Authenticity in Los Angeles

I just got back from Los Angeles and boy are my brains tired.

I always find that shorter distances are more difficult than longer ones when it comes to jet lag. I can usually recover from a trip from LA to Tokyo, with a time difference of ten hours, in a couple days. But it always seems like it takes me a week to recover from the three hour time difference between Ohio and California. So I’m all spaced out right now.

And, of course, as soon as I leave Ohio, the weather gets nice here. I think the temperatures were warmer on average in Akron last week than they were in Los Angeles.

I did two Zen events while in California, one all-day zazen micro-retreat at the Hill Street Center in Santa Monica and a talk at Against The Stream, Noah Levine’s place in Hollywood. I also appeared on Suicide Girls radio with hosts Nicole Powers and Darrah De Jour. The other guests were two women who work at The Dominion, an S&M; club on Venice Blvd. in LA. Snow Mercy was a tall dominant and Koko was a teeny little submissive. It was a pretty interesting chat.

We also filmed some more of the documentary they’re making about me. I’m determined that this will not be the standard type of reverential fluff-piece that usually comes out when people are doing documentaries about so-called “spiritual teachers.” So I’ve been doing my best to try and trash any hint of that. Hopefully the finished product will at least be funny and entertaining. The photos on this post are stills from last week’s shoot.

I think it’s really vital to destroy the image that has been built up of what a “spiritual teacher” is supposed to be. I feel like no good can possibly come of the belief in supposedly perfected beings. They simply do not exist.

On the other hand I have no doubt I’d be far more successful in the way that term is usually defined if I just played the role that’s expected of someone in my position rather than constantly questioning it. I just don’t see that as a way to do anyone any good. And not only that, I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoy acting like an idiot in front of a camera or an audience.

People in this Eastern spirituality business often talk a lot about something they call “authenticity.” But usually what they call authenticity seems to me more like fitting into a mold of what someone else imagines authenticity ought to look like. I think it’s time someone tried being truly authentic for a change. It’s more fun that way anyhow.

67 Responses

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  1. Harry
    Harry March 18, 2012 at 10:53 am |


  2. Harry
    Harry March 18, 2012 at 11:05 am |

    Hee hee, ye Wild Colonial Boyz ain't fast enough for the original of the species. Nyuk Nyuk.

    Blessins of St. Patreek on blighted livers everywhere!

    'Authenticity' is a very intewesting angle, by-the-way… the whole Japanesey fetish thing creeps me out a bit too at times (most times it's just none of my business tho).

    The notion of zen practice and 'authenticity' can have an interesting bearing on what we might term 'the arts' (whatever tha hell 'they' are any more)… and on our regular everyday behaviours.

    Just to stir things up (who, moi!?), and to poke at the smelly old carcass of the late 'mindfulness' horsey: is there, say, an 'authentic' way to take a shit as opposed to an 'inauthentic' way to dump one?

    An 'authentic' way to play bass, as opposed to an inauthentic way?

    …and, shazaam…

    An 'authentic' way to do zazen as opposed an inauthentic way…?

    In the face of staid and stilted institutionalisation, or other cultural/social/historical stasis, the tendancy might be to swing to extremes where, actually, a simple practical point might clarify the matter in a fuller way.



  3. K Grey
    K Grey March 18, 2012 at 11:15 am |

    One of my random Twitterings comes to mind: "Authenticity" simply means you are the author of your own BS."

  4. anon #108
    anon #108 March 18, 2012 at 11:41 am |

    Speaking of authentic Eastern spiritual teachings…

    I (‘jiblet’) have written a review of Mike Luetchford’s translation of, and commentary on, Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika – the same text that was translated, with editing and commentarial help from Brad, by Gudo Nishijima and recently published as “Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way”. Mike’s version is called “Between Heaven and Earth”. The review includes criticism of Gudo’s translation and Brad’s involvement in it. (Wars have started over less.) You can read it HERE.;=1

  5. anon #108
    anon #108 March 18, 2012 at 11:52 am |

    Hmm. I can't figure out why the hypertext link isn't working. I suggest copying and pasting.

