Stuff Part 3

Last night I reread the previous thing I put up here, “Stuff Part 2.” And I realized that what I wrote could be taken two ways. In one sense it’s about a guy trying to throw away stuff that he’s accumulated in a storage unit. But it could also be taken metaphorically.

I’m kind of dumb that way. When I read the Bhagavad Gita  a long time ago, I thought it was a story about God coming down and helping a guy in a battle. Someone had to tell me that the five horses of Krishna’s chariot represent the five senses, that Krishna and Arjuna represent the personal self and the more elevated self riding in the same chariot of the body, and so on. I was too dense to get that on my own. Seems I’m the same way with my own writing.

Our personality, our ego, is like a storage unit in which we keep all the things we don’t want to let go of. We know that eventually we’ll have to let go of everything. But right now we don’t. So we keep it. Some of us are very protective of our storage units. We spend a lot of time organizing the stuff inside, reminding ourselves of what’s there, defending it against those who might want to steal it, or just defending it against the unavoidable decay that all things undergo. Others of us are less protective of our stuff. But we keep it anyway and we don’t really want to let it go anymore than the more protective folks do.

If you realize that you have to let go of the stuff in the storage unit that is your self, and you know you need help to do that, who would be best to call upon? Going back to my own actual concrete and metal storage unit in Durham, NC, I was very lucky to have my friend Catie help me.

Catie understood very clearly what I was going through last weekend. She has her own stuff. She doesn’t care much about Ultraman and Godzilla junk. But she’s a huge fan of Morrissey. She’s even gone so far as traveling to England or far flung parts of the USA just to attend his concerts. The way she tells it, even waiting in line for tickets to see Morrissey is a magical experience for her. She has, in her apartment (the Lady Cave) what she calls her Shrine to Morrissey. In this shrine is a collection of memorabilia collected during those journeys. She may not understand what I see in a kids’ TV superhero show from Japan. But she knows what it’s like to have stuff that’s important to you and that other people can’t really understand the significance of. In the more metaphorical process of cleaning out the self, you need that kind of helper.

A lot of people will reject certain teachers because they believe they are flawed and therefore cannot teach them the perfection that they seek. They search, instead, for teachers who they view as pure and untainted. But what they’re seeking when they look for that is someone to help them get rid of the stuff in their storage unit who cannot understand why they’re keeping stuff in a storage unit at all. I’m not really sure that would be the best kind of help one could ask for.

Besides that, I think these kinds of “perfected teachers” are mostly the stuff of legend. They’re mythical creatures much like the Loch Ness Monster. I use Nessie as my example because I, Brad, the guy writing this, truly wants to believe that the Loch Ness Monster is real. I want to believe that there actually is a living plesiosaurus swimming around in a lake in Scotland. Seriously. But I’ve looked at the evidence and none of it holds up to careful scrutiny. As much as I wish it were true, I have to admit that it’s probably not.

The greatest teachers, in my estimation, are those who understand what it’s like to have a storage unit of the self. Oh Jesus what a horrible clunky metaphor! But I’m gonna run with it. My teachers, Tim and Nishijima, are not ego-less “perfected masters.” They are, in fact, both people with very strong egos and very clear attachments. My troll Gniz was criticizing me recently for not pointing out the flaws in my own teachers. I refrain from doing so because they’re also my friends, and you don’t go on the Internet and reveal the hidden flaws of your friends. That’s not nice. That’s also a good way to lose a friendship.

But suffice it to say, they have flaws. It’s not that they have no stuff in their storage units that appeals to me and works for me. Rather it’s the way they deal with the stuff they’ve chosen to keep in there. It’s very different from the way that most people deal with it. The differences are subtle, so subtle sometimes that most people would miss them completely. But they are deep and profound. These men have discovered a way to both keep that stuff in their storage unit and not keep it at the same time. It’s the kind of trick that I would have thought impossible. And I’ve spent years and years and years with both of them watching very carefully for signs of sleight of hand. But I’ve come away convinced that what I’m seeing is actually true. And because it’s true it cannot be magic. It must be something that I can do too.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi said that, in practicing Zen, you have to clean out your room. He followed up by saying that sometimes you’ll bring all the stuff back into the room after you’ve taken it out. But, he said, you have to take it all out first. I would also add here that most people will end up throwing away a lot of things, but still taking back the most important ones. This is precisely like what you do when clearing out an actual storage unit.

