on the selfie of self-compassion – part 1


I’m like one of those Japanese bowls… I have some cracks in me, they have been filled with gold…


HI there! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Last you looked I was headed off on a training retreat to learn how to teach a self-compassion program developed by Chris Germer and Kristin Neff. It was quite the gathering of folks from all over the world. I suppose that says a lot about the state of the world and the wish of so many of us that something… anything… perhaps self-compassion practice even… could create a shift away from our determined efforts to create suffering.

As with any retreat, I learned – and keep learning – that the process is subtle, sneaky, and seductive. Somewhere along the way (and I don’t recall when it happened), I discovered this splinter just west of my heart. One of those things you don’t know is there and that it has had you off-kilter until it’s no longer there. To be honest, I don’t even know the accreted story around the splinter other than it having something to do with shame.

Of course, it has to do with shame. What else would sit festering and infecting everything, cracking apart the rigid calcified self-constructs only to create more? Fun times were had by all my constructed and contrived selves!

And then this past weekend, I had the absolute delight to co-teach with Chris Germer right here in my own backyard. Almost 100 people at the retreat and I was gobsmacked by the kindness and solid practice. You might say to me, “Hey Genju! Can you see it now? No need for shame or unworthiness. Feel the love, Girl! Fill those cracks with gold!”

You might and you’d be right. Except for that moment when that Thing happens in a retreat. You know the one I mean: where you’re bopping along and BAM! you get that ole familiar mind worm about screwing up. Right at that moment, as I shut down for how long I don’t know, Chris leaned over and said something about how the session was flowing. Something about how he would do this differently next time and that he was doing fine but really preferred the back-and-forth. Having been shut down and on high threat alert, my mind and body flooded with shame. I had let my co-teacher down! We got through the rest of the day and you know I sat up all night deconstructing this nanomoment, right?

Well hell. It was a self-compassion retreat so that’s what I practiced. Not with the idea that I wanted the suffering to end but – as Chris says – BECAUSE I was suffering! And then (really after about 4 hours of torment), I heard his words again but understood them differently. Earlier someone had said they wanted to hear more from him about self-compassion; he and I consulted and agreed it was a good idea for him to carry the late morning and afternoon session. He wasn’t referring to my preoccupation. He was referring to the imbalance of the teaching dynamic after we decided to shift our roles. Can you see those cracks filling in with gold?

Checking in the next morning, it was clear that my high threat stance had really warped the message. But wait, it doesn’t end here!

In the Q&A, one participant asked: If in Buddhist teachings we are told to see there is no self, what is the self in self-compassion?

Yah. One of those questions. But it opens the door to asking whether self-compassion is really a selfie. (Spoiler alert: I don’t agree that it is but let’s hash it out.)

OK. You take a stab at this and I’ll publish my answer and my revised answer in the next post.


Filed under: Western Teachers Tagged: Christopher Germer, Kristin Neff, self-compassion

India recognizes transgender people

India's Supreme Court has recognised transgender people as a third gender, in a landmark ruling.
"It is the right of every human being to choose their gender," it said in granting rights to those who identify themselves as neither male nor female.
It ordered the government to provide transgender people with quotas in jobs and education in line with other minorities, as well as key amenities.
According to one estimate, India has about two million transgender people.

That Dirty Word “Buddhism”

Nolotusflower“Fred,” a commenter on this blog, quoted an article by Sam Harris from 2006. In it Sam Harris said, “Worse still, the continued identification of Buddhists with Buddhism lends tacit support to the religious differences in our world. At this point in history, this is both morally and intellectually indefensible—especially among affluent, well-educated Westerners who bear the greatest responsibility for the spread of ideas. ”

A few paragraphs on in the same piece, Mr. Harris continues thus:

“What the world most needs at this moment is a means of convincing human beings to embrace the whole of the species as their moral community. For this we need to develop an utterly nonsectarian way of talking about the full spectrum of human experience and human aspiration. We need a discourse on ethics and spirituality that is every bit as unconstrained by dogma and cultural prejudice as the discourse of science is. What we need, in fact, is a contemplative science, a modern approach to exploring the furthest reaches of psychological well-being. It should go without saying that we will not develop such a science by attempting to spread ‘American Buddhism,’ or ‘Western Buddhism,’ or ‘Engaged Buddhism.’

