English Audio American Text International English Spanish Text

Buddha Camp at Burning Man 2011 Report
Join Us at Buddha Camp in 2012 or You'll Be Sorry

Buddha Camp at Burning Man celebrated its 5th year with chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Gongyo, introductory and discussion meetings. These were daily events held in the Lotus Dome, our geodesic activity space. Many guests and SGI members from other camps joined in. We value the wisdom, questions and answers offered at the meetings. Ever year SGI members who had drifted away from the practice show up just to see Buddha Camp and do Gongyo. About half the Buddha Campers are Nichiren Buddhists and the other half are non-Buddhist friends. Eight of 40 campers were recruited through my American Gongyo website. Five of the eight came from outside of the US: Canada 2, Italy 1, London 1 and Paris 1. They all had a great time. (For more photos and chitchat on Buddha Camp, go to Facebook-Buddhacamp members bulletin board. Clickon the photos posted by individual members.)

Of course, we are not pushy or born again or judgmental. You and I enter this world alone and leave alone. In between is this lifetime. The purpose of Nichiren Buddhism is to enjoy life. I enjoy life a lot more when I chant "enough and until" my desires and goals are fulfilled. One of my goals is just to enjoy life and to enjoy the things that are good for me (and the Universe) but don't like to do because I'm lazy. Certainly, life was enjoyable at Buddha Camp, sort of a preview of Kosen Rufu (world peace when Nichiren Buddhism is widespread.)

A Day In My Burning Life.

It was cold last night. Fortunately, I have my superior wind-water-dust proof tent, two quality sleeping bags and a good air mattress. My tent mates, Anne from Paris and Paulina from London got in late and are asleep. Ah, to be young and beautiful again. I have the world's largest and most expensive personal tent, with three rooms. They share a room. I have a room. The third room is for our collective stuff. I supplied the most of the bulky camping equipment because they flew in from Europe.

The sky is light blue. The breeze is slight and carries a whiff of fire. Burning Man is largely asleep (or passed out.) The feeling I have during early morning is one of timelessness. I feel the urgent need for the porta pottie and jump on my bike and ride about a block. I have my own paper in case the cleaners haven't gotten there yet. They have. The porta potties are in good shape this year. Most of our camp is still asleep. In the kitchen, Sam My Man (our co-founder) is cooking bacon and it smells great. I eat a lot of it with a fresh fruit chaser and a roll. Back at my tent, I make tea and a cup of noodles. I bring a small cooking stove for such snacks. Our Animal Control neighbors play "Morning Train" every day at 9:30. I drop everything and dance with them. Paulina is there also dancing away. (Animal Control roams the burn and captures Burners in animal outfits. The faux animals are caged and paraded. I don't think any of them are put down.) When we get back our close neighbors are up and moving about. Dave & Linda (SF), Daria & Mary Jo (Fukarewee, WY), Rose (The Rose of Seattle) and Heather (Boise). Anne is also up. I pass on intelligence about the clean porta potties and the bacon in the kitchen. They drift off.

Mary Jo returns and we sing a few songs together before the techno music starts. She has a superior voice and she sounds good with my guitar and harmonica background.

I get ready for the day by washing my teeth, face, hair and feet. I use the melt water from my cooler that is nice and cold. My personal ritual is to apply lotion on my feet and use clean socks and sun block on all exposed skin. I fill up my hydration pack (American Army) with water and ice and make sure I have my dust mask, goggles (Army/Marines, desert model that fit over my glasses) and a few power bars. I head out on my bike to look at the artwork on the Playa, visit the Man and Temple. The Temple this year is quite spectacular. I park and lock my bike and climb into the Temple. People leave markers and I write the names of deceased family and friends and pets on a wall. Our cat Christy passed away recently after 20 good years. Max, Christy's brother went two years ago. I miss them and am a little sad. Daily, I chant for their rebirth in fortunate circumstances. Perhaps the rebirth of my loved ones has already taken place. I notice that people have left pictures of people they want remembered. I'll bring pictures next year. Sunday, the Temple will burn.

