Fear and Loathing in Nirvana

whole-life-expoIf Jesus returned today he wouldn’t burst through the clouds on four flaming horses wielding a mighty sword to smite the wicked and whisk the righteous away to Paradise Everlasting. No. He’d have a booth at the Conscious Life Expo at the Hilton near LAX airport, between a guy who promises to recharge your chakras and a booth offering to tell you the truth about the alien presence on Earth.

In fact I spotted three Jesuses last Sunday when I went to the Conscious Life Expo. Two were dressed in flowing white tunics, while the other wore jeans and a T-shirt. The two in the tunics kept craning their heads around to see who was looking their way. But it’s hard for even Jesus to get noticed in a place like this.

Spread across multiple conference rooms and auditoriums throughout the hotel, the expo was home to a host of mystic crystal salespeople, anti-vaccination crazies, loving and compassionate energy healers, pet psychics and gurus of every kind.

I saw booths where they hawked angelic reiki, trance channeling, singing bowls, quantum energy healing, spiritual cruises to Croatia, crystal light beds, and, of course, the very Truth of Life itself. The Truth of Life people were even kind enough to give me a little paper bag to carry around all the other pamphlets and paraphernalia I collected as I strolled around the place.

World Teacher 1But the saddest booth of all had to be the one with a sign they probably printed out at their local Staples store and glued to a piece of poster board announcing that the World Teacher had arrived. The poor old World Teacher was apparently not flashy enough to stand out among all the rainbows and energy jewelry. Everybody just seemed to pass his booth right by.

I really don’t think Jesus of Nazareth or Siddhartha would have stood a chance at the Conscious Life Expo. People would be too busy attending lectures about UFOs to pay those guys much mind. Even if they did sit and listen for a minute or two, it wouldn’t be long before they’d get distracted by the next thing.

I have a little pet theory about gatherings like this. It’s something I could never prove, and yet I think it explains a lot of what I see. My feeling is that, while 75% or so of the folks renting out space at a place like the Conscious Life Expo are either delusional or outright frauds looking to make a quick buck from suckers, maybe a quarter of them are sincere people who’ve had some kind of genuine spiritual experience.

These folks put in their time at some ashram or zendo somewhere, they delved deeply into the mysteries of practice and, at some point, they gained a little bit of insight and wisdom. I’ve been there. I know just how awesome and exciting those glimpses can be. You really do feel like you have at last unlocked the secret keys to the very Universe itself and stepped into the presence of God Almighty. If you have even the least bit of compassion for your fellow humans, you feel inspired to trumpet your discoveries from atop every soapbox in every park in the land and thereby usher in a new era of peace, joy and unspeakable bliss.

If you are gifted with the ability to present yourself well, or if you just happen to look like Jeffery Hunter in the role of Jesus in the 1961 Technicolor epic King of Kings, all the better. With a little bit of hard work and determination you can parlay your insights into a lucrative career and attract a cadre of followers to help you spread the word.

It must be kind of annoying, though, to end up in a booth at a place like the Conscious Life Expo trying to get noticed amongst the noise. I couldn’t see a whole lot of difference between the Conscious Life Expo and any of the many Monsterpaloozas, Wondercons, Star Trek conventions or other sci-fi geek fests I’ve attended. You got your cosplayers dressing up like their favorite characters, in this case Jesus and Buddha rather than Mr. Spock and Chewbacca. You got your marginally famous speakers, in this case alien technology experts and guys lecturing about Unconditional Self Love Mastery (!) rather than George Takei and Jolene Blalock. You got your booths selling swag, in this case incense and crystal skulls instead of Millennium Falcon model kits and, well, crystal skulls.

I know what it’s like at places where geeks gather. While there’s a sense of welcome comradery at being with your “own kind,” there’s also a bubbling well of jealousy seething just below the surface. You’re so used to being the only kid on your block who knows anything about Ultraman that when you meet someone else who might possibly own even more plastic kaiju figures than you do, you’re just looking for a reason to brand him a big phony and a wanna-be.

I’m sure every World Teacher at the Conscious Life Expo secretly thinks every other World Teacher he’s forced to share a panel discussion about Love and Grace in the Coming Millennium with is a poseur. I’m sure every guy passing out pamphlets claiming that consciousness is a field of information in the holographic mind thinks the guy in the next booth offering divine healing experiences is a flake.