“If the methodology of Buddhism (ethical precepts and meditation) uncovers genuine truths about the mind and the phenomenal world—truths like emptiness, selflessness, and impermanence—these truths are not in the least ‘Buddhist.’ No doubt, most serious practitioners of meditation realize this, but most Buddhists do not. Consequently, even if a person is aware of the timeless and non-contingent nature of the meditative insights described in the Buddhist literature, his identity as a Buddhist will tend to confuse the matter for others.”

The article in full is worth reading. I found it here on Shambhala Sun’s website.

This is much like what my teacher, Nishijima Roshi, would say sometimes. He said, “Buddhism is just realism.” He said he believed eventually the word “Buddhism” would no longer be necessary. But he took it a different direction from Mr. Harris. When you’d ask Nishijima Roshi why he still used the word “Buddhism” himself, he would say that he had to call it something and that, currently, “Buddhism” was what it was called.

The very word “Buddhism” is a British invention (if you don’t want to buy the book somebody made a PDF of it). It came from people who researched the cultures of the Asian countries which they colonized and tried to define them in British terms. Thus the things that Indians and Tibetans and Chinese people did that resembled what British people did at church were a religion. That religion was founded by a guy called Buddha. So these British researchers called this religion “Buddhism,” just as they called Islam “Mohammedism.”

Whether Asian Buddhism is a religion or not is debatable. Certainly much of it is wrapped up in superstition and unfounded belief in supernatural forces just like our own religions. But much of it is not. Just like our own religions.

There are two big unanswered questions I see with Sam Harris’ points. They are, 1) What are you gonna call it then? and 2) Do you mean we have to get rid of all the rituals since rituals are too “religious?”

Question one is problematic but solvable. We have to have names for things in order to communicate with each other about them. If we were to call what is now called Buddhism “realism,” as Nishijima Roshi suggested would one day happen, this could be confusing. These days the word “realism” generally seems to be synonymous with “materialism.” And Buddhism isn’t materialism.

We could just make up a new word. But that has drawbacks. It’s like the people who are concerned about the grammatical necessity of using gendered pronouns in English who propose to use new words like zhe, ze or zir instead of he or she. It’s awkward and nobody knows what the hell you’re talking about.

Maybe eventually we’ll get a word that works. But not yet. So we’re stuck with “Buddhism” for now.

The second question is trickier. In order to create “an utterly nonsectarian way of talking about the full spectrum of human experience and human aspiration” a lot of folks these days have sought to create a ritual-free Buddhism, which doesn’t call itself Buddhism but pretty much is Buddhism anyhow. MBSR is like this as is lots of the philosophy of Ekhart Tolle.

In fact my own two teachers sort of did this themselves. They taught meditation only and avoided most of the other ritual stuff like chanting, prostrations, services and suchlike. Neither of them eliminated these things entirely. That’s significant. They both did some of the rituals. But they played them down considerably.

I only discovered the problem when I started going to Tassajara Zen Monastery in Northern California. There I was required to do a lot of rituals. At first I found this to be extremely problematic. Intellectually I saw these rituals the way I think Sam Harris does, as promoting sectarianism and ultimately religious warfare. A few years ago I probably would have agreed with Mr. Harris that promoting or even engaging in such nonsense was “morally and intellectually indefensible.” If I’d seen his piece six years ago when it was new and I’d only just started going to places where Buddhist rituals were regularly performed I might have written a very different response to it.

Harris never actually addresses the matter of ritual in this piece, nor in any of his other writings about this matter that I know of. I suspect he’s largely ignorant of the ritual aspects of Buddhism and would probably consider them, as I used to, as irrelevant or even damaging.

In Bendowa, Dogen seems — at least superficially — to agree. He says, “After the initial meeting with a [good] counselor we never again need to burn incense, to do prostrations, to recite Buddha’s name, to practice confession, or to read sutras. Just sit and get the state that is free of body and mind.Yet for the rest of his life Dogen burned lots of incense, did plenty of prostrations, recited Buddha’s name a whole bunch of times and read loads of sutras. I don’t really know what “practice confession” means. But I’ll be he did that too.

These rituals are an important part of the practice. They are part of its realistic approach to human life. They are necessary in order to experience the fullness of Buddhist practice.

