“Moe and Curly” or “Get Started Today”

Here’s a question someone sent twice. So he must really want to know.

If you have a moment can you please clarify something on your blog:

“I mean that when Moe hits Curly on the head with a sledgehammer, Moe is really only hitting Moe on the head with a sledgehammer. It only appears to be Curly getting hit.”

What does this mean? Moe smashes Curly’s head. Curly dies. Moe lives on.

Now I understand that nothing is truly autonomous; but… How is Moe killing Curly, actually Moe killing Moe?

For one thing, you must not be a Three Stooges fan. Curly doesn’t die when he gets smashed on the head with a sledgehammer by Moe. The sledgehammer gets all bent up and Curly just says, “Ow!” Look what happened to the axe on the photo on top of this article. Curly was fine.

But I understand the question and I’ll try my best to answer it.

The answer is that although it appears to us that Moe and Curly are eternally separate entities, that’s not really how it is. Both Moe and Curly are manifestations of the same underlying reality. And not just in an abstract or metaphorical sense. That’s really how it is.

The same something that looks out through Moe’s eyes and perceives Curly, also looks out through Curly’s eyes and perceives Moe. And it looks out through your eyes to perceive both Curly and Moe. If Moe were to kill Curly, that same something would outlive both of them and also be both of them. There isn’t anyone else here at all.

I would expect the follow-up question to be, “How do you know this? It sure doesn’t seem that way to me!”

This is a perfectly reasonable question. Because it doesn’t seem that way to me either a lot of the time. But once you manage to catch on to the reality of this situation even for a moment, you can never let it go.

This understanding of things is radically different from the way most people look at stuff. It is so extraordinarily different that certain delusional folks, when they come across someone who has had a glimpse of this, get way too excited about that person and start calling her a sage or a saint. Those people will never give the folks they follow a moment’s peace. Or, conversely, they get way over excited about that person and call him a heretic or a lunatic. They either venerate the person all out of proportion or they lock him up or even kill him.

More people are aware of this view than are willing to talk about it. These folks don’t like either of those options. So they stay quiet or they just tell a few close friends and swear those friends to secrecy.

Then, of course, there are those who mimic people who’ve understood this stuff because they want the fame and money that sometimes accrues when people venerate those guys. Unfortunately you can also get yourself killed this way if you’re not careful.

The reason I bring this up is that I’m always careful about announcing how I know this to be true. Much as I’d like to move out of this fleabag one-bedroom in Akron, I’m aware of the dangers involved as well. So every time I mention how I happen to know this, I always go out of my way to make it clear that I am as big of a dunce as anyone could possibly be.

The thing is, you yourself could see this too if you were willing to put in the work involved. Anyone — absolutely anyone — can see it if they want to. But most people are too lazy and they never will.

I have managed on a few occasions to get just clear enough in my mind and body to see that my mind is not my mind nor is my body my body. They are both manifestations of something that’s way, way bigger than me. And yet this something is more me than I could ever be.

And still I have to pay my own insurance bills. What’s up with that?

Anyway, this is pretty much the same explanation as you can find in any one of a dozen or more decent books on the subject. If you’re really interested in understanding it clearly then you have to put in the work yourself.

Ten years of daily zazen practice usually suffices for most people to at least get an initial understanding of why Moe and Curly aren’t really different from each other in the sense that we usually think.

You can get started today.


And if you want to get started with me, beginning Sunday January 15th 2012 I will be hosting Zazen every Sunday night at 7 pm at the Akron Shambhala Meditation Center. The address is:

133 Portage Trail Ste. 202
Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

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119 Responses

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  1. Josh
    Josh January 11, 2012 at 11:04 am |

    There is another section from To Meet the Real Dragon that I think is relevant to this discussion, and I think there is a lot of depth in this book that is less apparent in his blog. Apologies for filling up the comments section and trampling on copyright.

