Guided By Voices?

First up. Here is a very nice review of the new audiobook edition of Hardcore Zen. Thanks, Punk Globe!

But it’s not all positives! Oh no! Gempo Roshi has lashed out against the audiobook in this new video:

Also, Zero Defex has been hard at work on a video shoot. Here’s a still from what we did on Monday at Wadsworth High School (of all places).

 We’ll be playing in Kent, Ohio this Saturday May 5th, 2012 at the Stone Tavern 110 E. Main St. in Kent. The show starts at 9. We go on later than that, though. Come and see Mick Hurray’s head float through the air!

I got an interesting email the other day that went like this:

I read Hardcore Zen when I was in college about 8 years ago, thought it was pretty excellent and then promptly forgot about it.  In between my mind exploded, I was diagnosed with probably every major mental illness that existed and I’ve been drugged to the gills by people who think they are ‘helping’.  I heard voices and still do occasionally.

The only thing besides a really incredible wife that has really helped me not put a bullet in my head is meditation and Buddhism, even though I hate almost everyone and everything that surrounds it.  After losing my mind a few times, I remembered reading somewhere something to the effect of “I don’t understand why people that hear voices listen to them. I’d tell them to fuck off and get a body”.  And for a long time, I thought, whoever this guy is a total fucking asshole who has no idea what he’s talking about.  It’s about as funny as a dead baby joke to someone who actually has a dead baby., It’s bad advice, too.

So a few days ago I’m in a hippy-dippy used bookstore and I found your book and read it again.  And it resonated with me much more than it had 8 years ago, it’s a fantastic book and it’s wonderful to hear someone else’s frustrations with the bullshit that surrounds Buddhism.  And then I found the quote that had stuck with me so long – in your book – and it sort of reflected everything else about Buddhism – that most people in these communities don’t know shit about mental illness, they’re just terrified of it and want to get away from it.

Why am I telling you this? Not to pin the blame on you over one fucking sentence in a book you wrote years ago and not because I believe you are intentionally perpetuating this prejudice.  Because if you consider yourself a teacher, I want to tell you that statements like these, while funny and true, cut deep.  They drive away people like me that need to know reality and need to know they aren’t alone at the same time that many mental-health practitioners are pushing shitty drugs and Orwellian doublespeak under the banner of mindfulness.

This is how I replied:

I just recorded the audiobook version of Hardcore Zen and when I came to that line I wanted to change it. This was before I even read your email. But I left it in because I feel really strongly that people who change works of art suck. Like George Lucas did with Star Wars. Ugh!

The reason I wanted to change it is that I’m now a lot more aware of the realities of mental illness than I was in 2003. So I realize now that joke is not really very good. On the other hand, it’s an honest statement of what I thought at the time. I feel like that’s often useful even when it’s wrong. Does that make sense? If people are put off by that statement, maybe they should be. It shows that I don’t have all the answers and people ought to know that.

Anyway, I know now it’s not as easy as what I wrote. I think I knew it at the time too. I think possibly what I was getting at was the Buddhist notion that you have to learn not to believe your own bullshit. Not everyone hears actual disembodied voices. But everyone tells themselves things & then believes those things. We all need to learn to tell ourselves to fuck off.

I’m really sorry the statement caused you trouble. I’m glad you’re getting better now. 

The issue of meditation and mental illness is really complex, especially these days. Traditionally, Buddhists have almost always touted meditation as a better treatment for mental illness than the standard medical methods. For example, somewhere in Shobogenzo Dogen gives a list of advice for practitioners. One of these is, “Don’t take medicine for mental illness.”

Of course the medicines prescribed for mental illness in Dogen’s time (13th century CE Japan) were not like the ones we have today. It’s hard to even imagine what he might have been referring to. Nor was mental illness understood in the way we understand it today. Which isn’t to say we have a complete understanding of it even now. But I think it’s safe to say our understanding of metal illness today is objectively better than it was in Dogen’s time.

Even so, these days a lot of meditation teachers still insist that meditation is a better treatment for mental illness than drugs. I tend to agree somewhat but only with some very significant reservations. I think ultimately, in the very long term, if one is extremely committed to meditation practice, with an exceedingly patient and loyal teacher, that meditation is probably a better way to go. But I think it’s extremely rare for all these conditions to come together. For example, I don’t think I could be patient enough to deal with a student who was seriously mentally ill no matter how dedicated he was. It also depends on the severity of the illness in question. These days medication for mental illness is prescribed for a lot of people who really don’t need it. That’s a whole debate in itself, which I’m not going to get into. 

