Saturday, April 30, 2011

If Everything Single Thing Is Made Of String, Then I Can Forget About Not Forgetting

Last evening's dilemma was to choose between two competing shows, both featuring local Atlanta musicians. James Hall and Futura Bold, a local band recommended to me at a coffee shop by a young woman, were headlining at the Star Bar, with Abby Go Go and Torture Town opening. Meanwhile, over at The Earl, Qurious were opening for Mathis Hunter & The Rinse and the headliner, Adron. I had to choose.

The young lady at the coffee shop was very insistent about James Hall, insistent to the point where I wondered if she wasn't in a relationship with him (or wanted to be in a relationship with him), and I've read a lot of good reviews of Abby Go Go as well. Plus The Star Bar, with its Elvis shrine and all, has long been a favorite Little Five Points neighborhood dive.

But then again, The Earl's always been dependable, and I was, um, curious about Qurious, the band that made the video with the flower blossoms that I posted yesterday. I wondered what they would sound like live. Although I hadn't heard of the other two bands performing, Creative Loafing, Atlanta's local weekly newspaper, posted a little column on their website saying that Qurious was but one of three "hypnotic bands" that would be playing The Earl last night.

I won't go so far as to say that I followed my gut, but my stomach did help make the decision for me. I was hungry, and The Earl makes a fairly decent roadhouse hamburger (I don't think the Star Bar even has a kitchen). I wound up at The Earl, finishing a burger and fries at the bar before the bands took the stage (one doesn't survive on rice and fruit alone). As it turns out, I think I made the right decision, if not about nutrition, then about music.

Qurious turned out to be a young he-and-she duo with obvious Animal Collective influences. The stage was bathed in black light while they performed, while lots of starry laser-light points were projected onto a screen behind them. He wore a child's glow-in-the-dark cat mask while playing synthesizers and percussion, and she played some synth as well and sang in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Memoryhouse. The intersection of Memoryhouse and Animal Collective is not a bad place at all for a band to meet, and their set was interesting and quite enjoyable.

Mathis Hunter & The Rinse turned out to be a quintet quite a bit different from Qurious, playing a sort of groove-intensive hybrid of southern boogie and psych rock. Their excellent bass player provided the strong forward momentum necessary to keep the grooves chugging along, while the organ kept everything sounding trippy and a little spacey. At one point, they even managed to cover Lynyrd Skynyrd's They Call Me The Breeze while sounding only slightly ironic, although it wasn't at all a song I was expecting to hear after Qurious' opening set. The "hypnosis" of their music turned out to be in the groove, which they kept going throughout their entire set.

But the real revelation of the night was Adron. Adron is primarily singer and guitarist Adrienne McCann, an amazing 20-year-old artist influenced by late ‘60s Brazilian tropicàlia and bossa nova. How she came to embrace that particular genre of music, a form that peaked in popularity in another hemisphere a full 20 years before she was born, is a mystery surpassed only by how she became so confident and adept at playing it at such a young age. That these things came together in Atlanta, Georgia, of all places, may be the most amazing part of all. McCann writes her own songs which, while reminiscent of Jobim and Gilberto, are not derivative of either, and amazingly, she wrote the majority of her songs when she was only 15- and 16-years-old. This precociousness has earned her a loyal and adoring audience that last night included a lithe young woman dancing in front of the stage who was able to honestly tell me that she had been coming to Adron shows for 5 years now, despite the fact that McCann is barely out of her teens herself.

To get a better idea of what I'm talking about, listen to her Stringsong, below. There's a compositional complexity to the song that doesn't get in the way of its overall breeziness, just as the lyrics manage to address both quantum string theory and the more typical concerns of an adolescent American girl wondering when the braces will come off her teeth. Throw in the sounds of evening surf, some woodpecker-like percussion, and McCann's graceful nylon-string guitar playing, and you get something sounding like this:

I understand that Adron has recently relocated to New York to advance her career, and if David Byrne doesn't sign her to his Luaka Bop Records soon, there's no real justice in this world.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Night Video

This appears to be Chapter Three of the Edward Sharpe story. For those of you playing the home version of this series, I posted Chapters 1 and 2 back here. Considering this is supposedly a 12-part saga and the videos have been coming out only about one every six months, we'll have to wait a while for it all to unfold.

Oh, yes. Also, this:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Nature's Brutality

Tuscaloosa, after the storm. Or what's left of Tuscaloosa. Pictures from Aaron Suttles' Twitpic feed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Police Brutality

Let's see, there's so much to talk about, I'm not even sure where to begin. To get us started, here's a quick pic of Matthew Mayfield opening for The Watson Twins last night.

And here's a pic of the twins themselves, performing a cover (one of many) of The Cure's Just Like Heaven while headlining at Smith's Olde Bar.

But everything hasn't been universally copacetic in the ATL this week. Here's a video of a late-night incident in a Buckhead IHoP last weekend:

Police punch a young woman in the face, and then throw her to the floor and handcuff her. In case there's any mistake about who's the culprit here, here's another video of the event taken from a different angle:

This second video shows a little more clearly how the incident unfolded, as well as the context: guys at the next booth for some reason dressed like Star Wars characters goading the police on, drunken frat boys two table away laughing at the whole thing, and at around the 1:30 mark, my favorite part of the video - restless patrons snagging the newly available booth once the young woman is dragged away.

I'm posting this here not as entertainment but to document the events in case the videos get taken down off of YouTube for some reason. I feel so sorry for that woman - hurt, scared, humiliated, and, later, incarcerated. This is beyond bullying - this is brutality, this is authoritarianism of the worst kind. Atlanta needs to make some major changes in its police force.

The biggest news, though, is none of this but the weather: tonight, they're calling for "near certain" tornadoes to hit the city. The media are trying their best to inform, or scare the pants off, the public, with a local weatherman saying something to the effect that a rating of "1" indicates a likelihood of tornadoes touching down, and a "2" indicates a near certainty. Tonight rates an 8 or 9, he tells us.

Outside, the hard winds are blowing on and off, but rain hasn't started yet. The lights are also flickering from time to time, and I'm fairly certain I'll lose electricity at some point tonight. I just hope the trees surrounding my house remain upright.

But all of the above isn't even the weird part. In addition to the President of the United States having to release his birth certificate to the press today, an Atlanta-area school teacher claims to have attained a "new level of enlightenment" last week. According to the police reports, "he wanted everybody to be free now that his third eye was open."

The arresting officer explained "the obvious problem with his third eye being opened in public." The officer wrote that "He readily agreed that his decision to remove his clothing posed a problem and stated that he understood why I would likely have to place him under arrest" (he had been caught by another teacher walking naked down the halls of his elementary school). The teacher was reportedly a vegan who had sworn off soft drinks, but had gone to Taco Bell for some reason an hour or so before the incident.

