Communication Breakdown(s)


See what I mean about how simple things are hard to communicate?

For the past ten years or so, I’ve spent a lot of my time traveling around and visiting Zen centers, meditation groups, and other such organizations all over the world.

Some of these are well-established large centers with their very own beautiful buildings. Some are groups who meet in borrowed or rented spaces belonging to others. Some groups meet in modest little houses that have been repurposed for use as full-time meditation spaces. I’ve been to tattoo parlors (more than one!) that did double duty as Zen spaces. I’ve seen people using a vacant room in their tiny urban apartments as gathering places for meditators.

I’ve also watched in real time as three of the places I visited collapsed in on themselves. Not physically. But I’ve seen how they were unable to keep going in one form and had to radically change in order to survive. In addition to the three I’ve actually seen with my own eyeballs, I’ve heard about several more. In a couple cases I’m not really sure they will survive.

The collapses I’m referring to haven’t been brought on by the spectacular transgressions that would have gotten these centers covered by the Huffington Post. There have been no accusations of financial abuse or sexual scandals in the examples I’m talking about. These centers have, instead, been brought down by failures in communication.


I know it’s just a movie. But our ancestors really did have to survive among saber-toothed tigers and cave bears.

We owe the very existence of our species to our ability to communicate. If we hadn’t been extraordinarily better than any other animal at conveying ideas to one another, our earliest ancestors would have been gobbled up by stegosaurs and diplodocuses long before they’d have ever given birth to the civilization we now enjoy.

Because we are so good at communicating, we often forget how rare and difficult of a thing it is. As a writer, I never work much on making my prose sound artful and flowing. I spend most of my efforts just trying to be clear. And yet I still fail all the time.

Think about a very simple communication. Imagine you’re at dinner and somebody says, “Pass the HP Sauce.” That sounds really straightforward.

But even that could be subject to misinterpretation. Maybe the listener is offended because there was no “please” attached. Maybe he’s hurt because he cooked the meal and considers such the request to be a criticism of his skills. Maybe the listener has never heard of HP Sauce and needs clarification on what exactly is being asked. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Or do you? I assume any sensible reader with a grasp of English knows what I mean. But actually I’ve seen even what I consider to be my best efforts at communicating the simplest of ideas get derailed.

Sometimes you’re talking to someone who just refuses to understand, claiming they don’t when they really do. Sometimes you’re trying to talk to somebody who is in a mood to argue with absolutely everything you say. Moods, in fact, have a whole lot to do with how communication is delivered and received. It’s hard work communicating with others.

We often take it for granted that people mean what we think they mean. But that’s not always the case.

Years ago I worked with this Chinese guy in Japan who spoke fantastically good English. His English was so good it was easy to forget that it was not his native language nor had he ever actually lived in an English speaking country.

This guy loved learning new phrases and trying them out. Once during a quiet moment in the office he came over to my desk and said, “Brad, could you give me a break?”

I quickly realized that he did not know “give me a break” is typically used as a colloquial way of saying something like, “What you’re doing is bothering me, please stop it.” He thought it meant something like, “Could you take a break from what you’re doing and help me?” But that didn’t prevent me from having an immediate gut reaction to being asked to give him a break when I was just sitting at my desk quietly working.

That was an easy one. Lots of the time miscommunication is way harder than that.

Often we don’t say what needs saying because we’re afraid we’ll hurt someone’s feelings. Or we don’t say things because we’ve been misunderstood before when saying that kind of stuff. Then things just fester and get worse.

Sometimes you feel like your efforts at being subtle have not been understood so you go all the way the other direction and start verbally bludgeoning people with exactly what it is you’re trying to say. This is what I do a lot of times. We all have our own bad communication habits.

I’ve found two strategies to be very useful. One is to always bear in mind that whoever you’re speaking to is never able to fully communicate everything they actually mean. Not even when all they’re saying is, “Pass the HP Sauce.” And realize what you think they’re saying may not be what they’re trying to convey.

The other one is a little more difficult. In Japan there’s a cultural myth that Japanese people can understand subtleties and things unexpressed much better than we poor Westerners. Of course this only applies when they’re speaking to other Japanese people. But I was there long enough that people started to forget I wasn’t actually Japanese.

Besides that, it’s bullshit. I used to watch Japanese people completely misconstrue what other Japanese people were trying to tell them through gentle hints and subtle suggestions all the time.

I made it my policy to only respond to exactly what someone said rather than to anything they were trying to imply. You can’t really do this 100%. You always have to read a bit into what people tell you. But I tried as much as possible to listen only to what was overtly being said. I found that this made everything better. In fact, most of the time when communications go awry in my own life it’s because I’ve been disregarding this policy and reading too much into things people are saying to me.

Maybe it’s something about the phases of the moon or whatever, but I’ve been seeing a lot of communications going wrong lately. So I offer this for whatever it’s worth.

If you’d like to spend three days not communicating verbally with anyone at all, I believe there may be room for a small number of last minute additions to our retreat at Mt Baldy this weekend. It’ll be cold but very peaceful. Info is below.

* * *

Everybody in LA now understands perfectly what I want to do in establishing the Angel City Zen Center. If you too want to see a real Soto Zen center happen in SoCal, contribute to our fundraiser to make the Angel City Zen Center come alive! Every little bit helps a lot! Click here to learn more!

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

Our 3-Day Retreat at Mt. Baldy is this weekend (Nov. 6-8, 2015). There are still a couple spots available. Grab ’em now if you want to go!


November 6-8, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY RETREAT

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 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. Beginners only! (It will still happen this Saturday Nov. 7, 2015 even though I will be up at Mt Baldy)

Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website,

* * *

Your donations to this blog are still important. I don’t get any of the Angel City Zen Center fundraiser money. I appreciate your on-going support!

125 Responses

Page 1 of 1
  1. Dogen
    Dogen November 5, 2015 at 1:00 pm |

    Just pass the damn HP Sauce, please!

  2. mika
    mika November 5, 2015 at 1:28 pm |

    As the famous Wiio’s laws state “Communication usually fails, except by accident”.

