I’m in Munich (MÃ¼nchen), Germany this week. Yesterday I was walking around the city and I spotted a flyer pasted to a lamppost that said “Lebemann Oder Buddhist” and showed a mustachioed man in sunglasses getting cuddly with a girl in a bikini. My friend Annette who was with me translated the phrase as, “Do you want to have fun or are you a Buddhist?” I think it’s an ad for some film.
Google Translate says this phrase means, “Playboy or Buddhist.” But I prefer Annette’s translation because it allows me to talk about something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I know I’ve said this sort of thing on this page before, but I really think it bears repeating.
Buddhists are often viewed as stoic, humorless people who fear enjoyment and fun. They shave their heads, put on funny clothes and hide themselves away in monasteries far from the world. There they spend their days contemplating their navels and avoiding human interaction.
When they do show up in cities and towns, we are amazed. “My God, Marvin! That one is using a cellphone! And look! That one has sunglasses! Quick! Take a picture!”
And yet, for me, Buddhism has always been about having a good time.
I’m being completely serious here. When I was a young man, I had already decided that life was full of misery and despair. Even though I had a pretty comfortable middle class upbringing, and even though I had already traveled much of the world before I was 12 years old, I found most of my life to be crushingly depressing. I couldn’t understand what made people want to go on. It all seemed so bleak and horrible.
I was surrounded by people who seemed to be having a lot more fun than me. They were going to parties and football games and getting drunk or stoned, getting laid, having a grand old time, while I festered away in my basement with my Univox Les Paul copy electric guitar and Big Muff fuzztone trying to figure out how to make the most offensive racket possible to express my outrage at the entire culture. I was not a happy camper.
It wasn’t all horror, of course. I had a very pretty girlfriend throughout most of high school who shared a lot of the same frustrations as me. I had a band. I had a small cadre of nerdy friends to hang out with and complain about the jocks and preppies to. But most of the time I just hated everything.
When I encountered Zen Buddhism, it didn’t seem to be an escape from the world. It seemed to be a way to confront it and learn to have a good time for once in my sucky life. I learned that having a good time wasn’t about manipulating the world so that you’d find yourself in situations that the general population regarded as “fun” – like getting high, going to parties, getting laid, and so on. It was about learning to look at everything that was happening, learning to be fully present at every moment, not just the ones that were deemed by the masses to be the fun moments.
I learned to have fun while waiting for a bus. I learned to have fun while working at pointless, low-paying jobs that I hated. I learned to enjoy cleaning Shithead, my cat’s litter box. And when something actually fun came along, I learned to enjoy that even more than I had before because I wasn’t so neurotically afraid that it was going to end. I knew it was going to end, but I also knew that whatever came after would also have its own pleasures even if nobody in their right mind would regard that thing as pleasurable.
So to me it’s not a choice between having fun and being a Buddhist. Being a Buddhist is how I have fun.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go out and look at Munich for a while. I’m sure the subway stations here are absolutely fascinating!
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All this fun costs money, your kind donations are always appreciated. I go on tours like this partly because it’s one of the few ways to get paid for what I do. But I can’t tour all year round, so whatever you send me really makes a difference. Thank you!
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Here’s my upcoming events schedule:
Oct. 12-17 Retreat at Benediktushof near WÃ¼rzburg, Germany
Oct 18 8:00am — 6:00pm Retreat in Bonn, Germany
Oct. 19 4:00pm 3 SchÃ¤tze Shop Bonn, Germany
Oct 20 Lecture in Hamburg, Germany
Oct 24: Lecture/Movie screening in Groningen, Netherlands
Oct 25: Day-long zazen in Groningen, Netherlands
Oct 26: Movie screening in Eindhoven, Netherlands at Natlab
Oct 27: Evening zazen in Eindhoven, Netherlands
Oct 28: Evening zazen in Nijmegen, Netherlands
Oct 29: Lecture in Amsterdam, Netherlands at “De Roos” bookstore from 19.00-21.00 (P Cornelisz Hooftstr 183)
Oct 30: Lecture in Utrecht, Netherlands at “De wijze kater” bookstore from 19.00-21.00 ( Mariaplaats 1, Utrecht)
Nov 1-2: Retreat in Utrecht, Netherlands
Nov. 2: Movie screening in Utrecht, Netherlands at ACU
Nov 6-8: Retreat in Hebden Bridge, UK
Nov 9: Noon — 5pm Manchester, UK
Dec. 5-7 Three-Day Zazen and Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy (near Los Angeles, CA)
EVENTS YOU ALREADY MISSED
Oct. 1 Turku Panimoravintola Koulu, Finland– Movie screening
Oct. 2 Helsinki, Finland — Lecture Event
Oct. 3-5 Helsinki, Finland Zen retreat at Helsinki Zen Center
Oct. 6 Movie Screening in Espoo, Finland
Oct. 8 Lecture in Munich, Germany
Oct. 10-11 Retreat in Munich, Germany
Wait, Playboyism is trying to lure German Buddhists away from the fold with “fun?” Heathen Pagans (the name of my first band)!!
