Saturday, August 21, 2010

its been a while! a few weeks ago, my sister and her boyfriend shot a video for one of my songs. some of you have already seen it, but yesterday i put up the final edit, so please check it out! (go to youtube if you want to see it in HD)

it features my friend and long time collaborator mark heddema on tenor saxophone (and lead guitar) and heavy lord/cenobites guitar player wes lee as the lead acting hermit. we recorded this song in february of 2009, a few days before going out to new zealand/australia to play more gigs with the bros. but i actually wrote it about a month before that, when i was traveling through the nepal himalayas. i was reading "the golden age of zen" by john c. h. wu, which is probably one of the greatest introductions to chinese zen ever written. what amazed me is that even though its a book on zen "buddhism", mr wu himself, despite being chinese, is christian. and the (amazing) introduction was written by the christian trappist monk father thomas merton! i thought this was worth mentioning, because nowadays people seem so polarised and trapped in boxes. either muslim or christian. or buddhist or materialist, whatever. they seem to be more interested in looking for differences instead of commonalities. so it both highly ironic and inspiring to me that two christians from two very different cultures came together, in the early 60's no less, to write a book in praise of zen!

anyway, enough about that and more about the song. its called the sixth patriarch because i kind of stole the lyrics from a chinese text called the platform sutra. hui neng was the sixth master of zen in china and the platform sutra is basicly his teachings. the first chapter is his biography, and it is from there i took the three verses of this song. what has always facinated me about his story is that hui neng was an illiterate peasant from the south of china (those days in china, you basicly couldnt be of lower social standing than he was). yet in spite of his background, he went to the north to study with the fifth patriarch, who picked hui neng over all of his 500 (or 1000?) learned students to be his successor. why? because he thought hui neng had the best and most realistic understanding of life! he wasnt caught up with ideas of what life was like or should be, he was simply engaging life directly as it is. (for those interested, you can read more about hui neng over at wikipedia)

when i first read this story i was about 15, and i didnt have much of any context to put it in. but i really liked it. i'd always felt it was bullshit that intellect or being smart somehow makes people superior, even though that seems to be common thought in a lot of societies. to me hui neng demonstrated that what matters is not so much someone's words, but someone's action.

id continue to be inspired by hui neng's story so much, that 4 years later i wrote this song. ive always disliked overtly preachy and "spiritual" songs (and still my stomach turns a little bit every time i read, hear, write or say the word "spiritual"), so i tried to keep this one as ambiguous as possible. let people make up their own minds. and that was hui neng's attitude, too. im not here to tell you what to think, im just here to make you think!