Shuso Hossen Performances by Judy, Sean (Taigu) and Ian


                                                   Bread by Taigu

Today’s post includes another video involving three more of the fantastic contribuitions by members of The Vista Zen Center to my Shuso Hossen Ceremony.  In this video, Judy leads the group in a rousing version of “Enmei Juku Kannon Gyo”.  Next, Sean talks about how his passion for bread-baking has become part of his Zen practice. Then, Ian sings Bob Dylan’s song “It’s all over, baby blue”, which he sees as a song about letting go.  All previous videos from the Shuso Hossen Ceremony can be found on the Art and Zen Today YouTube channel or can be found by using the search options to the right of this page.  Click below to see today’s video:


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Today’s video captures the last of my musical presentations at the Shuso Hossen in March.  As I see it now, the first three (see previous videos) were really “preambles”; where I amble around aimlessly before getting down to addressing the Koan in a straight forward way.  Below I’ve printed the Shuso Koan which may help you get a better understanding of what I was trying to do in my final rap/singing presentation.

Actually, this was not my final presentation.  As you will see in the video, this rap/song segues into my singing, along with the help of the group, an altered version of Sly Stones “I Want To Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself Again”.  Shorty after the Ceremony, I crossed paths with blues singer Richard “Stoney” Stone and asked him to do a rendition of that song in my studio.  You can hear this version, along with the visuals that accompanied it the night of the Ceremony, at.(

Today’s video can be viewed by clicking here :


                                                   SHUSO HOSSEN KOAN


A student came to the teacher and said I want to study with you. Fine, you may study with me but, you are an artist and I want to know how you can fulfill your Bodhisattva Vows as a Zen Buddhist while painting at your easel or playing your trumpet.

 Who is your picture freeing? What  delusions are your tunes transforming? What dharma gates are being embodied when you sculpt? How does your art awaken anyone, including yourself??




Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to free them.

 Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.

 The Dharmas are boundless, I vow to embody them.

 The Buddha Way is unsurpassable, I vow to awaken.

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Lady Gaga, Passion and Creativity

For years I’ve been vaguely aware of  singers Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse, but never made an effort to really listen to their music.  Both seemed too “over the top” for my tastes and somehow not worthy of my attention. A year or so ago, I happened upon a concert special featuring Lady Gaga on TV and found myself pulled in, at first,  by the spectacle of it all.  As a result, I came to realize that she could really sing.  More recently I ordered the documentary “Amy” from Netflixs and was equally surprised at the quality of her music.  ( I should mention that everything I am saying here applies to Michael Jackson as well.) 

If you haven’t seen the movie “Amy”, I would suggest that you do so.  It not only provides some insights into her creativity but also explores what I call the “thin line between creativity, spirituality and crazy” (see article “SUN RA, THE ALIEN: THE THIN LINE BETWEEN GENIUS, SPIRITUALITY AND CRAZY” at

Why some artists end up like Amy and others like Lady Gaga is a fascinating question that I don’t think  can be answered fully.  However, my friend and Zen teacher Jake Roshi recently brought my attention to an article that may provide some insight on the matter. The article was written by  David Brooks, a New York Times correspondent and is titled  “Lady Gaga and the Life of Passion”.  The link below leads to a video based on Roshi’s reading and commentary on the article at the Vista Zen Center.






Hello,  Welcome to another edition of Art and Zen Today.  The video below is Segment #3 of my Shuso Hossen Ceremony held in March of 2016 at The Vista Zen Center.  This installment contains an alternative chanting of “The Four Vows” and “Thinkaholic” one of my rap responses to my Shuso Koan.  Below that is a copy of the Program for the Ceremony.



Entrance and Opening Ceremony

    Manoj                    In Trance and Settling


 Manoj                    PRESENTATION  #1 


                         A Roshi named Jake gave me a snake.                     Or was it a stick?  You choose or Pick.”


    Eyal                         “The Primordial Light”

                                    (A Jewish Chassidic Tale)                

    Jo Smith                  Tai Chi Demonstration

    Elenah  (Kyojo)      “Loving Kindness Chant”



May (I, you, we) be filled with loving Kindness,

May (I, you, we) be well,

May (I, you, we) be filled with loving Kindness,

May (I, you, we) be well,

May (I, you, we)I be peaceful and at ease

May (I, you, we) be whole.

