Most people who responded to my previous post seemed to get what I was going for. But as I anticipated, a couple people in the comments section complained about what they saw as my complaining. I want to address this because I think it may be interesting and useful.
I find it a little difficult to understand the idea that my previous blog post was seen by some as a list of complaints. It really wasn’t. I don’t consider any of the stuff I wrote about there to be all that bad. Rather, I was trying to describe in concrete terms the realities of doing what I do.
For the record, though, I’ll repeat: I love my job. It’s challenging and rewarding and there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. I get to go to cool places and meet interesting people. The stress level is low. I make just enough money to have a decent apartment in my favorite neighborhood of my favorite American city. I really have nothing to complain about. So I’m not.
With every job I’ve ever there have been good points and bad points. For example, working for Tsuburaya Productions paid well. But the exchange for that was a much higher stress level. That’s one reason I chose to do what I do now instead of returning to the company when offered that choice (as detailed in the previous post on this blog, “There’s More to Meditation Than Meditation”). To me, a good job is one where the good points outnumber the bad, even if it’s only by a small margin.
Maybe saying anything that might be perceived as negative about one’s job is defined as “complaining.” Maybe I’m not that in touch with how normal people think. I don’t know.
The trigger for writing that piece was that I am constantly asked to come to various places and lead retreats, give talks, etc. (this is also mentioned early in the article). About a third of the people who ask have a realistic understanding of what is involved. That article was not for them.
It was written mainly for the other two-thirds who ask me about coming to their places. I often find myself spending a lot of time writing back and forth to such people before it becomes clear to both of us that what they’re asking for is not realistic.
That article now also appears in my FAQ section. That way, instead of writing this same explanation again and again I can ask folks who I believe might not really understand what’s involved in my work to have a look at the article and then get back to me. (I included it in the main blog mostly for entertainment purposes)
There is, of course, a risk that such people will also perceive what I wrote as overly negative and “complaining.” On the other hand, if they do see it that way, that might also be an indicator that they don’t have a real understanding what’s involved in inviting me to their place. So I’m OK with that risk.
Sometimes people seem to think I’m bemoaning the fact that I’m not as rich and famous as the guys who regularly get their pictures on the covers of the Buddhist rag-o-zines or get asked to chat with Oprah on her Super Spiritual Sunday show or whatever it’s called. But that’s not quite the case.
I know precisely what is involved in becoming a world famous spiritual master who makes loads and loads of money. It’s not something I want to do. So I don’t.
I get that to some people this sounds disingenuous. How could anyone not want to be rich and famous? Or, if you don’t want to be rich and famous why don’t you just quit and become totally anonymous? Why don’t you go dig ditches for a living and only teach Zen students in secret?
But that’s not what I want to do either. Those two extreme options are not all there is. What I want to do is precisely this. I like being just exactly as famous as I am, exactly as wealthy as I am. It’s a good position to work in.
In order to maintain this position I often deliberately try to undercut any opportunity for me to become a rich and famous spiritual master. Telling the real facts about what my life is actually like has been a good way to do this. So has been being seen as kind of a sourpuss. Articles like the one I put up yesterday help. The fact that some people will see them (and probably this one too) as “complaining” helps.
If I am seen as a “complainer” then fewer people will view me unrealistically as some kind of Great Enlightened Master. When that happens, fewer people looking for that kind of Great Enlightened Master will come to my retreats or read my books. When that happens I’ll make less money. When I make less money, I end up having a more earthy, real world-type lifestyle. I’m better able to be there for the people who really get what I’m doing, whereas if I were a rich famous guru guy I’d be too far removed from those people.
For example, no one would ever tell someone they considered to be a Great Enlightened Master that they were politically opposed to his breakfast choices (see my previous article if you don’t get the reference). On the contrary, they would carefully observe everything the Great Enlightened Master ate and eat that themselves. If the Great Enlightened Master survived on a diet of Coco Puffs and Dr Pepper, he would never get any feedback questioning such choices (actually the cereal involved in my story was Shreddies).
That’s only one example. Throughout the day, every day, such a Great Enlightened Master would never be questioned, only imitated and obeyed. He would gradually become more and more removed from reality. This would tend to make him seem even more Greatly Enlightened by the kinds of folks who look for that sort of thing. Eventually he would be so out of touch he’d break down. But, given that he was considered a Great Enlightened Master, even his break down might very well be seen as a further sign he was that much Greater and more Enlightened. If he were surrounded by people who believed that, even the Great Enlightened Master might also begin to believe it himself.
I see this kind of stuff going on all the time whenever I observe the lives of such supposedly Great Enlightened people. I am very cautious about ever going that direction. Perhaps a little too cautious. But there ya go.
In order to be seen by the world as a Great Enlightened Master and make loads of money and get on all the magazines and TV shows, your life has to be carefully stage-managed. It’s not that those who are seen by the world as Great Enlightened Masters never get angry or depressed, never have self-doubt, never worry, never have sex, etc. That’s all smoke and mirrors.
What’s really going on is that they are stage-managed just like Hollywood celebrities were back in the old days. They’re surrounded by people whose job it is to make certain nobody ever gets to see the reality of what’s actually going on. When that machinery breaks down, as it often does, we get scandals and spectacular falls from grace.
Someone who wants to be seen as a Great Enlightened Master is forced to play a very specific role pretty much all the time. It’s not a role he can define either. It is defined by the public at large and what they will and will not accept from a Great Enlightened Master. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with actual enlightenment. Our Great Enlightened Master becomes a pampered prisoner of that false and ultimately damaging image. There aren’t enough luxury cars and vacation homes in Hawaii to ever make that seem worthwhile to me.
Of course some of our spiritual celebrities are genuinely decent people. Just like celebrities in every other part of the superstar business. Yet even they have to play the game to make it work.
The more famous you become the harder it is to have real friendships, or real human connections of any kind. Even at the very low level of fame I have, I find that I’m highly suspicious of people who try to get close to me. I didn’t start off like that. But I learned the hard way that there were people who just wanted whatever they thought I had, such as the ability to ordain them or confirm their spiritual status or the ability to impress their friends by virtue of knowing me. If I already need to be suspicious now, when hardly anyone really knows who I am, I can only imagine how terrible it would be to actually be famous. Nope. I don’t want that at all.
My strategy has been working pretty well so far.
I’m a happy guy.
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Registration is now OPEN for our Spring Zen & Yoga Retreat March 18-20, 2016 at Mt. Baldy Zen Center, Mt. Baldy, California
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Check out my podcast with Pirooz Kalayeh, ONCE AGAIN ZEN!
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February 3, 2016 Ventura, California Ventura College
February 28, 2016 Houston, Texas Houston Zen Center
March 5-6, 2016 Austin, Texas Austin Zen Center
March 9, 2016 El Paso, Texas
March 18-20, 2016 Mt. Baldy, California SPRING ZEN & YOGA RETREAT
March 25, 2016 Venice, California Mystic Journey Bookstore 7:00pm
April 22, 2016 New York, New York Interdependence Project
April 23, 2016 Long Island, New York Molloy College “Spring Awakening 2016”
October 23-28, 2016 Benediktushof Meditation Centrum (near Würzburg, Germany) 5-Day Retreat
Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Beginners only!
Every Saturday at 10:00 am (NEW TIME!) there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. Beginners only!
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One of the main ways I make money when I’m not on tour (or even when I am) is through your donations to this blog. I won’t get any of the recent Angel City Zen Center fundraiser money. I appreciate your on-going support!