White Buddhist tells Singhalese Buddhists about Buddhism / Philly Debut!

SickestBuddhistThis coming Saturday I will make my debut into Philadelphia society! All y’all who keep saying, “When are you gonna do something in Philly?” are required to be there. Here are the details.

SATURDAY MAY 3, 2014 10:30 AM

MONKEY MIND ZENDO (operating out of Studio 34) 4522 Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19143.

The program will begin with 20-25 minutes of chanting in Korean (Monkey Mind is part of Seung Sahn’s Korean Kwan Um Zen lineage), followed by 30 minutes of zazen, a short break and then a talk by me. I’m also hoping to meet and talk with those interested in helping me set up a stable and regular sitting group here in Philadelphia. So if you want to help with that, come on by!

Also happening in Philly, on MAY 21, 2014 at 6:30 pm the film BRAD WARNER’S HARDCORE ZEN will have its Philadelphia premiere at Drexel University! I will do a Q&A after the screening. I’ll announce the exact location once I get it.

The film will also play in Cleveland at the Cleveland Buddhist Temple on May 17th, 2014 at 6:30pm. I’ll do a Q&A afterwards and there is talk of Zero Defex doing a short performance before the film.

Also, you can still sign up for our 3-DAY ZEN & YOGA RETREAT at Mt. Baldy near Los Angeles, CA May 9-11, 2014. Cushions are going fast, so book now if you want in! I will be there and offering dokusan (private consultations) to anyone who attends.

*   *   *

Last week I read a story about a British woman who was deported from Sri Lanka for having a tattoo of Buddha. I tweeted a link to the story adding, “Anyone who thinks a tattoo of Buddha is offensive doesn’t understand anything the Buddha ever said.”

Most of the responses I got were pretty positive. But a few people objected. A guy on Twitter said, “White Buddhist tells Singhalese Buddhists about Buddhism.”

It’s the prevailing attitude among certain folks that those of the white, privileged West shouldn’t arrogantly impose our attitudes upon other cultures.  The days when our Western attitudes were considered more advanced and therefore better than the primitive ways of other peoples are over. And we certainly should not feel entitled to steal ideas from those cultures, change them around, make them our own, and then come back and tell those cultures the “right” way to do the things they came up with in the first place.

Generally I would agree with that sentiment.

My Twitter friend appears to believe that my sentiments represent those of an arrogant, over-privileged American telling people who have been steeped in Buddhism for thousands of years what their religion is really about. How dare I?

But does the mere fact of being an American Buddhist really make one less qualified to say what Buddhism is actually about? If we were to follow that line of thinking to its logical conclusion, then I, as a person who grew up in a Christian country, would be more qualified to speak about the true meaning of Jesus’ life than a Singhalese Catholic monk who spent thirty years studying and practicing Christianity.

Having lived a large portion of my life outside of the United States, as a child in Kenya and an adult in Japan, it seems to me that people all over the world are very much alike, often in surprising ways. The kinds of Buddhists who find tattoos of Buddha offensive or who attack their neighbors for being of the wrong religion are pretty much the equivalent of American Christians who think Jesus had blond hair and blue eyes and hated homosexuals. They don’t know any more about Buddhism than our homegrown reactionary, racist “Christians” know what Jesus’ message was about.

I think it is perfectly reasonable for those of us who know better about what the Buddha taught – whether Asian or not – to take these folks to task, and to shame them for using their woeful misunderstanding of the Buddha Way as a justification for acting like assholes. The same as I would accept a Sri Lankan Christian shaming Americans who used Christianity as excuse for intolerant violence and just plain ridiculousness.

Simply growing up in a culture in which most people answer “Buddhist” when asked what religion they follow does not automatically qualify a person to explain what Buddhism is really about. Most Japanese people I knew when I lived in Tokyo knew far less about Buddhism than I did.

I was surprised by this at first. But as I continued to live in Japan, learn more Japanese, and become more attuned to the culture, it dawned on me that it made perfect sense that I would know way more about Buddhism than they did. I’d spent a significant proportion of my life studying and practicing it and they hadn’t. It had nothing at all to do with what race I was or where I was born. People who study and practice a thing know more about it than those who don’t. That’s just how life works.

