by Brad Warner

Every once in a while I meet someone who says she became interested in Buddhism because Buddhists were never involved in religious persecution or holy wars. I always hate to break the news to them that this is, unfortunately, not entirely true.

It is true that Buddhism has been largely free of really large scale wars and persecutions based directly on religion such as the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the conflicts in Israel and Northern Ireland and so on. In fact, if you go to Wikipedia’s page on religious persecutions and religious wars, you find no major persecutions by Buddhists, and the only religious war listed involving Buddhists is an uprising of the Buddhist majority in Vietnam against the pro-Catholic policies of Ngo Dinh Diem in 1966. Not exactly a war in which one religion sought to conquer or convert another by force.

But that doesn’t mean that just because someone declares him or herself to be Buddhist that the person is free from ever behaving like a dick. Brian Victoria caused a lot of people to question their belief in perpetually peaceful Buddhists when he published Zen At War, a book that examined how Buddhist institutions in Japan were co-opted by the government to support the cause of nationalistic violence during World War II – much like the Catholic church was similarly co-opted by the Nazis. Even today similar stuff keeps happening.

The latest of those who would try to use Buddhism as a way of promoting intolerance and violence on a national level is U Wirathu, an ultra-nationalist Buddhist monk in Burma who has been accused of inciting violence against Muslims in his country as leader of the “969 movement.” He has become known as the “Buddhist bin Laden” for his activities. In Sri Lanka, Sinhalese Buddhists have formed what they call the “Buddhist Strength Force,” another group seeking to persecute Muslims in the name of Buddhism. Just last week three Bhutanese Buddhist monks were accused of raping a teenage girl in India. You can read about all of these incidents in detail here. I’m sure this won’t be the last we’ll see of violence and stupidity in the name of Buddhism.

The easiest response to all of this would be to say that those involved weren’t really Buddhists, even if they were legitimately ordained since they failed to understand the most basic teachings of Buddhism. Some people have argued that certain verses in the Qur’an or the Bible can be used to justify violence and religious intolerance. But it would take a lot of work to find anything similar among the Buddhist literature, although the Buddhist sutras far outnumber the canonical religious writings of Christianity or Islam, so I’m sure someone could dig something out of there if they tried hard enough. There’s nothing I’m aware of but there are mountains of sutras out there and you could probably find some little snippet that sounds nasty if you wanted to sift though a lot of stuff.

Even so, none of the reports I’ve seen have mentioned any of these Buddhist bully-boy organizations citing the scriptures and teachings of Buddhism as a justification for their actions the way other religions often do. The closest thing I’ve come across to that is that the Sri Lankan group apparently opposes the Muslim practice of halal butchering and meat preparation as being against the Buddhist teachings of non-violence toward animals. But this seems to me like a real reach for some kind of scriptural justification. And I don’t see how you can enforce non-violence against animals by engaging in violence against humans.

Some folks were getting upset over the fact that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was not speaking out more strongly against the Buddhist based violence in Burma and Sri Lanka. However, this is actually a smart move on his part. Most Buddhists in Burma and Sri Lanka don’t regard the Dalai Lama as their leader. Far from it. They regard him something like the way Irish Protestants view the Pope, as kind of an interloper who has no business telling them about their religion. It would only incite more violence if the Dalai Lama took a strong stand.

Generally we Americans and Europeans don’t know much about Buddhism, so we make a lot of incorrect assumptions. This is excusable because all we have to go on is what we get from our woefully ill-informed mass media and cartoonish references in pop culture.

But interestingly it’s we Westerners who seem to grasp the basics of Buddhism enough to see the innate absurdity of stuff like the Buddhist persecutions in Sri Lanka and Burma better than lots of the folks in those countries. While I’m sure there are plenty of Burmese and Sri Lankan Buddhists who know how ridiculous this is, this stuff wouldn’t be happening at all unless there were also plenty of people in those countries who consider themselves Buddhists but really have no clue at all what the whole point of Buddhism is.

That’s pretty sad. But it’s no sadder than Christians murdering Muslims in their quest to spread Jesus’ philosophy of love or Muslims murdering Christians to spread Mohammed’s message of brotherhood. Religions divide people. And when Buddhism is viewed as a religion, it can be used almost effectively as any other as an excuse for viciousness and just plain human foolishness. You have to stretch things a bit, but it can be done. Human beings are good at that. We’ll find a way.

But the rest of us don’t have to accept it. We can and should point out how ridiculous this is. If we can shame the assholes persecuting others on the basis of Buddhism by knowing their religion better than they do, then we ought to do just that. Not in a malicious way, mind you. But it might be useful to subtly make some of the folks over there who are participating in this kind of nonsense aware that there are people far away who actually take “their” religion more seriously than they apparently do.

It’s disappointing to discover that even those proclaiming themselves to be Buddhists can still act like real jerks. But people are what they are. Acting like a jerk, however, is definitely not what the Buddha taught.



by Brad Warner

Last week a friend of several friends of mine back in Akron killed himself. His name was Tyler. I probably met him or at least saw him around Angel Falls coffee shop or at one of the Akron Cooking Coalition’s vegan dinner parties. But I didn’t really know him. A lot of my friends did, though. And they’re pretty sad that he’s gone.

