Why I Do Zazen

LakeMichI’m flying on a big iron bird through the sky. Below me is Lake Michigan. I’ll be in New York City in an hour and a half.

I’m on my way for a series of talks and public appearances (see the list below). In fact, there’s one more public appearance on Monday that’s not even listed yet because I don’t have all the details. Plus there are some interview things and some dinners and brunches and stuff, and a couple long, long rides in crowded cars. It’s going to be a heck of a weekend for me.

A few years ago I vowed never to do this sort of thing again. I’d just finished a tour of the East Coast where I’d booked myself to do two or more talks a day on a few days. Then there was the trip to Finland where it felt like I was on stage non-stop for a week.

Last year my tax guy goofed up big time. When he worked it all out and said I’d gotten a refund I was all like, “I didn’t have anything taken out, how can I get a refund?” He muttered something about Obamacare credits. I asked if he was sure. He said yes. So I said OK. What do I know from taxes?

Turns out I did know. Because in March I got a letter from the IRS saying I owed them a big wad of money plus interest. The income sources they said I didn’t report were my main ones, like book royalties and the donations I receive from this blog. There’s no way I would fail to report that. I looked over the notes I’d brought with me to my tax guy a year before. They were all on there.

So I called up my tax guy’s boss. He looked over my return and my notes. They didn’t match up. The IRS was right. My tax guy had messed up. Bad. His boss told me to send the IRS a check and he very kindly sent me a check for the interest I owed.

This all took a couple weeks to sort out. By that time, I had to do my taxes for this year. So I did. As I expected, I owed the IRS another check. This time for even more than I’d just sent them. Luckily I had it, so I sent it (and there’s where my advance for Don’t Be a Jerk went). Plus a check to the State of California for this year and one more for last year.

Then I chipped a tooth and had to go get that fixed. Because I don’t have dental insurance I had to pay the full amount. Oh, and I forgot the new glasses prescription. Also not insured.

So I just spent a giant sized portion of the money I made in the past 12 months in the span of a single week.

Oh! And this morning Lyft took a lot longer to show up than I expected, then we got stuck in traffic, so I missed my scheduled flight. Then TSA took forever because they’re all freaked out about all the people going from LA to the East Coast for Passover so I missed my re-scheduled flight too and had to re-re-schedule. That also cost me.

Don’t Be a Jerk is selling well. So that’s good news. But it’s still not gonna be the next Harry Potter. Hopefully you folks in New York will buy some books this weekend.

Sometimes people ask me to ordain them. Sometimes they ask me how to get started writing and publishing books. When I advise them against it they always think I’m being funny. I’m not. This isn’t a career I can recommend.

I don’t have a manager or personal assistant. I book these gigs, book my planes, then figure out how to get from point A to point Z all by myself, then I travel alone. You best believe it’s stressful. But it’s the way this job is. I accept that, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Overall, I like this job better than any other I’ve had so far, so I do what I gotta do.

I’m not a nice, even-keeled sweetheart by nature. That’s not me. I’m bitter, resentful, angry, socially awkward and not easy to get to know. When I stress out, I stress all the way out. For me, Zen practice hasn’t been a way to go from well-adjusted guy to All Knowing and All Seeing Master, full of beauty and bliss and rainbows. It’s been a way to keep from going completely off the deep end.

Without the grounding Zen practice has given me, I would not be able to do this at all. I am keenly aware of that. When I sit down on my little cushion in my little apartment each morning and night I know that as boring and silly as sitting there looking at my closet door for half an hour might seem — even to me! — it’s what makes the rest of my life even possible.

Yeah, I’ve had some moments of pretty amazing insight. Not that I am amazing. But what I’ve seen has been astounding.

But that’s not why I get on the cushion each day.

I get on the cushion each day to survive it.

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Check out my podcast with Pirooz Kalayeh, ONCE AGAIN ZEN!

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I’ve got a new book out now! Stay up to date on my live appearances and more by signing up for our mailing list on the contact page

My publishers are running a contest on Goodreads to give away 2 copies of my new book!


April 22, 2016 New York, New York Interdependence Project

April 23, 2016 Long Island, New York Molloy College “Spring Awakening 2016”

April 24, 2016 Rochester, New York Rochester Zen Center

April 28-May 1, 2016 Atlanta Georgia 4-Day Retreat at Red Clay Sangha

June 2, 2016 Los Angeles, CA The Last Bookstore 7:00pm

September 10-11, 2016 Belfast, Northern Ireland 2-Day Retreat

September 14, 2016 Belfast, Northern Ireland Zazen and Discussion

September 16-17, 2016 Dublin, Ireland 3-Day Retreat

September 22-25, 2016 Hebden Bridge, England, 4-Day Retreat

September 27, 2016 – Wimbledon, London, England – Talk and Q&A

September 29-October 2, 2016 Helsinki, Finland, 4-Day Retreat

October 3, 2016 Turku, Finland, Talk at the University

October 4-5, Stockholm, Sweden, Talk and 1-Day-Retreat

October 7, 2016 Berlin, Germany Zenlab

October 14, 2016 Munich, Germany, Lecture

October 15-16, 2016 Munich, Germany, 2-Day Retreat

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!

