Dogen For Punks

(The following is a modified version of a speech I gave at the Dogen Tanslators Forum in San Francisco on November 5, 2010. It ran on Elephant Journal a while ago but not on this blog until now.)

This summer at Tassajara Zen monastery I met Kazuaki Tanahashi, the translator of a number of books by Dogen Zenji, the 13th century Japanese monk who founded the Soto school of Zen in Japan. At that time he was organizing a big event to be held at the San Francisco Zen Center to celebrate the publication of his translation of Dogen’s masterwork, Shobogenzo, the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye. Since I wrote a book about Shobogenzo called Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen’s Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye he thought I might be good for the forum. He suggested that I do a speech there titled “Dogen for Punks.” He might have been joking. I’m not sure. But I liked that title. It’s not a title I would have chosen myself. But it suggested something I’d like to talk about. So I did.

I first came across Dogen when I was a 19-year old punk rocker. I’d been vaguely interested in Eastern religions for a while, but I wasn’t very serious about it. I decided to take a class at my university called Zen Buddhism mostly as a diversion.

Dogen’s philosophy changed my life. I had never encountered anything like it. I’ve been studying him ever since.

The popular appreciation of Dogen is a 20th and now a 21st century phenomenon. Even though he wrote Shobogenzo almost 800 years ago, for most of those 800 years Dogen’s work was almost entirely unknown. Certain extremely nerdy Buddhist scholars and monks looked at his writings now and then. But they were not published for general audiences until the 1800s, and even then it took over another years before they became popular.

I once asked my teacher, Gudo Nishijima, who, like Tanahashi, translated Dogen’s Shobogenzo into English, why this was. He said he thought that the people of Dogen’s time couldn’t understand what he was writing about. But, he said, human civilization has advanced considerably since that time. We understand much more about human psychology. We’ve had philosophies like existentialism and pragmatism that come very close to expressing the Buddhist outlook. Our understanding of the physical world we inhabit has also become more sophisticated. Because of these advances, contemporary people can comprehend what people in Dogen’s time couldn’t understand. Even teenage punk rockers.

Here’s one simple example of this. If you want to understand Dogen’s philosophy you have to accept that there are many real things and phenomena in this universe that we human beings are simply not equipped to perceive, but that these things and phenomena are not parts of some mystical other realm. They’re part of our concrete reality. These days we grow up learning about infrared and ultraviolet light. So we know that there are forms of light that we can’t see. We know about the subconscious. So we know that there are realms of the mind we cannot consciously access. These are commonplace ideas. Just because we can’t normally perceive these things, we don’t think of them as supernatural the way people in Dogen’s times tended to conceive of things they could not perceive directly. So when we read Dogen we’re already prepared for much of what he wrote about in ways that his contemporaries were not.

I believe a lot of people in our society today are ready to hear what Dogen had to say all those centuries ago. They need to hear it. It’s our job to try to make Dogen’s philosophy accessible to as many people as we can.

I have no argument with scholars and scholarship. In fact I have tremendous respect for the scholars who did the initial work required to make Dogen available to us.

But it’s vital to take Dogen’s philosophies outside of the narrow confines of intellectual study and outside of the even narrower confines of Buddhist nerd-dom. You know what I mean, I hope. Buddhism has a really strong tendency to turn into a bit of a nerd subculture just like Star Trek fanatics or comic book fandom or punk rockers. I used to work for a company in Japan that made monster movies and superhero TV shows. So I’ve been to plenty of sci-fi fan gatherings and comic book conventions. And, I hate to tell you, but in a lot of important ways they’re not all that different from the forum I attended at San Francisco Zen Center. And I said so to the audience there at the time.

What happens with nerd subcultures may have some bearing on what we see happening with Dogen and with Buddhism in general these days. One of the major attractions of something like punk rock or Godzilla or Japanese animation or Dogen is that it doesn’t appeal to everyone. Certain types of people like these things because they’re something we can call our own, they’re things we can use to define ourselves.

Buddhists in the West are often precisely the same personality types you encounter at sci fi and anime conventions or in punk rock clubs. They just have a different kind of thing that turns them on. But they use it in exactly the same way, to help delineate their personality as something different from the mainstream.

But then all too often disaster strikes! The thing they liked suddenly goes mainstream and everybody is dressing like a punk rocker or doing the Vulcan hand salute or even quoting Dogen or talking about mindfulness. We’re already seeing this happen. I’m sure a lot of you know that Dogen was used as the name of a character on the TV series LOST, in which many of the characters were named after famous philosophers.