    David (Kaishin)          Poems

Manoj              PRESENTATION #2   Chorus

                                      Males   “Master Bodhidharma,                                            Bodhisattva   Bodhidharma”

                                     Females   “Wu Wu Master                                                                           Bodhidharma”


     Jon  ( Jon )               Poems

     Axel                         “Four Vows

     Eyal                          “Longing For” (Kabir)

     Video                       Little Kwan Yin

     Judy                          “Enmei Juku Kannon Gyo”

                                        (Lyrics in the Video)

     Eric (Tetsuei )           Short Story



     Manoj                        PRESENTATION #3

     Ian                              “It’s all over now, Baby Blue”

     Beth (Esho)               “Art From the Heart”

     Jane (Chandra)         “Gate of Sweet Nectar”

     Sean   (Taigu)            “Practicing the Doughma”

     Eyal                            “The Guest House” (Rumi)

Manoj                         FINAL PRESENTATION   

                                    Chorus      “I wanna thank you

                                     for letting me            be myself  again”

     Ritual Play

    Alessandra/ William

                     Questions From the Sangha

                     Closing Ceremony



 Thanks to Roshi and all the Sangha members who helped

in making this event a reality.  A special shout-out to

Howard (Kakusho) for coordinating the food  preparation and other “behind the scene” tasks and to my wife, Cherie for

help with the program.



My recent posts have had to do with my Shuso Hossen Ceremony held at The Vista Zen Center on March 5th, 2016. (Click on “Shuso Hossen Ceremony” in the CATEGORIES BOX to the right to see other articles on the topic).   In addition to several performances on my part, I also asked other members to perform or make presentations and many of these will be the subject of future posts.  This post is devoted to poems read by David ( Kaishin) Clark and Jon Wesick (see their biographies below).

The link below will take you to a video made of their readings, along with subtitles so you can read as well as hear the poems.  The video was recorded from a stationary camera in a room with low light, so the visuals are not great, but you can hear the poems clearly. Also, below the Bios and the Link are transcripts of the poems read by these poets at the Ceremony and a few others as well.  Enjoy

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David Clark was born and raised in San Diego. A life-long resident of the county, he and his wife, Diane, have lived in Vista for the last twenty years.  His poetic work reflects his many interests, but is especially informed by his study and practice of Zen Buddhism and key Buddhist texts such as the Avatamsaka and the Lankavatara Sutras. David is an admirer of the concise poetic forms of classical Chinese and Japanese poets. His work has been published in the yearly San Diego Poetry Annuals for 2012, ’14, ’15 and ’16.
Host of the Gelato Poetry Series, author of the poetry collection Words of Power Dances of Freedom, and an editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual, Jon Wesick has published over three hundred poems in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Pearl, and Slipstream. He has also published nearly a hundred short stories. One was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. One of his poems won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists contest. Another had a link on the Car Talk website. Jon has a Ph.D. in physics and is a longtime student of Buddhism and the martial arts.

Shuso Hossen Poems by Kaishin David Clark

The following are the poems that I read at the Shuso Hossen Program at the Vista Zen Center. I present them here in the order in which they were read. These poems will  be included in an upcoming  volume of selected poems to be published later this year. 


A Fool Once Again

Writing poems again?

Old fool!

Capturing thoughts in words

Is like collecting butterflies

Made of smoke.

                                                           Sweet Drum

                                                           I left the many

And I took the one,

Now I dance to the beat

Of my own sweet drum,

                                                    And I don’t have a care

For what may come,

While I dance to the rhythm

Of my own sweet drum.

When you add the columns

And you read the sum,

You may gain the many

When you take the one.

And you won’t be ruled

By the things that come,

When you dance to the beat

Of your own sweet drum.



                                                           Drop the Blade

Although you cut it

All day long,

It never bleeds.

Dice it a thousand times,

There are no pieces.

Chop at it with all your might,

You will never carry a stick away!

Drop the blade and you

May take the whole thing.

Which Bird?

Look now, in the garden!

Tell me what you see.

Is that the Blue Bird of Happiness,

Or just a gray bird of regret?

No matter either way,

In this garden

No bird alights for long…

Gone on the next breeze!



                                                               Eternal Now


Sit quite still

And you will see,

Freed from the bonds of

Was and will be,

The boundless realm

Of is.

If you watch attentively,

You’ll see that what is,


Changes every moment,

Yet remains.

It’s the curious nature of this

Perpetual domain,

Always morphing into something

Quite the same.

Sesshin Poem

Dharma brothers and sisters

Believe it when you hear,

Once you’ve seen his face,

That damn ox is everywhere!