If you threw everything away, you’d also throw away those things that make you most effective in helping others clean out their storage units. You’d throw away the attachment to your stuff that makes you a good sympathizer to someone who needs it.

Understand that this stuff doesn’t necessarily need to be actual physical stuff. Some people have no possessions at all, yet still manage to cling very hard to their personal stuff anyhow. Sometimes the very fact that they own nothing becomes a huge thing that they own and are completely unwilling or even unable to get rid of.

Anyway, those are the thoughts on this matter that were swimming around in my head and demanding to be written down when Crum the Cat woke me up this morning. I was unable to go back to sleep, even though I seriously needed to, until I typed them out. And so now here they are for you to enjoy.

And with that, I will begin another day of getting rid of stuff. Yesterday I sold six big boxes of books, DVDs and CDs. Today I’m hoping to cut things down even more. I will not get rid of all of it. Not just yet anyway. But the time will come eventually. Do please consider making a donation to help me move the important stuff I have to keep. I hate to say that shit and sound like a damned televangelist. But this move is costing me a god-damned fortune no matter how much junk I unload and my battered PT Cruiser is going to need some upkeep in order to make it out to the West Coast in one piece.

93 Responses

Page 1 of 2
  1. Danny
    Danny May 25, 2012 at 5:28 am |

    Hey Brad,

    nice you got rid of that stuff 😉

    In a comment you said that one should bring the zazen-attitude to daily life regarding practice in daily life. What attitude did you mean by that?

    Thank you!


  2. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner May 25, 2012 at 5:33 am |

    I just mean that you take the attitude that develops as you sit, and apply it to the things that confront you during the say.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 5:36 am |

    If you realize that you have to let go of the stuff in the storage unit that is your self…

    If you realize that all the stuff in your storage unit is you, then that means the stuff lets go of itself, right?

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 5:39 am |

    Doesn't this metaphor relate to the whole 'polishing a tile to make a mirror' thing?

  5. Moni
    Moni May 25, 2012 at 5:58 am |

    I wish, I could have met Mr. Nishijima myself. Sometimes in master and student relationships contrasts balance out each other quite well. Chaotic people search for peaceful masters, slow ones for someone who shakes them up.

  6. May 25, 2012 at 7:14 am |

    Great post, Brad. This was a lot more coherent than you gave it credit for.

    I'm going through a similar strip-down-and-simplify phase in my life right now, although that could be nothing more than spring cleaning being way overdue in my house. I'm discovering, as you might expect, a lot of the stuff I thought was so important simply isn't — or, maybe better to say, the importance I attached to those things was based on attitudes I've discovered, on closer inspection, that I simply don't have anymore. But sometimes the only way you know you have changed in such a way is by putting your feet to the fire a bit.

  7. Marty
    Marty May 25, 2012 at 7:18 am |

    Hi Brad,

    I'm trying to get Nishijimas idea of Buddhist philosophy but I'm still struggling to understand what he means with 'materialism', the second viewpoint. 

    In the MNK commentaries he says (Page 4) "materialism (the philosophy that what we perceive through our Sense organs is reality" but that definition of materialism seems rather Strange to me. 

    Isn't materialism (Quoted from Wikipedia) : "the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter or energy; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance, and reality is identical with the actually occurring states of energy and matter."

    This is what I think of as materialism and probably most people do?

    So what is Nishijima meaning with Materialism? Maybe you've a better idea of his ideas than what comes from the Books and can help me understand…

    Thank you!


