Monday, January 25, 2016

Practicing Buddhist meditation IS serious stuff, but on the other hand...

Yeah, if you're doing 座禅 and you're feeling bad experiences, do seek counseling, and do cultivate your practice with people that know what they're doing.  And corporations shouldn't really be involved in this, has has been said so many times.  On the other hand, when I see stories like this one,  well, comments must be made...

Farias looked at the research into unexpected side-effects. A 1992 study by David Shapiro, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, found that 63% of the group studied, who had varying degrees of experience in meditation and had each tried mindfulness, had suffered at least one negative effect from meditation retreats, while 7% reported profoundly adverse effects including panic, depression, pain and anxiety. Shapiro’s study was small-scale; several research papers, including a 2011 study by Duke University in North Carolina, have raised concerns at the lack of quality research on the impact of mindfulness, specifically the lack of controlled studies.

OF COURSE you won't have all unicorns and rainbows from practicing mindfulness, because one's own suffering is among the things which might come into one's awareness when one is cultivating awareness.

Also "guided" meditations aren't the same thing as what one generally encounters in Zen/Cha'n temples. It's never been clear to me how "guided" meditations are associated with mindfulness. It's telling though that no legit Zen person seems to have been quoted in the article.
The idea that mindfulness is harmful,  "in general" is of course ridiculous.  It's not a stretch to say that whole disciplines in the arts, athletics,  and yes, even product design owe their existence to people practicing mindfulness. 

Some people have suffered greatly,  and this suffering can and does come up in practice.   But that suffering often is also a catalyst for great compassion and wisdom;  secular psychologists admit that.

But know what you're dealing with and what you're getting into. Stay away from hucksters, be they spiritual, corporate, or just plain hucksters.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

There's historical context for this...

I'd like to be able to read it someday. From what little I've read of excerpts of translations on-line, 鈴木 anticipated many of the arguments against Christian apologists made by later. Thankfully, 鈴木 put some furigana in the text, but as the text goes on, I think it becomes less and less helpful.

But I can't get past the first sentence. I can make out "でうす,” (Deus) which was how 鈴木 referred to the Christian god.

There's historical context as to why a Zen monk came to write such a polemic, but I don't feel like going into it at the moment...

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Light in the strangest of places...

In our relatively local news there's a story about some folks affiliated with the Dharma Rain Center who are doing a prison ministry at Pendleton, OR, teaching inmates how to mediate.  I think it's good that people teach people how to do meditation from a zen perspective, but a) I'm not sure the "teaching" gets transmitted well, and b) sometimes I'm not sure the teachers' teachers got good teaching.  Here's a couple of issues I had with the article, and again, I think it's great what Joe Engum is doing; I just think sometimes things get lost in translation, even if everyone's speaking the same language...

Zen Buddhism is not a belief system or religion, Engum said, but it requires followers to meditate, which Engum described as a method for self-observation or to understand personal experience... 

“You can’t taste the food by reading the recipe,” he said. “You have to do the practice.”... 

The prison groups also discuss meditation and the book they are reading, “The Way of Liberation” by Adyashanti.

If you see my comments on the link you'll see that I give a counter-position to the idea that "Zen Buddhism is not a religion."   I don't know where people get that idea, but I think it's one of the worst sales pitches - and it is a kind of sales pitch - that religious salesmen try.  Zen/Chan Buddhism especially has a really, really long history of being a religion. 

This is the kind of thing I mean when I point out that much of what passes for American convert Buddhism isn't all that aware of what the heck's been going on in the rest of the world. 

I also point out that you'd be hard pressed to find a large number of kōans (公案) where the subject of the 公案 takes place during meditation, and you'll be especially hard pressed to find in many  公案 where an awakening experience takes place during meditation, with Shakyamuni Buddha sort of the major exception that proves the rule.   Zen Buddhist practice involves a great deal of mindfulness, but not necessarily meditation as such.  (And as "Zen" it might arguably not even involve that...)


