Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hail! Hail!


I'm down in Knoxville, TN at my sister's house where last night I survived the world's most devastating hail storm along with my niece Sklar, my nephew Ben, my sister Stacy, her husband Ronnie, their cats Clementine and Butters, their bunny Snooky, and their dogs Molly and Sidney. We hope their horses Ruby and Bandit made it through all right as well.

I never saw hail like that before in my life! Truly golf ball sized stuff. The house was shaking from the pummeling. I didn't take this photo. But I couldn't figure out how to get the photo I took out of my cell phone and on to the computer. It was pretty similar to this photo but without the golf ball.

I also survived a Zen retreat at Penuel Ridge near Nashville, TN. A good time was had by all.

Apparently I had a reputation around the Nashville Zen Center as some kind of hard-assed task master and general all around meanie. This is because the last time I ran a retreat there I insisted on silence within the common areas.

See... there are a lot of ways to run a Zen retreat. I have been to some where silence is the rule and all interactions have to be carried out without talking except in cases where there is no other way to communicate about a necessary task. And even then you're supposed to whisper. At other retreats there is silence except for designated times of day in certain specific locations. I've also been to retreats where people are chatting and goofing around even right in the zendo up until the bell rings. Nashville wasn't like that. But it was kind of chatty there.

Nishijima Roshi tended to run his retreats in a unique way in regards to silence. I can't recall him ever saying a word about it. However, everyone seemed to know that silence was expected. So whenever we had something to say to each other, we'd go away from the temple to talk. This is the way I like to run things. I don't insist on pure silence. But I do try to make sure that people who came to the retreat to be in silence can do so by making a rule that you must be silent in the common areas.

I'm getting to be a big marshmallow-like softie in my old age. I've come to the conclusion that there really is no set way to do a Zen retreat. So I just go with the flow wherever I happen to be. If people want to chat, I let 'em chat. Though I feel bad for the people who might be at the retreat to be in silence. If the retreat is more clearly my retreat, I'll enforce silence in the common areas. But if I'm a guest speaker at someone else's retreat like I was in Nashville, I just allow things to proceed as they do.

They like to chat in Nashville. しょうがない。It was fun. I liked it. Lots of nice people and nice Zen. Except for being covered in ticks each day. Gross!

I also survived several talks and things at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center. That was fun. I did a talk for their book group, who have been discussing my book Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate. That was really cool. Because ZWIKDIC is what I regard as my most important book. It was largely ignored, which is a damn shame. It says things that nobody else ever has about what it's really like to be a Zen teacher in this here modern age. Oh well. I recorded the discussion. Maybe I'll get it together to put that on-line one of these days.

Speaking of books, take a look at this video.



It's all about my new/old book. I wrote it back in 1998, and then revised it over the past couple years. It's available at the following places:

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/BradWarner
http://tiny.cc/dgrnx (Amazon)
http://tiny.cc/g38eg (Barnes & Noble)

I'll blog a whole bunch about it pretty soon. Stay tuned!

I've also added a bunch of new gigs on my tour page. The additions are below. But go to my tour page to find all kinds of extra info and useful links.

• May 10, 2011 (Tue) 7:00 pm Ventura Buddhist Center 901 S. Saticoy Ave, Ventura, CA 93004
• May 12, 2011 (Thu) 7:30 pm Against The Stream 4300 Melrose Ave Los Angeles, CA

• May 21, 2011 9pm ZERO DEFEX at Annabelle’s 784 W. Market St. Akron, OH 44303

• May 29, 2011 Houston Zen Center 1605 Heights Blvd., Houston, TX

• July 5, 2011 ZERO DEFEX at X-DAY Wisteria Campground, Pomeroy, OH
• July, 2011 Starwood Festival Wisteria Campground, Pomeroy, OH (date tba)

• August 6, 2011 (Sat) 9am-5pm Sacramento Buddhist Meditation Group (all-day zazen) Sacramento, CA
• August 7, 2011 (Sun) 7pm Sacramento Buddhist Meditation Group (zazen & dharma talk) Sacramento, CA

Monday, April 18, 2011

ZERO DEFEX COMIX


I had an idea for a real article today. But I'm tired of writing after finishing off my first e-book (more on that later) and doing taxes.

