I’m stuck here at a Days Inn in Wytheville, Virginia after my alternator belt broke just outside of Bland, Virginia (yes, it’s a real place) on the way down to Durham, North Carolina to clear out a storage space I rent down there. I’m gonna type a blog post until the repair shop calls me. Hopefully this will be short!
The reason I have stuff in storage in Durham is because a couple years ago, I decided I had to leave Los Angeles. I was paying a lot of rent on an apartment I wasn’t even living in half the year as I traveled around spreading the Good News of Zen to the people of the world. But I wasn’t earning as much on these trips as I was paying to rent that place. Something had to give.
I’d heard good things about the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area and had a few friends there. So I decided I’d move to Chapel Hill. I was about to leave for two months in Europe. So I packed up everything and sent it to a storage space in Durham. Then I lived in other people’s houses, apartments, closets and floorspace for nearly a year. At the end of that year I decided I didn’t want to move to Chapel Hill. After a brief stint in Brooklyn, I ended up living in Akron. But I didn’t intend to stay in Akron for the long haul. So I just left my stuff in Durham.
I used to scoff at people who had storage spaces. If you had so much stuff that you needed to put some of it in a place where you couldn’t even get to it, then you had too much stuff! And now here I am having to deal with my own stuff…
There’s an idea that a good Buddhist should have no stuff at all. She should only own one bowl and two robes. She should live off the good graces of people who respond to her calling to the truth by supplying her with food and shelter.
That’s a nice ideal. Buddha’s original group of monks and nuns were able, it is said, to live like that in Northern India 2500 years ago. But times have changed. I doubt many people could live like that in Northern India today let alone anywhere else in the world. I also have nagging doubts about Buddha’s original monks actually having lived that way even back then. For one thing, to “leave home” in those days meant going a few miles or less away from home. Which meant you could leave your stuff there if you needed to. I’ll bet you a case of doughnuts a lot of monks and nuns did just that. Of course, some were probably very strict with themselves about this. I just doubt that all of them were.
There are lots of misconceptions about contemporary Buddhist monks with regards to stuff. For example, one would think that a guy whose nickname was “Homeless Kodo” probably owned nothing but his robes and a change of underwear. In fact, the word yadonashi (???, homeless) that was applied to Kodo Sawaki referred to the fact that he did not have his own home temple like most Zen teachers. He did, in fact, have a home to live in. What’s more, his student Kosho Uchiyama complained that as Kodo’s attendant he was required to lug mountains of Kodo’s books whenever Kodo went out on the road to lead retreats. Homeless Kodo had stuff.
Like Kodo, most of what I own is books. It’s probably no shock that most writers are terrible book fanatics. I’ve got a Kindle and I can see the logic of it. But I’ll never get over my affection for actual books on real paper. Which is unfortunate because books take up lots of space and they weigh a ton. They are made of wood!
Every Buddhist monk, male or female, that I’ve known has owned stuff. Most of them are fairly modest in terms of what “normal” people own. But they all have more than their begging bowls and their robes. Most of them, in fact, suffer from the same book collecting disease as I do. Though most of them have “better” books than me. I have lots more Three Stooges books than any other monk I know.
Stuff is a burden and a responsibility. I wish I had less of it. I understand that my inability to simply get rid of things is a sign of being too attached to them.
But it is much easier to espouse an ideal of living simply than it is to actually throw things away that you put a lot of effort into acquiring. If you’ve tried it, you’ll know exactly what I mean. This weekend I have enlisted the help of my good friend Catie who I have instructed to ignore my pleas when I tell her that I absolutely have to keep certain things. I’m very lucky to have a friend like that. Plus I’m giving her some of my collectibles so she can sell them to pay for her upcoming wedding in exchange for this service.
I always feel unburdened whenever I can get rid of things. And yet, having things is not always bad. It is because some people held on to their stuff and took care of it that we know about our history. My friend Jimi (lead singer of 0DFx) is a pack rat who collects all kinds of stuff related to Northeast Ohio rock and roll history. He’ll be exhibiting some of his stuff soon in downtown Akron (I’ll have the details when I get them). I’m very grateful for his work. Historians everywhere are grateful for pack rats like Jimi. This includes Buddhist historians. We wouldn’t even have some of our most important sutras if it weren’t for people who valued their personal stuff and kept it nice. There were times in history where Buddhism was persecuted and most of these precious materials were destroyed. At the time, those who had the few copies left may not have known their real value and may have been inclined to just toss them away and go off wandering. I, for one, am glad they didn’t.
