Staying Hungry

Tonight at 6:45pm I’m speaking at Austin Zen Center. Apparently the event is full. But lots of times people who sign up don’t actually show up. So there’s still hope…

Also SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP is now available as an audiobook from and so get yours today!You can ride around in your car with me talking to you about Dogen and punk rock. Wouldn’t that be groovy? HARDCORE ZEN is also available from and as well. I’m planning to do THERE IS NO GOD AND HE IS ALWAYS WITH YOU next if these do OK enough for me to want to lose my voice again from sitting at a desk reading a book out loud for several hours a day for a week.

I don’t quite know what I’m going to talk about tonight. I never do until I actually start talking. I’ll have a vague idea. But what comes out is always a surprise as much to me as it is to anyone else in the room. It’s a kind of magic that either works or it doesn’t.

If you want to hear what I said last Saturday at the Houston Zen Center here it is. Tell me if it’s any good. I can’t stand to listen to my own voice.

The day after I spoke in Houston, I hung around and heard a dharma talk by Sarah Emerson. That’s available as an MP3 too. She said her talk was about our relationship with joy. I know someone named Joy and I have a very complex relationship with her. But that’s not what Sarah was talking about. She was talking about what Buddhists often call “bliss” and Christians call “rapture” (though that always makes me think of the Blondie song). She wanted to use the word joy because that scales things down a little and is therefore easier to understand.

She also talked about gratitude. That’s a significant thing. These days New Age types who are into stuff like The Secret are always talking about “abundance” and “prosperity.” Yet these same people are usually, by the standards of the non-Western world or even the pre-modern Western world, already tremendously prosperous and live in great abundance. We always want more and more and more.

Believe me, I get this. I totally and completely get this. I own five bass guitars now. Five. Could my 18 year old self even imagine such abundance, such prosperity? When I was in Zero Defex in the early days I didn’t even own one bass guitar! I used to borrow the Fender Musicmaster that belonged to our singer or my friend Joe’s nice Rickenbacker. Yet I still go on eBay sometimes and fill my heart with lust for a white Gibson SG bass or one of those groovy Danelectro Longhorns.

It’s better to learn to be grateful for what you have. But we live in a consumer based society whose economics thrive on our longing for things we don’t really need. I don’t know the solution. If everybody stopped buying unnecessary things all at once, it would create a lot of suffering for those who depend on the current economic system. Yet if we keep consuming the way we do, we’re going to deplete our resources. Something has to change. If we don’t make that change, the change will be made for us by forces much larger than us, like nature itself. It’d be a lot less painful if we did it ourselves.

That’s the big picture, though. There’s a smaller picture as well, and it’s a lot easier to deal with that. At this moment, are we grateful for what we have? Or are we unsettled by what we want? Are we like the guy Louis C.K. sat next to on an airplane who complained bitterly that the wi-fi service he previously didn’t even know existed was temporarily down? I think that comedy bit is one of the greatest Buddhist teachings currently available. You can listen to it again and again just like a sutra. People should transcribe and chant that bit!

We are extremely lucky to live in a world where we can get what we need and get it pretty easily. Not everyone can do that. There was a long period of our human history when almost no one could do that. Now we can go down the street and buy a sandwich.

Just think about that for a moment. That is amazing. Allow yourself to be amazed by the fact that you can, right now, just go get yourself a sandwich.

We all have our wants. That will never change. There is no merit in beating yourself up for wanting stuff. Yet there is merit in learning to let your wants simply be. You feel unfulfilled. That’s fine. We all do. Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is getting what you want. So be grateful there is still something to want.

When I was in Japan I encountered a radically different way to think about eating. As an American I was taught (though never overtly) that the best thing to do when you were hungry was to eat until you didn’t feel hungry anymore. But in Japan, the idea is to stop eating when you’re still a little bit hungry.

If you’re used to the American way, this is a very hard thing to do. This is why Americans always complain about the small portions in Japanese restaurants. They misunderstand the point. They imagine that maybe the Japanese get full on those tiny portions. They don’t. That’s not the point. They’re not trying to eat until they’re full. They’re trying to eat until they’re just about full.

