Most of my life I have dwelt in the realm of the absolute; the only other places I’ve dwelt are at the No Way Zen Center and, when I retired from there, at the Next-to-Godliness Laundromat. Over the years, many people have come through the gate of the No Way Zen Center to learn to let body and mind drop away, and they have mentioned things I don’t understand at all: sex, drugs, anti-war demonstrations, rock music, a cult of people grateful to be dead. Reading Wes “Scoop” Nisker’s recent book If You Don’t Like the News Go Out and Make Some of Your Own was an education for me. Mr. Nisker, a Buddhist himself, has a gift for connecting the relative and absolute.
The culture in America is so narcissistic these days. People who write autobiographical books often seem to think that everybody in the world is going to be interested in the most intimate details of their lives. Each person thinks that he or she is at the center of the universe. And so as readers we expect to hear all about somebody’s sex life, and what they dreamed last night, and why their marriage ended, and all that juicy self-clinging. But this is self-centered mind. I have never even revealed, in my book or in my teachings, whether I am a man or a woman, and I never intend to. Why do people need to know these trivial details? What difference does it make in the Big Picture?
Scoop Sensei, too, writes with Big Mind. He sees himself as just one guy in a whole generation, and he sees his generation as just an eye-blink in the history of the cosmos. His lack of ego is particularly commendable in view of the fact that he is a well-known media personality. But a personal history is not the book he is writing here. He steps aside, with generous heart, to tell a story that speaks of interconnectedness over many kalpas. In the first chapter, when he speaks of his own birth, he honors his ancestors all the way back to Australopithecus, “the first to come down from the trees and head for the local tavern.” And he talks about recent scientific discoveries of the humongousness of the universe, with its millions of galaxies. “The fact that I am able to see myself as part of a movement or epoch, or as a participant in a stage of biological or cosmic evolution, gives some relief from the personal.” So, too, this book helps readers to put aside Small Self and share in our collective Big Self.
Mr. Nisker says, “I left home and joined a generation,” and much of the book is really the autobiography of a generation, of what is called the “counterculture.” (I think it is called that because it is the culture of people who take up the practice of counting their breaths.) Mr. Nisker knows what he is talking about because he has been a DJ on the radio in San Francisco since 1968, and I understand he invented a special kind of news report that you can dance to, and he has interviewed many people like Timothy Leary and the Dalai Lama. In fact, he himself has the unique ability to follow the breath of the culture.
Even though Scoop doesn’t talk a lot about himself, some of my favorite parts are where he tells his own personal adventures. Like this cross-cultural DJ experience from one of his trips in Asia:
I rode all night through the jungles of Sumatra on a bus jammed with peasants and their animals. What made this trip peculiar was that the bus driver drove along singing pop songs into a microphone that had been hooked up over his seat. The singing driver was accompanied by a man who sat next to him and played a small electric organ that was propped up on the dashboard. Most astonishing, however, was the fact that a big loudspeaker was mounted on top of the bus, so that as we rode along through the night this live performance went booming out over the jungle . . . I imagined prowling tigers and big-eyed owls astounded by this rambling Sumatran jukebox-bus and the driver’s heavily accented “r-r-r-ollin’, r-r-r-ollin’ onna rivah. . .”
In his own life Scoop Sensei has always brought together a concern about politics and meditation, about inner and outer peace. Most people go to one extreme or the other, and I must admit I myself have been an “inny” more than an “outy,” but he has inspired me by the fact that his whole life he has been committed to both spiritual understanding and social justice. Scoop is inspiring because he doesn’t give up hope.
Scoop Sensei is truly a buddha. I know because one of the signs of a buddha is long earlobes, and Scoop, by his own admission, has ears situated low on his head, which amounts to the same thing, in my opinion. He tells us, “One of my fraternity brothers said to me, ‘If your ears were any lower, Wes, you’d have to put deodorant on them.’”
One thing we Zen Buddhists are very picky about is details. I was surprised by the many spelling misstakes and typagraphickle errors. Perhaps, in the big picture, this is not so important.
This book is written with a lot of love. It’s friendly, and funny and easy to read. You will either learn about important parts of our social history or be reminded of them. And you will feel like you have a new friend with low ears. Near the end of the book he says,
“The most difficult task I have set for myself is to fuse my head and my heart. Not just to think about loving, but to love. It’s a matter of bringing what I learn in my meditation practice back out, as the yogis say, ‘into the marketplace.’ To embody the teachings.”
So I am grateful for Scoop’s body and his book.