Sit Down and Shut Up

The subtitle of Brad Warner’s book, “Sit Down and Shut Up,” is “Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, & Dogen’s Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye.”

It’s a mouthful, but the book really does encapsulate all that. And more. Overall, it was an easy read, entertaining, and doesn’t take itself very seriously.

Warner weaves his experience with Buddhism and its teachings into a travelogue of his return to Ohio to play in a reunion concert featuring Akron’s punk rock bands. You get a sense that he’s somewhat reticent to preach about the virtues of Zen, lest he comes off sounding woo-woo for proselytizing this ancient mystical religion (it’s really a philosophy). It was the mid-2000s when he wrote this book, so his outlook could have changed by now (it probably has).

In any case, Warner frames Zen through his own particular lens and we get an irreverent, humorous, plain-speaking take on a not-so-easy topic. With the book at 250 pages, he neither deludes us nor himself in presenting “Sit Down and Shut Up” as a comprehensive tome about Zen in general and Dogen and Shobogenzo in particular. In his own words, Warner knows that his book is “just the tip of the left big toe in the kiddy pool” about a subject with the “depths of the mid-Atlantic.”

The best part of the book is that nowhere does Warner try to upsell you on anything. Not on Zen, not on meditation, and not even on punk rock. Those are the things that he’s into and he’s open to sharing his experiences with us. But similar to his take on teaching Zen, he’s not willing to bear responsibility for anyone’s actions.

In short, “Sit Down and Shut Up” is a lighthearted, playful, honest, and enjoyable peek into Warner’s experiences with Zen and punk rock and how they both makes sense to him.

Are Buddhists type A’s?

After last night’s meditation group, one of the members stated that Buddhists are type A personalities. Immediately I felt I needed to refute that (being the type A that I am!). Pressed further, she said that’s because Buddhists are perfectionists. I didn’t quite understand this conclusion and said that they wouldn’t be good Buddhists if they didn’t accept reality. The subject ended there.

However, this still bothered me. So I thought about it. What I imagine is that, as with many misconceptions about Buddhism, this person thinks the point of Buddhism is to strive for a state of perfection, i.e. Nirvana. There is the belief that according to Buddhism a person is stuck in the cycle of reincarnation until one lives a devout, sinless, “perfect,” or whatever description you want to use, life. Hence, you are striving for “perfection.”

Of course, that’s at best a very simplistic viewpoint. (At worse, it’s just plain wrong.) Without getting into karma and dharma, Buddhism is a philosophy of seeing things for what they are. It is a vehicle to understand the nature of the reality by deep examination of ourselves. At its core, it’s very simple.

But, not easy.

Q&A with Brad Warner

Tonight I attended Angel City Zen Center’s Q&A with Brad Warner. Of course, Brad likes to say that the Q&A is only as good as the questions. I thought there were some good ones tonight. Here are quick notes on some of them.

Words: Are they frenemies?
Brad had a good comment that the words spoken by people are only approximations of what people really mean. As such, he tries to not use words that people say against them. That’s an admirable amount of compassion and understanding there.

Is Zen Buddhism what our society needs right now, or does Zen not care about society?
My take on this is, “How does Zen address capitalism?” The concept of ownership has never sit well with me. We were born without owning anything, literally. Then we die without being able to take anything with us. In between those two events, we are supposed to amass as much materialistic belongings as possible? I don’t recall so much what Brad had to say…

What’s the difference between desire and attachment? (This was my question.)
This part of Brad’s answer was most memorable for me: he said that desire arises, like emotions and thoughts, whereas attachment is the refusal to accept what is. Brad also shared that his teacher, Gudo Nishijima, used to disagree with one of the Four Noble Truths that eliminating desire will end suffering. It’s such a fundamental part of Buddhism to disagree on. I thought that was interesting.

After the talk, I purchased three of Brad’s books: Sit Down and Shut Up, Don’t Be a Jerk, and It Came from Beyond Zen. Just some light reading.

#MeToo hits everyone

Since the #MeToo movement went global, almost no one is immune to the shining light of its fury. Not even Buddhists.

Jezebel’s article on the sexual allegations against popular Los Angeles-based Buddhist teach, Noah Levine (Against the Stream), is a worthwhile read. It gets into the difficult and convoluted politics that has permeated mainstream Buddhist organizations in America. (China has its fair share of problems, too.)

