Friday, December 19, 2008

SHUKKE and THE MONTY HALL DILEMMA (or DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB!)


First the administrative stuff:

Tomorrow, Dec. 20, 2008 we’ll have our all-day Zen thing at Hill Street Center (details at link to your left). There will be no prepared lunch this time. I’ll be having a peanut butter sandwich at HSC. Others are welcome to join me. But bring your own sandwiches.

Also, I have updated my tour dates (link also to your left). If you want me to come to your town, please write me at spoozilla@gmail.com and we’ll try to work it out. I will have a lot of available dates (see below for details on that).

Now the article:

Shukke (spelled 出家 in Chinese characters) means leaving home and family. In the olden days, Buddhists monks literally left everything behind when they joined the order. These days the word shukke mainly refers to a ceremony that symbolically represents that act, although the monks themselves often continue to live as they did before.

Different lineages of Buddhism handle it in different ways. I’ve heard that in Thailand the custom is that one literally leaves home and family for a time but then comes back after a proscribed period. Sort of like doing a tour of duty in the armed forces. In Japanese-style Zen, though, it’s pretty rare to actually leave everything behind.

Whatever. I’m bringing it up today because yesterday I left my family of 14 years. For the past year I’ve been in a state of limbo with the Japanese monster movie company that sent me to Los Angeles to be their liaison. I got laid off at the end of 2007. But at the beginning of 2008 they said they wanted me back to work on a film project in the USA and so I began working for them again in a limited capacity. That film project never quite got off the ground. In September I went and met with them and they asked me to come back to Japan to do essentially the same job I used to do when I last lived there.

But I wasn’t really interested in doing that job again and, as much as I love Japan, I didn’t really feel like moving back there. Everybody keeps saying how the US economy is falling to pieces and I was being offered a relatively secure job with a steady paycheck at a stable company in a country where the economy was not going down the drain. So I thought hard about whether I ought to take the job or not.

This week I finally gave them my answer. I said no thank you in as polite a way as possible. They accepted and now I’m a free man. That company was very much like a family to me and leaving them was not easy. The photo I posted above was staged spontaneously by a bunch of guys from the Events Dept. as a surprise going-away gift in 2004 when I was just about to leave for LA. That's my family.

It was also a tough decision to make because the most rational, sensible course of action would have been to go to Japan. Try as I might I couldn’t make it add up any other way. I’m making a little bit of money off book sales. But if you average out what I get paid for a book compared to how long it takes to write one, my annual wage from writing is not impressive at all. I know there are professional authors whose sales are less than Eckhart Tolle’s and Deepak Chopra’s but who manage somehow. But I don’t know how. Guess I’ll find out.

It was a classic example of the Monty Hall Dilemma. Actually I didn’t even know there was such a thing as the Monty Hall Dilemma until I did a Google search just now. I was trying to remember the name of the game show hosted by Monty Hall in which contestants were given a choice between say, a year’s supply of Turtle Wax and whatever was behind door number three, which could have been something better than the Turtle Wax, like a brand new car, or could have been a bail of hay or a goat or something. Turns out the show was called Let’s Make a Deal. I can’t believe I wasted several hours of my precious and fleeting life watching Let’s Make a Deal. But I suppose it did me some good after all.

ANYWAY, the thing was that even though my rational mind told me the best way to go was to take the job in Japan, my instincts told me otherwise. And it wasn’t just my own rational mind that said it was a bad idea to turn down the job in Japan either. Everyone I spoke to about the matter, including two Zen teachers, told me the most sensible course of action was to go to Japan.

But in the end I made the irrational choice. Actually, though, I wouldn’t call it irrational. I’d call it intuitive. Intuition isn’t really irrational. It has its own sense.

Have I made the right choice? Who knows? Not me. When faced with decisions like these we never really know what the “right choice” is. I’m not even sure the concept of there being a right choice is very sound to begin with.

In Buddhism we always say that when you’re faced with a decision, the true way to go appears instantly. But we’re so locked into our thinking mind that we can miss it very easily. Still, once you’ve made your choice the only thing you can do is find a way to make that choice work.

In spite of everything, I feel good about this. It’s a bit of a test, though. I always say that the universe takes care of you. I believe that. Now I’ll get to see if it’s true.

It's kinda doubly weird for me. Because I've seen through things to the degree that I understand clearly that the universe isn't what most people say it is and does not operate in at all the way most people think it does. Yet the power of what most people think is very strong. You should never underestimate it. (This is one of about a million things wrong with the whole "let's get an Enlightenment Experience right this minute" mindset, by the way. But that's a whole 'nother article. Maybe a book.)

Join me on these pages in the following months and together we can all see how it goes…

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

FINLAND and the good ol' USA

I'm going to Finland! August 24 - 30, 2009 I'll be doing a bunch of talks and zazen things in Finland. I'll be in Jyväskylä and Helsinki and probably a few other places. I don't have specific dates yet. But I'll post them when I get them. If you're on Facebook, they've set up a group about the trip. So go join up. Info is posted in Finnish and English.

I know there are readers in other parts of Europe who've asked me to come out to speak in your countries. Now's your chance. Since I'll be in Europe anyhow, I can arrange to make it to other places while I'm over there.

The only possible conflicting dates around that time as of this writing are

August 6 - 15 Great Sky Sesshin, Eitzen, Minnesota
September 19 - 22 (tentative) Dogen Sangha Retreat, Shizuoka, Japan

If you have any ideas of arranging stuff that doesn't bump into those dates, please send me an e-mail at spoozilla@gmail.com.

Please bear in mind I am a one-man show. I have no staff to set these kinds of things up and I am terrible beyond any definition of terrible you can possibly come up with at organization and scheduling. So if you want to do this, you'll need to set things up. Also keep in mind that I am not independently wealthy. So you'll need to figure out how to finance the thing. But I will take any serious plan seriously.

And for those of you in the USA, I'll be doing a book tour this year and am on the look-out for places to come and speak. Here are the dates so far.

Bodhi Tree Bookstore - Los Angeles, CA - Thursday March 12, 2009

Favors.Org - Event - Bay Area, CA (location TBD) - Thursday March 19, 2009
SF Zen Center - Event - San Francisco, Friday March 20, 2009
Green Apple Books - San Francisco, CA - Author Event - Saturday March 21, 2009 - 4 pm
Copperfield's Books - Petaluma, CA - Author Event - Sunday March 22, 2009 - 1:30 pm

Interdependence Project - New York, NY - Wednesday March 25, 2009

Southern Dharma Retreat Center - Asheville, North Carolina - April 2 - 5, 2009

Same deal goes for gigs in the US as in Europe.

I promise I won't monopolize the blog with tour dates. But for now it's the only place I have to announce these things. I'm gonna be working on that as well.

For now I've added a link with all the dates on it over there to your left.

Monday, December 15, 2008

NEW SUICIDE GIRLS ARTICLE: YOU CELIBATE I'LL BUY A BIT!

I got a new Suicide Girls article up right now. Go look.

According to the press the Dalai Lama said sex invariably spells trouble. Actually what he said (in part) was, "Sexual pleasure, sexual desire, actually I think is short period satisfaction and often, that leads to more complication. Too much attachment towards your children, towards your partner (is) one of the obstacle or hindrance of peace of mind." He also said celibacy was good. This made the news. So I wrote about that.

See ya!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL, ALTBOOK BAZAAR in BURBANK Dec. 13th 6-9PM (free booze)

The current issue of Maximum Rocknroll (#308, January 2009), one of the longest running and coolest punk rock magazines has an interview with me on the subject of my movie Cleveland's Screaming!. So go out and get a copy today. It's just four bucks and the rest of the magazine is pretty groovy. Look for "Cleveland's Screaming" right on the front cover!

Also, I will be at the ALTBOOK BAZAAR at the Wax Poetic Gallery at 3208 West Magnolia Blvd. in Burbank, California this Saturday December 13th, 2008 from 6-9 PM. They'll have free food and free drinks and you can meet a whole slew of local authors including my fellow Suicide Girls columnist Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna (aka Miss Truth Hurts). So come on down! No zazen required.

But if you want some zazen first, we'll be having the usual zazen at Hill Street Center that day. See the link over there on your left for details.

I'm writing my latest Suicide Girls column, which will go live on Monday morning. So I gotta run off and do that.

I hope to see a few of you at the ALTBOOK BAZAAR, though.

Bye!

ADDENDUM 12/11/08

Do I have any readers in Portland? If so, please write me at spoozilla@gmail.com and put "Portland" somewhere in the subject line.

