Football and Faith

whatitwasLast weekend we showed Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen in Boulder and Denver. We had no idea when we scheduled these showings that we’d be up against the Broncos Vs the uhh… Patriots (?) game for the uhhhh… World Domination of Football Grand Prize Thing or whatever it’s called.

This was one of those many times when I feel like I just don’t get it. We heard that the average price for tickets for this game were $900 and that some people were paying $11,000 to see it.

When I hear things like that I just get confused. I wouldn’t pay $11 or even $9 to sit through a football game. It holds absolutely zero interest to me. Which is not to say I’m somehow better than people for whom football is interesting. It’s just that it lies entirely outside the scope of my understanding.

I have to take it as a matter of faith that football games can be interesting things. It is so low on the scale of stuff I’d want to see that even the idea of people paying such ridiculous amounts of money for it would be unbelievable if I didn’t hear it from credible sources.

This is not faith in something supernatural. But it is still a kind of faith because it lies so far outside my own real experience. I might be able to find evidence that tickets actually did change hands for that amount. I might be able to find people who will tell me that football is so incredibly exciting to them that it’s worth that kind of money. But because it’s so different from my experience of watching football — I would literally prefer to watch paint dry and have done so as an alternative when people in places I’m staying have been watching football games — that I cannot truly understand their fascination.

Except for the fact that it’s reported from multiple independent sources, I might even be inclined to think people who tell me football is really interesting are lying to me or playing some kind of weird practical joke. Or maybe they’re not actually interested. It may be a kind of mass hallucination or some kind of hypnotism. Maybe they’ve been brainwashed by a cult! There were times in my life when I really did wonder if this might be the case.

The level of interest I see displayed in football seems to me to have no rational basis that I can understand. I can fathom why people might be interested in playing football. It looks like it could be kind of fun. I used to like slam dancing, which is sort of the same thing. But watching it? That makes no sense to me at all. I’ve tried and it gets painful after about a minute and a half.

When I talk about faith as an element of Buddhist practice, the kind of faith I’m talking about is the kind that I have to use in order to accept that people will pay $900 – $11,000 for a ticket to see the Denver Whoozits play against the God-Knows-Where What’s-Their-Faces for the Heizman Trophy of the Absolute Domination of the Entire Universe Game. It’s a faith that a) watching football can actually be entertaining and b) that with practice I could also learn to find it entertaining myself.

It’s not a faith in anything supernatural. But it is a faith in the real existence of something so outside my personal experience that I cannot understand it.

When I started practicing zazen I had faith that my teachers were not lying to me about their personal experiences with the practice. I had faith that I too could have similar experiences if I applied myself to practice. I could read the stories of hundreds of others who had also found the practice beneficial.

But, at least at first, I could not really understand why anyone would want to sit and stare at a wall for hours at a time. It seemed kind of baffling, the way it seems baffling to me that people would pay actual money to watch a football game.

Sometimes people imagine that what we’re after in Buddhism is some kind of supernatural experience. The ancient sutras sometimes seem to be referring to something magical with their flowery language and talk of heaven-realms and hell-realms, thousand armed Bodhisattvas and so on. But those are just poetic metaphors for things that are hard for those who haven’t encountered them to understand. If you talked to me about “fourth down conversions” or “lines of scrimmage,” I’d be just as confused as would a person new to Buddhism when hearing about Avaloketeshvara realizing that all five skandhas were empty. But what we’re talking about is no more supernatural than what all those millions of people were watching instead of going to see our movie.

By the way, the movie did pretty well even up against the football game. So that was kind of nice. It’s good to know there are some folks out there that like stuff a little off the beaten path.

*   *   *

If you’d like to pay $900 or $11,000 for reading this blog donate here! Or if you’d rather show your appreciation with a smaller amount every little bit helps! Thank you!

• February 18-23 I’ll be hosting a retreat with Kazuaki Tanahashi  at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico

You can see Hardcore Zen for yourself at the following locations (I’ll be at all screenings):

• March 11, 2014 Ithaca, NY

• March 14, 2014 Brooklyn, NY

• April 20, 2014 San Francisco, CA

43 Responses

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  1. Mumbles
    Mumbles January 22, 2014 at 10:13 am | |

    Football, like Zen, movies, books, music, and so many other things, are simply distractions, entertainment, designed to keep folks from killing themselves/other people. Of course that happens anyway, but maybe not as much.

    “Her life was saved by Rock & Roll”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkbpmFOuKrc

    Maybe the next movie you make you could include a scene based on this post on football to draw that crowd? With marketing, there’s always an unexplored angle.

