My apologies for being away so long. We’ve been having some technical issues with the blog and have been trying our best to get them fixed. They’re still not completely fixed, but the blog ought to be running a little better now than it was before.
I’m leaving today to go see my dad who just had triple by-pass heart surgery. After I hang out with him for a few days I’m off to Europe. The list of places I’m going is at the bottom of this article. There are still a few events that have yet to be finalized, so please check back for those. I may be coming to your neighborhood and I’d like to see you. All of these events are still open to further people, so don’t be shy. Show up!
All the on-going events in Los Angeles will still happen each and every week while I’m away and will be far better because I’m not there to mess them up. So go sit!
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A couple days ago someone sent an email to me asking, “Do you think the personal relationship with a teacher is vital for reaching deeper levels of realization?”
After answering with my usual stuff about why one needs a teacher I said, “Deeper levels of realization are for suckers.” I wasn’t trying to be cute. Well, not entirely anyway. I mean that. There are no deeper levels of realization.
The deepest level of realization you will ever have is the level of realization you have right now. With practice you may be able to gradually come to notice this. But in doing so, you will not deepen your level of realization. You’ll only learn to recognize the level of realization that’s already there.
The reason I say that deeper levels of realization are for suckers is that concepts like “deeper levels,” “higher planes,” “awakening experiences,” “satori,” “kensho” and all the rest are really just marketing tools. These concepts are designed to make you think that certain people have the ability to give you something you don’t already possess. Actually “give” is not the correct word. The correct word is “sell.”
A lot of the time, when somebody enters into a relationship with a Zen teacher or other teacher of what are commonly known as “spiritual practices,” they imagine that the teacher will train them to have special experiences. They further imagine that the teacher will assess their progress and give them a grade. Now, of course, most of us are too hip to accept a common letter grade from our spiritual teachers or take one of those exams where you have to fill in the little multiple choice bubbles with a #2 pencil. But all you have to do is dress those very same things up and give them different names, like calling them the Five Ranks of Realization or inventing a multi-step system of koan-based questions to answer. Suckers love that shit!
Teachers who use systems like this are just playing their students for suckers. Your teacher doesn’t know what rank you’re at or what level you’re on. They just make that shit up on the fly as they go. The ones who are reasonably honest may do this kind of thing as a form of what’s called “skillful means” in order to encourage you in what is a very difficult practice that seems unrewarding because it is. It’s the very embodiment of the concept of “unrewarding.” The bad ones are just taking your money and laughing at you behind your back.
Zen teachers, if they’re decent ones, don’t really teach anything. They work on themselves and kindly allow others to hang around and watch. It’s not like they’ve got a technique they’ve mastered and can now show you how to master it too. Instead, they fail at it over and over and invite you to watch them fail. The only real lesson you learn is how they manage not to throw their hands up in frustration, go “aw fuck it!” and give up.
Actually, if you hang around me long enough you’ll almost certainly see me throw my hands up and go “aw fuck it!” a few times. But you’ll also see how I always seem to go back and start failing at it again.
That’s one of the many reasons it irks me so much to see people campaign for the idea that Zen teachers ought to present ideal role models for their students. I don’t see how you can possibly learn anything at all for someone who spends their energy trying to pretend to be an ideal role model. Except maybe about how to be a total phony. If you want to learn that, there are plenty of much better examples than most Zen teachers to study being a phony with.
So if you want my advice, it’s best to drop the whole idea of deeper levels of realization and just try examining the level of realization you already have right now.
August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT
August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE
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 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
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”
Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
Every Saturday at 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!
Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info
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I’ll make a bit of money while in Europe (I hope) but it usually only barely covers my expenses. So your donations are still important. I appreciate your on-going support!
I agree! 🙂
But tell me Brad, why are there Zen teachers at all?
Why are you a Zen teacher, if there is nothing to teach and nothing to see?
With posts like this, aren’t you admitting your own irrelevance?
Rinzai, koans and the 5-ranks aren’t the only sweets they use to play people for suckers it seems… So are inherently meaningless titles like “Zen Master” and things like colored kesas – you own some of these yourself methinks. 😉
“Teachers who use systems like this are just playing their students for suckers.”