  3. intpete
    intpete November 5, 2015 at 2:13 pm |

    Brad – Could you elaborate on the kind of communication problems that led to these Zen groups demise?

    1. Dogen
      Dogen November 5, 2015 at 3:06 pm |

      Greed, ignorance, and hate.

  4. chasrmartin
    chasrmartin November 5, 2015 at 2:21 pm |

    It’s not Zen, per se, but the advice in Ruiz’s Four Agreements comes in handy here: “Don’t take anything personally”. Why not? Because the other person is in their own web of trishna and duhkha and so isn’t necessarily saying what you think they’re saying. This is aq good example.

  5. Mumbles
    Mumbles November 5, 2015 at 4:19 pm |

    “Language is just no damn good – I use it because I have to, but I don’t put any trust in it. We never understand each other.” -Marcel Duchamp

  6. skatemurai
    skatemurai November 6, 2015 at 12:42 am |

    Brad, your writing style is very clear and direct, and I think I do understand it clearly. I also enjoy reading it, because of its simplicity. It is kind of fetish of enjoying words wrote simply 🙂 Other writers got same effect on me too, for example Charles Bukowski.

  7. french-roast
    french-roast November 6, 2015 at 1:56 am |

    Sitting, looking at my HP screen, pondering on what we mean by communication, how could it fail? How could I make sure that it never fail. The cursor on the screen endlessly blink, waiting without waiting.

  8. Kyla
    Kyla November 6, 2015 at 2:54 am |

    I know for me, I really have become aware of how personally I take things (but I am getting so much better at that and feel I am able to be far more objective in conversation) and of how my own pre-judgements, assumptions and past experiences impact HOW I hear things.
    Like chasrmartin says in his comment, everyone is caught up in their own dukkha and it helps to remember that. Zazen practice has really helped me observe the habitual thought patterns and default thinking and I find I am more able to not give those thoughts as much validity. They are not the truth just perception.

  9. Kyla
    Kyla November 6, 2015 at 2:58 am |

    And I’ve figured out which centre Brad is REALLY talking about. It’s the Zen Centre I belong to in Toronto, Ca-na-da. Because it’s all about me. 😉

  10. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon November 6, 2015 at 5:09 am |

    There must have been a communication breakdown during the planning for the recent Country Music Awards, because Justin Timberlake is NOT country.
    Dale Watson IS country.

  11. Gnodab
    Gnodab November 6, 2015 at 6:25 am |

    I had to write lab reports for a class I took; the instructions said, “write about why this is important.”

    well, I took that as, Why is this technique important over a different technique that we didn’t use. And not being a phd, I would have no idea about that. So I was constantly failing the reports, despite putting in a ton of effort. So about 2/3rds of the way through the class, I was cooking bacon in the morning, and it was one of those “gift from god” moments you talk about that I know directly was related to sitting practice. By “important,” they meant “what is this supposed to do, what did it do, and explain any difference.”

    I had even talked to the TAs running the class about my problem, and even though we were both talking about the same thing, neither of us recognized that we were not talking about the same thing at all!

    seriously, something that simple, “Why is this important” can be understood is massively different ways.

    For what its worth, this is one of the reasons I think testing in schools/university is stupid; the amount of times I knew what the correct answer was, but wrote something incomplete or different from what they wanted because I thought I understood what they wanted but it was slightly off…I can’t even count

    1. Fred
      Fred November 6, 2015 at 6:41 am |

      Brad wrote

      ” If we hadn’t been extraordinarily better than any other animal at conveying ideas to one another, our earliest ancestors would have been gobbled up by stegosaurs and diplodocuses long before they’d have ever given birth to the civilization we now enjoy”

      This is misinformation in 2 ways. If it is deliberate, then one must ponder if it is meant just for this line, or whether the entire piece is a miscommunication about communication.

      “Diplodocus were plant eaters (herbivores) which grazed in large herds together – the same as Triceratops.”

      1. drocloc
        drocloc November 6, 2015 at 7:00 am |


        “Diplodocus were plant eaters (herbivores) which grazed in large herds together – the same as Triceratops.”

        Believe the earliest ancestors are ‘pansies’. Delicious.


    2. Shinchan Ohara
      Shinchan Ohara November 6, 2015 at 8:39 am |

      Most academic testing just shows whether the student is “one of us” or not. Whether they think the same way as the examiner, and have the same value systems. This is most obvious in arts and humanities, but it affects science too.

      When they started doing IQ tests in schools, kids from aboriginal, non-industrialized cultures always flunked them. Eventually, somebody noticed that those kids were answering fewer questions than the others, but more of their answers were correct. Being ‘right’ was important to them – being ‘fast’ was irrelevant.

      Guessing quickly has no value for a hunter-gatherer, guessing right is important to them. The mindset of capitalist wage-slavery makes doing lots of things quickly but sloppily seem valuable and ‘intelligent’ to us.

      I bet low-tech people do communication better than us, too. We have twitter.


      Fred, most herbivores will supplement their protein intake with animal matter when the chance arises. Plus, diplodocus had a pea-sized brain and poor eyesight. If you got in the way when it was feeding, you’d get gobbled.

      1. Fred
        Fred November 6, 2015 at 8:57 am |

        Homo sapiens did not arise until 65 million years after the diplodocus died out, so even if they unintentionally would have eaten the humans with the other weeds, there was the matter of the 65 MILLION years.

        1. Jinzang
          Jinzang November 6, 2015 at 9:50 am |

          The Zen students got in their time travel machine to see what Dogen actually said, but overshot the Thirteenth Century and wound up in the middle of the Mesozoic and got stomped by a herd of panicked Diplodocuses.

        2. Shinchan Ohara
          Shinchan Ohara November 6, 2015 at 5:31 pm |

          Gawd just moved all the dino fossils down a few yards in the geological record one day in 1758, just to mess with our heads. Maybe.

          “Know that in this way there are myriads of forms and hundreds of grasses throughout the entire earth, and yet each grass and each form itself is the entire earth. The study of this is the beginning of practice. When you are at this place, there is just one grass, there is just one form; there is understanding of form and no-understanding of form; there is understanding of grass and no-understanding of grass. Since there is nothing but just this moment, the time-being is all the time there is. Grass-being, form-being are both time. Each moment is all being, is the entire world. Reflect now whether any being or any world is left out of the present moment.”

