Buddhist priests and such. I've labeled the teachers for the sesshin. Rosan Yoshida, who also taught, isn't in this shot because he took the photo (and sent it to me, thanks!). You'll have to click on the photo to get it to open up bigger so you can read the labels. On my right (left side of the photo) is Greg Fain, treasurer of the San Francisco Zen Center and over on the far right of the photo next to Dokai is Tojun Cobb of the Milwaukee Zen Center who acted as jisha, the person who takes care of the teachers. In my case, he coached me through all the moves needed for ceremonies. Just for the record, and in case you can't tell cuz of the blurry JPEG photo, Dharma names and shaven heads, Zuiko, Tonen and Myoyu are women. The other teachers were men. This gave the sesshin an even balance of male and female teachers, which I thought was pretty neat and very unique. In fact, it's quite unique for a sesshin to have more than one teacher. I imagine Great Sky isn't the only sesshin that's ever done that. But it's a rare thing.

I was thinking about the post I put up yesterday. I hope I didn't give the impression that the only thing that happens at a sesshin is that the theme song from I Dream Of Jeannie plays over and over and over in your head. It's not.

I mean, I could go on about the profound stillness and silence, the sight of a blue footed heron crossing before the full moon, the sky full of bazillions of stars, the cold mornings in the zendo, the stately meal services, the deep chanting, and all the rest. But you can find all that in every other book, magazine article or webpage that's ever published an account of someone's experience at a sesshin. All true. All beautiful. But somebody's gotta talk about bad TV show themes and the way every time we got to the part in chanting Dogen's Fukanzazengi where it says "who could take delight in the spark from a flintsone" I just kept wanting to add, "... meet the Flintstones they're a modern stone age fa-mi-leeeeee!" Balance, baby, balance.

There's a depth to practice you cannot possibly get any other way than by attending a sesshin. I don't care how profound you think your meditating by yourself in your fluffy armchair in the living room with Dark Side of the Moon playing on the headphones and a lid of primo sensie gets, it cannot touch a single period of zazen at even the lamest sesshin. Not a chance. Sorry.

A week in sesshin feels like a month and a half spent doing anything else. Zazen expands time like nothing you can name. A minute in zazen is equal to three hours bullshitting with your buddies. In that sense, zazen can lengthen your life. You might say, "Well, only subjectively speaking!" To which I'd say, "No shit. And no difference either." It literally makes you live longer even if you drop dead the minute the bell rings to end the sitting.

You find out stuff about yourself a decade in therapy couldn't uncover. It changes your entire outlook on everything. On the way back to L.A. I was stuck in a cattle car class plane seat in front of two toddlers who could not stop screaming, kicking my chair and pooping their pants the entire way back. The stench of baby turds was as profound as anything I encountered at the sesshin. Yet I couldn't even find the space in myself to get annoyed.

There's a way a group of dedicated people combine their energies and there's a way the focus on practice come together that no other activity can ever match. I lived a year in Toyama Prefecture in Japan, essentially isolated with a small group of English speaking people, sort of like being stranded on a deserted island with the survivors of a plane crash ala Lost. To me, that was the only experience that's ever come close to what even a short sesshin can reveal. Talk about your Dharma Initiatives!

So I don't want to trivialize the experience. But, at the same time, it's nigh on impossible to write about it coherently. I've tried and failed so many times. It always ends up sounding like the cliches you find in the magazines at your local New Age bookstore. The world has enough of those.

So, what's your point, Brad?

I dunno. Anyway, here's a photo from the sesshin. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

GREAT SCOTT! GREAT SKY! 2008 edition


So I'm back from the 2008 Great Sky Zen sesshin. I wanted to write all about it. But there's a sale at Rockaway Records in Silverlake I gotta get to. So this'll be short.

Oh! Before I begin, I checked my zillions of e-mail when I got home. I saw there that someone posted a thing on one of the YouTube videos of me saying (I kinda wish YouTube wouldn't send these to me):


Jimmy Swaggart, TD Jakes, Brad Warner. Anyone can cash in on religion. People will line up to buy their books without examining the kind of lives that these people lead. Swaggart with his hooker, Jakes with the money, and Warner with the fame. I mean come on, a Zen priest that listens to punk rock music and is into recreational drugs????


I don't really care if this guy thinks I'm cashing in on religion (if so, where, oh where, is the cash? Wish I knew!) or if I'm too famous for his liking. But when he says I'm "into recreational drugs" I have to draw the line. I've been pretty clear that I'm not, I think. If anyone out there is still unsure about it, check this blog occasionally for my recurring anti-drug rants or read Hardcore Zen (I forget which pages, but it's almost an entire chapter). Or better still buy the Zero Defex CD! "Your drugs suck! Don't push them on me! Your drugs suck! Get 'em out of my face!"

