I Don’t Give a Damn About My Bad Reputation

Reputation is a funny thing. In my career here in Zen Land, I’ve adopted the policy that it’s better if people think you’re worse than you really are and then get surprised when you’re nice than it is to have people think you’re saintly and then get shocked and outraged when they find out you’re not. To this end, I have deliberately allowed my reputation to get pretty bad.

Still, it’s always funny to see how this plays out in actual practice. Like, for example, I was doing a dharma talk in the Midwest and, even though I wanted to talk about the nature of God, the audience seemed to be more interested in my attitudes about sex. Sex, God, same thing right?

So it starts off with a guy asking me if I think clergy having sex with congregants is “no problem.” I said, “No! It’s definitely a problem! But it happens and will continue to happen. So I think we need to deal with reality.” I’ve talked this issue to death already here on this blog, so I’ll spare you the rest.

This goes on for some time. And finally someone says to me, “What do you do when women throw themselves at you?”

I wish I could’ve come up with a witty response like, “I wake up, because that only happens in my dreams!” But I didn’t. It made me wonder, though, if I haven’t been a little too good at letting my reputation get bad. Women throwing themselves at me? Do people think I’m the Zen version of Paul McCartney circa 1965?

Reputation, as I said, is a funny thing. We all have one. I think Gandhi said, “Create and preserve the image of your choice.” Or at least George Harrison said that he said it. But I think that’s easier said than done. Gandhi managed it pretty successfully. But I imagine it was a whole lot of work first to create the image of Gandhi and then to have to be Gandhi all the time.

If you create a Gandhi-like image of the pure holy person, lots of people are going to want to prove you’re just a big phony. They’ll be digging into your trashcans looking for used condoms and bottles of booze. You have to work hard at damage control. Whereas if you create a more down-and-dirty image, there’s a lot less work involved. Unless you’re Tom Waits who apparently developed a serious drinking problem in his efforts to create and preserve the image of himself as a 70s version of a hobo jazz singer from the 1940s.

In the Zen game a lot of what people respond to is image. You walk into a Zen center you don’t know and you see someone dressed in black robes. Immediately you form a set of assumptions about her. If you’re an American it’s likely you’ll make assumptions that she has a good character, practices moral purity, and so forth. If you’re Japanese, it’s just as likely you’ll have the opposite impression. You might assume the person is a lazy, sex-obsessed, fancy-car driving drain on society. Most of the Japanese people I associated with had a very dim view of Zen monks, much like the view we tend to have of televangelists.

Yet Buddha himself was said to have been inspired on his spiritual quest by seeing a wandering acetic dressed in robes. For all we know, this unknown monk may have been a complete phony. He may have groped women who came to him for spiritual counseling. He may have owned three houses in Vrindaban and a couple Harley Davidson chariots that he bought with money from his begging bowl. For all we know the guy who inspired Buddha could’ve been the worst possible example of a wandering monk. We have no idea. Buddha, as far as we know, had no idea. There’s no evidence he ever talked to the guy. He just saw him walk by.

The image has meaning. And the image alone can transform people’s lives even if the person playing the role is far from exemplary.

My own approach is to try and be as open as possible about who I am. I feel it’s valuable for people to know the often less-than-glamorous facts about who I am and to know that even a guy like me was able to pursue meditation practice to the point of having some very deep experience of the underlying Truth. It seems useful. It was people like that who inspired me, rather than people who seemed much more holy and faultless.

But that’s just how I do things. Maybe it’s right. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s right for some and wrong for others. I can’t really help that. I just gotta keep plugging away!

