MORE SNAPPY ANSWERS TO STUPID QUESTIONS*


I thought I’d try and answer a couple more e-mail questions:

Many times in your writing I come across the idea, in one form or another, that “You’ll never be free of your problems, nor would you ever want to be.” — I have some questions about this approach. — What about the natural drive towards healing and solving our problems that we all have, for ourselves and others? Is this totally irrelevant to actually being happy? Should we just stay stuck in our problems and not try to heal them? Furthermore, what about compassion? Compassion means you see someone in pain, and you want to help them, you don’t just say, “This person’s problems will never really be solved, so what’s the point in helping?” It seems like a basic idea underlying compassion would be the notion that problems can be solved at least a little. Not that you’ll ever be done with challenges, but that you can overcome particular humps that are inhibiting your or someone else’s happiness. How does this gel with your/Zen philosophy?

Christ, what a question! OK. There’s nothing wrong with having a natural inclination towards solving your own and other people’s problems. That drive is compassion itself.

However the idea that someday you’ll solve all problems and be done with them forever and ever is an unrealizable fantasy. The reason I waste so much time pointing out this incredibly obvious fact is because I’ve seen a lot of Spiritual Master types make a damn good living promising their patented technique will achieve just that effect – Get Enlightened and all your problems are solved for all time! Ain’t gonna happen.

Compassion is a tremendous thing. This is why Buddhist teachers from Buddha to Dogen and on down the list have all stressed compassion. The problem is that there is a huge difference between true compassion and the thought of compassion. The thought “I must be compassionate” often smothers true compassion to the point where true compassion can’t even be expressed.

This is what I was trying to get at when I wrote on Suicide Girls about the whole Myanmar thing. Even if I say it a zillion times, nobody seems to get the point that I see nothing at all wrong with protesting against things like the stuff going on in Myanmar. Protest away! Yay, protesters! You go, girls (and boys)!

The problem is when your concern for expressing what thought has defined wrongly as “compassion” gets in the way of what really needs done. You’re so compassionate towards the monks in Myanmar. But then after the protest you stop by a bookstore, see a book you like on the shelf, leaf through it, decide you want it, look on the back at the price, decide it’s too much, then go home and order it for half that price through Amazon. Where is your compassion for the owners of that bookstore? Are monks in Myanmar more deserving of your compassion simply because everybody you know is talking about them? Maybe the bookstore people don’t deserve your compassion because they’re middle-class Americans and the Myanmar monks are poor and downtrodden. And we all know, middle-class Americans have no problems at all.

And where is your compassion towards the military junta of Myanmar? Without their actions would you even know about the plight of the monks? They were getting shat upon for years before you even heard there was a problem. Now you get to read all about it. You ought to thank those military assholes for their tireless work in exposing the problems of their country!

I’m just trying to give some common and easy examples of a more generalized attitude.

And, by the way, to the nut jobs in the comments section who equate putting a 17 year old blind sheep dog with bad kidneys whose back legs don’t work anymore to sleep with the atrocities of the Nazi regime… get a clue. OK?

Here’s another question from the Peanut Gallery:

I’ve got a couple of questions to which your answer would be appreciated if you’ve got the time.
1: are there any books on the subject of zen buddhism which you think are worth reading?
2: i myself am interested at becoming ordained at some point, though most of my knowledge is of the tibetan tradition, what was your monastic experience / ordination process like?

Question One:
To Meet the Real Dragon by Gudo Nishijima
Shobogenzo by Master Dogen
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen and the Way of Being Time by Dainin Katagiri

Question Two:
I don’t really have any monastic experience to speak of. I never lived in a monastery, as such. I don’t think my two years at the Kent Zendo really count. Though in many ways those were as much a true monastic experience as anything. My ordination was just like I described it in Hardcore Zen. Not very exciting. I did two ordinations, actually. After the one recounted in the book I did another one through the Soto Shu (Soto Sect) of Japan. More formal, but pretty much the same.

I never actually wanted to be ordained, though. I did it more because Nishijima Sensei wanted me to be ordained. It wasn’t a big dream of mine or anything. So it’s hard for me to give a lot of advice to people who dream of being monks. Mostly I’d just say it won’t be a damned thing like your dreams.

I’m in Ohio now. Here’s the gig list again:

November 7th at 7PM I’ll be at the Akron Public Library downtown.

November 7th (same day) 0DFx (the hardcore band I played bass in in the early 80s) will play the Matinee in Akron after the talk at the library.

November 9th my movie Cleveland’s Screaming will be shown at the Beachland Tavern in Cleveland. There’ll also be live performances by 0DFx, CD Truth, Cheap Tragedies and This Moment in Black History.

November 10th 0DFx plays at the Spitfire Saloon in Cleveland.