At the officer's request, he put his clothes back on and told the arresting officer that he understood that his career with the school system was probably over, but that he still wanted to teach, "on a new level, with hands in the earth, gathering the essence and learning how to love one another and fully appreciate the spiritual realm."

There's still no word yet as to whether or not he will be installed as the new head teacher at the Atlanta Zen Center.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Watson Twins, Smith's Olde Bar, Atlanta

I haven't seen LA's (by way of Kentucky) Watson Twins since last September, so seeing as their playing this evening at Smith's Olde Bar, it's high time to head back to that Atlanta institution for a hot meal, cold beer, good music, and nice-looking waitresses.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dogen also said,

Students of the Way often say that if they do such and such people in the world will reproach them. This is totally wrong. Even though people criticize you, if it is the activity of the buddhas and patriarchs and in accordance with the sacred teachings, you should follow and practice it. Even if people in the world praise you, if it is not prescribed in the sacred scriptures nor what the patriarchs have done, you should not practice it. This is because even if people in the world, be they intimates or strangers, praise or criticize you and you follow their opinions, when you face death and fall into the evil-realms pulled by your own evil deeds, none of them can save you. Moreover, even if you are reproached and hated by everyone, if you practice relying solely on the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs you will surely be saved. So do not refrain from practicing for fear of being slandered by others. Furthermore, those who slander you or praise you are not necessarily those who have penetrated and attained the practice of the buddhas and patriarchs. How is it possible to judge the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs by worldly values of good and evil?

Therefore, do not depend on the sentiments of worldly people. If an action should be carried out according to the Buddha-Way, practice it wholeheartedly (Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Book 3, Chapter 13).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Why So Serious?

"Life has never been taken with such ecstasy, joy, and bliss as Zen has done.

"The common religions of the world, Hinduism or Christianity, Mohammedanism or Jainism, are all too serious. And their seriousness keeps them imprisoned in words, in theories, in philosophies. Their seriousness does not allow them to laugh, to sing, to dance, to be merry. They have spoiled the whole of humanity, they have destroyed the laughter of every child who has been born.

"It seems there is something in laughter of which our so-called society is afraid..."
– Osho, from Zen: The Quantum Leap from Mind to No-Mind, ch. 3

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hongzhi was the abbot at Tiantong monastery when Zen Master Dogen visited China around 1225. Hongzhi once said, "Even if your measuring cup is full and the balance scale is level, in transactions I sell at a high price and buy when cheap. Zen worthies, do you understand? In a bowl, the bright pearl rolls on its own without prodding." Hongzhi also said, "For a luminous jewel without flaw, if you carve a pattern its virtue is lost."

Twenty years later, Dogen told his followers, "I, old man Daibutsu, do not agree. Great assembly, listen carefully and consider this well. For a luminous jewel without flaw, if polished its glow increases."

"For a luminous jewel without flaw, if you carve a pattern its virtue is lost" implies that Buddha-nature is perfect as it is - one can't improve it and shouldn't even try. Practice and enlightenment are one, but for Hongzhi, the emphasis was on enlightenment, with practice as its natural function, like the pearl rolling on its own. That is why in his first statement, he maintains that even if a merchant is scrupulously honest and thereby "perfect," the natural practice is to buy low and sell high. The full cup and the level balance are the perfect Buddha-nature; buying low and selling high are the practices that naturally arise.

Dogen's statement, "if polished, its glow increases," implies that even though Buddha nature is perfect as it is, our practice can clarify and extend its manifestation. For Dogen, practice and enlightenment were also one, but the emphasis was on practice, the direct expression of enlightenment that can actually deepen the experience.

It was around this same time that Dogen commented on the story of Nangaku, in order to show Baso the futility of practicing zazen to become a Buddha, began polishing a roof tile claiming to be making a mirror. Dogen noted that even though practice with a goal toward attainment of anything was itself a delusion, in fact, the Eternal Mirror of enlightenment does arise from the practice of polishing.

Friday, April 22, 2011

You do not go to death, death comes to you.

YACHT played this evening at The Masquerade, one of my least favorite venues in Atlanta, one that takes a band like YACHT to go there. YACHT, it's been said, is a lot of things. It's kind of a band, but it's mostly a genre-and-media-spanning life project founded and led by Portland's Jona Bechtolt and new member Claire L. Evans. YACHT make anthemic power jams, play them backwards and soak them in nearly-psychedelic cherry cola. YACHT's heart is the shows: uncluttered, inspiring sessions of damaged dance moves and synchronized crowd-waving, backed by constantly changing elements -- PowerPoint presentations, audience Q&A sessions, and shamanistic video environments.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

On Criticism

I didn't mean to jump on the anti-Merzel bandwagon yesterday - there's plenty of other people doing that - nor was I trying to deflect attention away from the recent criticisms of my teacher, as was suggested to me by some. I was merely trying to illustrate that both criticisms and shortcomings of spiritual teachers are not unique (that, and I was being lazy and allowing 66 Zen teachers to write the day's blog entry for me).

This has been a tough year for many Zen teachers, from Genpo Merzel to Eido Shimano, and even back to Taizan Maezumi. Not that the criticism was always unwarranted. Tough love, and all that.

"One of the many downsides of growing older is that you step on toes more," writes Michael Elliston, a teacher who's received his share of criticism in these parts recently. "One of the few upsides is that it doesn’t matter as much. They are not going to be mad at you for very long."

Criticizing and finding fault with others is to be blind to the buddha-nature in all things. "I do not see the faults of others," Hui-Neng once said. But allowing boorish actions and ignoring abusive practices is not saving all sentient beings.

There is a danger of forgetting that the teacher is not the teaching, but is just a human being like the rest of us, as a good friend said in an email today. "I fear I may have placed too much reliance upon him and his compassion to see other things that were happening to me and to my closest dharma brothers," she writes. When placing a teacher on a pedestal, we can become blind to our own actual experience. When criticizing our teacher, we jeopardize the spreading of the dharma. Either way we lose.

"Teacher" and "student" are both dualistic, one-sided concepts. "When you forget all your dualistic views," Shunryu Suzuki wrote in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, "everything becomes your teacher."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The following letter was sent to the Sweeping Zen web site by one of the signers for the purposes of publication, and was sent to Genpo Merzel yesterday. It is copied here as it illustrates the outcome of an extreme case of ethical misconduct by a Zen teacher.
Dear Mr. Merzel,

We are a group of Zen teachers, affiliated with all of the major schools of Zen in the west. We write as individuals, however, not as representatives of any group. We are deeply concerned at your apparent turning away from your own stated intention of stepping back as a teacher in order to take care of your habitual abuses of power with students and others. We are addressing this letter to you with the heartfelt wish that you read and heed our counsel. We are also sending this letter to various Dharma journals and websites because we have deep doubts that the letter will convince you and we feel that the greater sangha needs to be made aware of the problem and our views.