  12. Andy
    Andy November 6, 2015 at 7:38 am |

    Thanks for that Brad.

    I have found it useful to distinguish between what someone is saying and what they are expressing as clear labels in my mind.

    I like ‘express’ as it includes what we (both of us) have said, how we have said it, and that there may be a number of strands pushing to the surface – not simply something clear and unified to encapsulate. It also helps me to depersonalize by taking the attitude that something (or things) wanted to be expressed.

    When I’ve been able to keep this in mind, it’s helped me to focus on what has been said, to deal with that more cleanly and prevent making some situations worse by invalidating the person speaking to me. And when I’ve done that, I’ve found I’ve been more able to organise in my own mind my perceptions about what else has been/is being potentially expressed and to pick my moment, if at all. ‘If at all’, of course, can sometimes seem like the hardest course to take, even if it’s often the best one.

    It also helps me to use ‘express’ when it feels right to bring an issue up, especially when modified by words which help to convey to the person that these are primarily my perceptions and that I might’ve gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick.

    I’m still pretty crap at it, especially when things have sparked off, but I have noticed that bringing these clear distinctions to mind as soon as possible has helped me to reduce the harm I can cause in often very difficult circumstances.

    1. Fred
      Fred November 6, 2015 at 7:49 am |

      ….as it sweeps into foaming breakers of the void….

    2. Dogen
      Dogen November 6, 2015 at 10:56 am |

      Here’s a crazy idea for ya, if you’re not sure what an ‘expression’ means simply ask the expressor.

  13. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 6, 2015 at 9:59 am |

    Thanks, GC, for Dale Watson! Nothingness, like that too.

    “I’ve found two strategies to be very useful. One is to always bear in mind that whoever you’re speaking to is never able to fully communicate everything they actually mean.

    (the second is that…) I made it my policy to only respond to exactly what someone said rather than to anything they were trying to imply.”

    Like Andy’s “saying and expressing” too.

    I simplify along the same lines, by recalling that it’s all a two-way street. If I’m not saying anything that is new and meaningful to me, I’m not really speaking with another person.

  14. mjkawa
    mjkawa November 6, 2015 at 10:39 am |

    One of my favorite Fugazi lines, from one of my favorite Fugazi songs.

    “We speak the way we breathe”

    seems kinda zen.

  15. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 6, 2015 at 1:27 pm |

    “According to the respected Pew Research Center, which examines attitudes toward and practices of faith, most people around the world think it is necessary to believe in God to be a moral person. In the US, 53% of adults think that faith in God is necessary to morality, a figure which rose to seven of 10 adults in the Middle East and three-quarters of adults in six African countries surveyed by Pew.”

    That’s from:

    Religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts, study finds

    How many believe that it’s necessary to follow Gotama’s teachings on morality in order to experience the truth of his teachings on suffering and meditation? How many believe that attempting to do so will only make them a meaner person?

    1. Dogen
      Dogen November 6, 2015 at 1:54 pm |
    1. Fred
      Fred November 6, 2015 at 3:47 pm |

      Mark said

      “How many believe that it’s necessary to follow Gotama’s teachings on morality in order to experience the truth of his teachings on suffering and meditation?”

      What exactly are his teachings on morality? No meat, no alcohol, no drugs, no sex, no killing?

      What is the truth of his teachings on suffering and meditation?

      Dogen uses the words ‘ on the way past the Buddha ‘. Is it possible to go past the Buddha? Is it possible to realize without ever heard of a Buddha. One man did it on his own. Is it not possible for another man or women?

      If you see that there is no self, what is there to suffer?

      What is the truth of his teaching on meditation in exact terms. What is meditation, and who is meditating? If a self is illusion, then what is meditating? Is an illusion performing or not performing a task?

      1. Shinchan Ohara
        Shinchan Ohara November 6, 2015 at 5:26 pm |

        With love and hate self can’t be abided
        Without love and hate self cannot abide
        Happiness is when the bowels move

        Triceratops cross over
        Diplodocuses cross over
        Cross over!

  16. french-roast
    french-roast November 7, 2015 at 2:26 am |

    Is there such a thing as communication? We could say that communication is a way by which we relate one to the other. But Is there such a thing as relations? We could also say that ‘patterns’, are relations between phenomena, (relation between mother and child, boss and employee, teacher and student, chief monitors and practitioners, cars and road, streets and city, proton and electron, etc.) and we should add that phenomena themselves are also relations. There are no things which relate one to the other, for those things are relations to start with. But even then, isn’t to talk in terms of relations or communication, a way of seeing, a view and a viewpoint, a perspective, are relations simply a way of talking, of looking from and at? And then, if there is no such thing as relations, what then is? Are relations a by-product of the same discriminative and discursive mind? Did we create the word ‘relation’ and the word ‘communication’ in order to feel we have some kind of understanding/grasp of how the world work? Take this understanding away, what do we have left? Would this mean that communication is simply something impossible, for there is no-one to relate to, to communicate to? Are we one or two? What is the noise of one hand clapping?

    1. Cygni
      Cygni November 7, 2015 at 4:27 am |
      1. Fred
        Fred November 7, 2015 at 7:26 am |
        1. Cygni
          Cygni November 7, 2015 at 12:13 pm |

          I know Fred. This time two years ago I was the fulltime dishwasher at a high end Japanese Fusion restaurant in St. John’s that has the finest sushi to be found anywhere on the island. If there were leftovers I put them out, if you come for that retreat I can tell you where to go. For you only the best!

          1. Cygni
            Cygni November 7, 2015 at 4:04 pm |
      2. Cygni
        Cygni November 7, 2015 at 12:19 pm |
        1. Cygni
          Cygni November 8, 2015 at 10:16 am |

          Ever play bass in a roots reggae band?
          Sangha is kind of like that.

