In a special selection from the vault, a talk by Brad Warner from Lammi, Finland where he reads and discusses his classic article "Enlightenment and Cat Poop," about letting go and taking the Big Dump. It's a talk about what is real, what is important, and in a teaching of no self, what the heck are we supposed to do with these persistent persnickety personalities of ours? Our Finnish friends push Brad to go deep and answer the big questions such as, what keeps us clenching our buttholes in the first place, what's the problem with being clever, what fundamentally are we, when is it a good idea to take a break from zazen, what should we do if we find things we don't like about ourselves in zazen, and how do we balance good and evil?
“If I am willing to sow my seeds anywhere without worrying about the outcome, I might be gratified by unexpected beneficial results.” - Misha Shungen Merrill
Nina Snow leads the sangha in a roundtable discussion on the nature of greed, exploring it’s roots in fear and attachment, and the generosity inherent in letting go.
“Giving up hope in changing the three characteristics is getting on the side of reality.” - Emma Roy
Emma Roy discusses “The Three Characteristics,” the three hallmarks of Buddhism that everyone wishes were not true - suffering, impermanence, and no self. Why do these have to be true and why do we have such a hard time accepting that they are?
“People say the ultimate destiny of consciousness is to be liberated. Is that What we’re up to? Because I like the idea that it’s not.” - Emma Roy
Emma reads “On (Not) Being Special” by Ken McCleod to ask the questions of whether any of us are special, whether zazen does anything special, whether we are all destined for enlightenment, and ultimately what is a good use of a human life or a Monday night (or the 40 minutes it takes to listen to a podcast…). The sangha jumps all the way in and discusses why being art necessarily breeds misery, why they don’t want to be special, why they wouldn’t recommend Zen to anyone, but can’t stop doing it if they tried, and ultimately lament that enlightenment never did anyone’s dishes. All in all, it is a prime example of a good use of a monday night and a fantastic way to spend your 40 minutes to listen.
“‘But this is not to be achieved by wanting,’ is the saddest sentence in the whole thing, the crux of everything. That should be written on my gravestone. It’s all the pain, all the sorrow, all the despair, and the lamentation. We can’t wish things to be true. We can’t will things into being.” - Emily Eslami
Emily wraps up her series on the three marks of existence with Buddhism's favorite least favorite topic - The Truth of Suffering. She leads the sangha in an acknowledgement of all the large and small ways we experience suffering on a daily basis and then goes into the ways we exacerbate that and compound the problem with the classic parable of the second arrow. Drawing on both straightforward teachings of classical Buddhism and the more open ended Zen approach she explores the ways that suffering is both an inherent product of life and also far more avoidable than we might think.
The answer to your questions are all here! Brad takes questions from the internet and audience including classics such as:
“What are the Four Noble Truths, Eightfold path, and the Precepts?”
“Is the precept about being generous with the dharma the same thing as the Christian idea of good works?”
“What role can Zen play in the context of the Western world?”
“What’s the deal with the Heart Sutra, and what is that untranslated nonsense we chant at the end?”
“What we do when our zazen stops feeling ‘saucy?’ Is there such a things faking it in zazen?”
“Does attaining enlightenment in a dream count as attaining enlightenment?”
And “Why don’t we ever talk about all those lists of fundamental teachings that Buddha and the Theravadans say are so important?”
Answers to all this and more!
“Because our intuition exists, then experience exists out of that. But sometimes we get mixed up and forget that whats going on here is more intuition than experience.” - Brad Warner
Brad & the sangha tackle some deep Dogen w/ “The Eternal Mirror,” Dogen’s chapter on prajna and intuitive wisdom. The sangha discusses why intuition is so hard to listen to when it’s so close at hand, whether Zen is really for everybody, and what exactly is the distinction between matter and reality?
“What have I done? If this is a victory, what's a defeat? Are these vultures, crows, eagles the messengers of death or evil?” - Emperor Ashoka
Dave Cuomo continues his series on the history of Zen with pt 4 - Ashoka! It's one of the most extraordinary and unexpected stories in world history as a bloodthirsty warlord emperor sees a simple monk walking across a field and over night turns one of the world's largest empires into a bastion of peace, piety, and goodness. Everything we know about Buddhism comes from this one moment and Dave explores all the implications of what happened and why. The sangha jumps in and discusses what morality is and where it comes from, how the Buddhist cannon was formed, and who exactly we can call a sociopath.
“The more intimate I become with Zen, it’s less of a religion. It’s just about living. Buddhism is living right, its just waking up.” - Fong Sam
To inspire the sangha in our new center, Craig French gives a reading from Crooked Cucumber, the story of Sunryu Suzuki and San Francisco Zen Center. Craig and the sangha get cute as they discuss community, what it means to help out, the connection between different lineages of Zen, bringing Zen to the West, and whether the Ramones were trying to start British Punk Rock on purpose.