*   *   *

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49 Responses

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  1. Terrytrueman
    Terrytrueman March 21, 2013 at 1:04 pm | |

    Recently ran into a problem or two at an event where I felt comfortable trying to talk in a real way about a subject that felt very uncomfortable to the person with whom I was talking. This doesn’t happen to me very often but this one was ugly and unfortunate . . .whata ya gonna do? We can’t smack every one upside their heads and yell, “Get a clue grasshooper” I could smack myself upside the head and etc, but I think that context means everything and since I don’t feel an apology is in order and I don’t feel ‘sorry’, I know that we can never really control what others think of us—maybe Joan Jett has it right. :):)

  2. senorchupacabra
    senorchupacabra March 21, 2013 at 1:41 pm | |

    http://www.watkinsbooks.com/review/watkins-spiritual-100-list-2012

    Dude, even Oprah made this list. It’s a joke of a list, no doubt, as I have a feeling that truly spiritual people keep something or a lower profile than Desmond Tutu or Alice Walker, but do you ever feel like your reputation–whatever it may be– prevents your message from being heard? People on a “spiritual path” are supposed to be more likely to look past superficial appearances, which is precisely what a reputation is. However, it sounds like a lot of people just assume you’re a sex-crazed, rock-and-roll- monk of Zen. When, in reality, your message is a lot more nuanced and helpful than Mr. Chopra’s.

    My wife likes to watch “Super Soul Sundays” on the OWN network. I guess she finds it helpful, but it makes me want to puke. Not a single person has come out and said, “You know what, after you are spiritually mature, life still sucks. You still have to pay your bills, you still have to work a shitty job, people are still going to die and get diseases and the world is still going to do things that you’d prefer it doesn’t.” Instead, all they talk about is how easy it is to look back on all the challenges of one’s life and see how they were there for a “purpose.” Which is condescending as hell, because if I were a billionaire like Oprah, it sure would be easy to look back on the shitty parts of life and see how there was “meaning” there. But what if I’m some dude in prison because of America’s insidious “War on Drugs” who spends most of his day trying not to get my ass reamed by Bubba the 400-lbs white supremacist? How easy is it for me to look at my suffering as a learning experience?

    I don’t know. Sorry about the digression, but I guess that’s the problem with “playing the game.” It’s more about cultivating a brand or a persona or a gimmicky message (i.e. The Secret) than in producing something worthwhile.

  3. drocloc
    drocloc March 21, 2013 at 3:15 pm | |

    “Don’t just DO something SIT there!”^^

  4. Picard
    Picard March 21, 2013 at 4:13 pm | |

    Freedom is irrelevant. Self-determination is irrelevant. You must comply.

    1. Gregory Wonderwheel
      Gregory Wonderwheel March 24, 2013 at 8:56 pm | |

      LOL! With an attitude and avatar like that, I’m curious why you use the ID “Picard” and not “Locutus”?

  5. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote March 21, 2013 at 9:03 pm | |

    doesn’t care about his reputation:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OOgIU1QWMs

    at 2:20, wild man…

  6. Muddy Elephant
    Muddy Elephant March 22, 2013 at 3:20 am | |

    Nice post as usual Brad. Though did you just say there something called the underlying Truth with a capital T?

    Hmm. Maybe it was just some sort of Freudian slip type comment….

  7. March 22, 2013 at 4:43 am |
  8. A-Bob
    A-Bob March 22, 2013 at 7:54 am | |

    I can see by your outfit that you are a cowboy.
    I can see by your outfit that you are a cowboy too.
    We can see by our outfits that we are both cowboys.
    If you get an outfit you can be a cowboy too..

  9. Mumbles
    Mumbles March 22, 2013 at 10:07 am | |

    “Do what thy manhood bids thee do, from none but self expect applause”.
    -Sir Richard Francis Burton

  10. Yunman
    Yunman March 22, 2013 at 2:20 pm | |

    I’m glad you’re doing what you’re doing. Knowing that “normal” guys like you and me can get as deep into Zen as you did is a constant encouragement… just keep doing you!

