Envy, Kurt Cobain and Thich Nhat Hanh

ODFxSmallAs social animals, we humans invest a lot in trying to guess what other humans are thinking. It’s a survival skill. We depend on each other for so much that we absolutely have to be able to figure out what’s going on in each other’s heads.

When we see another person do a thing, we ask ourselves what would motivate us to do that thing and then we assume the other person is doing that thing for our reasons. It’s a strategy that works most of the time. But there are plenty of instances where we get it wrong.

I lived in Japan for eleven years. One big cultural difference between Americans and Japanese people is that we Americans are taught to express our feelings while Japanese people are taught to conceal theirs. This means that when an American in Japan expresses his feelings, a Japanese person will often assume that he must feel very, very strongly about whatever it is he’s expressing his feelings about. That’s because a Japanese person would not express himself to that degree unless he felt so strongly he couldn’t contain his emotions.

A few days ago on this blog I expressed some of my feelings about a piece of writing by Thich Nhat Hanh (who I’ll call TNH from here on to try to avoid offending those who worry about TNH reading this blog and getting his feelings hurt). Some guy on Facebook commented that I obviously felt envious of TNH’s success as a Zen teacher.

I attempted to explain what my actual feelings about TNH were. But that didn’t go anywhere. I was just being defensive, he said. There was no point in continuing the conversation, so I didn’t.

But that pointless conversation got me thinking about the actual nature of envy. I think the guy on Facebook thought I was trying to claim that I am beyond feeling envious by virtue of my great spiritual attainments. Because that’s what guys who call themselves Zen Masters are expected to claim.

But I don’t claim to be beyond feelings of envy. I’m not. It’s just that TNH isn’t a person I feel envious of.

It just so happens, I am currently reading a book called Cobain On Cobain. It’s a collection of interviews with Kurt Cobain and the other members of the band Nirvana. Kurt Cobain is a person who, at one time, I very much did feel tremendous envy of.

So I started thinking about why I envied Kurt Cobain and why I do not envy Thich Nhat Hanh.

Kurt Cobain and I have a lot in common. We’re both about the same age (or were until he killed himself). We both wrote songs. We were both deeply influenced by punk rock and its antithesis, melodic sing-songy stuff like The Beatles and obscure sixties pop like The Shocking Blue. When I was in my twenties, I even looked a little like Kurt Cobain (see photo).

In 1989, my band Dimentia 13 released an album called Disturb The Air. On this album I tried to combine my beloved sixties pop with the grungy grinding guitar sound of punk rock. Here’s an example. In 1990 The Trouser Press Record Guide, an encyclopedic book about the alternative rock scene, was published. Dimentia 13’s entry is about three times longer than the one for Nirvana.

So when Nirvana blew up big, you’d better believe I felt envious. You may say that there is a difference in quality between Nirvana and Dimentia 13. I happen to think Kurt Cobain was a much better songwriter than I was and Nirvana was a much better band than D-13. But if you want to argue otherwise, I’ll accept that. Still, Nirvana was getting all these accolades for being tremendously groundbreaking even though they weren’t doing anything I hadn’t already done. Plus they were selling millions of records while I couldn’t even afford the $65 I was paying for a room in a decrepit punk rock pit in Akron.

I envied Kurt Cobain because I compared myself to him. And although the comparison was valid in some superficial ways, in other much more significant ways it was not. Kurt Cobain had a very different personal history. He was more committed to doing the often skuzzy and demeaning things you need to do to make a living as an alt-rock musician than I was. And he had very different karma.

I gave up on Dimentia 13 at about the time Nirvana was starting to make it big. It was a deeply depressing time. I felt like I’d had my shot and I’d blown it. Now I was going to have to resign myself to getting a tedious 9-to-5 job in an office or something. I hated myself and wanted to die. Meanwhile Nirvana were rock stars.

But as I watched what happened to Kurt, I realized my envy had been misplaced. I saw how tormented he was by fame and I knew that I’d have reacted pretty much the same way if it had been Dimentia 13 that suddenly got thrust into the role of Voice Of A Generation. I don’t advocate suicide, but I completely understand why Kurt took that way out.

On the other hand, I don’t envy Thich Nhat Hanh because I don’t see myself as being very much like him. I wanted to be a rock star. I did not ever want to be a famous Zen Master. I still don’t. When TNH leads a Zen retreat hundreds of people come. That sounds like a nightmare to me. I hope I never lead a retreat as big as that. There would be no point if I couldn’t have any real connection with the majority of those who attended, where I’d just be seen as some kind of superhuman entity floating in from above the clouds.

Envy is always based on comparison. It’s based on thinking that you deserve what someone else has. It’s based on the idea that if you had what they had, you’d be happier. None of these ideas are ever true.

But even if you understand this clearly, envy still arises. It arises in me all the time. Not toward Thich Nhat Hanh, but toward those who I still compare myself to (mostly more successful writers who don’t write about Zen).

The object of Zen practice isn’t to try to erase envy or make it magically disappear. Rather, you try to gain some distance so that you can watch envy arise and watch yourself react to it. When you do so, you often see that your habitual reactions to envy are not very adequate. If you work at it you might even find a new way to react to envy.

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70 Responses

Page 1 of 1
  1. Fred Jr.
    Fred Jr. February 24, 2016 at 1:55 pm |

    There’s still time…

  2. Khru 2.0
    Khru 2.0 February 24, 2016 at 1:57 pm |

    All the evil karma
    ever created by me since of old,
    on account of my beginningless
    greed, hatred and ignorance.
    Born of my conduct, speech and thought;
    I now confess openly and fully.

    1. Khru 2.0
      Khru 2.0 February 24, 2016 at 2:05 pm |

      STFU Khru, as usual you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  3. Dogen
    Dogen February 24, 2016 at 2:06 pm |

    I’d have reacted pretty much the same way if it had been Dimentia 13 that suddenly got thrust into the role of Voice Of A Generation.

    Well look on the bright side, Dementia 13 wasn’t thrust into the role of the Worst Voice of A Generation.


