Dachau Blues

AlbeitMachtFreiA few days ago I took a tour of Dachau. This wasn’t one of those outings where a bunch of Zennies go meditate at a concentration camp. I just took the tour that tourists get. They take you on a train and then a bus and they lead you all over the memorial site and then make sure you notice the gift shop. I met some interesting people. It was … uh … can you say a visit to a concentration camp was fun? I mean can you say that and not end up being labeled as a neo-Nazi or something?

I’ve been contemplating the idea of good and evil for a while now. If anything could ever be labeled as “evil” it has to be Nazi-ism. All the worst people in the society were allowed to run the show. Bullies, psychopaths, sociopaths, racists and all manner of loonies were given the reigns of power. What could possibly go wrong?

There’s nothing at all special about Germany in terms of how many crazy assholes there are here as compared to any place else. We’ve got the same types of people back in the US. I saw plenty of them in Japan and in Kenya. They’re all over. Every society or subculture has these elements because every one of us as individuals has these elements within us. Including me and including you, dear reader, too.

What went on in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s was just a very big, very deadly version of something we all do all the time. We fail to see the evil within ourselves and instead mistake it for something out there. The Nazis blamed the Jews. Donald Trump blames the immigrants. The conservatives blame the liberals. The liberals blame the conservatives. Us against Them is a universal game that’s lasted for a very long time.

Yet even saying this is trite and clichéd. It’s clear that not everybody knows this. But it’s said often enough that the people who need to hear it most seem to only hear it as an annoying noise.

It’s a bit surreal walking around the grounds of the former Dachau concentration camp on a sunny summer day. It really doesn’t look like much anymore. You could have a holiday camp there or a Zen monastery.

MusicBox1We humans need to mark the places where significant events happened. We like to go to such places and see them. Down the street from where I live in LA, there’s a stairway leading up a steep hill where Laurel and Hardy filmed their movie The Music Box. It’s marked with a nice plaque and a sign. A few years ago when I went to Jerusalem I walked along the Via Dolorosa, the route Christ supposed walked to his execution. The first time I visited the studio where Ultraman was filmed I felt like I was standing on holy ground, even more so than when I visited Dogen’s temple, Eihei-ji.

When you go to these special places you’re supposed to feel moved. At Dachau, though, I didn’t really want to feel moved. I wanted to see it. But what happened there is so intensely horrific that it’s hard to want to let it in.

Most of what you see when you go to Dachau these days is a reconstruction. After the war the original buildings were left to rot away as people tried to forget and move on. It wasn’t until twenty years later that a new generation who weren’t old enough to clearly remember the war or who may not even have been born yet when it ended started a movement to memorialize the place.

It’s hard to find anything much to say about Dachau that hasn’t been said too many times already. It’s a memorial to how truly shitty people can be. People bring their children to see it in the hope that it will somehow make it less likely anything similar will happen in the future. So you see lots of parents there, dragging around kids who look bored or confused.

I’m glad I went there and saw the place for myself. It was worthwhile (though in retrospect I’d have seen more if I’d just gone on my own instead of with a tour group — I didn’t know when I booked the tour that you could just walk in by yourself and look around). It’s good to see just how ordinary these places are. It can be a hint as to how what we call “evil” is not special. But then again, neither is what we call “good.”

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!


August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR 

August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY

September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany SCREENING OF HARDCORE ZEN MOVIE WITH TALK

September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY

September 8, 2015 Helsinki, Finland  LECTURE Mannerheimintie 5, 5th floor Mannerheim hall 5:30pm

September 9, 2015 Malmi, Finland

September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT

September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT

September 20, 2015 London, England THE ART OF SITTING DOWN & SHUTTING UP (sold out, but there is a waiting list in case people cancel.)

September 21-25, 2015 Belfast, Northern Ireland SPECIFIC DATES TO BE DETERMINED

September 26-27, 2015 Glastonbury, England 2-DAY RETREAT

October 26-27 Cincinnati, Ohio Concert:Nova

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

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


All of these events will still happen each week while I’m away.

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!

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

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Traveling around Europe costs a lot. Even though I’m getting paid by most of the places I’m speaking, it’s usually just enough to cover expenses. Your donations are still important. I appreciate your on-going support!

2 Responses

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  1. yesno
    yesno August 30, 2015 at 4:53 am |

    The first time Rabbi Mendel met Rabbi Eleazar, the two retired to a room.
    They seated themselves opposite each other and sat in silence for a whole hour. Then they admitted the others. “Now we are ready,” said Rabbi Mendel.
    * * *
    When Mendel was in Kotzk, the rabbi of that town asked him: “Where did you learn the art of silence?”
    He was on the verge of answering the question, but then he changed his mind and practiced his art…

  2. economy news
    economy news September 19, 2015 at 11:42 pm |

    Good post.

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