I wonder what the hotel bar was like after the expo closed down each night. I wonder if all those Jesuses managed to get laid — and not in the tomb of Joseph of Aramathea either!

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Registration is now OPEN for our Spring Zen & Yoga Retreat March 18-20, 2016 at Mt. Baldy Zen Center, Mt. Baldy, California

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

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February 28, 2016 Houston, Texas Houston Zen Center

March 5-6, 2016 Austin, Texas Austin Zen Center

March 9, 2016 El Paso, Texas Eloise Coffeeshop/Bar 7:00pm

March 18-20, 2016 Mt. Baldy, California SPRING ZEN & YOGA RETREAT

March 25, 2016 Venice, California Mystic Journey Bookstore 7:00pm

April 7, 2016 San Francisco, California Against The Stream

April 8, 2016 San Francisco, California San Francisco Zen Center

April 22, 2016 New York, New York Interdependence Project

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

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

September 9-11, 2016 Belfast, Northern Ireland 3-Day Retreat

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 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!

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

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One of the main ways I make money when I’m not attending weirdo new age expos 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!

21 Responses

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  1. jason farrow
    jason farrow February 23, 2016 at 3:13 pm |

    i comprehend the critique, where’s the advice for living beings?

  2. jason farrow
    jason farrow February 23, 2016 at 3:19 pm |

    who do you offer as to cast off the lunacy of living beings? is that lunacy not endless?

  3. jason farrow
    jason farrow February 23, 2016 at 3:19 pm |

    what medium or practice do you offer for ppl to entre and escape lunacy?

  4. jason farrow
    jason farrow February 23, 2016 at 3:20 pm |

    how will you proliferate?

  5. Mumbles
    Mumbles February 23, 2016 at 4:16 pm |

    THE World Teacher was there?! THE WORLD TEACHER!!???

    Did you get an autograph?


  6. jason farrow
    jason farrow February 23, 2016 at 4:40 pm |
  7. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 23, 2016 at 5:55 pm |

    Why do I feel tempted to attend the next Conscious Life Expo (was it free)?

    Continuing the private conversation with French Roast from two posts back; hey, Beans, let ‘er rip! Ha ha!

    By the way, Kobun one time said that off the cushion was all just fun, compared with on the cushion. I’m not able to recall the exact words, but I think I’m close, and I think that’s the point you were trying to make (or one of them).

    Here’s the thing: sometimes zazen gets up and walks around, Kobun also said that. People on the other side of the wall sit with you, and they don’t take the posture (he said that). Selfish to sit there when zazen has left the building, wouldn’t it be?

    Wow, Linda or the companies she employed has Google muting the sound on all her live performances. Ok…


    Khru, you have not seen for nothing yet.

  8. Khru 2.0
    Khru 2.0 February 23, 2016 at 6:38 pm |

    Everyone suffers. We’re all in pain and trying to suffer as little as possible. Let’s all try to be kind to one another.

    1. Khru 2.0
      Khru 2.0 February 23, 2016 at 6:40 pm |

      Oh please, Khru. Can you please either go away or shut the hell up? Complete bullshit comment yet again.

    2. Mumbles
      Mumbles February 24, 2016 at 4:43 am |

      No, it’s a very nice comment, Ven. Khru 2.0, in fact it stopped me in my tracks. Are YOU The World Teacher?!!!

      One question only, yes, “let’s all try to be kind to one another,” but… what kind?


  9. Cygni
    Cygni February 23, 2016 at 6:56 pm |

    Jesus and Buddha can play with my ayatanas…


  10. jason farrow
    jason farrow February 23, 2016 at 8:38 pm |

    i remember there were some “caucasian” nuns that came to the temple i go to.
    i had(and have) issue with the term caucasian as it originates from white supremacy terminology. (supposedly the term comes from a guy who claimed that caucasians had the right skull to allow for the right type of brain development, thus, greater intelligence.)
    anyways, these caucasian nuns started talking about hallucinations. about seeing things. i was so disappointed. i felt like burying my head under the carpet in the buddhahall. it was different to hear ppl of my own “race” talk like that. it was really embarrassing. esp in relation to buddhism. but then it sort of put things into perspective for me that like hey, buddhist talk some crazy stupid nonsense with no particular point to it. it’s disgusting.