Here instead is a comic from a zine I made circa 1983. My friend Logan scanned it. But the scan is pretty bad. I fixed a couple lines that were completely illegible. Click on the image and it'll show up bigger. It's a true story! And one that I hadn't remembered in years.

Here are my upcoming live appearances in Georgia and Tennessee. For more info including links to all venues, go to my tour page.

• April 18, 2011 (Mon) 7:30 pm Universalist Unitarian Church 1911 Cliff Valley Way, Atlanta, GA 30329
• April 19, 2011 (Tue) 8:30 pm Atlanta Soto Zen Center 1167 C/D Zonolite Place, Atlanta, GA (Zazen from 7:30)

• April 20, 2011 (Wed) 7:00 pm Universalist Unitarian Church 1808 Woodmont Blvd, Nashville, TN 37215
• April 22-24, 2011 (Fri-Sun) 3-Day Zazen Retreat at Punuel Ridge near Nashville, TN Contact Nashville Zen Center for info

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Georgia On My Mind


Here are my upcoming live appearances in Georgia and Tennessee. For more info including links to all venues, go to my tour page.

• April 14, 2011 (Thu) 8:00 pm Berry College 2277 Martha Berry Highway, Mount Berry, GA 30149-9707
• April 15, 2011 (Fri) 6:30pm Aurora Coffee Shop in Little 5 Points, 468 Moreland Ace., Atlanta, GA 30307
• April 17, 2011(Sun) 10:45 am Atlanta Soto Zen Center 1167 C/D Zonolite Place, Atlanta, GA
• April 18, 2011 (Mon) 7:30 pm Universalist Unitarian Church 1911 Cliff Valley Way, Atlanta, GA 30329
• April 19, 2011 (Tue) 8:30 pm Atlanta Soto Zen Center 1167 C/D Zonolite Place, Atlanta, GA

• April 20, 2011 (Wed) 7:00 pm Universalist Unitarian Church 1808 Woodmont Blvd, Nashville, TN 37215
• April 22-24, 2011 (Fri-Sun) 3-Day Zazen Retreat at Punuel Ridge near Nashville, TN Contact Nashville Zen Center for info

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Brad Does Not Believe All Members of SZBA and AZTA Are Only In It For the Money, OK?


The last post I put on this blog got a lot of people talking. And that's what it was intended to do. So in that sense it was a success.

But if there's one thing I've learned from being a writer it's that it is absolutely impossible to write something that cannot be misinterpreted. I think certain writers attempt to do this by writing things so innocuous that nobody could ever disagree with them. But that kind of writing is useless.

Nevertheless, I was really sad, mad and upset when two Zen teachers who I highly respect sent me emails after having read what I wrote. Near as I can tell they believed my message in that piece was as follows: All Zen teachers belonging to AZTA and SZBA are only in it for the money while I, Brad Warner the magnificent, am much better than those guys because I care naught for the cash. Or something like that.

One of these emails said, "I feel you've done a great disservice to teachers in the United States with this entry. People actually take what you say seriously. I wonder how many will avoid a Zen teacher like the plague, thinking we are only interested in making money from the dharma." The other said, "it saddens me that not only are you not abstaining from praising the self and maligning others, but on the contrary have made it your modus operandi. It's how you make a buck." (Enough bucks that I had to crash in other people's houses for a year, thank you.)

I have not read all of the reactions to what I wrote (there have been a whole lot!). But so far these are the only two people I've come across who read the piece in that way. However, just in case there are others I want to be very clear.

1) I do not believe that all members of AZTA and SZBA are just in it for the money. In fact, as far as I can tell after a quick look at the rosters of these organizations, none of the members of these organizations are just in it for the money. (Though I don't know everyone, so I could be mistaken.)