Monday, December 08, 2008

ROHATSU, FORRY, BEVERLY and KOICHI


Today is December 8th, notable to me for three reasons. 1) It's traditionally celebrated as the day Buddha attained Enlightenment, 2) it's the day John Lennon died and 3) it's the day the Japanese think of as Pearl Harbor Day (because of the international dateline, the attack occurred on the 8th in Japanese time, not the 7th).

Unfortunately, instead of a happy post commemorating Buddha's Enlightenment Day -- and the final day of Rohatsu Sesshins all over the world, I have to post some important (to me) obituaries. I put a longer and more complete version of these up on Suicide Girls. But I want to mention them on this page too.

On December 4th Forrest J. Ackerman, founder and first publisher of the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland passed away in his home in Horrorwood, Karloffornia. He was 92.

The following day, December 5th, the world lost Beverly Garland, the one person who stood up to the horrifying Venusian walking cucumber in Roger Corman's cult classic It Conquered the World -- and in a tight sweater (hubba-hubba), no less!

These two have been covered in a number of other news sources and I have complete obits for them up on Suicide Girls. Here I want to talk about another recent death.

On November 30th, Koichi Takano passed away in his home in Tokyo, Japan. Although Takano's name isn't nearly as well-known as either Ackerman's or Garland's, to me his loss is much more personal. He used to be my boss. Takano was a special effects director who was initially hired in the 1950's by Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects director of the classic Godzilla films. After Takano had worked in the background on a number of Godzilla pictures, Tsuburaya hand-picked him to direct the effects for his groundbreaking television series Ultraman. Takano continued to direct special effects for hundreds of science fiction and superhero television shows and theatrical films until complications from emphysema forced him to retire five years ago. Takano continued to appear in lots of documentaries and making-of TV shows and specials to talk about his legendary effects work. Some dopes in this country have derided his work as cheezy -- his preferred method for depicting a city-smashing monster was to put a stuntman into a fat rubber dinosaur costume and have him stomp on a miniature replica of Tokyo. But just try finding example of special effects work done in the US on a similar budget and time frame that is anywhere near as meticulous, detailed and just plain cool as what Takano accomplished!


The photo on the top of this entry is one I took of Koichi Takano along with actress Mariya Yamada at the wrap party for the TV series Ultraman Dyna at the Akasaka Prince Hotel on August 11, 1998. Mariya played Agent Mai of the Super GUTS team, the people who would try every week to destroy whatever monster attacked Tokyo and fail misreably until Ultraman Dyna came along and helped them out. Takano was the special effects supervisor on the series.

I have another photo of me and Takano on a bench at some hotel waiting for a bus. It was on a company trip. We'd both been up really late the night before and Takano had been drinking too (I hadn't). In the photo I'm the one who looks hung over and he's all bright and chipper and ready to go. Alas, I cannot find that picture.

All three of these legends will be missed.

Friday, December 05, 2008

ZEN BOOKS THAT DON'T SUCK

I put a new page up about zen books that don’t suck. It'll be a permanent link on this page. I did that for two reasons. One was that people keep asking me for recommendations on what to read. I don’t intend for this to be a comprehensive list of the good Zen books. There are a bunch I forgot that I’ll probably put up there someday, like Charlotte Joko Beck’s Everyday Zen: Love and Workand a few others.

I tend to avoid answering questions about what books to read because certain people think that Zen can be understood by reading about it. But it really can’t. And yet, good books can be an important part of practice. Which is the second reason I put that page up there.

I remember early on in my study of Zen I read some book — maybe it was Buddha is the Center of Gravity by Joshu Sasaki, maybe it was someone else — anyway, this Zen teacher recommended his students to read a lot of good books. “What books are good?” his students asked. He said something like, “books that have stood the test of time.” That’s a pretty good answer. You can’t go too wrong with stuff like Shobogenzo or the Heart Sutra or the Lotus Sutra or the recorded talks of Buddha. Books like that have been around long enough that they’ve garnered a certain degree of trust. In some cases the original words themselves have been changed by later copyists and, in many cases, significantly improved in the process.

Modern books are trickier. Trends come and go. Some writers are very good at hooking into the mindset of the times and making something that sounds pretty “spiritual” when it’s really just trash.

I’ve told this story before. But once a few years ago someone wrote me and recommended some modern spiritual master’s books, which he said were “so stilling, so present.” I read some of the stuff and, indeed, I did feel the quality this guy had described as “stilling.” But I also found myself becoming kind of envious of that teacher’s amazing experiences and feeling that I was somehow inadequate because I wasn’t as “high” as this teacher wanted me to think he, the teacher, was. There was something very wrong. There are lots of “stilling” books out there. But many of them are also trying to sell you something.

I started thinking hard about books and how they fit into practice when I recently took a job as a freelance copy editor for a Japanese publisher of New Age books. I know. It sounds pretty much like selling out. But all they wanted was someone who could fix up these books so that the rough English translations matched the original Japanese. What I found, though, was that the authors could be very persuasive and that some of their often rather warped worldview began creeping into mine. One of these authors said that the Heart Sutra was full of evil Taoist spells and that chanting it could be dangerous. For about 2.7 seconds I found myself wondering if he could be right. Uh oh, I said…

Then when I was driving back from San Francisco I heard this radio show all about the first and second performances of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Apparently at the first performance the audience rioted. The guy who talked about this theorized that the piece was so dissonant and atonal that it screwed with people’s brains. Their brains were trying so hard to deal with sound that to them sounded disorganized that they just went temporarily crazy. A year later the piece was performed again. But this time the audience was prepared for it and they just sat peacefully and applauded at the end. Twenty odd years later the same piece of music appeared in Disney’s Fantasia , a family film for children. Kind of reminded me of what’s happened to punk rock over the past twenty years.

This got me thinking about how these kinds of stimuli can affect us. Certainly reading a book like Shobogenzo can actually alter a person’s perception of reality. Science fiction author Philip K. Dick talked about this and even experimented with it in his own books. Reading something like his books Ubik, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritchor Time Out of Jointwas as jolting to me as a teenager as any acid trip. Maybe more so. Later on Shobogenzo affected me in a very profound way as well. Of course, Dick was a paranoid amphetamine addict and Dogen was not, which also makes a huge difference. Dick had insights, but didn't really know what to make of them.

Dogen warned against romanticizing old Zen stories where people suddenly burn all their books and devote themselves just to zazen. To Dogen these examples might have been right for those people, but that approach couldn’t be applied universally. Reading and listening to teachers does have a place in practice. It’s only when things get out of balance that there’s a problem, like when you get too into reading and listening to teachers or, conversely, too into practice alone. People who get into a teacherless Zen practice often get way too full of themselves because the ego will grab hold of absolutely anything to enrich its position, including glimpses of its own unreality. Ironic, but true.

Anyway, all of this bullshit is just to say that good books can be good for Zen practice.

Happy reading!

Monday, December 01, 2008

POLITICS

Before going on I want to mention the new link I put up about Zen books that don't suck. People keep asking me about this. So here you go.

While I was up north for Thanksgiving I stopped by the Berkeley Zen Center where my friend Greg Fain, who kindly let me stay in his pad while I was up there, was giving the weekly Dharma talk. His talk was, among other things, about the issue of speaking about politics from the "pulpit" -- if we can use that word to describe the seat from which Buddhist teachers deliver their talks.

I was a little worried because I knew that Greg had spent some time in Nevada getting out the vote on behalf of a certain candidate I won't name here. And this was, after all, the People's Republic of Berkeley. As some of you must have noticed by now I'm pretty down on the idea of Buddhism being used as a pretext for pushing liberal politics and on the widespread assumption that anyone who is a Buddhist must, of course, be at the very least a Democrat if not someone of a much more left-leaning political mindset. While I didn't really imagine Greg would use his Dharma talk as a campaign platform, especially after the election was finished, I did fear for the worst.

I should have had more faith! Greg's talk was a very good one about how a Dharma talk should never be a platform for political campaigning. He related a story about how he was giving a talk in Nevada (I think). Before he went on, the head of the temple warned him, "Don't talk about politics here! This group is evenly divided between 'red state' people and 'blue state' people." Greg said he hadn't planned to get political but that he appreciated the advice. He said he thought we as Buddhist teachers should always assume our audience is half 'red state' (conservatives, for those of you reading this outside the USA) and half 'blue state' (liberals). I'd take that further myself. I don't even assume my audience cares about or even knows much about America's politics. A decade in Japan taught me a lot about just how trivial American politics really are to people who don't live here.