  2. Fred
    Fred January 22, 2014 at 12:15 pm | |

    mellow is the meat
    in unsupported thought

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ii63fKLTSuU

  3. boubi
    boubi January 22, 2014 at 1:42 pm | |

    Hi Brad

    “I’d be just as confused as would a person new to Buddhism when hearing about Avaloketeshvara realizing that all five skandhas were empty”

    I’m confused too here because you just told me recently that the heart Sutra was just a nice poem written by a wise man of olds.

    Is still sunnyata the central tenet of dharma?

  4. crankenfurter
    crankenfurter January 22, 2014 at 1:50 pm | |

    You could just put the movie on Amazon and let the minions buy it for ten bucks a pop and be done with trying to attract enough folks to throw a showing. I think you’d reach a wider audience at the same time.

  5. Hungry Ghost
    Hungry Ghost January 22, 2014 at 5:52 pm | |

    Many people I know don’t understand why I am a hockey fan. Thing is, the only subject my father and I can talk about without emotional tension and vicious disagreement is the hockey team we both go for. It’s a cultural tie we share, he’s French Canadian and I’m American, and it’s the only way we can be in a room yelling without the yelling being directed at each other. It is also the only connection I had to my Grandfather who spoke only Joual, whereas I speak almost exclusively English. That being said, I enjoyed the actual point of the article very much.

  6. AnneMH
    AnneMH January 22, 2014 at 7:02 pm | |

    Yeah Broncos football is kinda a state religion/holiday around here. I actually saw that my old punk friend posted on Facebook that he has these overalls in team colors? He used to be in dumpster dive clothes that smelled funny and I think I understood that better. The Friday before the game I get asked about a dozen times where my team color jersey is, and I don’t have anything against football but I would rather watch a sport without the time outs. That is all besides the point. I have had some appreciation that people find a bond over this, folks that have a hard time communicating or expressing themselves seem to build connections through the shared sport. If that makes some lives less lonely, maybe we can pair you up with a sport, that would be an interesting thing since you already have a suicide girls connection. Hmm maybe a roller derby team.

    I am glad you felt it did well in Colorado! I loved the movie so if anyone gets a chance to see it then I encourage you (plus you can get books signed with little pictures).

  7. Andy
    Andy January 23, 2014 at 2:15 am | |

    “I don’t understand” from those who entertain and identify themselves with a sport, and likewise from those who don’t, strikes me as a way of expressing an aversion, an “I don’t want to understand”.

    When I read that you had bought that very expensive Kiss fan book, as Kiss and their type of music was something I neither liked or disliked, your choice seemed simply one that equated to things I liked that I’d spend that sort income % on. I don’t think it was beyond the ‘scope’ of my understanding – more like a terrain I had little inclination to explore, what with those others I had nurtured.

    For many years, though, when American football turned up on British TV, I’d indulge myself in the “I don’t understand” game. But that had more to do with the cultural group-think I’d absorbed and then enjoyed running with. I was expressing and galvanizing not only my identity as a Brit in contrast to all that yank otherness, but my identification as a (real, not ‘soccer’ – and especially not pronounced with two strong drawling stresses!)) football fan.

    I can still sense that attitude welling up now and again, he he, but these days my usual attitude to it is more like the one I had about Kiss. I think falling out of love with footie for a while helped to level out the wonderfully aburd playing fields, but it helped because it helped me to more honestly see myself via that particular grudge match I’d chosen to have.

    So it seems to me that the analogy to do with faith is better served if we address the side of the faith dynamic that opens an acceptance to our own conditioned aversions, which, when its belts are loosened, might allow for much in our own pre-existing experience to well-up more intimate analogues for understanding and acceptance – to realise the scope we do have for understanding.

    After all, why would acceptance be an issue at all without some particular conditioned aversion, a focus I find enmeshed with but distinct from the sort of faith that comes with encountering something one wishes to explore but appears strange or alien, yet without much of the kind of cultural conditioning that comes with having the other rubbed in our faces faces since we woz kids.

    James Ford a few weeks ago: “Football is a canker sore on our collective soul”.

  8. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel January 23, 2014 at 6:58 am | |

    I’d almost feel like saying that I can’t understand American Football, because I’m a Rugby fan…

  9. sri_barence
    sri_barence January 23, 2014 at 9:37 am | |

    I recorded and then watched the Broncos/Patriots game. I enjoyed it. But then the second Championship game between San Francisco (I think) and [some other team] came on. I had to choose between getting a decent night’s sleep and watching the game. I got in a good 8 hours that night…

  10. Harlan
    Harlan January 23, 2014 at 12:53 pm | |

    If some are occasionally diverted from reality by a violent betting game that also advertises their favorite intoxicant by scantily clad young women, what’s so hard to understand? Panem et Circenses.

  11. mika
    mika January 23, 2014 at 1:24 pm | |

    Football? Don’t you mean http://www.eatliver.com/i.php?n=3849

    ps. When you log in, it complains (it = a moderately good web browser) that the security certificate has expired and warns to proceed with caution.

