OK. I’m gonna try another instant post. Cuz that’s what’s great about blogging, right? Spontaneity! I don’t even know if that’s spelled right! And away we go! Remember kids, unlike many of the posts here, this one isn’t written out beforehand, it’s just typed right in to the blogger template thingy whachamacallit.

Right. So people have been asking me to write about the whole Rule of the Universe thing. Like, hey Brad, what’s up with that whole “Rule of the Universe” thing you always talk about? If it’s rules, why don’t you make us a list so we can know if we’re doing good things or bad things?

Jeez, I hope there’s no one out there waiting for a list of do’s and don’t’s from me. At any rate, the Rule of the Universe isn’t like that. It’s subtle. But at the same time it’s not obscure or hidden. It’s as overt as gravity or electro-magnetism. In fact, things like gravity and electro-magnetism are also manifestations of the Rule of the Universe.

It’s the same as what they call Dharma. Only the word Dharma is getting so over-used, it’s become almost worthless anymore. I mean look at what the people who make the TV show LOST are doing with it. I like the show, though this season’s been fairly lame. But I can tell those guys have some weird-ass ideas about Dharma. And I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts the resolution to the mystery of the island is gonna be based on some hokey, half-baked version of some kind of Buddhism. And I’ll puke all over it like I did with the resolution to the X-Files which also blew dead donkeys. Why can’t these guys come up with cool resolutions for their shows like Patrick McGoohan did with The Prisoner? I also realized the other day why big budget “tent pole” movies always suck. I’m at this meeting, talking to a producer guy about doing an Ultraman movie and he’s telling me how it works with the kind of bazillion dollar sci-fi action superhero flicks like he wants to make. And it hits me why they’re always bad. It’s because nobody who makes those movies really wants to make them. I mean like no one was dying to make a Spiderman film or a Superman film or whatever — no matter what their press releases say. They did it because it was the highest paying job they could get. People in those positions will give it their all and produce very high quality work from a technical standpoint (and this goes for things like writing, directing & acting as well as special effects, there is also technique involved). But at the core there’s just nothing, nothing except people working for a paycheck. There’s nobody trying to say anything, to make some point, to communicate.

Anyway, I digress. Because this is an instant post. What were we talking about? Oh yeah. The Rule of the Universe. Did I say it was like gravity yet? Because it is. OK. I’ll try to give some examples. Like, OK, like say you’re riding a bike. You have an intuitive understanding of what it takes to keep from falling over and you do it. It’s kind of like that.

Some overt and obvious examples would be like the way you feel guilty if you steal something or cheat on your boyfriend. You’re sensing that you’ve violated the Rule of the Universe. Now I know you’re probably thinking there are some people who don’t feel guilt (or whatever you want to call that feeling, “guilt” is probably too loaded a word. Whatever). But I doubt it. I don’t think such people exist, or ever have, or ever will. BUT there are people who are very, very, very good at shouting down those feelings with their own thoughts and justifications.

The thing about thought is that you can use it to justify ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING. There is nothing at all so heinous or horrible that you can’t twist your thoughts around to make seem right. One of the scariest things I ever saw in my practice was my own ability to do exactly that. You think it’s just Nazis and child molesters and members of the NRA and people like that who can justify whatever horrible thing they desire to do? Ha! You are A FOOL!!! Anyway, that’s why thought is a lousy way to judge right and wrong. You just know what’s right or wrong without thinking about it at all.

The purpose of Zazen is to allow you to learn to quiet down enough to sense that intuition that is always there. The more you do the practice, the better you’ll get. No one ever gets perfect at it. Even the early Buddhist sutras talk about Buddha facing Mara, the force of evil, all throughout his life. This is just a metaphorical way of showing that he too could be fooled by his own thoughts.