Nerds hate it when this happens! It was one of the reasons I gave up on punk rock for a very long time. I suggested at the forum that t a lot of the people there were going to be grumbling when Dogen slipped out of their grasp and became part of mass culture. Some of you reading this blog are already grumbling about how Buddhism has gone mainstream. I know I am!

Here’s what I said to the people at the Dogen forum regarding their own nerd fetish, Dogen. I think this goes for all forms of Buddhism and not just the Dogen-based ones. I said, “Maybe right now you don’t think you’ll complain when Dogen finally hits the popular culture. You’re sitting there thinking it’ll be a glorious day when Dogen is accepted by the masses. You imagine it the way we punks imagined the day we were certain could never come when punk rock went mainstream. We thought that if that happened it would mean that everyone finally understood what we were saying in the same way as we understood it. Well it happened and that isn’t what it was like. It was Ramones songs in beer commercials and $150 designer combat boots and a generation who looked like punks but didn’t have a clue what punk rock was about.

“Or maybe they did. Old punk rockers like me love to complain that today’s punks don’t get it. Well, OK, maybe they don’t understand how it was literally dangerous to walk around with a Mohawk haircut. But that doesn’t mean they don’t understand punk. In fact, I’d be so bold as to say that some of the young punk rockers today understand the real philosophy of punk rock better than some of the people I hung around with in the early days of the movement.

“And so it will go with Dogen, I think. The next generation is already better equipped to understand Dogen than we ever were. It’s vital that we allow them to discover their own way of understanding and expressing what he said, even if we don’t understand it ourselves.

“It’s crucial that we don’t smother their understanding with our interpretations. It’s important that we let them go out and teach their understanding to others. It’s important that we be prepared to admit that maybe they understand Dogen better than we do. I hear a lot of people complaining about the ‘graying of Buddhism’ and yet these same people seem intent on not allowing anyone below a certain age to become a teacher. We need to stop that nonsense.

“Because Dogen really is for punks. And we’ve got to let the punks have their Dogen. Even if we really want to keep him all to ourselves.”


Brad is at Tassajara until September 11th. But the donation button and the store on this website still work!

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113 Responses

  1. Fred
    Fred August 31, 2012 at 9:04 am |

    Ted said ““In order for this to be possible, enlightenment would have to be a pretty useless state of mind, wouldn’t it?”

    Mike Luetchford said:

    “In the Genjo-Koan chapter of the Shobogenzo, Dogen describes ‘this place’ …….
    …… ‘when we find this place, this action is inevitably realized as the Universe.
    When we find this way, this action is inevitably the realized Universe [itself].”

    Thanks 108.

  2. Fred
    Fred August 31, 2012 at 9:15 am |

    Andy, I said to the GF today that a new Ontario Education curriculum course
    of teaching 11 year old children empathy, will not work with the 4% of the
    population that has a sociopathic/psychopathic brain.

    They lack the brain structure to experience empathy.

  3. Fred
    Fred August 31, 2012 at 9:39 am |

    Writing positive book reviews is worth $28,000 a month.

    A way for Brad to make money: turn off the critical brain, and write positive
    reviews for newly minted tomes from the Zen business.

  4. anon 108
    anon 108 August 31, 2012 at 9:48 am |

    Erm….You’re welcome Fred.

  5. gniz
    gniz August 31, 2012 at 11:21 am |

    “Considering Gniz’s annoyance at Mysterion’s spamming, I’d be interested to find out what his view would be on this.”

    I don’t find Anon 108’s postings here to be even close to what Mysterion tended to do, but even if it were–I’ve said recently that there’s got to be deeper introspection on my part for why he bugs me so.

    As someone smarter than I pointed out, there’s no person or statement that is inherently annoying to all people. Even with those folks who come closest to being worldwide scapegoats (The Paris Hiltons, Snookies, and others who we can somehow look down on with most everyone else in the world), there are always folks who both sympathize with and even idolize them.

    So when a particular comment or person irritates me to the point where I feel the need to verbally flog them, I guess I need to have some introspection about why that is. Because not everyone feels that way. I didn’t find Anon 108’s comments out of line, and yet once I’d read Andy’s postings, I saw what he meant.

    I really liked the back and forth here. Nicely done by both Andy and Anon 108. What I think we sometimes lack, however, is the deeper exploration of why we are starting the back and forth again with each other–why the digging up of old scabs and wounds.

    Is it as simple as a bad day at the office, tension in the belly, a headache, hunger pains? Is it deeper than that–reminders of a soured relationship, the repetition of some past parental or sibling rivalry that still awakens that beast inside of me?

    There is a reason that we feel compelled to engage in such ways with one another. There is a reason that the old stuff keeps coming up time and again. It would be easy if it was just because they are wrong and we are right, but unfortunately, despite the story we tell ourselves, it’s never quite that simple.

