It’s Midnight in Frankfurt. Do I Know Where I Am?

benediktushofI have to say I love my life. It just keeps getting weirder and better.

Five years ago I exchanged a chance at financial stability and a respectable career to see if I could make it on my own as an independent author and Zen teacher. My income took an immediate nosedive and initially the prospects for recovery were not really good. My speaking gigs were barely covering the money I spent to get to them. Often I lost money on them. My royalty checks were pitiful. The advances I got from New World Library dropped by nearly half between my second and third books and have remained there ever since.

Yet I had this weird sort of confidence that things would turn around. I had saved enough money from working at Tsuburaya Productions to make it through a year, I figured. Two years if I stretched it. If things didn’t turn around by then I could always go get a “real job” at the end of the second year. But things got just good enough that I didn’t need to do that.

I’m still not making much money, though it’s gotten better. But every single other thing about my life has improved so much it’s just astonishing. Who needs money if you can do what you want?

Today I finished up my five-day retreat at Benediktushof near Würzburg, Germany. Benediktushof used to be a Benedictine monastery. But it fell pretty much to ruins by the mid 20th century. In the 60’s, the locals organized to try and rebuild the place. Yet, once again by the 1990’s things looked bleak. But then a rich old lady who liked the work of a Benedictine monk named Wiligis Jäger decided to buy the place and let Wiligis run it.

Wiligis is an interesting character. His rather wild and liberal views got the Pope all hot and bothered at him such that he was forced to stop writing and speaking publicly or face excommunication. He shut up for a time. But then he couldn’t take it anymore and started making noise again.

Later on he got ordained by Japanese and Chinese masters in the Zen and Chan traditions and now teaches Zen in addition to Christian contemplation. I met him at Benediktushof and his a trippy old dude. I wanna be like that when I grow up.

24 people showed up for the sesshin, which was pretty great for how it was thrown together very late in the game and didn’t even make it into the catalog. We all sat together, chanted together and I did dokusan with everyone who attended, which might not have been possible if more people had signed up.

Then in the afternoon after the sesshin was done I did a public talk for 50-some souls in that little German town. It was groovy and my new friend Karan did an ace job of translating.

Those of you who aren’t showing up at these events do not know what you’re missing. Here’s a list of what’s still coming up:

– October 7th I’m speaking in Frankfurt on  at Dogen Zendo. Info is here. Please stop by for a chat about Zen!

– October 9th I’ll be speaking at Dharma Buchladen in Berlin

– On October 11th, I’ll be speaking in Amsterdam.

– On October 12th, I’ll be speaking at Groningen University in the Netherlands.I think the details are somewhere on this page. But it’s in Dutch so I’m not sure.

– On Oct. 13 and 14th I’ll be in Bonn, Germany. The details about that are on this page. The 13th will be an all-day sitting and on the 14th I’ll do a talk in the evening.

– Thursday 17th October
In Conversation with Brad Warner and Jon Robb — The Punk meets the Monk
Manchester, UK

– 18-19 October Zen Retreat    /    20th October  Public Talk in Hebden Bridge, England

–  23 October 7pm, I’ll be speaking in London.
Caledonian Road Centre
486 Caledonian Road
London N7 9RP

– 24 October, 8pm, I’ll be speaking in Oxford

Merton College, Oxford
Hosted the Neave Society (

**Oxford University students only**

– 25 Oct In Conversation 7pm-9pm  / 26 October Zazen Day

Merchant City Yoga Centre Glasgow, Scotland

– November 8-10 Zen and Yoga Retreat at Mount Baldy Zen Center in Southern California (1 & 1/2 hours east of Los Angeles)

*   *   *

I’m self-financing all of these, so please feel free to help out a little by sending a donation! Thanks!

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21 Responses

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  1. Mumbles
    Mumbles October 6, 2013 at 6:38 pm |

    Good for you, Brad. I’m in a much better place than I was five years ago, too. Life’s funny.

    When I saw the title of this post I thought of Edward Espe Brown. Somewhere, there’s an account of him trying to sleep somewhere in Germany while two drunks jabber below his window. He knew where he was, but wondered why he was there.

  2. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 6, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
  3. Amiga-Freak
    Amiga-Freak October 7, 2013 at 12:30 am |

    Hey Brad, thanks again for this great sesshin!
    Actually it was all that I had expected of it.