  11. Zafu
    Zafu March 22, 2013 at 3:22 pm | |

    Reputation is a funny thing. In my career here in Zen Land, I’ve adopted the policy that it’s better if people think you’re worse than you really are and then get surprised when you’re nice than it is to have people think you’re saintly and then get shocked and outraged when they find out you’re not. To this end, I have deliberately allowed my reputation to get pretty bad. – Brad Warner

    That’s truly laughable. You’re practically a saint by comparison to many of your illustrious peers. On the other hand, it’s always sad when people deliberately try to control their reputation. It shows where their true focus is.

  12. A-Bob
    A-Bob March 22, 2013 at 8:06 pm | |

    For a lot of people religion is the process of destroying a persona and replacing it with something different. It can be debated whether this is actually possible or not. Zen might be different. Zen might be just coming to terms with whatever is on the table.

    1. anon 108
      anon 108 March 23, 2013 at 6:16 am | |

      “For a lot of people religion is the process of destroying a persona and replacing it with something different.”

      I do believe I know what you mean, A-Bob, and I agree with you.

      “It can be debated whether this is actually possible or not.”

      True.

      “Zen might be different.”

      I would like it if Zen were different.

      “Zen might be just coming to terms with whatever is on the table.”

      I like the way you put that, A-Bob. However, following what’s been written and said by some very dedicated Zennists, it seems Zen may not be that different. Not for a lot of people.

      Perhaps that’s because a person’s persona (or that other thing, the waddyacallit?) cannot be repaced with something different? Debatable.

    2. Gregory Wonderwheel
      Gregory Wonderwheel March 24, 2013 at 8:49 pm | |

      “For a lot of people religion is the process of destroying a persona and replacing it with something different.”

      Replacing one persona with another is what is known as “conversion.” It is the meat and potatoes of “religion.” But zen is not about conversion, wand instead is all about “reversion,” which in Sanskrit is called “paravrtti” and is the main teaching of the Lankavatara Sutra.

      Conversion is about turning into someone else, i.e., a new persona or personality. Reversion is about turning back the light of awareness, or as Dogen said to “take the backward step and turn the light around” or “turning the head and reversing the face.” If we have a conversion experience, we have an oportunity to peek into reversion in the experience of the gap between one persona and another. If we truly become aware that neither persona is the “real” person, then we get a glimpse of reversion within the process of conversion. If we realize that the new persona is as dream-like as the previous persona then we begin to see the Buddha Dharma.

      1. Terrytrueman
        Terrytrueman March 25, 2013 at 10:32 am | |

        As near as I follow this, think Gregory has it right here (this is NOT a reaction formation to Gregory’s and my earlier discussion about DFW/suicide issues)

  13. Picard
    Picard March 23, 2013 at 6:13 am | |

    Oh it is possible.

  14. anon 108
    anon 108 March 23, 2013 at 6:40 am | |

    Why no edit/delete function? Why? In response to this bit -

    “Zen might be just coming to terms with whatever is on the table.”

    – I would have preferred to have posted this:

    I like the way you put that, A-Bob. However, having followed what’s been written and said by some very dedicated Zennists, it seems to me that Zen may not be “just coming to terms with what’s on the table.” Not for a lot of people.

  15. SoF
    SoF March 23, 2013 at 9:14 am | |

    The good news: You have a bad reputation among some folks.

    The bad news: I don’t think you have a bad reputation (but that may be an ‘older generation’ looking back at Hashberry.

    A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1972), a rumination on the failure of the 1960s counterculture movement. It was first serialized in Rolling Stone, a magazine with which Thompson would be long associated, and was released as a film starring Johnny Depp and directed by Terry Gilliam in 1998*

    *sorry, I was WIKI lazy.

  16. Terrytrueman
    Terrytrueman March 23, 2013 at 9:15 am | |

    I’m too new to zen specifically and buddhism generally to have anything I say be taken too seriously here . . . but it seems to me that the inclusion of the word “just” in the phrase ” . . . just coming to terms with what’s on the table.” is part of the problem. Wittgenstein, not a zen master so far as I know, but an amazing thinker, said, among lots of other things, “An expression only has meaning within the strea of life.” He also said, “Philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday.”