Which isn’t to say that’s the same as me and my Three Stooges books. It’s just that to universally condemn the habit of holding on to stuff is a big misunderstanding.
Buddhism is always about doing what is better. It’s not about being austere for the sake of being austere as if austerity itself were a virtue in its own right. For some, giving up all possessions, having no job (in the usual sense) and living off the good graces of others is freeing. For some, this would be intolerable. I’m one of the latter. There is too much Midwestern work ethic instilled in me for me to ever be comfortable living that way. So I work in the world and as a consequence of that I have stuff. It’s a matter of exchanging one sort of burden for another.
I would not encourage Americans, Canadians and Europeans — or in fact most Asians, Indians, Africans or Inuit — living in the 21st century to try to adopt the ideal lifestyle espoused by the earliest Buddhists. It’s too hard to make that sort of thing work anywhere in the world these days. Sure, it was not easy 2500 years ago either. But nowadays it’s damn near impossible.
Plus I don’t think it really helps others that much. In the society we live in today, it’s important for everyone to contribute economically. It’s OK to go off on a retreat for a while, maybe even for a few years, to get yourself together and suchlike. But I believe it’s also important to be part of the regular world. A retreat is just that. It’s a retreat from the world. Sometimes it’s necessary and honorable to retreat. But I don’t think we should live our entire lives in a state of retreat from the world.
Hey! They just called about my car! Hooray!!!
(The photo I’ve chosen to illustrate this piece is NOT my stuff, by the way!)
In case you missed them last time, here are the new Zero Defex videos
"For example, one would think that a guy whose nickname was "Homeless Kodo" probably owned nothing but his robes and a change of underwear. In fact, the word yadonashi (???, homeless) that was applied to Kodo Sawaki referred to the fact that he did not have his own home temple like most Zen teachers. He did, in fact, have a home to live in. What's more, his student Kosho Uchiyama complained that as Kodo's attendant he was required to lug mountains of Kodo's books whenever Kodo went out on the road to lead retreats. "
Very good point.
Kodo Sawaki roshi was also a professor at Komazawa University. At the same time, he also took responsibility for Antai-ji, a zazen temple in northern Kyoto. Because of his continuous travels throughout Japan to practice zazen with people everywhere, he began to be called "Homeless Kodo".
BJJ black belt Matt Thornton on the topics of Aliveness, skepticism and spirituality in the martial arts.
Skepticism & Spirituality in the Martial Arts, with Matt Thornton
From my own previous spiritual experiences I learned that we are not easily drawn to seek the truth. Rather, to use a line from the English poet Wordsworth, “We are more like a man / Flying from something he dreads.” It is in this flying that some of us imagine we are seeking something profound.
The heights to which we fly only cause our fears to grow when looking down we see beneath us a frightening and growing void. How strange! But descend into it we must if it is truth we are seeking. The upward flight is only more of the same. It is samsara.
My earliest recollection of my meditation was to slowly allow myself to descend into this void, into a place I did not know, passing through my hesitation and anxiety.
At the time, I did not see or know that by descending into this void, I was gradually passing beyond my psychophysical organism which was a container of anguish (duhkha). As I meditated more and more like this I become more comfortable descending into this voidness. It was maybe two months later that I had my first direct glimpse into pure Mind having come to the limit of this voidness, or should I say, having come to the limit of this barrenness.
It was as if I bored a tiny hole through the phenomenal field in front of me, including even my thoughts. Only pure light came through this tiny hole, a light I could only sense as the power to animate by temporal body which it did to an astonishing degree. Hitherto, my world was one of darkness insofar as temporality is barren and void. The world we perceive is like an echo or a shadow. It has no depth. It’s only a configuration of pure Mind and nothing in itself.
What you've described sounds like fun, John Baker. But can you be sure that what you're experiencing is confirmation that "The world we perceive is like an echo or a shadow. It has no depth. It’s only a configuration of pure Mind and nothing in itself"?
Today, Gudo's "Balance of the Autonomic Nervous System" makes more sense to me as a description of what zazen is.
Just sitting without intention in a balanced way allows me to settle into a state of not too much parasympathetic activity (passivity, laziness, sensual relaxation) and not too much sympathetic activity (active excitement, tension, 'fight/flight').
I don't know or particularly care whether Gudo's theory is a correct scientific analysis of what happens. But for me, today, it has more meaning and relevance as a description of my experience in zazen than anything to do with the revelation of metaphysical truths.