    And I think you and Rudolf made a very interesting duo – almost like Yin and Yang ^^

    Have a good trip and “live long and prosper”! 😉

  4. Fred
    Fred October 7, 2013 at 8:29 am |

    Bro, you are a trippy old dude.

  5. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 8, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
  6. Shodo
    Shodo October 8, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
  7. Fred
    Fred October 9, 2013 at 7:53 am |

    Yes it is. Thank you.

    “. For Sharf, understanding a religious tradition demands not only familiarity with contemporary practice but also a willingness to enter into dialogue with what is historically past and culturally foreign. To participate in such a dialogue we need knowledge of the context in which the tradition is embedded and an ability to see past the presuppositions of our own time and place.”

    Any opinion I have about a Japanese monk in world war 2 is incorrect. Even if
    I lived in Japan at this moment my understanding would not be exact, without
    knowing the mind and culture from the 30’s and 40’s.

    And as Dogen states, suchness reflects what is in the current moment, and is
    always in flux.

    Thanks to Brad Warner for providing this blog, and making it possible to
    contact and understand the body of Buddhist material.

  8. Fred
    Fred October 9, 2013 at 8:20 am |

    The Zensite:

    ” Dharmata (Hossho), “the true nature of all dharmas” is not, therefore, the subject’s correct experience of objective dharmas – it is the “presence of things as they are” (genjokoan) prior to the reflective separation between subject and object. Therefore, very often, when Dōgen (and others in his tradition of language practice) speak of mind (shin), they signify neither the subject’s reflection, nor the mechanism of reflection, but the total, unbroken process whereby the world comes to manifestation through the subject. In the deepest sense, mind is the unity of experience: “This is the stage of pre-thought beyond egocentric cognition. If you reach this state of pre-thought you will realize the true luminous nature of mind – prethought must become the eye through which you view phenomena” (1975:10;1970:75).[8]

    Reflective, second and third order experience, “enforms” and “enframes” this prereflective presence in particular ways. Pattern, structure, and a framework order experience in various ways that are meaningful, suggestive, and useful. But for Dōgen, this thoughtfulness loses track of its character and its basis. The forms and structures of conceptuality are taken to be “the true nature of things” – a closure that fails to see other structures and perspectives, as well as the experiential basis of all subsequent structuring. Fundamentally, mind is open and undetermined. Structural closure is a static and narrowing focus. For this reason, “without thinking” (pre-thought) is characterized in terms of openness and receptivity. Hence Dōgen exhorts his listeners and readers to look at things from different angles and perspectives, to pry open the rigidity of frameworks, and thus, perhaps, to work back through them to their foundation – the pre-reflective, unframed presence of things as they are.

    This is the function of zazen, for Dōgen, the practice of things as they are and the occasion for things to be as they are. In true zazen, the practitioner penetrates beneath the structures and norms of conceptualization, beneath even subjectivity and objectivity, to the pure becoming present of dharmas – what is in truth. This truth is transcendent, unlike the truth of propositional correspondence, because it is not conceptually constructed, nor is it graspable in that form. “It completely goes beyond ideas of difference and identity, separation and unity, between this phenomenal world and dharmata” p 266 (1977:64). Its transcendence, however, is its depth and proximity rather than its distance from us. As what is most fundamental and deeply rooted (hon), the truth of dharmata lies so close to us and is so all-pervasive that, immersed in it, we cannot grasp it as something at hand.”

  9. Fred
    Fred October 9, 2013 at 10:05 am |

    Scharf : “But that is quite different from viewing meditation as the be-all and end-all of Buddhism, and it is also different from seeing meditation in utilitarian terms–as a means to bring about an experience, such as kensho or sotapatti, that will instantly transform the whole of one’s existence. Buddhism, like life, isn’t that simple ”

    He used the ” experience ” word, John.

    An illusion had an experience of its not-self and transformatively evaporated,
    yet continued to fake a self-presence in the world of flesh, blood and neurons.

  10. Fred
    Fred October 9, 2013 at 10:55 am |

    Response to Mr. Scharf.

