BABY, I’M BORED

Today’s Los Angeles Times has a cover story called “Underwhelmed by It All: A Multi-tasking Generation is Not Easily Entertained.” The article, which you can read on-line by clicking the title to this article, takes about three pages to inform us that, in spite of unprecedented access to nearly limitless forms of entertainment a mere mouse click away, today’s young people are bored by what’s on offer. It’s not really a new idea. Bruce Springsteen had a song out called “57 Channels and Nothing’s On” back in 1992. And long before that people noticed that 3 networks and a handful of UHF channels all blaring away 24/7 didn’t have a whole lot to offer. Yet it still seems like the basic idea driving the information revolution (or whatever we’re calling it) is that if there were only a few more channels/webpages/blogs, etc. then we just might be able to find at least one thing interesting among all of that noise. Hasn’t happened yet. I’m betting it won’t ever.

The article came out the same day Nishijima put up some new stuff on his blog all about his childhood. He writes, “It had become very common for me to be wandering outside, going to the cinema, looking for secondhand books, and so forth. In short, it had become very difficult for me to regulate my daily life, and even though it was very uncomfortable for me, it was completely impossible for me to regulate myself.” So even nearly a hundred years ago, wandering aimlessly looking for entertainment didn’t make people happy.

And here I am pointlessly typing away for an audience of bored web surfers idling bouncing from blog to blog hoping to stumble upon one useful thing out there in a blizzard of noise and garbage.

My feeling these days is that there’s really just a limit to the amount of useful or even interesting stuff out there. For example, people often ask me to recommend books for them to read to deepen their understanding of Buddhism. I always mention the same handful. Basically Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, Nishijima’s To Meet The Real Dragon if you can find it…. and that’s pretty much it. I know there’s a mountain of stuff in the Buddhism section of any well stocked New Age book shop. But whenever I go leafing through those pages, it’s rare that anything strikes me as being worth taking home and spending time with. Sometimes I’ll buy a historical thing like Hajime Nakamura’s Gotama Buddha series. But that’s more because I’m not as conversant with Buddhist history as I should be. Otherwise, my favroite reading is stuff like One Fine Stooge, a newly published biography on Larry Fine of the Three Stooges (I’m not kidding, I loved that book). I also just started one called Guity Pleasures of the Horror Film, which is about 10 years old, but I only just discovered it. It’s got a whole chapter on the making of When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth!

I don’t enjoy reading most of what’s published under the heading of Buddhism. It’s usually trite and boring, if not outright obnoxious. It’s another case of 57 Channels and Nothing On as far as I can see. Of course, there may be plenty of good stuff out there I just haven’t noticed. Since I so seldom venture into the Buddhism section anyway, it’s certainly possible.

The shere (did I spell that right, it looks wrong) amount of information out there these days leads to a tendency never to go into any great depth with anything. I mean, how can you devote a thousand hours to studying just one thing when there’s soooo much more out there? How can you settle on Zazen, for example, when there must be a quadrillion other meditation techniques waiting to be explored?

I understand the feeling. But I’ve also learned that the only way you’ll ever “get” what Zen is about is to go very deeply into it for a long time. It doesn’t work any other way. I see would-be masters all the time who have mile long resumes of meditation schools at which they have exeprience. I can’t help but wonder how a guy who’s like 45 — or 55 or 75 — years old can have studied so many traditions each of which takes decades of dedication to truly appreciate.

These days we have so many choices that we feel it’s almost necessary to try and experience them all. But is it? Can you? I’d much rather listen to The Beatles’ White Album for the 177th time than listen to 176 crap records.

How can you chose the right one to devote yourself to? I’m afraid that’s up to you. For me, when I heard the White Album for the first time, I knew it was a record I’d need to listen to again and again. When I heard the Heart Sutra once, I knew it was worth looking into further. So what if there were a million billion other things vying for my attention? I didn’t have time for them.

Anyway, that’s my rant about that. Now I gotta go do real work. Bye!