Back on October 25th, my hero, Gene Simmons, bassist of the rock band KISS, posted this on his website:

Ok, folks. Everyone is so touchy about the forthcoming election. And for the record, I don't believe any celebrity should be using their bully pulpit to coerce their fans to vote either way. I refuse to tell anyone what my political leanings are. I agree with both parties on certain issues and strongly disagree with both candidates on other issues. VOTE FOR EITHER CANDIDATE, but vote.

Yet around the same time someone sent me a video of some Zen teacher giving his Dharma talk in an Obama T-shirt. It's truly pathetic when Zen teachers aren't even as enlightened as Gene Simmons on such matters. I don't pay enough attention to the Zen scene to know whether there are more teachers like Greg or more teachers like that guy who thought his Dharma talk was an appropriate place to plug his favorite candidate.

We Buddhist teachers must never assume that our political views are one and the same as the Dharma, nor should we try and influence the people who listen to us on how to vote.

Greg talked about social justice, about the recently passed California Proposition 9 (not 8!) and how it affected the inmates he teaches at San Quentin prison. He talked about the uncomfortable mood at a post election party he attended and how it was all "We won and they lost!" I could certainly feel that myself driving through Los Angeles on the night of November 4th. There was such a tremendous buzz of negative energy in the air that I wanted to get off the road as quickly as possible. Ironically most of those responsible for that nearly palpable wave of horrible negativity almost certainly believed it was nothing but positivity (actually the two are the same, ultimately) (and just by the way, I don't mean that I somehow psychically sensed this stuff. There was all kinds of shouting and hooting and horns honking and vehicles swerving like the drivers were drunk) .

Greg also talked about engaged Buddhism. All Buddhism, he said (quoting someone I can't remember), is "engaged Buddhism." I think this is important. How do you work most effectively for social justice? You do zazen practice every day. You. Not someone else. Every day. Not just when your sitting group meets. This is where the real work for social justice happens. Without it you're just making noise.

Friday, November 28, 2008

THANKSGIVING and ZEN THIS SATURDAY (Nov. 29, 2008)

The main purpose of this entry is to let people know that Zazen will happen as usual at the Hill St. Center in Santa Monica this Saturday, Nov. 29, 2008. Details are at the link over there on your left, just below the "picture of the gay vampire" (as one reader called it). OK?

So I spent Thanksgiving at Green Gulch Farm/Green Dragon Zen Temple in Marin County just north of San Francisco. That was my first Thanksgiving at a Zen temple. Pretty neat. Maybe someday I'll write eloquently about it. But I don't have time to do it justice right now. It was a beautiful thing. Thanks to Bryan, Steph and Alec for inviting us up there. The pies were yummy.

Hope everybody out there had a great Thanksgiving and are peacefully digesting today.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Yoga Poses to Help With Doing Zazen


Since I keep getting asked this question I've now added a permanent link to the drawing that Patrick of Yoga Garden in Yokohama drew up for me showing the various yoga poses he recommends for helping people get into full or half lotus posture. It's right there next to this article and it will be forever accessible via a link in the links section over to your left.

Although I do yoga myself, I didn't really personally use these poses to be able to get into full lotus. For reasons I cannot understand, I've always been able to get my legs into the full lotus posture, even back in the days when the rest of my body was so stiff I couldn't even touch my toes. The only problem was I couldn't hold the posture for more than a couple minutes. What I did was just hold the full lotus posture as long as I could and then switch to half lotus. After about six months of doing this twice a day every day I could hold the full lotus for a full 40 minutes.

But that's my story, not yours. These postures have helped yoga people get into the lotus posture for a few thousand years. So maybe you can benefit from them.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

FICTION and LIBRARIES


I've started reading science fiction again lately. I used to read tons of the stuff, all through high school and well into my thirties. About ten years ago I kind of lost interest and haven't read much of it since. But the other day I was in the Iliad used book store in North Hollywood and they had a couple hundred of the kinds of titles I used to devour all for about $2 a piece. So I bought some and took 'em home and started reading. I'd forgotten how fun some of that hogwash can be.

Which brings me to a couple questions that I get asked from time to time. Every so often a writer with aspirations to Buddhist practice will write and ask me if I think it's OK that he (it's always been guys so far) writes fiction. I don't know why they think they need my approval. But I always say it's fine with me. The word "fiction" doesn't mean lying (although I think Robert A. Heinlein in Stranger In A Strange Land has a Martian character who believes that). There are areas of the human condition that are very hard to describe in any other way than in a work of fiction. A work of fiction can often be far more truthful than a work of non-fiction. Shee-oot. I was in a Buddhist book shop the other day and I'd say at least 90% of the books in there weren't just fiction or even science fiction. They were works of pure unadulterated fantasy being pawned off as "spirituality." I'd much rather see truthful fiction than that kind of codswallop.

The other question I get, semi-related to this, is whether I, as a writer, think it's OK to take books out from the library rather than buying them. I take books out of the library all the time myself so I often ponder this one. Yeah, as a writer I'd rather you buy my books. But I know not everyone can afford to buy books and lots of people are far more voracious readers than their wallets could handle if they had to buy everything they wanted to read. Some people, like me, will take books out of the library and, if they like them, buy them even though they've already read them, just to support the writers. So libraries are OK by me. Anyway, libraries buy the books too.

When I lived in Japan libraries weren't really an option. In fact one of the main reasons I learned to read Japanese was because I wanted to stop spending so much money ordering books from Amazon. If I could check the Japanese editions out of the library it'd be so much cheaper.

It's a good thing to support writers you like by buying their books. It's also good to support book stores you like by buying those books from the shops even if it means paying a little more. You're paying that little bit extra to keep that book store open in your community. I don't have anything against Amazon. I like them a lot, in fact. But book stores have it tough these days. I always try and support them when I can.

So write fiction and buy fiction (or non-fiction, or pop-up books, or whatever).

Good? Good.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

SATURDAY NOV. 22, 2008 WILL BE REGULAR ZAZEN AT HILL STREET CENTER, NOT ALL-DAY ZAZEN

Yep. That's right. So y'all come sit. But we'll be done at Noon. K?

Details are in the links section to your left.

Monday, November 17, 2008

NEW SUICIDE GIRLS ARTICLE (FAITH NO MORE)

I got a new article up on Suicide Girls today. No politics this time. It's about faith and getting disappointed in religious authority.

Enjoy.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

YET MORE NEW VIDEOS

I put a couple more videos up on YouTube.

THE SECOND TO LAST SAMURAI
This was a skit I wrote and directed for a company trip in the Spring of 2003 (I think, or it could be 2002 or even '04). There never was a real script as such. I just assembled the cast, gave them the basic storyline and had them make up their own parts. Most of the cast were members of the company's events division and had a lot of experience putting on superhero action shows for children. This was sort of a mix of a MAD magazine type parody of The Last Samurai, Kill Bill and The Matrix mixed with a Japanese superhero action show and my own twisted fantasies. You'll see...

The subtitles are approximates. I couldn't really hear what was being said with the bad audio and besides that a lot of the dialog is in-jokes that nobody outside the company would get. The references to me leaving at 6 o'clock have to do with my American style work habits which don't really match how they do things in Japan. It wasn't entirely true. I did work late lots of nights. Just not every night like most of the rest of the company.

I dearly love all these people.



GHOUL LOOK ALIKE CONTEST
This is my appearance circa 1983 or '84 on The Ghoul show. The Ghoul was a late-night horror movie host in Cleveland and Detroit whose hey-day was a decade before this. He was still cool in the eighties. He was a lot more low key when I watched him as a kid. Back then his show was a revelation.

This is seriously goofy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

LIKE YOUR BUDDHISM? THANK A VETERAN!

An interesting confluence of things came my way recently. Over the past couple of weeks I received three or four e-mails from people in the military saying how much they’d enjoyed my books. One was reading Hardcore Zen while stationed in Iraq. At just around the same time I received some other e-mails expressing concern over people in the military who practiced Buddhism. These other e-mailers seemed convinced that anyone in the military who got into Buddhist practice and philosophy would immediately be forced to go AWOL and quit the armed services. And here it is, Veteran’s Day, the perfect day to post a piece about the subject.

I feel very honored that people in the armed services are reading my stuff. I sometimes wonder how many other Buddhist authors have fans in the military. I’m sure some do. But a lot of Buddhist writers are so vehemently politicized I’d imagine they turn anyone involved in that line of work away from Buddhism. That’s a shame.