  6. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 18, 2012 at 12:31 pm |

    Authenticity issue is fab.

    Who determines authenticity?

    What is not what it is?

    What is what you do not want it to be?

  7. Jinzang
    Jinzang March 18, 2012 at 12:53 pm |

    Shunyata, as Luetchford makes clear in his introduction, is a term used in the earliest Buddhist texts to refer to a real state in experience, not merely an abstract notion, and where appropriate – by no means always – his translation adopts the earlier understanding.

    The "earliest Buddhist texts" do not use the term shunyata in the same sense as the Perfection of Wisdom sutras or Nagarjuna use them. Trying to treat Buddhism as a single philosophy where terms are used univocally can only lead to confusion.

    Nagarjuna and the tradition that followed him treat shunyata as a negation or an absence. Taking it as a thing or an experience misses the point badly.

    This is not a niggling point about an outdated philosophy. If you go looking for something in your meditation, you may find it, but i won't be Zen.

  8. roman
    roman March 18, 2012 at 12:55 pm |

    to support Brad's opinion I have knowsn for a few years, I wrote this The Show Called Zen

  9. Harry
    Harry March 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm |

    I think that if we look at Nagarjuna from the point of view of his being simply a clever philosopher with a negative philosophical method then it might be possible to think of his idea of shunyata as just a philosophical negation.

    But it seems to me that Nagarjuna was an *authentic* Buddhist ancestor, and that his position was not nearly so limited.

    I agree with Murti: "Negation is not total annulment but comprehension without abstraction".

    That, if we want to test it and realise it, is something we are required to do, very much in keeping with the Buddhist tradition…

    Is this really 'experiencing shunyata'? I think so; othewise Buddhist philosophy is meaningless nonsense and Nagajuna was a nihilist, not an proponant of a 'middle way'.



  10. Harry
    Harry March 18, 2012 at 1:28 pm |

    …the active, experiential principle 'learned' therein is generally discussed in terms of prajna, of course.



  11. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 18, 2012 at 1:45 pm |


    (that's *two* 1's in a row, Harry)

  12. Harry
    Harry March 18, 2012 at 2:13 pm |


  13. alan sailer
    alan sailer March 18, 2012 at 2:31 pm |


    It's bodhisattva, not bunnisattva.

    Unless your vow is to save all candied Easter eggs….


  14. anon #108
    anon #108 March 18, 2012 at 3:19 pm |

    The "earliest Buddhist texts" do not use the term shunyata in the same sense as the Perfection of Wisdom sutras or Nagarjuna use them. Trying to treat Buddhism as a single philosophy where terms are used univocally can only lead to confusion.

    That's exactly how it seemed to me at first, Jinz – and still does, sometimes. BUT….Harry puts it well enough.

    If you go looking for something in your meditation, you may find it, but i won't be Zen.

    I think I see what you mean – "emptiness" as an state of experience to be sought after. Not good. Not what zazen is about. Fair enough. But it's not like that. No one, certainly not Mike Luetchford, is suggesting we go looking for emptiness. But there is a state that naturally occurs in zazen; a state of absence of intentional thinking and perceiving, absence of discrimination – Murti's "comprehension without abstraction"(?). Is that state completely unrelated to the abstract notion of absence of self-nature in phenomena usually understood and perceived to be substantially self-existent?

    What was Nagarjuna trying to tell us? I'm not sure. I'm not sure, either, that Harry's right when he says "…otherwise Buddhist philosophy is meaningless nonsense and Nagarjuna was a nihilist, not an proponant of a 'middle way'. But it's well worth considering.