  4. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 24, 2016 at 3:53 pm |

    Doesn’t get any better than this, IMHO:


    Good luck in the Lone Star State!

  5. gnmark
    gnmark February 24, 2016 at 5:06 pm |

    I had a similar experience at about the same time, in a different city, a different genre of music. Atlanta, Georgia playing blues, and out come this band called The Black Crows that supposedly sounded like The Small Faces. I went to see their show on a Halloween night, and was so put off by the whole scene, and the crap I heard coming from the stage that I left pretty early. Being an idealistic 24 year old blues rocker, I thought I knew what made the blues the blues, and rock, rock. This was not it by anyone witnessing this show, as most were there to try to get laid and be part of the scene. Turns out that this up and coming Nashville mommas boy (Chris Robinson) whose family had put up the money for a record contract, and musicians in a studio play on the record, had to showcase in a few places around town to create buzz in the local press and beyond. This turned out to be one of my greateset lessons in life; you don’t need talent to be a famous person, you just need money behind you, and the balls to get up and perform. Came to the conclusion that being authentic was not always profitable, but that it felt a whole lot better than the alternative.

  6. Envy | Zandtao February 24, 2016 at 5:34 pm |
  7. Conrad
    Conrad February 24, 2016 at 6:47 pm |

    Oh my God, now I’ve created a monster.

  8. Conrad
    Conrad February 24, 2016 at 7:20 pm |

    Yeah, I was the guy on FB Brad’s referring to.

    Maybe I should let this drop, but it does bring up an interesting point, having to do not just with envy, but with “feelings”.

    Brad seems to think that when I told him that he needed to stop resenting Thay for his success (not just in this partucular FB post, but in many previous ones), and that he was clearly envious, that I was referring to some internal feeling called “envy” that only Brad could possibly know he felt, and that since he didn’t feel that, he wasn’t “envious”. His last remark to me was along the lines of “well, you sure seem to think you know me without even having met me.” And that too suggests that “knowing someone” involves getting to know this “inner self” that feels things like envy, and that if I really knew him, I’d know that he doesn’t feel envious of Thay.

    But that’s really a fundamental misunderstanding of what human beings are, and what envy is. It’s not a feeling. It’s a pattern of action. I don’t need to know Brad’s inner feelings about Thay to say that he’s envious of him. I just need to refer to Brad’s actions – specifically, all the posts he’s written over the years in which he refers to Thay. which almost always contain some sort of passive-aggressive resentment that Thay is so popular, while Brad is struggling just to get enough of a following to pay his rent. There’s also all the posts he’s written over the years in which he’s lamented his own lack of money, lack of general appreciation for his skills as a Zen teacher, lack of book sales, while other Zen teachers (not just Thay) are much better supported, etc.

    So as I mentioned in that FB thread, even when I saw the title of the post, with Thay’s name in it, I immediately thought, oh no, another post where Brad knocks Thay with faint praise and laments his own comparative lack of success. Then I felt guilty for that presumption and thought, I shouldn’t be a jerk and presume the negative, so I read the post with an open mind. But sure enough, there Brad is once again knocking Thay and lamenting his own lack of success. And so I made my comment. Not because I had divined Brad’s inner state of feeling with my immense psychic powers, but because there was a pattern of speech and action that was so predictable even I, a casual reader of his blog, had noticed it and could make accurate predictions on that basis. That’s the fricking scientific method right there.

    And that’s what envy is. It’s not your inner feelings, it’s your actions. You could have all sort of envious thoughts and feel all sorts of envious feelings, but if you don’t act them out, you’re not envious. You’re being conscious and aware, and even finding enough freedom from those things to not be their bitch. All of life is like that. It’s not what we think or think we feel, it’s what we do.

    Now, I don’t contest that Brad doesn’t literally want the kind of success Thay has had. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t envious of the guy. I don’t want to be like Donald Trump, but that doesn’t mean I don’t envy some things about him, like his wealth and his ability to get people to listen to him. But I think it’s important that I know that, and not let resentment of his success color the way I speak about him. I don’t want to be as rich as Trump, and I don’t want to be as famous either. But a little of each would be nice.

    And I think Brad thinks similarly about Thay. How do I know what Brad thinks? Well, because he’s a writer, and he writes down his thoughts for all to see! If he didn’t do that, I’d have no clue that he was jealous of Thay. But since he does, he leaves a pattern of thought that’s pretty much unmistakable. Even I noticed it, someone who’s never met him. It’s not me imagining shit going on in his head that makes me think that, it’s Brad’s own words.

    And it’s really very understandable. Brad struggles just to get the basics going with his career as a teacher. It’s hard. He’s worked hard, he’s written some pretty decent books, and he still can’t even get a center going. He’s trying, and I wish him luck. And then there’s Thay, who Brad sees getting all this acclaim and money and centers all over the world, and followers who are in awe of him. Brad doesn’t even want all of that, but he wants something somewhere that’s maybe a tenth or even a hundredth of that, and he feels like he’s deserving, because he doesn’t write dumb platitudes like Thay does, and he ought to be rewarded at least somewhat for that.

    And maybe he’s even right. But life isn’t fair, and Buddhism is all about how to deal with that fact, called dukkha. And that’s the important thing. What Kurt Cobain discovered, like so many others, was that wealth and fame don’t eliminate dukkha. He killed himself to end the dukkha, or so he probably thought.

    So all I’m pointing out is that Brad’s frustrations with his teaching career are just another form of dukkha. I don’t really care about Thay, he’s not my kind of teacher anyway. That’s not what I was addressing, some kind of unfairness Brad may have exhibited towards Thay. I was just pointing out that the pattern of resentment and envy Brad keeps up with Thay and other teachers is a form of dukkha that won’t be satisfied, ever. Even if Brad gets more money and reliable students and a center, that won’t be satisfying either. So why not give that up now? Why not just stop repeating this whole resentment thing about Thay and other teachers who seem more successful? I mean, it’s really not doing you any good, and it’s probably doing you harm, whether you “feel” envious or not. But whether you see that or not, it’s totally visible to us dweebs out here who check in on your blog. And really, it’s not that big a deal. You could be doing a lot worse, believe me. As it happens, I actually like your writings more than I do Thay’s. Not necessarily because you’re any better than him, but maybe because you’re worse. Easier to relate to someone who’s not so clean and calm sometimes. I can’t claim that I actually know you, because I don’t, but from your writings you’re at least a relatable guy. And that matters too, regardless of how “successful” you are in the ordinary sense of things.