I bike to Center Camp and again lock up my bike. (The Sad Camper doesn't lock his bike up and it is stolen by a selfish drunk. He spends the rest of the Burn walking with his head held low, because Burning Man is really big.) Center Camp is a giant tent with stages, open spaces, seating and the coffee bar. Burners are performing, sleeping, talking, walking and drinking coffee. I need a good shot of coffee so I get in line. The line moves quite fast and I start talking to some people in line. A couple seems interested in Buddhism. A girl from New York had been to the Culture Center. I invite them to a meeting at Buddha Camp and write our address on a Nam-myoho-renge-kyo card. The girl complains that she is getting very little sleep because of the noise. I give her a pair of my military grade earplugs. She tries them out. She smiles and yells that all the sounds of the world are gone. I get my coffee that my new friends insist on buying.

I walk around Center Camp and see people making art. I watch and am invited to create art. The Art Camp brings art supplies and encourages people to draw and paint. The art is displayed at their camp on special structures they erect. I paint a couple of things. I have been reading palms for 40 years and offer to do some readings. I soon have more people that I can handle. The art people invite me to their camp for a cocktail party that night. I buy some ice at the icehouse and head back to Buddha Camp where it's almost time for Gongyo and the discussion meeting. (Yes, I wear a watch. Counter intuitively, Burners are mostly middle-class and tend to start things on time.)

About 25 members and guests attend. Angel, our founder, leads Gongyo. The following discussion meeting is pretty standard except some people are kind of topless. Our daily meetings are very lively, interesting and diverse. Since we have a lot of SGI members from all over, the explanations and experiences are fabulous. The questions from guests are quite profound in their own right. A member from L.A. says a description of Nirvana in the Lotus Sutra matches a description of Burning Man. I'll have to look it up. We serve cut up fruit at every meeting and hand out gifts. I hand out 100 American Gongyo CDs and Pronunciation Guides during the week. In no time the meeting is over. Some people hang out and continue to discuss the true nature of the Universe. We have a meeting, with guests, everyday. It's sort of the more enjoyable version of NSA. (To be fair, I attribute much of my current good fortune to the good causes of those days.)

Soon lunch is served. Today it's excellent roast beef, turkey and chicken sandwiches (construct your own), salad, fruit, chips and salsa. We eat together in our large dining area and chitchat. Today I happen to talk with Anthony about his acting and music producing life in LA.

Back at my tent I take a nap, then read on my Kindle. A full change lasts all week. I give Paulina a pair of my East German military surplus goggles. She wears contacts and her old goggles let in dust. The East German goggles fit kids and small-headed adults nice and tight. (The Sad Camper doesn't have goggles or a dust mask and the membranes in his lungs and eyes are being destroyed.) It's hot now and time for a cold shower. I climb up our shower structure and go to it. It feels so good. (The Sad Camper doesn't have access to a shower and degenerates into a dirty, smelly mess with straw-like Playa hair, a variant of the Walking Dead . Baby wipes plus sun block just make him slimy after day two.)

It's time for the German Sparkle Party!!!

Of course I don't know what it is but sounds like fun. I put on my costume for my kids' magic act that happens to sparkle. A German Sparkle Party is pulsating German music, refreshments, dancing and lots of sparkles. After the party I speed off to Center Camp where Angel is reciting her poetry on one of the stages. Somehow I miss her performance as she was forced to go on early. Sam/Kristy, Angel's handsome man Lamar and I are disappointed. Angel authored a book of poetry and sent it to President Ikeda. She received a personal letter in response. I go back to my tent for another nap and evening Gongyo to my Omamori. Dinner is chicken or vegetable curry, quinoa (the sacred gain of the Incas or the Pigmies) salad and fruit. There's more chitchat and nighttime plans. You can have all the water you want but I like diet Pepsi that I bring to dinner from my private cooler.

I decide to go to the cocktail party at the Art Camp. I light up my bike and myself and head off. (The Sad Camper rides around without lights and mashes himself or an innocent.) It's quite a trek. Art Camp is in the back 40 because they are not well known, yet. The party is quite good, with drinks and many kinds of exotic finger foods. I get this weird sensation because all of the Art Camp people are tall, slim and fabulous looking, like Vanity Fair models. Have the plain looking people been handcuffed and gagged in their tents? I do many more palm readings and stuff myself with finger food although I am not hungry. The readings are difficult because of the poor light. Also the women Vanity Fair models all wear these see-through gauzy gown thingies and little else. After a few hours, I head for home but decide instead to go to Center Camp for a shot of coffee.