  17. Mumbles
    Mumbles March 23, 2013 at 10:52 am | |

    “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day…. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t…. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.” –David Foster Wallace

  18. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer March 23, 2013 at 1:55 pm | |

    Mumbles,

    Boy, oh boy, I really love that commencement address by DFW.

    It can easily be misread (and frequently is). But I still think it is an amazing speech.

    Years ago I saw DFW at the Skirball center in Los Angeles. I walked away from his talk telling people he was a genius.

    He just threw out ideas and references at a rate that just floored me.

    And, like his writing, much of it was way over my head.

    Soon after that event he won an McAuthur Grant.

    I miss him on a daily basis….

    Cheers.

    1. Terrytrueman
      Terrytrueman March 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm | |

      All right. I was gonna let it go the first time, indeed I DID let it go, but if the DFW referred to in this thread is David Foster Wallace, and I’m sure it is . . . I can’t let a guy who hangs himself continue to be lionized without some challenge and questioning. The McAruthur Grant, I’m sure, is a wonderful thing. My colleague Angie Johnson (THE FIRST PART LAST) won one and I’d love to get one. I’ll take a step back here; I believe I’m still capable of being convinced that a guy who hangs himself because his depresion is bad and he ‘can’t go on’ can be found admirable–but it’s not gonna happen for me by looking back at how smart he once seemed to be. The search for meaning, contentment, right living/thinking/behaving/etc has room for many heros, and Foster’s brilliance is mostly undisputed–but . . . And since this thread is about being willing to risk having and dealing with a ‘bad reputation’ I’ll post this now and deal with blow-back.

      1. Alan Sailer
        Alan Sailer March 24, 2013 at 11:42 am | |

        Terry,

        A few comments.

        First, as Fred noted, DFW tried a lot of things before he killed himself.

        He had a lifetime problem with anxiety and depression (the bandanna he famously wore was there to keep sweat from panic attacks from running down his face) and took a powerful antidepressant for much of his life.

        In fact his attempt to switch from his usual medication to newer anti-depressants triggered the nearly year long episode that ended his life.

        Second I am honestly puzzled by the connection between DFW’s suicide and what he wrote.

        I absolutely don’t admire him for killing himself.

        But I do admire his writing.

        You seem to be saying that it is not right to admire his writing because he killed himself. Or am I misunderstanding you?

        Finally, I was there at his public lecture. The man was brilliant.

        Indisputably.

        Cheers.

        1. Terrytrueman
          Terrytrueman March 24, 2013 at 1:16 pm | |

          Hey Alan Sailer,
          Thanks so much for your response to my posting about DFW. I appreciate it and it’s kind and generous. I’ll try to elaborate on my thoughts/feelings about DFW and about the broader topic of authors who kill themselves. As a guy who earns my living by my pen (actually my word processor, but who’s counting, you can get a quick glimpse of my work at http://www.terrytrueman.com or google my name or not/neither. :):) But as a student of writing/books/authors etc and as a guy who has also survived a cocked, loaded, safety-off gun in my own mouth, held in my own hand who didn’t pull the trigger– I think I appreciate the pain, the at times seemingly unendurable pain, that life can dish out. It’s about 90% of the reason I’m studying buddhism/Zen and I’m on this page, my search for a more settled, contented place for my mind/spirit. I feel that with very few exceptions, and I don’t consider DFW to be one of those exceptions, an author/writer has a responsiblity to his readers to endure pain, to struggle on, to not give in to the at times enormously inviting temptation to depart. I may be wrong. I likely AM wrong, but to me choosing to end my life would be a repudation of the most important goal and message of my work–that the human spirit can endure, can continue to grow regardless of the pain and that is one of my highest values. I can see clearly that this is all projection and that DFW had every right to make the choice he made, I think I even largely understand that choice, but it does put a slant, a stain on his writing for me given that a writer’s written words should be the strongest statement of his beliefs and philosophy of life/art, all of it–but that choosing to end his life to escape pain says more than the words left behind. A great writer should eventually reach a place where what he has written and the life he is living blend/meld together with a consistency and wholeness–just my view.