In connection with this I was asked what the Buddhist view on suicide was. It’s kind of like what I said in my book Sex Sin and Zen about the Buddhist view on abortion. I don’t really know. But the fact that I don’t really know says a lot about the Buddhist view. Imagine a person who had studied and practiced Catholicism for nearly thirty years, for example, not knowing what the church’s position on suicide or abortion was. It just wouldn’t happen because these are very hot issues for Catholics. That I don’t have a ready answer to the question tells you that these are not hot issues for Buddhists in the Zen tradition. I can’t recall a single instance of Dogen mentioning suicide in any of his many writings. I’ve decided not to Google the answer before writing this piece because I think my raw non-Google-informed opinions might shed a different light on things than the factoids any random person could find after searching the web for three minutes.

The very prominent suicides by self-immolation (setting oneself on fire) that have been carried out by certain Buddhists in Vietnam and elsewhere have led some people to the mistaken conclusion that Buddhism sees suicide as a noble act. This isn’t true. Suicide is generally frowned upon by Buddhists as something to be avoided because it is thought to be an act that tends to lead to a less auspicious rebirth. I believe it is counted among the “actions that are difficult to overcome” in one of Buddha’s recorded talks. It’s not believed that one is condemned to Hell forever for killing oneself the way the Catholic tradition has it. But it’s thought that one is setting up conditions that will make one’s next birth more difficult than the life one chooses to end prematurely. This is because committing suicide causes so much pain and suffering to those who know and love the person who chooses to take their own life.

I take all that stuff about rebirth with a big grain of salt, myself. Even if we really do get reborn after we die, how can anyone can say what sort of next life a person is likely to have knowing only the fact that the person killed himself? There’s a lot more to any individual’s life than just how it ends. For those that believe in rebirth, the entirety of the person’s life determines how he or she will be reborn, not just the last thing the person did.

When dealing with suicide, vague speculations about rebirth don’t really help. It’s a way to avoid the real question of what do we do when faced with the fact that someone we cared about killed himself. No one ever knows the right thing to do or to say when something like this happens. It’s more important just to be supportive. In fact, I’d say that discussing what sort of next life the person is likely to have is one of the least supportive thing you could do.

I came precariously close to killing myself one sunny day in the Spring of 1992. My life was shit. I was living in a decrepit punk rock house in Akron, Ohio. My girlfriend had dumped me. I had no money, no skills, no prospects. I’d released five records on an indie label that had gotten some good press but had gone nowhere in terms of sales. My dreams of making a living as a songwriter and musician were obviously never going to come true. I felt like all I had to look forward to was eking out a meager existence in the muddy Midwest.

I put a bunch of rope in the trunk of my car and drove out to the Gorge Metro Park, just down the street from where I lived. My plan was to carry that rope out as far away from people as I could, find a sturdy tree and do the deed. But when I stepped out of my car I saw some kids playing in the field right near the parking lot. I realized I could never find a spot far enough off the path where there wasn’t some chance a little kid out for a hike, or a young couple looking for a make-out spot, or an old man with a picnic basket and a picture of his late wife might find me. Then I thought about my mom and how bummed out she’d be if I killed myself. And I thought about my friend “Iggy” Morningstar who’d killed himself about ten years earlier and how I was still not over that. I put the rope back in the trunk and went home.

That day changed me forever. I decided to live. But I also decided I was no longer bound to anything that came before that day. I decided that conceptually I had already killed myself. Now I could do anything, absolutely anything at all.

All the greatest things that have happened to me in my life have happened since that day. Things have been so incredible since then that I sometimes wonder if I’m the main character in some weird existentialist movie and that there’ll be a twist ending in which the audience will realize that I really did kill myself that day.

If you’re contemplating suicide, my advise is go ahead and kill yourself. But don’t do it with a rope or a gun or a knife or a handful of pills. Don’t do it by destroying your body. Do it by cutting off your former life and going in a completely new direction. I know that’s not easy. I know it might even seem impossible. If you’d have asked me before that Spring day in 1992 I would have told you it was absolutely impossible for me to do any of the things I’ve done since that day. At first it seemed like I was right, that it was futile to even try to get out of the morass I was in. It took more than a year of very hard effort before things started to change even a little bit. But when they did, they really changed.

Maybe that’s not where you’re at, though. Maybe you’re just stuck there trying to figure out how to respond to the news that someone you cared about decided to end her own life. Maybe you just want an explanation. Maybe you just want it to be like it was before. Maybe you wish you’d done something different, said something different, been somewhere where you could have prevented it.

You’re not alone. Everyone who has ever known someone who killed themselves had the same questions and second guessed themselves the same way. But know that those are just thoughts. They’re not real. They don’t mean much. The human brain likes to organize things. It tries its best to make sense of whatever it encounters. But some things just don’t make sense. We don’t like that. But it’s the truth.