Poems by Jon Wesick                             Meditation Instruction


Even if an A-frame of chicken bones

is all that’s left of your last meal

and the executioner will come for you soon,

settle your awareness in the here and now.


Even if the turkey is still raw

ten minutes before the banquet,

Even if you lost the winning lottery ticket

and your future prosperity tumbles with pants in the dryer,

practice the here and now.


Even if your joke about the porn star

brought a grimace to the pastor’s lips,

Even if a fart loud as an air horn

erupted at Toastmasters,

let waves of awareness return you to the here and now.


Even if your neighbor uses your lawn as his dog’s toilet,

Even if that SUV takes two parking spaces,

Even if you obsess over your upcoming scene in Tarantino’s film,

Even if your Nobel Prize acceptance speech is tomorrow,

let your mind be a redwood rooted in the here and now.


Even if a naked Angelina Jolie (or Brad Pitt)

calls you from the bedroom,

Even if a new Lamborghini gleams in the driveway

and the keys are in your pocket,

let your mind be an immovable mountain in the here and now.


Even if you fantasize this immovable mind

will make you an action hero,

Even though this poem is only a metaphor

and such a mind is impossible,

Even though Einstein proved that now does not exist,

your here and now are enough.




Ode to Sesshin Participants


Scientists of consciousness

holders of postgraduate degrees in awareness.

The meditation hall is your laboratory.

Knees and backs aching, feet numb as clubs

you gather wearing sweatpants and rakusu

to hear the endless repetition of a Boz Scaggs song

in your thoughts while certain that damn jikido

should have rung the bell ten minutes ago.


Yesterdays’ breakfast clogs your bowels and you would kill

for a half hour without someone knocking on the bathroom door.

You hope to finally get six hour’s sleep. And although discovering

buckwheat zafu make great pillows, you toss and turn all night,

wake at 5 AM, and do it all over again – sit, walk, chant,

move zabutons, obsess about when to brush your teeth,

and unfold oryoki napkins made into red warning flags

by first-day tomato sauce. Despite wanting to punch

that guy blocking the coffee pot, you make gassho

and bow anyway.


Worst day of your lives, You don’t belong here,

don’t belong anywhere so you pack your bags

and are out the door when you decide to give it one more day.

Sometime before breakfast a geyser of joy erupts inside.

Smells of delight waft from the kitchen,

One with fruit trees and rocks you sit in the garden at ease,

convinced you are the Buddha’s children.


Somewhere past joy your inner narrators finally shut up

leaving your minds still ponds. You who couldn’t wait to leave

now find kindness in the rules and schedule.

And when you return to the world outside

you find it noisy, strange, and cruel





The real Zen students were sitting in full lotus before dawn

wearing their black robes and rakusu1.

I stayed up too late watching TV.

Real Zen students don’t have TV’s.

Eventually I wake up,

light a candle on the altar,

and kneel on my meditation bench.

A gasoline powered edger begins its serenade,

and a lawnmower joins in the chorus.


By now the real Zen students are constructing monastery buildings,

working with the dying, or reaching out to the homeless.

I drive to my wrong livelihood job,

where I’m harassed by my wrong livelihood boss.

Real Zen students call this “good training.”

I call it a pain in the ass.


Real Zen students vow to return to this world of patience

for countless lifetimes to save all beings.

I wonder how I’ll get through another day.


I’ve given up trying to be a real Zen student.

I think I’ll become a dilettante instead.

If you’d like to be one too,

we meet at 7:00 most nights in the meditation hall.







If you don’t fit in at the in-crowd’s circus

and find no shelter on concrete streets of commerce,

If patrolmen of conformity roust you from your bed

of newspaper and all the bathroom doors are locked,

If faces leer from under hellish neon lights

as your nostrils sting and swell from diesel fumes,

If the masses shove you aside to snatch at shiny nickels

and hustlers’ lies drown out all thought, then let these words

be your battered spirit’s refuge: Come inside


and peel off that filthy uniform. It never fit. After a shower

you’ll find the courtyard’s a good place for reflection.

It contains an odd garden, mostly agave and cactus,

but you can pick guavas and custard apples from the trees.

The legs on the wooden bench by the well are uneven,

so try not to tumble when watching hummingbirds

probe California fuchsias with needlelike beaks. Stay

as long as you like. There’s no place else you need to be.




This poem appeared in SpeedPoets Zine, Vol. 10.8 in November 2011.





Japanese jazz harpist Motoshi Kosako on music, cultural differences, and a quest for balance.