  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 7:30 am |

    dont know what youre talking about. never heard a teacher claiming he is "perfect"

  9. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner May 25, 2012 at 7:49 am |

    dont know what youre talking about. never heard a teacher claiming he is "perfect"

    Really? There are so many of them out there! Just look a little harder.

    But I'm not really talking about teachers who claim to be perfect. Some will imply this without stating it. But even that isn't really what I'm getting at.

    It's more about the student. You set up an idea of what "perfect" looks like and search the world for something that looks like your idea. God forbid you actually find it!

    It doesn't really matter if your idol claims to be perfect or not. If you believe it, that's enough. If you believe it but think you don't believe it that can also be enough to cause problems.

  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 7:49 am |

    well, brad's not perfect, you know…

  11. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 7:51 am |

    I dig this post. The storage unit metaphor might be clunky, but I think you've helped me be a bit more forgiving about the stuff I keep in my own personal storage unit. Thanks!

  12. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner May 25, 2012 at 7:55 am |

    In the MMK commentaries he says (Page 4) "materialism (the philosophy that what we perceive through our Sense organs is reality)" but that definition of materialism seems rather Strange to me.

    How do we know matter? Why is it that we decide that matter is "out there?" Where do we get our information regarding matter from?

    We see it, we feel it, we taste it, we hear it. In short, we examine the information the brain receives through the sense organs and organize that information into a theory of what's out there. But do we really know what's out there?

    Ultimately materialism is the idea that the input we receive through our sense organs is reliable. We test our theory by comparing it with what others tell us about the input they receive. But we also receive this information through our sense organs.

    We — whoever or whatever we are — receive data from sources we perceive as "outside" and sources we perceive as "inside." The stuff from outside is what the Heart Sutra calls "form." The stuff from inside is what the Heart Sutra calls emptiness. Of course there are other interpretations. But this is one crucial aspect.

    The Heart Sutra posits that both what is outside and what is inside are ultimately one thing, which is neither outside nor inside.

  13. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 8:47 am |

    Brad said…
    "How do we know matter? Why is it that we decide that matter is "out there?" Where do we get our information regarding matter from?

    We see it, we feel it, we taste it, we hear it. In short, we examine the information the brain receives through the sense organs and organize that information into a theory of what's out there. But do we really know what's out there?

    Sounds like you are talking about an argument made by George Berkeley against Materialism…

  14. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 8:49 am |

    ogo pogo

  15. anon #108
    anon #108 May 25, 2012 at 8:49 am |

    Marty –

    If you haven't yet read it…

    Three Philosophies and One Reality

  16. gniz
    gniz May 25, 2012 at 9:22 am |

    Brad said: "My troll Gniz was criticizing me recently for not pointing out the flaws in my own teachers."

    I didn't mean that you should personally attack your own teachers and their intimate quirks and failures.

    I meant that you sometimes show a disconcerting lack of cutting insight into your own sect's dogma. In other words, while you'll take a scalpel to "mindfulness" or "kensho", you won't take the same scalpel to zazen or Gudo's balancing of the ANS mumbo jumbo.

    Yes these people are your friends but you have a pretty cutting way with other people's philosophies.

    I was saying that you come off hypocritical and a bit biased when you only cut down people from other sects.

    Like your storage room analogy, I would equate this to trying to teach science to people who don't believe in evolution. You want to do that, but you don't want to teach people about the real way the ANS works because it doesn't jive with Gudo's version (this is a poor analogy but you get my drift).

    I don't think that you should spend time skewering other people's sacred cows when you won't do so to your own. That doesn't mean personally attacking your friends and teachers and I'm not sure if you misunderstood my point, or just conveniently misstated it because it's easier to do that then really look at what I was getting at.

    Also, your ebook is still priced way too high, which is why the ranking dropped from 5,000 to 35,000 in a few days.

  17. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 9:59 am |

    Brad, thank you for this post. It has proved very inspirational for me.

    I find your work much more than simply a "scalpel." Your writing has too much vitality to categorized so simply as such.