  6. Fred
    Fred August 31, 2012 at 11:35 am |

    The old stuff keeps coming back because we aren’t finished with it. We repressed
    it instead of processing it, or finishing it.

    Gudo said something intelligent about this but I repressed it.

  7. Fred
    Fred August 31, 2012 at 12:34 pm |

    Mike Luetchford:

    “In the Genjo-koan (The Realized Universe) chapter of the Shobogenzo, Dogen describes “this place” with the following words: “When we find this place, this action is inevitably realized as the Universe. When we find this way, this action is inevitably the realized Universe itself.” For him, the phrase “the realized Universe” describes reality here and now, something beyond intellectual recognition. Nagarjuna uses the phrase pratitya samutpada to describe this reality that is just beyond the reach of our understanding. The words pratitya samutpada literally mean “the recognized co-arisen” – the world as it appears in front of us.But can we ever capture what is in front of us here and now at this very moment?”

    Yes, push the ego to one side, and voila, you are there, except there is no you.

    Scratching some lines in the sand, the impression soon washed away by the tide.

  8. Fred
    Fred August 31, 2012 at 12:42 pm |

    Is it possible that Dogen’s words could be interpreted as the realizing universe
    instead of the realized universe.

  9. anon 108
    anon 108 September 1, 2012 at 9:19 am |

    Perhaps I’ve been unnecessarily mysterious about my relationship with Mike Luetchford in recent posts. So, to be clear:

    Many other ‘members’ of Dogen Sangha UK know Mike Luetchford a lot better than I do. They’ve known him for longer, attended more retreats, and have generally spent more time with him than I have. Many of them have taken the precepts with Mike; I haven’t. But, as far as I know, none of them regularly comment on other people’s blogs. And none of them (to my knowledge) are students of Sanskrit, which I was inspired to learn after encountering Mike’s book. Although Mike doesn’t blog, he does, or certainly used to, read this and other blogs and knows who ‘anon 108/jiblet’ is.

    Over the years I’ve exchanged a few emails with Mike, discussing aspects of Buddhism and his translation of the MMK. Also, with another more loyal and much longer-standing student [I’ll call ‘A’*] , I’ve helped Mike edit an early version of Nishijima’s translation of 35 chapters of the Shobogenzo. A few months ago, as a result of our correspondence and my interest in these things, Mike shared with me and A the 100 or so emails sent between him and Nishijima during the period that included demise of their attempt to finish a joint translation of the MMK. He also shared one very brief thought about Brad’s (mis)representation of those years (“the better options gave up”). The three of us discussed whether any purpose would be served by making the emails, or some of them, available to others. Who would be interested? How would a decision to ‘share’ them be taken? Perhaps Mike could write something about them instead. What would he write? Where would he publish it? And what would be the point?

    I began to write something myself. I thought that if something were to be said at all it might be more appropriate (= might cause less fuss) for someone other than Mike to say it. Mike did not ask me to write anything. My intuition tells me that if I hadn’t written anything, it’s unlikely that Mike would have mentioned it again. A few days later I showed what I’d written to him and A. Having corrected a couple of factual errors, both approved it – as being fair and well-written. It then occurred to me that I could tweak what I’d written and publish it as a review of “Between Heaven and Earth” on Amazon. I could then link it on this blog and on ZFI, the two blogs I post on most. If nothing else, it might attract a few more readers to Mike, his ideas and his book. Mike – not much of a self-publicist – thought that was a good idea. So I did it.

    Whether readers of this blog are interested in any of this or not, I don’t want anyone to think there’s any mystery or secret agenda about what me and Mike Luetchord are up to. Andy’s pertinent observations about the deeper psychology of motivations and the public face of private relationships aside, there is no agreement between Mike and I that I shall be his blogospherical representative.

    That’s what I wanted to say. That, and that quite a few other people know Mike Luetchford a lot better than I do.

    Anyone got any good jokes?

    *A usually checks this blog – I’ll leave it to him whether he wants to say Hi.

  10. SoF
    SoF September 1, 2012 at 1:44 pm |

    It’s not punk to read but I have a copy of “Did Dogen Go to China?: What He Wrote and When He Wrote It” by Steven Heine that I finished reading.

    If you want it, email me at chasinca [at] gmail [dot]com with your snail mail address and I ship it to you on my dime.



  11. anon 108
    anon 108 September 2, 2012 at 4:06 am |

    …Not 100 emails: 100 pages. More like 65 emails. For the record.