“Lebemann” is like the “man about town” / bon vivant figure…
The Vimalakirti Sutra is kind of fun.
I always think Zen IS fun!!
Zen and Fun.
That’s sounds great. Can’t wait for it to happen. Not gonna hold my breath though.
Sitting is almost exactly as tedious as it was seven years ago.
Last night at the Dharma Talk, Paul Majchrzyk JDPSN was going on about how hard it was to do Zen retreats, and how we can learn from the suck that is doing a 3-or-more day retreat. And all the time he was saying that, I was thinking how much I love doing those kinds of retreats. Am I missing something? Where is the horrid, sucky, difficult Zen I keep hearing about? I want some too!
Here’s some of Paul’s talk about practice, from 24-Sep-2012.
hmmm. link didn’t work. how’s this?
Are we having fun yet?
Thanks Harlan. Finally someone here linked to a song I know…
Reminds me of a recent retreat.
I sat the first day of the Denko-e sesshin down at Jikoji on Wednesday.
Wonderful people. By the closing bell of the last period before dinner, I set a personal best for consecutive seconds asleep and dreaming in the lotus.
The good news, as far as I was concerned, was that I didn’t lose feeling in my legs to such an extent that I fell over when I got up. I haven’t actually fallen over in the past, but I’ve come close.
I found that by close of day my practice consisted of observing the lower lumbar vertebrae; that seemed to help me realize the activity.
It’s an interesting factum that you use a kinesthetic technique to help keep you grounded in zazen. Would you describe your primary way of gathering information from the world as physical?
I know that Joko Beck suggested using traffic sounds as a way of staying present. And she was trained as a concert pianist so sound was important to her.
I have my primary way of experiencing as visual which is obviously hard to use when facing a blank wall.
It would be interesting to find out if there is any correlation between the attention anchor that various long term meditators use and what their primary sense mode is.
Alan, I don’t know if you happened to cast a glance at my treatment of that old Buddhist Fuxi’s bait, but in fact I built on our discussion here a little bit:
“The tight connection between the sense of vision and the sense of location in three-dimensional space is demonstrated by the common feeling that awareness is located in the head, somewhere behind the eyes. If the sense of location in space is exercised through the distinction of motion in each of the three planes, that is to say through the distinction of the motions of pitch, roll, and yaw, the connection between the sense of vision and the sense of location may relax sufficiently to allow the location of awareness to shift somewhat from behind the eyes. If the eyes are closed, the location of awareness may even seem to shift spontaneously from one location in the body to another, as may sometimes be observed in the moments just before sleep.”
“The sense of vision can be experienced separately from the sense of location and from the sense of placement and weight in the parts of the body; given such an experience, the relinquishment of volition can allow the sense of location to shift as proprioception and weight enter in, and anything that enters into the sense of location can be realized as activity of posture and carriage…”
That last would be my reference, in saying “my practice consisted of observing the lower lumbar vertebrae; that seemed to help me realize the activity”.
If anybody missed the link a couple of threads back and would like to cast a glance, the place to go is here.
“Sound like bullshit to me.”
what, me bullshit? I resemble that song title!
Bullshit? Smells like.. teen spirit.
The Nazis were Tibetan Buddhists!!!
May be a connection -I’m generalizing here- between tantric rites involving the imbibing of male and female sexual fluids, Crowley’s OTO, and some Nazi’s, but maybe not. Only in the sense of misunderstanding one (Hindu) tantric trick for another (Tibetan Buddhist).
Seems a bit biased to me. Although most of what he writes is true, it seems to overlook the thin knowledge that Far Easterners seem to have of Western things. This is still quite true with modern Japaneses; so I must think that it is not that clean cut.
Sitting is almost exactly as tedious as it was seven years ago.