  12. boubi
    boubi January 23, 2014 at 1:48 pm | |

    Why?

    Does “World Domination of Football Grand Prize Thing” has any more self existence than “Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen in Boulder and Denver”?

    “Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
    Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
    Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.”

    “So is all conditioned existence to be seen.”

    http://lh5.ggpht.com/KagyuMedia/SLMaNb1wpVI/AAAAAAAAAwk/qDwzrCU-N4g/s1600-h/Mahasiddha%20Jalandharipa%5B6%5D.jpg

    1. boubi
      boubi January 23, 2014 at 1:57 pm | |

      The iamge doesn’t seem to load

      Copy past URL in another tab or window

  13. boubi
    boubi January 23, 2014 at 1:56 pm | |

    Pushing buttons

    WOW!

    What a great drink/food/whatever … bullshit, we have just pushed some button in our brain.

    We just activated some receptor that triggered some pleasure center, the original source of pleasure is utterly irrelevant, what was “important” has been sugar, fat, some reinforcement of embedded attachement … all the rest is an illusion, a phantom, or a dream

    http://www.jooga.fi/files/cache/cda1e5a378edcc4ce8fe565c171e2d16.jpg

  14. boubi
    boubi January 23, 2014 at 2:15 pm | |
  15. Andy
    Andy January 24, 2014 at 4:47 am | |

    Well, finally England have just won a one-day cricket match on their demoralizing Ashes tour of Australia, having lost all five test matches.

    But still what a great sport. Especially the five day test matches, of paint-drying rhythmic consciousness interspersed with peaks of disappointment and… disapp0inment. Especially the three months of stopping up through the intimate wee winter hours, watching the the summer glow on TV and listening to the nerdy commentary chit-chat and banter from characters I’ll never meet but feel like old acquaintances. If ever a sporting format could integrate itself with a five day sesshin…

    Bring on the Six Nations Rugby championship, a week Saturday. I’ll spend a thought for you Proulx Michel, during the entree, before Les Bleus attempt to chow down on some fresh roast beef – we’ve got some major injuries, so perhaps it’ll be delicious plat principal, uh? I’ll always remember that thrilling come-back against the All Blacks in the 1999 world cup semi-final, at Twickenham; Les Bleus unleashing that breezy style of play only they seem to be able to ride into occasions of sublimity – and the mainly English crowd swelling in support of their old foe!

    1. Andy
      Andy January 24, 2014 at 5:03 am | |

      An analogue. Sport at its best is like this poem – at its best…

      A SUDDEN blow: the great wings beating still
      Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
      By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
      He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.
      How can those terrified vague fingers push
      The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
      And how can body, laid in that white rush,
      But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?
      A shudder in the loins engenders there
      The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
      And Agamemnon dead. Being so caught up,
      So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
      Did she put on his knowledge with his power
      Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

      …beautiful, brutal and breath-taking,

      Zidane’s volley in the 2002 Champion’s League Final/ Jimi Hendrix’s riffs and licks colouring in All Along the Watch Tower/ the first time my girlfriend slipped her dress off at Uni…

      such distractions!

      1. Andy
        Andy January 24, 2014 at 5:24 am | |

        …Spock’s death in The Wrath Of Khan…

  16. RenTenZen
    RenTenZen January 24, 2014 at 9:44 am | |

    NFL Football like any sport is human drama, a trap…a bipolar celebration in duality…flipping back and forth between the alternating currents of excitement and dread…as one might gamble…or dream of that experience…that lasting moment…that will take one far far away…from the here and now.

    So yeah I will be watching this human drama with glee and joy then reluctantly return to practicing zazen…in the here and now.

    1. Anonymous
      Anonymous January 26, 2014 at 1:21 pm | |

      LOL

  17. mika
    mika January 24, 2014 at 11:03 am | |

    Oh by the way, if you (Brad & Pirooz) haven’t fully researched the online distribution options yet for HCZ the Movie, I recommend these two articles that deal with the subject:
    http://lightsfilmschool.com/blog/how-to-get-your-indie-film-onto-itunes-netflix/1817/
    http://mediakitchenfilms.blogspot.fi/2012/09/how-i-got-my-movie-in-itunes-hulu.html

    Seems like you could raise the required capital from crowdfunding and I would suppose a movie like HCZ (even though I haven’t yet seen it) would stand a chance of breaking even on iTunes and Hulu.

  18. woken
    woken January 24, 2014 at 2:02 pm | |

    I just had a strange experience. I was walking up to my local store, thinking about a painting I had seen recently, and I was suddenly struck with the realisation that everything I perceive is a creation of ME, of my mind, or consciousness or whatever. This thing, this awareness is what animates and gives consciousness to all. I am still the same “person” with ll the same habits,prejudices, likes etc, but the consciousness that animates it, well it creates everything. Everything exisats independently of me, but it is “I” that gives it life. Every thing has life, because I perceive it.