It’s true that these rituals are more-or-less arbitrary. Yet part of what makes them work is that they connect us not only to the community with whom we perform them. They connect us to a tradition and to our human past, to the wider community of humans who lived and died long before us. A tradition takes a very long time to come together. The rituals have to be old and established. So we have to look to our past to find them.

Still, we are free to understand these received rituals in our own way. In fact we have to, since there is no other way to understand them. The way this works best for me is to understand the rituals as arbitrary and fairly flexible.

I often tell the story of being at Tassajara one morning in which a whole lot of things went wrong with the daily chanting service. Bells were rung at the wrong time, incense wasn’t lit when it should have been, we even had to stop one chant and start it over again because it was such a train wreck.

Afterwards, Leslie James, the abiding teacher (like The Dude, she abides) said, “That’s OK. It shouldn’t be too perfect.” That’s when I started to feel OK about the whole thing and eventually started to actually like it.

What Sam Harris says here is important and relevant. But I think it really leaves these two very crucial matters unresolved. To me it seems like we have no real choice but to keep calling it “Buddhism” and hope that the word itself gets redefined by subsequent generations and to keep on doing the rituals the way they’ve been done before, while defining them in ways that don’t involve superstition or worship of the supernatural.

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Remember your donations make this blog happen. If I am to abide like Ms. James at Tassajara, I need your help! Every donation counts. Thank you for your support!

Registration is now open for our Zen & Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center May 9-11, 2014

The events page is now updated! Take a look at where I’m gonna be!

You can see the documentary about me,  Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen, at the following locations:

• April 17, 2014 Los Angeles, CA

• April 20, 2014 San Francisco, CA

ZERO DEFEX will play on May 16, 2014 in Akron, OH


Sometimes a movie is made to tour.

Are you interested in seeing HARDCORE ZEN with your local community? Would you like Brad Warner to speak at your university, meditation group, or personal guests?

Now you can have both. The film will screen at a location at your discretion. Simply contact booking@bradwarnershardcorezen.com with the following specifics: your location, contact info, and potential date for the event.

old fart spiritual life

 Old fart alert!

At 74, it might seem that 40-plus years of interest in spiritual endeavor would lead to some sage conclusions -- conclusions that might be 'shared' to some advantage. If such conclusions or usefulness existed, I would certainly be willing to give it away.

Instead, I seem to sit at some midpoint between wanting to retail adventures that might benefit others (and, oh yes, wink-wink, nod-nod, coincidentally play into whatever need for meaning I might have) and the recognition that such retailing is all but pointless... and I am just another old fart looking backwards because that's what old farts do... another liar basking in the sun of some back porch, musing about fishes he once caught ... and of course they were big fishes.

But what the hell -- this is a blog, a place and exercise whose closest synonym might be "circle jerk." And since no one ever said jerking off didn't feel good, I guess I will indulge myself.

After 40-plus years -- a conversational convention that parses a whole life even if that life cannot be parsed -- I look back and ....

1. I admire people who lower themselves into the shark-infested waters of spiritual life. I do not admire the ichthyologists who sit by the water's edge, elevating or despairing of the environment or purpose or particulars of those waters. I have done the same, but just because I stepped in dog shit once does not mean I want to repeat the exercise. I admire those who choose to live, however ineptly, in a universe of sharp teeth. They may never become ichthyologists, but they will be enriched by what they actually-factually know. And all of this boils down to the threadbare observation made in a hundred ways in a hundred venues: You must -- MUST -- find out for yourself. Any other resolve is bound to fail. Beware the humble man who says "God cannot be known." Beware, likewise, the man who says, "God can be known." Such sharks are a dime a dozen.

2. The door marked "entrance" on one side is marked "exit" on the other. Failure to enter and failure to exit are the same failure differently named. Enter and dive deep. Exit and dive deep. When the extraordinary stops being so extraordinary and the ordinary stops being so ordinary ... well, isn't that enough? I think it is.

3. Be a fool for what beckons. How else could anyone honestly overcome foolishness?

4. Just because a (wo)man doesn't know something does not, ipso facto, make it a "mystery." It's just something s/he doesn't know and not knowing is not that bad. Elevating or despising the unknown is dishonest ... understandable, perhaps, but dishonest. Honesty counts in spiritual life.