The title of this piece is a play on a bumper sticker you often see in the US that says, “Like your freedom? Thank a veteran!” Buddhism is a practical philosophy and practice for the real world, the one we actually live in, and not an idealistic religion that envisions the fantastic world we wish we lived in. I think we Buddhists ought to thank our veterans too.

You probably wish we lived in a world where our freedom to practice Buddhism was not underwritten by military power. I know I certainly do. But if wishes were tobacco-burst ’57 Gibson Les Paul guitars with coffee and cream PAF pick-ups I’d have a dozen of ‘em. The fact is Buddhism has only ever thrived in nations where the citizens’ right to practice it was guaranteed by a powerful military. The sad examples of Afghanistan and Tibet spring to mind.

I already wrote about this in a Suicide Girls piece called Buddhism Through Violence, so I don’t want to rehash all that here. But I do want to stress again, as I did in that article, that I’m not happy about the fact that our ability to practice Buddhism needs to be protected by violence, or at least the threat of violence. But whether I’m happy with it or not doesn’t change the fact. We can only make a difference in the world after we first come to terms with what kind of world we actually live in.

As for whether a person can continue to serve in the military after she or he starts practicing Buddhism, I don’t see why not. The job these people are doing is a necessary one. As long as the military continues to be necessary I want there to be a military. If military people practice zazen they’ll bring their own individual bodies and minds more into balance and they will do their jobs with greater efficiency and care. The outlook that develops as their practice grows will allow them to use the power we've given them in ways that will be more beneficial to everyone involved. They’ll be more interested in maintaining peace wherever they are and less interested in kicking butt. There will be less random violence, less drug and alcohol abuse and more individual stability in our armed services. This is a great thing.

Is there a chance that military people who practice Buddhism will be moved by its teachings of non-violence to leave the service? Some might. Some might not. But I don’t think it’s the place of those who think they know what Buddhism is all about to say that anyone who truly understands the philosophy of non-violence would certainly leave the military. That is a matter for each individual to decide for themselves. It ain’t up to you, no matter how well you think you understand this Buddhist stuff.

So on Veteran’s Day I’d like to extend my thanks to those who serve in our armed forces.

Monday, November 03, 2008

GUDO NISHIJIMA'S BOOKS

I just put up a page of links to Nishijima Roshi's books. This should eliminate the confusion about where to buy these on Amazon. I know a number of places list Nishijima's books as collectibles and ask for a lot of money for them. But they're all in print. So you don't need to pay that much. Besides, if you buy the current versions Nishijima gets some of that money instead of it going to some book dealer who marks them up. I'll keep that page permanently in the links section of this blog (on your left).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

NEW VIDEOS

I put three more videos up on YouTube yesterday for those of you who like that sort of thing.

MY NIECE'S FOOT "LIKE A VIRGIN"
This is from the band I was in when I first moved to Japan in 1993-94. "Like A Virgin" was one of our most fun songs to play. I brought the song to the group and made up the arrangement. It's not really complex. But it was a challenge to turn a disco number into something that could be played on acoustic guitars. The theme of My Niece's Foot was to be an unplugged rock band and not in any way a folk group even though we didn't have electric instruments or drums. The group was (from left to right on this video) me on bass, Emily Iarocci (vocals), Sam Flemming (guitar), Nick Wilding (guitar, violin). I don't think Sam and Nick ever really liked the banter Emily and I did on stage that much. Originally it had been their band and Emily and I joined and sorta changed things. They got used to it.



MY NIECE'S FOOT "I WALKED AWAY"
From our reunion show in Monterey, California in 1997, this is one of Sam Flemming's songs and I think it's really good and extremely commercial. If Pearl Jam or someone like that had done this song it'd have been all over Top 40 radio. If some guy on American Idol or one of those things did it now it would be a huge smash. Anyone who wants to cover it, write me and I'll give you Sam's contact info. Maybe he'll cut me in on the royalties when it's a number one.



DIMENTIA 13 "MESMERIZED"
Here is another Dimentia 13 song from the Friday Club in Chicago in 1988. Oh the hair! Oh the boots! This is from the second Dimentia 13 LP, "Mirror Mind". At the time I thought this was a hit single. Maybe it would have been in 1966 with somebody else singing. But it was 22 years too late and several semitones too off-key. That's my real hair, but I didn't normally douse it with that much cheap hairspray.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

SPECIAL MESSAGE FROM SKYLAR


I'm here in Gulf Shores, Alabama with my nice niece Skylar (age 12) who has asked me to let her post a special message from her on this blog. So here's SKYLAR!!! (check out Skylar's Blog too!)

hey people,
its me Skylar im BACK! you probablly remember my interview in 2007. well its almost 2009 now and so we should have a hilarious new video up soon. ok so i went to Kentwood Louisiana because im A HUGE Britney Spears fan. and i got her autograph how cool is that! anyway i hope all of you are having a fun fall break and send me a lot of fan mail because i want to be a moviestar tell everyone you know about me HA HA! you can e-mail me by sending an email to brad and he will forward it to me. but if your going to be mean i dont want to hear from you. also if you've seen or heard Britney's new song womanizer you know its the best song in history. if you havent yet LOOK IT UP! (unless your mindless)
Love,
Skylar (i like bananas)

Monday, October 20, 2008

NEW SUICIDE GIRLS ARTICLE (Rock-tober 20,2008)

I got a new article up on Suicide Girls.

I'm out in Gulf Shores, Alabam-y now visiting with my dad and my sister and her family. I saw a church out here with a sign out front that said, "Aren't you glad your mother was pro-life?" I guess they don't get too many morose people passing by who feel otherwise. You don't see slogans like that in front of churches in Los Angeles.

And in case the Suicide Girls piece isn't exciting enough for you on a Monday morning, here is a piece of avant garde music I made when I was about 16 or 17. It's called:

AVANT GARDE SONG

It actually had a bunch of different titles over the years. Originally this was just a fairly non-descript recording of a pretty lame pop song I made up. I used to overdub by recording my guitar with an el cheap-o cassette deck then moving the recorded cassette into another el cheap-o cassette deck. Then I'd play back the stuff I'd recorded while simultaneously playing something else and recording the results with the first cassette deck.

Anyway this was originally one of those. But the tape got eaten by the machine. After I carefully removed the masses of chewed up tape from the machine and stuffed them back into the cassette I played it back. The tape had gotten turned around backwards and sounded very cool. So I took that tape and recorded it onto my dad's open reel recorder, which had this button that said "sound on sound." If you pushed that button while you were recording you got this weird echo on everything. I don't know if that's what the button was supposed to do. But that's what it did.

So I did that and then I sped up the tape. The results are what you hear on the MP3 I linked to. This is all that remains of what used to be about 20 minutes of this stuff. At one point I dubbed the most interesting bits onto a tape for some friends. I found that tape about a month ago. The original is long since lost, alas. I know you'd have wanted to hear all twenty minutes!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

TALKS AT DOGEN SANGHA RETREAT

I keep forgetting to post this.

Peter Rocca kindly posted all the talks I gave at the recent Dogen Sangha retreat on his blog, The Stupid Way. He's a fellow dharma heir of Gudo Nishijima and his blog is really good.

Now back to whatever you were doing...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

INSIDE A CULT

I tried to show this video to the folks that came to the Hill Street Center last weekend. But it didn't work.



This promo concentrates on the sexual stuff. But there's a whole lot more than that going on. And, really, the sex stuff is not even the most interesting or scary aspect as far as I'm concerned. You can find the entire program at the following links:

Part 1

Part 2

I doubt these links will be there for long since I don't think National Geographic authorized them.

The matter of what is and what is not a cult is something that has bugged me for a very long time and will probably continue to bug me for the rest of my life. It's a very key matter to me because of how close I came to joining a very dangerous cult when I was a young spiritual seeker. I've recounted that story so many times regular readers can probably regurgitate it on cue. I even referenced it in the post just below this one. The full story is in my first book Hardcore Zen (follow the link to your left to check it out).

My friend Nina showed me this program a few days ago and my immediate response was to want to burn my kesa and transmission papers, cancel all further classes at Hill Street Center and renounce my status as a monk. I later decided that would be a bit too drastic. But for a good few hours I was thinking hard about it. Especially since people are starting to ask me about doing precepts ceremonies, in which I'm supposed to give them new fake "spiritual names" just like Michael Travesser did with his culties. This kind of thing fills me with a lot of worry.