That’s called “building a cage to escape a cage”.
I don’t know if there are Zen teachers. There are people who are nice enough to let others hang around and watch them not teach, and I am very grateful to the kind people who let me watch them do that.
It’s not easy to invite people to watch you fuck up all the time. It’s embarrassing! I hate doing it but I do it anyway because it meant so much to me that people let me see them do that in the past.
Yeah… it’s a tough spot. I wouldn’t want to do it, but I’m thankful for the people who did.
I don’t consider Konrad Ryushin Marchaj to have fucked up. His actions are valuable lessons for some.
Will the retreat be the only (public) thing you’ll do while in Finland or do you have anything else planned?
There will probably be a talk at a university in Helsinki. But I’m not sure yet.
Oops great post. Here we are. I like how relaxed and real you are about things. Have a great time in Europe.
WOOP – you changed your post Fred Jr.
‘there’s no way anyone will understand this.’
There is no way anyone could. Anyone can be told “it’s nothing really”… and the first thing people will think is this:
But to experience that, to realize it… well that’s transformative.
I was referring to the Buddha’s liberating insight, as attributed to him in texts. It wasn’t nothing, I believe it had to do something with seeing the initial point of clinging, masked by ignorance. Anyone???
“I was referring to the Buddha’s liberating insight”
So was I… admittedly poorly.
Did the Buddha see the liberating insight, or did the It just occur without a person having it.
“Seeking but not finding the house builder, I traveled through the round of countless births. Oh, painful is birth ever and again! House builder you have now been seen. You shall not build the house again. Your rafters have been broken down; your ridge-pole is demolished too. My mind has now attained the unformed nibbana and reached the end of every kind of craving.” (Dh. 153-54.)
“WOOP — you changed your post Fred Jr.
‘there’s no way anyone will understand this.’
What was the full post, Freddy Junior?
The empty hand grasps the hoe handle
Walking along, I ride the ox
The ox crosses the wooden bridge
The bridge is flowing, the water is still
“Did the Buddha see the liberating insight”
That’s what is liberating. 😉
the mountain still state
and sixty other
Hope your dad’s ok. I had a bypass a few years ago and, after recovering from the operation itself, I felt great – better than before as my body was processing more oxygen. Like Kal-El landing on a yellow sun planet. Waiting for it was scary but great to be on the other side of that particular gateless gate.
Thank you! He is recovering pretty much exactly as expected, so that’s good.
I hope your dad is resting up, hope you have a good visit (& bon voyage!).
The times when we feel our emotional connection to other people, and our utter lack of control over ourselves because of it, are very revealing. I’m guessing that I like this post so much because you are writing from that place.
Nevertheless, there are nits to pick, birds to stuff and cookies to bake (no wait, that’s another song!)…
How does that jive with Gautama’s description of why he gave up practicing extreme austerities, and what he took up instead?
Or with this?-
I’m sure you are right to encourage people not to approach the cushion with expectations of spiritual ecstasy (or small tablets of the same), but I think you have to admit that there is some kind of happiness that’s otherwise hard to find in normal daily life, that shows up regularly in sitting. “Unrewarding” somehow intimates that there’s a lack of happiness in the experience, at least to me, but I have to say that I don’t feel that my sitting lacks happiness; as a consequence, I don’t feel that it is unrewarding.
That’s part of why I write. There’s an investigation, it’s the first of the seven factors of enlightenment according to Gautama, and with the help of the motley crew here and elsewhere I have talked some sense to myself (left to my own devices, I have trouble distinguishing sense from nonsense in these matters, I confess it). And the sense that I have come to has a place, in the experience of “happiness apart from sense-pleasures, apart from unskilled states of mind”.
That’s also why I have kept on investigating the lotus, and not pursued sitting more and longer sesshins, so far. For me, the idea is to use the experience of happiness apart from sensual pleasures, apart from unskilled states of mind as a guide, and it’s been a long trip to find something like that in all 40 minutes when I sit (much less in 40 minute sitting after 40 minute sitting). Not sure I’m quite there yet, but I have more confidence than ever that it will come to pass (if it pleases the great spirit, god bless her).