20 Responses

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  1. Jinzang
    Jinzang August 7, 2006 at 5:11 pm | |

    My feeling these days is that there’s really just a limit to the amount of useful or even interesting stuff out there. For example, people often ask me to recommend books for them to read to deepen their understanding of Buddhism. I always mention the same handful. Basically Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, Nishijima’s To Meet The Real Dragon if you can find it…. and that’s pretty much it.

    You have to ask yourself why you’re reading. If it’s for inspiration, biographies are useful. If it’s for understanding, read the primary sources in translation. Since it can be hard to get an orientation on these, it’s best to get a commentary along with it, either in the book or in person from a teacher.

    There are a few Zen Buddhists who are not only ignorant about Buddhism, they’re proud of the fact. They take the phrase “special transmission outside the scriptures” too seriously. I can’t find anythg admirable in this attitude. Fortunately, most are not this way.

  2. Jinzang
    Jinzang August 7, 2006 at 5:28 pm | |

    One book I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from is Zen Essence, a collection of short sayings from Chinese Zen masters. Shambhala’s published it in a pocket book version, so you can slip it in your pocket and read it at odd moments. Here’s a sample:

    As soon as you try to chase and grab Zen, you’ve already stumbled past it.

  3. Rick
    Rick August 7, 2006 at 5:38 pm | |

    I recently read Living and Dying in Zazen by Arthur Braverman. Braverman was one of the early westerners who went to Japan to study Zen back in the 60s. It’s basically the biographical stories of 5 zen masters he met while he was there, together with his own remembrances.

    There was one old Zen guy who hung out in a park, writing calligraphy on leaves, and playing tunes on a grass whistle. Eventually he died. He had a student who had followed his for years, and for Braverman, this student was a minor character.

    At the end of the book, Braverman encounters this student once again. He really didn’t have much schooling in Zen or anything else for that matter. What he did with himself was to build his own Zen center… and waited for people to show up and sit.

    They didn’t show up, so he waited. Maybe as long as ten hours a day, sitting in zazen.

    I kind of think he had it figured out.

  4. oxeye
    oxeye August 7, 2006 at 10:44 pm | |

    Did you say “pointlessly typing away for an audience of web surfers”? Gosh, that seems a bit overstated.

    Oh yeah, I forgot.. you care, we don’t.

  5. MikeDoe
    MikeDoe August 7, 2006 at 11:21 pm | |

    Sometimes reading books about Buddhism is a bit like reading books about fucking. It’s nothing like the real thing but it can help you to understand/enjoy the real thing better and to deepen it.

    Of course if all you do is read books about fucking but avoid the actual fucking then it is merely Buddhist porn.

    I think the books are not necessary – even the Shobogenzo since it is not necesssary to understand Buddhism intellectually outside of that understanding which will naturally arise.

    The biggest risk with books is people can think that an intellectual understanding is the essence rather than a supplement.

  6. Drunken Monkey
    Drunken Monkey August 8, 2006 at 2:45 am | |

    “There are a few Zen Buddhists who are not only ignorant about Buddhism, they’re proud of the fact. They take the phrase “special transmission outside the scriptures” too seriously. I can’t find anythg admirable in this attitude. Fortunately, most are not this way.”

    Are you talking about the goings on at esangha forum? If anything, these people are bored.

  7. j
    j August 8, 2006 at 4:34 am | |

    hahaha. sorry, but those comments are pretty funny. thanks for taking the time to post brad. this web surfer, who likes fucking, and thinking long and hard about what he is reading, definitely appreciates it! have a coke and smile everybody!

  8. satorimedia LLC
    satorimedia LLC August 8, 2006 at 9:40 am | |

    Huh. I tend to think of it less as entertainment as connection–at least, the web part of the media monster. I’m not so much looking to be entertained as to either learn something (as I did today on A List Apart) or to connect and find out what’s going on in the lives and heads of interesting people I may or may not know (which is why I’m here).

    I’ve always told my daughters: if you’re bored, it’s your own fault. Do something! Even if it’s just sit there–do it actively, and call it meditation.

    I don’t think they get it. But maybe someday they will.