  15. Harry
    Harry March 18, 2012 at 3:38 pm |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. Harry
    Harry March 18, 2012 at 3:42 pm |


    Nagarjuna speaks pretty clearly about the nature of understanding in our 'being empty'… he's clearly not talking about just kicking a philosophical ball about:

    MMK Chap. 22 v. 13 & 14 from Mike L trans:

    "By whom is held firmly the understanding that a solid tathagata "exists," conjecturing, he would also imagine "he does not exist" in the ceased state."

    "And with this being empty ["sunye asmin"] in respect of self-nature, the thought is never plausible [That] beyond cessation a buddha either "is" or "is not".

    So, the point in a buddha's 'being empty' is not simply to affirm or refute terms or, as Dogen expressed it vividly and positively in Genjo-koan, 'The Buddha way, basically, is leaping clear of abundance and lack'.



  17. Pedant
    Pedant March 18, 2012 at 3:46 pm |

    Trying to to be authentic is not being authentic it's trying to be what you think authentic is. Being authentic is probably more about being congruent that is being entirely what you are while not trying to be what you think you should be or what others think you should be. Or not!

  18. Sally anne - anne with a E
    Sally anne - anne with a E March 18, 2012 at 4:09 pm |

    Hi Brad

    Will you please describe in your own words "Authenticity".

    And also how does one know or spot the difference between inauthentic and authentic.

    Thank you in advance

  19. anon #108
    anon #108 March 18, 2012 at 4:29 pm |

    (…)he's clearly not talking about just kicking a philosophical ball about.

    Agreed, H. No doubt about it.

    Mike's interpretive version of those verses (from the "Examination of Buddha-Nature" chapter) is easier to read, I think:

    "Someone who believes firmly that a concrete buddha exists
    Would also imagine that when he enters Nirvana he ceases to exist.

    But since this real Buddha is beyond [the concept of] self-determination,
    It is inappropriate to think about whether a buddha exists or does not exist after cessation."

    Interesting choice, Harry. And better understood in the context of the whole chapter. Of course.

  20. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles March 18, 2012 at 4:59 pm |

    Malcolm, I can't get the link to fly for your article (either one), but would certainly like to read it.

    As to authenticity:

    "What others criticize you for cultivate, for that is you."

    -Jean Cocteau

    Hey Brad, isn't that the shoplifting movie director guy in bed with you in the photo (I mean besides what looks to be a female)? Is he doing this bio thing, too?

  21. anon #108
    anon #108 March 18, 2012 at 5:11 pm |

    Hi John,

    Hmm again. You could try the link in the first post here:;=7911

    …if it works. Or go to Amazon UK –> Between Heaven and Earth, Michael Eido Luetchford –> reviews. Apparently I can't put it up the Amazon US site unless and until I buy a book from Amazon US. Is this true? Anyone know?

  22. anon #108
    anon #108 March 18, 2012 at 5:31 pm |

    As for the authenticity thing as explained by Brad, and Roman, and Harry – I agree.

  23. anon #108
    anon #108 March 18, 2012 at 5:34 pm |

    …and Pedant.

  24. anon #108
    anon #108 March 18, 2012 at 5:49 pm |

    …and anonymous. Nite nite.

  25. Harry
    Harry March 18, 2012 at 5:59 pm |

    "Interesting choice, Harry. And better understood in the context of the whole chapter. Of course."

    And better understood again in the context from whence it came, M; that is, *authentic* practice 😉



  26. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles March 18, 2012 at 6:18 pm |

    Yeah the Zen Forum International finally got me to Amazon UK, 108 thanks!

    I especially enjoyed Anders Honore's insightful comments regarding your review on ZFI. So, win win.

  27. Jinzang
    Jinzang March 18, 2012 at 6:59 pm |

    nalrestExplaining what I think is the relation between emptiness and practice is a little involved, so I posted it on my blog instead of here.

    Hope you don't mind the blog whoring.

  28. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner March 18, 2012 at 7:11 pm |

    Harry, do they celebrate St Patrick's Day in Ireland the way Americans do? Over here it's a big drinking fest. But it seems more popular on the East Coast and Midwest than on the West Coast of the USA. Maybe because there are more Irish immigrants in the East.