When I look at a show like this I don't think, "Gosh, look at those weirdos over there. I'm sure glad I'm not like those people!" or even, "Look at that scumbag cult leader. Jeepers, I'm sure glad I'm not like that!" No. I look at these people and I can only see myself on both sides of the equation. It's important, I think, never to see yourself as above or immune to this kind of behavior.

One real important point that often gets lost in examinations of cult behavior is the responsibility of the members of the cult. It's very easy to point fingers at the leader and say he's a sleezebag. But this stuff doesn't just flow in one direction. In order for a cult leader to have power, someone's got to give it to him. It's amazing how willing people are to give up their own power. I've even had people try to give up their power to me -- of all people. Could you find anyone more likely to abuse such power? A good Buddhist teacher will always hand your power right back to you. If you find one who accepts your power, please run away as fast as you can.

Having said that, I have to also say that there are situations where a certain degree of reasonable exchange of power needs to take place. If you live in a monastery or any other form of communal living situation, for example, you need to defer a bit of power to the group and its leadership in order to have things run smoothly. You have to take your shoes off before you step into the zendo, no matter how much you love your brand new Docs. You gotta turn clockwise on your cushion even if you feel deep down in your heart that you just have to turn counter-clockwise.

Everybody talks about the so-called militarism of Japanese Zen. And a bit (not a lot) of that does exist. But because this charge has been leveled so often it's become a cliche, there's a tendency for some people to see everything that happens at a Japanese style Zen monastery or temple as an example of militarism. "Oh my God! They all eat at the same time! So does the army! It's MILITARISM!!" Personally I've never encountered anything I'd call militarism from my teachers or indeed from any teacher or temple I've visited.

At any rate, cults usually work things out so you give up a certain degree of reasonable power at first and only later on are you asked to surrender things that are unreasonable. Clearly giving your wife or daughter to "consummate" with a cult leader who claims to be the Son of God is completely unreasonable, as is being the one who willingly "consummates" with the leader. But we can surmise that this is not how things began. It took a long process to get there.

I can even imagine how it worked from leader Michael Travesser's side. Through a process of skillfully manipulating his thoughts he's convinced himself that he is the Son of God. Yet he finds he wants to get it on with the wives of certain of his parishioners as well as their daughters. This is normal for any human male. I will vouch for that! But the Son of God is not any human male. The Son of God would never have such thoughts, since the Son of God's thoughts are all pure. So Michael has a dilemma. He needs to justify how he can have these thoughts and yet still be the Son of God. If he can't he's got to admit he's not the Son of God. There's a lot riding on this. So he manipulates his thought process again to create a justification for his lust that allows it to be pure. Then he needs to get support for his ideas from the people around him, since their support would legitimize his thinking. He uses the same justifications with them as he has used successfully with himself and voila!

What makes this even worse is that because he believes he's the Son of God and not an ordinary man, he feels he cannot just fantasize about his conquests like a normal guy who lusts after women he shouldn't touch might. He has given his thoughts tremendous power. He feels that he must act upon them. These thoughts aren't just ordinary thoughts. They are the thoughts of the Son of God.

ANYWAY. It's difficult to say exactly where things cross the line from activities and attitudes that constitute legitimate and reasonable giving up of power into the land of cult-like behavior. The whole notion of surrender is highly questionable, I think. I hear that word thrown around in spiritual groups all the time and it always gives me the shivers. As they said in Galaxy Quest, "Never give up! Never surrender!"

Watching this stuff serves to remind me that we can justify absolutely anything with thought. There are no limits. It is vital to understand this. You, and I do mean you, can make anything at all sound reasonable if you twist your brain in just the right way. And yet all of us have a much deeper sense of what is and is not right behavior. This sense is not a matter of thought at all.

This is the sense that will tell you whether what you're dealing with is a cult or not. It's true that all of our major religions, including Buddhism, could have been defined as cults in their early days. It's also true that there are cults based around all of the legitimate religions. Much of any religion's history from its beginnings as a cult to its emergence as a legitimate religion is a process of stripping away its cult-like qualities.

Whatever. I don't have the final answer on this. It's just something I thought was important to share. I'd like to believe Buddhism is immune to cult-dom. But I've seen enough to prove conclusively that it's not. Or maybe I should put that another way. It's possible for a cult to use the phraseology of Buddhism and to call itself "Buddhist." But culty "Buddhism" is not Buddhism at all.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

SERENITY NOW!!!!

Here's a funny skit by the Upright Citizen's Brigade:


The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that playing the role of the uber enlightened spiritual master is mentally and physically devastating to the people who attempt it. I've retold the story a few hundred times about the serene and tranquil spiritual master I met in my teens who turned out to have been an accessory to murder, very probably at the exact time as I was sitting starry eyed at his feet imbibing what I thought were mystic truths imparted by one who seemed clearly to have transcended the agitated and restless state of ordinary people.

The other day my publishers told me that a lawyer representing "concerned people in the Buddhist community" called them threatening legal action should my upcoming book say anything unflattering about his clients — all serene and blissful Spiritual Masters, I have to assume. His clients needn't have worried their perpetually undisturbed little minds. No Zen Masters were harmed in the making of my new book. None expect me, of course. I come off like a complete and total prick (in more ways than one -- you'll see!). Maybe I should sue!

Such nice people, these spiritual masters. So unruffled by life's troubles.

Feh!

It's like these guys have to be just as nasty behind the scenes as they are bland and unperturbed in the public eye. It happens so often it's scary. Balance, it seems, will be established of its own accord no matter how we try to tip things in the direction we'd like them to go.

It's too late for these guys and probably their legal counsel too. But maybe the rest of us can learn something. Zen practice is not about trying to re-make yourself in your own image of an enlightened saint. That image is born out of your unenlightened confusion. How could it be worth achieving? No, Zen practice is about seeing yourself for what you really are and working with that. Even Jesus himself wasn't all that "Christ-like" when you met him in person. Not that I ever met him, of course, or imagine I ever will. It's just that "Christ-like-ness" is an image that has no basis in reality.

Our problem isn't that we're so unlike our image of the saints we wish we could be. Our problem is that we make the fact that we're so unlike our images into a problem.

Monday, September 29, 2008

NPR LINK


The NPR (National Public Radio) thing is here for anyone who wants to listen. As usual when there's a story about Noah Levine and me, they used a picture of Noah. He's more everyone's image of punk rock, I guess (not a "garage band poser from the suburbs" like me ~ you guys are too funny, I like Noah!*). Well, at least they didn't put my name under his photo like someone did a while back. And if Noah put the title of one of his books on one side of his neck and the other on the other side of his neck, what's he gonna do if he writes a third book?

Maybe we shouldn't ask...

I'm bored stiff with the topic of Big Mind™. But there's a guy in the comments section who can't understand the difference between Nishijima Sensei's acceptance of patronage from the Ida Cosmetics company, for whom he also worked as an adviser and financial consultant, and Genpo asking for $50,000 to spend five days at a luxury resort with rich people and give them Enlightenment. Nishijima never promised Mr. Ida he'd get any sort of special experiences or merit for his contributions. If you don't think Genpo is saying the folks who pay him $50,000 are going to get something that people who pay less can't get, you'd better read his pitch again.

Meeting with a real Zen teacher for personal instruction is indeed a rare opportunity. But it can't be bought or sold. Never. When the emperor of China asked Bodhidharma what merit could be got by studying with him, Bodhidharma said, "None at all." The emperor was most certainly asking this to see if he wanted to become Bodhidharma's sugar daddy and give him some cash and a temple and stuff. Had the emperor wanted to study with Bodhidharma anyway in spite of the lack of merit to be gained, I'm sure Bodhidharma would have accepted him as a student. Honesty is the key. Patronage can be accepted when the relationship between teacher and patron is an honest one.

And FYI, ain't nobody offering me $50,000 for a few days in a hotel with them. But if they did I'd send him packing. Homey don't play that. I don't like hotels anyway and it sounds seriously creepy. "Free money" is never free. If, on the other hand, New World Library offered me a $50,000 advance for my next book (Ha! I wish~!) I'd take it in a heartbeat. I prefer to work for the money I get. You always do anyway, even when the money is "free." And when I do real work, I will take as much money as the work is worth. I have no qualms about that at all. Sorry.

As for people traveling long distances to study with me, I always discourage it. A number of people have asked about this and I always say the same thing. There is no reason anyone should spend a lot of money and effort to study with me. I will only disappoint you.

