Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

8.26.2010

Zen Wrapped in Monsters: Too Many Quotes from Two Books

You won’t understand life and death until you’re ready to set aside any hope of understanding life and death and just live your life until you die.

Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate: A Trip Through Death, Sex, Divorce, and Spiritual Celebrity in Search of the True Dharma by Brad Warner

Not a great memoir; not a great Zen primer; but good enough at each that they complement each other and make a better whole. I'm very much a pragmatist and always want to know, How will this work? and, more importantly, Will this work? I wasn't entirely unfamiliar with Zen before reading this, but it was my first time reading an entire book by an actual Zen Master. I chose it because I wanted to see the theory in practice as it applies to actual, messy life. Warner does a good job of presenting just that, bringing the ideas down to earth and showing how they made a difference in the midst of flaws and imperfections and complexities. He's just a guy trying to deal, and this is how Zen helps him do that.

I made a vow.

For the sake of my dead mom and grandma and all those other dead people, I vowed to be an asshole for the rest of my life.

What I mean by that is that I just don’t give a shit anymore. I’m gonna pretty much say and do whatever I want from now on. This book is a manifestation of that attitude. If my mom and grandma hadn’t died, if my wife hadn’t left me, and if I hadn’t lost my job, you wouldn’t be reading this. Oh, I’d still have written a book. But it would have been a much milder piece of work than this one. Maybe a little commentary on some sutra or suchlike, but not the big snarly ball of confessional vomit you’ve been sitting through for the past several weeks.

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I wrote my first book, Hardcore Zen, believing it wasn’t even publishable. Who wanted to read the story of an ex-punk rock bass player and employee of a company that made cheesy Japanese monster movies who became a Zen master without ever giving up his punk-rock attitude or love of crappy films about giant lizards eating Yokohama?

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One of the things that gets lost in the way Zen is presented these days is that the whole idea of Zen in the beginning was to answer the question, How can we live a truly happy life? These days in America, Zen stuff always gets all caught up in religious ideas of righteousness and holy-ocity. Fuck that shit. Buddha didn’t want to find something holy; he just wanted a life that wasn’t a fucking drag all the time.

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But you didn’t want a rant about people making excuses. You wanted to know where people go when they die as told to you by a real live Zen master right here in a cheap-ass paperback book you bought on a whim because it had a funny title. Well, unfortunately, you seem to have me confused with someone dead. ‘Cuz I don’t know. And neither does anyone else who tells you they do, by the way.

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All of life is characterized by disappointment. Nothing ever lives up to your expectations, no matter what your expectations are. This doesn’t mean you’re never disappointed. I know I sure was. But you know that disappointment is just the action of your brain readjusting itself to reality after discovering things are not the way you thought they were. The best course of action when encountering disappointment is to know you now understand the situation better than you did before when all you had to go on was your thoughts. There’s no sense in wallowing in sadness that you were mistaken. You are fortunate, in fact, because you’re now better equipped to move forward realistically.

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In a weird way we’re always prepared for whatever we have to face. We just don’t know it. We always have an intuitive sense of right action. But we’re also very, very good at shouting so loudly over that sense that we may not be able to hear it when it functions. Zazen helps you learn to uncover the intuition you already have.

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There’s a truckload of extremely good reasons why you don’t want to rip open the doors of your subconscious too quickly. If you’re not fully prepared for what’s behind those doors, they’re better left shut tight until such time that you are. It’s a dangerous game to fuck with people’s heads.

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Everything you have, whether it’s money or stuff, is an obligation. It is as much your duty to care for and nurture any object you own as it would be if that object were your child. All possessions come with responsibilities. More possessions equals greater responsibilities.

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I understand the pressure of trying to be a leader to a group of people, many of whom are desperate to defer the responsibility for their own actions onto you. One of the basic human desires is the desire to be dominated. Dictatorships and cults arise from the desire of certain communities to be dominated by some powerful figure. Our primate relatives often live in small packs dominated by one unquestioned leader. Maybe this is how we’re programmed to respond. In any case, a dictator doesn’t come into power by his personal force alone. He comes into power when people want to be led, when people want to transfer responsibility onto some supposedly greater person.

It’s very convenient to be told what to do. You no longer have to think for yourself. You no longer have to make your own decisions. That can be a tremendous relief. It’s why some of the smartest people in the world often fall prey to the kookiest cults. They’re just tired of being responsible for themselves.


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One I enjoyed more, much more, but didn't want to ruin by writing a review is Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz. It's a new favorite and one of the best young adult fiction books I've read. I was hooked from the opening lines:

Some people have dogs. Not me. I have a therapist. His name is Adam.

I'd rather have a dog.

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One of my roommates, Rafael, he’s an expert on monsters. Not that he talks about them. I can just tell. People who have monsters recognize each other. They know each other without even saying a word.

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See, I have this theory: some people exist in the world in an old way and some people exist in the world in a young way. My dad, he existed in an old way. Rafael, he existed in a young way. Adam, he existed in a young way too. See, some guys, they’ll always be like boys in some ways. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I haven’t decided yet.

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Some people have eating disorders and there’s a special group for that. Some people have more than one person living inside them and there’s a special group for that. That’s serious stuff.
That really does stun the hell out of me. I mean, I only have one of me living inside me and that’s bad enough. If I had more than one of me inside me, I’d off myself.

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Anyway, Adam and I came up with this figure: 85%--which means that 85% of the time, I’m engaging with myself instead of engaging with the people around me. Look, I like the 85% thing. I do. I’m giving other human beings 15% of my time. That’s plenty. Believe me. No, no don’t believe me. I’m a liar.

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[Terminally unique] means that you think you’re so special that no one could possibly understand you.

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I am absolutely certain that the only thing I really suffer from is intellectual curiosity.

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But the thing is that I’m in love with Rafael’s story. I think I understand when Adam says that all our stories are different but in some ways our stories are all the same. I never really got that. But when I start to read Rafael’s journal, it’s as if I can see myself. It’s better than a mirror.

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This is my theory: the people who
shouldn’t hate themselves, do hate themselves. And the people who should hate themselves, don’t hate themselves.

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“I have a new theory,” he said, “and the theory is this: if I develop a great capacity for feeling pain, then I am also developing a great capacity for feeling happiness.”

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It sort of embarrassed me to see people engage in unhealthy behaviors in such a public way. I liked to keep my unhealthy behaviors to myself.

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It’s one thing to be sad and it’s another thing to be sad once you’ve been happy. Being sad after you’ve been happy is the worst thing in the world.

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