SINGING AUM


Before I get into what I want to say, I also want to say that I plan to attend the screening of the film Zen Noir on the evening of Saturday September 23 (I’m trying to find the show times) at the Westside Pavillion in Los Angeles. If that’s any incentive for anyone to show up, I don’t know. I hope it’s not incentive to stay away! Feel free to come up and say “hi” if you’re there. But if you were not at our monthly one-day Zazen at the Hill Street Center in Santa Monica which also takes place on Saturday September 23rd (see the link to your right for details), know that I will be secretly wondering why you came to the movie but not to the Zen sitting. But I won’t say anything, so don’t worry.

I just got back from Japan this afternoon. The big news over there apart from the impending nomination of a new Prime Minister is all about Shoko Asahara, former leader of the Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) cult, the guys who gassed the Tokyo subway system in the name of Buddhism in 1995. Asahara recently lost his final appeal against the death sentence he received a few years ago (2004, I think) for his role in instigating mass murder (12 people died and thousands of others were affected by the gas, additionally 7 others died in a practice run for that attack in the city of Matsumoto in 1994). Throughout the trial, Asahara refused to speak in his defence, or, to speak at all, save for the cryptic statement, in English, “I can speak a little.” This is the kind of English phrase Japanese kids learn in grade school, the way I can say, “Je parle un petit peux de Francais” even though I don’t.

Amazingly enough, Asahara still has followers. The group has changed its name to Aleph and disavows its former leader, though they still consider him a “genius of meditation” whatever that means. There is a lot of worry in Japan that, once Asahara’s death sentence is carried out, his remaining followers may stage some kind of revenge attack. This is probably a legitimate concern, though the cult is not nearly as large and well-funded as it was 11 years ago.

The interesting thing to me was one particular guy who kept showing up every time the TV news ran a story about Aum. He’s a funny lookining guy, tall and skinny with long hair dyed platimum blond and the kind of scraggly beard George Harrison has on the cover of the All Things Must Pass album. He always dresses like a hippy refugee from Woodstock and sometimes wears what appears to be a skirt, although the skirt looks more like hippy-wear than something a cross-dresser might outfit himself in. This guy is some kind of expert in all things related to Aum Shinrikyo. He’s apparently been studying them for quite a number of years and has been sitting in on most of Asahara’s trials.

What stuck me was that, while a whole lot of “respectable society” types like doctors, scientists and lawyers, are members or ex-members of Aum, this guy who is an obvious weirdo knew enough to stay away from them. I think this is important. People who are able to be themselves the way this comentator is seem far less likely to be taken in by people like Asahara and his ilk.

Some folks in Japan are concerned that Asahara hasn’t had a fair trial. They insist that he is mentally ill and that this should be taken into consideration. Of course he is mentally ill! What worries me is that he is far from the only mentally ill person on this planet who is taken seriously as a guru by the kind of people who take gurus seriously. It often seems like signs of mental illness are taken by way too many people as evidence of Enlightenment. This is the same kind of thinking engaged in by the guys who wrote the book Zig Zag Zen which postulates that being stoned on acid is the same as Enlightenment. This is one of many reasons why I do not believe in that kind of Enlightenment.

13 Responses

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  1. Mark
    Mark September 17, 2006 at 10:24 pm | |

    Very interesting link at the bottom. I have explored some of the other sections of there site and it makes me wonder if the image the Dalai Lama projects is true. Food for thought….

  2. Drunken Monkey
    Drunken Monkey September 18, 2006 at 11:55 am | |

    I don’t think Dalai Lama would have known about Aum’s murderous intent.

    Hes a generally cool geezer.

  3. oxeye
    oxeye September 18, 2006 at 6:16 pm | |

    the Dalai Lama is a no bias friend maker. he might have even welcomed Brad Warner into his home. I have wondered before about your palpable distaste for the great Tibetan. He seems like a good guy to me..

  4. purple
    purple September 18, 2006 at 10:10 pm | |

    This probably isn’t the place to start a grand discussion, but I’m wondering about folks’ opinions on Chogyam Trungpa, since it seems pertinent to the topic. While he wasn’t a truly crazy dude bent on killing people in the name of Buddhism, he had some genuinely disturbing proclivities.

    I was a student of Shambhala, which he founded, for many years. I was intrigued by the mysticism of Tibetan Buddhism. The more mystical it became however, the more I yearned for a down-to-earth approach, which led me to become a student of Zen.

    Everything I learned about Chogyam Trungpa helped speed this decision. He was a drunken womanizer, for one. Despite being married, he slept with female students constantly. He was seldom sober, and his video-taped talks show the affects it had. There was no doubt he was a magnetic personality, and philosophically insightful no matter what state he was in. But does this forgive his transgressions? Does the fact that he was unequivocally wise and a brilliant teacher eclipse his shortcomings as a person?