5. When Prince Siddhartha -- the one who would later be called the Buddha -- left home, he did so, like so many in spiritual life, in search of another home -- one that would rest easy in the face of disease, old age and death. For six years, he subjected himself, hammer and tongs, to the teachings of others. He was determined. What home could he find that did not fall prey to such sorrows? He worked his ass off, just as any spiritual aspirant might. But finally he sat down alone and dug deeper than the comforts of home ... deeper and deeper until his house hunting came to an end and "the roofbeam" was broken. No house can stand where the roofbeam is broken. And he had broken the roofbeam ... or anyway that's how the story goes.

6. All spiritual tales of whatever sort -- from most revered text to most flimsy gossip -- leave out the juicy bits. I can remember sitting at a tea after an evening of zazen or seated meditation. I was new and would be a liar if I said I was not wowed by the setting, the robes, and the idle chatter that I could barely keep up with. And as I sat there I grew increasingly cranky. Finally, my mind burst into a firm complaint: "Will someone please just tell me what I want to know so I can get the fuck out of here?!" No more wow, no more fancy names for personages or states of mind -- just tell me what I want to know ... you know, the juicy bits. But of course no one could do that. The juicy bits were entirely up to me. To say I hated it would be an understatement. The juicy bits where meditation legs burned like fire; the juicy bits where bright openings came calling; the juicy bits where despair reached from horizon to horizon; the juicy bits where an 'advanced' understanding was neatly tucked under my belt; the juicy bits where vast desire was a minor matter seen only in some serene rearview mirror.... etc. It was like taking an exam in which you had to fill in the blank: "The truth of the matter is __________." The fact that I wanted -- in subtle and gross ways -- to have someone, some authority, fill in the blank for me ... well, shit, shit, shit!!!! I had made the time and made a donation and done what was required: I wanted some quid pro quo payback. Well shit, shit, shit! The juicy bits were up to me. I wanted someone to love me, to take care of me, to mend an often broken heart ... and no one would tell me the juicy bits.

7. I doubt if there was a single day -- not one single, solitary day in all of those 40-plus years -- that I did not arouse some spiritual-life-linked thought. World events, social events, private events ... anger, joy, love, sadness ... all of them and more like them addressed in the days that passed and all of them, little or large, brought into focus through a spiritual lens. Imagine that ... not one day in 40-plus years! I was determined to improve and so brought improvements to bear. I was like a man who had chosen a pair of designer sunglasses, put them on, and hoped that the filtering tint might ease the eye in the face of the bright and juicy bits. Looking back, I can say that this pastime was not much different from the times before I ever grew determined about spiritual life. But that's 20/20 hindsight: At the time I didn't see it. I was determined to find a new home and I worked pretty hard -- however ineptly -- at it. Nowadays, there is an occasional grandmotherly voice that says firmly, "Oh for heaven's sake! Give it a rest, will you?!" And, more than that, there is a sense of things slipping away all by themselves. No need to push the river. Get over yourself. Get over your glasses. The brightness is not all that bright. Put the glasses on the bureau top and enjoy the juicy bits as they arise. Will you end up in Dante's much-revered version of hell? Sure, but the man who distinguishes between heaven and hell has got a very -- very -- serious problem.

8. These days, even the door marked "exit" seems a little extreme. Doorways lead from one place to another and, without waxing sexy, what other place is there? I had a lot of cap pistols when I was little. Now I have none. Is there some reason to suppose that, like all the other things once held dear and then 'outgrown,' spiritual adventure should or needs to be different? It has nothing to do with virtue or lack of virtue. Things walk away ... isn't that the honest truth? There's no rush and no improvement required. Things walk away.... but not before they're ready to.

9. In spiritual writing, usually there is a good-news punchline, some beckoning and enticing bit of "amen" that is placed upon the sentence. There is also the bad news with which to bait the hook. Good news, bad news -- bait the hook. Christianity, Judaism and Islam strike me as pretty ham-handed in this regard, but they are younger and their disarray is more easily forgiven, perhaps. Buddhism and Hinduism are more adult -- literally older and with more experience under their belt. But they too are in business to assuage and improve. None of this is intended as criticism -- it's just how I see things through my life's glasses. I certainly wish others well, but baiting the hook that is already baited strikes me these days as a waste of perfectly good bait.