    1. french-roast
      french-roast February 25, 2016 at 2:12 am |

      ”……and what envy is. It’s not a feeling. It’s a pattern of action……. And that’s what envy is. It’s not your inner feelings, it’s your actions. You could have all sort of envious thoughts and feel all sorts of envious feelings, but if you don’t act them out, you’re not envious.” Complete non-sense!

      ”It’s not what we think or think we feel, it’s what we do.”

      Hum! Just how tight woven is your mental sieves? Envy is not this not that, it is what I say it is: a doing. I detect patterns of serious delirium, (TNH teaching?) what is Brad actual doing, that was not a thought? Isn’t a comment a thought? What is the difference between a doing, a thought and a feeling? Brad said he does not envy TNH. Why don’t you simply accept this? Why should he in fact envy TNH?

      It is not TNH the ‘problem’, (although I find what he says cunningly attractive, but boring to death), it is the inert mass which follow him all over the world like rats. Do you really think that Brad would enjoy being followed by an uncritical rat pack? What is there to be envious of? Poor TNH, may he rest in peace!

      ”I don’t want to be like Donald Trump, but that doesn’t mean I don’t envy some things about him, like his wealth and his ability to get people to listen to him……. rich as Trump, and I don’t want to be as famous either. But a little of each would be nice. ”

      Is your envy a doing? A pattern of doing? A compulsion? Or is it a feeling, a thought? Is this deep confusion all you gain from TNH teaching? And you really think that this is something Brad should be envious of?

  9. Tuka
    Tuka February 25, 2016 at 3:20 am |


    I think I remember reading a blog post here about Nishijima’s favorite books, one book was about suicide. Who was the author again? Thanks

    1. Khru 2.0
      Khru 2.0 February 25, 2016 at 7:13 am |

      I hope you’re not considering suicide, friend.

  10. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon February 25, 2016 at 3:57 am |

    “You don’t understand. I could’a had class. I could’a been a contender. I could’a been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.”
    – Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), On The Waterfront


  11. Nicole
    Nicole February 25, 2016 at 5:19 am |

    That’s a beautiful text, Brad, thank you.

  12. Conrad
    Conrad February 25, 2016 at 9:25 am |


    I agree, envy, like everything, isn’t one “thing” or another. It’s a complex pattern arising within dependent origination. I think it’s far more useful to see it as a form of action, composed of many dependent actions, than a discrete “feeling” that if we don’t find in ourselves, then we are not envious of others. But I think that’s true of everything we could name or describe as nouns. There are no actual nouns, it’s just a way of referring to a complex of activity.

    What’s the difference between a doing, a thought, and a feeling? Well, I’d say they are all forms of activity. Even our internal thoughts, impressions, and feelings are the result of our activity. They are inseparable from the activities themselves, they are not discrete “things”.

    This reminds me of the endless tail-wagging-dog confusion about the ego one hears a lot of these days – that if you can’t find an actual discrete “ego” in your psyche, it means you don’t have one, and that discovery enlightens you. Well, no. It’s a good insight, but it merely means that the ego is not a discrete “thing”, but rather, a pattern of action, thought, feeling, relationship. I’ve encountered all sorts of non-dual “teachers” who think they have transcended the illusion of ego simply because they can’t find this discrete “ego”-thing. But these same people act just as egotistically as before, in the same pattern everyone else who might be assuming the existence of an ego does. So what’s the difference? Is their denial of having any ego something we should take seriously, when they act and talk egoically?

    So the fact that Brad says he’s not envious of Thay doesn’t mean he isn’t envious of Thay. The pattern of all his writings about Thay tell us otherwise. People caught out often deny things they find embarrassing. Brad clearly thinks it would be embarrassing to be seen as envious of Thay’s success. Otherwise, why post such a lengthy denial? People are commonly unconscious of their faults. I know I am. I’m reminded of the joke about a guy who keeps denying to his wife that he’s having an affair. She follows him, and bursts into a hotel room to find him naked in bed making love to another woman. She says, “I knew you were having an affair!” The guy jumps out of bed and denies it again, saying, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

    Well, in this case, I’m going to believe the evidence of my lying eyes, rather than Brad’s denials. I mean seriously, I’ve been reading these sort of things from Brad about Thay for years now. It’s a serious pattern at this point. His denials come down to “I don’t literally want to be Thay, or have exactly that kind of following, so that means I’m not envious,” which is itself an absurd denial. That’s not what “envy” means – wanting to literally be someone else in every way. Envy merely means that one feels lacking in some way, and that one wants some of what someone else has to fill that lack. Brad wants more success in his teaching career than he has. He wants more money, he wants more fame, more recognition of the significance of his spiritual understanding and wisdom, he wants a center in LA that he’s been fund-raising for, etc. He writes about this all the time. He pursues it actively, here and on FB and elsewhere. He’s promoting himself and his brand. It’s no secret. And Thay has all these things in spades. It would take either superhuman strength of character or some kind of great insight to not be envious of Thay’s success. The fact that he doesn’t want to do all the things that Thay has done to gain that success, or be burdened by its responsibilities and negatives doesn’t make him any less envious, it just means Brad has both ambiguous motives and desires for something even better, some combination of things that is very, very hard to achieve, and he’s doubly frustrated at not achieving it, especially when he feels that he deserves it and Thay doesn’t. Well, gee, is that really some terrible crime to be accused of? I don’t think so. It’s just ordinary human nature. Envy is all around us, it’s a huge part of our highly competitive culture, it’s very hard not to become infected with it. I have it, I’m sure you have it, and Brad has it. He needs to get over himself and just be honest about it.