So the Rule of the Universe has nothing to do with any list of do’s and don’t’s. Although there are certain things that are almost always don’t’s. This is why Buddhists vow to follow the Ten Precepts. Things like stealing, killing, lying and all that almost always get you in trouble. Though there are times when even doing these things would be in accordance with the Rule of the Universe. But those times are so rare, it’s expected that, should such an occassion arise, your practice will be strong enough to allow you to see what needs doing.

That’s really about all there is to it. I know I put a chapter about the Ten Precepts in Hardcore Zen. So some of these same ideas are expressed in there, too.

Y’know another thing I was thinking of today that’s just sort of random is this. When you’re doing Zazen, it’s best not to think, “I’ve been at this 30 minutes — or 2 days — or 5 weeks — or whatever it happens to be — and if this goes on any longer I’m gonna die.” If you go to a retreat, there’ll come a time during the sittings that you will feel like this. The only way to handle it its to just forget about how long you’ve been doing it up till now. Don’t worry about the accumulation of time. Just sit NOW. And no matter how many times you have to get back to that, just get back to it.

Anyway, I should go make some dinner. Have fun!

Remember, Zazen at Hill St. Center tomorrow morning — please show up if you’re around, we’ll go have yummy Hare Krishna food after — and a new Suicide Girls article debuting at 12PM Pacific Time.

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24 Responses

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  1. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf February 16, 2007 at 9:49 pm |

    Thanks for the great post Brad.

    It’s time for a quiz kids!

    The “rule of the universe” is:

    A. Like Gravity

    B. Intellectual Reason

    C. Intuitive Reason

    D. Both A & C

    * I’m using the word “Reason” because of the first entity in Gudo Nishijima’s quote when speaking upon the second verse of the first chapter of Nargajuna’s MMK.

    Gudo says:

    “Therefore, even though this absolutely strong denial of idealism and materialism seems to be some kind of affirmation of nihilistic Buddhist thoughts, which was Kumarajiva’s wrong interpretation, the fact is never like that at all.

    “We can know this because in the 2nd verse of the 1st Chapter, Nagarjuna indicates four entities as real exsistence. The first one is the reason, or the rule of the universe, which pervades throughout the universe.The second one is the external world, where we are just living now. The third one is the present moment, when our act is done. The fourth is Reality itself, which can be identified with God. And Nagarjuna bravely asserts absolutely that there is no fifth, and so relying upon his decisive attitude, we can suppose he had very strong confidence in his own Realism.”

    I really enjoy this teaching by Nargajuna via Gudo Nishijima.

    Brad’s post has got me considering the whole no self idea. This consideration is based on the big daddy thought of all thoughts, which is the thought that “I” exist seperate from the universe. The more solid the concept that “I” exist is; the more cut off from the truth I will be and the more I drown the rule of the uinverse under my thoughts. By practicing Zazen and balancing the automic nervous system (dropping of body and mind), the more one experiences reality without the thought of “me” and it’s spawns of I like/don’t like thoughts, and the more one experiences the rule of the universe through direct universal intution. In other words, one tunes into who one really is, the whole universe.

    Just my thoughts.

    Thanks again Brad for defining the rule of the universe.

  2. oxeye
    oxeye February 16, 2007 at 9:58 pm |

    Hare Krishna food? I’ll have what you’re having bro..

  3. cromanyak
    cromanyak February 17, 2007 at 4:58 am |

    Thanks. I really needed to hear that last part. Lately I’ve been allowing myself to see how much time is left. I hate doing it though because then it feels like I’m starting all over. The funny thing is there have been quite a few time where I’ve felt like I couldn’t take it any more. Only to turn around and see that there’s only 1 minute left.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 17, 2007 at 7:38 am |

    i can definitley relate towhat you say about the scariest thing being how your thoughts work around whatever excuse or thought process they can. it’s honestly insanity. just complete insanity. you really do things without even realizing it. i’m pretty hardcare about all this stuff in my life and i’m about to get even more hardcore with it. and it’s jsut crazy how you can analyze, question, meditate like crazy, and keep yourself in check like there’s no tomarow, but still be able to find many occasions of just complete stupidity, something that it seems you knew it was there all along but overlooked it purposely out of just plain fear. i posted something similar on a myspace forum recently. it’s like the line between letting go and supress, making excuses, or anything of this notion is so thin. or maybe it just seems that way.