Japanese jazz harpist Motoshi Kosako on music, cultural differences, and a quest for balance.

Below I have posted a neat article that was sent to me by Jane Mushinsky.

I find it of interest because the author’s viewpoint supports what I will be attempting

to express at my Shuso Hossen Ceremony in March.  Thanks Jane!

A thought on musician’s role in society




As working musician, I often think about our role in society. I never had offical education in music, instead I graduated from the medical school of Tokyo University, with B.S., license of nursing and public health nursing, and worked for the medical school hospital, wrote articles for psychiatric nursing text book, etc. When received job offer form a college of nursing as teaching faculty when I was 25, I doubt if this path is really what I want to take. So, in order to reset my established status in Japanese society,I moved to U.S. and restarted my life, that seemed to open chances for me to experience different possibilities of myself.

Being medical professional was very satisfying experience, since I could help people directly and physically. However, I found being musician is as meaningful (if not more) way of life as being in the position of helping people physically.

Here is my thought about musician’s role in society.

“A thought on musician’s role in society”

If we think music as a kind of entertainment business, it seems necessary for musicians to survive through demanding competition by stimulating consumer’s desire and greed especially in this modern capitalistic society based on free competitive market. However, I think musicians role in society is not providing services and/or items to provoke peoples desire to “want to have more”. Desire leads to craving, and the more we feed our desire, the more we crave. As a result we will never be satisfied with whatever we have and experience inner fulfillment.

The role of music in humanity seems to me providing listeners more ideal environment for realizing how miraculous it is to just “be here and now”, accepting how they are as they are now, and experiencing of sense of internal fulfillment.

If musicians try to make living by sincerely taking this role in society, conventional way of marketing and advertising can not be used, because they are designed to provoke desire for more, that is opposite from inner fulfillment with what they are now. Instead, we musicians can create music that make ourselves feel fulfillment and acceptance, put them out there and wait for people who are looking for music with the same purpose with which we are creating music, and can resonate with our music.

I don’t have desire to make a big money out of my music since the process of creating music is already rewarding me of experiencing of inner fulfillment, miracle of just being here and now and opportunities for personal growth. I think we desire for big money mostly when we feel that we are not rewarded by the activities themselves we are engaged. My business activity as musician is pretty much limited within the amount of money with which I can continue playing the role of musician in society, earning enough to keep up the activities that are useful for my growth as human being next few weeks.

I often play at restaurant/cafe where people don’t pay much attention for music. Under such a non-ideal circumstance for music performances, it is still meaningful for me to keep making effort for approaching the state of inner fulfillment, that may not mean much for customers. This kind of job is rather considered low class performance job since quality of music is not so important and most of what we play there is ignored anyway. However, I don’t consider this kind of job as “bad job” because I can still earn a little money that keeps me being musician, and it is not my business whether they use the impression of music I sincerely made effort for.

While I am playing at noisy restaurant and cafe, I often call up an image of mendicant buddhist priest standing at the corner of street. When I see them, I am reminded of the importance of pursuit for spiritual development above ordinary materialistic success. I often make an offering with gratitude and respect for someone who is seriously pursuing spiritual path, and wish for him to be able to continue the path. However, the amount of offering he can get doesn’t effect the quality of his internal work. I try not to change the quality of my effort to create music depending on the amount of money and/or attentions form audience, although those external factors effect internet state of mine and quality of music. As far as I am trying to keep my aim as ‘providing listeners more ideal environment for realizing how miraculous it is to just “be here and now”, accepting how they are as they are and experiencing of sense of fulfillment internally’, I have to accept whatever conditions I am under and find the way to feel fulfilled there.

If I were trying to be a good businessman by trying to expect accurately what can be wanted and sold in market and putting priority on creating what I can sell out there, the spiritual side of being musician, that I care most, would be ruined. I believe there is definite objective value on sharing the spiritual direction between musician and listeners through the music that is the result of the process of musician’s striving effort to experience inner fulfillment and can resonate listener’s spirit. I understand business people don’t pay much attention to this aspect of music, that can not be measured by money, however I want to cherish this as the most important and meaningful aspect of music.


We are all aging but most of us don’t start worrying about it until we

receive an invitation to join AARP.  Although you can’t stop the aging

process, I find that it does help to maintain a sense of humor about

it all.  Thus, the Rap/Music/Video below as performed by “The Senior Moments”.  I hope you enjoy it.  It appears that the hyperlink below is not working so you may have to copy

the address below and paste it in your Browser.