As it happens, it's the Battle of the Marching Bands. The place is packed but I manage to get some coffee and a prime seat. I chat with Linda, a 70-year-old large animal veterinarian from Alberta. 5 or 6 Marching Bands compete for some sort of traveling trophy. Again I am amazed at the care and difficulty of bringing 200-300 marchers, instruments, costumes and weird accoutrements to the Burn. The music runs from "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" to fast, dark Hindu rhythms. I sit through the first set and head home. I almost run over a boy and a girl sitting in the dark with no lights. I stop and ask wazz up? They are hitchhiking west from Georgia. Someone gave them free tickets. They have nothing except sleeping bags and a few clothing items. My offer to feed them is turned down. A nice lady from Seattle, who shares everything including a ride out to Seattle, has adopted them.

I push on back to camp and my tent. Anne has returned and we share sake. We talk for a good while. She says she is tired and a little cold. I lend her my wool coat from Nepal. We swap thoughts about our lives and experiences. She is an epidemiologist in Paris and will go on for a doctorate soon. I tell her that I have doctorate in law. She seems unimpressed. I do a quick face wash and climb into my sleeping bags. I read my Kindle and fall asleep. Noise wakes me up so I put in my earplugs. All is quiet and peaceful.

The Buddha Camp-Getting Ready to Burn. All year long the core group in Seattle make plans, prepare camp equipment and structures, collect the camp fee, keep track of old and new members, communicate with official Burning Man and countless other details. A big job is menu planning and food purchases. Transportation of the camp and personal camper equipment is huge commitment of time and labor. I bow deeply to the Seattle people. A few days before the official opening of Burning Man, the early crew sets up the structures: shade shelter, kitchen, stage, shower and Lotus Dome.

Buddha Camp is a well-established camp and provides many popular activities for all Burners. Because of this, we are assigned a prime location close to the Center Camp and the action/art filled Playa. If you come by yourself or camp with a non-recognized camp, you have to just grab a space in the open areas that are farther from the action (the back 40).

Deciding to Go and Going. I guess a million people toy with the idea of going to Burning Man. About 50,000 make it. It takes time, money and effort. You have to decide to buy a ticket by January when they go on sale. This year the event was sold out and tickets, real and fake, sold for big money on the after-market. Buying a ticket from official Burning Man is easy and safe. Go on the official website and get on the Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter. Official ticket prices go up as levels of tickets are sold out. It's best to buy as soon as ticket sales open. Discount tickets are available for people with limited funds. So that's $300-400 right away for a regular ticket.

Time Off. The event is Monday to Monday. Of course you don't have to stay for the whole thing. But the two big events are the Burning of the Man (Saturday) and the Burning of the Temple (Sunday). Add your travel time to and from and it's quite a chunk. I think it helps to think of Burning Man as a once in a lifetime event. If you think, "Crap, I have to do this every year" you may go nuts. Lots of people for whatever private reasons skip years or just go once. I skipped 4 years until I discovered Buddha Camp. I have been with Buddha Camp for 3 years and will continue into the future.

Your Stuff. You need a ride or need to drive. You will also have a lot of STUFF. Everyone needs to plan, plan and plan. Testing your equipment before you leave is necessary. The batteries in your flashlight have leaked; mice have eaten part of your sleeping bag; your tent lost its poles; the full propane tank is actually empty; you have only one pair high heels and flip-flops; your hydration pack leaks; your once trusty bike is rusty and suffers from tube rot; you don't have a chain and lock so your bike will disappear into the great void; your meds are in that little green bag, probably still in LA; you don't have lotion and socks so your feet will rot, crack and bleed and you will be unable to walk far. (The "soil" at Burning Man is alkaline. I think it takes moisture from your skin and mucous membranes, or some such. It's easy to protect yourself by using lotion, clothing and mild vinegar wash water.)

A good thing about Buddha Camp or any big camp is that people bring extra stuff and are willing to share. You might do the same. Burning Man is a GIFT culture, not a barter culture. This year I brought 5 extra sleeping bags, all of which were used by needy Buddha Campers. I use and give away military grade ear plugs. Tip: I try to get military grade for certain critical items: hydration packs/canteens; goggles; tent stakes; earplugs; some clothing items. The military spends lots of your money developing and testing equipment. Thus, true military grade stuff is really the best. Of course the stuff is made by private companies for the military and later offered to the civilian market. SportsmanGuide.com (search H.Q. or military surplus) is a source I use for a lot of equipment (military and civilian). They are reasonably priced and very reliable.