    People see what they wanna see I guess. *shrug*

  18. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 10:02 am |

    thanks for your answer!

  19. Voie de Vie
    Voie de Vie May 25, 2012 at 10:03 am |

    Brad – on meanings and mythology, why can't it be both, or many? Why the duality, either this or that meaning. Denseness has very little to do with it … we all have our own ways of relating to and getting into mythology, having a lot to do with our own momentary internal states.

    What if someone never told you it wasn't cool to like Velvet Elvis?

  20. gniz
    gniz May 25, 2012 at 10:19 am |

    Btw I liked this post overall. I just disagree with how Brad characterized my criticism of him. And yes, Anon from above, people do see what they want to see.

    For instance, you saw my use of the word scalpel As demeaning Brad's writIng, when in actuality it was a compliment. A scalpel is a surgical tool used to do very fine, delicate work–which I think Brad does.

    My issue is with the scalpel only being applied to safe subjects like mindfulness or kensho or even enlightenment, which brad and gudo and dogen sangha have particular views on. It's not challenging for Brad to pick apart those subjects.

    For hI'm to tackle zazen or the balancing of the ANS with his scalpel would be a whole different ball of wax and very shocking to his circles. Which is why he won't ever do it. At heart brad is still a pretty conservative guy in that way.

  21. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 10:33 am |

    Interesting gniz…I thought his criticism of you was spot on…but what can ya do?

    Personally, I don't think Brad is not putting "the scalpel" to zazen and ANS because it would be "shocking." Man…give the guy SOME credit.

    If zazen and ANS don't speak to you, it's all good. It just looks pretty uncouth to be trolling on a guy's work just because you don't feel the same.

  22. gniz
    gniz May 25, 2012 at 10:47 am |

    Hey anon. Maybe you are right. Brad does what he does and I do get a lot out of his writing. Maybe the parts I disagree with I should just keep to myself. Yes. I think you are correct in that assessment.

  23. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 25, 2012 at 10:49 am |

    Your post was good, I bought you a cup of coffee and a doughnut. If I get a job I'll buy you half a tank.

    Gniz, it's good that you can slice 'n dice the Gud's mumbo-jumbo. Nice fresh ANS-PNS salad, with little bits of zazen McCarthy-style on the side. Good job pointing out that nobody teaches the practice that is the heart of the school, they just stagger around mumbling "I encourage you to practice zazen wholeheartedly" to the walls.

    That is probably why the teachers who brought the teaching West had to be impressive. They had a mouthful of marbles, and could not express the true Tao in words because Lao Tzu clearly ruled that out. Of course, the cultures that embraced Lao Tzu, Ch'an, and Zen wound up stuck in a medieval world, until the materialists demonstrated that it actually is possible to describe some subtle relationships in words that can be communicated and as a consequence manufacture heavy arms, after which these cultures raced to embrace the description of relationships for the manufacture of heavy arms.

    We in the West, not seeing any need for Eastern wisdom when in fact we could overcome many of the sources of suffering through the description in words of subtle relationships of nature and when in fact we could pillage the natural resources of the countries that embraced indigenous traditions or wisdom traditions to abet our material addiction, never applied our ability to describe in words the subtle relationships of nature to the relationships at the heart of the Eastern wisdom traditions.

    Now I would say a description of the practice of zazen can be made in words. This was the first thing that Dogen tried to do when he got back to Japan, and to me the high point of the civilization of China that occurred just prior to Dogen's arrival there.

    Right now my description is that the pulmonary and cranial-sacral respirations cause consciousness to take place where the feeling and impact that result "…(can cause) physical anxieties to decrease, and mental anxieties to decrease, and bodily torments… and mental torments… and bodily fevers to decrease, and mental fevers to decrease… (so that such a one) experiences happiness of body and happiness of mind. (with respect to the visual sense, and each of the other five sense organs).