Also,  the food and recipe thing.  "A picture of a rice cake does not satisfy hunger" is such a famous Zen saying that it's was even lampooned by Monty Python decades ago.   But even this idea - as an idea - has its limits.  Lemon juice! Think of it, and you'll salivate.  Preparation of food sometimes does involve "tasting" or being aware of taste as one is reading the recipe.  I may be being churlish here, but I think what was meant was, "You can't satisfy hunger by reading the recipe," and even that might not be an absolute.  (This also reminds me of what I was trying to say regarding 行雲流水流水, which, as 書道, can "flow" even though it's "dry.")  Which is all another way of saying that slogans have their limits.

Finally, Adyashanti.  He's one of those guys who goes around saying he's enlightened, if I'm interpreting his Wikipedia article correctly, though I can't find that on his web site.  I have concerns - to use business-speak - about this guy.  My concerns are something along the lines of "reified guru."  This guy plays the part of guru.  For example:

...It is good to remember that the goal of Buddhism is to create Buddhas, not Buddhists, as the goal of Christianity is to create Christs, not Christians. In the same vein, my teachings are not meant to acquire followers or imitators, but to awaken beings to eternal truth and thus to awakened life and living.

To serve this intention my teaching has been, and continues to be, in a constant state of renewal. As more and more of my students come into the deeper realms of spiritual adulthood, so too does the expression of the teachings evolve to address and clarify the deeper reaches of spirituality. I find that as time goes on I can touch upon more subtle and challenging aspects of spiritual awakening as those who come to see me become more established in the deeper aspects of spiritual realization. It is this spontaneous dance and interplay between teacher and student that breathes new life into our shared exploration and expression of truth.
This guy is not a man of no rank.  Keep that in mind. 

 I have tried to document on this blog how blogging by a Zen Buddhist with a technical background might transpire.   As I have continued my practice, there has still been craziness in my family, work place, and elsewhere.  Dukkha's still there.  I did this a while back somewhere and am too lazy to go find it, but it's an interesting contrast if you look at Mr. Adyashanti's beatific countenance and compare it to a Lin-ji, or even a Dogen, not to mention a Bodhidharma.  Mr. Adyashanti is not a man of no rank.

My point is, real people practicing real Zen Buddhism don't usually sport that beatific countenance. The ones I know come as close as contented forbearance, and if you think I'm judging by appearances to much, please try to understand that this "beyond words and letters" thing about Zen takes everything - including words and letters - into account.  Including what's on one's face.  There's more to your true face before your parents were born besides an expression of "bliss."

That's not to say that there aren't things that Mr. Adyashanti is saying and writing that could help people.   Again, I think the folks who are doing that prison meditation ministry are definitely helping folks.   Sometimes you can get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right, as the song goes.

Apropos of all the above, I think I will try to start a new series related to Hui Neng, The Transmission of the Lamp,  and the Platform Sutra.  And maybe some Lin-ji too.   I think it would be more illuminating that Mr. Adyashanti's stuff anyway, and all I'd ask is if motivated,  see what my advertisers have to say, and when that big fat check from Google comes 'round,  I'll donate most of it to a good cause.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

行雲流水, Clouds, Water, movement, flow and culture...

行雲流水、in Japanese represented as  "こううんりゅうすい" has the characters for "going" or "moving", "clouds," "flow" and water, read from up to down with the right column first.  More or less literally meaning "clouds move, water flows" it's taken as idiomatic as "go with the flow" or "going with the tide" according to on-line translations, more or less, but that's I think a bit superficial.  Oh, and the Chinese version of the translation of 行雲流水 has "fill the gap" or something like that.

Also I think Wikipedia's entry here is a bit superficial and contradictory (as I'll show in in a bit):

Unsui (Japanese雲水), or kōun ryūsui (行雲流水) in full, is a term specific to Zen Buddhism which denotes a postulant awaiting acceptance into a monastery or anovice monk who has undertaken Zen training. Sometimes they will travel from monastery to monastery (angya) on a pilgrimage to find the appropriate Zen master to study with.[1]
The term unsui, which literally translates as "cloud, water" comes from a Chinesepoem which reads, "To drift like clouds and flow like water."[2] Helen J. Baroni writes, "The term can be applied more broadly for any practitioner of Zen, since followers of Zen attempt to move freely through life, without the constraints and limitations ofattachment, like free-floating clouds or flowing water."[1] According to author James Ishmael Ford, "In Japan, one receives unsui ordination at the beginning of formal ordained practice, and this is often perceived as 'novice ordination.'"[3]