    Culturally curiously yours,


  29. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner March 18, 2012 at 7:13 pm |

    Hey Brad, isn't that the shoplifting movie director guy in bed with you in the photo (I mean besides what looks to be a female)? Is he doing this bio thing, too?

    Good spotting! Pirooz Kaleyah is the director of both. My doc started filming first, but SFAA got finished much quicker.

  30. Khru
    Khru March 18, 2012 at 9:20 pm |

    This is the worst comment thread ever: far, far worse than that shit-fest from last March.

  31. Jamal
    Jamal March 18, 2012 at 9:49 pm |

    Forget about Pirooz.
    Who is the little hottie between you two?
    She seems authentic.

  32. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi March 18, 2012 at 10:56 pm |

    My general rule is that anyone who is concerned about authenticity is harboring deep doubts about their own authenticity.

  33. anon #108
    anon #108 March 19, 2012 at 3:24 am |

    Yes john e, Anders is a clever bloke (rarely an insult in my book). Some of the other comments were very helpful too.

    Thanks for the link to your blog post, Jinz. More than one way to skin a cat – that's all I got 🙂

  34. Harry
    Harry March 19, 2012 at 4:04 am |


    The quick answer to your question is 'yes', St.Patrick's day is basically a booze-fest.

    Every town has a St.Patrick's Day parade, which lends a social element for people, and is fun for kids, but the big thing is getting smashed on booze really.

    It's a bit like Halloween over here: It's an old Celtic festival that never went away, but it's like we imported elements of what we already did in from the US, so now we have plastic pumpkins where we used to have lanterns made from turnips (seriously), and we have 'trick or treat' that was never a big part of it 'in my day'. Likewise, on Paddy's Day, we have bright green leprachaun hats and red wigs and all that Irish kitch stuff… It's like we've bought into what somebody else's distorted image of Irish-ness… even Mr. Potatohead is at it!



  35. anon #108
    anon #108 March 19, 2012 at 4:45 am |

    I got some more, Jinz-

    From your blog post (no comment section, so I’ll respond here) : "The philosophy takes this form because it was developed out of the experience of meditation. The experience of things as they are is beyond conceptualization. Hence the philosophy of emptiness, which is shaped, by this experience…” That sounds pretty darn close to Mike L's understanding of emptiness, I'd say. And his translation of shunyata seeks to make that point. (Note: Mike makes what I think is a very valid distinction between shunya, the adjective ['empty, bare, raw, unadorned], and shunyata, the abstract substantive, which he reads as "the simple natural state of action that is empty of thinking and perception…the "zero" point at which opposites are in balance…neither mental nor perceptive discrimination").

    By “remov[ing] the false concepts which obscure things as they are” (your phrase) we can become “happy, free of hindrances” – as Nags writes in his opening dedication.

    So “a purely negative critique”? I understand what you mean – Nag’s method is to deconstruct – but the outcome, what’s left, while conceptually empty, is experientially positive.

  36. Sally Anne -Anne with a E
    Sally Anne -Anne with a E March 19, 2012 at 5:01 am |

    Brad thank you for avoiding my question.

    Your actions speak volumes

  37. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 19, 2012 at 6:40 am |

    Sally Anne,

    What do you think 'authentic' means in this context – a person operating an establishment in the 'Eastern Spirituality' business?

  38. Fred
    Fred March 19, 2012 at 7:45 am |

    Sally Anne said : "Will you please describe in your own words "Authenticity".

    And also how does one know or spot the difference between inauthentic and authentic."

    How does one recognize no Self upon
    the Absolute. One doesn't. One is
    No Self upon the Absolute.

    The differentiation between
    authenticity and non-authenticity
    is of concern to identification
    with an ego and its place in a
    hierarchy of other egos.

    No Self upon the Absolute has no
    concern with dualistic demarcations
    It is the Authentic, the Unborn and
    the Undead here now.