    Not the Loch Ness monster, but very similar to balanced ANS-PNS or the heart of the practice of zazen, to me. I'm impressed that Houdini knew how to be one with the unconscious processes of the body and mind, until his balance and his breathing could be one inside that coffin. Kids, don't try this at home, and here comes the stick if you try this at the zendo.

  24. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 11:02 am |

    Did somebody say UNCOUTH?

  25. James Randall
    James Randall May 25, 2012 at 11:36 am |

    wow, this same topic has been rattling around in my head for the last couple of weeks, since i moved from a house into an apt.

    feels good to get rid of stuff i've been lugging around – why is that?

    dumped my baseball card collection last week. anybody want 80 various rock cds?

    thanks for your patronage!

  26. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 25, 2012 at 12:06 pm |

    Here's an illustration of the pulmonary and cranial-sacral respirations causing consciousness to take place as though "waking up and falling asleep", taken from an Egyptian temple somewhere.

    and here's a poster and article about Harry, and sadly a man who died attempting to demonstrate the same feat in Canada in 2009.

  27. Truckston Burnside
    Truckston Burnside May 25, 2012 at 2:11 pm |

    You are an extremely intelligent individual. Rarely do I come across a blog like this.
    I've been doing my own website/blog lately, although it isn't nearly impressive or as deep as yours, although it does explore zen philosophies. In case you are interested:

  28. Hardly Chrome-Mag
    Hardly Chrome-Mag May 25, 2012 at 3:55 pm |

    This months tricycle also features an article referencing the balancing of the ANS. It is compared to balancing active spastic activity of the mind and the quiet digestive state. Whether or not this stuff is scientifically provable it works even as a metaphor. People who get all hung up on what Nishijima "means' I think are looking for a way out of just sitting.

    After all, in our culture we act as if finding one mistake in someones utterances invalidates everything else they ever said or did.

    If you really sit then nothing Nishijima or anyone else says can "ruin" it for you.

  29. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 6:15 pm |

    I head the Loch Ness Monster was a hoarder!

  30. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 11:25 pm |

    Well written. Beware the teacher who claims perfection is not perfection so therefore any teaching can be perfection. Slap them in the face cuz they need it. Finding perfection in a teacher will be a truly hellish experince. Like ending up in heaven or having any other sort of dream come to reality.

    However if you throw perfection, heaven or dreams out of your storage unit you will also end up in a bad way.

    So be careful what you keep in your room…

  31. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 26, 2012 at 3:03 am |

    S.N. Goenka talks about students preconceptions about teachers about half way through this video.

    Here are 10 other dharma discourses by Goenka.

  32. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 26, 2012 at 8:03 am |

    Was Dogen FOR or AGAINST the 5 Ranks of Master Tozan?

  33. Gordon
    Gordon May 26, 2012 at 8:13 am |

    The 5 Ranks of Master Tozan sounds like the title of a Lau Kar-Fai film.

  34. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 26, 2012 at 8:14 am |

    "Your kung fu is weak!"

  35. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 26, 2012 at 8:17 am |

    The only reason I ask is that I am reading that Dogen used them throughout his Shobogenzo even though he disparaged them… And I have heard people here say that Dogen was completely against them.

  36. buddy
    buddy May 26, 2012 at 11:04 am |

    Brad, This goes back a few posts, but is relevant to your new book: I just finished reading 'Buddha is the Center of Gravity' by Sasaki, and no where within does the quote 'There is no God and he is your Creator' appear. What he does say, according to an anecdote in the preface by a student, is 'There is no God! But He is always with you.' So either he said the former elsewhere, or your memory transfigured the latter, or that musician guy is right and you ripped him off :p.

  37. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 26, 2012 at 11:16 am |

    oem in a Straight Line – Fernando Pessoa
    I never knew who had never been screwed up in life.
    Everyone I know have been champions in everything.