Podcast talk with Shohaku Okumura:
Before I got married, I owned a futon, a plastic tub for my clothes, some clothes, a TV, a dvd player, a surround sound system, two lawn chairs, a computer, a small desk for the computer a stereo and a few pots and pans, a plastic tub full of dvds, a plastic tub full of books and two black-light paintings that my uncle did. Back then I often wondered if I had too much stuff.
Now that I'm married, I have an entire house and four sheds full of shit. I never knew how good I had it.
I've always valued a "simple" life with few possessions. But even when it was possible, it was difficult to get rid of everything.
I just tore down a smaller 4' x 8' shed – after getting rid of 85% of the contents – and I am now in the process of emptying out an 8' x 10' shed so I can tear it down too… I want to expand the garden space – which, unlike a rusting shed, has beauty.
Think: If I (or we) drop dead next week, how will all this stuff be disposed of?
And dispose of it sooner!
How will my body be disposed of when I am gone?
I find the option of sky burial to be thrilling, but sense that my immediate family members might be distressed.
The concept artist in me would like to motion capture my arm hand and fingers holding a pencil and writing my name. Then at death I could be cremated and compressed into a charcoal stick. A robotic arm would be programmed to use me to write my name, or maybe draw my portrait.
If I go first you can have all of my records Mysterion!
Sigh. I read the whole thing to see if I could razz you about all that stuff in the pic. Of course I found out in the last line that I can't. I mean, there are probably critters in that heap.
Throwing stuff away–like books–can be dangerous. I donated huge boxes of books a year ago–yep. Suddenly I need (or could use–could be handy) this one or that one and wonder why I did that. Could have sold a bunch if I had thought about it.
On no stuff aka the popular minimalism trend: I think that can be just as heavy a burden to carry around or as much of an attachment (or an ego thing) as the stuff itself. Which is what you said. And with which I agree.
Good luck with the de-stuffing!
Were it not for the disclosure – you must specify in the transfer of title deed if a body has been disposed of on your property – I would be cremated and my ashes rotor-tilled into the backyard along with the dog shit I forgot to pick up.
We attach far too much to these biological machines that our consciousness temporarily occupies.
The letter “On White Ashes” confronts us with the impermanence of human life.
And I am od a pre-Shin tradition…
You could build a storage unit out of all the books in that storage unit.
use the economy sized glue-all to stick those books together and save money too!
it's almost as dumb as THIS idea.
We have "Big Mind", "no mind", and "pure Mind" at large and possibly armed; do not attempt to apprehend these suspects on your own…
Mr. Baker, you must recognize that we are writing for our own benefit here, in Bedlam on the Blog; however, once you have swallowed the bitter pill of having to help that one who should be king of the world forever with subjects and carriages and such, and recognizing that Brad can write better and got a ticket to ride from an old fart with credentials and so cannot be contradicted without fear of hell fire and damnation and financial ruin, it's a thrill to stand on the stage of public opinion and be massively shot down. Pow, zap, bam. OK, OK!- my opinion.
Thanks to whomever posted the link to Matt Thornton- amazing to go to the blog he recommended and see that graceful old Aikido master get his nose bloodied in free competition with a young boxer. Thornton's thoughts about fantasy boxing versus cage fighting made me wonder if there isn't a parallel in Zen- fantasy zazen versus half or full lotus, to use the "Hardcore" sucker punch. That is to say, my adult life has been more concerned with the real things that enable me to sit the lotus than with chanting, ceremony, and transmission.
Ok, that's a kind of sour grapes, since I was never really any good at chanting, or ceremony, or being a formal student; I couldn't sit well enough to be a formal student, I don't know if I can sit massive sesshins in the lotus even now. But I get my kicks, I guess we all do. This kind of stuff, I can only find peace with the fact of my possession, I don't think I can ever really get rid of it (and I have sheds full, apparently, maybe that's why it's Big Mind).
" was wondering what your opinion is on secular-type meditation"- that's the only real kind, but if they can't teach you the lotus, you may be in for a rough ride (and none of them can- Issho Fujito has an interesting approach, and so did Harry Houdini).
"From this vantage point, whatever Mind perceives or experiences is really only itself"
Mister Baker, if there was an I, it
said this a couple of weeks ago.
Since there is only one I, you, I mean I, must be repeating myself.
strike the possessive "our" (or any possessive like my, your, his, her, etc.)
NOT: "…that our consciousness temporarily occupies…"
BUT: "…that consciousness temporarily occupies…"
I ? fred
"Zen in everyday life" is keeping the precepts.
"it has more meaning and relevance as a description of my experience in zazen anything to do with the revelation of metaphysical truths."