My last post “Authentic Vs. Inauthentic Performance” prompted some of you to send me emails.  I would like to thank those of you who commented on the post as they help me in thinking about all of this. I have chosen three comments to respond to in this post.  In all cases, I have changed the names of the Sangha members.


COMMENT:  “Hi Manoj,  fascinating line of thought, to quote Mr. Spock.”,  Mufungo

RESPONSE: It may be “fascinating” because it is…”Most Illogical” to quote Mr. Spock.  Mufungo’s comment suggests to me that she found my post to be entertaining or engaging to some degree and that she may also be doubtful as to whether or not what I said is true or correct.  This is fine by me. Today’s “post-modern” society is characterized by a dwindling confidence in any authority (religious, political scientific etc.) purporting to offer “the truth” on some topic.  Since the term “author” is derived from the word “authority”, writers, such as myself, are also suspect.  I recently read an article called “Beyond Postmodernism? Towards a Philosophy of Play” by Robert Miller, who  points out that readers should remember that what authors (including himself) have to say should be best understood as something to be “played with” rather than some statement of truth. (  Interestingly,  he also suggests that this is exactly what is encouraged through Zen practice.  Accordingly, I see my posts as being more like an art pieces than articles; where whatever is said is hopefully seen as fodder for “mind play”.  Even though I’m not sure whether or not there is any validity to what I am thinking,  I continue to write as if  I know what I am doing; as if  I was an real author; “faking it”, in other words.


An essential characteristic of

child’s play is a dimension of pretend—that is, an action

and interaction in an imaginary, “as if” situation.




COMMENT: Here is comment #2 from Makita:

‘To educate/clarify the teacher needs to make a point.

The student does not’.

Here is my response to Makita via email:


“Thanks for the comment.  Not completely sure of the “point” but maybe that is your “point”.

Maybe you could fill me in when we see each other.  Manoj


Makita responded to this via email saying:

“What I meant is just related to Buddha as a “performance artist”.

Every good teacher uses some elements of performance to make his/her point. We can add that when the performance is “sanctified” the essential point most likely would be forgotten. Maybe this is a link to the origin of certain rituals…..

RESPONSE:  Here is my response to the second email:

In the first of Makita’s emails, I was not sure to which part of the blog he was responding.  It turns out that he was commenting on another article “Buddha As Performance Artist” that was referenced in the latest post.  Now I understand where Makita was coming from and appreciate his observation on the topic. I think that his last point is important as it expresses a key point in Thurman’s article on Buddha as a Performance Artist.  In order to convey “knowledge” that goes beyond and can not be expressed in ordinary or “secular” (i.e. dualistic) language, one must use what Susanne Langer calls “presentational” (as opposed to “discursive”) symbols and this is where teaching and art begin to intersect. Certainly Zen has placed an emphasis on “presentational” communication throughout it’s evolution.  According to Robert Aitken (The Gateless Barrier) koan study helps students perform using “presentational” communication.


COMMENT: (The last email came from Zen-Doe and entails two separate comments.  Here is the first one.)


When I substitute the word “behavior” for “performance,” the idea of “ritual as performance” makes much more sense to me.  Then, the phrase, “Buddha was a ‘performance (behavior) artist’ rings quite true to my understanding of who and what Buddha was.  I think “Buddha as a performance artist” can be misleading and very confusing.


RESPONSE: I am guessing that Thurman chose the term “performance artist” on purpose to emphasize that Buddha had to be “artistic” in his presentation of what he had learned to his “audience”.  In other words, Thurman was engaging in the kind of “post modern play” referenced by Miller (see my introduction above).  As the term “performance artist” is a contemporary term, I don’t believe he wants us to believe that Buddha said to himself “I’m going to be a performance artist”.  This was Thurman’s playful attempt to talk about Buddha’s use of upaya (skillfull means).  In other words,  Buddha used “presentational communication” to help the audience understand his teachings.


“Faking it until you make it” certainly may work for some personality types, but not for all.  I’ve been hearing that phrase for 25 years and it has never “spoken” to me as a path I should follow.  I’ve been recently reading about Jung’s various personality types and there are major differences between them in how they understand and interact with the world and their experiences in it.  You having some (maybe a lot of) innate “performance” ability — along with others who may enjoy performing/acting — might be likely to find “faking it” a helpful approach to dealing with inner discomforts, but I doubt that would work for most.