November 12th I’ll give a Zen talk at Lambert’s Tattooing and Body Piercing (I kid you not) in manly, he-man Mansfield, Ohio at 7PM (Sponsored by the Mansfield Zen Center).

*By the way, the title of this piece refers to a feature in MAD magazine.

23 Responses

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  1. Al Coleman
    Al Coleman November 3, 2007 at 12:45 pm | |

    Hey Brad,

    Have you ever read “Opening The Hand of Thought” by Kosho Uchyiama?

    I’m just now finishing it and I’d add it to the list you mentioned.

    Al

  2. Gerry Gomez
    Gerry Gomez November 3, 2007 at 12:47 pm | |

    Brad:

    Thanks for posting the questions and answers. Helpful!

    Gerry

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 3, 2007 at 1:43 pm | |

    “And, by the way, to the nut jobs in the comments section who equate putting a 17 year old blind sheep dog with bad kidneys whose back legs don’t work anymore to sleep with the atrocities of the Nazi regime… get a clue. OK?”

    Oh! So, none of the animals were healthy? All were near death or in great pain? None were killed because of pet overpopulation or lack of space or money at the shelter?

    “There is no bodhisattva practice superior to the compassionate taking of life.”
    Zen master Nantembo (1839 – 1925)

    Was Nantembo talking about euthanizing pets?

  4. Mike
    Mike November 3, 2007 at 2:09 pm | |

    FYI re the links to the book-titles; not sure why, but 3 of the 4 of them are broken links.

  5. Mysterion
    Mysterion November 3, 2007 at 3:47 pm | |

    Meet the Real Dragon
    by Gudo Nishijima

    Shobogenzo
    Shobogenzo, Book 1, Vol. 1
    Book 2, Vol. 2
    Book 3, Vol. 3
    Book 4
    by Master Dogen
    (at lease you can get the ISBN numbers from above & order the books locally)

    Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
    by Shunryu Suzuki

    Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen and the Way of Being Time
    by Dainin Katagiri

    ************************************

    I would add:
    The Dhammapada: The Sacred Books Of The East Part Ten (1881 reprint)

    Zen and the Brain for real eggheads.

    and I also like:
    Lao Tzu: Te-Tao Ching – A New Translation Based on the Recently Discovered Ma-wang-tui Texts
    by Lao Tzu (Author), Robert G. Henricks (Translator)

  6. Mysterion
    Mysterion November 3, 2007 at 3:48 pm | |

    lease = least

  7. Colinski
    Colinski November 3, 2007 at 4:35 pm | |

    The Mad Magazine reference made my day. I almost wish you hadn’t explained it, but I guess the authors of those questions might have taken offense (and they still might since many people seem to react to your words without reading all the way through).

    Thanks!

  8. Gregor
    Gregor November 3, 2007 at 4:50 pm | |

    “I’d just say it won’t be a damned thing like your dreams.”

    What ever is?

  9. Mysterion
    Mysterion November 3, 2007 at 6:29 pm | |

    Anybody else notice the common elements in samadhi and AUM? (rotated 90ş counterclockwise) example 2

    or this and that

    just (folklore) curious…

  10. John
    John November 3, 2007 at 6:55 pm | |

    Mysterion said…
    The Dhammapada: The Sacred Books Of The East Part Ten (1881 reprint)

    Why that translation?

  11. Mysterion
    Mysterion November 3, 2007 at 7:30 pm | |

    Dhammapada is on-line (free). It is the naive translation of the Pâli by F. Max Müller. Even today, it’s a preferred by many folks over the COLLEGE STANDARD. It also happens to be the version I read first and still like the most.

    I have no real authentic genuine bona fide excuse. ;-)

    Oh, oh… it’s an attachment!
    (Cabbage patch, here I come
    right back where I started from)

  12. Mysterion
    Mysterion November 3, 2007 at 9:26 pm | |

    Shôbôgenzô (partial on-line version)
    Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma
    (by Dôgen)

    WORK IN PROGRESS

    Translated by Stanford Soto Zen Text Project

    The Purple-looking words are clickable links. Explore the links, notes, and footnotes.

  13. DB
    DB November 4, 2007 at 1:05 am | |

    From Brad’s original post: “Should we just stay stuck in our problems and not try to heal them?”

    There’s a big difference between seeing things as they are and passive acceptance of what you see. I think those two often get confused. If we can see clearly through our illusions, that doesn’t necessarily solve problems. It simply lets us see the real problem to be addressed.

    The desire to help will never go away. The problem will never go away. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on it, but I also don’t believe you should define yourself by how many problems you’ve solved or failed to solve.

    That is, I’m not a miserable failure because there are hungry people in the world. Likewise, I shouldn’t get all proud of myself because I contributed to the Toys for Tots drive or whatever.

    I guess I believe you probably shouldn’t be asking yourself, “Am I compassionate enough?” That just adds an unnecessary layer to the process.