    what is it with ppl wanting to talk nonsense? why do ppl want to run away and join a cult? i get so sick so sick of buddhist talking nonsense about past lives, transfer of consciousness, other realms and such garbage as that.

    i can deal with it in a metaphorical way. i kinda like that because it forces a person to think deeply…

    but why are ppl attracted to lunacy? isn’t buddhism about escaping delusion?

    sometimes i get this urge to throw things at crazy lunatic ppl who talk nonsense. and then i remember that anger is a lack of understanding. anger is just further lunacy. why create more suffering. but at the same time, engaging in crazy lunatic talk is creating more suffering.

    although, i have seen monastics talk to ppl in their medium. it’s disgusting. i equate it to talking to dementia patients. if you have a patient with dementia, you sort of engage in a gentle and friendly conversation with the patient as win them over and make them more cooperative…i’ve seen monastics do the same thing with lay ppl who would probity get upset if you trashed(and i do) their “faith” in reincarnation or a pureland elsewhere. but by engaging in nonsense talk, you keep them on the “path.” but the problem is, it’s evident that some of the monastics also believe in the “other worldly stuff.” and then they propagate that to the lay ppl and it becomes this vicious cycle. at what point does the monastic realize it’s time to pull the person out of their delusion. ever?

    i remember talking to this one girl about consciousness. our group was traveling to a retreat and one of the cars hit a deer. we got out and i could tell the deer was paralyzed and suffocating from a broken neck. it had this horrible look of fear in it’s eyes…the nuns start chanting is Sanskrit. then we have this group of ppl standing around a dying deer, on a busy highway, chanting in a language no one understands, with their palms together; i felt like a total freak. i guess they were doing it because of the “consciousness” of the deer…like, on one hand, it’s great that ppl have respect for life other than their own. but when i suggested that we move the deer off the side of the shoulder of the road into the bushes(so that the body doesn’t get mangled, or so that another car doesn’t hit it an cause an accident), suddenly all these ppl are worried about getting ticks or bugs on them. idk. like the whole thing was a bit crazy. but at the same time, it shows a level of respect for life…later this girl i was talking to about the deer and how odd the whole thing was; she got mad. i was this honky invading her chinese culture, and dis’ing her religion. so she gave me this little lecture on why we do this, and that, and how it was for the consciousness of the deer. i asked her point blank, “how do you know the deer has consciousness?” she said she didn’t, and she was angry that i had challenged her. in my opinion, she was sort of demented.

    idk. i sort of really hate crazy “spiritual demented nonsense.” to me, zen is about point to reality. wasn’t it like that for all the ancient buddhas?

    1. french-roast
      french-roast February 24, 2016 at 12:43 am |

      This story shows your total lack of Buddhist compassion, the deer was offering itself to all of you. A genuine compassionate Buddhist would have gone into the vehicle drivers seat, and go over the dear once more in order to end the suffering (after all, isn’t what Buddhism is all about?). And then would cut the dear into pieces, kept the meat to be cook on a BBQ during the retreat, and then throw the carcass on the side of the road.

    2. Hungry Ghost
      Hungry Ghost February 26, 2016 at 3:35 pm |

      I found your comment refreshing to hear – I am put off by the ‘nonsense’ as well – it has kept me from pursuing Buddhist stuff to any serious degree – I meditate by myself (and then I only have my own nonsense to deal with) except for one or two retreats a year.

      I find the BSing students phenomenon interesting as well. I’ve worked with dementia patients and seriously mentally ill patients as well – and we’re always taught to not feed into hallucinations or fantasies, but instead to reorient patients to reality gently – I feel like that’s what teachers should do – reorient people to reality not feed into their fantasies.

  11. jason farrow
    jason farrow February 23, 2016 at 8:51 pm |

    idk. may be it’s better to have compassion for crazy demented ppl who believe in healing crystals and magic mantras and whatnot. just give them time and space to figure it out and not drive them away from attempting to become a better person.

  12. Baba Ling
    Baba Ling February 24, 2016 at 12:23 am |

    You mean I’m not really the Auntie Christ? Curses.

  13. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon February 24, 2016 at 4:02 am |

    “If Jesus returned today…”

  14. minkfoot
    minkfoot February 24, 2016 at 5:38 am |

    Don’t you just hate it when people are so smug in their beliefs, when the thrust of Buddhism is “Things are not as they appear”? Yeah, such Dummkopfs!