It’s hard to let go of these kinds of thoughts. But it’s the only way to deal with them. They don’t lead anywhere. They don’t help. Letting go is easier said than done. If you find that you can’t let go even though you want to, then just let go of letting go. Just leave the fact that you can’t let go as it is and do something else anyway. Whatever you do is probably fine. See a movie, take a walk, watch the ducks, go to work. It’s all fine. Just because you’re not grieving in the stereotypical socially approved ways doesn’t mean anything.

Take care.



by Brad Warner

Recently someone sent me the following email:

I have a question – what’s your impression of The New Kadampa Tradition and the practice of “worshiping” or “venerating” Dorje Shugden? Is this all hogwash, or is there something of value in Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s teaching or is he just another charlatan?

I replied:

I’ve heard the name New Kadampa but know absolutely nothing about it. It’s something Tibetan, I guess. I have no idea who or what Dorje Shugden is or was. “Worshiping” and “venerating” are words that make me a little nervous.

He sent the following back to me:

Thanks for replying, it’s appreciated. I’ve done some digging and it seems that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is regarded by the NKT followers as the “one true Buddha alive today” and his teachings (and only HIS teachings) are not to be questioned, lest ye be banished (seriously). Other teachings are “deceptive and evil” including the teachings of the Dalai Lama, it seems, who Gyatso openly opposes. Opinions of the Dorje Shugden thing seems to vary from him/it being incarnated in the 17th Century and is a “Dharma Protector” or even a “demon” – there is even an NKT Survivors forum on Yahoo, so I think I’ll steer clear of the whole shebang, as consensus seems to indicate that the NKT should be regarded alongside the likes of the “Dark Zen” crowd. Ugh.

To which I said:

OH RIGHT! THAT STUFF! I’d forgotten about it. Stephen Batchelor mentions it in his latest book. Yeah. That’s all superstitious nonsense. I don’t know why anybody believes that garbage. It’s like thinking the Earth was created 6000 years ago and that dinosaurs died out in the Great Flood. There is no difference at all in those kinds of beliefs. They’re all 100% arbitrary products of human imagination.

I am so not interested in this stuff that I had totally blanked out on what the names Dorje Shugden and New Kadampa Tradition meant even though I read the story just a few months earlier. In my mind it was all lumped in under the category of “Superstitious Nonsense That I Don’t Need to Bother With.” If you want to read something truly moronic about this subject, go to dorjeshugden.org/. Anyhow, there’s Dorje’s picture up on top of this post. He’s wearing a fireman helmet.

There are some fictional stories I know very well, that I find interesting and that I continue to follow from time to time. I know the difference between Captain Kirk (cool) and Captain Picard (often cool in his own way, but not as cool as Kirk). I know why Hayata can use the Beta Capsule to transform into Ultraman. I know what Tatooine is and what the Death Star is.

I know some of the religious fictions that are part of my culture. I know that Noah built the Ark, that Moses brought the tablets down from Mt. Sinai, that Jesus died and rose again on the Third Day. I don’t actually believe any of this stuff. But it’s useful to know the stories. I know the major fictions of a few other religions. I know that Krishna could fuck a million girls all at once and I know why one of Ganesh’s tusks is broken (he broke it off and used it as a pen to write the Vedas). I know the basic story of Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him, not that any of that is fiction, of course, please don’t kill me).

I know most of the fictions that Zen people find comforting. I know that Bodhidharma stared at a wall until his arms and legs fell off. But I don’t believe that actually occurred. I know that Buddha supposedly confirmed Mahakashapa’s enlightenment and that this has been passed on in an unbroken succession for 2500 years. I don’t think that really happened either. But I led the congregation in chanting the list of names of the men and women who got it a few times last month in Tassajara.

But if I tried to memorize everybody’s superstitions, I’d never get to the end of it. In the final analysis, superstition is superstition, whether it’s Buddhist superstition or anyone else’s superstition. I can find no more compelling reason to believe in some spiritual entity named Dorje Shugden than to believe in Zeus or Apollo. It’s silly and useless. In fact it’s more useless to study Dorje Shugden than to study Zeus and Apollo because so few people give a shit about Dorje Shugden. At least if you know about Zeus and Apollo there is always a chance that knowing a bit about classical literature might get you laid by some cute librarian in a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and a turtleneck sweater. Will knowing about Dorje Shugden get me laid? Not likely. Or if it did, I would really have to go out of my way to find a girl who cared. So that’s the end of my study.

For reasons that are difficult for me to fathom, though, a lot of people who ought to know better seem to think that exotic superstitions might be more true than the plain old superstitions we’re familiar with. But why bother? If you’re thinking about putting your faith in Dorje Shugden, why not just make life simpler and put your faith in the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny? At least you know those superstitions already. There’s not so much need to study up on them. Santa Claus is a good one to believe in because he might bring you stuff. Personally I have way more faith in Santa Claus than in any supposed Buddhist “guardian spirit.”



by Brad Warner

Sexism is stupid. But sexism bolstered by religion is double stupid. Which is why it’s hilarious that people who bolster their sexism with religious dogma seem to feel that this makes them intelligent and their sexism justified. I know you believe God wrote that book you’re quoting. But he didn’t. End of argument.