  12. Fred
    Fred September 2, 2012 at 1:23 pm |

    “. A few months ago, as a result of our correspondence and my interest in these things, Mike shared with me and A the 100 or so emails sent between him and Nishijima during the period that included demise of their attempt to finish a joint translation of the MMK’

    Yes, and what does this have to do with the dropping of the body-mind.

    If someone sees through the manipulations of their own ego, would they still
    want to be president of Zen Corporation?

    People will flock to the elucidation of clear insight. No seal of authority is needed.

  13. Fred
    Fred September 2, 2012 at 1:28 pm |

    What’s the conclusion of the book Charles?

    It’s hard to imagine all the crap that was going down in 1223.

  14. Andy
    Andy September 2, 2012 at 5:38 pm |


    “What I think we sometimes lack, however, is the deeper exploration of why we are starting the back and forth again with each other–why the digging up of old scabs and wounds.”

    I’m glad you took up my suggestion and posted here, Gniz. I was curious as to how this subject might be sieved through another measured post of yours. As soon as the word ‘spamming’ popped up in my mind in relation to 108’s plugging of Mike L’s book, then there it was.

    As to your point about exploring why we engage, useful as it is, I think the metaphor of ‘scabs and wounds’ only takes us so far. We might end up viewing our motivations with the framework of a kind of therapeutic, original sin. There’s always a deeper wound, the regressive itch of generation and separation into the the individual’s marred intentions at any given act (or non act) at any given circumstance.

    Our actions shape us and (over?)sensitize us for good or ill. Of course, bringing to the surface the knots and clots in our body and mind are part of what’s going on all the time. He came screaming into the world, ouch, Daddy didn’t love him enough, ouch, he sent hate mail to the man in suit, ouch. Or he came screaming… and joined an organised a campaign against the man in the suit (and ended up running the show and wearing a nice pin-stripe of his own. Etc.

    My point is that such ‘wounds’ are grist to the mill for negative and positive intentions and acts. If some past damage, say, creates some stuck oedipal outrage at a certain type of person, I might end up a leftie hot-head working to wipe the Republicans or Tories from the face of Planet Utopia. Realizing the deeper issues at work on my psyche might not mean a less passionate engagement as a leftie, but it might make me a less (self)destructive player in the game. I’m channeling those energies which became bottle-necked by how the past shaped me and how I keep taking the threads of it up – the form and direction of my particular story.

    A deeper realization of our story leads to a a deeper understanding of the nature of the story, of whatever-I-mean-buy-story itself, and helps us to ‘tell’ it more fruitfully. But whatever we do or don’t do it keeps being told. In going beyond it, I think we see that if it wasn’t one set of buttons that pushed us, it would be and will always be, some set that is me pushing.

    As to my own engagement. Well, there’s the general motivation to have something of interest to write about, and in corresponding to keep the mind alert and tuned up . Within that, the desire to find and explore a kind of balance – if I feel there’s something I don’t find fair or maybe too one-sided etc., then there’ll be the stirrings of wanting someone to wade in, if not necessarily myself. In seeking balance, what one thought was balanced also adjusts through engaging – my idea of balance isn’t going to be balanced or anyone else idea of balanced. Heck, ‘balanced’ itself is starting to feel like a beige and stifling notion!

    But still, old habits. Way back, I felt there was something more going on in Andrew’s posts (the guy with Autism) and the way people were responding that bugged me enough to go and explore. In this thread, I felt an uneasiness about some of the things 108 wrote, as well as an uneasiness at the lack of anyone else at least engaging critically with some of the more strident passages. This last bit I thought odd, as normally strong personal criticism tends to induce others to reflect critically, and that is what I like about such spaces – that self-correcting democratic ideal, if you like.

    As far as I am aware there were no personal gripes or hot buttons being tweaked, and my intention was not to engage in some alpha-male-esque ‘flogging’. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be layers of stuff, past issues etc that shaped my response, other than, as I touched on, a keen awareness on the embroilments and entanglements to do with acting out of loyalty – an issue obviously at play whether we’re talking Brad/Gudo or 108/Mike. L. And perhaps that keen awareness led me to pick up on things which didn’t matter very much to others. This situation can be a case of being over-sensitive to something, or it can be a case of experience leading to a sensitivity where others have become desensitised.

    I think the good thing about back and forth is that it can bring much of that to the surface – for the participants and for others just reading the interactions.

    And then again, this isn’t ‘real life’. It’s also a distraction from those precious ‘wounds’ and ‘scars.’

  15. King Kong
    King Kong September 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm |

    Written speech is very real… ROAR!!!!

    everything is real! including deluded view!

  16. Fred
    Fred September 2, 2012 at 5:58 pm |

    “But still, old habits. Way back, I felt there was something more going on in Andrew’s posts (the guy with Autism) and the way people were responding that bugged me enough to go and explore.”