    Gudo Nishijima (and of course Jeffrey Bailey) wrote:

    'Q: [Following on from a discussion of Master Dogen's life] And so, as the story goes, Master Dogen was very inspired, and he studied Buddhism for many years in Japan and China until he finally attained enlightenment, or realized the Truth – or something – I’m not sure what. I have read many other stories about great Buddhist masters who practised very hard, or lived alone in caves, or sat facing a wall for nine years. It is all very interesting. They are beautiful stories and I enjoy reading them, but, unfortunately, I can't relate their experiences to my own life. I can't imagine doing the same thing. I'm too weak.

    I think there are two problems here. The first is the nature of the stories themselves. The fact is that such stories are just stories – not real life. Stories always tend to become more interesting and attractive when they are told again and again. So we read such stories and feel very inspired – uplifted. We want to believe in something fantastic or extraordinary, so we tend to be too gullible. We should be more critical, I think. We should remember that stories are stories.

    When we look at the stories more objectively, we begin to see that the stories are about real people after all – ordinary people like ourselves. But even from this standpoint, we must admit that people have made very strenuous efforts and endured extreme hardships in their practice. This brings us to the second problem. Why have people made such extreme efforts? I think the reason is that they were looking for something which is not in this world. They wanted something which is not in this universe. They searched and practiced ever more diligently until, at last, they realized that they need not look for anything. This was, for them, the experience of so-called satori: the experience of life as it is.

    The sudden awakening to the fact that we need not search for anything is a very profound experience for many people. They have made fantastic efforts, and at last they have seen something of the Truth. Unfortunately, such people are likely to see the strenuous quality of their efforts as the cause of their awakening. They may then become even more zealous. They want to tell the world of their experience. Quite naturally, they urge us to follow the same path. They tell us that we must be willing to break our bones and crush the marrow if we are finally to reach the great enlightenment. They encourage us to seek the very dream that obscured their vision for so long.

    It is ironic. And it is an irony with a tragic consequence. For the majority of people do not have the single-minded will to follow such a path. They are at first attracted by fantastic stories. Then they try to emulate their heroes, but they are soon confronted by their own weakness: “My master sat facing the wall for nine years, but I can't sit for nine minutes. There must be something wrong with me. I must be a hopeless case.” Thus they become discouraged as quickly as they were inspired. They are defeated before they begin, and they lose the will to attain the Truth. It is a tragedy.

    So when we read stories of priests and masters of ancient times, we need not be awed, nor need we hesitate to begin our own practice. They had their lives and we have ours. They were not so strong and we are not so weak. The point is that we must work with our own situation.'

    To Meet the Real Dragon, pp.30-31

  2. anon #108
    anon #108 January 11, 2012 at 11:57 am |

    Thanks, Josh. Great book. Excellent writer, Jeffrey Bailey.

    Although I didn't start sitting until six (and a half!) years ago, I had nurtured a pretty sophisticated notion of satori – more sophisticated than any notions I can muster up these days – since my mid-teens, when, via John Cage's book of lectures, "Silence", I started reading D T Suzuki and Alan Watts.

    I think that if it wasn't for that cherished idea, that dream, re-kindled by re-reading "The Three Pillars of Zen" aged 52, I wouldn't have started sitting and my own subsequent "sudden awakening to the fact that we need not search for anything" would not have happened in the way it did, and would most likely have felt more like a great disappointment than an awakening.

    (Perhaps that's what Brad is up to…? Nah.)

  3. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles January 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm |

    Mark, and Mysterion see my comment on your comments concerning Rosy + and Sufism, et al, in reference to the old article of mine (plugged above) in the new Brad blog entry on Genjo Koan…that way I can drop the link again!

    I'm shameless, sorry.

    Many thanks for reading it, Mark, glad you enjoyed it!

  4. Former Kapleau Student
    Former Kapleau Student January 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm |

    Roshi Kapleau himself never taught that kensho was an instant ticket to perfect buddhahood. He said that kensho was like lighting one small candle in a dark cave. There's much more to be seen.

    Some people find their first sexual encounter explosive and overwhelming, others do not. Some people find kensho explosive and overwhelming, most do not.