Then again,  there's this Chinese tea ceremony thing that uses the same term.   Which is why I think there's a bit of contradiction there.  I realize I might be more than slightly out of my depth here as I try to find the original poem from which 行雲流水 comes. That is to say, although I think  I can find the original poem from which 行雲流水 comes,  my knowledge of Chinese is pitifully poor to the point where there's no reasonable way I could put 行雲流水 in proper Chinese context at this point.   Maybe in 10 years...

The version of 行雲流水 that comes down to us as in Wikipedia is like a replica of a replica of a replica of something that was in a Chinese poem once. 

But that's only part of why I think the conventional "explanations" of 行雲流水 are a bit superficial...

First of all, 行雲流水 is meant to be put into 書道 (or 書法 if you prefer the Chinese term). 行雲流水  begs to be expressed as 書道.   See, unlike, say, Magritte's famous  not-a-pipe picture,  or the Zen expression "a picture of a rice cake does not satisfy hunger," 行雲流水 as 書道 is almost perfectly non-dually expressing flow without flowing, if executed even minimally competently. Or to put it another way, if you want to do 行雲流水 minimally competently, you have to express 行雲流水  in 行雲流水 .

I would love to have help finding the poem which gave fame to 行雲流水, and understand it.  But in the mean time, realize this is a bigger deal than you'll get in Wikipedia. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

He's sort of got a point...

In my own life, right at this very second, I have a handful of regrets. In two cases that come to mind as I write this, I did something wrong to someone and later apologized and made efforts to right those wrongs. In both cases the people who I have wronged responded by trying to use my admission of wrongdoing as a way to leverage more guilt from me and to demand that I do more to compensate them. In both cases, they have not made any specific requests or have made requests they know I can’t fulfill, thus making it impossible to comply. I have to assume this is deliberate even if it’s being done unconsciously. This allows them to continue to feel I owe them something and to resent me for it.* 
I only understand this strategy because I have used it myself. Which is something else I regret. Whenever I see myself pursuing this strategy these days I immediately stop. Which is how I deal with that particular species of regret. 
In these specific cases, there’s simply nothing more I can do. At least nothing I can come up with. It’s clear that becoming further entangled in the drama these individuals are seeking to perpetuate won’t help anything. So my only strategy is to stay out of the drama.

It's excellent advice: Stay out of the drama.  There's been instances in my life where I've done wrong. Too often one's wrongdoing and one's admission of wrongdoing make for power-play dynamics - we see that in everything from the criminal justice system to failed relationships.  And yes, I've played that game too, and like Ven. Warner says, becoming further entangled, continuing to play the game - it never ends well. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

These folks are, um, people with severe problems...

I just came across this bit on that Integral place, based on my wondering "What ever happened to Andrew Cohen?"

Now you should know that I asked the question because I truly didn't know.  We go through the internet in phases.  Andrew Cohen was about 2 phases ago.

To this bit I had the following thought: "NO NO NO!!!":

In spiritual circles there is a lack of agreement on what is positively meant by enlightenment on the one hand and ego on the other hand. There exists, however, a consensus on what enlightenment and ego mean in a negative sense. Enlightenment, so goes the general agreement, is what the ego is not and vice versa. Someone who is enlightened has transcended the ego. Someone who is still immersed in his ego, is not enlightened. 

I'm not quite sure what a spiritual circle is, but I do know that what I would not call awakening in some way equivalent elimination of the ego.  I think you're stuck with that.  Do your best.  And be humble about it.

Meanwhile, I found out about Andrew Cohen, at least as far as May of this year.  Seems a bit narcissistic.

I have to work on that myself...

But,  Tathagata, what does Andrew Cohen do with himself from now?  Geez, the man's in his 50s and his "spiritual" enterprise has gone kaput.  Have some compassion for him, but don't follow him would be my humble offering of advice.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Yes, Falun Da Fa is a Dangerous Cult. We shouldn't refrain from using those words.