This begs another question about whether Western Buddhism is more or less legitimate than Asian Buddhism. This question, which used to come up all the time when I first started practicing Zen in the early 80s, seems to be less important to people I meet these days. In fact, once I was accused by someone on the Internets of not being a legit Zen teacher because I was ordained in Japan! That was an interesting turn around, I thought. Because back when I started it was the teachers who were ordained by fellow Westerners who were considered somehow less legit.

When people ask me about the differences between Buddhism in Japan and in the US and Europe, I usually tell them that in the US or Europe you’re far more likely to be able to walk into a Buddhist center and actually start practicing Buddhism than you are in Japan. Japanese Buddhists, by and large, are far less interested in meditation, which is the core of what the Buddha taught, than Buddhists in the West.

But I think this is what usually happens when Buddhism travels from one country to another. The Chinese Buddhists brought meditation back into Buddhism when Buddhists in India had largely abandoned it, the Korean and Japanese Buddhists brought meditation back into Buddhism when the Chinese had largely abandoned it, and now we in the West are bringing meditation back at a time when the Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Sri Lankan and other cultures we’re getting our traditions from have largely abandoned it.

I think those of us in the West who are deeply interested in Buddhism also tend to understand Buddhist philosophy better than the average Asian who tends to assume they know all about Buddhism because they’ve grown up around it. It’s a bit like how some of our most hardcore Christians in the US don’t know much about what’s actually in the Bible.

A Pew Forum survey showed that agnostics and atheists in American tend to know more about the Bible than those who call themselves Christians. That’s because atheists and agnostics don’t just assume they know. They go look the stuff up! It’s the same with Western Buddhists. We don’t have any reason to assume we know what the Buddha said just because we’ve been raised around a miasma of mixed up misquotations and folk sayings wrongly attributed to the Buddha – the same as American Christians often think that things from Dante’s Inferno and Shakespeare are part of the Bible.

Tattoos of the Buddha are not offensive to anyone who really understand the Buddha. That’s all there is to that.

*   *   *

Your donations are always gratefully accepted!

I will be hosting a five-day zazen retreat at Benediktushof in Germany (near Wurzburg) October 12-17, 2014. Contact Benediktushof directly to ask about registration.

I am going to be in Norway from Sept. 24 to 28, Finland from Oct. 3 to 5, the Netherlands from Oct. 24 to 29 and the UK sometime after that. I do not have details yet. But I do have a few large gaps in my schedule that I’d like to fill. They are:



I’m talking to some folks in Munich about doing something there during one of these weeks. I’d really like to set something up in Berlin one of those weeks as well. If you’re interested in helping me set that stuff up, please write to me at bw@hardcorezen.info and we’ll get to work on it. It doesn’t have to be Munich or Berlin!


Sometimes a movie is made to tour.

Are you interested in seeing HARDCORE ZEN with your local community? Would you like Brad Warner to speak at your university, meditation group, or personal guests?

Now you can have both. The film will screen at a location at your discretion. Simply contact booking@bradwarnershardcorezen.com with the following specifics: your location, contact info, and potential date for the event.




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231 Responses

Page 4 of 4
  1. Fred
    Fred May 9, 2014 at 1:32 pm |

    #201 Woot Woot

  2. The Idiot
    The Idiot May 9, 2014 at 2:51 pm |

    Have: illusion that is associated with consciousness.
    Need: illusion that is not associated with consciousness.
    Am: the illusion that consciousness is not illusion.

    Have, need and am are illusion.
    You do not need to think to be.
    But thinking is still being.

  3. Mumbles
    Mumbles May 9, 2014 at 4:45 pm |

    You’re smoking like a pink monkey bird.

  4. Mumbles
    Mumbles May 9, 2014 at 8:34 pm |

    “You die in the end, did anyone tell ya?”