There are a lot of people who really need these medications just to have any semblance of a normal life. There are a lot of people who might benefit from meditation, but who will not dedicate themselves to it enough for it to be really effective. In the real world it isn’t always possible to establish ideal conditions.

It’s kind of like dieting and exercise. I think it’s pretty clear that the best, most natural, least complicated way to slim down is through diet and exercise. But it’s a very different thing for someone who is twenty pounds overweight than it is for someone who is three-hundred pounds overweight. Somebody who weighs 450 pounds might die before diet and exercise could have a significant effect — even though he can take off twenty pounds through diet and exercise just like a slimmer person. He may therefore need something more drastic. Meditation and mental illness work something like that. But this is still a very incomplete metaphor.


In case people don’t get the joke with the video above, I was referencing a series called Ask Roshi. You can find several examples on YouTube. There’s one about The Law of Attraction in which Genpo tries to draw in fans of The Secret. There’s one on Why We Suffer in which Genpo identifies himself on screen as a “Zen Master.” Like I’ve said before, anyone who would use such a term except as a joke doesn’t have a single clue what Zen is about. These videos each have well over 10,000 views. 

It’s really warped what the general public thinks is significant and serious in terms of Zen or meditation in general.  I aim to spend the next couple years doing some significant damage to this bullshit.

99 Responses

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  1. Misha
    Misha May 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm |

    Oh, and the Gempo hand puppet thing is just kind of silly and stupid, for you. I think that once you're out of Ohio, and living again in So. Cali, you'll be far more invested in other, perhaps more sophisticated activities and less apt to spend time with knuckleheads doing hand puppet shows. Sorry to sound like a dick, but that's my two cents.

    I think you have talent, and you're just not using it the way you should.

  2. katageek
    katageek May 3, 2012 at 1:47 pm |

    Seriously Brad, you need a "Sock Roshi" retreats with Sock Roshi Dokusan. Perhaps you can get Jeff Dunham to help you make a puppet. Or comment on my blog and I have two professional puppet makers I know who have done stuff for the Children's Television Workshop.

    Imagine this. You've been in Zazen for the morning. And you go into Dokusan and there is a snarky ass puppet giving you real Zen advice. He insults you. Taunts you. Makes fun of your hair. Tells you useful ideas.

    Man, I would pay DOUBLE for such a retreat if it was free. And I would pay something for such a retreat if it wasn't free.

    Of course, the "Teacher" would need a fabricated past with tales of his womanizing, boozing and mishandling of funds.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 3, 2012 at 2:19 pm |


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  4. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 3, 2012 at 2:41 pm |

    The sock roshi can introduce him or her self as the cosmic consciousness of the individual who sits in front of them, and can point to the shared compassionate heart of both individuals. Sock roshi can tell the individual that they can speak to their cosmic, greater consciousness, and encourage them to do so.

    John Upledger found that when he could generate a "still point" in a person's cranial-sacral rhythm, he could sometimes speak to their "inner physician" and get an answer back.

    "Although it is just this one thing that we all stand on, ultimately you yourself must mobilize and focus your energy. Only then will you receive the use of it." ("Zen Letters of Yuanwu, by Cleary & Cleary, pg 95).

    Thanks for the DMT link, anonymous. Thanks also to Mysterion for the description of his surgery.

    "…You cast aside the tile that was used to knock at the gate, the provisional means that were used to get you there, and there is absolutely nothing occupying your feelings.

    Actually practice at this level for twenty or thirty years and cut off all the verbal demonstrations and creeping vines and useless devices and states, until you are set free from conditioned mind. Then this will be the place of peace and bliss where you stop and rest.

    Thus it is said: 'If you are stopping now, then stop. If you seek a time when you finish, there will never be a time when you finish." ("Zen Letters of Yuanwu, by Cleary & Cleary, pg 98-99, italics added by the sock monkey's within).

    Ok, sock monkey, let's stop somewhere and get some of that one thing peace and bliss we're standing on- did you have some mind in place?

  5. katageek
    katageek May 3, 2012 at 3:06 pm |

    Here is the website for Peeler-Rose Designs if you want to make your own puppet. They do more than puppets these days, but they still do custom puppets.

    Soto Zen with a comedic puppet doing a functional dukusan would ROCK. Oddly enough, I think it could work as an occasional novelty.

    It would solve some of the "Teacher Attachment" problems in a creative way.