    “All things leave and all things arrive right here. This being so, one plants twining vines and gets entangled in twining vines. This is the characteristic of unsurpassable enlightenment. Just as enlightenment is limitless, sentient beings are limitless and unsurpassable. Just as cages and snares are limitless, emancipation from them is limitless. The actualization of the fundamental point is: “I grant you thirty blows.” This is the actualization of expressing the dream within a dream”

  11. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 9, 2013 at 2:04 pm |

    My response to Mr. Scharf:

    “If you believe in small fairies, and the miracle of stroking the sun and moon, then you can believe in Gautama’s world vision. If you ignore the suicides of scores of monks due to his teaching of mediation on the “unlovely”, then you can think of him as a perfected being (SN V chapter on the intent concentration on in-breaths and out-breaths). If you believe that everything changes, and you are looking to work out your own salvation, then you may have to test the veracity of the Buddhist teachings for yourself and take nothing on faith.”

    Guess I’d say that Scharf is pointing to the loss of shared belief within a community in something larger than life. I have friends that can’t stand it when I talk about things physical, because they are interesting in OBE and DMT experiences of a consciousness without any physicality, or at least of an energy-body that is the basis of the formation of the body. I confess, I kinda buy into that last one myself- some kind of fractal recursive geometry of space and time that materializes a body.

    But I digress. The difficulty is in finding the belief structure that exists in that subtle pre-consciousness of mind that manifests as action without the exercise of volition toward well-being. At least that’s the way I see it. And I have the good fortune to suggest that the belief structure that exercises the corpus (across the corpus callosum) toward well-being sine qua non is the four truths, if you come to experience a correlate in, say, just breathing in and out.

  12. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 9, 2013 at 2:09 pm |

    can’t seem to spell or compose coherent English today. But returning to Mr. Scharf, there is power in people praying together that I believe has been documented. And Zen is not for everybody, that’s clear, just as mathematics and science is anathema for most of our population. Funny part is that most Americans who are drawn to Zen are drawn to Zen as an antidote to math and science; little do they know!

  13. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 9, 2013 at 2:11 pm |

    An antidote to math and science, and the belief in a God who has no gnosis.

  14. Fred
    Fred October 9, 2013 at 5:33 pm |

    “Maybe the lesson from history is that it will take a long time–perhaps centuries–for the West to engage with the Buddhist tradition at a deeper level. Such an engagement will require that we see past the confines of our own historical and cultural situation and gain a greater appreciation of the depth and complexity of the Buddhist heritage. Certainly one impediment to this is the idea that the only thing that matters is meditation and that everything else is just excess baggage. ”


    This understanding has far reaching consequences for the status of doctrine. If the situations to which thought conforms are impermanent, always turning into new situations, then doctrine would have to change along with them. Dōgen does not shy away from this conclusion: the teachings are impermanent: “Therefore, teaching, clarifying impermanence, and practice are by their nature impermanent. Kanzeon proclaims the Dharma by manifesting himself in a form best suited to save sentients. This is Buddha-nature. Sometimes they use a long form to proclaim a long Dharma, sometimes a short form for a short Dharma. Impermanence itself is Buddha-nature” (1983b:128; 1970:54).
    What this means is that there cannot be one permanent body of correct doctrine because the reality to which it would have to conform is itself variable and in transformation. As the text says clearly, “circumstances are constantly changing the form of suchness” (1975:130;1972:252). Religious thinking that originates in pure experience does correspond to the reality of the situation, but it is also empty (Ku) in the sense that it originates dependent upon the particularities of the given situation. As an expression (dotoku) of a given occasion (jisetsu), it is neither permanent nor universally applicable. On this account therefore, the Shōbōgenzō should be read as a series of such expressions occasioned or elicited by various and changing circumstances in Dōgen’s world between 1231 and the year of his death in 1253.
    If so then Dōgen’s Zen would appear to be ultimately baseless, without any kind of stable and enduring foundation. Again, the text, (Immo chapter) radically confirms our reservations:
    Suchness is the real form of truth as it appears throughout the world – it is fluid and differs from any static substance. Our body is not really ours. Our life is easily changed by life and circumstances and never remains static. Countless things pass and we will never see them again. Our mind is also continually changing. Some people wonder: If this is true on what can we rely? But others who have the resolve to seek enlightenment, use this constant flux to deepen their enlightenment”

  15. Fred
    Fred October 9, 2013 at 5:52 pm |

    It’s Midnight in Frankfurt. Do I Know Where I Am?