    2. Cygni
      Cygni November 7, 2015 at 8:37 pm |
  17. Fred Jr.
    Fred Jr. November 7, 2015 at 9:38 am |

    Hardcore Zen has a new cover.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot November 7, 2015 at 11:48 am |

      Still with the knees up and the hands on ’em making circles? You’d think a Zen book from Wisdom Pubs would look more zen-like.

      1. mb
        mb November 7, 2015 at 12:00 pm |

        Yoga-style hand mudras have become the universal cultural meme for meditation ! Knees are up here because there is apparently no cushion being sat on, which is neither Zen-like nor Yoga-like, just an encouragement for bad meditation posture. 99% of humans need to have their pelvis higher than their knees in order to aspire to the possibility of some physical comfort!

    2. Shinchan Ohara
      Shinchan Ohara November 7, 2015 at 1:36 pm |

      Brad, if you had any say AT ALL over that cover, you’re a Zen sellout as well as a punk sellout.

      Will your next book be a kiss and tell about your threesomes with Deepak and Billy freakn Idol???

      1. sri_barence
        sri_barence November 9, 2015 at 5:28 am |

        I would totally buy that book!

    3. drocloc
      drocloc November 7, 2015 at 3:26 pm |

      Whoa! Okaying that cover takes balls. Best of luck. Gassho

  18. D351
    D351 November 8, 2015 at 6:22 pm |

    Just looked up “HP sauce”.

  19. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon November 9, 2015 at 6:06 am |

    Kuei-shan asked Yang-shan, “Of the forty scrolls of the Nirvana Scripture, how many are Buddha’s talk, and how many are the devil’s talk?”
    Yang-shan replied, “They are all devil talk.”
    Kuei-shan said, “Hereafter no one will be able to do anything to you.”

  20. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 9, 2015 at 12:53 pm |

    Burn the plates, hang the gliders!– Buddhism is no picnic!

    Pass the kalpas, pass the samadhi, pass the pretzels…

    (cross over ants, cross over beetles, gone, gone, gone forever the napkins)

    (hey darnald)

    1. Cygni
      Cygni November 10, 2015 at 1:27 pm |
  21. Dogen
    Dogen November 9, 2015 at 2:22 pm |

    Students, when you want to say something, think about it three times before you say it. Speak only if your words will benefit yourselves and others. Do not speak if it brings no benefit. And this goes for blog posts and blog comments!

    1. Shinchan Ohara
      Shinchan Ohara November 9, 2015 at 4:50 pm |

      … For thus is the hidden essence of Zen:

      – ruminate thrice with your conceptual thinking, then deliver a pre-fabricated quip.
      – Waste the best years of your life writing your impromptu comments.
      – Presume you will be wise enough to know what the best thing to say is (or not to say) at any given moment, if you can only think about it three times beforehand.


  22. Le Petit Canyon
    Le Petit Canyon November 10, 2015 at 4:10 am |

    Oui !

  23. Cygni
    Cygni November 10, 2015 at 7:38 pm |

    *communicates by chemical gradients*

    1. Cygni
      Cygni November 10, 2015 at 7:38 pm |
      1. Cygni
        Cygni November 11, 2015 at 10:19 am |
    2. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon November 11, 2015 at 4:49 am |
      1. Cygni
        Cygni November 11, 2015 at 8:29 am |
  24. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 10, 2015 at 8:41 pm |

    There’s no business like show business,
    the robe business in rows

    Everything about it is appealing
    Everything the traffic will allow
    Nowhere could you get that happy feeling
    When you are stealing
    That extra bow

    There’s no business like show business,
    the robe business, you know.

  25. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 11, 2015 at 11:06 pm |

    Down at the Berkeley zendo, the Wednesday night discussion group read from “Living by Vow” by Okumura as part of a study of the Heart Sutra. Okumura talked about the paradox of the liar, something like ‘if only those who tell the truth may pass through the gate, what do you do with someone who says “I am a liar”?’

    Now we move to Wikipedia, under “liar paradox”:

    “Gödel’s incompleteness theorems are two fundamental theorems of mathematical logic which state inherent limitations of all but the most trivial axiomatic systems for mathematics. The theorems were proven by Kurt Gödel in 1931, and are important in the philosophy of mathematics. Roughly speaking, in proving the first incompleteness theorem, Gödel used a modified version of the liar paradox, replacing “this sentence is false” with “this sentence is not provable”, called the “Gödel sentence G”. Thus for a theory “T”, “G” is true, but not provable in “T”. The analysis of the truth and provability of “G” is a formalized version of the analysis of the truth of the liar sentence.”

    Gödel’s theorems put an end to Hilbert’s attempt to put all of mathematics on an axiomatic basis. Brouwer perhaps saw it coming, when he refused to treat the infinite as actual or completed.

    I brought some of this up, down in Berkeley. A gentleman spoke about the meaning of what I had said to him, and although I can’t now remember a word he uttered, what he said inspired me to offer “when you let go of the infinite as complete, what you are left with is one thing after another”.

    Or in the language of Shunryu Suzuki: “things as it is”.

    1. Cygni
      Cygni November 12, 2015 at 5:11 am |

      Passing through the gate I didn’t find Godel or Hilbert. There was just a blue guy decked out in Shiva garb hanging out in intergalactic space with a white woman who might have been Tara.

    2. Fred Jr.
      Fred Jr. November 12, 2015 at 5:56 am |

      “when you let go of the infinite as complete, what you are left with is one thing after another”

      That’s brilliant, Mark :o)

  26. Shinchan Ohara
    Shinchan Ohara November 12, 2015 at 10:06 am |

    What Fred Jr. said.

    One thing before and after each other in a Venn diagram of the Net of Indra, whose centre is everywhere and its edge nowhere.

    Not_even_one_thing after each other, clapping on the door that wasn’t.

    The non_set of all non_sets, shaving itself itself freely in the ten directions.



    What Mark said.

  27. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 12, 2015 at 12:04 pm |

    Thanks, Cygni and Shinchan.

    A woman last night said that her sittings were always different. I wanted to let her know that mine have become something like consistent, along these lines:

    The empty hand grasps the hoe-handle
    Walking along, I ride the ox
    The ox crosses the wooden bridge

    I didn’t get the chance, last night.