    Of course, much of the replies would have to be canned and rehearsed to pull off the snarkiness and hilarity necessary.

    STUDENT: "I'm noticing my mind is wandering."

    MONK-E: "ZzzzzzZZ … Hmm? Oh yes, sit straight and the dana jar is outside the door. NEXT!"

    The raw irreverence of such a method begs for a working model.

  6. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 3, 2012 at 3:09 pm |

    Guided by voices – in the lecture hall.

    I blogged about a collection of lectures that have been published into a (dated) book that is still worth the read.

    Why all the politics within Japanese Buddhism? Because Japanese Buddhism was born of the politics of the Imperial Clan, the Nobility, and the welfare of the Institutions that supported them.

    Why is the authority of Gautama Buddha superseded by the authority of ecclesiastical offices (and officials)? The book that I recommended addresses this issue.

    Thus, Big Hind, Big Fart®, Brad, Jundo, and the rest are just so much ripples in the down stream currents which were born in the upstream squabbles.

    None of this should represent the slightest obstacle to one who is on the path (where neither Northern nor Southern masters may be found).

    Buy and read an anthology of Suttas.

    Then decide…

  7. Manny Furious
    Manny Furious May 3, 2012 at 7:07 pm |

    I have strong opinions about "mental illness" but I won't go into them this time.

    Suffice it to say that I think it's best to leave it up to the individual and how they want to go about dealing with their issues. If they believe drugs will help them out and they're happy with the results, then they should continue on that route. If they prefer not to take drugs then that's fine, as well.

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 3, 2012 at 7:51 pm |

    Manny F said: "I have strong opinions about "mental illness" but I won't go into them this time."

    I get you Manny. mysterion has issues. I think he might be beyond help. But, maybe not.

  9. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 3, 2012 at 8:35 pm |

    Mysterion, I'm gonna have to stand in a bookstore and read one of these translations to find out what "jhana" is translated by these days- no more "trance", I guess the association with Dracula and mesmerized corpses is too much to associate with the Gautamid's teaching.

  10. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 3, 2012 at 11:07 pm |

    In Buddhistic Sanskrit the term is Dhyana.

    In Pali, jhana is willful (mindful???)concentration upon an object, for introductory purposes at least.


    Four "Steps" (Jhanas) on the Way

    or not.
    Jhana is a Pali word meaning "absorption."

    Yoga Bear.


    The nice thing is the shades of modulation that Dhyana is subjected to its use in CONTEXT. Although the word is frequently used, it takes on somewhat different meanings – usually subtle – and, in isolation, means anything from step, stage, increment, graduation, arrival, and so forth.

    Reading a few DIFFERENT scholarly interpretations of the same sutta is a start. Seeking out a scholar from Nepal or Lankasri is a second step, stage, or increment.

    I'ld say: "Go for it."

  11. anon #108
    anon #108 May 4, 2012 at 3:11 am |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 4, 2012 at 3:38 am |

    Have either of you experienced Jhana?

  13. anon #108
    anon #108 May 4, 2012 at 3:38 am |

    Mysti: The nice thing is the shades of modulation that Dhyana is subjected to its use in CONTEXT. Although the word is frequently used…in isolation, means anything from step, stage, increment, graduation, arrival, and so forth.

    DhyAna can be said to derive from a root – dhyai (or in some sources dhyA). The Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary gives the following as meanings of dhyai:

    "to think of, imagine, contemplate, meditate on, call to mind, recollect; to brood mischief against (in the taittiriya samhita); (alone) to be thoughtful or meditative; to let the head hang down (said of an animal); Pass. to be thought of."

    For the noun dhyAna MW gives: "meditation, thought, reflection, (esp.) profound and abstract religious meditation."

    All Sir Monier-Williams' translations will have been arrived at from examination of use of the word in CONTEXT.

  14. anon #108
    anon #108 May 4, 2012 at 3:42 am |

    Have either of you experienced Jhana?

    Me? Yes.
    As, I'll wager, have you.

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 4, 2012 at 4:30 am |

    But have you ever experienced Dirty Dhyana?

  16. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 4, 2012 at 6:20 am |

    108… Nope, not yet.

  17. anon #108
    anon #108 May 4, 2012 at 7:08 am |

    6.20am – You've never experienced a "state of profound stillness and concentration in which the mind becomes fully immersed and absorbed in the chosen object of attention"? Perhaps something you're listening to, or looking at, or thinking about…or not thinking about?

  18. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 4, 2012 at 7:35 am |

    Does porn count?