On the 15th of February forty-four teachers sent you a public letter, in response to your admission of serious misconduct, expressing deep concern both for you and for the sangha you serve. The letter recommended that you take a leave of absence from teaching and enter into counseling with people qualified to work with clergy sexual misconduct. We know others including close colleagues and friends offered similar counsel. On February 6, you published a confession of unethical behavior, adultery and sexual misconduct with students. You called this statement, “Owning My Responsibility: A Personal Statement from Genpo Merzel.” In it you say you will disrobe as a priest, “as just a small part of my response.” You describe yourself as having engaged in “dishonest, hurtful behavior as well as sexual misconduct.” Earlier in the year, in at least two meetings, you acknowledged having engaged in a long affair with one of your students. You claim you will no longer give the Buddhist precepts, that you will spend the rest of your life integrating the precepts into your life and practice so as to regain “dignity and respect” and characterize yourself as having missed “the mark of being a moral and ethical person and a decent human being.” Finally, you stated that you have entered therapy and plan to continue indefinitely. A copy of the entire statement is attached to this letter.

This was not the first occasion such behaviors were revealed. Your response this time was to disrobe as a Buddhist priest and to resign from the White Plum Asanga, the only organization that may have had sway over your future actions. We write again because you seem to have decided to ignore your own best impulses and to return to your path of denial. The page on your website that contained your statement a few short weeks ago now reads: “This page does not exist.”

On February 6, you said you would spend the rest of your life “integrating the Soto Zen Buddhist Ethics into (your) life.” Many of us read this and understood your intention was to cease representing yourself as a Zen teacher and instead to give future energy to the Big Mind project you’ve developed. In fact, you continued to use the titles of a Zen teacher (Zen Master, Roshi) and to act in every way as a Zen teacher, just no longer as a priest or as a member of a larger Zen organization. Initially, your Kanzeon Board of Directors committed to a process of separating from your “Big Mind” organization and to bringing in new leadership for the Center. You were to take an indefinite leave from leadership at Kanzeon, of at least one year. Yet, a few weeks later, your Board at Kanzeon now says you have “retired” as a priest only and that they will sell off the assets of Kanzeon. Your Board’s statement also says that you will now teach nearby and offers your teaching to all members of Kanzeon, in the new location. The statement reads, in part, “The sale will also allow Kanzeon to pay off its obligations and sustain its existence, with Genpo Roshi continuing as its Abbot, outside Salt Lake City at Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon.”

We sincerely hope you will eventually find in your heart a way to genuine repentance, and out of that follow a course of remediation that may actually lead to healing. Others have acknowledged misconduct and have made appropriate amends in the past, and been rehabilitated within the mahasangha. May you be encouraged by their example?

However, at this point we see no evidence of good faith action on your part. It seems you continue to hold yourself out as a religious leader, a Zen Master and that the Kanzeon Board has turned and followed your lead. We are concerned for people who may come to you as a Zen teacher. Those among your current students who choose to continue with you have made a conscious decision, aware, we assume, of all the facts regarding your repeated history of exploitative behaviors.

Therefore, as members of the Zen teaching mahasangha deeply concerned for the wellbeing of anyone to whom you present yourself as a Zen teacher, we feel we cannot remain silent. We need to state publicly our belief that you are not acting faithfully within the bounds of our tradition. We reiterate our call for you to enter treatment with people qualified to diagnose and address your repeated unethical and exploitative behaviors. And, we call on you to honor your commitment to step aside from Kanzeon and allow a remediation process to happen there as well.
The letter was signed by 66 Zen teachers from Centers across the country.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Faint Praise

Throughout his life (1880 - 1965), Kodo Sawaki was unconventional and dynamic. He was the type of person who embodied in himself the image of ancient Zen masters like Baso.

Kosho Uchiyama felt drawn to Sawaki Roshi and in 1941 became one of his disciples. Uchiyami recalls asking his teacher, "If I study under you and practice zazen for as long as you are able to teach, can I become a stronger person?" Sawaki Roshi immediately replied, "No, you can't, no matter how hard you try. I did not become the person I am because of zazen. By nature I am this way. I haven't changed since my youth."

When he heard the response to his question, Uchiyama thought, "I can become a stronger person through zazen. He said otherwise, but that was just talk." With this belief, be served him and continued practicing zazen until Sawaki Roshi died.

"Thinking back to my past," Uchiyama later wrote, "I now understand that there is no use to doing zazen. I am still a coward and never became even a little like Sawaki Roshi. A violet blossoms as a violet and a rose blossoms as a rose. For violets, there is no need to produce rose blossoms."

That story says a lot about the nature of enlightenment. Enlightenment is not something that we lack but can someday attain, and before and after awakening nothing really changes. There are those who are attracted to one specific Zen teacher or another because of the teacher's magnetism or the strength of their personality or the kindness that they manifest, and hope that by studying and practicing with that teacher, they can become more like him or her.

But that, as Uchiyama found out, is a mistake. Zazen does not transform you into someone else - if anything, it allows you to be you, just as you are. Some people are good teachers because that is in their nature, other people just happen to have strong personalities, and some people are just exceptionally kind. But that's who they are - practice-enlightenment or awakening didn't make them that way. Some people who are fully awakened make just god-awful teachers, because teaching is not in their nature. Some people, like Uchiyama Roshi, remained self-described cowards all their lives. Enlightenment changes nothing, because we had buddha-nature, the potential for awakening, all along.

Some people at the practice center I attend have become disappointed by the teacher, have lost confidence in him, and have stopped practicing with him. They have seen that he still has attachments to wealth, to authority, and to recognition, and they have shared in the suffering that inevitably arises from these attachments. They have seen that he's not, in fact, that great a teacher.

But these faults have nothing to do with practice-enlightenment or with awakening. I've seen those same faults years ago, and have persevered with my studies and practice with him (although, to be honest, with a little bit of distancing for our mutual protection). These faults are part of his nature, and my admiration for him is only increased by his continued, life-long commitment to practice despite these obstacles. As Zen Master Dogen once said, "If a lay person learning the Way still clings to wealth, covets comfortable housing, and keeps company with relatives, despite having the aspiration, he will confront many obstacles in learning the Way" (Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Chapter 3-11).