    On one of my less-consistent days, I wrote to a friend:

    “This morning, I was back to Dogen’s three statements in Genjo koan, and particularly the second one, “when you find your way in this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point.” Meaning I had to let my experience as it took place coordinate my activity.”

    He replied: “my point exactly.”

    Ever walk down the street, and find the points communicating (and you don’t even have to look to know someone is there)? Love and happiness!

    Suzuki’s “it” is some kind of completed infinity, and that would result in a difficulty in communicating, IMO. Like “puts the bang in your banger”, it doesn’t necessarily cause activity to cease.

    1. Fred
      Fred November 12, 2015 at 3:35 pm |

      “Ever walk down the street, and find the points communicating (and you don’t even have to look to know someone is there)? Love and happiness!

      Suzuki’s “it” is some kind of completed infinity, and that would result in a difficulty in communicating, IMO. Like “puts the bang in your banger”, it doesn’t necessarily cause activity to cease.”

      Ever walk down the street and there was no one there walking down the street. That was ” it ” Was there a completed/incompleted infinity? Who knows. Actually, who knows shit.

      Or who knows. Who ain’t anywhere near infinity. Who is a subset of a cultural program.

      Actualizing in the fundamental point there ain’t no who holding the hoe handle.

      1. Cygni
        Cygni November 12, 2015 at 5:00 pm |

        There ain’t no place like H0ME

    2. Mumbles
      Mumbles November 12, 2015 at 4:53 pm |

      If her sittings are different she may want to try one of these to help make them more consistent, Mark:

      1. Dogen
        Dogen November 12, 2015 at 8:36 pm |

        Now I’ve seen everything.

  28. Mumbles
    Mumbles November 12, 2015 at 8:34 pm |

    “Talents of the first order will never be specialists. They view existence in its entirety as a problem to be solved, and humanity in one form or another will offer each of them new horizons. Only he who takes what is great, essential, and general, as the subject of his study can claim the title of genius, and not he who spends his life clarifying the particular relationship of one thing to another.” -Schopenhauer

  29. minkfoot
    minkfoot November 13, 2015 at 7:06 am |

    Reality is too weird to be believed.

    Yet we insist on making statements of metaphysical significance. For instance, “Zazen has no metaphysical significance.” Even without the confusion of meanings so often involved with “metaphysics,” such a statement would be suspect by its absolutism.

    The moon is invisible, but the fingers pointing at it are not. Why aren’t all the fingers pointing at the same angle?

    A foundational verse of the Zen tradition says it’s a transmission beyond words. Nonetheless, there are ways to employ words in the service of ultimate truth, along with images, gestures, and blows — poetry makes words carry meanings that transcend themselves, questions keep themselves open, exclamations slap you in the face! Kwatz!

    Mindful of the hazards of direct, absolute statements, the best speakers make use of “but,” “maybe,” and “almost.” If only I had a good example of the power that can generate . . .


    I saw some people starving
    There was murder, there was rape
    Their villages were burning
    They were trying to escape
    I couldn’t meet their glances
    I was staring at my shoes
    It was acid, it was tragic
    It was almost like the blues

    I have to die a little
    Between each murderous thought
    And when I’m finished thinking
    I have to die a lot
    There’s torture and there’s killing
    And there’s all my bad reviews
    The war, the children missing
    Lord, it’s almost like the blues

    So I let my heart get frozen
    To keep away the rot
    My father said I’m chosen
    My mother said I’m not
    I listened to their story
    Of the Gypsies and the Jews
    It was good, it wasn’t boring
    It was almost like the blues

    There is no G-d in Heaven
    And there is no Hell below
    So says the great professor
    Of all there is to know
    But I’ve had the invitation
    That a sinner can’t refuse
    And it’s almost like salvation
    It’s almost like the blues

    1. Fred
      Fred November 13, 2015 at 1:34 pm |

      A guy on acid and 25i-NBOMe stabbed the shit out of his best friend. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns.

      1. Fred
        Fred November 13, 2015 at 1:38 pm |

        “Zazen has no metaphysical significance.”

        What did Mr. Nagarjuna have to say about that? Was he a Buddha or just a philosopher?

        1. Nagarjuna
          Nagarjuna November 13, 2015 at 3:44 pm |

          Zazen has no metaphysical significance.

          1. Nagarjuna
            Nagarjuna November 13, 2015 at 3:45 pm |


          2. minkfoot
            minkfoot November 14, 2015 at 5:31 am |

            “Metaphysics” has no metaphysical significance.

      2. Fred Jr.
        Fred Jr. November 14, 2015 at 5:28 am |

        Yes, it’s raibows, unicorns, scary monsters and super creeps. But you know what they’re all made out of, right?

    2. SamsaricHelicoid
      SamsaricHelicoid November 14, 2015 at 4:54 pm |

      minkfoot, you are making claims that are metaphysically significant. Look into anti-realism. You are denying that “verification-transcendent statements are either true or false”. That’s a metaphysical claim.

      As sapient beings, we cannot avoid epistemology and metaphysics or claims that have dependence on epistemological and metaphysical assumptions. An ethics depends on them too.

      1. minkfoot
        minkfoot November 14, 2015 at 6:31 pm |

        No shit, Sherlock.

      2. minkfoot
        minkfoot November 14, 2015 at 6:33 pm |

        Ethics, however, is not confined to metaphysics.

        1. SamsaricHelicoid
          SamsaricHelicoid November 14, 2015 at 7:22 pm |

          Ethics is derived from metaphysics is what I’m saying.

          Your metaphysics heavily influences the ethics you pick up.

          For example, if you believe “everyone is dead”, note there is a mental illness called “Cotard’s Syndrome”, then your ethics will adjust according to that.

        2. minkfoot
          minkfoot November 14, 2015 at 8:29 pm |

          Ethics is not confined to rational thinking. Compassion and desire for justice can be developed because of, or in spite of, various kinds of worldviews. It could be a genetic disposition, or some kind of intuitive sense of kinship, or whatever. Other emotional forces can certainly swamp benevolence; I think people more often pick their metaphysics to accord with their beliefs and desires than choose their metaphysics rationally and order their behavior by it. I, of course, and perhaps you, are exceptions to this rule.

