Shambhala Sun Home Free Gift with Order Current Issue Subscribe & Save Half Give a Gift Renew Current Text
spacer spacer spacer


spacer spacer

There is a passage in the Book of Revelation where an angel proclaims that there will be time no longer. I wonder how you respond to the idea of time, from your Zen point of view perhaps, whether there is a way to escape from time.

Well, it’s a very bad idea to try to escape from time, because you’ll be late for all your appointments and you won’t be able to get your kids to school on time. Of course we have a dream and an appetite to dissolve time and not feel it rushing at us, or catching up on us. So it’s important to be able to experience both the absolute crushing urgency of time and to be able to dissolve it. Almost all the religions I know about provide the technology for experiencing this great affair without the conditioning factor of fime. But you can’t live in that world either.

The Book of Revelations certainly does fulfill that great characteristic of charged writing by pulling the rug out from under you. You are in a new world and there is a New Jerusalem, and you are ready to embrace the notion of newness and of rebirth and a new cosmos. It’s a kind of religious or meditation manual, and it invites you to unfold that dissolving of time in your own hart and in your own life.

"Dance Me To The End of Love" implies the dissolving of time in the moment of sexual ecstacy. To what extent do you make a distinction between the sexual and the spiritual when it comes to absolute?

In the sweaty, passionate, filthy embrace, in all of its delicious and time-dissolving power, in the midst of that embrace there is no difference, no separation between the spiritual and the profane. But it’s reached through the profane rather than through the spiritual, at least in my canon. That is the portal, that is the door into the whole affair. In that moment there is no separation, there is no spirit and flesh, there’s no conflict, there never was. It’s dissolved.

Feminists have given you a lot of flack for "I'm Your Man," but it seems to me that to have such a man as is singing this song is to be a fortunate woman. This is a woman who is allowed absolute freedom. This is a troubador of the nineties who is singing to her.

Well, I certainly meant it that way. I didn’t write a love song to turn anybody off. If people are turned off for ideological reasons, I can only wish them well. They turn away by themselves, so there’s no need for us to meet one another. I think it’s quite legitimate to be offended by it if one is prone to offense, but I’m not offended by art. I usually don’t see something where the word “disgusting” comes to my mind and I have to develop a position about something I don’t like. The beautiful freedom about “like” and “dislike” is that if you dislike the thing, you don’t have to entertain it.

What strikes me in your prose poem "What is a Saint?" is the sense of balance and of acceptance of the chaos. You're saying that it's arrogant to think that you can change the chaos.

The first reality is that there is a wound and there is suffering, a deep sense of unsatisfactoriness with life. There is no question about it. The Buddhist theology presents it as the first noble truth. We live in a world that is not perfectible, a world that always presents you with a sense of something undone, something missing, something hurting, something irritating. From that minor sense of discomfort to torture and poverty and murder, we live in that kind of universe. The wound that does not heal—this human predicament is a predicament that does not perfect itself.

But there is the consolation of no exit, the consolation that this is what you're stuck with. Rather than the consolation of healing the wound, of finding the right kind of medical attention or the right kind of religion, there is a certain wisdom of no exit: this is our human predicament and the only consolation is embracing it. It is our situation, and the only consolation is the full embrace of that reality.

What about love, though?

I believe we know that love is a terrible wound itself, and that it presents a bewildering landscape to stumble over. Love is a fire: it burns everyone, it disfigures everyone, it is the world's excuse for being ugly.

I think in people's hearts they understand that the heart is cooking like shish kebob in your breast, and no matter what you do, the passions come and go and they sear you, they burn you. If it's not your lover, it's your children; if it's not your children, it's your job; if it's not your job, it's growing old; if it's not growing old, it's getting sick. This predicament cannot be resolved. That is the wound that does not heal, and rather than approach it from the point of view of stitching or cauterizing it, there is a kind of wisdom of living with the wound.

You're talking about acceptance.

I would dissolve every approach. I would just say that there is no escape. Acceptance is too good a word for this predicament. It suggests a kind of resigned, sage-like approach. You can't get off the hook by finding the right word-acceptance, resignation, embrace. All those things are lies about it.

Then what about compassion?

You know, we come up with all kinds of things, but still the wound does not heal, still the reality is suffering. We come up with all kinds of new drugs, all kinds of new approaches. Yes, there are all kinds of human decencies to embrace, and we should really try to be nice to one another, but nothing dissolves this sense of irritation and unsatisfactoriness that we all feel. Nobody gets over that.

Tell me about your Zen practice and your relationship with Sasaki Roshi.

I met a man a long time ago, and by chance he happened to be a Zen monk. And I don’t think he cared very much about it one way or the another. He accepted his duties. He was born into a family and taken to a monastery when he was fourteen. He became a master, and that’s the way his life unfolded. If he’d been a professor of physics at Heidelberg, I would have learned German and studied physics. So I never really felt I was studying something called Zen. I never thought I was looking for a new religion; the religion I had was fine. So it was something else.

It’s the nature of the man.

The nature of the man, yeah. It’s a buddie movie.

Subscribe | Current Issue | Search Archives | Contact Us | Spotlight | Privacy Policy | Site Map | Employment
© 2008 Shambhala Sun | Email: | Tel: 902.422.8404 | Published by Shambhala Sun Foundation