I am the happy addict, of “happiness apart from sense-pleasures, apart from unskilled states of mind”. The sucker part comes in where I feel that I owe something to those who introduced me to the addiction, where I feel I owe something to those who don’t know where to find that kind of happiness.
Do you t”‹h”‹i”‹n”‹k Gautama w”‹o”‹u”‹l”‹d’ve s”‹a”‹i”‹d “aw fuck it””‹?
Well said, Mark! Although there is kind of a taboo about talking about the (ahem) chocolates.
Like Brad won’t say there are deeper levels of realizing deeper levels of realization are for suckers.
Sorry about your father’s illness. Glad to hear he’s doing well.
Kensho, satori, enlightenment, whatever you want to call it, is famously difficult to talk about. So you shouldn’t fight with other people for talking about it in another way than the way you’d prefer to. They’re not trying to con you, any more than the physicist trying to explain modern physics is trying to con you. In both cases they’re trying to try to put into words what can’t really be explained. I can see both the “deep realization” and “nothing happens” explanations. Neither is right, or wrong. So don’t try to make a fight over them.
I agree with this post. Zen Master Wu Kwang hasn’t taught me anything either. Sure, he has passed on some lore and history about the various Zen stories we all know, but other than that, he doesn’t open his mouth. Someone asked his advice once, and he just said, “I don’t give advice.” And that was that.
But the Kwan Um School does use kong-an (koan) study. I asked the Zen Master why, and he said, “Why not?” He added that having people answer the kong-an questions gave them a sense of confidence, and being unable to answer encouraged humility. So it seems they are a tool for practice. I’m OK with that.
Let’s not pretend like the non-attainment/nothing-to-gain strain of Zen isn’t for suckers too, because it is. It just appeals to a different kind of sucker…SUCKERS!
“Let’s not pretend like the non-attainment/nothing-to-gain strain of Zen isn’t for suckers too, because it is.”
“It just appeals to a different kind of sucker…SUCKERS!”
A sucker is a donkey chasing a carrot. In Satori there is no one and no one chasing anything.
And now the trolls in 3…..2……….1
I have to disagree with you on this one Brad–or at least take issue with your explanation. Soto/Rinzai, gradual/sudden, it’s just a different way of explaining the same thing. There both is and is not kensho. It just depends on from which angle you are looking at it. No need to be devisive.
And I have yet to come across a Zen teacher that is trying to sell me anything.
“And I have yet to come across a Zen teacher that is trying to sell me anything.”
You are commenting on the blog of a Zen teacher who sells books, sells spaces at retreats, and asks for donations.
Ahem. . . >> http://hardcorezen.info/store
Haha–point taken. And ironically I just purchased a copy of Hardcore Zen Strikes Again for my book group.
Let me rephrase that to, “I have yet to come across a Zen teacher who I feel is trying to swindle me.”
I thought that was funny too.
As to your rephrase, that’s fine and good. It just means you have never met Genpo Roshi who would have swindled some cash, or Joshu Sasaki who would have swindled your mom.
I think it is hard say someone has been swindled if they are given what they wanted, whether they were honest with themselves or not (in regards to Genpo)
My thoughts on Sasaki are not PC and I don’t want to start another comment section argument here, so I will keep them to myself.
Hmmm. . . you could be right about Genpo, although it would depend on how you look at the concept of being swindled and one’s personal choices.
Probably a good move on letting the Sasaki stuff rest. Apologies for going there.
I do agree with Brad, myself, that deeper levels is a sucker play; Kobun’s description of enlightenment strikes me as true. Not to say people don’t chase their tail trying to sit without “happiness apart from sense-pleasures, apart from unskilled states of mind” as a guide- they do.
I actually feed my addiction to that peculiar “happiness”, because of Kobun’s advice to “take your time with the lotus”. The only way I’m going to “take my time with the lotus”, meaning to me to take the time to learn to sit the lotus without a lot of pain or numbness, is because of an addiction to some kind of “happiness”.
I was standing in Trader Joe’s, waiting in line. I became aware of my thoughts going down, and I knew it was time to breath. The cashier took my goods, and I moved on. It sure took me a long time to have confidence in that.