    And I so often paltry, often pork, often vile,
    I often unanswerable parasite,
    Unexcusable dirty,
    I, who often have no patience even to take a bath
    I, who so often have been ridiculous, absurd,
    I wrapped the feet of carpet in publicly labels,
    I have been grotesque, petty, arrogant and submissive,
    I have suffered and insults quiet
    And when I do not have been quiet, I have been even more ridiculous;
    I, who have been hilarious for the servants of hotel,
    I, I felt the eyes of guys blink of freight,
    I, who have made financial shame, borrowed without pay,
    I, that when the time's punch came, I have been crouching down
    Out the possibility of the punch;
    I, who have suffered the anguish of the silly little things,
    I see that I dont have a pair in it all in this world.

    All the people I know and talk to me
    Never had a ridiculous act, never suffered insults,
    They were always nothing but a prince – all princes – in life …

    I wish to hear the voice of someone
    Who confess not a sin, but a scandal;
    That counts, not the violence, but a cowardly!
    They are all the Ideal, that I hear and speak.
    Who in this wide world must confess that once was vile?
    Oh princes, my brothers,

    Go, I'm sick of demigod!
    Where are people in this world?

    So only I am who is vile and wrong in this land?

    Women may not have been loved them,
    May have been betrayed – but not ridiculous!
    And I, I have been ridiculous and haven't been betrayed,
    How can I talk to my superiors without waver?
    I, that have been vile, vile literally,
    Vil in the sense of dread and petty meanness.

    Fernando Pessoa (under the pseudonym of Alvaro de Campos)

  38. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 26, 2012 at 11:55 am |

    Speaking of god, would you send you children to a public school or would you rather have them reared in a Roman (~Roam~) Cathaholic Church?

  39. anon #108
    anon #108 May 26, 2012 at 2:18 pm |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  40. anon #108
    anon #108 May 26, 2012 at 2:20 pm |

    Hi 8.17am,

    Re Dogen and Tozan's Five Ranks –

    This is an excerpt from the Shobogenzo chapter called Butsudo, 'The Buddhist Truth':

    To each individual monk who pursues real mastery in practice, I issue a stern warning: Do not retain the random names of the five sects, and do not retain any concept of lineages or customs belonging to five sects. How much less should there be “the three kinds of profundity,” “the three pivots,” “the four thoughts,” “the four relations between reflection and action,” “the nine standards,” and so on. How much less should there be “the three phrases,” “the five relative positions,”* and “the ten kinds of shared true wisdom.” The truth of Old Master ??kyamuni is not small thinking like that, and it does not esteem thinking like that as great.'

    *A footnote clarifies: "Go-i, five relative positions of the absolute and the relative, expounded by Master T?zan and modified by Master S?zan. See also Chapter Sixty-six, Shunj?.

    Sounds to me like Dogen didn't believe reality could be usefully or meaningfully divided up or analysed. But Dogen said and wrote a lot, in different contexts, for different audiences at different times and from different points of view.

    As to whether Dogen used the Five Ranks throughout the Shobogenzo –

    Some people, I've read, insist it's obvious that he did. Others say he didn't. Others might say that you can't avoid speaking in terms of degrees of the relative and absolute if you're talking about the truth, so he did but not 'knowingly'. Others might say you can read what he wrote any way you want to, and see all sorts of patterns of this, that and the other in it.

  41. anon #108
    anon #108 May 26, 2012 at 2:33 pm |

    Dogen also has a go at "the relative and the absolute" in Chapter 66, Shunju, 'Spring and Autumn' (referenced above).

    I'm no expert, but it seems to me that Dogen had more to say than could be contained in a neat five-stage arrangement of the relative and the absolute…Whatever they might be.

    You can find the two chapters here (in volume three of the online Nishijima/Cross translation of Shobogenzo) –

  42. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 26, 2012 at 2:35 pm |

    What do you think of the debate Anon#108…?

    I would like to know your opinion… I believe you were one of the ones who I saw who were of the opinion that Dogen did not use the Five Ranks.