  5. Mockney Rebel
    Mockney Rebel February 17, 2007 at 8:11 am |

    < pirate voice >
    The ‘rule of the universe’…its more a sort of guideline than an actual rule.
    < /pirate voice >

  6. Anatman
    Anatman February 17, 2007 at 11:44 am |

    I love this post, including the sponteneity of it.

    I would like to dispute the uselessness of the word Dharma, though.

    I love the word and its implications. Instead of elaborating on it here, I posted a brief discussion on the word over at Flapping Mouths, if anyone is interested.

  7. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf February 17, 2007 at 1:14 pm |

    I was bidding on Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo Vol 1-4 this afternoon on Ebay and lost to a bidder who won the books for about 74 dollars (thats including shipping and handeling). Which is a pretty damn good deal being that all four volumes are somewhat difficult to find and not that cheap.

    But I went ahead and ordered volumes 1, 2, and 4 from Wisdom Books (WB didn’t have vol 3) then ordered Vol 3 from Amazon, along with A Heart to Heart Chat on Buddhism with Old Master Gudo.

    Though I spent more than the lucky Ebay bidder, I am happy to have finally purchased 1-4 volume of Shobogenzo.

    Now which one of your assholes out bid me?

    Just kidding about the asshole part.

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 17, 2007 at 3:21 pm |

    Nice post Brad, as always..
    However, i have a question; You state ” do Zazen like this”, Shynryu Suzuki states “do it like this”; almost the same but some nuances about what to concentrate on, Pema Chöndrön states another way, very similar but some differences. Subtle differences perhaps but i like to question authorities so i ask you just this: is there ONE way to do Zazen in your opinion, or can it be done in any of the ways described? If there is only one way and “your” way is it..Why? What (if anything)makes your way better than any other? And i know you did not invent this kind of Zazen, i just call it yours to make a point in this post .
    But i feel kinda troubled by the multitude of ways “to do zazen” or even just being a buddhist, are we bending it all to the shape of a religion, a dogma? I respect you, but i also question what you teach me, i cannot help that but i don´t agree to anything just because an “authority” tells me something. Nothing personal towards you Brad, but i will always question things..
    Excuses for errors in the language, i´m from Sweden so my English might be a bit flawed.

  9. Wolf
    Wolf February 17, 2007 at 7:05 pm |

    @ Olivaw:
    I’m not Brad, but I think I know, after reding his Blog for some time ,what his opinion on that topic is:
    There are differnt opinions in differnt schools, but in Brad’s eyes the “Gudo Nishijima approach to Zazen” (c) is the best and therefore he’s relativley hardcore in defending it. Since in his opinion it’s the best way to do zazen he claims it’s best if you do it like him, since it’s the best way (and the only way he really claims to know). So if you trust him, and his experience just do it his way.
    So to answer the questions asked: Is there ONE way to do Zazen and is it yours: Yes.
    Why: Because after years of practice of that way it seems to work best.
    Others do it differently, because probably they think it’s the best way to do it. If you trust them and their experience more, do it their way.
    So far for the “what Brad probably thinks part” and now to the “what wolf thinks about this stuff part”.

    First of all the stuff about those subtle differnces also mugged me some time ago. So I’ve spent some time thinking about it. My conclusion so far: It’s not all that important which style you choose.
    Example: The eternal thing with the eyes. Brad says focus, others say don’t focus. Some say face the wall, others say face the room, others say do as you please… some even say you may close them. As far as my experience is concerned the “Gudo Nishijima approach to Zazen” (c) (focused on a point towards a wall) works best.
    Others say other things, but the most important thing is to stick to it, whichever way you choose to do it. Not to let your thoughts let you dictate what to to with your eyes if you feel like it. Or your posture. Or whatever.