Two things happened in my life over the past 24 hours to inspire this particular rant. The first was another visit to the Hare Krishnas of Los Angeles. Yesterday was Krishna’s birthday. So they closed off the street around the temple and had a big celebration with, of course, delicious Hare Krishna cuisine. Although I’m starting to catch on that their stuff is really high carb, which could account for the sort of high it gives you, a little sugar rush a few minutes after you finish.

My friend Darrah, who writes SG’s Red, White and Femme column, went with me. Or perhaps, I should say I went with her. See, she had arranged to interview a young member of the organization who seemed like he was up for being interviewed on Suicide Girls.

So Darrah went and did the interview while I ate high carb food and looked at the displays. Did you know Popeye is (was?) a vegetarian? According to their list of famous vegetarians he is. I guess you never see him eating anything but spinach. Hey and maybe Wimpy is eating veggie burgers. It’s hard to tell.

Anyway, after an hour or so Darrah called to say the interview was over. She seemed a little out of sorts about it. Turns out her Hare Krishna friend told her that women are naturally submissive and their position on earth is to serve men. When Darrah tried to counter this assertion by citing her own real-life experience, her buddy literally went “Blah-blah-blah” and proceeded to talk over her. When Darrah finally managed to ask how he knew all this, the Hare Krishna pointed to a bookshelf and said, “I have five thousand years of yogic literature that proves it’s true.”

As I said, I understand that you believe those books were written by God. But they weren’t. That is a stupid thing to believe.

The second thing that happened is that I went to see a doctor to try and get something for the terrible headaches I’ve been having lately. I thought I had them beat, but they came back in a big way this week and I’m leaving for Tassajara tomorrow. I just arrived in town so I was kind of stuck with whoever I could get to see me on short notice.

My doctor turned out to be a woman. Not only that, but she was significantly younger than me. And just to add to the mix, she was also quite stunningly attractive. This kind of thing is often a trigger for males to distrust a doctor. She can’t be any good, she’s a girl! I’ve never thought like that. It’s just not part of my way of perceiving the world and it never has been.

It turns out my doctor was very good. Unlike most male doctors I’ve seen for these headaches, she actually listened to what I told her about them and thought about what I said. Male doctors tend to be very cocky (pun intended) and just throw some pills at you after a five minute chat and a few things stuck up your nose and in your ear holes. This doctor paid careful attention and actually discussed her impressions with me. I was extremely pleased with the visit. Who knows if the stuff she prescribed for me will actually work. But at least she didn’t just whip it on me like some doctors do with their stuff.

I wonder what Darrah’s Hare Krishna friend would have thought.

I’m proud that my own spiritual tradition is resolutely anti-sexist. In his essay “Prostrating to That Which Has Attained the Truth” Dogen quotes Shakyamuni Buddha as saying, “When you meet teachers who expound the supreme state of bodhi, have no regard for their race or caste, do not notice their looks, do not dislike their faults, and do not examine their deeds. Only because you revere their wisdom, let them eat hundreds and thousands of pounds of gold every day, serve them by presenting heavenly food, serve them by scattering heavenly flowers, do prostrations and venerate them three times every day, and never let anxiety or annoyance arise in your mind. When we behave like this, there is always a way to the state of bodhi. Since I established the mind, I have been practicing like this, and so today I have been able to attain anuttara samyaksambodhi.”

Dogen further says, “When arhats, pratyekabuddhas, and [bodhisattvas at] the three clever and ten sacred stages come to a bhikshuni (female Buddhist monk) who is retaining the transmission of the right Dharma-eye treasury, to prostrate themselves and to ask her about Dharma, she must receive these prostrations. Why should men be higher? Space is space, the four elements are the four elements, the five aggregates are the five aggregates, and women are also like this. As regards attainment of the truth, both [men and women] attain the truth, and we should just profoundly revere every single person who has attained the Dharma. Do not discuss man and woman. This is one of Buddhism’s finest Dharma standards.”

Later in the essay he says, “Nowadays extremely stupid people look at women without having corrected the prejudice that women are objects of sexual greed. Disciples of the Buddha must not be like this. If whatever may become the object of sexual greed is to be hated, do not all men deserve to be hated too?”

So there.

The entire essay can be found in Volume 1 of the Nishijima/Cross translation of Shobogenzo.


I recently did an interview on Freedomizer Radio out of Houston, Texas. You can listen to it at freedomizerradio.com

I will be at Tassajara Zen Mountain Monastery until September 11. I’ll be working there as a student/worker or whatever they call it. Probably serving food or cutting cucumbers or something like that. At the end of my stay I’ll give a couple lectures about Dogen. I’ve done this every year for a few years now. It’s good for me to have to get up every morning at five, put on my robes, do some zazen, be an indentured servant for most of the day and then do some more zazen at night. I kinda need that experience to keep from getting too weird when I do the other stuff I do.