10. The truth of the matter is ___________ and the sun is setting on this back porch. Here's hoping your back porch is smarter than mine!

11. Bonne chance!

Updates from Zen Land


With palms together,
Good Morning All,

This morning brought a brilliant moon and chilly air.  I am sitting in my flannel robe looking out the French doors in our living room.  Outside, things are still.  The world hasn’t quite woken up yet….well, at least my world.  Kathryn sleeps, as do Binky and Suki, and I putter.  My mind is on the Google Hangout.  Only one of our several invitees showed up.  Interesting.  I know people have their own lives to live and things do, indeed, come up that interfere with our plans, yet, still, it is disheartening.  I think we will come on at an earlier hour, say 6:30 Mountain Time, on Monday evenings.

The trouble with ideas is that they come with expectations.  In Zen, we are taught that expectations come with attachments, and attachments lead to suffering.  Perhaps so.  But, this does not mean that we should not have expectations, rather, that our expectations should be held like loosely held reins.  We have them, but are not attached to them. We move in their direction, but assume an attitude of flexibility and float like a duck, if you will.  

So, we will try to do an Internet service this coming Monday at 6:30 PM Mountain Time. We will chant the Heart Sutra and the Four Great Vows, sit zazen for 20 minutes and then have a dharma talk with a Question and Answer period to conclude.  If you wish to participate send me an email with “Hangout” in the subject line and your Gmail address in the text box.

Lastly, Study Group this evening at my residence.  We will discuss Chapter Four of our text.  I hope to see you there!

Be well.


religion photos

Penitents walk on their way to a church before taking part in the procession of San Gonzalo brotherhood during Holy Week in the Andalusian capital of Seville, southern Spain, April 14, 2014.
REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo
A resident, living in building damaged by a previous earthquake in 1972, carries a cross as he leaves the building after an earthquake shook Managua, Nicaragua, April 14, 2014.
REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas
A devotee whose face is smeared with vermillion powder takes part in the "Sindoor Jatra" vermillion powder festival at Thimi, near Kathmandu, Nepal, April 15, 2014.
REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
Children stand during rain in front of Saint Michel Catholic church in the town of Boda, Central African Republic, April 14, 2014.
REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Wishing all a Blessed Fordicidia!

No, this is not a holiday I invented for me… Among the ancient Romans, as I understand, the whole month of April was dedicated to the celebration of female deities in a season generally focused on fecundity… And Fordicidia, observed on the 15th of April, was among the oldest of these many rites of spring [Read More...]

Pulitzer Prizes

The Guardian and Washington Post have shared the Pulitzer Prize for public service journalism for a series of stories on US electronic spying.
Their reporting was based on documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
The top prizes are bound to ruffle some feathers since they reward what some might call illegal activity. Snowden, who is holed up in Russia, is wanted for espionage by American authorities who claim his release of information caused demonstrable harm to American interests -- interests that remain shrouded in secrecy for 'national security' reasons... and the demonstrable harm remains undemonstrated on the basis, it seems, that the American public should trust the good intentions of the agencies hired to 'serve' them.

I guess it is impossible for those who consider Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea/Bradley Manning traitors to do otherwise. Were they to take that accusation off the table, the only alternative would be to stand accused as traitors themselves.

On public TV last night, a discussion of the Pulitzer Prizes included the observation that the Guardian's coverage represented a growing trend towards accepting personal appreciations into the realm of what once was more distanced coverage. Once, the baseline was to present facts and let the viewer/reader draw conclusions. It was never perfect, but it was an attempt. Now, increasingly, it is acceptable to reach conclusions that the viewer/reader might not reach on his/her own. Something along the lines of, "In case you missed it, this sucks!" ... and it sucks not necessarily based on fact, but increasingly simply because I say it sucks.

On the one hand, some things are so egregiously corrupt that they deserve the personal touch in an attempt to serve some wider good. On the other hand, it is a slippery slope, with increasing numbers assuming that their personal opinion warrants the status as fact... and convincing a gullible audience.

This is a realm that may be worthy of debate, but I doubt there is any clear-cut answer. My own persuasion is to stick to a blog which, by definition, is biased and frequently slipshod.

Video: A World Made More Beautiful

Thanks to Genkaku-Again for posting this.