You would rather have “interesting experiences”? Tedium is vastly underappreciated.
Yeah I’m very aware of the peril behind wishing for interesting experiences.
None the less, when Brad starts waxing about having fun doing this or that crappy thing I admit to feeling a pang of envy. Followed by a wave of grouch.
My direct experience of zen has been tedious. I have had no “oh-my-gosh” positive experiences. And also very few “what-the-hell-I-didn’t-order-this” events. I realize on an intellectual level that this is a good thing.
But my “oh so close to the surface” greedy mind wants something to, well…um…happen.
So, Alan- I take your point with regard to sesshin.
Sitting at home in the morning and usually a shorter sitting before bed is a different story, though, at least for me. There, I actually do have fun, even though I’m sitting in the lotus (which is not a natural pose for me).
I have great fun. goobers of fun. Gosh, o golly, do I have fun. ok, maybe not that much fun, but a big part of what brings me back to the cushion in the morning is the feeling that the posture gets me together, and it feels like the posture is growing my ability to feel.
I think it was on this very comment thread that once upon a time there was general agreement that the average was better than it used to be, not that the lows were not almost as low and the highs close to what they were, but that somehow the ground where most of the day goes on was slightly more tractable for letting the posture do its thing with the rest in the morning.
But with a cup of coffee, I can almost be convinced that Kobun was a genius when he said, “take your time with the lotus”, I’m having that much fun.
bullet holes in the mailbox, keyholes in my mind:
To stop thinking, all you really need to do is stop using energy to regurgitate and ruminate upon thoughts. It’s a matter of not starting rather than stopping.
For those of us who are not super-experienced meditators, often the initial experiences we confront in meditation are just of how out-of-control and involuntary the mind’s activities are. And maybe we need the full tour over a long period of time to see how every strategy to control or suppress or quiet the mind actually results in utter an failure to achieve any of that. And only then, when the failure of such efforts become painfully obvious, does the possibility of “not starting” become real. It’s amazing how strong the propensity to “fix” things are.
Well, there’s always something you can do about that.
“It’s a kind of spiritual snobbery that makes people think they can be happy without money.” – Albert Camus
Have to pay property tax, insurance, and get your food somehow (unless you have exceptional knowledge in permaculture or self-sustainable techniques).
Stop making me laugh. Even if you do Zazen you cannot be happy without money.
Give me a ton of money and leave me alone. My happiness is proportional to the amount of time I spend away from 95% of people.
Alan, in 81-82 I use to sit in ecstasy every day, with tears rolling down my face.
It doesn’t mean anything. It could have just have been a manic state
unleashed through concentrated focus, and the unhooking from the normal
routine keeping everything in check.
Thanks for the reassurance. I wasn’t clear in my previous posts that I was just noting the facts about my meditation experiences. No big highs, not many weird lows, just sustained tedium. I can’t think of anyway to say this without sounding like I am complaining.
It’s also an undeniable fact that I want something more. And I know wanting something more is the basic problem.
To sum it up, sitting practice is a boring pain in the ass and I’m grateful to be able to continue with it.
“No big highs, not many weird lows, just sustained tedium”
“No longer chokin’ on the hair of dog
Been a couple of weeks now since I came out of the fog
The highs are slightly higher, the lows are just as low
It’s a mild improvement on the average even so.
Every little bit counts.
though it may not count for much
could be long-forgotten
by the time you add them up”:
No high, no low, no trance upon the absolute.
Ok, I’ll bite. Is there *anything* that is ‘upon the absolute’? If not you could just start using a shorthand for these responses.
“Ok, I’ll bite.”
“Is there *anything* that is ‘upon the absolute’?”
No self said Kobun Chino
“If not you could just start using a shorthand for these responses.”
Yes, while holding the hand of the absolute, …
From the Terebess site, attributed to Fuxi:
“Each night, (one) embraces a Buddha while sleeping,
Each morning, (one) gets up again with him.
When rising or sitting, both watch and follow one another,
Whether speaking or not, both are in the same place,
They never even for a moment part,
(But) are like the body and its shadow.
If you wish to know the Buddha’s whereabouts,
In the sound of (your own) voice, there is he.”
the handless hold the hoe
the bridge but not the river flows
Oh Fred. I truly laughed out loud. Thanks :o)
Bubba the Rat: He assists the Mayor of Munchkin Land in getting Dorothy and the Lion out of Poppyfields.
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