Speaking of weird stuff I do, I am going on yet another European tour less than two months after I get out of Tassajara. Here are the dates as far as I know them right now.

Oct. 26-28 Weekend Sesshin Kajo Zendo in Finland

Oct. 30 – Nov. 4 International Lay Buddhists Forum in Malaga, Spain

Nov. 9 Dogen Zendo in Frankfurt , Germany

Nov. 10 Balance Yoga in Frankfurt, Germany

Nov. 11 – 21 Possible dates in The Netherlands and/or Germany (Most likely Nov. 16-18 in Amsterdam or Rotterdam, but nothing is confirmed yet)

Nov. 23-25 Weekend Sesshin at Fawcett Mill Fields in Penrith, Lake District, UK (Sponsored by Yoga Manchester
Nov. 25 Manchester, UK (Sponsored by Yoga Manchester)



by Brad Warner

People have been asking me for my thoughts about the shooting at the sikh temple outside of Milwaukee. It’s hard to say much except to once again state that there are too damned many guns in the United States. But I’ve already given that rant.

Lots of people are speculating that the shooter probably believed that the Sikhs he killed were Muslims and that this was some sort of revenge for the attacks in New York and Washington, DC on Sept. 11, 2001. Some have said that he was a white supremacist. Some are saying he was in a punk rock or heavy metal band supposedly called End Apathy. The Huffington Post has the most information on that aspect of the story. According to them the guy played bass in some of what they’re calling “hate rock” bands.

Of all that stuff, it’s the idea that he was a punk rocker that bothers me the most. The other things are all kind of obvious. White supremacists are bad. People who kill others for their religion are bad. People who can’t tell the difference between Muslims and Sikhs are stupid. Blah-blah-blah. I agree with all that. Who needs to hear yet another person say those things?

But I’ve always been one of those people who said that violent music or art did not necessarily lead to actual violence. I still believe that. But I also believe that violent art and music definitely can tend to make unbalanced people believe that real violence is OK. That appears to be at least part of what happened here.

All of the punk rock that I liked was very left-wing. But there was plenty of hateful stuff in there. The Dicks, who Zero Defex (the band I play bass in) played with a few times had songs like “Dicks Hate the Police”. MDC, whose name at one time meant Millions of Dead Cops, often had violent messages in their songs. MDC were big supporters of Zero Defex back in the day and we even played with them in Cleveland this year.

The photo of Zero Defex I put on this blog bugged some people who saw it when I posted it years ago because there’s a Nazi flag behind us. That’s me on the far left, just under the logo for The Dale, the bar we were playing at that night. The scowling skinhead in the middle is Tommy Strange, our main songwriter and guitarist. Although this was apparently taken during one of the songs that he sang while Jimi, our vocalist, played guitar because you can see Jimi just behind and to Tommy’s left with a guitar strapped on. I Photoshopped the picture to bring out the duct tape “No” symbol we put over the swastika on the flag to make it clear that we were against the Nazis and not for them. A lot of people didn’t catch that when I originally posted this picture. I still wonder where we ever got a Nazi flag. Think of the money we could’ve made selling that! A lot more than we got for the gig, I’m sure.

In any case, I never really thought those violent anti-police and anti-government messages were to be taken literally. To me it was a verbal working out of the frustrations we all felt at the way police and government power was abused. I didn’t think those bands were trying to incite people to literally go out there and murder police officers. Perhaps I’m naive, but I still don’t think it was meant to be taken literally.

Then again, maybe I’m like the dumb guys in the comedy heavy metal band Spinal Tap who said, “We say love your neighbor. Well, we don’t literally say it. And we don’t literally mean it either. But in any case that message should be clear.”

I feel like the problem isn’t so much the violent messages, even if some of the people who send them possibly really do want us to commit violent acts. It’s people’s inability to differentiate between art and reality. Even if you might argue that this isn’t the root problem, I still think it’s the problem we have to deal with because violent art is not going away. It’s been with us as long as art has been with us. And in the age of the internet it’s as impossible to control access to violent artistic images as it is to control access to pornography. So rather than trying to make all art conform to some kind of arbitrary code of niceness I think it’s better to try and educate people that it’s one thing to say “kill the cops” and a whole different thing to actually do that stuff.

In Buddhism there is an idea that right thought leads to right action. Conversely non-right thought can lead to non-right action. Thích Nhat Hanh cautions his followers not to consume what he calls “poisonous entertainment” that feeds our agitation. Dogen, too, told his followers much the same thing 800 years ago. I do not disagree with this approach. And yet I wonder…

As I have said many times, in my own case punk rock saved my life. It literally did. I was a suicidally depressed teenager. And one of the few things that kept me going were the so-called “negative messages” in punk rock music as well as in horror films and other supposedly “poisonous entertainment.” These messages let me know that I was not the only one who was frustrated by the status quo and wanted things to change.