  19. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 4, 2012 at 7:37 am |

    Anonymous said…
    "Have either of you experienced Jhana?"

    To which, of the many, so-called 'Dhyana' states (or stages) do you refer. (the answer being probably)

    I fear that People who think (or believe) Dhyana is just one thing are being a bit simplistic.

    To me, it akin to thinking that everybody's Jesus if the same "spiritual being." Each "Jesus" is a manifestation of the individual mind that creates it.


  20. anon #108
    anon #108 May 4, 2012 at 8:00 am |

    Does porn count?

    Doesn't score well on "profound stillness". Not IME.

  21. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 4, 2012 at 8:07 am |

    I'll take Bela Lugosi, because the powerful phenomena in religious experience involve the relinquishment of self, of volition, of action. They are hypnogogic phenomena to me, meaning they concern a state of mind that occurs naturally in falling asleep or waking up. "Making self-surrender the object of thought", as the Gautamid put it; that's the only part that's volitive, and it could be argued that even that is a karmic thing.

    Folks look at teachers who have presence and figure they are "awakened", and certainly the story left by the Gautamid was that he had not only a transcendent experience but one coupled with his insight into the four truths; in an instant, his life was transformed, so much so that the first person he met on the road, to whom he revealed his transformed world-conquering status, walked right on by him and said "good luck". Fortunately for me and all of us I think, the Gautamid did eventually persuade those curmudgeonly five ascetics to listen to him, although at first they just figured he was a loser (from an ascetic point of view). Anyway, I think maybe the presence that is so charismatic has more to do with repeatedly waking up and falling asleep as appropriate, rather than with being permanently awakened. Toothpicks to hold the eyelids open, not the happiness of the four jhanas ("comb hair!", says Lugosi, gesturing hypnotically)

  22. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 4, 2012 at 10:51 am |

    Bela Lugosi is a good example.

    Bela Lugosi is Bela Lugosi and not Dracula. There are people who believe that Dracula exists or once existed. Beyond that there are people who believe that Dracula hypnotizes or once hypnotized. And, far-fetched as it seems, there are people who believe Bela Lugosi accurately or reasonably represents Dracula.

    So too, people want to compare 'Dhyana' states as if they are a 'figure of merit.'

    Such people often crave charismatic Shamanism. It is a genetically encoded characteristic that runs in families, tribes, and occasionally cultures.

    Your 'states' are your business and no concern of mine. My 'graduations' are likewise of little or no concern to you.

    When does this stage leave for Yuma?

  23. gniz
    gniz May 4, 2012 at 11:07 am |


    That last post @10:51 AM is probably the first time I've read something you wrote and considered the possibility you might just know something.

    I wish that happened more often.

  24. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 4, 2012 at 11:33 am |

    How about stream entry? Who's got stream entry?

  25. anonymous anonymous
    anonymous anonymous May 4, 2012 at 11:50 am |

    mysterion has a certain lack of charm that might be considered the opposite of charisma. But even I liked his last comment until he said, "It is a genetically encoded characteristic that runs in families, tribes". Gosh, I wonder what he meant by that???

  26. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 4, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  27. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 4, 2012 at 12:50 pm |

    How about stream entry? Who's got stream entry?

    Do urine streams count?

    "You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you." Heraclitus of Ephesus

  28. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 4, 2012 at 1:53 pm |

    until he said, "It is a genetically encoded characteristic that runs in families, tribes".

    Personality characteristics, like hair and eye color, seem to be genetically encoded.

    Therefore SOME characteristics – like 'compulsive addictive' or 'compulsive obsessive' or even 'compulsive' traits – can be traced to family lines.

    Studies of alcoholism in Eskimos is one of a thousand + examples.

    OTHER characteristics – like schizophrenia – are apparently developmental.

    The characteristic that interests me is that of the hermit (INTJ). My father lived out the last 17 years of his life as a hermit. At this stage in my life, I find the concept appealing.

    Perhaps I am transitioning from an ENTJ to an INTJ. (wait, and see).

    As for others, they also carry genetic markers that determine many of the choices they make. The myth of 'free will' is just another myth that is biting the dust.

    Sam Harris may just be on to something. Neural science is causing some rethinking [an obvious pun].

    Even the distinction between plant and animal is blurring. An animal, it appears, is a plant with a brain – for mobility.

    Since we are mobile and do move about, the genome is useful for separating the pepper from the fly sh*t.