    So is this dogmatic? Many people saying that there is one way to do it right: Yes, it is, they all have their dogmas about doing Zazen. But since they seem to work, why not?

    Why then being so dogmatic in the first place? If all that works fine, why not just say that it’s allright to do it in any of those ways? Because that doesn’t work 😉

    Guess I have to go deeper into that again: In the Shobogenzo there is a chapter about shitting. To be exact it’s about how to properly shit as a Buddhist monk. That’s highly dogmatic, but for a reason: You have to pay attention to what you are doing when there is ONE way to do it right. There simply is no place left for your mind to flee into the “I’ll do it differntly today, because I feel like it and it doesn’t matter anyway how I do it”-routine, which is exacly what you want to avoid during… well shitting probably as well as Zazen if you are really determined 😉

    Hope I made myself clear on that one, since it’s long… but since nobody will probably read that anyway it doesn’t really matter, does it? 😉


  10. Jordan & The Tortoise
    Jordan & The Tortoise February 17, 2007 at 10:24 pm |


    I read it.


  11. MikeDoe
    MikeDoe February 18, 2007 at 1:42 am |

    when you sit on a cushion do you plan in advance what it is that you are going to do?

    When you write spontaneously there is much more life in it. Your SGs posts strike me as much more spontaneous and ‘real’ than your HZ posts.

    Whilst visiting a new office I tried to access your blog and the firewall blocked it on the basis of sexual content. I’m guessing it didn’t like the word ‘Hardcore’ but maybe it was jut another critic.

  12. Still Frames...
    Still Frames... February 18, 2007 at 3:14 am |

    Dear Brad,

    I love your writings! Nice, sober and clear. When roaming around the web in search of some nice posts on zen and meditation I mostly find so much people who are talking so much nonsense and all this spiritual chitchat…bleeh. I actually used “your” title ‘sit down and shut up’ for the first post I have written on my weblog. Because that whats zazen seems to be about hee…sitting down and shutting up…oh yeah and sometimes cramp in your feet or pain in your back..and…. 😉

    I will keep on checking out your lovely blog. Thanks for sharing!

    Take Care,

  13. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 18, 2007 at 1:28 pm |

    Thanks for the answer Wolf.
    My “Quest of questioning” goes on towards new goals. 🙂

  14. Buddha
    Buddha February 18, 2007 at 2:11 pm |

    “BUT there are people who are very, very, very good at shouting down those feelings with their own thoughts and justifications.”


    “No one ever gets perfect at it.”


    “Ten Precepts”

    What was #3 again? Oh yeah, inviting abuse doesn’t count.

  15. Jinzang
    Jinzang February 18, 2007 at 3:51 pm |

    But i feel kinda troubled by the multitude of ways “to do zazen” or even just being a buddhist, are we bending it all to the shape of a religion, a dogma? I respect you, but i also question what you teach me, i cannot help that but i don´t agree to anything just because an “authority” tells me something.

    What you call authority can also be called the voice of experience. People teach what has worked for them. What gets taught differs slightly because people differ and because even a techinque that’s a little wrong will still work.

    I hear the words “dogma” and “authority” from different people, which says to me that people are a little mistrustful. All I can say is that meditation is a process that does work if you take it seriously and trust your teacher. That trust is hard for many independent thinking Westerners, but it is necessary. The truth is not difficult, but it is subtle and hard to discern. Without practice and a teacher’s guidance, it’s practically impossible.