    As for my delerium, that’s all me, not Thay. I’ve never read more than a few small excerts of Thay’s teachings. I’ve never even read a whole book of his. My wife has, and she likes him. What little I’ve read of him seems fine, if not my stylistic cup of tea. So I have no skin in this game, at least not when it comes to Thay himself. He seems like a fine fellow as far as I can tell. I’ve never heard of any scandals about him or his community. I haven’t come across anything off or weird or delusional about him. He seems to have helped a lot of people, and his people love him. His followers probably aren’t very critical of him, but so what? Is there something abusive going on there I don’t know about? Or is this just the usual punk-rocker poseur thing about “authenticity”?

    1. french-roast
      french-roast February 26, 2016 at 1:36 am |

      Patterns are to me repetitive solutions (attitudes, ideas, ways of seeing, ways of solving, ways of being) which when alive and deep, are generative and can set us free, when dead, confined us into inner and outer conflicts. There is no human life without patterns, which are essentially solutions (world made up of words, view and viewpoints) to perceived relations between field of antagonist and complementary forces, which we feel must be resolved in order to be one harmonious whole once more.

  13. Kickfist
    Kickfist February 25, 2016 at 9:35 am |

    I envy Brad for his carefree life style. No money, no responsibles. No nagging women. No asshole bosses. Just freedom and days spent writing movie reviews. I wanna be Peter Pan also.

    When I worked my ass off with minimal wage I could fuck off anyone anytime. Now with decent paychecks I have become slave. Slave for money. No more fuck offs for anyone. Keep cool, watch your back, smile when insults come. Shit.

  14. Conrad
    Conrad February 25, 2016 at 9:43 am |

    Btw, Brad, nowhere in that original FB exchange did I say you were being defensive. I merely said there was a pattern to your writings about Thay that was unmistakeable, and that pattern spoke for itself. If you thought I accused you of being defensive, it must have been because that was on your mind, not mine.

  15. jason farrow
    jason farrow February 25, 2016 at 10:19 am |

    idk y, but i just instantaneously equated with nirvana’s music. it is good song writing…idk just…there wasn’t a “oh man, that’s what i’ve been looking for!” it was like…you ever have a girlfriend that the relationship happened over night just because. idk. hard to explain. everything was “just right.” (until it collapses horribly. like it always does.)

    as opposed to TNHinc, i watched that guy on google and youtube for like half a year before i bought one of his books. i had a really hard time judging if he was a phony or not. other ppl told me he was. but…like…i thought he was exemplifying his understanding. i thought he was exampling his understanding in each movement and word. to me he expressed kin-hin. but i noticed he never tossed his own two cents into the lessons. he just regurgitated what other teachers taught. and he reiterated what followers said, which i thought was kinda cool. (i was really sort of clueless when i was paying attention to TNHinc.)

    but the thing that got me was, he had all these vids on the net, for free! and not one of them asked for a donation. i realized early on that there was this push for donations, and it just didn’t seem to equate to me, i have no idea why really, that a teacher would push and push for donations. for some reason, that just didn’t seem Buddhist to me. today i know why, but back then, i had no clue.

    with the wealth of material available on line, i just sort of dove into it, and as i did that it encouraged me to sit more and more. for longer periods of time. and to aim towards trying to sit half lotus as opposed to a bench.

    and then at the same time, i was still studying with my first lineage via skype and retreats. and then with a ch’an/pureland lineage i am with now….at some point, reading one of his books, i had this spaced out meltdown. i can’t even explain what it was. my brain just sort of went wonky like i had discovered the meaning of life or something, but couldn’t explain it to anyone else. it was just some giant epiphany i had that we are all sun worshipers. i don’t even know if it equated with what i was reading in the book.

    but that made me think he was legit.

    TNHinc doesn’t put on mediation retreats. He puts on threatre shows. And everything was insanely over priced like…a painting that said “PureLand” with a zen symbol around it for 500$. like, it may have taken him 5mins to do it. just shit like that. he had ppl joining his lineage on a mass scale by taking his precepts. and it really really really seemed to me that all the “talks” were orchestrated. right down the the random QnA of audience members.

    there was only one meditation for about 30mins. that was it. i knew enough at that point that TNH was a corporation and that what i had paid 700$ for, wasn’t a “retreat.” we weren’t even chanting and bowing. there was no “PureLand” practice going on. there was no zen meditation.

    there was one relaxation meditation i did with his “sister”, and at the end of it, when i was a total puddle of mailable human bio-mass of a being on the gym floor, shes “don’t forget to donate to the Vietnamese orphans.” dude, i almost went insane. i knew at that point, this was a cheap shot for cash.

    then there was the “walk in the pureland with the kiddies.” i don’t know how i contained myself. it was so fake. and like…he has this ability to just rope ppl in. he is a masterful cult leader. he had mothers crying and wailing in the “pureland.” i knew enough about pureland buddhism that this was not the pureland. idk how i refrained from not running up to him and punching him in the head. may be if he had been 40yrs younger, i would have made sure i got a few good blows in. because, i knew i had been had. and that many others had been had. and i knew it was really sleazy. how there has never been a TNHinc WACO, i will never know.

  16. jason farrow
    jason farrow February 25, 2016 at 10:40 am |

    i am envious of Buddhist teachers though. like…i remember being asked if i thought i was ready to attempt “dukosan” as a teacher. it was not something i wanted to do because i didn’t want to steer someone in the wrong direction. but, at the same time, i sort of thought i could give an answer that could at least in some fashion be beneficial. even if it was, “dude, you need to see a doctor about that. may be you need prozac.” or “dude, i don’t know. only you know.” or “dude, i gotta get back to you on that one.” y’know? just simple honest stuff. the zen banter i could handle. the sincere questions, sort of gave me the willies.

    but, the main reason why i am jealous of zen teachers/monks/patriarchs etc…is that they learn so much from their students. it’s like, the marshal stack that goes to 11 as opposed to 1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOO5S4vxi0oso so much feedback!

    you get to engage with ppl. ppl are often really sincere about practice…it’s like, meeting ppl who help you push the buddhadharma to the limits. and then just when you think,”man, what’s left to learn.” a whole new thing walks through the door. i know because i’ve seen it with my teachers. i’m sure it’s a pain in the ass too.

    and where you travel to different groups, you get so many different influences. that sounds awesome. i’m sure it has it’s pain in the ass moments too. like..that time where you got locked out for being a few minutes late…that was kinda b.s. the guest speaker, whose traveling, gets locked out from the group? i mean…why lock anyone out?

    also, i think zen monastics make the world a better place. i think they make ppls lives better. just teaching ppl how to meditate makes ppls lives better. that’s what i want. i want to create a pureland. and i want to help other ppl who want to create purelands, and so on and so on….

    idk. i guess i’m just…somewhere between being a chicken, and having never had any real sense of direction…plus too. i don’t want to waste my time. i don’t want to get needlessly jerked around. i hate tricky zen. what’s the point in that? tricky zen just creates hurt feelings, and it never really reverts….like…if i a teacher is going to jerk me around as to test me, or as a learning curve, they better walk the walk. otherwise their just a jerk.