Zazen has more to do with the revelation of metaphysical UNTRUTHS than truths. It's recognizing the lies that we tell ourselves for what they are. What's left after the lies are untold can't be put in words. Anyone who says otherwise is selling you a line of BS.
Jinzang said words to the effect that:
'Zazen is the revelation of metaphysical UNTRUTHS…'
isn't THAT the truth.*
*not a koan.
That truth's UNCOUTH !!
oops, ahem… UNCOUTH
Zazen has more to do with the revelation of metaphysical UNTRUTHS than truths. It's recognizing the lies that we tell ourselves for what they are. What's left after the lies are untold can't be put in words.
Interesting way of putting it. I like that.
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"Zen in everyday life is keeping the precepts"- I think a lot of Zen teachers are on board with that, I think Reb Anderson's "Warm Smiles from Cold Mountain" is about that in the context of Richard Baker's departure from SF Zen Center.
The quote is about the precepts as Zen?- the bit about having more to do with Zen than metaphysical truths?
Now I would say the truths that matter have to do with the hypnogogic states and the way consciousness takes place. I think there are experiences that matter in learning to sit 30 or 40 minutes in the lotus (or half-lotus), for those of us for whom the posture did not come naturally, and these are crucial to the perception of impermanence and the relinquishment of self in Western society. And that would be the working ingredient of the precepts (the perception of impermanence and the relinquishment of self), both for yours truly, and for our materialist culture.
For example, as to how "the empty hand grasps the hoe handle" in Fuxi's poem, I would say the sartorious muscles naturally fall into a rhythm that turns the pelvis slightly, and that turn opens and extends the hips, which generates reciprocal activity in the piriformis muscles to rotate the pelvis in the opposite direction. In particular, the activity in the piriformis muscles (you're partially sitting on them in the lotus) cannot be done, but relaxing into the action of sartorius and allowing sink at the hips is a part of waking up and falling asleep to the location of consciousness. Thus, the action of the piriformis is entirely without conscious effort, the hand that grasps the hoe handle (the sacrum) is empty. Like the flywheel of a watch (observe the clocking flywheel at :56, that's the action between sartorius and piriformis in a relaxed body), sartorius rotates the pelvis, and piriformis naturally rotates the sacrum into that movement to balance the activity of the body.
What's that got to do with the precepts! What does the spontaneous occurrence of mind have to do with anything! Why can't we just wake up, who decided we should ever have to sleep, for crying out loud!
Done know if your comments about sheds was a response to my own comments, but it was certainly relevant, either way. Now, if we could only get my wife and kids to see the ultimate futility of so much possessions, we'd be gold!
One thing I have been thinking about a lot lately, is what exactly IS the simplest way to live in our modern world and not be disconnected from it so that you can pursue higher callings from Zen to Professional Clowning to Storyteller.
One guy has apparently DONE it and shows his working model on how he lived out of a suitcase and saved 75% of his money.
It's pretty interesting actually. The only thing I would add is a VitaMix. You can literally live out of one of those.
Looks like I've finally chased Roman off for good.
*pats self on back*
Roman, you need help. You are dissociating again. Go find a good therapist who can help you integrate your splintered personalities.
Good point , Jinz.
At the same time, a poem about flowers will never be a flower – does this really make it a 'lie', and should people stop telling 'lies' aboutflowers in this way?
I think abstraction already inhabits its place in the truth, just like everything else.
Through a glimpse through a hole in
conceptual duality, nonduality sees
what is not the hole?
a poem about flowers
a comparison of the two
have in common?
Brad said: In my own case I would have a very large problem with their treatment of women (if what I've heard about it is true). Therefore I could not agree to be part of this community.
In the UK, Australia, and the US, women are being ordained in the Theravada tradition; the Thai model of refusing the ordination of women is on its way out.
I need to comment on your involvement with "Suicide Girls." My sense is that this site exploits women for money (memberships). Many of these young women pose nude, and middle aged men (such as yourself) buy memberships to look at videos of alt-goth girls nude. I fail to see Dharma in any of this, and fail to see how being a part of a site that acts under the guise of "empowerment" is really just another site that sells memberships to men who like to look at naked girls half their age.
Brad, you might be a bit of a poonhound, so it's hard for me to accept your comments about the Theravada tradition and its current, evolving, treatment of women.
Read the biography of Mae Che Kaew, a Theravadan Buddhist nun who lived in Thailand in the last century. This will give you a good idea of the experience of female practitioners in the Theravadan tradition.
Brad, you sould read it too, so that your opinions about Buddhist traditions other than your own are more fully informed.
