The DJ and the Dharma

Wes "Scoop" Nisker ponders Buddhism and biochemistry.

During his Thanksgiving speech at Marin County’s Spirit Rock meditation center, Wes “Scoop” Nisker announced that the human spiritual path can be summed up in a knock-knock joke.

It goes like this: “The disciples come to the master, and they say, ‘Knock, knock.’ The master then asks the number-one spiritual question: ‘Who is it?'” Nisker told the crowd. “And if you don’t get the joke, you have to be reborn over and over and over until you do get it.”

Having spent more than 35 years in radio, becoming an edgy local icon during his stints at San Francisco’s KSAN-FM and KFOG-FM, the former DJ and newsman has spent an equal number of decades studying Buddhist meditation around the world. The result is a string of such books as Buddha’s Nature; The Big Bang, the Buddha, and the Baby Boom; Essential Crazy Wisdom (published by Berkeley’s Ten Speed Press); and Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again! (published by Berkeley’s Stonebridge Press). And he has drawn upon diverse passions and experiences to create critically acclaimed comic monologues.

These days, he’s been pondering the interconnectedness of all things on earth — a Buddhist notion that he says is borne out in biochemistry: “Science is giving us this amazing story of how we co-arise, of how we are not separate, of how we are created. … Our body is composed of heavy elements created in the early explosions of supernova in the universe. That was where carbon was created, where oxygen was created. … We are composed of the elements of this planet. Your bones are calcium, phosphates, sylicates, nitrogen — various elements found in the earth: The clay of earth literally, mysteriously molded into your shape. Most of your body is liquid,” Nisker ventures. “Most of that liquid has the chemical consistency of the ocean. We sweat and cry seawater. We’re not just on the earth. We’re of the earth.”

This interconnectedness undermines human assumptions of specialness and individuality, he says — notions that have not brought us happiness and that “would have seemed psychotic in ancient Greece” as well as the rest of the pre-Renaissance world: “We’ve lost a sense of being a group, a tribe,” in what Nisker calls “this land of individualized license plates.”

He will celebrate connectedness in an evening of music and conversation with Zen priest Alan Senauke, singer-songwriter Eve Decker, and others at the Art House Gallery and Cultural Center (2905 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) on Friday, December 18. Marking Bodhi Day, the anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment, the event is a benefit for the Clearview Project’s Adopt-a-Monk program, which aids Burmese Buddhist nuns and monks who have been imprisoned since leading protests against that country’s ruling military junta in 2007’s Saffron Revolution. 7:30 p.m., $10-$100.

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