2) When describing how I thought Zen teachers actually viewed what they (we) do, I was not trying to set myself apart from others as better than them. I was actually trying to express the view that I believe most of us take toward the idea of doing Zen teaching for the money. And that view is that we are not in it for the cash and therefore I feel we should not label ourselves as "professionals."

I had believed my feelings about this were adequately expressed in the following lines that appear in the piece. In paragraph one I said, "Some of those who belong to or even hold important positions in these organizations are friends of mine. I respect their views on most matters." And about 2/3 of the way through the piece I talk about how members of the "helping professions" charge for their services and conclude by stating, "No decent Zen teacher I know of views what he or she does in that way."

I do not feel that I have done any disservice to teachers in the United States by raising this matter. On the contrary, I feel it needed to be raised. And I am happy to have done it.

People have been throwing this word "professionalism" around very carelessly. I am well aware that among the connotations of the word "professionalism" is the idea that a "professional" has a commitment to certain ethical standards. But in its most basic form that is not what the word "professional" means. We need to be careful about these words.

Professionals uphold their ethical standards for a variety of reasons. But, as professionals, they have one very powerful motivating factor for upholding those standards that non-professionals do not. And that factor is money. Doctors, therapists and lawyers can lose their jobs if they don't follow their ethical standards. But this must never be a motivating factor for Zen teachers to uphold their (our) ethical standards.

This is why I view Zen teaching as a type of art rather than a part of the helping profession. If I didn't look upon it that way, I couldn't do it at all.

But let me get back to SZBA and AZTA. As they currently stand, both of these organizations are completely benign and harmless. They're just little groups of Zen teachers who come together and talk to each other. Right now, they're like peer support groups. It's impossible for anyone who has not tried to teach Zen to really grasp what it's actually like to do this. Even the nicest of those who haven't tried to teach this stuff have all kinds of weird fantasies about what is or what ought to be involved.

The problem is, I feel a lot of people (both members and outsiders) want these organizations to be much more than what they are now. And I feel that it is almost inevitable that these forces will win out in the end. People are already calling for these organizations to "have teeth" so they can deal with folks like Eido and Genpo and all the rest effectively. But the only way I can imagine for these organizations to ever grow any teeth would be for them to gain some kind of economic power over their membership. I believe this will happen eventually, the way it has with so many other religious organizations.

On the personal side, I want to point out where I come from on these matters. My first teacher was a student (for lack of a better word) of Kobun Chino Roshi. Kobun was quite famous for having quit the Soto-shu and being very anti-establishment. The teacher who ordained me, Gudo Nishijima Roshi, made no bones about his feelings regarding the Soto-shu, calling them "a guild of funeral directors."

Furthermore, I have my own personal reasons for being deeply suspicious of and prejudiced against all kinds of groups and organizations. So I am clearly not objective about these things. But then again, neither is anyone else.

That's not an apology or a way of back-pedaling. I meant and still mean every word I wrote. But I think it's good to be clear about this kind of stuff.

UPCOMING GIGS:
• April 14, 2011 (Thu) 7:00 pm Berry College 2277 Martha Berry Highway, Mount Berry, GA 30149-9707
• April 15, 2011 (Fri) 6:30pm Aurora Coffee Shop in Little 5 Points, 468 Moreland Ace., Atlanta, GA 30307
• April 17, 2011(Sun) 10:45 am Atlanta Soto Zen Center 1167 C/D Zonolite Place, Atlanta, GA
• April 18, 2011 (Mon) 7:00 pm Universalist Unitarian Church Atlanta, GA
• April 19, 2011 (Tue) 7:30pm Atlanta Soto Zen Center 1167 C/D Zonolite Place, Atlanta, GA

• April 20, 2011 (Wed) 7:00 PM Universalist Unitarian Church 1808 Woodmont Blvd, Nashville, TN 37215
• April 22-24, 2011 (Fri-Sun) 3-Day Zazen Retreat at Punel Ridge near Nashville, TN Contact Nashville Zen Center for info

More info (including links to all venues) on my tour page

Friday, April 08, 2011

Zen is Not in the Helping Profession


For the past few years a number of people have been suggesting that I join one or both of the current US-based associations of Zen teachers, the SZBA (Soto Zen Buddhist Association) and the AZTA (American Zen Teachers Association). I’ve hemmed and hawed about this for quite some time. Some of those who belong to or even hold important positions in these organizations are friends of mine. I respect their views on most matters. So when they say I ought to join these groups, I believe their opinion on the matter is worth considering.