          I’m aware that this is a bit, or more than a bit, of a ramble here. I believe that DFW was a genius, brilliant etc. I didn’t read his novel but I did read a stunningly sardonic, funny as hell and quite frankly brilliant piece he wrote, published in Harpers magazine, Jan 1998 titled The Depressed Person. The piece shows such astonishing insight into the selfish, self-absorbed nature of someone suffering from severe depresion, mocking in tone, piercing in affect–yes, the man wrote like an angel/devil/god/demon, no doubt about it. But Hemingway’s decision, Richard Brautigan’s, Hart Cranes’, and so many writers decisions to escape pain, pale in my sense of ethics with Charles Bukowski’s courage and open-minded/open-hearted choice to live to the last (Bukowski, btw had a Buddhist funeral service).

          I’m not sure I have convinced you of anything here, though I’m pretty sure I wasn’t trying to. I merely wanted to offer this as a hopefully respectful response to your legitimate questions about my intentions and further thoughts about DFW and his death.

          Thank you again for reaching back to me from this site and giving me a chance to respond to your queries.
          TT

          1. Gregory Wonderwheel
            Gregory Wonderwheel March 24, 2013 at 8:37 pm |

            TT wrote: “All right. I was gonna let it go the first time, indeed I DID let it go, but if the DFW referred to in this thread is David Foster Wallace, and I’m sure it is . . . I can’t let a guy who hangs himself continue to be lionized without some challenge and questioning. ”

            I think whether a person commits suicide or not is sort of irrelevant to whether a truth was able to be spoken through his writings. Surviving suicide is not something to be ashamed of or proud of, likewise suceeding at suicide is not something to be proud of or ashamed of.

          2. Terrytrueman
            Terrytrueman March 25, 2013 at 8:45 am |

            From what I’m getting about zen. I understand/accept Gregory’s assertion/statement that shame/pride in suicide success/failure aren’t necessarily part of the consideration of the value of that suicidal person’s writings. I would add that for me, however, this depends on what the writings were attempting to say and do. Enlightenment as I understand it, even the striving to achieve it, has to have a relationship to a sense of peace/contentment/balance in life and a connection to our actions and choices, otherwise for what possible purpose do we seek to attain it?

  19. Fred
    Fred March 23, 2013 at 3:35 pm | |

    “. Wallace, best known for his 1996 novel ‘Infinite Jest,’ had last seen his psychiatrist two weeks before his death, and been prescribed several drugs. The report also notes that Wallace had previously undergone 12 electroshock therapy treatments”

    Some depressions are so severe, that there doesn’t seem any way out other than
    death. Looks like he tried all the solutions.

    Even though I don’t believe in suicide, I never walked a mile in his skin. And
    though I’ve been to the bottom of the abyss, the brain chemistry responded
    to a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor.

    Perhaps DFW could have joined the Aghoris

  20. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote March 23, 2013 at 6:06 pm | |

    “For a lot of people religion is the process of destroying a persona and replacing it with something different. It can be debated whether this is actually possible or not. Zen might be different. Zen might be just coming to terms with whatever is on the table.”

    I know Kobun said the senior monks at Eiheiji had a practice of dropping by while the novices were doing tangaryo and beating the ego out of them. A lot like Army boot camp in that regard, apparently.

    Kobun not only survived, but when he was made head of practice he became the first to ask for and receive permission to suspend the use of the stick in practice.