  16. mike
    mike February 19, 2007 at 8:01 am |

    Nice job on the instant post. I really like how you write when it comes off the top of your head, you should do it more often. It’s sort of exciting. Anyway, speaking of Lost and Buddhism, do you read american comics at all? Well the creator of Lost, something Lindeloff I think, wrote a comic book called ultimate Wolverine Versus Hulk, or maybe Ultimate Hulk Versus Wolverine. Either way it’s a story of how Ultimate Marvel’s (a new millenium reboot of the Marvel universe) Wolverine is sent to hunt down a missing Bruce Banner/Hulk. The twist is that Banner’s travels takes him to Tibet, where he learns through some kind of ancient quasi mystical tibetan hoobajoo to find peace with his inner Hulk and live up in the mountains in a monastery full of hookers or something. So far Lindeloff has only written 2 issues into the mini-series, which came out like a year and a half ago, and has yet to fit the second half into his busy LOST schedule. It’s funny how Buddhism (and Taoism) is employed whenever a writer needs something foreign and mystical to fall back on for a story. I blame the Kung Fu TV series.

  17. oxeye
    oxeye February 19, 2007 at 8:42 am |

    “You just know what’s right or wrong without thinking about it at all.”

    Hmmm, maybe.. But I think people have some reason to be a little mistrustful of teachers and politicians. Especially those who equate the NRA with nazis or child molesters.

    Though it was not the original intention of our religions or governments, their resulting cultural conditioning seems to have done nothing so much as to quiet or confuse our inner sense of what is right and wrong, and after a while, things will kind of go to hell in any civilization. But, like it has been pointed out before, not having any rules laid out for us can be a huge waste of time or even life threatening.

    I say be trusting of your institutions and teachers up to a point, but don’t give away your rifle.

  18. Anatman
    Anatman February 19, 2007 at 12:27 pm |

    “Now I know you’re probably thinking there are some people who don’t feel guilt (or whatever you want to call that feeling, “guilt” is probably too loaded a word. Whatever). But I doubt it. I don’t think such people exist, or ever have, or ever will. BUT there are people who are very, very, very good at shouting down those feelings with their own thoughts and justifications.”

    Sociopaths seem to be hardwired differently than other “normal” people. I have known one or two in my life, and they do not seem to experience guilt or remorse. Everything is about manipulation. They are like werewolves… half human, half animal.

  19. Colin
    Colin February 19, 2007 at 3:09 pm |

    I’ve met sociopaths too. And I don’t disagree – sociopaths are well-documented to lack any sort of remorse for their actions. But we can never truly see how their actions affect them. Can we ever really know? Perhaps it’s just like Brad said, some people are just really good at drowning out the conscience.

    Also, I know what you meant by “half human, half animal” but I disagree with that phrasing – humans are animals. Our differences from the other beasts of the earth are one of degree, not kind. They are sentient too, and I would expect them to be subject to the same rule of the universe just as we are. But again, who can truly know without being inside their skin?

  20. Kozan Bob
    Kozan Bob February 19, 2007 at 5:22 pm |

    Nice new template.

  21. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 19, 2007 at 8:01 pm |

    Love your new look, Brad.
    For some reason, my old fashioned,
    crotchety computer can run it faster and more efficiently.


    AK in SF

  22. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 21, 2007 at 4:45 am |

    On the issue of the workings of human mind, including guilt, I think everyone should real Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985). Even intuition has a physiological basis, and when that basis is flawed, incredible things happen. Not always terrifying, mind you, but more often than not rather sad.

    I know this has nothing to do with Zen, but you seem like a person with a broad interest in the world.

    Pardon my English as well, I’m from Finland.


  23. Anatman
    Anatman February 21, 2007 at 2:29 pm |

    Colin: “I disagree with that phrasing – humans are animals. Our differences from the other beasts of the earth are one of degree, not kind. They are sentient too, and I would expect them to be subject to the same rule of the universe just as we are. But again, who can truly know without being inside their skin?”

    Yes, animals are human too. I use the term “animals” symbolically, for the sake of expediency, as in, “You know what I meant, you animal!”

    I also compared sociopaths to werewolves, but now I’m told that werewolves don’t even exist…

    BTW, I’m just playing now, Colin 🙂

  24. Stephen
    Stephen May 6, 2007 at 4:30 am |

    I want to know more about that Ultraman movie!

Comments are closed.