  19. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote January 24, 2014 at 3:29 pm | |

    how’s that working out for you, woken?

    http://beasley.files.wordpress.com/2007/04/pileup.jpg

  20. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote January 24, 2014 at 7:51 pm | |

    but seriously, woken, what has that got to do with what you do next?

  21. boubi
    boubi January 25, 2014 at 1:40 pm | |

    Hi woken

    that’s why in some obscure and evil tradition (Rinzai?) you are pushed to a point where “form is lost” (my wording), which seems to me as a more radical and brutal (not meaning better, but fuck it hits you in the face) experience of what you just describe.

    Which brings us back to Diamond and Heart sutras which seem to state that we are the ones who are making everything up. OK the tree exist and we can crash ourselves into it* if we don’t take care, but what we call a tree is not a tree, no more than a big body is a big body, and here is where our languages all fail. Linguistically Kant was right ( i believe also for the rest).

    ==================
    * In some other traditions even the material existence of the tree itself is … relative, but if Linchi is evil those ones are beyond redemption :)

  22. boubi
    boubi January 25, 2014 at 1:42 pm | |

    Hi Mark

    What was that tiger coated slim malinois? A dutch sheperd?

  23. woken
    woken January 25, 2014 at 2:51 pm | |

    Thanks for that Boubi. That’s very interesting. I thought my experience might be of interest to some frequenters of this blog. I was actually thinking about a painting at the time, and what it was that “animated” the paining: what gave it power.

  24. woken
    woken January 25, 2014 at 3:01 pm | |

    Interesting that you mentioned Kant. I was struck by the quote of Berkeley, Which is something along the lines of “nothing can exist without being observed by a spirit (i.e intelligence/consciousness whatever)” maybe it was a realisation close to that.

  25. Fred
    Fred January 25, 2014 at 6:25 pm | |

    Woken:
    “I just had a strange experience. I was walking up to my local store, thinking about a painting I had seen recently, and I was suddenly struck with the realisation that everything I perceive is a creation of ME, of my mind, or consciousness or whatever. This thing, this awareness is what animates and gives consciousness to all. I am still the same “person” with ll the same habits,prejudices, likes etc, but the consciousness that animates it, well it creates everything. Everything exisats independently of me, but it is “I” that gives it life. Every thing has life, because I perceive it.”

    That which perceives is the Universe observing itself. It always was and forever
    will be.

  26. Fred
    Fred January 25, 2014 at 6:28 pm | |

    “Berkeley, Which is something along the lines of “nothing can exist without being observed by a spirit (i.e intelligence/consciousness whatever)” maybe it was a realisation close to that.”

    The realization close to that is that you are the entire universe doing the
    universe.

  27. Fred
    Fred January 25, 2014 at 6:35 pm | |

    Mu is doing mu, zazen is doing zazen, the universe is doing the universe, ……
    no self upon the absolute is doing no self upon the absolute

  28. Fred
    Fred January 25, 2014 at 6:41 pm | |

    Instead of saying you almost had it there, you could say that it had you, it
    swallowed you up.

    When you tried to conceptualize it , it spit you back out.

    The reason you conceptualized it was you didn’t want to let go.

  29. boubi
    boubi January 26, 2014 at 2:11 am | |

    To woken

    - ” I was actually thinking about a painting at the time, and what it was that “animated” the paining: what gave it power.”

    I don’t understand what you mean

    - along the lines of “nothing can exist without being observed by a spirit (i.e intelligence/consciousness whatever)” maybe it was a realisation close to that.

    There are some that push this thing to the extreme
    http://www.exoticindiaart.com/panels/mahasiddha_jalandhara_wh71.jpg
    the funny thing is that it seems to work :)

  30. boubi
    boubi January 26, 2014 at 2:27 am | |

    To woken

    Thanks for Berkeley, i didn’t know him.

    Thanks

  31. Mumbles
    Mumbles January 26, 2014 at 9:06 am | |
  32. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 26, 2014 at 1:21 pm | |

    Hey! I’ll be at Upaya in Santa Fe in a couple of weeks. Maybe I’ll see you out there.

  33. Mumbles
    Mumbles January 28, 2014 at 7:50 pm | |

    That illo of “Andy Griffith” above sure looks like Charlie (Julio) Sheen to me (I meant Carlos, sorry). The cows make more sense that way, too, as in “the cows got nervous when Charlie dropped by.” Oh, Zen.

  34. Curt
    Curt January 30, 2014 at 8:27 am | |

    “To be is to be perceived.”–George Berkeley (1685-1753)

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