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 audible.com and amazon.com 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 audible.com and amazon.com 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 WÃ¼rzburg, 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