The author of the article, Anna Merlan, does a fine job of parsing through the intertwined connections that Levine apparently has fostered in his career. Many institutions and organizations, both non-profit and for-profit, conspicuously promote him and benefit from his involvement. The issue of money is like a sticky goo that is hard to wash off.

I realize that large organizations inevitably cannot avoid political strife. The world functions in many ways that is incongruent with Buddhist values. While this isn’t the primary reason that makes me seek smaller, grass root, and less complicated groups like the Eastside Mindfulness Collective and Angel City Zen Center for my own spiritual studies, what’s happening at Against the Stream substantiates some of my intuitions.

Nicole Krauss’s Letter to Van Gogh

The following is an excerpt from Maria Popova’s awesome Brain Pickings posting about Nicole Krauss’s letter in response to Van Gogh’s heartbreaking letter to his brother about fear:

“It’s a strange thing about the human mind that, despite its capacity and its abundant freedom, its default is to function in a repeating pattern. It watches the moon and the planets, the days and seasons, the cycle of life and death all going around in an endless loop, and unconsciously, believing itself to be nature, the mind echoes these cycles. Its thoughts go in loops, repeating patterns established so long ago we often can’t remember their origin, or why they ever made sense to us. And even when these loops fail over and over again to bring us to a desirable place, even while they entrap us, and make us feel anciently tired of ourselves, and we sense that sticking to their well-worn path means we’ll miss contact with the truth every single time, we still find it nearly impossible to resist them. We call these patterns of thought our ‘nature’ and resign ourselves to being governed by them as if they are the result of a force outside of us, the way that the seas are governed — rather absurdly, when one thinks about it — by a distant and otherwise irrelevant moon.

And yet it is unquestionably within our power to break the loop; to ‘violate’ what presents itself as our nature by choosing to think — and to see, and act — in a different way. It may require enormous effort and focus. And yet for the most part it isn’t laziness that stops us from breaking these loops, it’s fear. In a sense, one could say that fear is the otherwise irrelevant moon that we allow to govern the far larger nature of our minds.”

Disposable America

This article by Alexis Madrigal is an intriguing look at how the disposable straw explains modern capitalism, from its modern conception in the mid-1850s as a hygienic savior to its role in today’s culture wars as an ecological disaster.

“…the straw has always been dragged along by the currents of history, soaking up the era, shaping not its direction, but its texture.”

The straw is in the middle of it all: urbanism, McDonald’s, the Koch Brothers, corporatization, leverage buyouts, environmentalism.

Hop Sing Laundromat

This is one of the funniest interviews in recent memory for me. I need to visit Hop Sing for a drink or four. Lé and I have similar backgrounds and it would be fun to talk shit with him.

My relationship status is… That I’ll try anything. Your readers will know that’s a joke, right?

The best thing about my job is… that I get to not serve assholes. I get to serve the people that I want to serve. Decent human beings.

The worst part about my job is… that I have to meet those assholes at the door.

Read more at https://www.phillymag.com/foobooz/2018/06/13/hop-sing-laundromat-owner/#iWKRD25HcmaywORm.99

Your vulnerability is f*cking gorgeous

by Sarah Harvey

 

stop it. stop hiding that fragile part of you

the part you think no one could ever love

oh my dear,

that is your most lovable part of all.

pull up the sheets, pull open the tattered seams

let your mask fall away and dissolve into stale thin air

let your naked heart ooze out

like a fresh ruby sea.

there is no point

to live

and invest so many hours in hiding who we really are

cleverly concealed

silently suppressed—

that’s just dying a slow-motion death

freezing our fiery souls to wither and decay

into vapid, yet subtle tones of winter-like misery.

f*ck that. 

do the braver thing…

step into the epic bloomin’ springtime of your soul. 

be ignited. be vivified. be weird as hell. be excited. be sad. be brilliantly YOU.

dance in the totality of every fractured part of your soul— 

step into the full vibrance of who you truly are

your vulnerability is f*cking gorgeous

don’t hide it

anymore.

do the braver thing, 

don’t hide, at all—

take the risk

take the plunge

to be you

all of you

every godddamn gorgeous

part. 

be yourself

and see how life

embraces you

so

softly,

so utterly

sweetly. 

Bridge to Nowhere

The bridge is the noblest of all engineering feats. Its purpose lies in its function. It connects people, places, and ideas. It extends time by closing distance. It is as much a tool as it is a metaphor. Subjective aesthetics is beside the point, for even the most basic of bridges connects humanity. What is more beautiful than that?

What’s the opposite of a bridge? A wall.