I am not surprised that some people find all this talk of “performance” and  “faking it” off-putting.  But, remember it is just one perspective; one among many that could be used to talk about Zen and Ritual.  I recall Roshi lately saying something to the effect that we should always remember that our opinions are only one of the many possible perspectives on an issue, and that we should be open to trying out (playing with) other perspectives.

The term “fake” has a negative connotation associated with it and most of us would not want to be thought of as a “fake”.  However, I would suggest that all of us engage in the kind of actions described in the three articles covered in the post “Authentic Vs. Inauthentic Performance”. That is, we play roles in various social situations even though we are not convinced that our actions in that role are expressing who we really are.  One example of this is when we take on a new role such as being a new parent or a new marriage partner.  When I first started painting I certainly felt “inauthentic” whenever I referred to myself (or was referred to) as a “painter”. I certainly feel like something of a fake when thinking about being Shuso at The Vista Zen Center.   In my first Shuso talk, when I referred to not knowing why I was taking on the Shuso role (and thus jumping into the abyss), it was due to my extreme self-consciousness about my performance and the feeling of not being authentic. in that role.

The first reason I posted “Authentic vs. Inauthentic Performance” is that I am wondering whether that distinction is very useful.  For one thing, when we feel authentic it is because we feel that our performances capture or express our “true” or “inner” self.  Well, we know that from a Buddhist perspective (as well as contemporary social psychology) there is no authentic, real or true self.  In Zen, we are supposedly authentic when we are expressing our true nature (Buddha nature) which is who or what we are without the conditioned self concept that results from socialization.  And supposedly this expression can be recognized by teachers who have supposedly also expressed this authenticity to those who conferred transmission to them.  Often this expression of authenticity is displayed in the context of being tested by the teacher during Koan study.  However,  most long time Zen students  I have talked to portray this as a  highly subjective and arbitrary process.  We can also  look at the number of students who have gone bad after the  authenticity of their expressions have been validated by their teachers.  Also an article by William Bodiford (Dharma Transmission in Theory and Practices), concludes that throughout the history of Zen the criteria for transmissions have been inconsistently applied so that  which student does or does not receive transmission can be best explained by looking  to matters of politics and personal ties than evaluations of performances expressing students’  true nature.

The second reason for posting “Authentic Vs. In Authentic Performance” is that the “performance perspective” on ritual seems to resemble the ideas behind “faking it until making it”  I am going to go in more detail in my next Shuso Talk but Dale Wright seems to suggest that this idea has been incorporated in Zen training since days of old.  For instance he states:

“Ritual practitioners proceed in the ritual “as if” things were different than they seemed before entering the ritual.  They imagine a state of affairs other than common sense would dictate and proceed as if something other than that were true.  Zen practitioners engage in zazen as if they were enlightened Buddhas, and in the act of imagination, something really changes.” (p. 12, Zen Ritual; Studies of Zen Buddhist Theory in Practice.)

Is this way of understanding true?  At first blush it sounds like a bunch of hooey to me.  However, because of my interest in art, theater and music , I am willing to explore this new perspective to see whether I might find it helpful in feeling more “authentic” as a Zen student and Shuso.  The journey continues.


In talking with others about the idea of “rituals as performance”, I’ve realized that many people are uncomfortable with the term because it implies “acting” or “faking”.  This brought to mind an earlier blog I had posted where I suggested  that “faking it” may not necessarily be a bad thing.  I will probably play with this notion more in upcoming Shuso talks, so I  thought that maybe those who did not read the original blog might find it of interest.  Below I have reprinted most of the original post. I would be very interested in hearing from you about your reactions to this post.  Are there times when you “fake it”?  Do you see this as a problem?  How can you tell if you or someone else is authentic in their actions?  Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman wrote that Buddha was a “performance artist”.  Does that mean Buddha was not authentic? (see:   PLEASE SHARE YOUR REACTIONS AND IDEAS WITH ME VIA EMAIL OR IN PERSON; I’VE FOUND YOUR COMMENTARIES THUS FAR TO BE VERY USEFUL.


1. The first case is a review of the documentary movie KUMARE. by Roger Ebert  A number of members of The Vista Zen Center watched this film and it has been the object of a great deal of discussion afterwards.

“Growing up in New Jersey, Vikram Gandhi was a typical American kid who resented the way his family tried to enforce Hindu beliefs and practices. He found it ironic that Americans began to popularize gurus and yoga just at the time he was growing away from such things. On a trip to India, he says, he found that “real” gurus were no more real than the American frauds who copied them.