  17. Conrad
    Conrad February 25, 2016 at 11:43 am |

    I just read your previous post on “Fear and Loathing in Nirvana” (a lot of fun, btw, you’re a good writer), and I was struck by this passage:

    “While there’s a sense of welcome comradery at being with your “own kind,” there’s also a bubbling well of jealousy seething just below the surface. You’re so used to being the only kid on your block who knows anything about Ultraman that when you meet someone else who might possibly own even more plastic kaiju figures than you do, you’re just looking for a reason to brand him a big phony and a wanna-be.”

    Okay, so somehow you can see this “bubbling well of jealousy seething below the surface” at the Conscious Life Expo, but I can’t see something similar in you? Where did you get those magical powers, and do I have to press the “donate” button at the bottom of the page to get them for myself?

    See, from my point of view, the whole Zen Teacher World is just like the Conscious Life Expo, though maybe a little less colorful. Zen teachers are also a bunch of jealous, nerdy guys (mostly guys) dressing up in funny clothes and spouting all sorts of notions that they think people need to hear, and ought to be willing to pay good money for. They sell their books and their paraphenalia and their seminars and centers and so on. And bubbling beneath the veneer of peaceful spirituality is a seething well of envy. That includes not just Thay, but you. Thay’s booth is big and expensive and people flock to it. Yours is small and out of the way and barely anyone notices. The envy seethes. It can’t help but seethe. Once you enter into the spiritual marketplace to sell your wares, it’s inevitable. If you want to not be envious, don’t set up a booth. Because if you do, it’s a doomsday of envy coming your way, just like those poor, unnoticed World Teachers. You’re not immune from that, no matter what you tell yourself. No one is. That’s why the best teachers never charge for their teachings or go around soliciting donations. They know what happens once you start.

  18. daruma
    daruma February 25, 2016 at 3:04 pm |

    This has been very good summary from Conrad’s. Every time Brad has been attacking either TNH or John Kabat-Zinn (or some others), sometimes in quite rude way I was wondering why whilst some of zen guys go around and teach compassion and tolerance, they cannot stop themselves from doing exactly opposite. If you read Dogen Sangha blog, the amounts of conflict, fight and envy has been so high, that it was difficult to read it without drinking two Red Bulls before. Like many others I love reading Brad books and blog, I think he is a good writer and he understands what he teaches well – at least intellectually. Tolerance and humility is what is lacking……. Interesting…

  19. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 25, 2016 at 6:06 pm |

    Every time I get to thinking I might have some redeeming feature, I discover shortly thereafter that I’ve stepped in something aromatic…

    I rely on my friends, to help me keep my feet when the swells get deep.

    I never could’a been a contender. I just wanted to breath upright, and it’s taken me a lifetime to find moments where I am that, and even so it’s only because of what other people found in the moments where they were that, that I am on occasion where I am, breathing upright.

    Where am I.


  20. gnmark
    gnmark February 25, 2016 at 10:04 pm |

    For the record, I have listened to Brad’s comments about TNH in person, and on this blog; and have never interpreted what he stated as personal about him. In fact! I have never heard him say anything rude, about anyone. I think he may not resonate, and may have an opinion about the kinds of people attracted to the teachings; and may have thoughts about their behaviours or actions, but I feel that it is always talked about in the sense that he wishes for them to have something better. Anyway, I feel strange writing this in defense of Brad, but a little tired of seeing ten paragraph diatribes on this blog, when we have much better things to discuss. If Brad has envy towards a teacher; none of my fucking business, and it shouldn’t be your job to point it out either.

  21. Michel
    Michel February 26, 2016 at 12:38 am |

    Then I think there is TNH and there is a fantasised TNH. I think very few people know TNH and most only know of their fantasy TNH whom they never truly met in an intimate manner.

    A master can only be such if you have this intimate relationship with him/her, otherwise it is utterly impossible for that person to tell you exactly what is wrong in here or there. Going to a kalachakra meeting with the DL or to a huge retreat with TNH is just some fantasy thing where you bask in the magic presence of a fantasised person.

    Most people are plain tired of their old chains which fetter them and hinder them, and would much like to substitute them with exotic chains, nielloed and engraved with exotic letters which almost no one understands, or, covered with rich silk brocade. Still chains, though…

    1. french-roast
      french-roast February 26, 2016 at 2:22 am |

      What is anything? Be it a tree or TNH, is something, something else than what I say it is? If so then tell me what it is!

    2. jason farrow
      jason farrow February 26, 2016 at 3:00 pm |

      bullshit. i didn’t go to basket in TNHinc. i just followed my nose. it lead to the theatre. who are you to say what i was contemplating? i say i what i was contemplating. there was no fantasy going on. other that wanting to expose him as a fraud.

      you talk you know him personally. i guess it takes one to know one.

  22. Conrad
    Conrad February 26, 2016 at 2:33 am |

    “If Brad has envy towards a teacher; none of my fucking business, and it shouldn’t be your job to point it out either.”

    If it isn’t any of your business, why are you trying to tell the rest of us what we should or shouldn’t say?

  23. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon February 26, 2016 at 4:00 am |

    At this moment I envy Kurt Cobain because he is dead and unable to read these comments.