  39. Fred
    Fred March 19, 2012 at 8:15 am |

    As for Trungpa meeting with a Sufi
    master, the master's name was Jack

  40. Mysterion
    Mysterion March 19, 2012 at 9:04 am |

    "I think it's time someone tried being truly authentic for a change"

    I think so…

    If you are employed by "the state," then "the state" wants you to carry the appropriate "state" papers. Only the 'law cult' few envision such a future for Buddhism in general and DSI in particular.

    The state:
    1. Do you have your credential?
    2. Do you have your fingerprint card?
    3. Do you have your TB card?
    4. Do you have your _____ card?

    You start feeling like a card dealer (e.g. Reno/Vegas).

    In Zen, what would be the point?

    I have long maintained that Zen is a party of one – even if you are in a big DoJo with 50 other people or Haiku DoJo with 12, you are still there 'by yourself.' Or a "temple" with _____.

    BTW, my sister is a retired shift manager at the MGM if you want a job dealing 21.

    Just saying…

  41. Manny Furious
    Manny Furious March 19, 2012 at 9:11 am |

    Well, "authenticity" is a word I often use when talking about "gurus." However, I thought using that word clarified my own thoughts and feelings, when, it seems–as language is apt to do– that I was probably sharing only one definition of the word (my own).

    When I say that authenticity is important from a teacher (of any kind, really), I'm saying that from a more Heidegger-ian standpoint. That that person is who she/he is–nothing more or less. They don't put on too much of a show.

    This is, of course, the opposite of most American teachers of "Eastern" practices. As has been mentioned already, the Eastern-ism becomes fetishised, as do certain vague, mythical attributes often associated to the so-called Eastern Mystic.

    To me–and I could be wrong– Mr. Warner comes across as authentic. Not because he has direct dharma lineage to someone in Japan. But because he seems like a real person living a real life in the real world (whatever that means). Of course, he plays up the "Hardcore" aspect of his practice, but I would argue there's a difference between having a "hook" and being inauthentic. Most things, to make anyone interested, need a hook–and different hooks play to different personalities and so hooks are necessary, whereas personas are not.

  42. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 19, 2012 at 9:19 am |

    Authenticity is subjective.

    No subject no object.

  43. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles March 19, 2012 at 9:31 am |

    Jinzag at 6:59 PM. Thanks for the link. IMO it can be summed up in two words: neti neti.

  44. Seagal Rinpoche
    Seagal Rinpoche March 19, 2012 at 9:50 am |

    Wisdom is to see that there is nothing to search for. If you live with a difficult person, that’s nirvana. Perfect. If you’re miserable, that’s it. And I’m not saying to be passive, not to teak action; then you would be trying to hold nirvana as a fixed state. It’s never fixed, but always changing. There is no implicaiton of ‘doing nothing.’ But deeds done that are born of this understanding are free of anger and judgment. No expectation, just pure and compassionate action.

  45. buddy
    buddy March 19, 2012 at 11:51 am |

    Just been reading Dogen man Uchiyama talking about emptiness as interdependence, that nothing exists except in relation to everything else. He quotes an old scripture which seemed salient to the points about negation/absence being made here: 'Truly seeing the aggregation of the world, the view of nonexistence does not arise. Truly seeing the nonsubstantiality of the world, the view of existence does not arise. The view that all things exist is one extreme; the view that nothing exists is the other extreme. Being apart from these 2 extremes, the Tathagata teaches the dharma of the Middle Way: because this exists, that exists; because this arises, that arises.'

  46. Max Entropy
    Max Entropy March 19, 2012 at 12:02 pm |

    "IMO it can be summed up in two words: neti neti." – john e mumbles

    That's not two words. That's one word repeated twice. What kind of inauthentic scam are you attempting to perpetrate?

  47. Weasel Tracks
    Weasel Tracks March 19, 2012 at 12:34 pm |

    Max Entropy said…
    "IMO it can be summed up in two words: neti neti." – john e mumbles

    That's not two words. That's one word repeated twice. What kind of inauthentic scam are you attempting to perpetrate?