    You never left the bridge over the Sengawa River.

  16. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 9, 2013 at 8:18 pm |

    “Maybe the lesson from history is that it will take a long time–perhaps centuries–for the West to engage with the Buddhist tradition at a deeper level. Such an engagement will require that we see past the confines of our own historical and cultural situation and gain a greater appreciation of the depth and complexity of the Buddhist heritage. Certainly one impediment to this is the idea that the only thing that matters is meditation and that everything else is just excess baggage. ” (Scharf)

    I believe Scharf can only be talking about the adoption of Buddhist superstitions by the West. Those may indeed require that Westerners see past the narrow confines of our own historical and cultural situation and gain a greater appreciation of the depth and complexity of Buddhist heritage. But it’s really terrific bullshit, once you get into it, every bit as deep and rich as anything we have here in the West. Certainly one impediment to this is the idea that the only thing that matters is meditation and that everything else is just excess baggage.

  17. joerg
    joerg October 10, 2013 at 4:04 am |

    Benediktushof is an amazing place … I’ve been teaching there (as a guest-teacher, not a member of their organisation) since the very beginning, and it is constantly growing larger.
    Looking at places like this one could get the impression that living from Zen is really possible, also in the West … though looking at my account after coming back from a seminar at Benediktushof, what remains after tax deduction, fees for their organisation, income tax, gasoline and material costs … is almost zero. I don’t really know how to explain to my students (who pay a lot for the few days and must imagine I enjoy a posh Zen teacher’s life) that I am doing this more or less for free, and feel even too embarrassed to hold up a dana bowl after Sesshin finished.

    Btw. … I’ve just read you come to Bonn this weekend! A co-incidence, my own seminar (in a Dojo just around the corner) for the same day was cancelled due to a lack of participants, so have time … looking forward to see you!

  18. Fred
    Fred October 10, 2013 at 11:05 am |

    “Looking at places like this one could get the impression that living from Zen is really possible, also in the West”

    Some times you fall asleep in the ever-deludedness, but yes it is possible with
    effort to live from Zen all day.

    1. joerg
      joerg October 10, 2013 at 12:09 pm |

      yep … my bad English and no chance to correct it after pressing the “post comment” button sometimes let things sound funny. I wanted to write “… one could get the impression that making a living from Zen is really possible …”

  19. Fred
    Fred October 10, 2013 at 11:10 am |

    “When you have complete understanding then even the ideas of the wisdom of enlightenment or the status of detachment will be seen for what they are – tentative and delusive”. “We cannot say that there is; or is not, practice and enlightenment – it cannot be comprehended or attained. Again the great meaning is beyond attainment or comprehension. We cannot say that there are no holy truths, practice or enlightenment, nor can we say that there are holy truths, etc. Nothing can be attained, nothing can be comprehended”

    Try selling that to your Zen class for money.

    1. joerg
      joerg October 11, 2013 at 12:52 am |

      “Try selling that to your Zen class for money.”

      I don’t agree that teaching Zen should become selling ideas for money (though some people try, and some succeed). Actually, I’d love to do it for free or for a small donation, if I could sustain my life by this.
      Being a part-time Zen teacher with an ordinary job aside is not just difficult or unpleasant, it severely affects the teaching. When I commit for seminars or Sesshin, sometimes more than a year ahead, I don’t know if I really can take holiday from my bread and butter job. Or I take holiday, and then the seminar has to be cancelled because not enough students register … and not enough holiday is left to schedule another Sesshin.

      Teaching takes time, not just the time in the Zendo. It requires a sustained long-time contact with the students, over many years. It’s not just that I deliver some clever ideas in a Zen talk and leave a puzzled group behind. When I run a Dojo I want to make sure it still exists after a couple of years, and that I can promise a competent teacher will be there most of the time …

      Also teaching itself costs a lot. I have to get to the place, maybe a day ahead, and I have to get back home. Teaching calligraphy with Zen, I need lots of material, and I must carry it, so I need a car. Finding a place to set up a Dojo requires signing a contract, the landlord wants to see money every month (and a guarantee I can pay it, before I get the keys) …

      I really admire Brad (and all the others who did so) for trying to make a living as a full-time Zen teacher, without the security of a a temple and all the structure you have for example in Japan …

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