  9. flecktones
    flecktones August 8, 2006 at 11:05 am | |

    What is this unwavering feeling to always be entertained, to always be doing something of interest? Today we call it boredom, but 2500 years ago Buddha called it Dukha, or ‘pervasive unsatisfactoriness’
    The cause of Dukha is the desire to escape the self, to escape what Kahlil Gibran called “Mr. Gabber.”
    I dont believe that this new-wave of boredeom is caused by there being” really just a limit to the amount of useful or even interesting stuff out there.” Even if there were 100 million things of extreme interest and you read them while 2 Asian prostitutes were licking your nipples – drinking a beer and smoking a cigerette, with electronic impulses being sent to every pleasure sensor in your brain all at the same time!- You still would not be satisfied. For a little while you would be, but its the nature of sense phenominon to wear off, and sooner of later you’d need more and more sensation. All we are looking for when bored are new sensations(or old sensations revitilized) to momentarily relieve us from the inherent pain of existence!

    My friends, all of our endevours are about trying to escape the self, this is the root of our suffering. Until we realize there is no self, and its all just our Buddha-nature, we are doomed to be
    “Underwhelmed by It All: A Multi-tasking Generation is Not Easily Entertained.”

  10. Ryuei
    Ryuei August 8, 2006 at 11:11 am | |

    “Sheer” is the “sheer” you were looking for.

    My experience with the “study” aspect of Buddhism is that I refuse to take anyone’s word for anything. And I have been fed plausible lies before and people continuing to spread plausible lies and misinformation. The solution I have found is to 1) make sure you are grounded in your practice and daily life and 2) try to find reliable translations of the primary sources of the tradition.

    Now as far as grounding oneself in a practice, how do you know if you are doing it right? Don’t you have to trust someone to teach you? Well, yes, basically. But I think one’s own discernment should come into it. As the Buddha taught the Kalamas, you should know for yourself if something is efficacious and wholesome or not (and I learned that through reading primary sources, or translations thereof). So try to know yourself, and try to find people with admirable qualities who know what they are doing. Check them out, shop around, ask questions, but then settle down and do the work and see where it takes you. And then when reading reliable translations of primary sources you will find that they are either illuminating insforar as they clarify how to practice, encourage practice, and warn you of pitfalls, and otherwise provide a wider perspective that has stood the test of time (at least for that tradition), or you will find that the primary sources are a bunch of hooey that don’t match your own circumstances and experience. In any case, you must open your mind, investigate, think for yourself, and be grounded in your actual circumstances and experience. That is my take on the relationship between practice and study.

    Now as far as books I would recommend (and I would recommend them to you to Brad because you should know this stuff if you are going to claim to represent the Buddha Dharma – even if it is just as a wisecracking Zen Master):

    The Life of the Buddha by Bhikkhu Nanamoli (this is an anthology of excerpts from the Pali Canon arranged to tell the life of the Buddha and it also covers his most important discourses).

    Buddha-Dharma: The Way of Enlightenment by the Numata Translation and Research (another anthology of canonical discourses like the above but this includes Mahayana sutras and also has the entirety of the Dhammapada, this book has it all and though the translations are abridged paraphrases in some cases it is nicely done in my view).

    I would also recommend that beginning Buddhists read a translation or two of the Dhammapada. It is short, easy, accessible, and its aphorisms provide a good introduction to basic Buddhist values. I am partial to the translation and commentaries of the Thomas Cleary (who castigates psuedo-Zen throughout) and also Glenn Wallis.

    Oh, and the best Zen book I have (aside from the Shobogenzo translations and various koan collections) is one that is unfortunately out of print but well worth buying used:

    The Practice of Zen by Garma C.C. Chang.

    So those are books that I recommend to people to help them get grounded in basic Buddha Dharma and Buddhist values so they won’t be bamboozled by those who claim to teach Buddhism but really only teach some self-serving banalities or even absurd superstitions disguised as Buddhism. Forewarned is forearmed, and reading the sutras is a good way to be forewarned or at least informed if one is going to investigate real Buddha Dharma and not some demagogues half-basked ideas and claims (not you Brad, I find your writings edifying, down to earth, and refreshing – though you make occasional mistakes about Buddhist teaching and tradition but they are very minor cocktail trivia factoids).

    Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,
    Ryuei

  11. Ryuei
    Ryuei August 8, 2006 at 11:14 am | |

    Geez, that is what I get for writing so fast and not checking my work. Please forgive my grammar errors and other mistakes in my previous post. Also, the Buddha-Dharma book is by the Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research.

    Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,
    Ryuei

  12. Stuart
    Stuart August 8, 2006 at 12:22 pm | |

    Brad wrote:
    > It’s not really a new idea.
    > Bruce Springsteen had a song out
    > called “57 Channels and
    > Nothing’s On” back in 1992.

    As a middle-aged geezer, I must remind y’all that Pink Floyd already said it all in “The Wall” album… “I’ve got 13 chanels of shit on the TV to choose from…”

    Stuart
    http://home.comcast.net/~sresnick2/mypage.htm

  13. Stuart
    Stuart August 8, 2006 at 12:32 pm | |

    > How can you chose the right one
    > to devote yourself to? I’m
    > afraid that’s up to you.

    On the one hand, I used to stay at Swami Muktananda’s ashram, where the teaching was that we’re the only one’s with the truth, so if you visit another teacher or read his books, it’s blasphemy. That of course is bullshit, suitable only for the most immature minds, since truth is available everywhere, why create the delusion that any particular person, group, or technique has a monopoly?

    On the other hand… my original Zen master used to say that someone once went out looking for a particular plant that needed to be harvested when it was precisely 3 years old. He wandered continuously around the country, but whenever he found such a plant, it was either too young or too old. He ended up seeking it for 10 years, whereas obviously he could have had it in 3 years maximum if he’d just stay in one place.

    Reading about all sorts of different traditions and techniques can sometimes be a distraction, since it’s not that truth resides in a particular teaching and you’ve got to find it. Our job is to be attentive to this moment, and any technique or teacher is just a tool to provide a context for doing this. Learning about all the different possible choices can be a distraction from just picking one and doing it.

    Stuart
    http://home.comcast.net/~sresnick2/mypage.htm

  14. yamakoa
    yamakoa August 8, 2006 at 2:02 pm | |

    Beautifully said flecktones. I guess this why I read this blog.

  15. 6billionghosts
    6billionghosts August 12, 2006 at 7:27 am | |

    99% of everything is shit

    but the 1% meaning is your choice

    it can be anything

    for me it is late-era SWANS, The African Queen

    and that’s about it at this moment.

    all i need to know about zen buddhism i learned from the song “Baby Don’t Hurt Me No More”

  16. Mike
    Mike September 1, 2006 at 7:10 pm | |

    The latest book that I feel has inspired me is Danny Wallace’s “The Yes Man”.

    I think Universal are making it into a film.

    It’s a true story too. Well as true as a story can be.

    Also, despite it having nothing to do with Buddhism, he runs around poking a monk and asking one of them if they had ever fought a ninja.

    Amazingly funny too.

  17. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 17, 2006 at 8:42 am | |
  18. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 15, 2007 at 11:57 am | |

    That’s a great story. Waiting for more. film editing schools

  19. Anonymous
    Anonymous June 14, 2007 at 2:26 am | |

    Hi, Nice stuff. I found a cool news widget for our blogs at http://www.widgetmate.com. Now I can show the latest news on my blog. Worked like a breeze.

  20. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer March 14, 2014 at 10:52 am | |

    Boredom is my favorite koan.

    Sitting has always been boring for me, I’ve not had a single sit that was in any way transcendent (which, frustrating as it is, is good. I’m in no danger of getting hung up on some ecstatic experience on the cushion).

    My question is why do I find the idea of just sitting so frightening? I have a few answers to that question, but the question lingers.

    I know I am not unique when I throw up all sorts of mental entertainment while I sit, but really, why bother?

    I am also completely convinced that boredom just means that I’m not paying enough attention.

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