    Though I do think the 3 pillars and the skz sect itself tended to overemphasize the 'wonderful feeling' of kensho. Reading the 3 pillars has caused many people to begin zen practice. Unlike some of the sectarian views expressed in some parts today, it was the old San Franscisco Zen center staff (from the mid 70's) that recommended I begin sitting with a group affiliated with the Rochester Zen Center (Kapleau's center).

    I probably disagree more these days with Roshi Kapleau's views on zen than I do even with Brad's, but the man was a good, compassionate person who practiced what he preached. Please stop the misinformation that he viewed kensho as an end in itself or that it transformed one into a permanently enlightened buddha.

  5. anon #108
    anon #108 January 11, 2012 at 2:26 pm |

    I think I remember reading that PK regretted the romantic picture of satori given in The Three Pillars of Zen – but that is the picture the book paints. I also got the impression that PK, the man, was a fine chap.

    Your point's taken. My apologies for my part in any misrepresentations. I'll be more careful in future.

  6. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles January 11, 2012 at 4:07 pm |

    Malc, It cracks me up that you give props to Jeff Bailey up there regarding the Real Dragon yarn, but not Gudo. You've really got a burr in your saddle about that old Zen cowboy and his "translations" etc., eh?

  7. anon #108
    anon #108 January 11, 2012 at 5:14 pm |

    I gather Gudo is a highly articulate writer in Japanese, John – written very many volumes of commentaries on the Shobogenzo, but can't write in English for toffee-nuts.

    I'm a big believer in giving credit where due. I got lots of respect for Gudo's ideas and work and often bang on about him here, but from what I hear from them that was there, JB wrote The Real Dragon entirely hisself, based on conversations with Gudo and talks that Gudo had given to the first group of Western students that studied with him, of which JB was part. It's not a translation, and Gudo acknowledges this in his preface to the book. (JB left Gudo in '89 – found the old man 'too cold' I've heard.)

    So the book is as much JB's book as Gudo's an he deserves big props for it; the Windbell Shobogenzo is as much Mike Cross's as Gudo's; the Shinji Shobogenzo commentaries are mainly written by Mike Luetchford…all inspired by and closely following Gudos's teaching of course.

    I wasn't there, but what I and others have been told rings true to me.

  8. anon #108
    anon #108 January 11, 2012 at 5:40 pm |

    …So yes, you're right: I have got a burr in my saddle.

    Perhaps I feel hard-done-by, un-appreciated, neglected by a cruel world – and I'm projecting 😉

  9. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles January 11, 2012 at 6:20 pm |

    Did you notice you got the 108th comment here? That counts for sumpthin'!

    Yeah, I know, believe.

    Hey btw, I very much enjoyed the flick from last wkend I linked ya to, ATTACK THE BLOCK. Inner city London kids battle aliens!! V. cool.

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    cheap moncler jackets January 11, 2012 at 11:02 pm |

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  11. anon #108
    anon #108 January 12, 2012 at 4:22 am |

    Yeah…I been watchin, blud. File sharin, innit…ya get me? 😉 Dat one bare sick film, boy! But I fell asleep innit…catch up laters 🙂

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 12, 2012 at 7:39 pm |

    I just read – or rather skimmed – a book by Bernard Glassman – Tetsugen Bernard Glassman to us! – called Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master's Lessons in Living a Life That Matters. It was so much bullsh*t that I was tempted to send him an email suggesting he read some of your work. Your latest posting imparts so much more information about what Zen "is" – and isn't – than anything he says in his very self serving book. He makes Zen meditation something I would choose to avoid. You make it seem very accessible AND worth the effort. Keep up the good work. And thanks.

  13. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote January 15, 2012 at 5:54 pm |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. Poep Sa Frank Jude
    Poep Sa Frank Jude January 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm |

    Brad, before anything else, I want to be clear that I find much of your work quite good and even refreshingly excellent. AND, there are things I find confused, inaccurate and sometimes just wrong. The following is offered in the spirit of dialogue and not some kind of aggressive criticism….