  5. Andy
    Andy May 10, 2014 at 3:13 am |

    “Bro, you know m’ socks don’t loudly bereft any day through lonely holes. ”

    The jane is zoned! no nightspot here, no bar
    there, no sweet freeway, and no premises
    for business purposes,
    no loiterers or needers. Henry are
    baffled. Have ev’ybody head for Maine,
    utility-man take a train?

    Arrive a time when all coons lose dere grip,
    but is he come? Le’s do a hoedown, gal,
    one blue, one shuffle,
    if them is all you seem to réquire. Strip,
    ol benger, skip us we, sugar; so hang on
    one chaste evenin.

    –Sir Bones, or Galahad: astonishin
    yo legal & yo good. Is you feel well?
    Honey dusk do sprawl.
    –Hit’s hard. Kinged or thinged, though, fling & wing.
    Poll-cats are coming, hurrah, hurray.
    I votes in my hole.

    John Berryman Dream Songs 2 [Big Buttons, Cornets: the advance]

  6. Andy
    Andy May 10, 2014 at 6:04 am |

    Effectuating The Fundamental Pimp

    Cus thangs be Bitchin, hoe
    da biz Block-n-Aah, Do-Does, Plop-n-Pop,
    Bitches n Bitchhips, yo.

    Cus Loadsastuff biz no-loco-toe,
    da biz na Block na Aah nada da Bitchin-Bitch, Bitchhips
    nada da Plop-n-Pop, yo.

    Da bitchin thang biz, mmm, slickin it out bout lots n dat;
    so, dawg, da biz Plop-n-Pop, Block-n-Aah,
    da biz Bitchhips n Bitches, yo.

    Stickin it, tho
    strips, & flickin it
    sticks, bro.

  7. Mumbles
    Mumbles May 10, 2014 at 11:53 am |

    The floppy boot stomped down into the ground
    The farmer screamed ‘n blew the sky off the mountains
    Eye sockets looked down on the chestbone mountains
    ‘n the sun dropped down, ‘n the moon ran off,
    His heels ‘n elbows pale as chalk
    ‘n all the comets collided ‘n blew t’ dust
    For fear they’d be seen.
    ‘n the sky turned white in the middle of the night
    ‘n the sky turned white in the middle of the night
    ‘n the big floppy boot stomped down into the ground
    ‘n the red violin took the bow
    to do the hoodoo hoe-down
    ‘n the red violin took the bow
    for to do the hoodoo hoe-down
    The farmer jumped in ah circle ‘n flung his chalk right down
    Do-si-do the devil sho’ showed ‘n he broke of his horns
    ‘n fiddled him down the road
    through the fork
    ‘n the farmer’s floppy boot stomped down
    Red tail squirmin’ and the hot leg kicked
    ‘n the fire leaped ‘n licked
    And when the boot came up, the fire went out
    And hell was just an ice cube melting off on the ground.
    And the bold caught down for to do the hoodoo hoedown
    And the bold caught down for to do the hoodoo, the devil hoedown
    To the fork, huddlin’ in a hollow, standin’ at the crossroads
    With that bunged-up bandaged broken bum that fell in the wrong circle
    He had a sole red tail – once went red, now was pale
    Fe Fi Fo Fum he was summoned up from hell
    Booted down a spell
    By a square-dancin’ farmer
    By a square-dancin’ farmer, well
    That old bum was sticking out his thumb
    When the farmer drew up, said
    “Listen son”, and the horse compared his hooves.
    “If you fall into my circle again I’ll tan your red hide
    And dance you on your tail, and pitch you from now to now
    Pitch you from now to now.”
    And the hotlick kicked, and the fire leaped an’ licked
    And the hotlick kicked and the fire just leaped an’ licked
    And the hotlick kickin’ an’ the fire jus’ leapin’ an’ lickin’
    And the fire leaped and licked.


  8. The Idiot
    The Idiot May 10, 2014 at 1:06 pm |

    The dead fart too.

  9. Mumbles
    Mumbles May 10, 2014 at 1:57 pm |

    Italics are obviously overrated.

  10. The Idiot
    The Idiot May 10, 2014 at 2:30 pm |

    ok mumbles, say something stunning about meat then?