But these obstacles and weaknesses do not mean that enlightenment cannot be manifested in practice. Despite these short-comings, my teacher was accepted by, and received dharma transmission from, no less an authority than Shohaku Okumura. Okumura, it should be noted, was a student of Uchiyama Roshi, who after his years with Sawaki Roshi, probably knew a thing or two about recognizing awakened individuals.

Monday, April 18, 2011

This evening, despite the tornadoes and thunderstorms that have ravaged the South in recent weeks, despite falling trees, despite the threat to cats posed by copperhead snakes, despite the possibility of a government shutdown, despite the Fukushima nuclear emergency, despite the inconvenient truth of climate change and the swiftness of impermanence, and despite mass resignations by the Zen Center Board of Directors, Monday Night Zazen proceeded as usual.

In response to yesterday's post, I got an email from one of the Officers stating that although it may have been my impression that yesterday's resignations seemed to have been intended to inflict maximum damage on the harmony and confidence of the sangha, "each of us had experienced a deterioration of our relationships with the abbot into, frankly, severe emotional abuse . . . Each of us has been terrorized to the point that we could only make this move as a group. The least harmful way to handle this was to say the least we could." A telephone conversation with another former Officer reiterated the same point, and both expressed regret at any unintended harmful consequences.

Fair enough. I warned others that there are those who will see in yesterday's events what they will want to see, and I very may well be seeing only what I'm predisposed to want to see as well. But it takes two to argue, and I still see both the Abbott and the former Officers and Board Members taking one-sided views, and justifying their words and actions based on very valid but egocentric emotional and visceral reactions. And I really can't - and won't - blame them, because I'm not in either of their shoes.

All of this seems to have resulted from unkind words, words spoken in anger. I'm told that Matsuoka Roshi, my teacher's teacher, once said that angry thoughts are like a knife through water and leave no permanent mark. However, words spoken in anger are like a knife through sand - although they leave a mark, the scar can still be smoothed over. (Actions taken in anger are like a knife on wood and make a permanent cut that can never be repaired.) With that wise thought in mind, it may be time for harmonious words spoken out of kindness to smooth the scarred surface.

Or perhaps better yet, it is time for no words at all. The least harmful way to handle this may well indeed be to say the least that we can.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Last month, I wrote about a disharmonious incident in the Atlanta sangha. Following that episode, our Sensei wrote a letter of apology, stating "Recently, we have witnessed an egregious disruption in the harmony of the sangha. It resulted in an unfortunate outburst and chaotic dissolution of the first meeting welcoming the new executive committee of the Board of Directors. This was a time of urgency where we should have been pulling the sangha together rather than pulling it apart, and has precipitated a crisis of confidence."

The incident was most unfortunate. The fomenting of disharmony in the sangha is a direct violation of the final of the Ten Grave Precepts, in that it necessarily defames the Three Treasures. "My deep apologies to all who were in attendance and disturbed by the discord," Sensei wrote, "and to the sangha at large for any untold consequences."

Those untold consequences manifested themselves today. A letter signed by the members of the executive committee was emailed to the rest of the Board and to the disciples, stating, "By this letter, we collectively submit our resignations from the Board of Directors of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, as well as our respective officer and committee positions, effective immediately.

"Although we are taking this action collectively, we have each reached this difficult decision independently and only after considerable reflection.

"We thank you for your practice and wish you and the Atlanta center all the best in the future."

The letter was signed by the President, Treasurer, and Secretary of the Board of Directors, as well as the Center's Practice Leader and the Chairman of the Governance Committee. No explanation as to the reasons for the mass resignation was provided, and email requests for more information were not answered, until a separate resignation email from the Treasurer explained, "I have lost confidence in the Roshi as teacher and administrator and must therefore leave the Zen Center. I am deeply grateful for having had the opportunity to practice with each of you. I hope that perhaps one day we may practice again together. I wish you all the best."

Zen Master Dogen noted that people of property inevitably have two kinds of troubles, namely anger and dishonor. In trying to protect their property, anger immediately arises, and in talking about some matter, argument and negotiation eventually escalate to conflict and fighting. Proceeding in this way, anger arises and results in dishonor. The business of administering the Center appears to have escalated into argument and conflict, and the "unfortunate outburst and chaotic dissolution" of that prior Board meeting resulted in the crisis of confidence and dissolution in the harmony of the sangha seen today.

Today's messages, in their collective timing, brief content, and blunt manner, seem to have been intended to inflict maximum damage on the harmony and confidence of the sangha. Our past and harmful karma is born from our speech, actions, and thoughts, and the waves of discord that have been created seem likely to ripple through the community for quite some time.

We need, at this moment in this place, to manifest unity, harmony, and kindness, and practice the minimization of divisiveness. The Four Exemplary Acts of a Bodhisattva are generosity, kind speech, helpful conduct, and cooperation. Buddhism puts great value on our actual conduct. For this reason, our conduct in relating to each other is a very important part of our life, and these four ways of behaving in our social interactions are the very essence of Buddhism.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Baso Döitsu

Zen Master Baso Döitsu (709-88) was from Shifang in Hanzhou, about 25 miles north of the modern-day city of Chengdu in Sichuan Province. His surname was Ma and people called him Master Ma (Ma-tsu or Mazu in Chinese). He is said to have strode like an ox and glared like a tiger, and his appearance was most unusual: extended, his tongue could cover his nose, and the veins on the soles of his feet formed two circles.

A high official of the time learned of his reputation and personally came to receive instruction from him. Because of this, students from the four quarters soon gathered like clouds beneath Baso's seat. One day he addressed the congregation, saying,
"All of you here! Believe that your own mind is Buddha. This very mind is buddha-mind.

When Bodhidharma came to China from India, he brought the text of the Lankavatara Sutra with him, allowing people like us to attain awakening. He feared that our views would be inverted, and we wouldn't believe the teaching of this mind that each and every one of us possesses. The Lankavatara Sutra records the Buddha's own words stating that mind is the essence and that there is no gate by which to enter Dharma.

Those seeking the truth should seek nothing. Outside of mind there is no buddha; outside of buddha there is no mind. Do not cling to good nor reject what is bad. Lean neither toward purity nor pollution. Understand the empty nature of desire, that nothing is gained through continuous thoughts, and that because there is no self-nature, the three worlds are only mind. But mind is not independently existent - it is co-dependent with form. The myriad forms of the entire universe are the seal of the single Dharma. Whatever forms are seen are but the perception of mind.

You should speak only of those things that you encounter, for each matter you encounter constitutes your existence, and your actions in each matter are without hindrance. The fruit of the bodhisattva way is just thus, born of mind, taking names to be forms. Because of the knowledge of the emptiness of forms, birth is non-birth. Comprehending this, one acts in the fashion of one's time, dressing, eating food, upholding the practices of a bodhisattva, and passing time according to circumstances. If one practices in this manner, what more needs to be done?