I find this piece lame and hypocritical. “Look, I don’t teach but let other people watch me.” Who do you think you are? I’d rather watch an orgy of dogs, like yesterday in a sidestreet, unbelievable. “It’s not like they’ve got a technique they’ve mastered and can now show you how to master it too.” Of course the Shikantaza adepts want to show a technique, that’s why it is explained to the last detail – how to sit right. If there’d nothing to show, why watch? Even the dogs who were stuck in each other and attracted other dogs knew that there was s.th. to show and thus tried to hide from me between two cars.
I’ll also advise to watch your current level of realization carefully. What you will soon see is that there is s.th. more to come, which is commonly called “a deeper level of realization”, kensho or satori. It can also be found in the koan collection of DÃ´gen, as in others. The zen history collected those events to tell you that there are significant key moments on your Buddhist way. You should indeed not be satisfied with the level you’re on. There’s more to come. And if you should find out the same, don’t betray yourself and stop where you are.
Mark Foote: ““happiness apart from sense-pleasures, apart from unskilled states of mind” – the Buddha erred. We meditate because it gives pleasure to the brain (in its gratification centre). The brain is a sense organ in the Palicanon, so Shakyamuni – as a man of his time – did simply not know that his happiness was NOT apart from sense-pleasures etc. We on the other hand may know better. Thus those DÃ´gen adepts who claim that they sit “for nothing” also delude themselves. Scientifically, academically speaking. See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/scienceonreligion/2014/12/a-new-theory-for-why-buddhist-meditation-makes-us-feel-good/
Good link, otakuOO! After reading it I shared it with about ten people. Then I ran across this one at work that is somehow connected, see what you think:
Brad rates a mention over on James Ishmael Fords blog:
What a blessing. Thank you for being worthless. May sentient die. Gassho
1. The Buddha was wrong.
2. Brad is wrong.
3. Humans meditate to generate pleasure in a brain centre.
4. Dogen adepts who sit for no purpose are deluded.
5. Deeper levels of realization are possible.
Many thought that J. Krishnamurti was a Buddha. His expressed words were that thinking itself is the source of our conflicts and unhappiness.
Whether something creates pleasure in a brain centre, which is the limbic system, is an opinion about a stimulus. This reaction is a conditioned reflex.
Some people derive pleasure from being whipped. Most don’t.
I can induce bliss at will. with or without meditation. Others need to put a needle into their skin or take a drug. Maybe my limbic system is fucked up.
Krishnamurti went through pain when one of his states was beginning. I don’t think that meditating for pleasure necessarily has anything to do with deeper realization. At some point pain or pleasure have no point.
NO ONE IS GETTING SUCKERED, because in religion the only thing that’s being bought and sold is meaning, and meaning doesn’t need to be real or true to be meaningful. Brad has his brand of meaning that people buy just like any other sheep herder.
The empty hand grasps the hoe handle
Walking along, I ride the ox
The ox crosses the wooden bridge
The bridge is flowing, the water is still
This post kind of blows your Dad’s insistence that something like “enlightenment” occurred to Brad on the bridge over some river in Japan, doesn’t it?
Or possibly it was at this moment that Brad realized what he already knew: listening to and looking at flowing water sometimes makes you need to pee.
One star reviews of Hardcore Zen on Amazon.
Posted because I was bored waiting for my regression tests to run.
From the same review (I found this a bit funnier than your quote, Jinzang 🙂
“Hardcore Zen” is quite simply the single worst book on Zen I’ve ever read (and that’s saying a great deal.) The aging “punk” author seems to understand Zen as well as my niece, who thinks it’s a perfume.
It is a purfume! Also, this is where priests go to get their heads shaved:
This question of levels is an interesting one. Last night I was out with my father to see Cheap Trick and Peter Frampton and later after the show I tripped up and fell hard on my hand, fracturing my little finger. That rock meets bone level is where its at.
Wow, Bill Stranger is doing this interview. We were both members of the same cult in the mid-70s. Smallish world…
Peter Frampton in 2015? Does he have a mechanical respirator for his talk box?
HAha. Good one.