  11. The Idiot
    The Idiot May 10, 2014 at 2:32 pm |


  12. The Idiot
    The Idiot May 10, 2014 at 2:34 pm |


  13. The Idiot
    The Idiot May 10, 2014 at 2:34 pm |

    Oh man total HTML filth

  14. Mumbles
    Mumbles May 10, 2014 at 5:07 pm |

    OK, unleash the Beef Twinkies…


  15. The Idiot
    The Idiot May 11, 2014 at 7:09 pm |

    Mumbles, you are a genius. That may be the best band name I’ve heard since ‘Black Hobbit’ :0)

  16. Mumbles
    Mumbles May 11, 2014 at 8:37 pm |

    Dude, you are my favorite album of all time.


  17. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 11, 2014 at 10:23 pm |

    I’d never heard that, thanks, Mumbles- I may be up all night!


  18. Mumbles
    Mumbles May 12, 2014 at 4:43 am |

    Mark, Have you run across this yet? Promises to be quite an album…


    And WOW…the Grand Canyon, haven’t been there in years, but what a beauty! Thanks!

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon May 12, 2014 at 4:07 pm |


  19. Fred
    Fred May 12, 2014 at 5:36 pm |


    “When you arrive at last at towering up like a mile-high wall, you will finally know that there aren’t so many things.”

  20. Andy
    Andy May 13, 2014 at 2:35 am |

    Sucking in the past, spitting out the future. It feels somehow fitting for the Grand Canyon to make a return visit to the second installment of Brad’s blog and this comments section.

    Mention of it always offers up the memory of my Grandad, as reported by my Grand mother, shuffling out as usual like a tramp, with his unkempt thin white hair, sewating in one of those sky blue, once stiff-collared shirts intended for the frugal office worker, and with grey slacks tucked into his woolen walking socks and walking boots, to remark, “It ay a patch on the Highlands,” in the red-shift dipthongs of his Black Country accent, and to the droll amusement and mild disappointment of his expat progeny, while he turned his back on the view and headed for shade.

    But then, I’ve always considered the Scottish Highlands my grand parents’ Paris.

    If two people were chalk and cheese, coal dust and buttercup sap, it was Joe and Katherine.

    As a young nurse brought up as a tenant on a country landed estate
    in the south of England, she fell in love with a youth from the industrial heart land of the West Midlands, who’d gotten on the wrong side of shrapnel during the abortive Dunkirk landing in WWII. Arm shattered amongst other injuries, he requested a pint of Guinness to be placed by his hospital bedside, for when he roused from the crude anaesthetic, and which, on his return to the world, he promptly downed in one, as a group of fellow survivors sung ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow!’ – much to the delight of his wife-to-be.

    Six children later, two of whom contracted polio, they seemed an unhappy couple, living separate lives in the same house, barking at each other intermittently: active, busy Katherine adjusting the smoke filter as though she’d just crossed to the wrong side of the tracks, and Joe with his plastic barrel of home-brew by the side of his worn-out armchair, which he dipped his pint glass into for convenience, between the pages of some oddly historical romance, and inaudibly garbling something grumpy through the mists of smoke.

    But they liked to walk miles and miles on weekends, children buzzing around, as the rows of council houses gave way to some rare greenery – now mostly tarmac and red brick facades – and on to the singular Beacon Hill in Sedgely. And then, years later, on holidays, alone together in Scotland – the many photographs and paintings in the living room evidence of some other, unseen intimacy to my younger self, caught between the slightly disturbing, sometimes amusing prods they’d give each other.

    Big green Beacon hill, with a miniature ‘Grand Canyon’, as I called it, tucked into its grassy top, where my Grand Mother showed me how to find trilabytes in the soft, cracked limestone, while Joe in The Waggon and Horses, ordered his usual, first two pints of Banks’s mild – one necked as the other was being pulled – and a coffee stained, dog-eared copy of the Mirror turned to the betting odds for the horses under his shorter arm.