    Generally, charismatic shamans favor the fly sh*t. But since even this is contained within their genetic make-up, there is nothing to do about it.

    Call it genetics, call it karma. Just don't call it Shela.


  29. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles May 4, 2012 at 2:06 pm |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  30. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles May 4, 2012 at 3:51 pm |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  31. Jinzang
    Jinzang May 4, 2012 at 5:07 pm |

    Brad, have you checked your royalty statements carefully? Here's one author who says she's been screwed by her publisher on her blog. It got hacked shortly afterwards.

  32. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 4, 2012 at 6:05 pm |

    Blogger Jinzang said…
    "Brad, have you checked your royalty statements carefully?"


    It's not about individual incomes. It's about corporate incomes.

    Taxes? Corporations don't pay those. Only individuals pay taxes.

    Privatize the assets.

    Socialize the liabilities.

    Who will pay for the two illegal wars by which corporate profits doubled and redoubled?


    Who will keep the profits?

    A few corporations – a very few corporations.

    It's the Republican way!

  33. Zenleo
    Zenleo May 4, 2012 at 6:09 pm |

    This guy even sort of looks like an old version of Brad:–abc-news-topstories.html

    Wish I could figure out how to do HTML on here, better yet they should have an interphase that makes it uneccessary.


  34. Zenleo
    Zenleo May 4, 2012 at 6:11 pm |

    Everyone on this board should send Brad $7 to stay in Ohio, either that or send him $7 to move to Maine.


  35. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 4, 2012 at 7:25 pm |

    Blogger Zenleo said…
    Wish I could figure out how to do HTML on here, better yet they should have an interphase [interface] that makes it uneccessary [unnecessary].

    inside < > you write:

    a href="http://etc&quot;

    after your link word, inside < > write:


    it looks like this:

    LINK to Universally Recognized (U.R.) Swami Hoo U. Tinka.

    under the "Leave your comment" box you see inside < >

    b for bold, begin
    i for italic, begin
    a for address, begin

    but they don't put:

    /b for bold, end
    /i for italic, end
    /a for address, end

    and they don't let us use:



    and a bunch of other stuff.

    In the day, the interface was Netscape Communicator.

  36. PhilBob-SquareHead
    PhilBob-SquareHead May 4, 2012 at 8:07 pm |

    R.I.P. Adam Yauch

    You old dudes on here don't know no Beastie shit

  37. Jamal
    Jamal May 4, 2012 at 9:09 pm |

    You the old dude Phil.. My boys ain't dying on me yet.

  38. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 4, 2012 at 10:44 pm |

    Myst, thanks for HTML info, I once used Netscape Communicator because I could edit a website I had with it, was more easy to edit with and I could upload to the remote directory (which is the way it worked then before these sort of blog things appeared). I will have to give it a shot

  39. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 4, 2012 at 10:50 pm |

    fuck yer Mom, fuck yer Mom's Mamma
    Fuck the Beastie Boys and the Dalai Lama….ICP

  40. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 5, 2012 at 3:36 am |

    bold text
    bold text

    italic text
    italic text

    link text
    link text

  41. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 5, 2012 at 3:46 am |

    Adam Yauch was a Buddhist.

    ICP are either idiots or willfully ignorant.

    "Magnets, how the fuck do they work?"

    A brief lesson on HMTL links.

  42. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 5, 2012 at 4:44 am |

    mysterion ^

  43. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 5, 2012 at 5:14 am |

    ^ Pretaville ^

  44. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 5, 2012 at 6:50 am |

    gniz ^

  45. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 5, 2012 at 9:26 pm |

    Zen Master get neurosis because of zen:

  46. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 6, 2012 at 9:19 am |

    As someone who suffers from bipolar I love the concept of telling the voices in your head to shut the hell up and go find your own body. Their talking to you, tell them to shut up.

    I have never heard voices but I do experience emotions that have no validity to them at all. I tell them to fuck off and do my best to ignore them. It's hard work but worth it. My take on most people with mental illness is that they are not willing to do the hard work.

  47. visachris
    visachris May 16, 2012 at 1:20 am |

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  48. Hakuin
    Hakuin May 18, 2012 at 8:22 am |

    "OTHER characteristics – like schizophrenia – are apparently developmental." –Schizophrenia is genetic at its base. So is Schizoaffective. You'll often find it runs in families along a genetic, rather than developmental, pathway.

    Many Mental Illnesses are, in fact, a combination. You find someone with a genetic predisposition and a series (or single) triggering event.

Comments are closed.