To receive my teaching, listen to this verse:

The field of mind responds to conditions,
Bodhi is only peace.
When there is no obstruction in worldly affairs or principles,
Then birth is non-birth."
Later, when pressed by a monk to explain "Mind here and now is Buddha," Baso said, "Not mind, not Buddha."

Friday, April 15, 2011

William Fitzsimmons - Smith's Olde Bar, Atlanta

Thursday evening, the odd singer/songwriter William Fitzsimmons played at Smith's Olde Bar in Atlanta. While he may or may not appreciate the label "odd," and I certainly don't mean it in any kind of derogatory way (hey, a lot of people probably refer to me as "odd"), with a huge beard almost as large as the rest of his shaved head, he does sort of stand out in an odd kind of way.

Smith's Ole Bar is an Atlanta institution. The classic roadhouse downstairs has decent food served by pretty waitresses and offers pool tables, darts and the usual barroom diversions, while the club has no less than two stages, The Atlanta Room downstairs mainly for local acts, and a separate, larger Music Room upstairs (unusual feature: a curtain around the stage that modestly closes between acts so the musicians can set up in privacy).

Speaking of Smith's, Fitzsimmons included a cover of a song by The Smiths in his set last night, accurately noting they were one band whose outlook was almost as bleak as his. His songs are mostly downtempo reflections on suffering, pain, loss, and desire, and it is not at all unusual to hear him introduce a song by saying, "This one's about addiction and how we fall in love with our addictions, which I think is what happens quite often," as he did last night.

"If you leave here tonight feeling depressed and miserable, then I've done my job," he joked near the beginning of his set.

Oddly (there's that word again), the large crowd (for Smith's at least) seemed to loved it. Fitzsimmons noted several times during his set that he appreciated the fact that several people apparently traveled significant distances to see last night's show, and the enthusiastic crowd seemed to be quite receptive, both to Fitzsimmons' music as well as the opening set by his backing band, Charleston, South Carolina's Slow Runner, who opened the evening with a full 45-minute set in a variety of pop styles to an enthusiastic audience. "We love you, Michael," several young women screamed in unison at singer/keyboardist Michael Flynn between two songs before the band members were even introduced, suggesting a certain familiarity with the opening act. Although only a trio, Slow Runner played a variety of instruments, including guitar, drums, bass, banjo, uke, xylophone, and the ubiquitous Nord Electro keyboard, quite well.

After a brief intermission, Slow Runner returned to the stage as the back-up band for Fitzsimmons (several of the musicians can be seen in the video above). Fitzsimmons' stage banter was self-deprecating almost to a fault, assuring the audience, for example, not to worry if they were unfamiliar with the songs from his superlative new album, Gold In The Shadow, since "all my songs sound the same, anyway." He was also a little off-putting, telling some of the talkative members of the audience to basically "shut up or get the hell out." One certainly could not accuse him of pandering to the audience to warm up to the difficult subject matter of his songs.

We were not deterred. The songs were greeted enthusiastically and the chatterboxes in the crowd were frequently shushed. Even cranky old Fitzsimmons himself warmed with the evening, eventually taking requests and expressing sincere gratitude for the reception. The set ended with the three members of Slow Runner lining up with him at the front of the stage on acoustic instruments.

For the encore, the band came off the stage and into the audience Edward Sharpe style to play a song without any amplification, only the intimate sounds of their actual voices and harmonies.

Fans of Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine, and Seattle's Damian Jurado might want to check out Fitzsimmons' music. According to
Born in Pittsburgh to two blind parents, both of whom were living-room musicians, [Fitzsimmons] began playing piano and trombone in elementary school and taught himself guitar as a junior high student. Over time, he also learned to play banjo, melodica, ukulele, and mandolin. While pursuing a master's degree at Geneva College, Fitzsimmons began tracking some of his songs on home recording equipment. These self-produced recordings were compiled together and released as 2005's When We Are Ghosts, a strong debut album that appeared during Fitzsimmons' time working as a mental health therapist. . . His songs started showing up on various television soundtracks, including Grey's Anatomy, General Hospital, Life of Ryan, and Army Wives. A second self-produced album, Goodnight, appeared in 2006, influenced heavily by his parents' divorce during his childhood. By this point, Fitzsimmons had settled on a distinct sound: a gentle mixture of folk-rock and electronica applied to carefully written (and often autobiographical) songs that, at their best, delivered a quiet emotional punch. He carried the theme of divorce into his first official studio album, The Sparrow and the Crow, which dealt with a recent split with his wife. Released in 2010, Derivatives lightened things up by focusing on electronica remixes of his past work (as well as a cover of Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl), and 2011's Gold in the Shadow found Fitzsimmons confronting his demons with help from guest artists like Julia Stone.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

And thus begins this year's Atlanta visitation by the iconoclastic Brad Warner, author of Hardcore Zen and numerous other books. He'll be signing books in Little Five Points Friday night as well as participating in an informal panel discussion, and speaking at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center (ASZC) at 10:30 Sunday morning.

Monday night, he'll be speaking at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, and on Tuesday night, he'll be returning to the ASZC for zazen and a talk. After that, I understand he's off to Nashville and they can worry about him up there.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tibetan Buddhist k.d. lang provided today's tune for KCRW's Today's Top Tune.
k.d. lang has an impressive vocal command. Her voice truly is an instrument and she's surrounded herself with a new group of talented players on her upcoming full length. The Grammy Award-winning singer sounds as strong as ever on Today's Top Tune, the title track from Sing It Loud.
Om Muni Muni Maha Muni Shakya Muni Ye Swa Ha

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What Is Buddha?

Mount Daibaizan is in the city of Kyōgenfu. Goshōji temple was established on that mountain by Zen Master Daibai Hōjō (752–839), a man of the Jōyō district. Once, when visiting Baso’s order, he asked, “What is buddha?”

Baso said, “The mind here and now is buddha.”

Hearing these words, Hōjō attained the great state of realization.

Commenting on this story, the late John Daido Loori wrote, "The buddha mind is the basis of truth, and gateless is the dharma gate. If you seek after the dharma, you will move away from it. Outside of mind there is no buddha; outside of buddha there is no mind."

“What is buddha?” is an old question that has been batted around monasteries for centuries. However, whenever we ask "what?, "who?," "which?," "when?," "where?," "how?," or "why?," the very form of our question forbids a true answer. We're discriminating, we're dividing the interconnected whole into separate entities, divisions which can only exist in our imagination. Outside of our minds, there is no separation of things into "buddha" and "not buddha." But since nothing is excluded from the interconnected whole, it must include those arbitrary distinctions of our mind. So, when asked sincerely, the question still deserves an answer.