Misha: i think Brad is operating under the premise that women should be able to debase themselves every bit as easily as a man can. Your coments show that you think women need "special" treatment which is often another way of saying that men need to decide what's right for them. Old guys looking at young girls has been going on forever and ain't unnatural in any sense.
From Wikipedia summary of Suicide Girls:
In a feature piece released in 2005, alternative weekly publication The Boston Phoenix, reported on former models' dissatisfaction with company practices. Models interviewed referred to SuicideGirls president Sean Suhl as “verbally abusive” and an “active misogynist,” and described the website as a “slap in the face to feminism”.
In a transcript of a SuicideGirls hearing with rival site Godsgirls, Suhl's attorney refers to models facing inconvenience in attending a postponed audit as not "Nobel peace prize traveling women from around the world" but rather "strippers and nude models." To this he adds, "Not being prejudice. Just being honest".
Suicide Girls pretends to be "women owned," "empowering women"…in reality, it's run by a man, who makes money selling goth soft porn to men who pay to see these women naked. That's about it.
Misha: I got it. I'm saying that it's not Brad's place to proclaim it right or wrong. It is up to the women involved. Your protective attitude might be seen as oppressive to some of the women who just see it as a job.
I do understand your point. It's just my view that any of us involved in the practice, the precepts, and hold ourselves out to be "Buddhists" need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Most of us know where the line is drawn (and yes, there are the precepts and the Eightfold Path as a guide to what that line looks like), some of us just choose to ignore it for the sake of branding or other reasons.
I'm not trying to be puritanical, but the reality is that young women (and men) are exploited. It's just a fact. And it falls to some of us to point out that what some see as "empowerment" is just a bulls**t label for exploitation. The fact that a self described "monk" would be associated with this stuff is just beyond me. I don't get it, and don;'t pretend to have all the answers, but if we're to act in the realm of Buddhism we really need to be aware of what is Buddhist, and what is bulls**t.
Your understanding of the precepts and your concepts of what is right and wrong are only that–yours. They are not THE Understanding.
One of the realizations I've had in my own practice is that it is of the utmost importance to respect the autonomy of others. I think porn as it is made in this day and age and in this society is generally scummy and exploitative. But I choose to respect the decisions of those–including women–who CHOOSE to participate in such an environment. It is not my place to tell them what is right or wrong or exploitative or "not buddhist" or anything like that. It is their right to figure out such nonsense on their own.
Of course, this is just MY understanding and not THE understanding. So do, or not do, with this info what you will….
I hear what your are saying. I still feel that there is a place for serious practitioners to identify when and where certain practices fall off of the path. If there isn't a sense of moral guidance or collective morality, then we fall into a lassaiz faire or "anything goes if it's Zen" attitude…which is not Zen, is not consistent with what Dogen taught, and is not at all consistent with what Gautama taught. The Buddha did teach that there are lines to be drawn, and precepts to adhere to. He told the Kalama people to trust one's own wisdom, but to also consult with learned teachers and experts for guidance; kind of an anti-laissez faire approach. My only point is that if you want to be lassez faire on ethics issues, then don't call yourself a Buddhist.
I guess we're going to have to disagree. I don't think what I'm saying is "Lassez Faire" at all. I'm saying it's up to each person to figure out for themselves what is moral and what is ethical. It is not really up to me or you or Brad or Buddha or Dogen to tell others what is right or wrong. I hate to be cliche and bring up Ikkyu, but if you've ever read some of his poems, you know that his wisdom was a subtle and sensitive kind. He also thoroughly enjoyed prostitutes, and, I'm assuming, his era's version of porn. Among other written-about sexual exploits, he wrote a very funny poem about how much he enjoys masturbating. If you haven't already, I suggest you read a book of his poems and ask yourself if he was immoral or unethical. My answer is, admittedly based on what little we know about him, not really. Enjoying consensual sex with others–even for money– does not seem exploitative to me. But I'd be interested in hearing your interpretation, nonetheless.
There was a BBC documentary last year on St Francis of Assisi by the Vicar-come film-maker Peter Owen Jones. The whole premis was to see if you can live without material wealth and off favours in this day and age. A lovely show even if he was probably assisted by having a BBC camera crew with him!! Not sure how easy it will be to track down, but here's an article http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/bbc/7687158/Rev-Peter-Owen-Jones-Taking-financial-advice-from-St-Francis-of-Assisi.html
anon #108, from a scientific point of view Gudo’s ANS explanation is no less metaphysical than the flying over pure mind one.
Whichever flies your boat, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that Gudo understands anything about real neurophysiology.
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