Without these supposedly “negative messages” I would have felt totally lost and alone in the nice, clean suburbs of Ohio. Who knows? My frustration at all the supposedly “positive messages” I was receiving, which really just reinforced the false notion that everything was OK in the world, might have led me to take up a gun and shoot all the preps and the jocks in my school. So-called “positive messages” are often just propaganda intended to help big corporations and the like control the populace, keeping them docile by insisting that everything they do makes life peachy keen.

It’s impossible to say anything really conclusive about all this. But I think it’s good to say something non-conclusive. I don’t have the great answer to this problem and neither does anyone else. I think it’s really vital, though, to look at all sides of this issue.


Just moments ago I did an interview on Freedomizer Radio out of Houston, Texas. You can listen to it at freedomizerradio.com

From August 11 until September 11 I will be at Tassajara Zen Mountain Monastery. I’ll be working there as a student/worker or whatever they call it. Probably serving food or cutting cucumbers or something like that. At the end of my stay I’ll give a couple lectures about Dogen. I’ve done this every year for a few years now. It’s good for me to have to get up every morning at five, put on my robes, do some zazen, be an indentured servant for most of the day and then do some more zazen at night. I kinda need that experience to keep from getting too weird when I do the other stuff I do.

Speaking of weird stuff I do, I am going on yet another European tour less than two months after I get out of Tassajara. Here are the dates as far as I know them right now.

Oct. 26-28 Weekend Sesshin Kajo Zendo in Finland

Oct. 30 – Nov. 4 International Lay Buddhists Forum in Malaga, Spain

Nov. 9 Dogen Zendo in Frankfurt , Germany

Nov. 10 Balance Yoga in Frankfurt, Germany

Nov. 11 – 21 Possible dates in The Netherlands and/or Germany (Most likely Nov. 16-18 in Amsterdam or Rotterdam, but nothing is confirmed yet)

Nov. 23-25 Weekend Sesshin at Fawcett Mill Fields in Penrith, Lake District, UK (Sponsored by Yoga Manchester
Nov. 25 Manchester, UK (Sponsored by Yoga Manchester)



by Brad Warner

Last week I saw the movie Kumare. It’s a tremendously important film that I really hope gets a lot of notice. But it’s a movie that will be widely misunderstood. Take, for example, the review in the June 29th issue of Entertainment Weekly. They say:

American filmmaker Vikram Gandhi adopted the singsong Indian accent of his elders, grew his hair long, posed as a guru, and found followers in Phoenix. And while he was at it, he kept cameras rolling to make this dubious Borat-esque documentary. Gandhi tries to dodge criticism of his mocking scam by rationalizing that even a phony wise man can offer real solace. Besides, he says, he learned something about sincerity — not to mention the value of film festivals as fertile ground for publicity stunts.

Now, I like Entertainment Weekly. I’m even a subscriber. But I’m not at all surprised that they were unable to grasp the point of this movie. As they say, this is a movie about a guy of Indian descent who posed as a guru and filmed it. But what Vikram Gandhi did was not in any way a “mocking scam” nor is this film at all “Borat-esque.” As Borat, Sasha Baron Cohen played his character and the reactions it got for laughs. And while there are plenty of funny moments in Kumare, Vikram is dealing with a much more serious and important subject. But it’s a subject that I doubt the writers at Entertainment Weekly have much close contact with and so perhaps I can forgive them for completely missing the point.

As I’ve often written in this blog and in my books, I am highly uncomfortable in my Buddhist robes. Even though I am entitled to wear the golden colored sash (called an o-kesa) of a so-called “Zen Master,” I rarely take the damned thing out of the box it lives in, in the bottom of my closet. This is because as soon as you put something like that on a certain segment of the people you meet start reacting to you in ways that I find highly bizarre and off-putting.

Uniforms are powerful and significant. This is why the police, our “boys in blue,” dress in special clothes. It’s why the President of the United States always has a red tie. It’s why priests of all religions dress up in funny outfits. People really respond to that stuff.

Vikram had a serious interest in why certain well-heeled middle-class Americans are so easily drawn to pretty much anyone with a funny accent who puts on a set of robes. His first idea was to make a documentary film about actual gurus. But what he found disgusted and deeply disturbed him. He uses a few of the interviews he conducted for this unfinished project in the early part of the movie. And some of them are really chilling.

The one that bugged me most was Bhagavan Das who says, “If I was a twenty year old girl, I would love hanging out with me. What could be more fabulous than having sex with a really spiritual mystical person?” Vkram cuts this together with shots of a slightly spaced out but very attractive young blonde who says of Bhagavan Das, “He’s the new teacher of this age, of this world. He’s someone who has the answer, I believe.” Yep. And the answer is in his pants.

Bhagavan Das, in case you were wondering, is an old teacher of Ram Dass, the guy who wrote Be Here Now, and has been milking his association with Ram Dass for the past forty years (he even titled his own book It’s Here Now (Are You?)). He was a hippie who went to India and became a yogi then made a lot of famous friends including Jimi Hendrix. Which is fine. But I saw him in that video and it’s hard to imagine sex with a dude that hairy would be all that fabulous for a twenty-year old girl.