"The mind here and now" cannot be sought after for it is already present, right here, right now. But although Baso's answer is true, it's been said that's it's a pity he had to say it, for although he was able to enlighten Hōjō with his "The mind here and now is buddha," in the end he only created a nest for generations of practioners that persists to this day.

The truth fills the universe -
nothing is hidden.
Yet if you are not intimate with it, when it's revealed,
you'll think about it for the rest of your life.
- John Daido Loori

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Night Zazen

“We could say that meditation doesn't have a reason or doesn't have a purpose. In this respect it's unlike almost all other things we do except perhaps making music and dancing. When we make music we don't do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment."
- Alan Watts

Oh, and k.d. lang's now apparently a Buddhist.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Today's slightly-delayed celebration at Chattanooga's Barking Legs Theater of the Buddha's April 8 birthday was terrific. Teachers from three different Buddhist traditions (Theravadan, Tibetan, and Zen) gave separate talks interspersed with periods of meditation, a reading of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, three short plays inspired by Buddhist themes, and a performance by the musical group NADA (pictured above). There was even a birthday cake for old man Shakyamuni.

As an added, extra treat (as if one were needed), Arthur, my original Zen teacher who now lives in Switzerland, made a brief appearance.

At the end of the day, there was talk about making this an annual event.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

An empty mind is not one which is dull, uninformed or uneducated, but one which has known the absolute. "Emptiness" is the same as the absolute, but it is important not to confuse this with a god. In Zen Buddhism, there is no god. Only there is the constant change of the universe and the law of cause and effect. In saying emptiness is the absolute, we mean that an experience of emptiness is to know the absolute reality of the universe and to know that everything is One. Objects are not distinguished between in their reality. An individual who has experienced this truth has entered Nirvana or has become Enlightened as a Buddha. In their daily life, they are not hampered by anything. They are free and yet abide by the utmost concern for the rights of others. When one's mind becomes empty, an awareness of the oneness of all things enters into it, and one no longer is limited by thoughts of self. One then acts with a spontaneous freedom that is in complete harmony with the world of which one is a part. All one's power can be put into each task. Although one lives a daily life in this world, one does so as a Buddha.
- Rev. Soyu Matzuoka, October 27, 1964

Friday, April 08, 2011

Friday Night Video

Another damn thing: Tonight's concert at The Earl by Destroyer and The War On Drugs also got sold out before I was able to buy tickets at the door.

Two shows missed this week - I might have to abandon my spontaneity and start actually buying tickets it advance.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

What Is Zen?

After all the excitement of the past couple of days, I don't really have much to say for myself, so instead I'll just share a little story that you might have heard before.
A man is hanging over the edge of a cliff. His only hold on life is by his teeth, which are clenched on the branch of a tree. His hands are full and his feet cannot reach the face of the cliff to hang on. Another man happens to come by and leans over the cliff to ask him, "What is Zen?"
What answer should the man give? Should he release his only hold on life to answer the question with words? Can he adequately answer the question using only his hands? Should he answer at all? My teacher's teacher, the Rev. Soyu Matsuoka, said the answer to the question "What is Zen?" cannot be explained in words. The answer is to be found in the practice of Zen meditation and in a life of Zen. It reveals itself in the clear, alert mind and in the fearless spirit.

The story reveals the profundity of Zen. There is no way to answer. The Rev. Matsuoka once compared Zen to an arctic iceburg floating in a northern sea. To the eye, only the peak is visible while most of the cold mass lies hidden beneath the frigid water. Zen is like this iceburg. To the eye, Zen is often seen as sitting in meditation, chanting a sutra, or perhaps discoursing with a teacher. Seen this way, most of Zen is overlooked and never discovered. It is completely misunderstood.

Daisetz Suzuki once said that some people "go round and round on the surface of the mind without stopping," adding that Zen goes deeper. "Westerners," he said, "have a habit of thinking dialectically in terms of 'either/or' or in positive or negative. Zen sees only one instead of two. Westerners analyze things but in the East, we see a thing all at once and with our whole bodies, instead of just our minds." That is the experience of Zen. It is a way of understanding that goes beyond words.

A person may be content with reading various blogs and web sites about Zen and then discussing them with their friends to see if they have understood them the same way. To them, Zen is only intellectual. Another may think of Zen as sitting quietly with a calm mind. To that person, Zen is like a tranquilizer. To some, Zen is a sort of cult that can be joined to appear cool. To them, it is only a status symbol, but Zen does away with distinctions. It may be thought of as a sign of a rebellious artist or a liberal college student or a typical, 50-something single living in Atlanta, Georgia. Usually though, Zen if something to talk about when the conversation otherwise lags. All of these views see Zen from a distance and from the wrong perspective. It is like seeing only the tip of an iceburg and not knowing what lies beneath the surface.

"What is Zen?" can only be answered by each of us individually, and in the deep calm of meditation.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Life, it's been said, is one damn thing after the other.

After I got back home from Monday Night Zazen, after dropping my snake-bit cat off with the vet for the night, the mother of all thunderstorms, a violent cold-weather front, ripped through Atlanta. It hit my neighborhood around 11:30 pm with winds gusting up to 60 mph, large hail, and ear-splitting thunder and lightening. Surprisingly, my power didn't go off except for one 10-second surge, and when my roof didn't blow off by midnight and no trees had fallen on my house, I went to bed thinking the worst had passed.

It had, but I awoke to a home without electricity. At some point during the night, a large tree had fallen across the road, taking the power lines down with it. I fumbled around that morning the best I could, and went off to work assuming that power company crews will have restored my power by the time I got back home that night.

As it turns out, I had gotten off easy. Tragically, the storm killed 7 people in Georgia alone and caused an estimated $32 Million in damage. I saw trees down in many neighborhoods during my morning commute.

The good news was the vets called and told me that Izzy the cat was making a good recovery. They're pretty sure that it was a copperhead that bit him, and they had him on an IV drip all night, administering fluids and pain meds, but they saw no reason that I couldn't come pick him up at the end of the day, which I did after work yesterday. The bill was about $200 less than their "low-end" estimate, but still, at around $1,000, more than I was expecting to spend on feline care that week. Check-out took a while, and I didn't make it back home, dazed cat in tow, until a little after 8 pm. But too my disappointment, the tree was still down across the road and the power was still out. I unloaded the cat into a dark house and had to give him his medications (more pain killers and some antibiotics) by candlelight. Anyone who's ever tried to give a cat oral medications using a syringe can tell you that it's not an easy task even under the best of circumstances; the fact that Izzy's face was still swollen and sensitive and that I was taking on the task by candlelight only made it all the more, well, interesting.