    Care to flesh that out. How can you get into the brain that is designed
    so radically differently than your own ( assuming that you aren’t on that
    spectrum ).

  17. Fred
    Fred September 2, 2012 at 6:24 pm |

    Learning to act like a “normal:”

    “Hi, I’m Maja and I live in Copenhagen, Denmark and I’m a 25 year old woman diagnosed with Asperger’s. I’m a singer/songwriter and a student.

    I always knew I was different and started learning social skills before I was even diagnosed. When I was 12, I realized that I wanted to be a part of the world and started to mimic and learn social skills from others. Most of my social skills, however, come from character based roleplaying.

    Many other aspies say that I bend to the will of NT society, by acting as if I am an NT. I, of course, don’t think so because I only act NT when the situation calls for it”

  18. SoF
    SoF September 2, 2012 at 6:56 pm |

    “Normal” can mean a couple of things:

    1) Socially accepted norms (varies by culture)
    2) Peer accepted norms (e.g. “a Yale Man”)
    3) Parental accepted norms (bring the old culture into the new)
    4) Statistically defined norms
    5) Developmentally appropriate norms
    6) and so on (into the dozens)

    I think what we would call a Zen norm is returning to that state which existed before your parents were born.

    Even THIS ‘norm’ is highly individualized and not subject to judgmental metrics.

    I think Soto/Rinzai Zen would have us deviate less from our quiescent norm – be less angry, less excited, less emotional, less vengeful, less manic, less depressive (I’m bating you here with extremes) and more reasonable.

    I would avoid projecting what I think is normal upon another because my perception, almost without exception, fails me. I might suggest that the same is true of your perception.

  19. Fred
    Fred September 2, 2012 at 7:07 pm |

    Yes, this may be true for you and I, but not for others:

    The drama referenced in this thread doesn’t seem to support returning to the
    state before my parents were born.

  20. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 2, 2012 at 7:12 pm |

    Thanks, Fred- interesting!

    I just assumed 108 knew what he was talking about from the way he wrote, and the things that he said. I think Nishijima knows his own practice, and I think I trust his intuition, but I don’t necessarily trust him as a translator. If he cobbles together a book that he feels reflects some deeper wisdom, and he doesn’t know the language beyond a dictionary, I’ll presume he felt he could channel something and hope that he succeeds. Most Buddhist scriptures after the Pali sutras and vinaya appear to have been composed this way, in my opinion, and the wonder is that more people don’t recognize that (to me).

    OK, my two cents.

    “When fish go through water, there is no end to the water no matter how far they go. When birds fly in the sky, there is no end to the sky no matter how far they fly. But neither fish nor birds have been separated from the water or sky – from the very beginning. It is only this: when a great need arises, a great use arises; when there is little need, there is little use. Therefore, they realize full function in each thing and free ability according to each place.” (genjo koan, translated by prof. reiho)

    The place of occurrence of consciousness opens the ability to feel, the ability to feel allows consciousness to take place spontaneously. Pitch, yaw, and roll at the place of occurrence of consciousness enters into the ability to feel what is necessary in inhalation or what is necessary in exhalation, and what is necessary in inhalation or exhalation comes forward in the cross-legged posture, and at other times.

    Mind to mind transmission is not lineage.

  21. Andy
    Andy September 2, 2012 at 7:19 pm |

    @King Kong. Yup, that’s why I used scare quotes. By the ‘real world’ I mean the one where you can smell my farts. That’s all.


    “Care to flesh that out. How can you get into the brain that is designed
    so radically differently than your own ( assuming that you aren’t on that
    spectrum ).”

    What I wrote: “I felt there was something more going on in Andrew’s posts (the guy with Autism) and the way people were responding that bugged me enough to go and explore.”

    Where did you get that I was trying to get into his brain? I’m not sure how I’d get into my own!

    I wasn’t assuming much, I was just attempting to have a dialogue and see what came out (exploring). If I did assume anything it was whatever difference a human being has there’s still much in common to work with. Plus, I’ve held conversations with a few people on the spectrum before… so why not Andrew?

    At the furthest extreme, I talk to my cat all the time. It understands me in it’s own way. And has the wonderful capacity to ignore the shit out of me.

  22. Andy
    Andy September 2, 2012 at 7:26 pm |

    you know, I’ve really no idea whether Autistic people have a better understanding of other Autistic people than they do of anyone else…

  23. Fred
    Fred September 2, 2012 at 7:39 pm |

    If someone returned to the state that existed before their parents were born,
    and came by way of an autistic brain, would the universe be realized in the
    same way?