In the past few days, two ideas  have come to me that merit blogposts in this all too infrequently updated Buddhist blog.  The first concerns the "Adverse Childhood Experiences" (ACE) studies I only now read about.  I have to write a significant post on that - the ideas that ACE triggers provide so many answers to so many questions, both personally and yes, globally.   But suffice it to say, there are reasons why we're all wounded in heart/mind that are pretty powerful, and make all of us responsible. 

It also makes a mockery of some of the more moralistic behavior we've seen in the Buddhist convert community.  Everything sticks on everything else like flypaper though.   

But sometimes things have to be said, and that brings me to my second big topic, which I'll write about today.  This topic is the fact that the organizers of this year's Portland Buddhist Festival (PBF) included Falun Da Fa  (aka Falun Gong).   To cut to the chase: The organizers of the Portland Buddhist Festival should not have included Falun Da Fa in their list of participating groups.   I was rather surprised that they did, given the inclination not to accept money from the Frederick Lenz Foundation.  Not surprisingly as well, there was a notable lack of real, actual Chinese Buddhist temples represented at the PBF.   That's probably the result of a confluence of things for which we're all responsible. 

I won't go into great detail in this post the reactions I got when I spoke to one of the organizers about my concerns about Falun Da Fa, other than to note that the person I spoke to was quite defensive, and took umbrage at the words "dangerous cult" as some sort of hate speech.  To her credit, though, the organizer admitted a lack of knowledge about Falun Da Fa.  

Well, I figured a post like this ought to make readers aware of what Falun Da Fa actually is.  First of all, compared to Frederick Lenz's cult (and I won't refrain from the use of that word either for Lenz's group or Falun Da Fa), it's huge.  In addition to its regular activities, it publishes the Epoch Times  and is the force behind that Shen Yun traveling show.   It appears in this way to be a bit like Scientology, in that there are several "coordinating" organizations which don't officially advertise as Falun Da Fa (or Falun Gong) but essentially are.

Now, I'd like to borrow some bits from the Rational Wiki page on Falun Gong, after which I'm going to go right to the source of course of course, and show you what Falun Da Fa actually says about itself.   If you think this is Buddhism in any way, well you don't know Buddhism. 

Anyway,  according to sources referenced by the Rational Wiki,  Falun Gong:

  • Regarding Falung Gong founder:
    Li Hongzhi claims to have miraculous powers. He claims that he is the savior of humanity, who has come to the earth to "rectify" the way and prevent "true" spiritual teachings from being lost. He claims that ancient Chinese knowledge is far superior to current teachings.[20] His propagandists are known for hijacking reprints of Buddhist texts and inserting him as the "Main Buddha of the Universe".
  • According to the Wiki: 

    An idea that once was prominent in Chinese Falun Gong is Yuan Man or "Consummation/Full Circle"[27], a state related to Moksha but not very specific. (Mis)Intepretation by low-level Falun Gong instructor and missionaries often blends this idea into the more indigenous notion of an afterlife, so self-flagellation from removal of palatine uvula to ritual suicides are not uncommon even a few years after the crackdown. Today, it is redefined after the more sane Moksha.

  • The Chinese government is apparently not so concerned with banning Falun Da Fa's materials, because, quite frankly, as we'll see, they  kind of refute themselves.  In fact, Falun Gong's "uncensored teachings are openly ridiculed by Chinese forum-goers and have given birth to the meme of calling any trend or popular thing a 大法 (or "Great Law"), combined with a ballad formatted after Falun Gong poems attacking the Chinese government. A collection of 'Great Law' copypasta can be viewed here."

So what do the Chinese people know, that the organizers of the Portland Buddhist Festival didn't know besides what's on the rational Wiki (and the Great Law of Google Chrome, evidently)?


Falun Dafa involves the cultivation of a Falun, or “law wheel.” The Falun is an intelligent, rotating entity composed of high-energy matter. The Falun that Master Li Hongzhi plants in a practitioner’s lower abdomen from other dimensions rotates constantly, twenty-four hours a day. (True cultivators can acquire a Falun by reading Master Li’s books, watching his 9-session lectures on video, listening to his 9-session lectures on audiocassette, or studying together with students of Falun Dafa.) The Falun helps practitioners to practice automatically. That is, the Falun refines the practitioner at all times, even though he or she isn’t performing the exercises at every moment. Of all practices made public in the world today, only Falun Dafa has managed to achieve a state in which, “the Fa refines the person.”