That led him into the deliberate deception that he filmed in “Kumare.” He grew a long beard and a pony-tail, exchanged his shoes for sandals, switched his slacks and suits to flowing orange robes, and started carrying an ornate walking stick. Then he moved toArizona, hired an expert to teach him yoga and a PR woman to promote him as a guru, and began to attract followers in meetings at shopping malls, community centers and around the swimming pools of his affluent clients. His accent was modeled on the way his grandmother spoke English. His teachings were deliberate gibberish: talk of inner blue lights, “finding the guru within,” and chants of fabricated mantras.

At this point in the film, it takes an odd turn. Kumare’s followers believe him without question. They share their deepest secrets with him and visibly appear to benefit from him. These people are not dummies. Mostly middle-aged, they take their health seriously, are somewhat skilled at yoga and follow schedules of meditation. “Kumare” seems to establish that a guru can be a complete fraud and nevertheless do a certain amount of good, because what matters is not the sincerity of the guru but that of his followers.

Gandhi narrates the documentary (in an ordinary American voice), introduces us to followers he’s grown close to, and begins to believe he may have started something that was out of his control.  He tells his followers the time has come for him to leave them. Now they are on their own. He returns toNew Jersey, cuts his hair, shaves his beard, and begins to practice a speech in the mirror: “I am not who you think I am.” Whether he ever says this, and how the movie ends, I will leave for you to discover.

It seems to me that “Kumare” reflects a truth that is often expressed in three words: “Act as if.” If you can act as if something is true, in a sense that makes it true. It doesn’t matter if a teacher’s spiritual teachings have any basis. It doesn’t matter if the supernatural even exists (Gandhi believes it does not). His followers benefit by acting ‘as if’.”


2.  I discovered that a number of research and therapists in psychology have incorporated the ideas put forth by Hans Vaihinger in his book The Philosophy of “As If”.   Below is an excerpt from  a blog called “Mindfulness Muse” which provides a description of this approach in psychology:

“Most of us have some aspect of our lives or ourselves that we would like to change. Perhaps you have a clear vision in your mind of how you would like to be “different” in some way, yet all of the facts and positive self-talk in the world doesn’t seem to be enough to turn your vision into reality. It is not uncommon to know what we could do to be “better” in regards to some aspect of who we believe/wish ourselves to be, yet knowledge and piles of self-help books don’t seem to be enough. These are the times when it is more important take a step back and try a different approach. The first step is to get out of your mind and take action.

Do you really want to change? Attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors are so closely intertwined that the truth about change is that in many ways you can become different when you start acting as if you are different. This concept is at the heart of Dialectical Behavior Therapy’s (DBT) principle of opposite action.

How to Change Your Life by Choosing New Behaviors

Take a moment to reflect on an aspect of yourself that you deeply wish to change. This type of self-transformation is one that is positive in nature and intended to move you closer toward living your life in accordance with your true values. Consider the person that you believe yourself to be today – in this very moment. Now reflect on the aspects of your core identity that you wish to materialize in your life. Do you wish you were more […..]? You can be. Stop thinking about it and starting acting as if you already are.


Do you wish that you felt happier? Less depressed? You have indirect control over your emotions through consciously choosing new ways of behaving. Research has found that the simple behavioral choice to activate your facial muscles into a smile is enough to genuinely make you feel happier. Even if you feel a bit silly the first time you give this exercise a try, do it anyway! That’s what making actual changes through behavioral choices is all about.”

This is one of 10 examples of this approach.  You can read more by clicking here.


 A while back an artist friend showed me her business card which had “Aspiring Artist” after her name.  I told her that I felt that she was doing herself a disservice by not billing herself as an artist, but had no convincing rationale for my response.  Since learning about “as if”, I think that my response to her made some sense.  Below are a couple of online articles that have to do with becoming an artist.  The first (A) is from The Daily Painter Blog .  The second (B) is from a site called Lateral Action.


How to Become an Artist, “Fake It”

Tuesday/08/2012 August Filed in: Art Marketing

Becoming an artist is easy. You just proclaim you are. You can not do this if you want to be a Brain Surgeon. You do not need a degree to be an artist. Heck, the best artist are children until a sibling or some bully says their art stinks. Some stop and never return until they realize what happened. That’s what I like about my job. Getting people hooked on art, again. I’m sort of a art pusher, I lurk in the back of art stores looking for people to turn on to art who gave up the dream.


How to Fake It As an Artist

Have you ever walked into an art gallery and thought “I could do better than that!”?