These questions are trivial. The thing that really bugs me is when people (Genpo's people, I assume) start throwing that whole "The precepts say you can't criticize other Buddhists!" stuff around. There is a very dangerous notion growing among Buddhists in the West that if anyone calls himself a "Buddhist" or calls what he's doing "Buddhism," we as Buddhists must not call him on it no matter what it is for fear (and fear is the operative word) we will be breaking the precepts. This is why there is no outcry from American Buddhists against some of the flagrant abuses already present. As Buddhism continues to grow in popularity, the number of people who see it as an easy way to get rich will increase. We cannot be shy about pointing out when transparent scams masquerade as Buddhism. If Buddhists don't speak out, who will? If hucksters know they can get away with anything because Buddhists are afraid to say anything about it there won't be any real Buddhism left before long.

This is a serious matter.

Whether people like what I say or how I present myself or not doesn't matter a whole lot to me. I feel duty bound to say what needs saying in the best way I can.


*Hey! I just found out that Zero Defex's songs "Drop The A-Bomb On Me" and "Better Way" (aka I Bleed USA) (no YouTube link, but go to Nader's official page & it's there)are being used in official commercials by the Ralph Nader campaign! Gosh.

ADDENDUM

I just saw this in the comments section and I thought it was an interesting observation. Having had some very minor interactions with community the commenter's speaking about, I think this is a very good point. I had considered writing something like this myself, and on the subject of "lifestyle players," which exist in both the BDSM and spiritual communities. I should say, though, I have some deep misgivings about what little I've seen in the consensual BDSM community. I do see some therapeutic usefulness in it. But this may be canceled out by the actual trauma involved. Anyway, I'm no expert & that's about the extent of what I can say on the matter. (I wonder if this is Nina Hartley's post...)

Brad, here is my hunch.

Folks are paying mega bucks to folks like Genpo not just for the verbal teachings.

My hunch, and it is strictly my own opinion, is that a lot of people think they are into being spiritual, but covertly are thrilling to power and to power imbalance.

If they were conscious about this, they'd explore these issues via psychotherapy, or via consensual adult BDSM.

I do not practice BDSM but I am more and more convinced these days that the adult kink community does a far better job than the spiritual seeker's scene, because the kink practitioners are thinking consciously about power, thinking clearly about what they desire, and have learned to communicate, beforehand, what they all want, what the boundaries are.

More than once, Ive been told that there are lots of people who want to be dominated and paddled, but very few who are willing to function as 'tops'--that is, as the dominants who administer the pain.

Why, in the kink scene, are there so few tops, and so many bottoms?

Because in the kink scene, POWER COMES WITH ACCOUNTABILITY. The top has to answer to an ethos of care and pay attention to whether the bottom is signaling for the session to stop. And the top is the one who is answerable if something goes wrong.

But in the spiritual scene, there is no shortage of wanna be gurus/tops. There are lots of bottoms in the spiritual scene, but also plenty of gurus, eager to accept the power offered to them by the bottoms.

Why?

Because IMO, in the spiritual scene, its a set up where the guru/top enjoys total power and zero accountability.

If anything goes wrong, in the spiritual kink scene, all the blame is foisted onto the bottom.

And in the spiritual kink scene, people are going around being unconscious. They're obsessed with power, but unconscious of it, and determined to stay unconscious of it, and there is no way to talk consciously about power, about what one desires, and no safe words a bottom can use to signal that he or she is being traumatized instead of challenged and wants to scene to stop.

In fact, in the spiritual kink scene, you have no way to know if you are walking into someone's BDSM dungeon or not.

At least in BDSM the dungeon is clearly designated as such.

Result is, in the world of BDSM kink, people examine and name their desires and set it up so everyone, the top and bottom, exits the scene feeling satisfied.

Which is more than can be said for many sectors of the so called spiritual scene. I suspect many don't feel they are spiritual unless they are thrilling to a power imbalance.

Brad once wrote how someone at his old Japanese company said that their cartoon stories taught children to worship power--that some benevolent being could come to the rescue, every time.

Some worship Ultraman, or the Science Team.

Others worship Genpo Roshi.

And never examine the deep structure of all this.

And if you pay 50,000 USD, you have an incentive NOT to want to examine this, because its too painful to face that you paid 50 grand to fulfill a child's fantasy of rescue.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

NPR

It's raining here in Tokyo. In about 2 hours I have another meeting with the folks I work for.

I'll be on an NPR radio show called "Day To Day" that's supposed to air on Monday. I'm told it's on in LA from 9-11am on KPCC 89.3fm (though I don't know where in the show it will be.) That is always subject to change, depending on the day's news. You can go to www.npr.org to find out where it'll be on in your area.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

BIG FART™ CIRCLE

Jesus God Almighty help us all. Someone in the comments section posted a link to Genpo Roshi's Big Heart Circle page. Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse in the world of Buddhism in America along comes a "life changing seminar" with one of the "great awakened masters of our time" for just $50,000! No joke, friends. It'll cost you fifty thousand smackers to sit and sniff the big farts™ of Mr. Genpo in a luxury hotel. This is far beyond the most appalling crap I've ever seen in the name of the Dharma. It really has sunk to a new depth of slime and awfulness. I've canceled my appearance at the Young Buddhists Retreat in Massachusetts (whenever they reschedule it) due to their association with Genpo (which I didn't know about when I said yes to it in the first place, I will do better research in the future).

Someone else sent me this link to a page Sock Monkey put up while I've been away in Japan. I'm going to need to have a long talk with him when I get back to California. Not that I'd recommend either of these seminars, but I think you'd get more out of five days with Sock Monkey than five days with Genpo. I'm serious.

What's even sadder about this is that Genpo didn't invent this kind of scam. Pricey fake enlightenment seminars like this are common practice these days. There must be a thousand of them running any day of the week. There is a whole lot of money to be made in this business. As Joshu Sasaki said way back in 1974 when this stuff was only just getting started, "If you have money to give those guys, give it to me instead!"

And don't think I haven't thought about this myself. Cuz I have. When I lost my regular job, the wheels started rolling in my head about what I could do to make ends meet. My rep as a teacher is such that I could probably make some good green charging the clueless big bucks for a chance at a personal "life changing" meeting with the great and wonderful your's truly. Has Genpo been on CNN? I bet I could get even more suckers than him if I really worked it.

In fact about two or three years ago I was offered a chance to lead a luxury cruise ship retreat to South America. I looked into it and I couldn't stomach the thought. Later on I told this story to a friend who knows this scene very well. The organizers had never talked dollars and cents (or sense) to me. But they did say I'd be paid. My friend said they were probably going to offer in the neighborhood of $10,000. Can you imagine? I coulda made ten thousand samolians to spend a week on a cruise ship! Me! Holy crap! Literally...

All this comes up for me the day after I started negotiating a new contract with the company I've been working for. Here I am about to commit to hard labor in the film business when I could earn three times as much hanging out at luxury hotels hobnobbing with the rich and foolish. What the hell am I thinking?

Now please understand. I'm not trying to tell you what a saint I am. Far from it. It's just that I cannot even picture myself charging money for people to be in my presence. Can you? What kind of arrogance is that? Do people really think they can learn how to dismantle their ego by hanging around with someone whose view of himself is so over inflated he thinks it's reasonable to charge thousands of dollars just to hang out with him? Do these people have the ability to think at all? I just don't get it and I hope I never do.

But I see how it works. Now that I'm getting more well-known I see the way some people's eyes light up when I walk into a room. They get way too excited and it scares me. I don't know who they're seeing when they look in my general direction. But it's not real, and I have to work hard sometimes to convince them of that. The "Enlightened Being" they create in their minds seems to be a much more real thing than the actual human being they're projecting that image upon. I know because I've made that same projection myself more times than I'd like to admit. All guys like Genpo do is milk that stuff for whatever it's worth. That is the very opposite of Buddhism. It's sickening.

The Enlightened Beings Club I mentioned in my latest Suicide Girls piece operates in such a way as to enhance each of its members ability to scam the gullible out of their spare change by constantly beefing up each other's reputations. It works just like celebrity-hood in Hollywood. This stuff is so transparent I don't even know why it takes a dork like me to point it out. But I guess that's my lot in life.

Anyhow, that's my rant for the day. Now I'm gonna go out and scout for cool monster books and toys. Just think of how many more I could buy if I held a couple seminars...