  24. Andy
    Andy September 2, 2012 at 7:41 pm |

    God knows!

  25. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 2, 2012 at 7:48 pm |

    looks like my last comment is only viewable if I’m logged in. I’m curious if other regulars can see it if they are logged in- hopefully so. I will repost it, if not.

    (Jaycee, not really understanding why the comment is only viewable when I’m logged in- there is one link, I think those have been viewable in the past. Can you give us the ground rules on this blog, thanks!)

  26. SoF
    SoF September 2, 2012 at 8:46 pm |

    “by way of an autistic brain”…

    In this case, I would think that ‘the veil’ is rather thick and the task much more difficult.

    We see the world through a veil of errors…

  27. SoF
    SoF September 2, 2012 at 9:09 pm |

    “Did Dogen Go to China?: What He Wrote and When He Wrote It” by Steven Heine…

    One (unmarked) copy is on the way to the UK and the other (yellow highlighted) copy is off to zenmudra…

    Gone, gone…

  28. anon 108
    anon 108 September 3, 2012 at 5:33 am |

    Mark –I can see your comment at 7.12pm, whether I’m logged in or not logged in. But I have had what you’re talking about happen to me with my own comments. Yes, it would be good if Jayce could tell us how it all works. Maybe a tips/help page, including what tags work n so forth?

  29. anon 108
    anon 108 September 3, 2012 at 6:08 am |

    Fred, I’m not sure what your point is.

    I’m not seeking to express the inexpressible I’m not seeking to discredit Nishijima, either. What Nishijima Roshi taught my teacher and what, with his and others’ help, he wrote, has been and still is very important to me.

  30. Fred
    Fred September 3, 2012 at 6:58 am |

    Your words imply that there will be a discrediting or there is a wish for a

    Why state that there are many secret Emails. Why bring it up? Why not just drop

    If Mike’s words ring true, and throw light on what Dogen meant, they will stand
    on their own.

    The path followed a particular course, and nothing can change it.

  31. Andy
    Andy September 3, 2012 at 8:21 am |

    One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with was (and sometimes still is): the impact of harm done to someone close to me. Harm that not only damaged and isolated them and left them unable to cope with the day-to-day circumstances of their own life, for years; but harm that kept being re-cast by the agents of that harm, to the extent that they had given themselves reason to continue harming. In seeking to address this, and knowing that there was nobody else wishing to get their hands dirty, I ended up knowing the great force of that kind of drama upon my own sense of the world. The geist of such things has the ability to find out cracks in one’s own psyche, and to corrode, at times, all sense of ‘rightness’ in ones own intentions. At times this even led us to turn on each other. A dangerous place to find oneself in.

    Sometimes the only thing left to do is to let it do its work all the way through and just keep on going. Faith becomes the knife-edge of a challenge you could almost turn upon yourself, or almost cut through to the other side, but which never loses its keen edge. One learns in glimpses to understand that you’ve been running your life along it since…

    …and there are so many ways to make rough-hewn, piecemeal distractions of yourself from its dulled, nicked shadow – moments of clarity and openness throwing up so much broken glass and daggers that too often the impulse to lounge it out again in the dark before the same old, choking lumber seems like the only consolation your story will ever afford you, the only safety and protection for you and also for others.

    ‘Discrediting’ or ‘setting things straight’? I would like to have to call that one. And it’s tough to let go and let what seems like something bang out of order keep banging it’s own drum.

  32. Andy
    Andy September 3, 2012 at 8:23 am |

    Correction: ‘I wouldn’t like to have to call that one.”

  33. anon 108
    anon 108 September 3, 2012 at 8:51 am |


    I very true that I discredited Nishima’s Sanskrit translation. But that’s all I’ve discredited – as part of an answer to a specific question asked by Aaron. Anything else you infer I’m discrediting or wishing/planning to discredit is in your head.

    I didn’t, and wouldn’t, call the emails ‘secret’. If anything, I’d call them ‘private’ (although I didn’t call them that, either) – until such time as any of the parties decides to publish them. The point of mentioning them is to make it clear that my opinions about this business are based on evidence – on things I’ve seen.

    I brought it up because Aaron asked about The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, Dogen’s philosophy and the problems of translation. I’m happy to drop it until the next time it becomes relevant, or when I fell it is appropriate to mention. I see no reason to forswear all future reference to…it.

    Not everyone who reads this blog will know of Mike’s words. Aaron, if he didn’t know before, now knows. He now knows there is another version of the MMK available, written in light of Dogen’s philosophy and influenced by Nishijima’s. If Aaron decides to read them, he’ll find out if Mike’s words ring true or not. Aaron can of course, as I suggested, get both books.