Here's the briefest summation of the sesshin I can give you:



Yes, that's right folks, this was the tune going thru my brain for a good deal of the sittings. We did seven days with nine 40-minute periods per day starting at with a wake-up bell at 4:30 AM and ending with lights out at 9:30 PM. Which was, by the way, 2:30 AM and 7:30 PM respectively for me since I came from the West Coast and Minnesota is Central Time. The teachers there this year were me, Tonen O'Connor of the Milwaukee Zen Center, Zuiko Redding of Cedar Rapids Zen Center, Myoyu Anderson of Great Plains Zen Center in Illinois, Rosan Yoshida of the Missouri Zen Center and Dokai Georgeson of Hokyoji itself (where the sesshin was held, in southern Minnesota). We each took one day as dohsi (practice leader), on which day we had to deliver a dharma talk and lead services. Leading services is a challange for me because in my tradition we do very few services. So I've no idea what all the dance steps required are. But Tojun Cobb, resident priest at the Milwaukee Zen Center, helped out a lot with that.

Thirty people showed up including a few readers of this very blog who found out about it from what I'd written. I think three people came solely because of that. Thanks for being there! It was a very nice sesshin.

I got hay fever. At least I hope it's hay fever and not a cold. But, ironically enough, my nose, throat and lungs seem to be functioning much better in the pollution of LA than they were in the wide open spaces and clear air of Minnesota. Maybe I've spent too much time in cities! I'm still sniffling some, though. At least I didn't get Lyme disease from the dreaded deer ticks that inhabit the area.

As in 2007, the best talk was the final one of the sesshin delivered by Dokai. He's a genius. But you had to have been there. I noticed they digitally recorded the talks this time. Maybe they'll get put up on a website somewhere someday. But even if you listened I don't think you'd really get a feel for what actually was said. You have to get steeped in zazen for eight hours a day with a group of people all working and living in close proximity for a few days before you'd really grok it. You hadda be there.

I think I had more to say. But I can't recall right now what it was. Maybe the lingering after-effects of the sesshin. I also made a point of not keeping a journal, which I did last year. If I come up with some more stuff to write, I'll put up another post.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Santa Monica Zazen, Cults & c.


I've made some changes on the page about the Saturday zazen things in Santa Monica. I've revised the starting time to 9:45 for instructions and 10 for the beginning of zazen. We've been doing it that way for a year or more. But I just never got around to changing the webpage. Also I added these lines:

On Saturdays I do my daily zazen practice at the Hill Street Center and I open the doors to allow others to join me. I am not trying to recruit followers or build up a large organization. This isn't like a church or even a typical Zen center. You're joining my personal practice. Be respectful and do not expect to be catered to. On days when I can't be at Hill Street I usually have someone there to open the door and continue the practice as I do.

I thought it was necessary to make this clear. I know it doesn't sound particularly inviting. But I don't really care. I'm as nice as I can possibly be when people arrive at these Saturday things. But I'm really not a very gregarious, sociable person by nature. I won't be mean to you. But don't expect me to be all huggy and sweet because that's not how I am.

I will not attend the sittings on August 9th or 16th since I'll be at the Great Sky Zen sesshin. I won't be there on the 30th either because I'll be attending the Maezumi Institute Young Buddhists Retreat (I'll be at the Hill St. Center on the 23rd, though). But someone will be at Hill Street Center on those days to open the doors and instruct new people on what they need to do. If you're inclined to do zazen with a group and you're in So Cal you should come to these sittings regardless of whether I'm there or not. I do not matter. I'm just some jerk who writes books and says boring stuff at the end of the sitting. Zazen is yours. I cannot help you with it at all.

Going to the Hare Krishna thing last week got me looking into the history of the organization. Chris Chapple lent me a book called Hare Krishna Transformed that goes into some of the scandals that have plagued the movement since the death of its founder in 1977. I also found this YouTube documentary on the subject. It's way too damn long and obviously the director has an agenda. But it's about as thorough as you'd ever want to get and contains some amazing footage of some of the stuff the narrator talks about actually happening.

I've always been very concerned with the matter of cults. There is a pattern to how new religious movements grow.

STEP 1: A charismatic leader, usually from a foreign country, starts the group.

STEP 2: He (or she, but I'll stick with he) names his successor.

STEP 3: He dies.

STEP 4: The successor gets accused of doing bad things.

STEP 5: The successor is ousted.

STEP 6: A committee is formed to carry on the "true teachings."

STEP 7: Everything becomes very corporate, stale and pretty much useless.

In the case of the Krishnas, it's pretty clear that Keith "Kirtanananda Swami" Ham actually did do some pretty heinous things. But jealousy and greed for power among those who feel they ought to have been the rightful successor is so strong that I'm not sure actual wrong doing is even required for step 4.

Anyway, if you're lucky maybe something gets preserved and passed on in this process. But I don't think the organization is ever really responsible for this except that maybe they act to preserve the records of what happened. Like the Soto-shu preserving Dogen's writings even though they really didn't look at them for the first 600 years or so of their existence.