  43. anon #108
    anon #108 May 26, 2012 at 2:52 pm |

    I believe you were one of the ones who I saw who were of the opinion that Dogen did not use the Five Ranks

    Moi?? I can't recall ever saying so, anon. If I did I backtrack with immediate effect.

    What do you think of the debate Anon#108…?

    Like I say, I'm no expert on Dogen or the Five Ranks. I haven't found that I need to use the Five Ranks as a tool to unlock Dogen's writing. And I'm not interested from a scholastic point of view.

    I believe I hear what Dogen's saying in the passage(s) above, and I agree with him. I don't find discussions of the 'relative' and the 'absolute' useful.

  44. Malcolm
    Malcolm May 26, 2012 at 2:59 pm |

    Yeah, but you're dead keen on Three Philosophies, One Reality, right?

  45. anon #108
    anon #108 May 26, 2012 at 2:59 pm |

    Don't start.

  46. anon #108
    anon #108 May 26, 2012 at 3:06 pm |

    Perhaps I dodged your question, anon. FWIW, I don't think Dogen deliberately employed "Tozan's Five Ranks". But you can read him that way if you want to.

  47. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner May 26, 2012 at 3:10 pm |

    Brad, This goes back a few posts, but is relevant to your new book: I just finished reading 'Buddha is the Center of Gravity' by Sasaki, and no where within does the quote 'There is no God and he is your Creator' appear.

    That is true. I remembered it wrong. But I'm going with the wrongly remembered version.

  48. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner May 26, 2012 at 3:24 pm |

    The 5 Ranks of Master Tozan sounds like the title of a Lau Kar-Fai film.

    Truer words were never spoken.

    It's been so long since I read Dogen's comments on this that I don't feel qualified to answer as to his opinion. I do remember the quote cited by Anon #108 and that sounds pretty disparaging about the system. It's also possible that Dogen contradicts himself about this subject elsewhere in his writings. He does that all the time.

    My own opinion is that the systems of ranking levels of enlightenment that are in use now are ridiculous.

    In Shobogenzo, Dogen quotes the old story about Bodhidharma telling his students individually, "You have my skin," "You have my flesh," "You have my bones" and "You have my marrow." Dogen said that we shouldn't see the student who was told he had Bodhidharma's marrow as somehow better than the one who was told he had his skin. Having skin is fully having skin.

    It's useless to try and assign some kind of objective ranking to these things. It makes no sense at all. Is one poet objectively better than another? Was Michelangelo a better painter than Picasso? Are either of them objectively better than the painters whose paintings hang inside your local Holiday Inn Express? How do you rank things like that?

    I like The Ramones much better than Yes. The Ramones speak to me while Yes, although far more technically accomplished, say nothing to me. But there are others who think just the opposite. Which of us is objectively right and which is objectively wrong?

    Now if you're talking about ranks in terms of one's subjective experience in Zen, this is also ridiculous if you ask me. Your experience of this moment is fully and completely what it is.

    There's a book out now called Beating Devils and Burning Their Books in which a guy spends a whole chapter tearing up Hardcore Zen. In particular it angers him that I wrote about what he believes to be an enlightenment experience but that I failed to understand the significance of that moment by letting it go.

    But that experience was fully whatever it was, and this experience now of typing up an answer to someone on my blog is fully what it is. To rank one above the other seems to me to be missing the point entirely. And by "the point" I mean THE POINT of life itself. To dwell on the memory of some past experience, however enlightened that experience might have been, makes me miss what's going on at this real moment.

    So if you ask me, the whole idea of Five Ranks is just silly.

  49. anon #108
    anon #108 May 26, 2012 at 3:49 pm |


    Do all the "Dogen is a Five Ranks guy" crowd read the ranks as five progressive stages of enlightenment? I'd hoped it was a bit more subtle than that. But maybe not.

    Anyway…Yeah. What you said.

  50. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 26, 2012 at 4:19 pm |

    Coming soon to a theater near you…

    The incredible spiritual journey of Brad Warner continues…



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