    Brad never met Kobun, but he is another member of Kobun’s army, as Kobun described his eccentric crew of practitioners. Change, change, change:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgDcyhi8aiM

  21. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote March 23, 2013 at 9:05 pm | |

    From Stephen Bodian’s contribution to “Remembering Kobun”:

    “Kobun emphasized ‘guerilla Zen’ (realizing our true nature in the midst of everyday life) rather than a zendo-based practice, kept sidestepping or rejecting the mantle of authority that his students tried to confer on him, and insisted on being called by his given name rather than ‘sensei’ or ‘roshi’. Instead of asking his new monks to sew their own robes or purchase them from Soto Zen headquarters in Japan, as other Soto teachers did, he gave us spare robes of his own that he rummaged from a seemingly endless supply.”

    More:

    “After I moved to ZCLA in 1976, friends reported that Kobun had given a lecture in which he derided the practice of ‘sitting hard’ (the concentrated, goal-oriented meditation I hoped to do at ZCLA), dismissing it as a misunderstanding of true Zen practice and referring to me by name, and admonished his students to ‘sit soft’ instead.

    … Only years after Kobun and I parted company did I fully realize the legacy he had imparted to me. From Kobun I learned the value of finding my own way and trusting my own experience, rather than following someone else’s path and relying on the authority of teachers or tradition. He taught me how to ‘sit soft’, with open, nonjudgemental awareness, not for the purpose of accomplishing something but merely to express my inherent true nature.”

    What Bodian is not saying is that Kobun’s actions were choiceless, but still affected by his beliefs, and Kobun believed in the future of a Zen in America that was pure (and soft), regardless of the lightweights that we are compared to Japanese sitters.

  22. Muddy Elephant
    Muddy Elephant March 23, 2013 at 9:50 pm | |

    Argh. It seems that Picard is the only one making any sense around here.

  23. Picard
    Picard March 24, 2013 at 5:31 am | |
  24. Fred
    Fred March 24, 2013 at 6:09 am | |

    “Kobun emphasized ‘guerilla Zen’ (realizing our true nature in the midst of everyday life)”

    Emptiness may be form, and form emptiness in the absolute sense, but
    realizing the true nature through choiceless awareness in the midst of everyday
    sight, sounds and human demands is no easy task.

    The causal chain of conditioning we call the self is enmeshed in a word built world shaping form, desire and connectedness to others.

  25. Ryanmushin
    Ryanmushin March 24, 2013 at 9:55 am | |

    People tend to gossip a lot and then everyone believes them, I think that is because of herd conformity. I’ve seen that before also. But yeah, it is better to be known as kind of mean, I think, because then people don’t think they can take advantage of you. I read a book called Emotional Blackmail, it’s about how people use guilt to try to manipulate you to do things. I thought it was interesting.

    1. Terrytrueman
      Terrytrueman March 24, 2013 at 10:10 am | |

      I’ve commented a couple times to this thread already and don’t have too much to add–other than, as I struggle to make time and develop the new habit of mediatating, even as I feel disappointed in my lack of ‘success’ I already feel a thoughtfulness and an understanding beginning to impact my feelings and spirit. My ‘reputation’, such as it exists among people I know and people I don’t know becomes less and less an area of interest and concern to me. I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation . . .and I never have much . . .but turning to this newly evolving practice of mediatation has changed the ‘don’t give a damn’ from one form to another form . . .not sure if that’s clear . . not sure it needs to be. LOL

  26. Gregory Wonderwheel
    Gregory Wonderwheel March 24, 2013 at 8:26 pm | |

    “The image has meaning. And the image alone can transform people’s lives even if the person playing the role is far from exemplary.”