[What was the name of that guy on phycodelics? I forgot]
Gautama did regard the mind as one of the six senses, and he spoke of pleasure, pain, and “neither pleasant nor painful” as feelings associated with the six senses. I think it’s kind of amazing that he would point to “happiness apart from sense-pleasures, apart from unskilled states of mind”- maybe it’s something to do with the gambler’s “zone”:
Now I wonder, what would that mean with regard to sitting, “maintaining a hypnotic flow of action”? Something like:
It’s easy to confuse pleasant sensation with “happiness apart from sense-pleasures, apart from unskilled states of mind”, but my confusion is usually resolved after about 30 minutes in the lotus, when the stretch is no longer comfortable and the thoughts are no longer so pleasant.
The cessation of the “controlling faculty of happiness” was described by Gautama as characteristic of a particular meditative state, but I just have to sit about 30 minutes to know that there’s more to it than a pleasant sensation associated with my mind, regardless of what he said; here’s some of what he said, together with my prose:
mumbles: Yes, your link provides a practical application of some Buddhist ideals, and it confirms that the reason why they are attractive is that they make us feel happy.
It seems to me that Fred and Mark do not agree that this has nothing to do with consciously practising meditation for happiness. It will – if done right -happen anyway, and it will happen in spite of leg pain etc. (as that “mind gratification” happens with sportsmen in spite of their aching muscles). The brain is rewarding a zazenist. What the Buddha obviously did not understand is that even this (mystical) happiness he spoke about is related to one’s brain and thus to “sense” (or neuronal) activity. So stating that zazen is “good for nothing” is simply a lie, or at least an error.
Yes, I agree.
We don’t attain enlightenment, it’s just that one minute we are not as stupid as we were a minute ago.
It’s not a creation process. It’s a breaking delusion process. Like, demystifying “enlightenment.”
But in this way…I think a teacher and a student break down the barrier between teacher and student. The best teachers are the best students. The best students are the best teachers, n’est pas?
Everything is a test,
To see what you will do,
If you fail,
Then you have to start anew.
-VM Hsuan Hua
“What the Buddha obviously did not understand is that even this (mystical) happiness he spoke about is related to one’s brain and thus to “sense” (or neuronal) activity”
The mystical happiness is the bliss surrounding the opening. This opening doesn’t involve a sense of self. The self isn’t there. The neuronal activity isn’t even
noticed. The neurons may be processing an action, but that action is coming from the universe.
Is there a deeper realization? The question is asked by what?
Agreed, that setting out to experience happiness through meditation involves a kind of grasping, and because the meditative experience is dependent on a responsiveness in the location of awareness that cannot survive grasping after the contents of awareness, it’s cruisin’ for a bruisin’.
My addiction is clearly a crutch for me, and about 30-35 minutes into the sitting I realize that, as the pleasantness of my thought gives way.
Funny thing is, I can just about time 40 minutes lately, by the infamous lines of Fuxi’s poem:
“donkeys stroll after chewing jimson, the canyon walls are moving…”
Something like that. But seriously, how do we know our own well-being? Does our own well-being draw us on, even when we run in circles because of attachment, aversion, and ignorance? Do we accept that we are out of control, when it comes to our well-being, like junkies with needles sticking out of our arms?
I can’t remember whar Dogen’s conclusion was to why ppl need to practice, if they are already endowed with BuddhaNature…
But the way I see it is that you can’t have the realization, and correction, without the mistake. All three are one in the same.
Shakyamuni said that the mind is not the body, and its a valid discrimination. But, I’ve given quite a lot of thought over years, and I think that the Body is the Mind, and the body is not the mind.
Early Ch’an masters would probity say that I’m wrong. That the body is a stinking skin sac of bones….It is, but that is what we use to “empty out the mind.”
Without a stinking skin sac, how can we return to the 10’ooo things?
Like, if we were all Buddha’s 100â„… of the time, then we would never have to endure dukkha. Never grow old, never get sick, and never die.
How can 10’ooo dharmas return to the One, if the one never returns to the 10’ooo things?
“The neurons may be processing an action, but that action is coming from the universe.”
No it isn’t. The universe is there, even when the neurons aren’t. Not for oneself, of course.
Within that logic, everything would be “coming from the universe”.
“The neuronal activity isn’t even noticed.”
How comes with an all-embracing mind?
Comments are closed.