    I myself don’t think it does. He appointed for a succsessor a man who knew he had HIV and kept having sex with men. I know many people who still feel damaged by his influence. However, I know many more who are willing to admit his habits were destructive, but did not affect his message and power.

    Does anyone know about Chogyam Trungpa? Any thoughts or comments?

  5. Element
    Element September 19, 2006 at 12:49 am | |

    For all the Dalai Lama Fans,
    look here:

    http://www.iivs.de/~iivs01311/EN/front.html

  6. JustKeith
    JustKeith September 19, 2006 at 3:46 am | |

    element,

    While I didn’t spend much time on that link, I found the writings there pretty silly. I am not a Tibetan Buddhist and not particularly a huge fan of the Dalai Lama, however the writings there had this warning-of-doomsday feel to it, not unlike some fear-based, born-again Christian groups. While I have no proof, I would venture to say that Victor and Victoria Trimondi are converts to such a group.

    I don’t deny that Tibetan Buddhism has some (what I would consider) strange and irrelevant rituals and beliefs, not unlike many religions (hence my rejection of Roman Catholicism for the practice of Zen), I don’t believe that the Dalai Lama has any nefarious intentions.

    Peace.

  7. Element
    Element September 19, 2006 at 4:23 am | |

    justkeith:
    Yes, the authors are a bit like all those conspiration theory authors.
    No, they aren’t converts to such groups. They also critic Cristianity,Islam and Jewishness for having writings about doomsday or armageddon.
    They also don’t have much knowledge about Buddhas live or “real” Buddhism.
    They even mention Ken Wilber as the: “best-known contemporary Buddhist cultural theorist, the American Ken Wilber”.
    But I think there are much points in Tantric or Tibetan Buddhism that are worth to critic.
    Also I can’t understand the need for such a person like the Dalai Lama or the Pope. I thought we life in a time were people can use their brains, instead it seem like we life in the dark Middle Ages.

  8. MikeDoe
    MikeDoe September 19, 2006 at 5:40 am | |

    “Does anyone know about Chogyam Trungpa”

    Regardless of what any teacher might claim or teach the basic questions that you should ask yourself is

    “Do I want to be like him/her?”

    There are no guarantees that all teachers will be the same or that their flaws will overwhelm them.

  9. gniz
    gniz September 19, 2006 at 7:36 am | |

    Wow Brad,
    Its great that you stand head and shoulders above all of these fake gurus with their fake leaders.
    Meanwhile, on Gudo’s blog, your “wise” teacher is engaging in yet another soap opera of accusations about his students replete with all of their responses on his comments section.
    Looks like a bunch of crap to me, if i may be permitted to use my BS detector that you say i should be using.
    But you probably have a million good excuses for why Nishijima attacked his students in an internet blog post read by the general public, right??? Right???
    g

  10. babbles
    babbles September 19, 2006 at 3:39 pm | |

    What’s the reason to come here and stir things up about what may or may not be happening on Nishijima Roshi’s blog? Was there some secret hidden message in Brad’s post that I missed? Why are you attacking this recent post for seemingly no sound reason?

    I fail to understand why you, Ginz, have some driven desire to cause issues when there is no issue to be had.

    Best regards.

  11. 6billionghosts
    6billionghosts September 20, 2006 at 8:10 am | |

    Haruki Marukami wrote a book about the AUM folks just after they pulled the terrible stunt. I forget what it’s called but he’s a good author so it might be worth checking out.

  12. yudo
    yudo September 24, 2006 at 10:49 am | |

    element said:
    “Also I can’t understand the need for such a person like the Dalai Lama or the Pope.”

    The origin of both stems from the political need to humanize a rather barbaric society. I seem to remember that the DL declared once that he might decide not to “reincarnate”, which would spoil the Chinese desire to put up with a DL of their choice. Nevertheless, all the “reinc” gimmick of the Tibetan is essentially a political one, from a historical point of view.

    gniz writes:
    “Meanwhile, on Gudo’s blog, your “wise” teacher is engaging in yet another soap opera of accusations about his students “

    I think Gudo knows his days are getting few and wants to set up a record of his sangha as accurate as it may seem to him. Right or wrong (I’d tend to think ‘right’), he’s not talking about Zen or Buddhism in those matters, but of the administration of a community, loose as it may be.
    My overall impression is that your comment stems from the belief that a master is a “perfectly realized being”, complete with infallibility and never doing anything imperfect. This, I believe, is incorrect.

    Even a master can err, at times, and that’s, paradoxically, a guarantee that you won’t get fooled by another guru.

  13. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 5, 2006 at 4:44 pm | |

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