I don’t want to draw this into yet another of my rants about the matter of spiritual teachers who sleep with their students. I wrote two books that go deeply into that subject. But it’s just one of the things that drove Vkram to undertake the important social experiment he documents in this film.

By putting on some orange robes and imitating his grandmother’s Indian accent and mannerisms, Vkram discovered that there are people out there who are willing to believe just about any damned thing as long as it’s spoken by someone who appears to represent some kind of mystical spiritual tradition from the mysterious East. He has them doing air guitar moves and getting little penises drawn on their foreheads. Not only that, he tells them straight up that the thing he’s drawing on their foreheads is a dick and they still let him do it.

These are not dumb people either. They are intelligent, educated and sincere. Nor does Vkram try to make them look like fools. Over and over again he takes pains to point out that pretty much anyone could potentially fall for this kind of thing if they were seeking “The Answer” outside of themselves.

But as the guru Sri Kumare, Vkram has a message. And his message is that the answer is always within each of us. That we do not need to seek it in someone else. He intends to prove that by first luring his followers in with the scam of the guru Sri Kumare and then revealing to them that he’s really just a guy from New Jersey. I won’t give away the ending. But suffice it to say, it’s pretty intense.

The thing is, though, as Entertainment Weekly failed to understand in spite of saying it in their review, “even a phony wise man can offer real solace.” Sri Kumare, phony as he is, ends up doing his followers some actual good. That’s because Vikram, the man inside the Sri Kumare guise, is at heart a good guy who truly does want to help — even if that wasn’t what he initially set out to do. He’s not trying to scam these people. He’s trying to make a very important point. Sure he’s also trying to get a hit movie out of it. And I really hope his movie is a hit because a lot of people need to see this film.

It’s going to upset a certain segment of the audience who will see themselves in Sri Kumare’s followers and feel that they’re being played for fools. And you know what? It ought to upset them. That is precisely the point. But this is going to make it tough for Vkram to get the film seen by the people who most need to see it. It would be sad if the only people who get into the film are those who see Sri Kumare’s followers as a bunch of idiots and who mistakenly believe they’re above all that.

As for me, who very definitely is one of the people who needed to see this movie, it’s got me thinking again about the whole matter of spiritual uniforms and the role of the teacher in the spiritual quest. It’s true that the answer is within each and every one of us. But it’s also true that most of us need someone else to help us see that. The film Kumare demonstrates this in a very concrete — and highly entertaining — way.

The question it raises for me is this; Does it really even matter if the teacher has any sort of grounding? Can anyone at all put on some robes and, if he or she is at least a decent person, act as a guide for others? Why should I insist that anyone I would pass my lineage on to be extremely balanced before I give them the paperwork that lets them wear one of those silly golden colored sashes? My tentative answer is, on the one hand pretty much anyone who is even just a bit balanced can help others find balance. But such a person could only help their followers to a limited degree.

Also, as Vikram in the guise of the guru Kumare discovered, putting on those robe can make you act differently. When people start to trust in you, as they trusted in the phony Sri Kumare, any decent person will feel the need to try and be worthy of that trust. This may be why Dogen extolled the virtues of wearing the o-kesa, calling it “the great robe of liberation.”

But those robes can also be a dangerous weapon. Putting on the robe may make a decent person inclined to act more decently. But a less decent person can use its mojo to get all kinds of things like money and sex and power. The movie Kumare only hints at the extent to which one can abuse such power. But the real world provides plenty of examples.

Yeah. I’m talking to you, Bhagavan Das.


Brad Warner is the author of Sex, Sin and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between as well as Hardcore Zen, Sit Down and Shut Up! and Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate. He maintains a blog about Buddhist stuff that you can click here to see. You can also buy T-shirts and hoodies based on his books, and the new CD by his band Zero Defex now!



by Brad Warner

I was planning to write a different article today but then I heard the news about the shooting at the screening of the new Batman movie in Colorado. If you haven’t heard about that, click on the highlighted words in the previous sentence and read the CNN article.

Addressing the incident in Colorado, President Obama said:

“If there’s anything to take away from this tragedy it’s the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it’s not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it’s how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.”

True that. You do not even want to get me started on the matter of the Second Amendment and gun control. That debate was over and settled for me on the night of December 8, 1980 when John Lennon was murdered by a maniac with a legally acquired gun. There is no further need to discuss the matter. You will not change my mind on this issue. So please do not bother trying.

But facts are facts. People in the United States of America are allowed to have guns. I am not complacent on this issue and I will continue to do everything I can to change this fact for as long as I’m alive. Nonetheless this is the situation. I’m an American and I like living in this country. So I have to do what I can to make it better.

To me, this most recent tragedy is part of a much larger problem, which most people barely seem able to grasp. As technology advances, more and more people will continue to have access to greater and greater destructive power. The attacks on New York and Washington, DC on September 11, 2001 are the best example of this. Up until then, such an attack could only have been carried out by one of those very large, highly organized units of humanity we call a nation.

