I was kind of bummed to hear recently that U.G. Krishnamurti had died. I can’t say I was ever any kind of follower of his. I never read any of his books or attended any of his talks. I only know him from the little sound (video?) bytes you can find on YouTube and the bits and pieces of his talks that appear on the Internet sometimes. It’s always possible he said something really idiotic I don’t know about, so don’t take this as some kind of endorsement. OK?

I first heard about U.G. the way I first heard about Robyn Hitchcock. When I began putting out psychedelic records under the name Dimentia 13, reviewers kept saying they sounded like Robyn Hitchcock or his band the Soft Boys. I’d never heard either one. But I bought a few and enjoyed them and had to admit that my stuff did sound a little like his. When I first started going on-line as a Buddhist dude people would say I reminded them of U.G. Krishnamurti, who I’d also never heard of. So I looked him up and I could see the reason for the comparison. I never went on to become a fan of U.G. the way I’m a fan of Robyn Hitchcock (I’ll be at his show at Spaceland tomorrow night, by the way). But I did like what I read and heard of his work.

The only real criticism I have of U.G. is pretty much the same one I have for Jiddu Krishnamurti. I think they may have been just a little too intelligent for their own good. Or, perhaps not for their own good, but maybe for their followers’ good. Both men obviously had a grasp of what is true and what is bullshit. But they both completely negated the value of any kind of organization or methodology.

In the intellectual sense, you might be inclined to say that all methodologies are ultimately wrong. It’s obviously true that even people who’ve spent decades practicing Zazen can be complete assholes with absolutely no understanding of reality and nothing at all of any value to say. This happens when people use their time on the cushion to get deeper and deeper into their own delusions and when such delusions are encouraged by poor teachers — I remained convinced, though, that folks like this are the minority. So you can’t even hold up something called Zazen and say, here it is, this will automatically work for everyone every time.

On the other hand, I do say that and I do believe it. Because part of Zazen practice is the cultivation of the proper attitude towards one’s own delusions.

ANYWAY, I think both U.G. and Jiddu Krishnamurti rejected methodologies like Zen a bit too rashly. Still, I’m often tempted to do the same. For example, being part of the Soto stream of Zen Buddhism means that I am seen as one among that group. Outsiders, then, tend to assume that I agree with everything other members of the organization, particularly its supposed leaders, say and do. I mean if I meet a guy who tells me he’s in the Ku Klux Klan I tend to assume he hates Blacks, gays and Jews. Maybe there are guys in the KKK who just join so they can go to the barbeques and who don’t really care about its political message. It’s possible. Still, I, as an outsider, tend to assume all members must agree with its positions at least a little.

In terms of the Soto organization, I do not care for a lot of what it appears to stand for. I’m not into the whole expensive funeral thing, which seems to have become its major function in Japan. And I’ve already mentioned how I’m not too happy to be associated with what some of its American teachers are doing either. Still, I haven’t renounced the Soto sect yet. Gudo Nishijima always makes a distinction between the organization in Japan called Soto-shu and the stream of teachers descended from Master Dogen, who brought the Soto lineage to Japan. But he hasn’t resigned his commission with the Soto-shu and I doubt he ever will. Neither have I.

I think it’s kind of a matter of taking a practical approach. As part of Soto, I have access to a certain degree of power that comes with membership in any large organization. For example, when I published my first book, my publishers wanted proof that I was a legitimate, recognized teacher in a legit Buddhist lineage. Because I was able to provide that, I got my book published. Of course things are so wild and wooly in America that just about anyone who’s read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance can set himself up as a Zen Master and no one questions it. Still, real lineages are important. There is a growing awareness of this fact even here in America.

Yet just cuz you have transmission from one or even more than one legit teacher in a legit lineage doesn’t always mean everything’s A-OK. Even so, I do not deny the power of such lineages or their usefulness. Just getting transmission is the easy part. The hard part is living up to what has been transmitted.

ANYWAY, although I am entirely certain of what I want to convey here, I have no illusions about my own ability to convey it. Plus anything you say can and will be taken the wrong way by people determined to take things the wrong way. So you just say what you say and make it as clear as you’re able to. Then you go finish your taxes, which is what I’m gonna do as soon as I post this.

ANWAY, I’m a little bummed to hear U.G. died. That’s all. He was an interesting guy with a cool haircut.

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62 Responses

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  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous April 15, 2007 at 3:03 pm |

    you know what’s funny? when i post as anonymous. people tend to agree with me a lot more.


  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous April 15, 2007 at 6:01 pm |

    I agree, Anonymous.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous April 15, 2007 at 7:22 pm |

    Wow, Anonymous, I think you’re onto something there. Nice insight.

  4. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf April 15, 2007 at 7:33 pm |

    I had been looking forward to seeing Kurt Vonnegut at Butler University in Indianapolis on April 27th. A few weeks ago, a friend and I went to Butler and waited in a huge line to get free tickets. Hoosiers sure love their Vonnegut. The news media was there filming and interviewing fans. The people at the head of the line had stood out in the cold for 2 to 3 hours. I am still attending the event at Butler where Kurt’s son, Mark, will be reading the speech Kurt had planned to say.

    This amazing author left a great impact in are world, and his books, with their fabulous dark humor, spoke about real human issues with deep wisdom. Yeah, I wish I would have been able to meet him in person, but I am truely grateful that I was able to meet him through his work.

    “Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘So it goes.’”

    — from Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse-Five,’ 1969

    …so it goes.

    I love this very Buddhist like excerpt from Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five:

    There were two peepholes inside the airlock-with yellow eyes pressed to them. There was a speaker on the wall. The Tralfamadorians had no voice boxes. They communicated telepahtically. They were able to talk to Billy by means of computer and a sort of electric organ which made every Earthling speech sound.

    “Welcome aboard, Mr. Pilgrim,” said the loud-speaker. “Any questions?”

    Billy licked his lips, thought a while, inquired at last: “Why me?”

    “That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?”

    “Yes.” Billy , in fact, had a paperweight in his office which was a blob of polished amber with three ladybugs embedded in it.

    ‘”Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”

  5. Professor
    Professor April 25, 2007 at 11:38 am |

    Good nuggets here:

    But what do you want from him? He’s a dead bastard now!


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  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 17, 2011 at 12:15 pm |

    You do not understand the thinking of U.G

  11. kwood
    kwood June 24, 2011 at 12:17 pm |

    I saw one video by UG and was quite blown away. When I clicked the 'play' button I was not expecting to hear an honest man, but that's exactly what I heard.

    I went on to listen to lots of his other pieces, but quickly realized that they are all saying the same thing.

    To the day he died, his 'message', if you will, never changed.

    I liked that his gatherings were always informal and everyone was always smiling. Arguments and dissension were clearly welcome!

    I also love the books about his words which are prefaced with the following:

    "My teaching, if that is the word you want to use, has no copyright. You are free to reproduce, distribute, interpret, misinterpret, distort, garble, do what you like, even claim authorship, without my consent or the permission of anybody."

    Open Source Enlightenment!


    UG was the real deal.

  12. kwood
    kwood June 24, 2011 at 12:25 pm |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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