    On his death, my Grandmother gave me a pack of his freshly unworn, grey and charcoal underpants. An unintentionally fitting legacy. Two decades on, and I still have one pair worn to holes that I won’t throw away, although the elastic has broken and so rarely get a work out now. And like the trenches I used to dig in their unwieldy clay and limestone garden, in order to fold the earth into crumbles ripe for planting, those two posing for a photo on some Scottich low peak, brings back to mind the distant figures trampling diminutively through Mark’s photos. The backdrops’ sheer scale, of time and space, no more than that which presented itself on Beacon hill to a 5 year old getting his fingernails stuck with the strange melancholy of a drained ocean above the miles and miles of dilapidated industry and crammed together houses, the streets lit up at night like a million beacons trailing everywhere and nowhere, while Laddie their mixed Collie and erstwhile chum, slides on his arse to wipe the itchy shit and worms down its unhallowed slopes

  21. Mumbles
    Mumbles May 13, 2014 at 4:51 am |

    “The application of a skeptical intelligence or a pretty prose style to the raw material of real life can be an enticement to readers, but also a distraction, an evasion of the stark, suspicious questions that hover unspoken between author and audience. How is this any of your business? Why are you telling me this?”


    1. Andy
      Andy May 13, 2014 at 7:18 am |

      ‘How is this any of your business?’ A stupid question. You read it or you don’t. Or you skim it or give up in boredom or distaste. You find some entertainment or value in the exercise or you don’t.

      ‘Why are you telling me this?’ I set myself an hour so writing each day to keep my mind sharp and because I enjoy the process. Sometimes I might write on here, and if I do, I don’t draft; this coupled with the largely unbothered imaginary ‘audience’ adds a level of tension to the process, which is interesting and sharpening. I like the fleeting come and gone effect, and the fact that few people give a hoot. In short, it’s a form of practice for me. Certainly not therapy!

      ‘but also a distraction, an evasion of the stark, suspicious questions that hover unspoken between author and audience.

      Almost. For myself I would say: “but also a distraction, an evocation of the stark, suspicious [ Insert other adjectives, too] questions that hover unspoken between author and audience.”

      On seeing Mark’s photos, I got the sense of some cluster of meaning, along with memories and a tone, and shared. It seemed to want to wear a suit, so I put one on. I’ve never written a memoir-esque piece, so that was also interesting for me, if no-one else.

      To hyperphrase Mark, pass the Elephant.

  22. The Idiot
    The Idiot May 13, 2014 at 6:32 am |

    Here’s one for the memory of your Grandad…


  23. Andy
    Andy May 13, 2014 at 8:07 am |

    Oh and this, “The cultural imperative to confess, to share, to work through our troubles in public – in print, on television, in a blog – has had the effect of eroding the Tolstoyan entitlement to unique suffering, an ideal that it is the prerogative of literature to defend” is dishonest.

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles May 13, 2014 at 9:57 am |

      Glad you enjoyed the review, Andy (chuckle). I enjoyed your exercise in creative memory, it triggered the response w/the review of the Donald Antrim book because I’d just read it (the Antrim book).

      For some reason in the last few weeks I’ve been reading several disparate yet linked works of familial memory inc. (by) Alan Gurganus, Harry Crews, and the engaging “Blood Will Out” by Walter Kirn.

      For ex; One of Antrim’s grandpa’s slow-mo road-tripped on the Tamiami Highway that Crew’s papa worked from trail to road in the 1920’s. Sometimes otherwise unrelated books have dialogues moderated by the (odd!) intuitive reader…

      1. Andy
        Andy May 13, 2014 at 11:19 am |

        What with the Lizzy Bishop thing I’m starting to worry about quantum entanglement.

        The review was incisive and thought-provoking, but I hope in the intervening years the guy has worked out that the bourgeois penny has already paid for his education.

  24. The Idiot
    The Idiot May 13, 2014 at 12:23 pm |

    Honestly though, Tolstoy shouldn’t even be mentioned on the internet – don’t you agree?

    1. Andy
      Andy May 14, 2014 at 7:39 pm |

      Sincerely though, the YouTube music link you posted wasn’t available where I am. Was it intended as a piss-take?

Comments are closed.