    Yes, what’s done is done. That path followed a particular course. And our actions now are determining the course of current and future paths.

  34. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 3, 2012 at 9:06 am |

    Let me make clear that I am indeed casting aspersions, not so much on Nishijima for channeling a translation of MKK, but also on MKK for channeling the teachings of Gautama the Buddha. I confess I haven’t read MKK through; the quotes I’ve read remind me right away that there is nothing anywhere like the teachings in the Pali suttas.

    At least the Chan teachers mixed in a little metaphor, a little poetry:

    by Zhengjue
    by imperial designation the Chan Master Spacious Wisdom
    Essential function of buddha after buddha,
    Functioning essence of ancestor after ancestor —
    It knows without touching things;
    It illumines without facing objects.
    Knowing without touching things,
    Its knowing is inherently subtle;
    Illumining without facing objects,
    Its illumining is inherently mysterious.
    Its knowing inherently subtle,
    It is ever without discriminatory thought;
    Its illumining inherently mysterious,
    It is ever without a hair’s breadth of sign.
    Ever without discriminatory thought,
    Its knowing is rare without peer;
    Ever without a hair’s breadth of sign,
    Its illumining comprehends without grasping.
    The water is clear right through to the bottom;
    A fish goes lazily along.
    The sky is vast without horizon;
    A bird flies far far away.

    (from the Stanford project, here.)

  35. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 3, 2012 at 9:13 am |

    ok, so that’s more Taoist than Buddhist because it sets up an eternal of sorts (“It”), but the last lines communicate something about mind and body, don’t they?

    Thanks, 108; I agree that it’s a shortcoming about this site, that there are no instructions about what HTML tags are permitted, and what goes on with comments that don’t appear right away.

    The light box for photos is sure swell, though!

  36. anon 108
    anon 108 September 3, 2012 at 9:54 am |

    The MMK is a funny old book fo sho. Here’s a refreshingly heretical view, if you fancy:

    “Nagarjuna: Master of Paradox, Mystic or Perpetrator of Fallacies? By Richard P Hayes.

    Is Nagarjuna really an important “masterful philosopher” or just a trickster? Hayes has “not …developed a deep respect for his thought” nor does he regard him as a “masterful philosopher”. A contrarian viewpoint on Nagarjuna.”

    Richard Hayes is an American Buddhist Quaker scholar, thinker and practitioner. This is his site:

    Once, I found a very good (=funny coz it’s true) talk about something or other on it. I like him.

  37. anon 108
    anon 108 September 3, 2012 at 9:55 am |

    The MMK is a funny old book fo sho. Here’s a refreshingly heretical view, if you fancy:

    “Nagarjuna: Master of Paradox, Mystic or Perpetrator of Fallacies? By Richard P Hayes.

    Is Nagarjuna really an important “masterful philosopher” or just a trickster? Hayes has “not …developed a deep respect for his thought” nor does he regard him as a “masterful philosopher”. A contrarian viewpoint on Nagarjuna.”

  38. anon 108
    anon 108 September 3, 2012 at 9:55 am |

    Richard Hayes is an American Buddhist Quaker scholar, thinker and practitioner. This is his site:

    Once, I found a very good (=funny coz it’s true) talk about something or other on it. I like him.

  39. gniz
    gniz September 3, 2012 at 10:44 am |

    well I posted a very long reply to Andy yesterday that never even came through (and it had no links in it).

    That’s unfortunate because it seems to me people will be discouraged from posting much just due to the unpredictable nature of what gets through and what doesn’t.

    Great discussions, btw…

  40. anon 108
    anon 108 September 3, 2012 at 11:17 am |

    Found it…the audio of Richard Hayes’s talk. It’s called “”Self: Myth, Delusion, Fiction, or Prerequisite?”

    He’s reading; it rattles along (makes a nice change from the Adagio Nobilmente tempo of most ‘dharma talks’, if y’ask me. )

  41. Fred
    Fred September 3, 2012 at 12:25 pm |

    Mr. Hayes attempts to use conceptual thought to deconstruct Buddhism while
    at the same time calling himself a Buddhist, or Quaker Buddhist or
    doctorate Buddhist or something.

    A mind trapped in the rules of some logical exercise.

  42. SoF
    SoF September 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm |

    But wait! (or Waite)

    There’s money to be made in channeling:

    Madame Blavatsky – The Count St. Germain

    Guy Ballard – Comte de Saint Germain

    In 1918 Aleister Crowley – Aiwass

    Elsie Wheeler – the ‘ancient mind matrix’

    Fox – television

    an so forth…

    Some people will believe ANYTHING.