  14. Jared
    Jared November 4, 2007 at 9:55 am | |

    The pet killing thing:

    I absolutely do think there are certain situations in the world where putting an animal, and possibly (POSSIBLY) a human being to death to keep them from suffering is the right thing to do. My support of the Nazi comment was merely indicating that it can be VERY dangerous to believe that you are killing in the name of The Good. I am sure that Tim does practice compassion, and I doubt he gains any sort of pleasure from doing it. Whoever posted the Nazi thing seemed to be implying that the harmless-sounding situation Brad described could easily be applied to the Holocaust by only replacing a few words.

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 4, 2007 at 11:32 am | |

    And, by the way, to the nut jobs in the comments section who equate putting a 17 year old blind sheep dog with bad kidneys whose back legs don’t work anymore to sleep with the atrocities of the Nazi regime… get a clue. OK?

    Yeah, this is a Zen forum. Lets try and keep things on-topic here, and equate this to the atrocities of the zen fascists.

  16. aumeye
    aumeye November 5, 2007 at 7:16 am | |

    This is how dumb I am: Can someone please explain the message the cartoonist is trying to convey in the cartoon Brad posted to this thread? Thanks.

  17. roman
    roman November 5, 2007 at 7:45 am | |

    hi aumeye, here is my take:

    i think the cartoon illustrates what
    Brad explains in his post about compassion and “compassion”

    sometimes or some people do “good” things and have very strange reasons
    to do them

    for example i am trying to help you
    understand the cartoon’s message, which might be labeled as “a good thing to do”, but maybe I am doing
    it because I hope you will give me something later when we meet at last

    i hope it helped – and i do declare
    i dont’ expect any gifts
    from aumeye later when I meet her
    whenever that may be, a zillion years’ time?

  18. Mysterion
    Mysterion November 5, 2007 at 11:17 am | |

    Jared said…
    “I absolutely do think there are certain situations in the world where putting an animal, and possibly (POSSIBLY) a human being to death to keep them from suffering is the right thing to do.”

    That’s always a tough call. Do we ‘let nature run her course’ or do we intervene and say ‘enough is enough?’

    Saburo has lost weight, resists eating, and is not so far from the end. Yet, I would much prefer him ‘passing from this toil’ in his sleep between Chako-chan and I than having him ‘put down.’ 3 out of our 4 last dogs were put down to alleviate suffering and one died of a series of heart attacks (aged 17 years) while I held him. Yet every case is a new and unique case and past experience has no bearing on the matter whatsoever.

    As for people, extending life (based on a biopsy of the wallet, bank accounts, and insurance policy) through ‘heroic medicine’ is most often the incorrect course of action as it only inflicts or prolongs suffering for the patient.

    People need to detach themselves from life at the end. That is what “The Great Liberation by Hearing in the Intermediate States” is all about.

  19. aumeye
    aumeye November 5, 2007 at 2:31 pm | |

    roman ~ You do amuse me. And thank you.

  20. aumeye
    aumeye November 5, 2007 at 2:53 pm | |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. aumeye
    aumeye November 5, 2007 at 4:40 pm | |

    I once worked with a guy who was a Zen Buddhist. We were on a shift together when a very large bee decided to join us. Quickly, and unfortunately, it flew into the ceiling fan and fell to the ground. It was not dead and appeared to be struggling. Clearly, it was hurt and suffering. I am terrified of bees and this one was HUGE. I begged Tom (the aforementioned Buddhist coworker) to put it out of its misery. Because of his beliefs about taking life, he could not. I tried to convince him with cleverness, my own feelings of sadness and panic, and cogent arguments about the obvious pending death of this creature and how he would not be initiating or causing its death, only expediting it to alleviate its suffering. He agreed with me, but my efforts were still to no avail. So I worked on mustering the courage to do it myself. It died before I could help. I hate that part of me that is too afraid to do what I think is right in such a situation. I’ve since done whatever I can to ensure a similar outcome does not occur.

    I imagine many of you would consider the drama with which I express myself in this story, and the way I reacted, is totally disproportionate to the events. Perhaps. But what can I say? I would prefer to not suffer when observing the suffering of another living thing; it would certainly make my own existence far less painful. I’m the nut who is in the middle of the field helping a bug that has landed on its back to right itself; or I am the one at the party capturing the spider and carefully placing it outside in the grass. And regarding human life, I am also the one who easily and surely won my college debate in support of Mercy Killing.

    Peace All

  22. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 6, 2007 at 4:49 am | |

    Is it just me or does the style of that cartoon look suspiciously like the zen stooges comics brad used to draw?

    Hmmmm

  23. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 22, 2008 at 3:56 am | |

    a very silly site indeed. I advise all those seeking enlightenment to LEAVE NOW!

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