    That's one word repeated once.

  48. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 19, 2012 at 1:08 pm |

    Conformity, Inauthenticity, Lostness.

    We were born into a world of quiet conformity.
    Initially everything we do and say and think and believe
    have been done and said and thought and believed before.
    The activities we regard as worthy of our time and effort (learning, work, play),
    the ultimate values and meanings we pursue (achievement, love, children),
    and the particular styles and forms thru which we pursue these goals
    have all been provided by our various human cultures.
    How different our lives are from the lives of ancient 'cavemen'!

    Unless we find ways to wrest control of our own lives from society,
    all of our decisions will continue to be made for us
    by the unnoticed forces of the cultures in which we live.
    We may not be told which spouse to 'choose' or which job to take,
    but how free are we to reject both marriage and work as basic styles of life?
    How have we been carried along so successfully by culture without noticing it?

    'They' even hide the process by which 'they' have quietly relieved us
    of the 'burden' of making choices for ourselves.
    It remains a complete mystery who has really done the choosing.
    We are carried along by the 'nobody', without making any real choices, becoming ever more deeply ensnared in inauthenticity. This process can be reversed only if we explicitly bring ourselves back from our lostness in the 'they'. But this bringing-back must have that kind of being by the neglect of which we have lost ourselves in inauthenticity.

    Who Am I?

    But if we notice our conformity, inauthenticity, & lostness,
    perhaps we have the possibility of emerging from our cultural cocoon
    and creating lives that we clearly own.
    Initially we are creatures of our genetic make-up and cultural conditioning.
    And if we do not notice our conformity and find ways to retrieve our beings,
    we will remain in our culturally-given, inauthentic selves all our lives.

    However, in addition to being products of human culture,
    we are also our powerful and pervasive internal threat-to-being.
    On this foundation, we can begin to construct our Authentic Existence.

    How Do We Become More Authentic?

    What can reverse the process of sinking deeper and deeper into the 'they'?
    How can we extract ourselves from our conformity, rise above our enculturation?
    How is it possible to become more whole, centered, & integrated
    in a world that prevents precisely these qualities from emerging?
    Beginning as conformists whose 'decisions' have already been made by culture,
    how can we become more free, unified, & focused?

    Our Existential Predicament—perceived, perhaps, as ontological anxiety—
    is the rope by which we can climb out of the pit of inauthenticity;
    it is the handle by which we can grip our own beings.

    First we must acknowledge our ontological anxiety.
    This includes peeling away the protective evasions we have so cleverly woven
    to protect ourselves from the deepest truth of our being.

    Once we have revived our ontological anxiety, we must keep it alive,
    not allow it to die away into comfortable obscurity once again.
    Instead of letting our being-towards-death fade back
    into the diversionary small-talk of the 'they',
    we must focus our lives around this 'threat'.
    Then our ontological anxiety can become the light of our being
    —purifying, refining, & integrating
    our otherwise diffuse, preoccupied, & fragmented existence.
    In the light (or in the shadow) of this constant internal threat-to-being,
    we are empowered to choose our Authentic projects-of-being
    —those basic endeavors that correlate best with our ontological anxiety.

  49. Kyle
    Kyle March 19, 2012 at 1:42 pm |

    Brad, if I may ask, what is your view or feeling on things such as existential crisis, existential despair? While I'm sure others have various opinions to share on this topic, I am interested as to what you in particular might say on this topic, out of curiosity and personal relevance.

  50. Wes
    Wes March 19, 2012 at 1:56 pm |


    It sounds like you are still leading an interesting life!

    I have a question for you:

    My wife and I have purchased all of your books new. We also have an e-reader, but the price of the books are the same, or sometimes more!

    Is there any way to get a deal from the publisher if you already own the printed book? I'm not being cheap, but really, the e-book has to cost a lot less than the printed book.

    Thanks for considering it!

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