    1. Le Petit Canyon
      Le Petit Canyon February 26, 2016 at 5:44 am |
      1. Kyla
        Kyla February 26, 2016 at 2:28 pm |

        I remember a talk at a Buddhist centre near me that for the most part I didn’t like but I do recall the idea that (in terms of literal reincarnation if you believe in that), everyone was once your mother and you theirs so we are all that connected and deserving of compassion. I don’t believe in reincarnation but I could see how metaphorically speaking, imagining that everyone has given birth to me, and I them, speaks to that interconnectedness and how much more beneficial compassion is in life.

        1. Mumbles
          Mumbles February 27, 2016 at 5:12 am |

          In the past I’ve found metta practice very beneficial, if you’re not aware of it, there’s a lot of good information around on its simple practice, here is a simple step by step for any beginner (or anyone:)


          1. Mumbles
            Mumbles February 27, 2016 at 5:44 am |
          2. Kyla
            Kyla February 27, 2016 at 7:19 am |

            Thanks for those links.

    2. jason farrow
      jason farrow February 26, 2016 at 2:55 pm |

      ha! that’s awesome l0l!

  24. Mumbles
    Mumbles February 26, 2016 at 4:46 am |

    “Any amount of fame or success might have sent Lucia reeling. With all she’d managed to survive, something suddenly going so right could have also meant certain ruin.”

    -Elizabeth Geoghagen, writing about the writer Lucia Berlin, whose recent collection of stories, A Manual For Cleaning Women, is an excellent read.


  25. daruma
    daruma February 26, 2016 at 7:11 am |

    @ gnmark: “If Brad has envy towards a teacher; none of my fucking business, and it shouldn’t be your job to point it out either.”

    When I lived in Middle East I saw these guys. Mutawa – religious police. Their job was to tell people what to write and what not to write, what not to say and what not to do and what should be discussed and what must not. You might want to enroll – you will fit. They have a lot of vacancies in Syria and Iraq nowadays…

    Besides that:

    I do not think Brad thinks he needs to be defended, because this has been not attack against him – just some comments on his attitudes….it is only one very little part of Brad’s personality and it does not deny he is a good guy and good teacher – so no point to get an aggro….

    And it is not such a bad thing to discuss – probably better than talk about crappy movies anyway…. and this is because….

    Because the point is that Brad presents himself as a teacher of certain tenets, but in this case he acts in a way that is in right opposition to his own teachings – “don’t be a jerk”. Moreover, I never heard people who he criticises being publicly negative about other teachers, but Brad cannot repeatedly stop himself. He might know in advance what reactions it may cause. It is not important whether his words are cause by greed, arrogance, delusion or simply by being opinionated and it does not matter if he is right about these people or not.
    It is instead simply matter of bad taste and questionable intentions, many times repeated on this blog. It is also a matter of being lame – bad mouthing other – more succesful guys, instead of focusing on oneself and trying to do things better.
    Finally, in case of such comments on zen blog – it potentially raises the question how good the teacher is if he does not walk the talk. That is why it is a good topic to discuss…..

  26. tuberrose
    tuberrose February 26, 2016 at 7:47 am |

    All the anger and personal attacks have gotten old. Can we move on, now?

    1. Dogen
      Dogen February 26, 2016 at 2:45 pm |

      Would a fresh approach to personal attacks help?

      1. Doge
        Doge February 27, 2016 at 8:51 am |


  27. Nicole
    Nicole February 26, 2016 at 9:44 am |

    I also want to move on, and I actually have a question about zazen. Brad wrote in his last paragraph:

    “The object of Zen practice isn’t to try to erase envy or make it magically disappear. Rather, you try to gain some distance so that you can watch envy arise and watch yourself react to it. When you do so, you often see that your habitual reactions to envy are not very adequate. If you work at it you might even find a new way to react to envy.”

    And this is a pretty good description of what I am myself ‘getting out of’ doing zazen, with envy and many other things. It’s not what I had expected to happen when I started, but I absolutely love it! (And it’s so useful, but I probably shouldn’t admit that …) On the other hand, I’ve started only a few months ago, and you hear so often from experienced practitioners, that ‘zazen isn’t good for anything at all’, There’s examples for this statement in the blog here, and in the outside world as well, but it’s never really clear to me what that means. I think I get the basic idea of not getting attached to non-attachment, but is that really all there is to it? Or what does it mean for you guys?

    1. Dogen
      Dogen February 26, 2016 at 12:56 pm |

      It means the naysayers suck at zazen of course.

      1. Doge
        Doge February 27, 2016 at 8:52 am |


  28. tuberrose
    tuberrose February 26, 2016 at 10:09 am |

    Nicole, I’m new to this, too. I think if there were really no point in sitting zazen it would have disappeared centuries ago. It’s a good practice and I’m still practicing on making it a consistent part of my life. In a recent blog, Brad mentioned that sitting can bring solutions to different problems you might be facing. That’s what happened to me. I have seen other options and I have gotten other insights into the issues I have to deal with. There are other benefits I can’t really put my finger on. I don’t notice a personal difference, but my family always knows when I start to slack off from my practice. I am encouraged to stay with it or get back to it.

    1. french-roast
      french-roast February 27, 2016 at 1:15 am |

      Is practice good? I have practiced for many years, quite intensively. During all those years, my gorgeous and sexy wife which was not practicing, had some anticipation of what this practice should have had on me, she would say for example ‘you would not talk and behave the way you do if what you do (zazen), was useful and good for you’, but I have never told her that this practice was useful or good. She anticipated ‘I don’t know what’ from me doing all those long retreats and daily meditation. At one point she even told me that she has doubt that I actually do those long 7 days retreats, once she told me ‘ I am sure your have a mistress and that you make me believe that you go to a retreat, but instead you go and have fun with her’. Oh boy, I wish that would have been the case, but unfortunately it wasn’t. And then one day, maybe 17 years after I had started practicing, without even telling me, she started to practice zazen, morning and night time in a very serious way. I never ask her any question regarding her practice, and she would not ask me either. But one day after 4-5 years, she did, she told me about her various experiences on and off the mat. I told her that she dreamed all of those, end of discussion, she went into her office and slam the door. It took about 3 more years for her to ask me some questions regarding the practice. Her dreams of what this practice is or not, the good or bad, the usefulness or not, what directions, what to anticipate from this practice were simply collapsing. I then told her, ‘now, the ‘real’ practice begins, you are finally on your own, walking on your two feet’. (We had great intercourse that night :)!)