Or are you a contemporary art enthusiast, tired of hearing people criticize things they don’t understand?

Whichever side of the fence you’re on, you’re bound to have an opinion on the story of Paul O’Hare, a painter and decorator fromLiverpool,UK, who was given just four weeks to transform himself into a fine artist and attempt to fool the critics at aLondon art gallery.

Paul’s story was featured in one of my all-time favorite documentary series, Faking It. In each program, a member of the public was given a month’s intensive training at an improbably difficult profession – and then put through a competitive test alongside experienced pros, to see if they could ‘fake it’ by convincing the judges they were the real deal.

The final test was an exhibition at a London gallery, where Paul’s work was displayed alongside three artists who had been exhibiting and selling work for several years. The work was judged by three respected critics, who also interviewed each of the artists, to see how convincingly they could discuss their work.


Paul was clearly feeling the pressure as he was grilled by the judges, and his performance wasn’t perfect. But in the event, one of the genuine artists did an even worse job of explaining his own work – it just goes to show you can’t always tell from appearances. And neither could the judges – out of three of them, only one spotted Paul as the fake.

Takeaway: There comes a point where you have to step out confidently and present yourself to the world as the person you want to be – even though you’re feeling terrified inside. And there are no guarantees that the world will buy your bluff.





It has been a while since I have made any entries here at Art and Zen Today. Now that I am back, I plan to use this site in a slightly different way; namely as one component of a performance art piece that is a response to a Koan given to me by my Zen teacher Jiyu Gage Roshi.

I’ll be working on this Koan in preparation for a ceremony that is called “Shuso Hossen” in the Zen world.  In this ceremony a student offers his or her understanding of the Koan and fields questions from other students about the Koan to demonstrate their readiness to be considered a senior student.  Usually, students are assigned to work on one of the traditional Koans that have been part of the training for Zen monks throughout the centuries in China and Japan.  However, my teacher has decided to explore alternative Koans that speak more to  Westerners living and practicing Zen in non-monastic circumstances.

My intention, at this point, is to frame my response as a performance art piece and use blog posts here at Art and Zen Today as part of that performance.  All of this may change, but for now I see posts in the near future as being directed primarily  to members of The Vista Zen Center and having to do with “my process” as I prepare for the Shuso Hossen Ceremony.  .  It is my hope that my posts will generate comments and feedback from readers that will help me figure out what the culminating ceremony will look like. Here ( in Italics) is my Koan as sent to me by Roshi:

 In our Shuso Hossan ceremony we will be looking at a koan that Manoj has been working with for quite sometime. It is traditional for the person who is the shuso to work on a koan with the teacher in preparation for being asked questions by other sangha members during the ceremony. In our situation I am asking Manoj to work with the Four Vows as his koan. In fact, I gave him this koan in the very beginning of our study together. It came out of my own struggles with the Four Vows. I told Manoj that if he wanted  to be a serious Zen student he would need to be able to answer the question for himself about how he could work with the Four Vows and create Art simultaneously. When I started Zen practice, I felt some guilt about doing my own artwork while there was so much suffering going on all around me. Overtime, considerable time, I was able to resolve those issues in a satisfactory way for myself and for my teacher’s understanding. As Manoj reached the point where I was going to ask him to go through the ceremony with me and the Sangha, I realized this question around the Four Vows would be good for us as a community to look at together with Manoj. In fact, I may use it with other Shusos in the future. We will talk more about this in group discussions that we will be having over the next few weeks and months. So, the koan Manoj is working with is as follows:

A student came to the teacher and said I want to study with you. Fine, you may study with me but, you are an artist and I want to know how you can fulfill your Bodhisattva Vows as a Zen Buddhist while painting at your easel or playing your trumpet. These are the vows I am speaking of: (These are the ones we regularly chant at The Vista Zen Center)

Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to free them.

Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.

The dharmas are boundless, I vow to embody them.

The Buddha Way is unsurpassable, I vow to awaken..

Who is your picture freeing? What  delusions are your tunes transforming? What dharma gates are being embodied when you sculpt? How does your art awaken anyone, including yourself?”

While most of my previous blog post were directed to anyone interested in the topics I covered, those leading up to the Shuso Hossen will be primarily directed to members of the Vista Zen Center.  Where most of these earlier posts had the flavor of  semi-academic essays, I will endeavor to make future posts shorter and more personal  expressions having to do with  my process of fashioning a response to the Koan. One way for the Sangha to be involved, as per Roshi’s wishes, is for readers to make comments on the posts as they are published.