    “The Afterlife”
    by Billy Collins

    While you are preparing for sleep, brushing your teeth,
    or riffling through a magazine in bed,
    the dead of the day are setting out on their journey.

    They are moving off in all imaginable directions,
    each according to his own private belief,
    and this is the secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal:
    that everyone is right, as it turns out.
    You go to the place you always thought you would go,
    the place you kept lit in an alcove in your head.

    Some are being shot up a funnel of flashing colors
    into a zone of light, white as January sun.
    Others are standing naked before a forbidding judge who sits
    with a golden ladder on one side, a coal chute on the other.

    Some have already joined the celestial choir
    and are singing as if they have been doing this forever,
    while the less inventive find themselves stuck
    in a big air-conditioned room full of food and chorus girls.

    Some are approaching the apartment of the female God,
    a woman in her forties with short wiry hair
    and glasses hanging from her neck by a string.
    With one eye she regards the dead through a hole in her door.

    There are those who are squeezing into the bodies
    of animals—eagles and leopards—and one trying on
    the skin of a monkey like a tight suit,
    ready to begin another life in a more simple key,
    while others float off into some benign vagueness,
    little units of energy heading for the ultimate elsewhere.

    There are even a few classicists being led to an underworld
    by a mythological creature with a beard and hooves.
    He will bring them to the mouth of a furious cave
    guarded over by Edith Hamilton and her three-headed dog.

    The rest just lie on their backs in their coffins
    wishing they could return so they could learn Italian
    or see the pyramids, or play some golf in a light rain.
    They wish they could wake in the morning like you
    and stand at a window examining the winter trees,
    every branch traced with the ghost writing of snow.

    I used to be enamored of Rod Serling’s stories, where he gave such power and primacy to imagination. But, after all, imagination must yield to principle, and it’s supremacy is but a romantic conceit.

    Nonethelessless, it gets tricky, putting it into words, just a layer or two beneath the surface:


    God wanted to create. She took a good look at the void, at the essence of nothingness. She relished her surprise to see it was an out-side, that it was actually a Pleroma, the fullness that includes EVERYTHING! Everything possible or impossible, in a chaos of infinitesimal harmonies. No need to call the numberless beings out of nothingness — they were already there. Like Michaelangelo, She used her Eye as a chisel to see just one of the harmonies, leaving the vastness to be dealt with at another time. Time, She smiled; yes, that would be a good idea.


    Once God allowed Anything to come into being from Nothingness, She had to allow Everything to exist. It’s only fair.


    God bethought Herself to start Creation with the simpler components first, but when She finished the appearances of things and was about to start on the substance and essence of things, She realized the Universe needed nothing more.


    [©2016 Weasel Tracks]

    Dipping into the Mysteries, you realize simple formulations don’t work very well. What we call mind seems to have two aspects, one way you cut it, complex and simple. The complex is a mishmash of floaty fuzzy entities that flow by rules and contingencies out of and back into a thing that is not a thing but an utmost simplicity that has no place yet can know. This no-thing thing is like space which may or may not have things and happenings within it. Contemplate it long enough, and you might believe it is space, and that space creates what is in it and moreover knows it!

    When you come out of an unremembered obscurity and seem headed toward another, folks can be forgiven for seeing no hard reason why they shouldn’t come out of it again. People who hard say that that doesn’t happen presuppose they know the nature of time, whether it is part of the bedrock of existence and not just another possibly inessential component of it.

    “Things are not as they appear,
    Nor are they otherwise.”

    The modernist paradigm gives precedence to material existence, assigning consciousness the lesser office of epiphenomenon. It’s a fair way of seeing things, given the evidence of our senses and the coherence of most of our physical experience. Yet there is no way to prove that all this show we call reality is not just shit we’ve made up to entertain ourselves.

    The humility of uncertainty is a garment more intellect should wear.

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon February 24, 2016 at 10:04 am |
  15. Dogen
    Dogen February 24, 2016 at 9:55 am |

    I wonder if all those Jesuses managed to get laid.

    Let he without sin cast the first blog post.

  16. Envy | Zandtao February 24, 2016 at 5:29 pm |

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