“We think we understand what this world is and what we are but we might be completely wrong.” - Brad Warner
Brad Warner reads from Kobun Chino’s “Life and Death” and sparks a lively discussion about the end of science and whether we even really understand what’s happening in our lives right now, let alone what happens in an afterlife. The sangha discusses life and death as the present moment, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, whether our culture has overly sheltered itself from confronting death, whether brambles are intentionally killing sheep, and in the end a cup of hot chocolate brings Jared to the moment of life and death itself.
“The naked and sincere mind at the present moment is more balanced and free. There is more humor in this state of mind.” Gudo Wafu Nishijima
Brad gets back to his roots and fondly remembers his teacher, Gudo Wafu Nishijima. With a reading from a brief biography by fellow student Gustav Ericsson, Brad talks about what made the man the precise and idiosyncratic teacher he was. The sangha jumps in and gives their impressions, discusses the intersection of Buddhism and Christianity, Nishijima’s theories on the biological effects of zazen, the value of storytelling, the wildness of zazen, and whether scientology is no more ridiculous than all mythology.
“Sometimes getting it means not getting it.” - Dave Cuomo
Dave Cuomo continues his History of Zen series w/ pt 3 - Ananda. He’s the great unreliable narrator of all Buddhist scripture. Dave tells the story of this sweet and simple character and looks into the wisdom in his unenlightnment, what it means to live a life of service, and why Buddhism requires us to ask stupid questions.
“When people are kind its like a beautiful virus that goes around and infects everyone. It’s gorgeous.” - Nina Snow
Nina and the sangha wade into the messy grey areas of being nice. Reading from “The Thousand Eyes and Hands of Compassion” in Brad’s latest book, they explores the nuanced ways compassion is as much about the way we treat ourselves as it is being kind to others.
Emma discusses the life of Dogen with readings from Hee-Jin Kim’s “Dogen - Mystical Realist.” She explores parallels between Dogen’s time and ours including the the recurring feeling that we’re living on the verge of collapse. The sangha dives in and debates why every generation seems to feel that way even as the world shambles along without ending.
“Hope is what religions sell when they need to get donations and don’t want to explain the whole truth.”
Dave tries to shock the sangha with a talk on the delusion of hope and the liberation of being hopeless, letting go of our ideals in favor of being open to what is. It’s a talk about goallessness and the freedom and kindness that come from giving in to reality. The conversation is lively and not without disagreement as the sangha discusses expectations, whether there is a basic goodness in staring at the wall, whether we can live without desire, dealing with death, and how pretty a leaf can look in the sunlight.
“You have to have a sense of the great gravity of life and death or Zen is not something you’re going to want put your energy into.”
A Q&A w/ Brad Warner, answering classic questions such as, what do I do with my mind in meditation, why did Bodhidharma come from the West, does Zen take a certain maturity or can children do it, is Zen hurting my memory, should we be reading more, and why does Brad anger so many people on social media?
“We’re not looking for true nature, we’re not studying true nature, we’re not researching true nature. You sit down and you’re seeing true nature.” - Erik Andersen
Erik continues his inquiry into beliefs and how they can hinder us. He looks at what was meant by the classic Zen promise of "seeing true nature," beliefs as attachment, and how this is all worked with in psychology, while the sangha turns the discussion to mental health and whether it's possible to be happy about being sad.
What was Buddha’s problem? - an empty container for an open question
Dave continues his series tracing the philosophical and social history of Zen. In part 2 we come to Buddha himself, what was the social context he was teaching in, who were his teachers and what did they teach him? What was the problem he was trying to solve and how did he solve it?? The sangha discusses our connection to history and whether history is even knowable, what, if anything, Buddha was doing differently, and of course, what is the meaning of life?
rad opens Dogen’s Eihei Koroku at random to see if the spirits have any special message for us, and settles on a reading of “A Demonstration of Six Magical Powers” (dude whoa), where Dogen gets a little sarcastic. The sangha discusses whether it is possible to feel sarcastic during satori, why we eat so many sweets, whether we would rather lose all of our senses than see a loved one be eaten, before making their way to an interesting conversation o the use of anti-depressants and whether or not they would classify as “altered states” in Buddhist terms.
“Maybe if you can get comfortable with letting go of things, then the ultimate letting will be a bit easier. I hope so anyway.” - Brad Warner
Brad concludes his retreat series on Dogen’s Zenki with a reading of his own translation “Limitless Potential.” He discusses ethics, the full moon atonement ceremony, and some of his early dating mistakes. The sangha delves into what exactly Dogen might mean by “states beyond life and death,” how to deal with death and dying, managing rage and the proper way to take a punch, and of course, timely for the season, how to deal with your family over the holidays.