      Is there any kind of benefits to this practice? Physiologically, I would say yes, there might be some benefits, but do not expect miraculous benefits, all of those who were practicing 100 years ago are all dead after all. There is actually a huge benefits in doing this practice; it will not give anything to the person/personality. It will (should) eventually erode the sense of self. The I want, I should, will tend to melt down progressively, as this sense of self melts away, so does the chronic (not the punctual) envy, greed, anger, ignorance (I am not so sure about this last one). In America, now, we value this self tremendously, self-esteem is a priority, but practice will (should) eventually make you doubt of this priority, as you progressively become aware of the complete disaster that this sense of self really is. I see this as beneficial, but some will see this as complete non-sense. Your choice.

      Is Buddha nature useful? Is it a good thing? A transmission in a car is useful, it is a good thing, it is a part in a whole, it is something functional within a larger unit. But Buddha nature isn’t a part in a whole, it does not have any function either. What is Buddha? Dog shit! Why say this? Of what use is dog shit? Is dog shit a good thing? Maybe, just maybe, the most precious has no use whatsoever! For who would it be useful? The sense of self?

      1. Kyla
        Kyla February 27, 2016 at 1:49 am |

        “In America, now, we value this self tremendously, self-esteem is a priority, but practice will (should) eventually make you doubt of this priority, as you progressively become aware of the complete disaster that this sense of self really is.”–

        Well put french-roast.

  29. Kyla
    Kyla February 26, 2016 at 2:25 pm |

    My favourite word so far in Buddhism is papanca.


    I find it even sounds like what it is!! 🙂
    I find I am less reactive since practicing Zazen. I feel less like a ball in a pinball machine being bounced around by external circumstances and my reactions to them (as well as to all the flashing lights and bells in my mind) are more productive and less knee-jerk (if I have a reaction at all).
    I don’t give my thoughts the credence as ‘truths’ I might once have and see them more as perceptions. I find I am more able to know what I can control in life and what I can’t and am more comfortable with life even when I can’t control what is going on or what did go on long ago.
    A big part of it is about non-attachment.

    1. french-roast
      french-roast February 27, 2016 at 4:50 am |

      Just found the book, I will read it, look interesting. Perception, what I call world made up of words (concepts) is one of my favorite topic, no Zen books for me, there are way too boring.
      Thank you,

      Zazen does indeed tend to ground us, that is one of the reason why people are asked to concentrate on the lower abdomen in order to have a low center of gravity. The way to go is down, not up there in the sky. As you develop a strong and low center of gravity, you will ‘feel less like a ball in a pinball machine being bounced around by external circumstances.’. Eventually even this comfortable, cozy, stable and ‘secure’ center must be abandon. There is no goal, beginning or end to this practice, as you walk along, the landscape changes constantly. Practice, experience, enjoy, let it go, move along.

  30. Dogen
    Dogen February 26, 2016 at 2:43 pm |

    Let’s no get too boastful, some can’t even handle a small comment on an internet blog.

    1. Doge
      Doge February 27, 2016 at 8:52 am |

      such clever

  31. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 26, 2016 at 8:38 pm |

    Anybody read “The Natural Way to Draw”, by Kimon Nicolaides? My mother turned me onto it when I was in high school; it’s a great book.

    Nicolaides taught three exercises to develop a natural way to draw: 1) contour drawing, where you draw with the pencil continuously on the paper, looking only at the object/subject (and never at the drawing on the paper); 2) gesture drawing, where the pencil moves freely (and copiously) to capture the gesture and the weight of the subject/object; and 3) drawing from memory.

    I realized that what I have been describing in my writing is three “exercises”, if you will: 1) staying with the location of awareness continuously, regardless of the object in awareness; 2) opening to the occurrence of consciousness from the proprioceptors throughout the body, and the sense of weight in these occurrences; 3) memory of the elements in the last (involuntary) coordination of 1 & 2.

    I wrote about the experience of activity throughout the body sustaining pressure in the fluid ball of the abdomen in support of posture. I wrote that a feeling for the posture supported by that pressure can extend to the feet, and the hands, to the tailbone and the head (and yet the movement of breath is free).

    Seems to me that there is an alternation between emphasis on the location of awareness, and emphasis on the openness to proprioception and weight, as activity is relaxed. If I come around to “I am not the doer, mine is not the doer with regard to this consciousness-informed body”, there’s still breathing in, there’s still breathing out, but now there are people on the other side of the wall breathing in and out in me.

    ‘s kind of a creepy feeling. Have to be willing to give it up.

    1. Fred
      Fred February 27, 2016 at 7:20 pm |

      . “I’ve encountered all sorts of non-dual “teachers” who think they have transcended the illusion of ego simply because they can’t find this discrete “ego”-thing. But these same people act just as egotistically as before, in the same pattern everyone else who might be assuming the existence of an ego does. So what’s the difference? Is their denial of having any ego something we should take seriously, when they act and talk egoically?”

      I’m curious about Mr. Adi Da, Conrad? There is no one there anyway. Maybe he was faking having an ego, while he said he didn’t have an ego in a most egoistic way.

      And whatever bullshit Mr. Hanh is selling can’t be much different than any other other description of that which can’t be described.

      1. Fred
        Fred February 27, 2016 at 7:23 pm |

        It’s the universe breathing in and out of itself, Mark.

        1. Fred Jr.
          Fred Jr. February 28, 2016 at 6:33 am |

          +1 :o)

    2. french-roast
      french-roast February 29, 2016 at 4:59 am |
  32. Dan_Brodribb
    Dan_Brodribb February 28, 2016 at 8:31 am |

    I like this topic, as I was in show business for a while, first as a musician and later as a writer and stand-up comic. I wanted to be famous, or at least influential, even though I know the dangers of it and what it does to a person. I also was not willing to do many of the things it took to give myself the opportunity to become that famous. Hell, even now, taking a path that is taking me as far from fame and gain as its possible to get, I STILL want it.