Nations have banded together to commit horrific atrocities in the past. This is certainly true. But it’s very hard to get that many people to participate in something really awful. Hitler, to take the most obvious example, really had to work at it. If he’d been able to get the holocaust or the blitzkrieg attacks on London going with just the first fifty guys who showed up at one of his beer hall gigs in Munich I’m sure he would have. But he couldn’t. He had to get thousands of people to support him. The difference between then and now is that now you can get something really horrific going with just a handful of people. Or even just one. The technology has progressed and will continue to progress along those lines.

In Japan (where I lived for eleven years), as in most of the civilized world, not just any lunatic can go buy a stash of guns the way they can here in America. This doesn’t mean there are no homicidal crazies in Japan. It just means they have to use more primitive technology. When I was over there a guy went into an elementary school in Osaka armed with a great big knife and killed eight children. I’m sure he would have used a gun and killed more if he could have gotten one. But he couldn’t.

Our continuing greater access to advanced technology is the factor that makes fundamental human change extremely urgent right now. In the past we could get away with a lot of shit because we didn’t have access to such tremendous destructive power. We couldn’t do that much damage to each other, to our planet and so forth. Now we can.

We’ve all heard the argument that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Of course the fact is that people with guns can kill people far more effectively than people without guns. But this has been said so often it’s a cliché. Still, even I have to admit that it’s true that if everyone who owned a gun were moral and sane, people could have as many guns as they wanted. Unfortunately not everyone is moral and sane. Nor can we effectively test everyone who tries to buy a gun as to their level of sanity and morality. So we need to control the access to such weapons. Again, this is just a fact, not something I want to debate.

To me, the most urgent issue in the world is not gun control. It’s morality. I’ve always felt this way. It’s one of the most fundamental points in all of Buddhism. People who say that Zen Buddhism has no stance on morality do not understand the very strong stance Zen Buddhism takes on morality. Some of this is the fault of Zen Buddhists who fail to (or are simply unable to) explain our ideas of morality clearly. But it’s also because the Zen take on morality is so very different from what we’ve been used to that it’s hard for people to grasp even when it is explained clearly.

I’ll make what will probably be an inadequate attempt at explaining it here on this little blog. Please forgive me if this just ends up being confusing.

All attempts to regulate morality through rules are doomed to fail. Even the tougher gun control laws that are clearly needed in the United States will ultimately fail. People will still be able to obtain guns if they really try hard. The difference is that they’ll have to try hard and thus may be deterred from doing whatever it is they want to do with their guns because it’s too damned difficult to get them. Yet there will be those few who are determined and those few will be able to do terrible things.

But guns are far from our only problem. Our most basic problem is that we do not know how to behave morally. In part this is because we imagine that morality is based on rules imposed by others. We associate moral behavior with the avoidance of punishment. Religions try make us believe in an imaginary place where even those bad things we’ve done that the law or our parents or whoever have failed to punish will be punished by an imaginary being who sees everything. The law of karma in Buddhism is too often poorly explained as yet another means by which this is supposed to occur. We’ll be punished for our bad behavior, it’s often wrongly said, by a kind of invisible moral force somewhere in the universe.

What’s really going on is that we misunderstand ourselves to be autonomous units who can inflict harm upon other autonomous units without suffering ourselves. But this is like thinking your right hand can stab your left foot and get away with it. Of course in some sense it can. Your right hand will not feel any pain if it does that. But your right hand can only do this if it is able to ignore the fact that it is part of a larger unit that does feel pain when it harms another part of that same larger unit. It’s not that the right hand will die and go to hell and be punished for stabbing your foot. Nor will the bad karma of stabbing your foot find its way back to your hand some time in the future. It all happens instantaneously.

The problem is that we are deeply, deeply steeped in a kind of huge collective delusion. Our mistaken way of understanding things has become so pervasive that we take it to be a fact. Our right hand really does think it’s not connected to our left foot. But it’s really not that hard to understand for ourselves right now that it’s a mistake. It just takes a bit of work to allow ourselves to settle enough that we can start seeing things as they actually are.

I am not trying to suggest that if only that guy in Colorado had meditated a little we wouldn’t have had this tragedy. In fact, there are so many meditation centers in Colorado I would not be surprised to learn that he did meditate. Perhaps even regularly. Meditation is not a magic solution to mental illness. In the short run sometimes meditation can seem to make mental illness worse by bringing it more to the surface.

But I do believe that our society desperately needs to establish a culture of meditation because we need a new basic foundation for moral action. We need a new foundation for moral action because the means for great destruction are now in the hands of far more people than ever had access to them before.

Obama is right. Ultimately, it is about how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.

My heart goes out to all those who have suffered because of this recent tragedy and all of the other tragedies like this that we’ll never hear about.


Brad Warner is the author of Sex, Sin and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between as well as Hardcore Zen, Sit Down and Shut Up! and Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate. He maintains a blog about Buddhist stuff that you can click here to see. You can also buy T-shirts and hoodies based on his books, and the new CD by his band Zero Defex now!


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