I sat my evening zazen by candlelight as well, but after that couldn't really find anything to do all alone in a powerless house with an injured cat, so I grabbed a book (The Shobogenzo, of course) and went to the local Spanish cantina for some paella and cold cerveza to pass the time. When I finally went home, at close to midnight, the power had been restored (although the tree was still down), and judging by the flashing clocks, realized it had been turned on approximately 20 minutes after I had left.

So that brings me to today. I have electricity and Alabama Power crews were lending a hand here in Atlanta, carving up the fallen tree on my street. I was hoping to work off some of the tension of Izzy's trauma, the storm, the power loss, the veterinarian bill, and so forth by catching tonight's show by the dream-pop band Warpaint at The Earl but saw, surprisingly for a late show on a week night, that the concert was sold out. Despite my disappointment about missing a second show this week (in all the excitement Tuesday, I forgot that The Pains of Being Pure At Heart were playing The Earl that night), I was still glad to see such a good reception for a band like Warpaint, who play what's been called a "lilting, fragile sound that recalls both the dreamy shoegazer indie pop of the nineties and Stevie Nicks at her most mystical. Despite the sweetness of the group's harmonies and guitars, there's always something vaguely sinister just below the surface" (The New Yorker). No less an authority than Justin Timberlake said Warpaint's "chilling music is meant to be listened between giant, tingling swigs of scotch in a dark corner or while lying in a empty field by the highway in the middle of the night watching the headlights flash by." After that, I can't resist a video:

Just one damn thing after another.

Monday, April 04, 2011

No Monday Night Zazen tonight. Instead, I spent the time at the 24-Hour Veterinarian Hospital. Izzy the cat got bit in the face today. By a snake.

I came home from work this evening thinking I would go through my usual routine - quickly feed the cats, change my clothes, and then run off to the zendo without any supper. But my routine was thrown off balance when, although Eliot the cat was waiting on the porch for me as usual, Izzy was no where to be seen.

I called for him out the door as I changed into my meditation clothes (loose, comfortable, and black), and when he finally slinked in through the back door, I saw that his face was bloody and swollen. There were two large scratches across his face, about the distance apart of an adult copperhead's fangs. He could barely keep his eyes open they were so swollen, and his face looked like it had been kicked in, like that of a pug.

I quickly called Sensei to see if he could open for me tonight, and I was lucky to have caught him and that he was able to fill in on such short notice. That taken care of, I got the cat into his carrier and drove to the all-night vet.

As soon as they saw him, a doctor came out from the back and took Izzy back with her. They're going to keep him for the night for observations, but the good news is that his prognosis looks pretty good.

The bad news is the minimum cost for his treatment will be $1,250. The high-end estimate is over $3,200. He's going to owe me big time, that little rascal, and he and Eliot just became indoor cats.

After paying the deposit (50% of the low-end cost - they wanted 50% of the high-end, but I negotiated), I had enough time to still catch most of the second sitting period at the zendo, and was able to share my experience with the group during the discussion group after zazen.

There's nothing like a group of Buddhists after meditation to provide a little compassion.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Aqueous Metaphors

In this week's The New Yorker, theater critic Jay Lahr asks two questions, namely, if Jesus was a Jew, how come he has a Mexican name, and more importantly, how come there are no Buddhist soul singers?

The soul music tradition was born from the African-American experience, specifically, both the suffering of slavery and routine discrimination, as well as the redemptive powers of spirituality. As I assume that most of my readers must know, Siddharta Gautama began his long-ago spiritual search along the path of asceticism, undergoing hardships and austerities, including prolonged fasting. But he failed to attain enlightenment by these means and, far from discovering an end to suffering, he was only suffering all the more. Half-dead from hunger and exhaustion, he came to realize the futility of pursuing a course which could only result in his own eventual death. So he drank the rice-milk offered to him by a concerned young maiden, and gradually regained his health.

He thereby set out to find a middle way to the truth, a path mid-way between asceticism and self-indulgence. He then famously sat down beneath the bodhi tree and resolved to practice meditation until he realized enlightenment. Eventually, at the very instant when he glanced at the morning star, he attained perfect, complete enlightenment.

At the moment of his enlightenment, he is said to have spontaneously cried out, "How wonderful! I and all sentient beings have awakened to enlightenment together." All living beings are intrinsically Buddhas, he realized, endowed with wisdom and virtue, but because people's minds have become clouded by delusion, they fail to perceive this.

Commenting on this first pronouncement by Shakyamuni Buddha, Yasutani Roshi noted how truly marvelous it is "that all human beings, whether clever or stupid, male or female, ugly or beautiful, are whole and complete just as they are. That is to say, the nature of every being is inherently without flaw, perfect, no different from that of Amida or any other Buddha."

This first declaration of the Buddha is also the ultimate conclusion of Zen Buddhism. Human beings, Zen maintains, live restless and anxious half-crazed existences because our minds, clouded by delusion, are inverted. To return to our original perfection, we need to see through our false images of ourselves as incomplete and sinful, and to wake up to our inherent purity and wholeness.

Zen offers a method to accomplish this, specifically through the practice of zazen, sitting meditation. Not only Shakyamuni Buddha himself but many of his disciples attained full awakening through zazen. Moreover, during the 2,500 years since the Buddha's death, innumerable practioners in India, China, Japan, and around the world have awakened to their true nature.

All beings, both ordinary persons and supremely perfected Buddhas, are manifestations of Buddha-nature. The substance of our Buddha-nature has been likened to water. One of the defining characteristics of water is its conformability - when it's poured into a vase, it takes the shape of the vase; when it's poured into a tank, it takes on the shape of the tank. It can take the shape and size of a dewdrop or a great and mighty ocean. We have this same adaptability, but as we live bound and fettered through ignorance of our own true nature, we have lost this freedom.

To pursue this metaphor, we can say that the enlightened mind is like water that is calm, deep and crystal clear, and upon which the "moon of truth" reflects fully and perfectly. The mind of the ordinary person, on the other hand, is like murky water, constantly being churned by the gales of truth. Although the moon continues to still shine steadily upon the waves, as the waters are roiled we are unable to see its reflection. Thus, we lead lives that feel frustrating and meaningless.

How can we illuminate our life and personality with the "moon of truth?" We need first to clear the water, to calm the surging waves by halting the winds of discursive thought. In zazen, we empty our minds of conceptual thought. Although most people place a high value of abstract thought, the experience of zazen clearly demonstrates that discriminative thinking lies at the root of delusion. To be sure, abstract thinking is useful when wisely employed, but as long as human beings remain slaves to their intellect, fettered and controlled by it, we remain deluded and in a state of suffering.