    It was a process coming to terms with that. I know famous is empty, and I want it anyway. I want fame and adulation, and somehow I can’t make myself do the things I need to do to get it–is that self-sabotage or is it a wiser part of me knowing I couldn’t handle it if I had it?

    I may never know the answers. Fortunately, knowing all the answers is starting to become less important.

    Envy still comes up for me here, even about petty things (Person X chops firewood better than me. The monks like Person Y better, etc.), but the thing I’m also noticing–which a couple of commenters may have touched on above–is I’m noticing my own sense of denial. So I experience the thought as: “Most people would be jealous of Person X’s wood chopping, but not me. I’m sure glad I left all that behind.”

    It’s neat to experience, even if it kind of feels like a setback. I thought I was better than this, and now I’m learning I still have those feelings, even though I know they’re irrational.

    At the same time, there’s something refreshing about seeing more of the truth about myself, whether its a truth I like or not.

  33. Michel
    Michel February 28, 2016 at 12:07 pm |

    Fred, the denial of “having an ego” is probably what’s the rub. If you pretend you don’t have something which you indeed have, you will feel no need to keep it in check. I have noticed that a lot of “liberal” people who are “anti-racists” won’t easily admit of their own racism. (“I can’t be a racist! I’m liberal!”). Each of us can be a racist, as Brad once very neatly put it. It’s only when we know it that we can act on it.

    Everyone of us has an ego. We need it for practical reasons. It is a grammatical and syntactic fiction which enables us to specify who’s talking and acting in the discourse. And as expounds the Lanka Sutra (that which Bodhidharma taught), language is tricky and we ought not put too much faith in it, but at the same time needed for communication. Even the Buddha (Dhammapada, verses on the Self) mentions that the Self is precious to every one, and we ought, therefore, to treasure it! It takes a strong personality to admit that one’s ego is quite relative and exists only in relation to those other grammatical fictions that are “you” and “he” “she” “they”. If you acknowledge those aspects, it’s easier to be a bit less egoistic. If you posit that you don’t “have an ego”, you can be as self centered as you wish because you have in advance exonerated yourself from any mischief!

    1. french-roast
      french-roast February 29, 2016 at 1:19 am |

      We have to be very careful here, lots of nuance and some subtlety seems appropriate. Denying that you have a sense of self while ‘having one’, would indeed be kind of insane. But to say that it is a grammatical and syntactic fiction is to bring only a very superficial aspect of this sense of self into sharp focus, it is not only a grammatical and syntactic fiction. Animals do have a sense of self, it is not simply a matter of grammar and syntax. Sense of self is also kind of an ongoing claim which in human being and because of words has crystallized into a more or less stable frozen conceptual something. We all have this claim, the claim that we are unique, separate, distinct, special, important, useful, that we are a something which is born, a thing in itself of its own right. We fight inch by inch in order to maintain this claim. It is this claim that must be eroded progressively with practice, before and after.

      The sense of self is also a/the viewpoint within knowing, a buoy unto which we hold on to desperately. It is a dynamic orienting center within this knowing. In samadhi, even in the deepest samadhi, this/a viewpoint is still there, there is still a ‘field knower’, there is still ‘something, someone’ experiencing the ‘bliss, stillness, vast space, light, etc.’ it is not as well define, active, etc. but there is still something, although much more subtle. The sudden dropping away of this ‘field knower’ within being is what some mean by awakening. No viewpoint, no view. The dichotomy between absolute and relative, also collapses entirely.

  34. Mumbles
    Mumbles February 28, 2016 at 12:38 pm |
  35. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 29, 2016 at 8:24 am |

    “Bodily self-consciousness (BSC) is commonly thought to involve self-identification (the experience of owning ‘my’ body), self-location (the experience of where ‘I’ am in space), and first-person perspective (the experience from where ‘I’ perceive the world).

    … BSC stems from the integration of visual, tactile, proprioceptive, and vestibular signals.”

    (“Visual consciousness and bodily self-consciousness”, Nathan Faivre, Roy Salomon, and Olaf Blanke:

    Blanke specifies the three kinds of “out-of-body” experience associated with disorders of the above senses, as well.

    That there is volition, and attachment, aversion, and ignorance: oh yeah!

    The trick with Gautama’s way of living is that comprehending the length of an inhalation/exhalation, or experiencing the breath entering and reaching the “tan-t’ien” and exiting the same, is a phenomena that occurs only after the relationship between equalibrioception-proprioception-graviception and relaxation (of activity that sustains pressure in the “fluid ball”) is established. Or it just happens, but sink, such that only equanimity preserves ease in the relaxation of activity, is present.

    Cessation of habitual activity in inhalation and exhalation, being mindful of just breathing in and breathing out, that’s support from the fluid-ball that manifests at the tailbone and around the surface of the skin. Or it just happens, but the extension of the mind of friendliness to the four quarters of the world, above, below, such that only equanimity preserves happiness in the distinction of the senses, is right here.

    Funky, funky Broadway.

    1. french-roast
      french-roast February 29, 2016 at 9:41 am |
  36. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon February 29, 2016 at 9:33 am |

    TNH Envy Facebook Argument, Donald Trump, Breaking Patterns, etc.
    Never Say Never Again Zen
    Episodio Numero Ocho

  37. Conrad
    Conrad March 1, 2016 at 12:23 am |

    “I’m curious about Mr. Adi Da, Conrad?”

    Not sure what you’re curious about him. Da’s ego, or claims of transcending such things?

    In my view his ego was so blown out by his intense seeking to not have one that it became like a ghostly spirit possessing him from without, in an invisible form that he could never see, but that controlled him like a puppeteer controls a marionette. Very frustrating, over all, both for himself and his devotees, who strove to become egoless marionettes themselves as if that is what true enlightenment was supposed to be, never suspecting that’s the road to being possessed by the ego-ghost.

Comments are closed.