    Perhaps someday, it would be my pleasure and honor to practice with you. Maybe we can get you here to Tucson for some teaching someday….

    You say: "although it appears to us that Moe and Curly are eternally separate entities, that's not really how it is. Both Moe and Curly are manifestations of the same underlying reality. And not just in an abstract or metaphorical sense. That's really how it is."

    Though many zen teachers have said this and repeated it time and time again, it's not the realization of the buddha. While Taoism has some good influences on the Indian import into China, here's one influence that I think misleads and botches it up.

    What you've written above is a great Vedantic example, but the buddha rejected all such essentialist views. You're basically re-importing brahman/atman into buddhism. I find many Zen and Tibetan teachers tend to do this: they posit some "Original Mind," "Pure Consciousness," "Clear Light" etc. and then often quickly add, "But it's not a thing" or "But it's not Self." But if it smells like it, looks like it, and acts like it, that's just what it is!

    There is not a 'thing' that looks out through Moe's eyes nor through Curly's eyes. That whole passage of yours could just as well have come from the Bhagavad Gita. And, for all I know you may accept and believe in the teachings of the Gita. Fine, but it's not buddhism. (As a side note, I wonder why so many contemporary teachers — from zen, vipassana, and Tibetan Buddhism are so drawn to Vedanta?)

    Now, I am NOT arguing that you haven't had this 'insight' or experience through your practice of zazen. I've had it before I ever heard the word zazen, and often enough since.

    But, you say:

    "But once you manage to catch on to the reality of this situation even for a moment, you can never let it go."

    And perhaps that's the problem. You must let it go. "Oneness," "Unitary Consciousness," "Original Mind," "Atman" or whatever you want to call that experience is simply a byway. Don't stop there! "If all things return to the One, what does the One return to?"

    Again, what you say here: "I have managed on a few occasions to get just clear enough in my mind and body to see that my mind is not my mind nor is my body my body" is accurate, but when you continue to then add onto this that "They are both manifestations of something that's way, way bigger than me. And yet this something is more me than I could ever be" you fall back into atman/essentialism.

    So, Moe and Curly are not "Moe" and "Curly" as separate entities, and they are not "the same thing." Not one; not two. Moe is Moe and Curly is Curly but they are not separate. There is no "Moe Essence" nor "Curly Essence" and there is no substratum they arise from. It's all causes and conditions "all the way down." Being empty of any essence, they are identically empty and thus not separate. So, Moe cannot hit Curly without hitting himself, but it's not because they are the same 'thing.'

    I don't market or promote myself much, but if you are interested in where I base my comments from, I invite you to check out:
    and maybe even this 'review' of your latest book:

    frank jude

  15. Stinks of Zen
    Stinks of Zen January 18, 2012 at 8:19 pm |


    But seriously, we should be content to Discover our Duty, with a nod to Kant and not leave it up to the 3 year old child or the 80 year old man, with a nod to Dogen.

    The point, I think, is to be good.How much less is it about anything superhuman…?

  16. Stinks of Zen
    Stinks of Zen January 18, 2012 at 8:37 pm |

    The more I think about it, the scarier the thought that these things have on people…Their wanting to deify or conversely harm someone.. .Fucking scary..

  17. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 20, 2012 at 7:15 pm |

    Frank jude, I agree with most of your points. Many zen teachers seem stuck on ONE. One is good teaching when you are caught in the Many. But One is also just another concept and can only be grasped as opposed to the idea of Many. Where does the One return to? Those are great teaching words for someone stuck on the One. Thankyou.

  18. Julie
    Julie April 19, 2012 at 7:02 pm |

    "Because it doesn't seem that way to me either a lot of the time. But once you manage to catch on to the reality of this situation even for a moment, you can never let it go."

    I've wondered about that. And I've wondered about trying to let it go (or if it, like some kind of zombie, still manages to crawl back).

    And I've wondered about teachers who project an image of themselves that is very… teacherly. I suppose it helps with getting people to accept your authority… at least for the people who only recognize authority on those terms.

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