Trying and Failing

I’m writing this missive on another train. This time it’s the 358 from Prague to Munich, calling at Plzen, Domazlice, Furth im Wald, Cham, Schwandorf, Regensburg, Neufahrn, and Freising. Out of the window I can see little Cezech farm houses and lots of forests and fields. 

My first Zen trip to Prague went pretty well, I think. Last Friday I did a public talk at the Lotus Center right in the heart of the city near Staromestska square not far from the famous Astronomical Clock. On Saturday I led a one-day retreat at the same location. Both were very well attended. Yesterday, Cynthia, the Mexican lady my Czech hosts assigned to deal with me, took me to several record stores in town, including Happy Feet Records, Disko Duck, Maximum Underground, Rekomando, and Supraphon Musicpoint. I found the German pressing of The Godz first LP, a German pressing of KISS Alive (with the alternate logo they used in Germany because the S’s in their official logo look like the SS logo), and a Czech pressing of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s album Déjà vu in a groovy cover totally unlike the American version.

I don’t know if I’m going to stop coming to Europe altogether, but six weeks on the road traveling alone with an overstuffed backpack and a massive suitcase full of books to sell, enough underwear to get me through the trip, plus a wide variety of clothing to deal with the different weather is taking its toll. If I cut my trips down to a more do-able two or three weeks I might be able to manage better. But then some of the places I’ve been going annually will be left out. Smarter people than me who do this kind of stuff come to just one place each year. Any of their fans who don’t want to make the trip to that place are just out of luck.

Sometimes I wonder what I am to the people I meet on the road. Some of them are so excited to see me that it makes me nervous. I know I am nothing like what they imagine. I try my best to convince them of that, but I rarely feel like I’ve succeeded.

I suppose that in order for me to do the job I do, a certain amount of fame is necessary. With any degree of fame — including the low level I’ve achieved — comes a lot of illusions. You appear to others to be something more than you actually are.

I know what it’s like to be a fan of someone. I’m a big fan of KISS. In 2002 and 2003 I got to meet Gene Simmons and sit down with him for about an hour on two different occasions talking about an animated TV series he wanted to get going. Tsuburaya Productions, the company I worked at the time, had an animation division. He and I both hoped we could get the company interested in making Gene’s cartoon show. I also proposed that we could do a live-action tokusatsu film with KISS as giant superheroes who battle monsters. Alas, none of this ever came to be.

Gene Simmons had been one of my heroes ever since junior high school. It’s hard not to have illusions about a guy like Gene Simmons whose whole persona was based on being larger than life. I made my best efforts to treat him like a human being. I think I did OK.

I don’t know if I’m Gene Simmons to some of the people I meet when I travel. Maybe I am. I’ve tried my best not to be a larger-than-life personality. I’ve tried to be honest.

But there’s no way to prevent people from having illusions. Nothing any of us ever says will ever be completely clear to everyone who hears it. One of our greatest and most pervasive illusions as human beings is that we are able to communicate perfectly what we mean. But we can’t. Sometimes I think we’re not that far removed from other animals who grunt, or bark, or howl, or hiss at each other. It’s just as hard for us to be unambiguous sometimes.

One of Dainin Katagiri’s books about Zen was titled You Have to Say Something. That’s one the best titles anyone has come up with for a book. Not just a book about Zen, either. Every book is just someone trying their best to say something. And every one is a failure.

A couple of days ago I met Mike Leutchford and Gabriele Linnebach. Mike and Gabriele were two of the people who also attended lots of Nishijima Roshi’s talks and retreats in Japan and also became his dharma heirs. They both remembered Nishijima saying that he felt his residential Zen dojo in Motoyawata (near Chiba) had been a failure. But neither they nor I really understand why he felt that way about it. 

I suppose the dojo was never really what he wanted it to be. I don’t know what he hoped for with that place. But whatever it was, it didn’t match what the dojo actually ended up being.

By the same token, my books and videos and blogs never seem to convey what I hope they will convey. No matter how many I make, I never can get it right. Maybe this is how Dogen felt. Maybe that’s why he wrote so much. Maybe each new essay was yet another attempt to get it right and was probably judged by him as yet another failure.

I suppose it’s better to try and fail than not to try at all. So I keep on trying.

This train is getting too bumpy and shaky to write on. Talk to ya later!


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IT CAME FROM BEYOND ZEN and SEX SIN AND ZEN are now available as audiobooks from! You can also get Don’t Be a JerkHardcore Zen,  Sit Down and Shut Up and There is No God and He is Always With You in audio form — all read by me, Brad Warner!


June 12-16, 2019 DOMICILIUM RETREATnear Munich, Germany

June 19-23, 2019 BENEDIKTUSHOF RETREAT near Wurzburg, Germany

June 24/25, 2019 TALK Nijmegen, Netherlands

June 29-July 2, 2019 HEBDEN BRIDGE RETREAT, England

July 4, 2019 TALK in London, England



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