It's tempting, it's tempting...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

2008 DOGEN SANGHA RETREAT REPORT


Lemme see... We had 20 participants at the start of the retreat and 16 at the end. Most of those who left had planned to go home early. One guy came from Europe and the jet lag proved to much for him so he opted out early from total sleep deprivation, which was probably a good idea.

A number of people came from Germany for the retreat. Two from Chile. And one guy from Finland. One from the US. The rest were from Japan, though even these were a mix of Americans, Canadians, English people and Japanese. All of these folks came specifically for the Dogen Sangha retreat and not to see me per se. The DS retreat was an on-going thing for about a decade before I ever even attended one, let alone started leading them. So I feel kind of duty bound to keep it the way Nishijima Sensei set it up.

A few of the people who'd been to other retreats were a little put off by the fact that we don't keep strictly silent. It's more or less standard operating procedure at Zen retreats that there is absolutely no talking. Even eye contact between participants is discouraged if not outright forbidden. The DS retreats have never been like that. It's a bit of a different atmosphere.

One woman who came from Germany said she felt it wasn't quite as deep when you allowed talking. I can see her point. Having done both silent and non-silent retreats, my take on it is that the silent ones do feel somehow deeper. But I'm not sure if they're necessarily actually deeper. What I mean is that I feel like Zazen has its own depth. Whether you notice it or not is something else. In that way maybe it's like sleep. While you're sleeping you're not really aware of the depth of sleep. It's more about what you feel like when you wake up. And my feeling following the DS style mostly, but not totally, silent retreats is a bit more stable than the feeling I have following totally silent retreat. After a silent retreat I feel a bit spaced out and funky. It's a good feeling. But it's a bit like being stoned, and there's a comedown just like when you're coming off some primo weed. I don't get that from retreats where a bit of social interaction is allowed.

Uh... what else? It seemed like I had more to say...

There was a funeral on the last day. So we got to listen to them chanting during our final round of Zazen. There was a lot of rain, though no typhoon. That passed us by the night before the retreat began.

I shot some video, which I'll put up after I get back to California. I didn't have enough tape to record the lectures. Which is probably a good thing. I guess they were OK. Seemed like people liked them. Peter Rocca was taping them on some kind of digital audio recorder. So maybe we can put the files up. I kind of improvised this time. Usually I follow Nishijima Sensei's tradition of doing a lecture on the life of Buddha, one on the life of Dogen and one on some aspect of Shobogenzo. But this time I did one on Fukanzazengi and one on Genjo Koan and then winged the rest.

Got some good shots of one of the gigantic spiders that live in the temple. That should be fun.

Guess that's it.

By the way, I'm starting to read the comments again. Things seem generally OK in there lately. It's always funny to see people make broad sweeping statements about what kind of person I am based on what I write, even though they've never met me. It's cute.

I'm at work. Gotta go do stuff.

Bye.

ADDENDUM

I know what I wanted to say. It's related to the above regarding what I'm like (as if that matters anyway, but people seem interested). I observed in my teachers a tendency to keep everything very open. This included being very open about themselves. I don't mean they confessed a lot of sordid details of their pasts. I don't know much about Nishijima's personal history, for example. But they presented themselves very clearly. They were not like the spiritual people I'd encountered before who seemed to hide behind the mask of a generic "spiritual person." They were, instead, very genuine.

My way of imitating that behavior is to be very clear about my own utter lack of holiness. Yeah, I write for a porn site (actually, Suicide Girls is not porn, but so many people say it is). Yeah, I dig Godzilla movies. Yeah, I'm pretty much a stickler for the type of practice I learned and I've got no time for anything else. Yeah, I think certain people are jerks and I enjoy saying so. I also downplay those aspects of my personality that might seem holy. Mostly this is because I've been so burned by "spiritual person" types.

When I was given the task of being a Buddhist teacher, I decided the only way to do it was to be myself. I briefly tried to play the "spiritual person" game, albeit in a very half-assed way. But it didn't work. I don't recommend it at all. It gave me headaches.

Shunryu Suzuki (I think it was him) said it's sometimes helpful to imitate the behavior of saints. I think that's true. But in my own case I've had to try to find a way to do that and still be genuine. That's the tough part.

In any case, it's not about me. I use myself as an example in hopes that might prove useful to others.

Shit. Now I really have to go back to work...

NEW SUICIDE GIRLS ARTICLE (Sept. Something 2008)

I got a new article up on Suicide Girls. Go look.

I got back from the Dogen Sangha annual retreat in Shizuoka, Japan (which is where I am, Japan, I mean, not at the retreat) this afternoon then went around to some fave record stores here in Tokio. Now I'm too bushed to do much more than put a notice up about the new Suicide Girls thing.

Goodnight.

More tomorrow.

Maybe...

Friday, September 19, 2008

TOKYO, TYPHOONS and ZEN


I just arrived in Tokyo. Too jet-lagged to post. Tomorrow is the start of our annual Dogen Sangha 4-day Zazen retreat at Tokei-in temple in Shizuoka. And a typhoon is bearing down upon us. Will the shinkansen run tomorrow? Who knows? Will we get stopped halfway down there? Don't know. This year's retreat should be interesting.

Those of you who'd like to experience a shorter, typhoon-free Zen retreat in Santa Monica can sign up for the one at Hill Street Center tomorrow. Details are at the link on your left. I won't be there (obviously). But that just makes things better, I hear.

I liked some of the comments regarding the video I put up last time. A few people got it, and that's always nice. As a couple people said, a "real" debate would have been an even bigger joke than the one I staged with Sock Monkey. It could only prove who was a better debater and who could convince more people he was right. I have no doubt whatsoever that Genpo would "win" such a debate hands down. And so what? After all, I'm suggesting real practice that takes hard work with no definable results and he gives you a big ol' brain trip in an afternoon. And more people eat Big Macs than brown rice, too...

There's a truckload of extremely good reasons why you don't want to rip open the doors of your subconscious too quickly. If you're not fully prepared for what's behind those doors, they're better left shut tight until such time as you are. It's a dangerous game to fuck with people's heads.

I'm sure some will say I don't take the dharma seriously enough when the see that video. But to me it's guys like Ken Wilber and Genpo Roshi, along with a couple dozen others I won't name here, who don't take it seriously — at all. It's because I take this stuff so seriously that what they do bugs me so much.

Oh and to those of you who think I have the emotional maturity of a 12-year old I say, "Poopy head! Poopy head!!"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Brad Debates Genpo Roshi About Big Mind™

My publishers pointed me to this item on the Elephant magazine website. This matter is such ancient history to me that I'd pretty well forgotten about it. It has its origins in this article I wrote for Suicide Girls criticizing Genpo Roshi's Big Mind™ process, which is a very dangerous mind-control game masquerading as a gateway drug to Zen practice. Of course there are a vast number of spiritual scams out there and I don't usually point any of them out specifically. But since Genpo claims his process is related with Soto style Zen practice I wanted to distance myself from it as much as possible.

Anyway, that video of Ken Wilber licking Genpo's privates up there on that site I linked to above made me puke so hard I had to respond. Here is a video I made for that purpose. Enjoy!

Special thanks to John Graves for the music, Leilani Monfort for the superb camera work and, of course, Sock Monkey for a stellar performance.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

MORE VIDEOS (The Clubhouse & Akron, 1990) + COMMENTS ABOUT COMMENTS

I put up a couple more videos.

LIFE AT THE CLUBHOUSE 1990


In HARDCORE ZEN I wrote about some of the punk rock houses I lived in and here's one of them. The editor of that book refused to believe that I lived in a place where there was a hole in the floor of the bathroom through which one could look into the dining room. Here is photographic proof. Check out the hairstyle! Oh the pain...

AKRON, OHIO 1990


This is a continuation of the same video, showing what Akron looked like at its worst. It has gotten much better since then. 1990 was probably the absolute bottom of the city's long decline that started in the mid-1970's.

These videos are excerpts from a video letter I made for my friends Monica and Maureen Martinez in Chicago when I moved back to Akron after living in Chicago for three years.

*****

OK. On to another topic. At least five people have independently written e-mails to me in the past few weeks bemoaning the state of the comments section of this blog. One person said, "the comments section in your blog is an almost total cesspit. The information content has gone to near zero." Others have expressed pretty much the same sentiment.

I'd like to close the comments section and replace it with something else. But I need help. What I'd like to have is a forum something like what Noah Levine has on his Dharma Punx site. Membership would be required (but would be free). It would be divided into topics. And it would be monitored. Spam and inappropriate content would be deleted, an administrator would post comments when things were getting strange in there or would close threads that went astray and that sort of thing.