These on-going events happen every week even if I am away from Los Angeles. Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info

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One of the main ways I’m gonna pay off my tax debt 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!

43 Responses

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  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous April 21, 2016 at 5:57 pm |

    RIP Prince.

  2. Khru 2.0
    Khru 2.0 April 21, 2016 at 6:20 pm |

    We’re very fortunate indeed to be able to practice Zen.

    On Opening the Dharma:

    The Dharma, incomparably profound and minutely subtle,
    is rarely encountered,
    even in hundreds of thousands of millions of kalpas;
    We now can see it…listen to it…accept and hold it;
    May we completely realize
    the Tathagata’s true meaning.

    1. Fred
      Fred April 21, 2016 at 6:51 pm |

      In one flash it is realized, and there is no one realizing it.

  3. Fred
    Fred April 21, 2016 at 6:24 pm |

    All that money didn’t keep Prince alive.

    I think that he chose to die.


  4. sri_barence
    sri_barence April 21, 2016 at 7:03 pm |

    I was having a stressful morning today and got into an argument with my wife. She reminded me that getting stressed about my situation, and wishing things were different was a kind of “delusion.” I reminded her that just because I have seen and experienced that form, feelings, impulses, etc. are “empty,” does not mean that I am above it all. I still get plenty stressed. Like Brad, i rely on the time on the cushion to smooth things out.

    It is sort of like the saying in Shobogenzo that “Realization does not break the person, just as the reflection of the moon on water does not break the water.” (Or the moon. I forget which, and I don’t want to go look it up.)

  5. Zafu
    Zafu April 21, 2016 at 7:46 pm |

    Don’t worry about money, Fred is sending a check.

  6. Mumbles
    Mumbles April 21, 2016 at 7:50 pm |

    Prince. Jesus Christ, this year sucks so far.


    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot April 23, 2016 at 4:34 am |

      First time I saw Prince was in the wee hours just before the 4-in-the-morning, “Hour of the Wolf” hollow of the night time when the devas show up for dokusan with Buddhas. I was alone somewhere in Michigan, probably E.Lansing, just easing off the peak of some exotic psychedelic (I had a friend who was an underground chemist that used me as QC). After the major hallucinations were spent, I was feeling kind of bored, so I turned on the TV. It was B&W . . . I think . . . which made it all the more spectacular by contrast. Some boring talk show hosted By a guy named Peter who seemed just as welcomely soporific as I needed. But then, they went to a musical number with a bunch of thin guys playing guitars in some unclassifiable mode, dancing around in formal clothes. The guy who seemed to be the leader had a Latin look about him, and he wore a frock coat over a garter belt and stockings. I just caught some of the lyrics . . . “Am I black or white/Am I gay or straight?” Seemed normal enough to me, so I figured they must be pretty rad for the time.

      Later on, I saw him again on some media and learned his name was Prince. He seemed a bit gimmicky to me, but he was consistent and I came to see his shtick as life art.

      Some of his songs, particularly “Nothing Compares 2 U,” we’re part of the soundtrack to big events in my life.

  7. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 21, 2016 at 9:23 pm |

    Awesome day, Brad!

    “Today is a good day to die”; I am breathing now, I breathe.

    Mahayana-ish Native American interpretation of the meaning of “hokahey, today is a good day to die!”

  8. skatemurai
    skatemurai April 21, 2016 at 10:24 pm |

    How to help others? How not do practice for own salvation? Sawaki says it is wrong thing to do. He says it is Lesser Vehicle. To do practice not for own salvation – is this possible in own efforts or will? Should one worry about it? Thanks.

    1. skatemurai
      skatemurai April 22, 2016 at 1:51 am |

      Source to Sawaki’s commentary: http://postimg.org/gallery/29oh0sgag/

    2. minkfoot
      minkfoot April 23, 2016 at 9:29 am |

      Traditionally, Mahayana teachers hold that Wisdom and Compassion are of equal importance to Awakening. This made more sense to me when I realized how much of a hindrance my selfish self-referential obsession with my self was. Seeking Wisdom and liberation for oneself strengthens the bonds of delusive self-reference; setting a wider goal of liberating others helps to loosen those bonds.

      But really, to help others, you have to help yourself first.