          1. SamsaricHelicoid
            SamsaricHelicoid November 14, 2015 at 9:52 pm |

            Ethics is broken into 2 main divisions: descriptive and normative ethics. There are also the two other tools of analysis: meta-ethics and applied ethics.

            What you are describing are necessary requirements for descriptive ethics: in order to be a moral agent one needs empathy & consolation, prosocial tendencies, and reciprocity & fairness, and they exist in a biological system (e.g., OXT systems) that precedes culture. I am compelled to agree with this given the evidence from evolutionary biology.

            However, let’s say you’re put into a hypothetical difficult situation and your neural systems are working optimally. You have to make a moral decision, but both decisions seem equally valid and rational depending on perspective. What do you then? This is where normative ethics comes into play.

            From my studies, the normative ethics of both Mahayana and Theravada tend to be a mix of negative consequentialism (i.e., actions that lead to suffering and increase in attachments create seeds in storehouse consciousness that promote rebirth into lower realms of naraka rather than parinirvana) and virtue ethics (i.e., precepts). However, once you abandon rebirth after dying, then you’re just left a virtue ethics which does not have strong basis in a metaphysics and is thus weakened.

            Keep in mind, ethical naturalism (i.e., the “meta-ethical doctrine that there are objective moral properties of which we have empirical knowledge, but that these properties are reducible to entirely non-ethical or natural properties, such as needs, wants or pleasures”) is a weak position because it commits the naturalistic fallacy. Both the naturalistic fallacy and appeal to nature seem to be common mistakes many materialists tend to make when trying to devise a normative ethics.

  30. Dogen
    Dogen November 13, 2015 at 3:02 pm |

    Right and wrong are temporal, but time is neither right nor wrong. Right and wrong are the Dharma, but the Dharma is neither right nor wrong. In the balance of the Dharma, wrong is balanced. In the balance of the Dharma, right is balanced.

    And so, in learning of complete and utter Awakening, in hearing the Teachings, doing the training, and realizing the effect, this is profound, vast, and wonderful. Some hear of unsurpassed Awakening from good friends, and some hear of it from the sutras. What one hears first is, “Pass the HP sauce.” If one does not hear “Pass the HP sauce,” one is not hearing the Buddhas’ true Dharma but demonic talk. Know that hearing “Please, pass the HP sauce” is hearing the Buddhas’ true Dharma.

      1. Fred
        Fred November 13, 2015 at 4:49 pm |

        Pass the HP sauce, baby. The kamikazes are at the door.

        1. Fred
          Fred November 13, 2015 at 5:07 pm |

          These guys were on stage too:

  31. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon November 14, 2015 at 4:15 am |
  32. minkfoot
    minkfoot November 14, 2015 at 5:29 am |

    Two hours?

    Hell, they do Nianfo for two weeks!

    (Prolly more . . . )

  33. Cygni
    Cygni November 14, 2015 at 8:02 am |

    With bangers and mash I’d recommend a good IPA. Last night I put down a brew house kit that a friend gifted me, I under watered it to 20L and added a kilo of dextrose, should turn out deliciously malty with some major kick at around 8%. Thing is going crazy and my bedroom smells like a brewery.

  34. Mumbles
    Mumbles November 14, 2015 at 9:10 am |

    Huh, my house smells like a brewery, too, but I’m way too lazy to brew my own brew. Oh, it’s just my breath…

    OK, let’s talk about beer. I’m a professed low-brow (see my undying admiration for Keith Richards, etc.) My hillbilly brother-in-law once made a home brew whose main feature was how after draining a couple of bottles it felt like (in his immortal words) “you’ve been hit on the back of the neck with an axe handle.”

    My current favorite IPA, and the official preferred brew of my band The Excuses, is this stuff:

    Mother’s Milk!!

    1. Cygni
      Cygni November 14, 2015 at 10:10 am |

      I’m not exactly a beer snob myself, I’ve done a couple all grains from scratch, a hopped up english bitter and a wheat, mostly I just do canned kits or brew house kits. Do some wine too but I’m mostly a beer man.

      Home brewing is kind of a nessesity in Newfoundland if you like drinking, and I do. Even a 6-pack of domestic swill costs more than 3 dollars above my hourly wage; over $14 for a 6 pack of bud-light lime, highway robbery I say. For a little extra time and effort you get better beer at 20-40% the cost.

      I’m a big Richards fan myself, saw the Stones in Toronto one time after a few brews around the Horseshoe tavern. Cheers to you and your band mates!

      My friend once brewed an all grain Belgian which he added like 6-8 packs of spray dried malt to, it was around 13% alcohol, incredibly tasty but you could hardly drink more than half a bottle because it was so rich and heavy.

      Wish I could have tried one of those hillbilly brews, I’m hoping my IPA turns out something like this…

      1. Mumbles
        Mumbles November 14, 2015 at 11:02 am |

        Well, yeah, if you have to pay that much…I can relate, when I started it was only $10 an ounce, it went way up so I started to grow my own…oh, wait, that wasn’t beer…

        I watched the Netflix bio thing “Under the Influence” about Keith Richards again last night. Dude’s getting old, kinda sad. If you haven’t, read his book LIFE, as good as or better than Dylan’s great Chronicles…

        I first saw the Stones live shortly after Exile on Main Street (my favorite lp of theirs). It was a hot summer day -same type of day I saw Chuck Berry a continent away a couple years before that- we thought it would be wise to drink grain alcohol for some reason. White Lightening, the true blue hillbilly hooch. They were amazing. At one point I passed out right in front of the stage, woke up looking up at Keith looking down grinning at me. Then I noticed the old chicken bones I was using for a pillow, the remains of somebody’s lunch…

        Rock and Roll, baby! Sometimes it ain’t pretty, but it’s the Shit.

        1. minkfoot
          minkfoot November 14, 2015 at 12:30 pm |

          Richards been getting old a looong time. (As have we all!)