    Reading that reminds me of good ole’ Dogen himself saying in the Bendowa:

    “A taste for fame and gain comes easily, whilst delusion and grasping are hard to let go of. Even so, it does not necessarily require the worldly wisdom of either the mundane or the saintly for people to recognize and enter the Buddha Dharma so that they may serve as a ferry to carry others beyond the mundane. While the Buddha was in the world, a certain man came to experience all four fruits leading to arhathood when he was hit in the head with a handball. And a certain woman came to understand what the Great Way is due to her playfully dressing up in a monk’s kesa in a previous life. These frivolous and dense persons were both like foolish and confused animals. Nevertheless, when their genuine faith and trust rescued them, they were provided with a path which led them out of their delusions. Also, upon seeing an ignorant old monk dumbly sitting, a faithful lay woman who had brought him food opened up and was awakened. Her experience did not depend on ‘enlightened wisdom’ or on Scripture, nor did she rely on words or explanations: she was rescued simply by her genuine faith and trust.”

  27. Terrytrueman
    Terrytrueman March 25, 2013 at 8:58 am | |

    Looking back at Gregory’s comment on my reaction to the thread about DFW’s suicide and my feelings/thoughts as to it’s relation to valuing his writings, Gregory stated:

    “I think whether a person commits suicide or not is sort of irrelevant to whether a truth was able to be spoken through his writings.”

    ‘Sort of irrelevent’? Is it irrelevent or is it not irrelevent? The phrase ‘sort of’ makes his point unarguable–of course it’s sort of irrelevent. Of course it’s also sort of relevent, to me at least.

    Wittgenstein said, “When we say ‘every word in a language signifies something’ we have so far said nothing whatever.”

    1. Gregory Wonderwheel
      Gregory Wonderwheel March 25, 2013 at 11:00 am | |

      This is the unpassable obstacle for many Westerners who knock at the gate of Zen. The Sutras and Zen ancestors teach us that meaning is what is important, not the words, and that the meaning is not contained in the words. To point to the meaning not contained in the words I use language like “sort of.” Why? Because the notion that the situation is an “either-or”, either relevant or irrelevant, is itself a mistaken notion. If I were to definitely assert either “It is relevant” or “it is irrelevant” then the very nature of that firm assertion would be its own undoing. At this point a person holding the firm view that “it is or it isn’t” can either jump into the void of meaning that is not contained in the words, or back away from the cliff edge and be content with the words and say “those zen people are sophists.” Of course from the stand point of zen, it is not sophistry at all, but from the standpoint of words it is easily mistaken to be so.

      I have to say that I am not familiar enough with Wittgenstein to make heads or tails of that quoted statement. The statement’s two parts seem to me to be a non sequitur.

      1. Terrytrueman
        Terrytrueman March 25, 2013 at 11:33 am | |

        Thanks for this last, too, Gregory . .you’re a good teacher (NO sarcasim in that at all, you ARE). I think that my point meant to be, or at least I now wish it meant more or less the same thing yer saying, that relevent and irrelevent are both true and untrue, at least in terms of zen.

        I think the sophists got a bad wrap!

        And no one I know can decipher all of Wittgentsien but for 40 years my favorite quote from him has been and continues to be, “An expression only has meaning within the stream of life.” As a poet and writer, much more than as a relative novice in my more intense interest in zen, this phrase/wisdom has ben helpful beyond measure.

        Thanks for taking the time to engage me, mano a mano (LOL which I think means hand to hand . . but who gives a fuck . . we know what we mean, and the expression only has meaning within the stream of life . . .which we’re in right now)

        take care new friend
        TT

        1. Gregory Wonderwheel
          Gregory Wonderwheel March 25, 2013 at 2:50 pm | |

          “An expression only has meaning within the stream of life.”

          Now that one I get, and agree with.

      2. Mark Foote
        Mark Foote March 26, 2013 at 7:29 am | |

        Oh, this is fun… comments on comments!

        Gregory, let us agree to disagree, regarding the utility of words- sort of.

        I will give an example. We are taught that 2+2=4, and we know from experience the utility of the relationships taught as arithmetic in our lives. At the same time, it’s true that it may not always be the case that 2+2=4, a fact that is now widely not being taught in universities across the country and widely ignored by mathematicians (see is arithmetic consistant?).