Trouble is, ain't no way I'm gonna monitor the thing! I don't have the patience for it. The Internet just bugs me. Plus my connection speed is like 1995. I log on to a page, go for a pee, get a glass of water, read the complete works of Tolstoy, go on vacation in West Africa, start my own country and conquer the known world and when I come back the page has just... about... finished... loading. I really don't want to be spending my entire day on monitoring a forum. I'd link it to this blog and to my website and I'd stop by occasionally. But that would be about it for my involvement. I think Noah does about the same with his thing.

So is anybody out there computer savvy enough and motivated enough to do this?

Applicants please write to spoozilla@gmail.com

Monday, September 08, 2008

OLD MOVIES

OK, all you people who subscribe to my YouTube Channel, I've finally put some new stuff up there. I just uploaded a bunch of my old teenage movies. All of these were done on Super 8 film (not video, kids!) around 1979-1980 when I was 15 and 16 years old. The film was silent. The music was dubbed on ten years or so later when I transfered them to video (God, even the video transfers are ancient!). I was the director of all of these masterpieces, although I didn't understand what a director was at the time and thus gave everyone else credit.

My friends and I would get together in the morning and make a vague plan of what the movie was gonna be. Then we'd go out and shoot it. There was no editing because, even though I knew how to edit and had a film editing machine, I was also lazy. Plus it was more fun the way we did it. When we needed a special effects scene I just told the actors to wait and did some "animation" with various toys and models. When the indicator showed we were almost out of film we'd make up an ending.

Here they are:

BUCK LAZERBREATH AND ROCKY COSMIC DISORDERS ON THE PLANET OF THE DINOSAURS



Note the impressive dinosaur animation effects influenced by the work of Ray Harryhausen and Willis O'Brien!

BUCK LAZERBREATH AND ROCKY COSMIC DISORDERS MEET THE SPACE NAZIS



I apologize to anyone who is offended by the Space Rabbi and his Bar Mitzvah gun. We were teenagers in WASP-y Wadsworth, Ohio. What did we know? Don't miss my cameo as the guy who hands Rocky the Instant Space Rabbi potion!

AIRPLANE 1979



This parody of the "Airport" films was done long before the movie "Airplane!" So there! I should sue. Sorry you can't read the title cards. They were blurry to begin with and YouTube compressed them to nothingness. Note the magnificent special effects inspired by the work of Irwin Allen!

IKO MAN AND STUD MAN MEET THE EVIL DOCTOR CHAIN REACTION



I didn't know anything about lighting. This was shot on a typical overcast Ohio day and, as a result, it's hard to see what's going on in a good deal of the film. I've tried to correct this a little.

INVASION OF THE JANITOR PEOPLE



This is the only one of our films with an actual girl in it. Tim Brown knew one and got her to appear. God we were a bunch of nerds! Note my small role as the scientist who comes up with a way to defeat the Janitor People.

VOYAGE TO THE OUTER SPACE TREK



My friend Dale Houston and I were the only ones available the day we did this one. So we each operated the camera when the other one was on screen. Note the amazing special effects influenced by the work of Douglas Trumball and John Dykstra. The control panel on the space ship is actually my effects board from my guitar and a Korg synthesizer.

DIMENTIA 13 "WE ARE"



This has nothing to do with the other films. It's my band Dimentia 13 on a public access cable show in Chicago in 1988 called The Friday Club. The song is from our debut album released by Midnight Records in 1985 or '86 ("our" is a misnomer since I played all instruments on that record). Note the dates all you other bands called Dimentia 13 and Dementia 13! (I once had an e-mail exchange with the leader of one of the other Dimentia 13's who told me Francis Ford Copola, director of the film Dementia 13, contacted him because he'd heard about his band. No, he'd heard about my band. We were the ones with 5 albums out, dude.) That shirt was made of polyester and felt awful to wear. That's my real hair, although I didn't usually tease it up like that.

Have fun watching!

Friday, September 05, 2008

TREATING LIGHT THINGS AS IF THEY'RE HEAVY

Zazen tomorrow at Hill Street Center. Details are in the links to your left. Don't forget to bring a crisp new $5 bill with you. The rent I'm paying to host these things ain't gettin' paid in good vibes!

When I was at the Great Sky Sesshin last month, my friend Greg Fain, from the San Francisco Zen Center, and I got assigned a job during work period to plane off a 1/4 inch of the bottom of a door so it would shut easier. While the two of us were carrying the door down the hill to the workshop, Greg made a mocking show of it being really heavy, which it wasn't. Then he said, "Dogen said we should treat light things as if they're heavy!"

I'm not sure exactly where that quote comes from. But it means to treat everything like it has great value, no matter what it is. When you're carrying a bag of trash out to the dumpster you should treat it like it's full of precious antique china. Don't read the paper while you eat, it's insulting to your food. That attitude. This is Buddhist morality.

I'm working on my book now and I came across the following passage. I don't like quoting myself because that's insufferably pretentious. But since some of you have e-mailed and asked to see previews of the book, I'll offer it for what it's worth:

The Middle Way was not some kind of spiritual path designed to make us all holy with shiny pink haloes on our noggins. It was a way to live a life that wasn’t a piece of shit. It was a way to find happiness and stability in an unhappy and unstable world. That’s really all any of us are looking for, when it comes down to it. The stability of the Middle Way comes in our practice of zazen, which is the actual physical and mental practice of stability and happiness. A bit of zazen in the morning and a bit in the evening radiates throughout the rest of the day and night and makes everything better. That’s all there is to it.

Morality is an important part of finding real happiness because we are all interconnected. I can’t be happy if I make the people around me miserable under the mistaken impression that their misery is not intimately connected with mine. So if I don’t want to be miserable I need to behave morally toward everyone I encounter. In Buddhism behaving morally doesn't mean following some fixed code of conduct. It means being careful.

But another aspect of Buddhist morality is that you have to do your part. You’re not here just for yourself. You’re here for everyone and everything you encounter. Your role is to do and say the things that need to be done and said from your unique perspective. God is too far removed from the universe to see himself clearly without splitting himself into a bazillion eyes and ears that watch over all aspects of himself. Whatever perspective you have is the most valuable thing in the universe. You need to be fully yourself. At the same time, you need to completely forget any idea you have about yourself. Or, if you can’t forget it, at least ignore it, secure in the knowledge that whatever you think you are isn’t what you really are.


Don't really know why but that seemed to resonate this evening.

See you all tomorrow!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

ZEN WRAPPED IN KARMA progress report

Check out this work of genius I scrawled on a Starbucks bag yesterday. I don't know if this gag has been done before. Seems like Gary Larson would have to have thought of it. Or somebody. Maybe this is the most common one-panel dinosaur gag in the history of one-panel dinosaur gags. Anyway here you have my version.

I also have a joke I made up. Here it is:

Q: What do you call someone who has sex exclusively with homeless people?
A: A hobosexual!

Let's see how many people comment about that one.

Anyway, I'm busy at work on the final edit of Zen Wrapped In Karma Dipped In Chocolate, my third book, which comes out from New World Library in February. This is the critical edit, the one I cannot change any further after it's been submitted. So I'm paying careful attention.

Which brings me to another rant I've always wanted to post. People sometimes ask me to make a list of my favorite Buddhist books. Problem is I don't read many Buddhist books. Most of the stuff on the shelves at the Buddhism section of the local Books-R-Us bore me to tears. I have a lot of reference books that I check when I'm writing. But most of those I don't read for fun.

One of the things that irks me about a great number of the books sharing shelf space with mine is that so many of the "authors" there don't actually write anything. They lecture and their students make tapes, then the students transcribe the master's words of wisdom and make them into a book. In some cases this is OK. Like when a teacher dies and students want to commemorate what she said. I also still like all of Shunryu Suzuki's books, which were made in this way. A few good books put together in this manner do manage to slip out. In these cases it's usually stated in the introduction that the book is the transcription of lectures.

But when someone makes a career out of "writing" this way and makes no effort to let folks know he's never actually sat down and written anything in his holy life... Well, let's just say I'm not impressed. These "writers" exist on the same level as airhead starlets who "write" their tell-all autobiographies by sitting next to their swimming pools and babbling into a tape recorder then letting a real writer turn it into something that they can make a zillion dollars on. Feh, I say! Feh!

Maybe I'm just cranky cuz I've been slaving over this thing for so long. And because I've worked so hard at making myself look like a shit-head in this book.

Back to work!