I think the rewriting and editing done to Hardcore Zen gives people the mistaken impression I want to start a movement of some kind. I really don't. I'm not interested at all in promoting myself as a Zen teacher or enlarging my group. I do not want to have any followers. Not a single one.

On the other hand, I don't mind promoting myself as a writer, and I write mainly about Zen. So I understand why there's some confusion. But here I am, once again trying to clear that up. I'll be trying to clear that up till I die, I think. But that's fine.

In any case, I'm thinking hard about all this and how it applies to this nebulous something that may or may not exist but has been given the provisional designation "Dogen Sangha." It may be simpler than I think it is. Because in a very real sense there is a nebulous something which may or may not exist but has been given the provisional designation "Brad Warner" and I deal with that all the time.

If I manage to reach some conclusion, I'll let you know.

Monday, August 04, 2008

KRISHNA vs. JESUS


Yesterday I hung out at the annual Hare Krishna Festival of Chariots on Venice Beach. My friend Svetlana was taping some stuff for a TV show she's making to export back to her home country Montenegro and I helped out some with that. But mostly I was there for the food. I eat a lot of Krishna food. They make real good food.

The Hare Krishnas were the first Eastern religious movement I had any direct contact with. That's bad grammar. But you get it anyway. In any case, I was a big Beatle nut when I was a teenager (still am) and George Harrison was into them so I figured they were cool. I briefly considered joining the team. But the more I read of their philosophy the sillier it sounded. It was an Eastern version of everything I'd already rejected in Christianity. Christianity, at least the versions I'd come across, seemed to be all about what happened in your head. You had to believe the stories in the Bible were true. I couldn't understand how it could possibly matter to God whether I thought the world really was flooded by a rain that lasted 40 days and 40 nights or not. It all seemed so arbitrary.

The Krishnas at least had some concrete activities I could get behind. They ate no meat, they chanted, they wore special clothes and had haircuts even more ridiculous than some of my punkrock friends. But when I got a little more familiar with their philosophy it, once again, boiled down to whether I believed the stories in certain books actually happened or not. In the Krishna's case this wasn't presented as the key element to salvation as it had been at the Christian churches I visited. But you still had to believe. And I couldn't believe. Like Fox Mulder, for a time I wanted to believe. But it wasn't possible.

Eventually I ended up sticking with Zen because Zen couldn't give a rat's ass what you believe. I found that really cool.

Anyway, yesterday the Krishnas had a big ass parade down the street near my house. The photo I put up today is from a festival a couple years ago. But what I saw yesterday looked pretty much the same if not bigger. This year, though, a small group of Christians decided to protest. These guys looked like Hell's Angels to me, all big and burly and hairy. Maybe they were ex-members. They walked along the parade route in front of the group with signs saying things like "The Bible says beware of false teachers" and "Fornicators, Adulterers, Masturbaters, etc., etc., etc., You're all going to HELL!" Are masturbaters still going to Hell? Man, I am in some deep shit! One guy had a bullhorn and shouted that the Krishnas should eat meat and that their haircuts made them look like a horse's behind.

The only effect these guys had was to make the Krishnas look way less freaky by comparison. In fact, in Southern California the Hare Krishnas look like Ward and June Cleaver. They've always been very interested in being accepted as a mainstream religion and these days it almost seems to be working. Good for them.

It was funny to me to watch two sets of ideas I'd long ago rejected duking it out on the beach. Both camps seemed to have an urgent need to convert the tourists and skateboarders on the boardwalk to their way of thinking. Why do we do that? It's such a show of insecurity to act like your God is going to fade away and die unless everybody in the world believes in him.

I imagine this all goes way way back in history to a time when human beings were just starting to build civilizations. In order to make a civilization work you need an agreed upon moral framework. Even today you're still far more likely to die from being murdered in a more "primitive" culture than in a more "advanced" one (to use both of those loaded terms in their broadest sense). Morality became tied with religion and it was imperative for those who believed in the moral code to convert those who did not. If they failed, the society they were laboring so hard to build could collapse.

As societies advanced, so did their need for moral structure. More sophisticated and easily operated tools for killing and maiming meant that it was even more important to keep everyone in line. So we stuck with the idea that everyone needed to agree upon a single moral code.

We still have not outgrown this need. In fact we'll almost certainly never outgrow it. But the religious model no longer works. Our diverse societies have created too many of them and they're constantly battling each other. Even the Buddhist precepts are wielded as weapons by those who believe they understand them better than others.

These days lots of people are working to try and find the common ground of all religions, which I think is a great idea. But ultimately I think we'll need to transcend that one as well. The reason is because all religions are based on thought. But real morality has nothing at all to do with thought. Real morality is much harder to pin down. It's impossible to pin down, in fact.

We all carry the source of real morality with us everywhere we go. It's the basis of our being. And if you don't believe that, I'll hit you with a big stick until you do!