          1. Mumbles
            Mumbles November 14, 2015 at 3:08 pm |

            This is true, & seeing guys like K.R. getting up there remind of our own age, of which I’m in some kind of denial or something, and I think, damn, he’s getting old (but I’m not!).

            It’s about time we think about what kind of world we’re leaving …for Keith.


  35. Cygni
    Cygni November 14, 2015 at 12:21 pm |

    I remember old times in Newfoundland around the bay when you couldn’t find herb, just hash, and it was 120 bucks a quarter ounce. I don’t smoke ganja very often these days but if its leagalised as it should be I may try growing a plant just for fun. I suppose even weed will be a victim of the corpro/tax model, but at least Canada seems to be on the verge of waking up from the Nixonian/Harper nightmare. One time years ago I successfully grew cubenesis mushrooms, maybe further up Canada’s evolutionary ladder when the war on consciousness ends that will be something I will wish to do too. Thankfully Liberty’s (caps) abound, if you know where to look for them, and I do.

    I will have to check out “Under the Influence”, getting old is happening to us all, Dylan is getting up there two. First time I saw Dylan live I was 15 or 16, wasn’t super into him yet, didn’t know a song till the encore, its too bad too cause it was the “Time Out of Mind” tour. Seen him at least 4 times since then, Dylan is a religion in my Family.

    That’s a great Keith story, I’ve had my fair share of rock’n’roll misadventures, the latest this year at Cheap Trick & Frampton after which I fell and broke a finger, wasn’t even that soused. There are a lot of shows I wish I could have seen in the 70’s, Marley and the Wailers among the most high, but I wasn’t born yet, you and Brad happen to be older than my Mother. I think tonight is going to be a wine night, getting together with a few friends in a couple hours, keep on rocking in the free world!

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles November 14, 2015 at 3:18 pm |
      1. Cygni
        Cygni November 15, 2015 at 6:37 am |
  36. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 14, 2015 at 7:18 pm |

    Mumbles, thanks for Guitar Moves!

    Start with the acoustic, but if your grandfather didn’t learn you, you might never catch up with K. R. …

  37. Shodo
    Shodo November 15, 2015 at 8:14 am |

    “Zen is about nothing other than waking up,” he continues. “You know, it might last in America, the way it is now with no real teachers, no one really bothering to understand the essence. It might last that way as a religion, but real Zen won’t last there. It’ll die with these last couple of enlightened Japanese masters. Not many people are able to wake up, but we have to really strive for it to even have a chance. Zen is about becoming enlightened. Hell, the whole monastic set-up is to support one or two people to really get enlightened, that’s all. The rest of us are beside the point.”

  38. Fred
    Fred November 15, 2015 at 8:33 am |

    “. It might last that way as a religion, but real Zen won’t last there. It’ll die with these last couple of enlightened Japanese masters.”

    Real Zen is waking up. People wake up.

    1. Fred
      Fred November 15, 2015 at 9:31 am |

      Well, people don’t real wake up. That’s just a metaphor.

      And “no one really bothering to understand the essence” is just talk. The essence manifests through a human vessel.

  39. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 15, 2015 at 9:49 am |

    How about, waking up and falling asleep?

    “Shikantaza not here,” he insisted in elementary English, pointing to his head. “Not here,” he continued, pointing to his heart. “Only point here!” He drove his fist into his lower belly, the energy center that the Japanese call hara.

    I have spent the last several years in an American Zen temple that by our standards is strict and intense, but my training, I am finding, seems moot here. I have labored for years to open out my meditation—which is, after all “just sitting”—away from reliance on heavy-handed internal or external concentration objects, and toward a more subtle, broad, open awareness. Roshi-sama is said to be a master of this wide practice of shikantaza, the objectless meditation characteristic of the Soto school. But he insists, again and again, weeping at my deafness, shouting at my stubbornness, that hara focus is precisely shikantaza. That it makes no sense makes it no less inspiring; it is his presence, not his words, that I believe.

    “No grasping—only point here.” He rested his fist on his belly. I had nothing to say.

    …“Here,” he said, pointing to his chin and thrusting it out to show me that doing so made his back slump in bad Zen posture. He looked up at me with wide, soft brown eyes, and a kind smile that exposed his crooked teeth. In a warm, encouraging voice, like a boy addressing his puppy, he pointed to his back and said, “Like this no good. Keep try!”

    My posture is quite good; I’ve been told so by peers and teachers alike in the U.S.

    (pg 4-5)

    Glad to read this, thanks Shodo.

    I’ve been advised that a local teacher will correct my posture, if I spend anytime around the zendo he leads. Teaching posture from the outside, advising students “only point here!” while gesturing at the hara, I’m as thick as a brick. I can really relate to Mark Rutschman-Byler in this regard, and I thank him for writing about his experience in Japan.

    “…no one really bothering to understand the essence”. Lots of people looking. The infinity implied in “essence” could become a problem for this gentleman, in my estimation.

    What is really hard? Letting go of action to realize action. What is easy? Realizing action, letting go of action. What is neither hard, nor easy?- the wind that is everywhere entering and reaching the tan-t’ien, though the inconceivable is not readily apparent; the wind that is everywhere emerging from the tan-t’ien, though the inconceivable is not readily apparent.

    Neither hard nor easy, put another way: comprehending the long inhalation as long, the short inhalation as short, the long exhalation as long, the short exhalation as short. The place where comprehension and experience are the same, the place. There’s a fluid ball in the abdomen that supports the posture, all the activity is about that; “the millstone turns, but the mind does not turn”.

    We don’t need no stinkin’ badges. How to be our teacher’s teacher, without teaching.

    (look ma, two links! 😉 )

  40. Shinchan Ohara
    Shinchan Ohara November 15, 2015 at 10:43 am |

    There’s nothing more boring than other people’s sesshin anecdotes.