They’re trying to leave themselves a little hunger. It actually feels better to be a little bit hungry than it does to be completely full. Try it some time for yourself. I can’t say I always do it. But when I do, I am much happier with my life than I am when I eat until I can’t eat any more.

Hunger is not the enemy. Desire is not the enemy. It’s the way we deal with hunger and desire that makes us suffer. The best way to deal with want is to remaining wanting.

*   *   *

I want to get a sandwich. If you donate, maybe I can! But I’ll get a small one so I still want another.

*   *   *

Here’s my upcoming events schedule:

Sept. 9 Austin Zen Center

Oct. 1 Turku Panimoravintola Koulu, Finland– Movie screening

Oct. 2 Helsinki, Finland — Lecture Event

Oct. 3-5 Helsinki, Finland Zen retreat at Helsinki Zen Center

Oct. 6 Movie Screening in Espoo, Finland

Oct. 8 Lecture in Munich, Germany

Oct. 10-11 Retreat in Munich, Germany

Oct. 12-17 Retreat at Benediktushof near Würzburg, Germany

Oct 18-19 Retreat in Bonn, Germany

Oct 20 Hamburg, Germany

Oct 24: Lecture in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 25: Day-long zazen in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 26: Movie screening in Eindhoven, Netherlands at Natlab

Oct 27: Evening zazen in Eindhoven, Netherlands

Oct 28: Evening zazen in Nijmegen, Netherlands

Oct 29: Lecture in Amsterdam, Netherlands  at “De Roos” bookstore from 19.00-21.00  (P Cornelisz Hooftstr 183)

Oct 30: Lecture in Utrecht, Netherlands at “De wijze kater” bookstore from 19.00-21.00 ( Mariaplaats 1,  Utrecht)

Nov 1-2: Retreat in Utrecht, Netherlands

Nov. 2: Movie screening in Utrecht, Netherlands at ACU

Nov 6-8: Retreat in Hebden Bridge, UK

Nov 9: Noon — 5pm  Manchester, UK

27 Responses

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  1. Fred
    Fred September 9, 2014 at 12:04 pm |

    Eat a couple of sandwiches, fill up and go to bed full without wanting more or less.

  2. A beginner in Texas
    A beginner in Texas September 9, 2014 at 12:14 pm |

    I think a lesson that I have had to learn in life isn’t about staying hungry but in realizing when I have had “enough”. Too often I have reached the “too much” phase of consuming, be it food or booze or some other material thing.

    Finding the balance in one’s life that is at the heart of The Middle Way is what calls to me. To find the wisdom in seeing when enough is enough and finding contentment there.

  3. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer September 9, 2014 at 12:22 pm |

    At one time about five years ago I spent a lot of time trying to understand what the words happiness and joy described. I don’t think that it was wasted time.

    My conclusion was that happiness is a transient state of mind/body. It comes and goes and is really of no real importance. It’s a lot of fun while it lasts.

    Joy, in contrast, is a much more subtle. My best definition is that joy is a deep understanding that life is fundamentally good and worth living. You may be bored, happy or miserable, but joy can always be with you.

    To borrow the terminology that Joko Beck uses, happiness would be relative and joy absolute.

    I don’t claim that these are the “real” meanings of these terms. But it’s what works for me.


  4. Introducing Brad Warner | Gail Marsella September 9, 2014 at 1:41 pm |
  5. robert.connor
    robert.connor September 9, 2014 at 6:41 pm |

    Good talk tonight. I would have loved to have stayed and talked, I had a lot of questions, but I had to go back to work, as I uhh… didn’t notify them I’d be gone for like 2 hours.

    Good news, I followed your advice, Brad, and I did not get fired. Solid advice.

  6. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 9, 2014 at 9:52 pm |

    I feel a little hungry tonight. Maybe I’ll eat one of Brad Warner’s basses…

  7. sri_barence
    sri_barence September 10, 2014 at 9:39 am |

    Just listening to Louis C.K’s rant. Brad’s right. This is one of the best Dharma talks I’ve ever heard.

  8. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer September 10, 2014 at 10:13 am |

    Louis C.K. dharma talk is good And funny.