Yet for all this time I still haven’t joined either organization. Something about them just didn’t seem right to me. It was never anything I could articulate very well. It was just a feeling I had. It seemed to me that to join one of these organizations would go directly against the most fundamental reasons I got into this whole Zen thing in the first place. Yet for a long time I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt that way.

I’ve finally managed to nail down what it is that troubles me so deeply about these organizations. And it comes down to one single word. That word is “professional,” as well as its grammatical variations (professionalism, profession, etc.).

In the fall out from the sex scandals involving Genpo Roshi, Eido Shimano Roshi, Maezumi Roshi, Baker Roshi and whoever else has been caught with their dick where it wasn’t supposed to be, a lot of people are saying the same thing. They say that Zen teachers are very much like therapists, doctors and lawyers and as such should be required to belong to some kind of organization to police their activities the way these other professionals are.

Let me just spell my position out very clearly here.

Zen teachers are not therapists.

Zen teachers are not doctors.

Zen teachers are not lawyers.

I recently came across a piece on the Internet in which someone lamented the current state of affairs in the Zen world and then asked, “Is Zen not, in it’s deepest sense, in the helping profession?”

I also came across a statement by a member of both SZBA and AZTA stating, “the SZBA and the AZTA hold the premises that Zen teaching is a profession.”

These statements are both entirely incorrect. I know it’s far too bold for me to say such a thing when so many people believe that these statements are correct. But this is my firm position on the matter.

Zen is not in the helping profession. Zen teachers are not professionals.

A Zen teacher is someone who has chosen to do serious work on herself or himself. Our experiences in doing this work on ourselves can be useful to others. Many of us allow other people to join us in this work. Those who join us in this work may very well be helped. And most of us will try our best to help them when we can.

But fundamentally a Zen teacher is not a professional who helps students who are non-professionals in exchange for compensation. The so-called “students” are actually companions in work that is being undertaken by both teacher and student. The only real difference is that the teacher is someone who has done this work for a bit longer than the student. Yet the teacher is no more advanced, because the concept of “advancement” is an illusion.

This is why I refuse to accept students. I do not wish to share my work with anyone who defines herself or himself as my student. That would be unfair to both of us. Such a person is only a hindrance to me. They get in the way of what I need to do. Frankly, students are a nuisance. Furthermore, their attitude of viewing themselves as students is a hindrance to them. It’s such a hindrance that it makes it impossible for me to help them even if I wanted to.

Zen teachers are not in the helping profession. That would imply that we charge money to people who come to us to be helped, the way a professional therapist does. It would imply that we promise to help heal them in exchange for that money, the way professional doctors do. It implies that we promise them concrete results from our paid efforts to help them, the way professional lawyers do. No decent Zen teacher I know of views what he or she does in that way.

In fact, I would be so bold as to further state that the root of many of the problems in Zen right now stem from the fact that too many Zen teachers view themselves as “professionals” or as members of the “helping profession.”

I disagree completely with the position taken by the SZBA and the AZTA. They are dead wrong. Zen teaching is not a profession and must never be a profession. A professional is someone who charges for their services and promises some kind of results, even if not necessarily promising what the client views as success. The moment Zen teachers start looking upon what they do in this way, what they do is no longer Zen teaching at all.