When we look at them closely, we see that all thoughts, whether ennobling or debasing, are mutable and impermanent; they have a beginning and an end even as they are fleetingly with us. But so long as the winds of thought continue to disturb the water of our Self-nature, we cannot distinguish truth from untruth. But once the winds abate, the waves subside, and the muddiness clears, and we perceive directly that the moon or truth has never ceased shining.

A stream provides a similar metaphor. Where the stream is still, the water is calm and clear. Where the stream flows rapidly, the water becomes chaotic and turbid. But once that very same chaotic and turbid water reaches a pool further downstream, it regain its original calmness and clarity.

Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki once referred to waterfalls in a similar way. Above the falls, the water occurs as one unified, calm, clear pool. But as it spills over the top of the falls, it becomes chaotic, and individual droplets of water can be distinguished both one from another, but also from the body of water from which they originated. Finally, though, at the bottom of the falls, the individual droplets reunite once again with the rest of the water in the stream and the individual droplets no longer can be distinguished. Whether in the stream above, the plunge pool below, or the falls in between, the droplets were always water and nothing but water, but that water took on different forms according to conditions. It should be noted that in the pool below, after everything returns to wholeness, the water is once again clear.

What we call our "selves" are like those individual drops of water, and the water here is a metaphor for Buddha-nature, which is at once both the potential for all beings to become a Buddha, and the very substance of all existence.

But don't take my word for it or rely on your own preconceived ideas. Just sit, watch your thoughts and then let them go, and experience for yourself the "moon of truth" reflecting on the plunge pool of your practice.

For the record, I don't know why there should be such a thing as Buddhist soul singers.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Three Traditions Come Together to Celebrate Buddha’s Birthday

The birthday of Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the person who became known as Shakyamuni Buddha, is to some extent, still a mystery. Not only is the exact day not known, but scholars continue to debate the year, some recently arguing for a date considerably earlier than was previously thought.

But Zen Buddhists celebrate April 8 as the Buddha’s Birthday, and this year, the Zen Group of Chattanooga will bring together three Buddhist traditions to offer a day of meditation, dharma talks (lectures) and performance on April 10 to honor the great teacher.

Anyone interested in Buddhism will find times during the event to learn more, as Zen meditation instruction, a lecture by a Theravadan monk on "Who Was Shakyamuni Buddha?," another with chanting by followers of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and yet another from a representative of the Zen Group, will be presented. Beginners’ instruction in zazen, or the Zen form of meditation will be offered as well.

Performances designed to celebrate Buddhist thought will also be featured, including a reading of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (Ginsberg was a practicing Tibetan Buddhist), three short plays inspired by Buddhist themes, and a performance by the musical group NADA.

The day will be a benefit for the Chattanooga Zen Center, leading to the goal of incorporation as a nonprofit and eventually establishing its own space and zendo, so a $5 donation at the door will be welcomed, but no one will be turned away.

What: Buddha’s Birthday Celebration
When: Noon to 6 p.m., Sunday, April 10
Where: Barking Legs Theater, 1307 Dodds Ave., Chattanooga
How Much: $5 suggested donation
For more information: (423) 622-2862 or


12:00 Meditation Instruction (Zen)
12:30 Dharma Talk: Who Was Shakyamuni Buddha? Thanissara: Theravadan
1:15 15-minute sitting (Zen)
1:30 Reading of Ginsberg's "HOWL"
2:00 Buddha's Birthday Cake Cutting/Chanting
2:30 Tara Mandala Sangha (Tibetan)
3:00 Meditation instruction (Zen)
3:30 15-minute sitting (Zen)
3:45 Dharma Talk: Shokai
4:15 Three short Buddhist plays
4:45 NADA sacred music/chanting
5:45 15-minute sitting (Zen)

Friday, April 01, 2011

Mazerati at The Earl, Atlanta, March 31, 2011

Maserati - Athens, Georgia's premier, and perhaps only, psych-dance-rock stalwarts - made a triumphant return from their European tour and played at The Earl last night, churning out a 50-minute instrumental set that lasted well past midnight but still had the crowd calling them back for an encore. In all their sweaty, fist-pumping glory, Maserati are either one of dance music's most viscerally addictive live performers or indie rock's most ingenious hybrid of U2 guitar heroics, Daft Punk's head-slamming, club-burning rhythms, and Pink Floyd's arena-ready psych rock. Speaking of Floyd, that encore they performed was Run Like Hell from The Wall, and it fit them like a leather driving glove.

Maserati may well be one of the most appropriately named bands in rock music today. Listening to their music feels like opening a high-performance engine full throttle and zooming down some highway at well over 100 per. Their two guitarists push each song - and each other - into ever higher gears, yet the band remains cool and in control the whole time, like a fine-tuned machine built for both comfort and speed.

Tony Paterra of Zombi ably filled in on drums last night due to the untimely death (is there any other kind?) of Jerry Fuchs (that's Paterra, not Fuchs, on drums in the video above). Fuchs died on November 9, 2009, from a fall down an elevator shaft.

According to the New York Post, Fuchs had been attending a benefit party in Williamsburg - a fund-raiser for Indian schoolchildren - when he and a friend became stuck in an elevator between floors. The two managed to pry the doors open and attempted to jump across the elevator shaft to the nearest floor, but Fuchs’ jacket got caught on something, causing him to fall to the bottom of the shaft. Fuchs was pronounced dead at Bellevue Medical Center.

Fuchs grew up in Marietta, Georgia, and attended the University of Georgia in Athens. He moved to New York in 1995 and forged a reputation as a dynamic, driving drummer widely esteemed by his peers. Eventually, he played hundreds of shows with multiple bands, including !!!, the Juan MacLean, Turing Machine, and Holy Ghost! as well as Maserati.

James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, who will play their last show ever tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden, said that Fuchs was one of the best drummers he had ever heard. “He was one of the only people we all knew who was literally great at what he did,” Murphy said. “And he was incredibly generous with his talent.”

Fuchs is actually the second Maserati drummer to meet a tragic end. In 2005, then-drummer Mikel Gius was run down and killed as he rode his bike on a Sacramento street. But if you didn't know about these tragedies, the band wouldn't have let you know that they were playing with a new drummer, as they sounded tight and well rehearsed all evening.

Interestingly, for once I didn't seem to be the only old person at The Earl. Although Mazerati's been around for at least 10 years, the members are still relatively young (Fuchs was 34 when he died). But between their post-rock, psychedelic sound and the guitar riffs fed through phase shifters, they retain enough vestiges of prog rock that, as The New Yorker recently put it while talking about another band, they "restore the dying faith of many a grizzled hipster in the redemptive power of the guitar and the distortion pedal."

My kind had came out last night to rock with Mazerati before slinking back to our day jobs, families, and mortgages.