    Let them. Their ‘mind’ is entrapped.

    By turning the wheel 10,000 times, they may yet find their way.

    Wait, and see.

  43. anon 108
    anon 108 September 3, 2012 at 3:46 pm |

    Hayes…or Nagarjuna, Fred?

  44. boubi
    boubi September 3, 2012 at 4:54 pm |

    Just a silly question.

    I really don’t mean to criticized here anybody, it’s just an example, ok?

    I read quite a few commentaries about interpretations of ancient texts, about their meaning, by instance here in relation to “deep/fundamental” experiences (don’t know how to say else) , like in “realized/realizing world”.

    Now, to me they are just words, maybe evocative words, but still words.

    I really wouldn’t fell commenting those statements having no experience of those relative states , i would feel as if commenting some intricacies of quantum physics lacking the necessary math training.

    Anybody experienced those “things”?

  45. boubi
    boubi September 3, 2012 at 4:54 pm |

    As in first hand experience.

  46. SoF
    SoF September 3, 2012 at 6:07 pm |

    comments awaiting moderation are seen only by the commenter.

    following approval of the moderator, the comment is seen by all who can see – or converted to braille for the blind.

  47. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 3, 2012 at 11:40 pm |

    SoF- thanks, does sound like there’s moderation involved, that would be Jaycee? Jaycee, are you there? When you get a chance, can you see if Brad would be agreeable to something somewhere about how the site is moderated, how many links are permitted, and what HTML tags are permitted? This would help the usual suspects as well as the first-time fun house arrivals, I think.

    Thanks, anon 108, for the refreshing information about Nagarjuna’s arguments.

    Boubi, I aspire to realize the Gautamid’s practice, but for me this is a matter of relaxing and waking up to stuff that’s already going on for me (or falling asleep to it).

    I don’t think his description was sufficient for me to practice. I think most folks who call themselves Buddhist would take it for granted that the Gautamid’s description was sufficient, but I would say if that were true, then why isn’t everybody practicing the way he described and experiencing “deliverance from thought, beyond grasping”?

    I can only speak from my own experience, and that is that the place of occurrence of consciousness affects balance and posture, and the ability to feel is dynamic in response to the place of occurrence of consciousness and informs the spontaneous occurrence of consciousness. So there is a feedback, and as necessary the pitch, yaw and roll at the place of occurrence of consciousness can precipitate stretch and activity to open the ability to feel throughout the body. This is how I experience “setting mindfulness in front”, which in the Gautamid’s descriptions precedes his own practice of “the intent concentration on in-breaths and out-breaths”.

    I see the practice he speaks of from time to time in my practice, and I realize cessations of habitual activity as he described them occasionally, but not through any effort to realize them. I see “this is suffering” in my life, and I see my shortcomings as a practitioner in his teaching, and yet I believe that the beautiful aspect of human nature he described can be taught in the language of science and is something quite apart from the moral and ethical judgments he assumed were inherent in it. And I believe it’s a miracle that I can think this way and strive to experience and improve upon the communication of a beautiful aspect of human nature, and for that I am extremely grateful.

    And I don’t think I’m alone. I think that’s the essence of Mahayana, of Brad’s stance here and elsewhere, and of most of the commentators on this thread. Pass the bananas.

  48. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel September 4, 2012 at 1:45 am |

    There is something in Mark Foote’s writing that I truly appreciate, and it’s his capacity to write English correctly! (Not that it’s the only thing, but…)

  49. Fred
    Fred September 4, 2012 at 4:21 am |

    Boubi, when “you”, the human, cultured, conditioned neural circuits look at it,
    it evaporates. That’s why practice is goaless, allowing it to be it, without the
    ordinary “I myself” interfering.

    Yes, the ” realized universe ” is just words, but it is so close. A glimpse is enough.
    to reaffirm the meaning of what someone wrote in 1240.

    You could say that this person is deluded or whatever, but it is your ego saying
    that. The ego wants something – enlightenment – but it has to get out of the way.
    So, ” you study the self to forget the self ”

    Actualizing the fundamental point and the realized universe are just words,
    but the ” you ” was created by words in the human matrix. Which is the greater

  50. anon 108
    anon 108 September 4, 2012 at 8:19 am |

    I sent Jayce a messsage about a help page (via ‘contact’ > ‘select’ dropdown > ‘tech’ ). He replied:

    “(…) The biggest moderation rule is that a comment can’t have more than one link without being flagged. I’ll have to get back to you on the allowed tags. Anything else you’d like to see on a help page?”

    He also asked that requests and messages intended for him be sent directly to him. I assume he means as above and not posted as a comment here.

Comments are closed.