  9. french-roast
    french-roast April 22, 2016 at 2:28 am |

    Since the last 4 months, I have experienced intense level of stress. Never in my entire life have I felt so much lasting stress. Most of it has to do with an accumulation of small annoyance and contrariety here and there, (including the tax man). Some of it I get from reading the daily dispiriting world news, and a big portion of it has to do with my work, which I almost quit a few weeks ago. The level of stress at work is simply unbearable, some left, others shed tears, two needed medical care. The boat is sinking and the captain (owner) of the ship is making sure that all employees will drown with him.

    Since the last 4 months, I had decided to take a break from zazen, 0 sitting until last week. Oh boy! What a difference that first sitting round did. Just similar to a drug addict that finally gets a good dose, I could feel the emptying immediately. Body and mind drops instantly and all becomes clear, lucid transparency. One of the aspect of zazen for me, is this emptying. Only after a few second sitting on that cushion even after 4 months of abstinence, this whole stress simply vanished and was no where to be found. The deep silence, the stillness, that emptying acting as a solvent, it dissolves all things, and most thoughts. As I sit, all of what makes a thing, all emotional state, all this is this, this is that, that I have a body or mind, or even senses, all yield. I do not know how this whole emptying proceeds, but all boundaries that make up what we see as things, as stress, as body, as mind, as what appear to the mind simply give away without any kind of involvement or will from ‘me’, and as they do so, they melt entirely, they simply pass by. They melt away spontaneously, not by any kind of effort or rationalization. Once I leave the cushion, I asked myself how real were they? How real was that stress? Was it? Was there ever this stress? One face seems to suggest that there was never any such thing as stress, the other face seems to suggest the complete opposite; life is a complete messy stressful situation from beginning till the end. Which one is real? If from one viewpoint there is no such thing as stress, and from the other there is, which one is the true one?
    From now on, I do know for sure that I need zazen medicine, if not, I could simply not survive on the long run.

  10. mjkawa
    mjkawa April 22, 2016 at 9:24 am |

    Brad, airplanes are made of aluminum, not iron.

  11. tuberrose
    tuberrose April 22, 2016 at 12:26 pm |

    You also fly in them not on them, but lets not nitpick.

  12. Mumon
    Mumon April 22, 2016 at 4:25 pm |

    So how come you don’t structure your operation as a church? Seriously.

  13. Kyla
    Kyla April 23, 2016 at 2:54 am |

    I really appreciate how honest this post is. Zazen is not some cure-all where one ends up with perpetual perma-smile but I find that it is invaluable nevertheless because I can see my life more clearly. There is a real world of stress, pain and challenge that we live in, Zazen practitioners included. I appreciate that that is often acknowledged in this blog as it can be hard to find in the world of spiritual celebrity.

    1. Fred
      Fred April 24, 2016 at 5:32 pm |

      “Olaf Blanke is a Swiss neuro-biologist studying out-of-body experience, and his hypothesis is that it’s the vestibular organs (sense of equalibrium), otolithic organs (sense of gravity), proprioceptors (sense of placement and motion in the muscles, joints, and ligament), and eyes that coordinate to provide the sense of self. According to his hypothesis, when these organs don’t coordinate properly, some kind of out-of-body experience takes place.”

      The out of body experience is the real self when there is no identification with just an exclusive culturally conditioned self.

  14. Zafu
    Zafu April 25, 2016 at 5:06 pm |

    Is the site busted-up or is it just me?

    1. Andy
      Andy April 25, 2016 at 5:23 pm |

      It’s been you for some time.

      1. Zafu
        Zafu April 25, 2016 at 8:53 pm |

        Haha, good one!

        I like it better, by the way. It’s like, totally zen.

        1. Andy
          Andy April 26, 2016 at 11:35 am |

          Sometimes I have a thin skin, too.

          1. Zafu
            Zafu April 26, 2016 at 12:16 pm |


    2. mb
      mb April 25, 2016 at 5:41 pm |

      Looks like the path to the CSS stylesheet that’s responsible for the “look” of the blog has gone missing. I’m sure somebody will figure it out sometime – maybe soon! In the meantime, it’s always you, you, you…

  15. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 25, 2016 at 7:10 pm |

    “The out of body experience is the real self when there is no identification with just an exclusive culturally conditioned self.”

    The in-body experience, the one in the contact of any sense that sustains pressure in the “fluid ball” and the freedom of movement in inhaling or exhaling; the necessity of fun, in my American existence!


    That’s Boy Cat in the avatar, eyeing my dinner; an ancestor, displaying the Eye of the True Appetite Treasury.

  16. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 26, 2016 at 8:56 am |

    An email conversation with a friend, who says:

    “My practice is simple: samadhi = insight. Basic zen meditation.”