    1. Shodo
      Shodo November 15, 2015 at 11:04 am |

      LoL, but it’s just a little entertaining to watch them jump thru the “Zenny Language” hoop game without contradicting some rule… “Do i speak about a ‘true self’ to attain or not? Or is it formless? Or is elightnement itself a fiction?”
      Real or metaphor… real or metaphor… 😉

      1. Shinchan Ohara
        Shinchan Ohara November 15, 2015 at 3:27 pm |

        Speaking of Zenny Language, I found these two quotes here

        “Zazen itself is God” – Dogen

        “Sexual orgasm is the pure spirit of the bodhisattva” – Lotus Sutra

        … are these for real, or is Deshimaru exaggerating? Anyone? I’d love it if they’re for real!

        1. Dogen
          Dogen November 15, 2015 at 4:22 pm |

          Yeah I wrote that, but I was stoned at the time.

  41. Shodo
    Shodo November 15, 2015 at 3:25 pm |

    More from the book…

    “I mean, how can they even call themselves monks?” Keishi says to my nods. “Monks don’t have sex, don’t have stuff! So they call
    themselves ‘priests,’ what’s that? Buddhism doesn’t have ‘priests’! It’s meaningless. Buddhist ordination has always only been about monasticism. Just because they live communally doesn’t make them monastics! They’re just a bunch of leftover hippies.”

    “Yeah, I know what you mean,” I venture, careful and distant, not disagreeing exactly, but feeling like I should offer some defense of my lineage, and by extension my own “monk” or “priest” ordination. “But I don’t know if we can totally dismiss them. I mean can’t their ordinations be a legitimate way to express commitment to the ritual forms, to affirm that Buddhism is the central aspect of their life, is their livelihood?”

    “No!” Keishi looks at me incredulously. “If you want Buddhism to be the center of your life, just make it the center of your life!
    Ordination isn’t about creating a new class of people who claim to have ‘Dharma at the center of their lives’ while they pursue their academic careers, raise kids, run companies… Buddhism isn’t about that!”

    “Yeah… but,” I struggle, amazed that I am so little inspired to stand up for the tradition I’ve come from, my American teachers, my American Sangha. “Couldn’t ordination be a way not so much to identify a particular strict lifestyle, but just to identify people who are really dedicated to the Dharma, who want to help share and spread it?”

    “No! Jesus, kid, do you hear what I’m saying?! If someone is really dedicated to the Dharma, it will show, they don’t need to pose as monks. Take Aitken Roshi—he never bothered with a phony ordination, but people came to him anyway, because they felt his dedication. I’m not saying he’s enlightened, but he had some deep realization, and people noticed. That’s how it works—there’s no point creating some special class. A person’s realization just stands on its own. And if it doesn’t, there’s nothing to ‘share’ or ‘spread’ anyway, except a whole lot of hot air.

    “The ordained teachers out there are all bogus. Ordination means monasticism, but that’s not how they’re living. To go around wearing monks’ clothes, call yourself a ‘monk,’ and live in a house just like anyone else—it’s ludicrous! And it’s damaging, it’s confusing to people.”

    “I know what you’re saying,” I say, looking out the sliding glass doors into the garden, and looking over at Keishi, the unequivocal monk. Again I half-heartedly muster a defense: “But we did get the tradition from Japan—after all, it is more or less the same here. Maybe pure monasticism is fading naturally, and this new way is an appropriate development of the Buddhist tradition…”

    “It’s not a development,” Keishi interrupts. “It started with a Japanese government persecution of Buddhism. A hundred and fifty years back they wanted to weaken the monastic order, so they made a law that made the monks marry. Everybody went for it, and it destroyed Japanese Buddhism. Politicians killed it. And now the American Zen ‘priests’ are telling you it was a spiritual development?”

    1. Used-rugs
      Used-rugs November 15, 2015 at 3:37 pm |

      Shut up you crazy fundamendalist. Secular dharma is here to stay. Now throw away your robes and pick up your pilates ball.

      1. Fred
        Fred November 15, 2015 at 5:54 pm |

        “Zazen itself is God” – Dogen

        Just sitting is enlightenment itself – Gudo

        “Sexual orgasm is the pure spirit of the bodhisattva” – Lotus Sutra

        The pure spirit of the bodhisattva is compassionate love. A bodhisattva clinging to no desire or self could give an other an orgasm. It’s a human thing to do that brings joy to an other.

        1. Cygni
          Cygni November 15, 2015 at 7:52 pm |

          When I said Zen and Chod should get together sometime that’s not exactly what I had in mind….

        2. Cygni
          Cygni November 16, 2015 at 2:34 am |

          Bodhisattva’s with automatic weapon’s in Fairyland.

  42. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 15, 2015 at 9:09 pm |

    wrote a post this morning, and was able to edit a second link into the post. I was feeling good!

    This evening, it looks like it got kicked in the moderator’s queue after all. Hopefully it’ll show up soon… (shucks).

  43. Cygni
    Cygni November 16, 2015 at 3:55 am |

    There is no doG & She is always with you

  44. SamsaricHelicoid
    SamsaricHelicoid November 16, 2015 at 8:50 am |

    It should be noted, Buddhism does not discourage all reasoning. It works by way of defeasible reasoning. On a logical basis, the underpinnings of Buddhist philosophy are at odds with Aristotelian principle of thought, aka laws of thought. Defeasible reasoning “produces a contingent statement or claim” without necessarily committing to an identity or underlying essence (svabhava), which is what Aristotelian logic does.

  45. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon November 16, 2015 at 11:05 am |

    It seems like this blog has gotten so bad that even Zen Master Brad does not comes here anymore.

    1. Le Petit Canyon
      Le Petit Canyon November 16, 2015 at 11:18 am |

      echo 🙁

    2. Dogen
      Dogen November 16, 2015 at 11:44 am |

      In a mind clear as still water,
      even the waves, breaking,
      are reflecting its light.

    3. SamsaricHelicoid
      SamsaricHelicoid November 16, 2015 at 1:55 pm |

      “Zen Master Brad” *

      Lol, I guess you didn’t Brad’s books well, considering he doesn’t like the phrase “Zen Master”.

  46. jason farrow
    jason farrow November 17, 2015 at 8:08 pm |

    I don’t get it.
    I really try hard to see the error; I don’t get it.

Comments are closed.