    However this is the best dharma talk I’ve ever heard.


  9. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 10, 2014 at 7:48 pm |

    I gotcha dhamma right heya:

  10. Harlan
    Harlan September 10, 2014 at 8:44 pm |

    I’ll raise your dhamma and call you on your high fashion queen..

  11. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 10, 2014 at 9:13 pm |
  12. Fred
    Fred September 11, 2014 at 4:01 pm |

    Another leftover:

    ” I can also spot intellectual narcissism a mile off — for obvious reasons.”

    Intellectual, supported thought is narcissism.

  13. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 11, 2014 at 6:54 pm |

    Love’s gonna live here again.

  14. Andy
    Andy September 12, 2014 at 4:52 am |

    ” ” I can also spot intellectual narcissism a mile off — for obvious reasons.”

    Intellectual, supported thought is narcissism.”

    Yes, this is a version of the truism ‘everyone is narcissistic to some extent’. But take care. Such truisms can be used meretriciously by someone who has been more narcissistic than the baseline which that truism indicates.

    1. Fred
      Fred September 12, 2014 at 4:05 pm |
      1. minkfoot
        minkfoot September 12, 2014 at 8:07 pm |

        Scriptural authority, Fred?

        Really, Fred?

        1. Fred
          Fred September 13, 2014 at 10:13 am |

          “Scriptural authority, Fred?”

          What does this mean?

          “Really, Fred?”

          Really, what?

  15. Fred
    Fred September 12, 2014 at 4:07 pm |

    “This is how we understand the work of practice on the mind. The completion state is like that of the wooden spoon referred in the gongan about Master Qingping. In the state of no-leaking, discursive thought and its accompanying vexation have lost their power to self-generate and self-propagate. Confusion vanishes like random background noise dissipating. With the vexation removed, the mind becomes clear, bright and completely relieved, as if we have cast off a heavy load.

    In the state of no-leaking, the mind switches from dualistic to non-dualistic perception, with no boundary and no opposition. One also appreciates the inconceivable, simultaneous existence of absolute independence and universal unification with all things.”

  16. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 12, 2014 at 5:39 pm |

    “Making self surrender the object of thought, one lays hold of concentration, lays hold of single-pointedness of mind.” Gautama the Joker

    In the state of (single-pointedness of mind), the mind switches from dualistic to (single-pointed) perception, with no boundary and no opposition. One also appreciates the inconceivable, simultaneous existence of absolute independence (of single-pointedness of mind) and universal unification with (sensory activity, including proprioception of things apart from the visual sense).

    One appreciates that there’s nobody home, yet home sits up and takes notice.

    Get these monkeys outta my hair!…

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot September 12, 2014 at 8:09 pm |

      Gotta get up and walk around, do’n cha know.

  17. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 12, 2014 at 9:30 pm |

    thanks, mink’er, I’ll do that…

  18. Fred
    Fred September 13, 2014 at 4:12 pm |

    Getting up hungry and walking around with monkeys in your hair

    1. Fred
      Fred September 14, 2014 at 5:02 pm |

      “Blood is on the table
      The mouths are all choking
      But I’m goin’ hungry

      I don’t mind stealing bread
      From the mouths of decadents
      But I can’t feed on the powerless
      When my cup’s already overfilled

      But it’s on the table
      The fire is cooking
      And they’re farming babies
      The slaves are all working”

  19. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 13, 2014 at 4:34 pm |

    Went to the State Fair again last night this time w/my nineteen-year old daughter. We were on this sky hook ride that glides you high above the scene and at one point I spotted far down below amongst the crowded acres of side shows, rides, and eateries, a lone green tent with the words (painted large in red:) TOUCH A MONKEY.

    Yes, you could actually TOUCH a monkey it would seem (we didn’t find out), and wouldn’t it be fun to watch his cute little face light up when you do something un-monkey like enough to…

  20. William
    William September 14, 2014 at 4:37 am |

    Hi Brad. Any plans to fit in a trip to London on your England trip?

  21. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 14, 2014 at 10:20 pm |

    “Give me those slippers!”

    these guys are hungry:

Comments are closed.