Furthermore, whenever I think about joining one of these organizations I have to ask what such an organization would do for me. If I join the Musicians Union, for example, by paying dues to that organization and abiding by its rules I get some form of compensation. The union engages in collective bargaining so that I can earn a living wage and provides members in good standing with group discounts on medical insurance and so on.

But what does any Zen teacher get from being part of one of these Zen teacher unions? I suppose we get their seal of approval, sort of like the Better Business Bureau. Maybe we get invited to big parties once in a while where we can all hang out with each other, although we have to pay our own way to get there. But we don’t get a whole lot else.

I suppose my position on this may strike some readers as an unforgivably selfish attitude. And it would be, if we were talking about an organization of noble bodhisattvas running around trying to help each other save all beings before saving themselves and asking nothing in return.

But that’s not what is being proposed by these organizations. And we can know this for certain because of their use of the word “professional.” What is being proposed here is a professional organization for professional people who, just like the doctors, lawyers and therapists we’re being categorized with, charge for their services and promise results. People who charge for their services and promise results ought to be held accountable for the results of those services.

I, for one, do not promise any results. Nor do I offer any help. I will let you join me in my work if I feel that you won’t get in the way of what I need to do. Historically this has always been the attitude of Zen teachers. Why else do you think it was so hard for people to become students of the Zen teachers of the past? If they were professionals, their rates would have been posted at the door and anyone who was willing to pay would have been welcome to come on in. That was never the case. Until today.

Unfortunately, the position I am taking here is clearly in the minority. It’s obvious that people like me who do not view Zen teaching as a profession are going to lose this battle. Organizations like SZBA and AZTA will become more and more powerful, and teachers who refuse to classify themselves as members of the helping profession will be marginalized. Those who refuse to join will have red flags stuck all over them and few will attend their Zen groups anymore. Which is fine, actually. The majority will, instead, go to the professionals who charge for services rendered and promise results. Good luck with that.

Monday, April 04, 2011

DOGEN, WIN A DATE WITH BRAD WARNER and MORE ABOUT GENPO ROSHI

I've been away for a bit. But boy are you guys lucky! For today I have a veritable bonanza of stuff for you.

First up, here is a new video from Dogen Sangha Los Angeles. This is another in the series that Jan Hermann von Bayern put together. They were shot last September when I was in Los Angeles.



The Dogen Sangha Los Angeles YouTube channel has a bunch more of these if you haven't seen the others yet.

And speaking of YouTube, I have a new article up on the SuicideGirls safe-for-work blog. It's called Win a Date With Brad Warner and it is possibly the single most embarrassing thing I have ever made public. I'm sure I will deeply regret having ever typed this up. Ah well. (The YouTube connection will become clear if you read the article.)

(And remember I'm not getting paid for any of these funtastic pieces of entertainment you're enjoying except for what I can get form people clicking on the little donation button over there to your left. Those reading on Facebook can click on the words donation button.)

And finally, people have been sending me all kinds of things where legitimate respected people in the Buddhist world have made fun of Genpo Roshi.

Here is one by Jundo Cohen. It's pretty darn funny.

And here's another from Elephant Journal, also pretty funny.

Finally, here's one that appears to have been written by somebody with inside knowledge of what went on backstage in the Genpo Roshi camp. Also pretty funny.

Some might feel it's cruel to make fun of poor old Genpo now that he's sunk so low he can only charge $15,000 per person for his Big Mind™ retreats, down from the $50,000 per person he was getting just two years ago. All that "sadness and love" he's feeling these days must really be getting him down as he plods through one of his three houses, using his cut-up Buddhist robes for hankies as tears stream from his eyes.

But I feel like making fun of Genpo Roshi is the kindest thing the Buddhist community can do for him right now. Those who are enabling him to continue with his deceptive ways are not doing the man any favors at all. As others have pointed out, Genpo is a big source of income for the groups he leads and they don't want to lose their cash cow. Those kinds of friends are not your friends at all.

These articles will also stick with people much more than any well-worded open letter to some Buddhist organization ever could. Poor Genpo may even have to reduce his fees to $10,000 per person before the year is out!