        The Pali Canon to me is like arithmetic, although I’m not convinced of Gautama’s social vision. I like the consistency of his teaching regarding his own practice and the experience of an inner happiness, and his understanding that there were things that could not be addressed from his logic without contradiction.

        To say that Zen is an experiential teaching that cannot be conveyed in words- well, maybe so, but that doesn’t change that words or images are sometimes used to convey the relationship intrinsic to particular experience, and through the juxtaposition of relationship with experience to catalyze particular experience.

        1. Gregory Wonderwheel
          Gregory Wonderwheel March 28, 2013 at 5:40 pm | |

          Mark, I’m perplexed because I don’t recognize my views as the foil for your antagonist.
          (1) I did not say words do not have utility.
          (2) The Pali Canon is great for the people who want to be listeners to Buddha’s teaching on the causes of suffering. However, Buddha does not teach “an inner happiness” in the Pali Suttas that I know of.
          (3) The idea that there are things that the Buddha did not address logically doesn’t mean they were not addressed in practice. The Buddha knew the past lives and future lives of people and on most occasions regarded the subject as not logically productive, yet he still mentioned it and revealed his awareness at various times. So though the awakening experience and the “victory” over Mara cannot be understood logically, they are the core of the Buddha Way.
          (4) You wrote: “To say that Zen is an experiential teaching that cannot be conveyed in words- well, maybe so, but that doesn’t change that words or images are sometimes used to convey the relationship intrinsic to particular experience, and through the juxtaposition of relationship with experience to catalyze particular experience.”
          I don’t think I said that “Zen cannot be conveyed in words” because I said “meaning is not contained in words.” I specifically acknowledged that words are used to convey or point to meaning while the meaning is not contained in the words. Words can be used as medicine to cure the disease of words. Words can be used to convey the limitations of words. Words can be used to break up the literalization of words. Etc.

  28. Picard
    Picard March 25, 2013 at 9:41 am | |

    Futile.

    1. Gregory Wonderwheel
      Gregory Wonderwheel March 25, 2013 at 11:01 am | |

      Locutus, I see the Picard in you even though you don’t.

  29. boubi
    boubi March 25, 2013 at 1:23 pm | |

    That’s right, a good “punk attitude”, a marketing differentiation, built your own characteristic “niche” … just joking, but it could be a good thing for you.

    You already know there are quite a few people bored of all the sainthood of Zen teachers.

  30. Josh B
    Josh B March 29, 2013 at 11:50 am | |

    Think your idea about reputation is pretty valid, Brad. Especially with the internet, everything you say and do gets put under a microscope….so people think they can read it all and be an expert about u without ever meeting u in person. That’s kind of a shame, but certainly the reality for anyone who has any kind of media profile these days (how many times have you seen some celeb get a bad rep because of a couple of ill-advised tweets).

    At the same time, though, I don’t tune into this blog to get a blow by blow of the latest beef between you and some other zen dude. I’m here to read things that are going to help/inspire my practice. Seems like there is more of the former lately.I know u gotta defend yourself, but… I think you might have a silent minority (maybe even a majority) of readers who want more of the kind of stuff like you wrote in your earlier books – more about zen as a tool for dealing with the reality of life and being a tool to help sift through the BS that comes along with living.

    Cheers

  31. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz April 2, 2013 at 8:45 am | |

    I don’t give a damn about your lack of giving a damn.

    1. Terrytrueman
      Terrytrueman April 5, 2013 at 8:56 am | |

      Hmmm, this entire zen thing, using words and not-using words, understanding thru language and not-understanding-thru language, leaves so much room for too clever by half remarks. Sooo, I don’t give a damn that you don’t give a damn about anybody else not giving a damn about not giving a damn–are we seeking Dogen or Lewis fucking Carrol here?

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