Heavy Stuff. Water, food and shade shelter are necessary items. Water weighs 8lbs per gallon. One camper needs 15-20 gallons (120-160 lbs) just to survive. If you want a quick shower per day-add another 160 lbs. So to live in reasonable comfort (water wise) plan to bring the weight of an Oakland Raiders' nose guard per person. Shade shelter goes OVER your tent and produces shade. Without shade, your tent will become overheated and useless during most daylight hours. Usually, the shade shelter is bigger, heavier and more complicated that the tent. Food is excellent at Buddha Camp. We have a giant kitchen, multiple coolers, industrial cook tops, pantry and skilled cooks. Our dinning room seats 30. If you don't have well developed cooking skills (like me) you just empty garbage and haul ice. Buddha Camp emphasizes fresh fruits and veggies kept constantly over ice. (The Sad Camper has run out of fresh vegetables, fruit and meat and has to survive on a few mushy apples and cans of chili.)

Water, shade and food are not for sale at Burning Man. Coffee and ice are on sale. It's called "radical self-reliance." Buddha Camp supplies water, shade and good fresh food. If you go with another camp, you must ask about these items. I camped with two other camps that provided a space and a name and nothing else. I was basically camping by myself loosely connected with some very nice people.

Da Ride There and Back. You have to get there and back. Make sure the vehicle you are using is really good, reliable and repaired. Tow trucks swarm at the two-lane road out of Burning Man like crows looking for road-kill. Ask yourself: is the person I am riding with actually going; do they have tickets; how well do they drive; will the drivers (including yourself) have enough sleep; how are expenses shared. Make sure you gas up at Fernley, NV before you push off to the final leg. It's about 200 miles round trip. Also you will wait in line at the event from 3-8 hours. If you want AC, you need gas. Burning Man is a privately owned event. They say they are becoming a not-for-profit. At any rate the entry/exit function seems to be run in a nonsensically, inefficient manner, relying on overworked volunteers. Naturally, your ride there and back is a lot easier to get and make if you don't have to haul hundreds of pounds water, food and shade shelter.

Buddha Camp at Burning Man is a worthwhile, fun experience.

As an SGI Buddhist, Buddha Camp is just perfect for me. Meaningful activities, good friends, shared experiences, and physical comforts.

We sponsor other popular events for the Burner public: German Sparkle Party; Temporary Marriages; Naked Baristas; Bacon Bloody Mary; Taco Night, Poetry Slam and Hula Hooping.

Join The Buddha Camp Experience. If you think the Buddha Camp might be for you, please contact me at Bob@AmericanGongyo.org or use the "contact me" function on this website. We want open minded, cooperative, self reliant and peace-loving people regardless of whatever weirdness they are into.

Please know this: You do not have to be an SGI Buddhist to join Buddha Camp. We are about 50/50. However, we really want SGI Buddhists to camp with us or at least practice with us.

We want to know about you. New Buddha Campers are accepted by group consensus. We are not stuck up and fussy but we don't want Nazis (neo or real), super macho hardasses or control freaks, as they tend to disturb our harmony. Contacting us does not imply a commitment on your part. If you are a nice, cooperative person whose darker impulses are well controlled by medication you will be welcomed. We try very hard to care for "Newbies" (1st time Burners).

We have a fee that pays for all of the common expenses. Last year it was $250 per person. It may or may not be the same this year. You will be expected to pay the fee when asked, usually after April. (Buddha Camp is not a strange Internet scam. I'm a lawyer so you can trust me.)

There are basic things you have to bring: tent; sleeping bag; air mattress; hydration pack; goggles; dust mask; sun screen/lotion; clothing/costumes; drinks other than water; snacks; personal health items/meds; bike/chain and lock; lighting for tent-body-bike and other stuff I can't remember. See the Burning Man Survival Guide. If you live in Seattle, Buddha Camp will haul a reasonable amount of your personal crap, including your bike, to and from the Burn.

Buddha Campers share the work that includes: cooking; clean up; ice-recycle-garbage runs; camp set-up; camp tear down-truck loading and final MOOP patrol. Last year I had two work shifts of about 2.5 hours each and 5 hours of packing and clean up at the end.

August 30 to Sept 6, 2010 Join us at Burning Man

Contact American Gongyo
For Great Books
On Nichiren Buddhism
Middle Way Press SGI International
Planned Giving