    Fred, I hope you don’t mind my quoting your post (and mine) in response to him:

    I’m thinking I can break a lot of my current practice down for you, in Bartilink’s terms (speaking here about mammals versus reptiles):

    “The position of the lungs outside the fluid ball is an obvious advantage. Breathing can go on even when the abdomen is used as a support and cannot be relaxed. This means that the range of flight of an animal having the lungs outside the fluid ball is greater than that of an animal who has its lungs in the single body cavity, which can just make a spurt and then has to stop to breathe. Could it be that it is for this reason that the mammals have developed a diaphragm?”

    That’s from here.

    My friend Fred quotes my Dao Bums article, and adds his take:

    ‘“Olaf Blanke is a Swiss neuro-biologist studying out-of-body experience, and his hypothesis is that it’s the vestibular organs (sense of equalibrium), otolithic organs (sense of gravity), proprioceptors (sense of placement and motion in the muscles, joints, and ligament), and eyes that coordinate to provide the sense of self. According to his hypothesis, when these organs don’t coordinate properly, some kind of out-of-body experience takes place.”

    The out of body experience is the real self when there is no identification with just an exclusive culturally conditioned self.’

    My continuation of Fred’s thought:

    “The in-body experience, the one in the contact of any sense that sustains pressure in the “fluid ball” and the freedom of movement in inhaling or exhaling; the necessity of fun, in my American existence!”

    Walking around, and usually sitting for more than about 35 minutes (today, 40), I seem to arrive at the necessity for that freedom of movement, inhaling and exhaling.

    Is samadhi the same thing as insight? I guess that’s why we practice Zen, as it were; can’t have one without the other, but who wants yesterday’s papers! Still, my life wouldn’t be the same without a concurrent practice of finding words for feelings, words that employ enough science to engage my belief. It’s the belief that comes out in the things I do, even when there’s no thinking involved.

    Kinda like the plainness of Brad’s blog at the moment (sans styling).

  17. Khru 2.0
    Khru 2.0 April 26, 2016 at 9:41 am |

    …samadhi? insight?….click click click…

  18. Andy
    Andy April 26, 2016 at 11:33 am |

    The Necessity of Fun in My American Existence

    That side dish with the entree
    Is it presently nostalgia of or
    for your breathing

    each day, the day Lady died?
    ‘Cus shoot! I’m citrus and maybe
    it was pre-cisely ’59

    See you in person )(we sans & drop
    louche ash on the Pernod Bakelite
    stropping his chords around

    Far out rolled over in it
    Sheer reloads – monumental particularisma.
    Ah baby, we stopped

  19. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon April 26, 2016 at 2:54 pm |

    In honor of Prince, this blog now looks like it’s 1999.

  20. Mumbles
    Mumbles April 26, 2016 at 6:09 pm |


    1. french-roast
      french-roast April 27, 2016 at 4:39 am |
  21. Khru 2.0
    Khru 2.0 April 26, 2016 at 7:11 pm |

    Greatest…thread evah.

  22. jason farrow
    jason farrow April 27, 2016 at 9:00 pm |

    I get on the cushion everyday to disengage from the bullshit of the world.

    Fuck, I just did it again…

    1. jason farrow
      jason farrow April 27, 2016 at 9:08 pm |
  23. jason farrow
    jason farrow April 27, 2016 at 10:55 pm |
  24. jason farrow
    jason farrow April 27, 2016 at 11:10 pm |
  25. Shinchan Ohara
    Shinchan Ohara May 2, 2016 at 9:14 am |

    I’m not fully comfortable with this notion that humans are the cosmos’s eyes and ears. It’s true on some level, but it feeds our vanity.

    I’ve met so many people who spend their lives burning barrels of jet fuel, trying to visit every ‘spiritual’ place, and every wonder of nature … and to maximize the number of cool others tbey meet on the way. It seems like a sickness to me: the workings of an overactive fight and flight response, facilitated by believing in some sacred duty to experience.

    One place is as good as another, and the place we are now is where we’re meant to be. From our perspective, we need to move to find food. From the earth’s perspective we just have limbs to redistribute nutrients and seeds in our crap. Running about like a headless chicken in search of ‘experiences’ is nuts.

    Our awareness may indeed have some vital purpose in the grand scheme of things. But I can’t see that it makes us unique or special or immune to the consequences of our actions, or irreplaceable.

    1. Shinchan Ohara
      Shinchan Ohara May 2, 2016 at 9:17 am |

      Oops, that comment was meant for the next thread, the one about aliens.

    2. Zafu
      Zafu May 9, 2016 at 3:36 pm |

      I’ll miss the sea, but a person needs new experiences. They jar something deep inside, allowing him to grow. Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.
      ~ Duke Leto Atreides

      The sleeper must awaken, Shin, the sleeper must awaken!

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