This is what they're saying about themselves!  You can get an "intelligent rotating entity" planted in your "lower abdomen from other dimensions"  by "reading Master Li's books, watching his 9-session lectures on video or studying together with students of Falun Dafa."

We Buddhists ought to be about transcending greed, hatred, and ignorance, which doesn't involve having intelligent rotating entities planted in our bellies from other dimensions.   Of course some of our practices involve the cultivation of 気, but that's something we cultivate ourselves, and is intimately related with the focus of awareness, with that which is within. 

The Fa I’m imparting today is immense—it can allow you all to reach different realms and levels through cultivation. This is by no means a small thing. A Fa this enormous has been introduced to the public, but if it couldn’t change people or couldn’t make people’s morality elevate again, then it wouldn’t matter whether it was taught or not. I know that since this Fa is the Truth and the Law of the cosmos, it will definitely have a tremendous impact on cultivators. So, every one of us knows what to do, and there’s no need for me to tell you specifically how to conduct yourselves.

Because practitioners of Falung Gong are only able to do what they do because of Li Hongzhi.  Now I'm not big on Tibetan Buddhism, but even the Dalai Lama doesn't talk this way.  This is guru sickness through and through.

But wait, there's more from that last link:

Back in the days when Buddha Sakyamuni was teaching his Dharma* there were over a hundred precepts. It’s said that Mahayana Buddhism now has over two hundred precepts. The purpose [of precepts] is to restrict you, and make you meet the standard and act accordingly. We don’t have any precepts today—we’re completely open. We don’t pay attention to any form, and instead we only look at people’s hearts and minds. That’s because our Fa has such mighty power. Also, from another perspective, no form manifest in ordinary human society is worthy of this Dafa. That’s why we have truly adopted a way suitable for spreading Dafa. What way is it? It is a “great way without form.” (Applause) We really have taken a “great way without form,” and only that truly fits our Dafa. So that’s how we have gone about things since I taught the Fa in the early days.

Li Hongzhi claims in that speech that he "chose to live overseas so as not to cause problems for the government."   Really? He's sparing the Chinese government problems by choosing to live overseas? Even if you attribute the worst of behavior to the Chinese government (and I'm not going to defend the Chinese government here), what sort of idea is Li trying to give his followers? 

OK, that was in 1998, although it's clearly not been refuted and is readily available on the Falung Gong website.   Here's something more recent:

You have read in Zhuan Falun that there are eighty-four thousand cultivation disciplines in the Buddhist System and thirty-six hundred cultivation disciplines in the Daoist System. In fact, that was said from the vantage point of a very small level, that is the understanding at a certain level, and it was taught only to the extent that human beings could comprehend. You know, there are Buddhas beyond Buddhas, there are Heavens beyond Heavens, and there are Gods beyond Gods. So how big is the cosmos? It is just boundlessly and endlessly immense. Having reached the point I have reached today in going about Fa-rectification, even though I am already taking care of the final matters, the most, most basic elements that make up the cosmos are gigantic beings that exist in such a way that even to the high-level beings in the cosmos they seem incomparably gigantic and unreachable, much less to humans. In other words, there are so many gigantic beings in the cosmos, and the gods all have their own ways of establishing themselves, and they all have Fa-principles that have formed based on their own understandings of the cosmos. Here I am using human language to describe it. Furthermore, there are also tens of millions of different, gigantic cosmic systems in the cosmos. And those gigantic systems are of course all experiencing the final Fa-rectification of the entire cosmos.

Think about this, if these gigantic systems are Gods, won't they wonder: "How is it you Buddhas are supposed to be better than us? You're teaching the Great Law of the Cosmos by way of Buddha Fa, and rectifying the entire cosmos with the Buddha Fa. But our system is not directly related to yours, so how could you Buddhas rectify our Fa here? How could the gods of your system direct things in our system? Are those Fa-rectification approaches of yours suitable for our system? We have completely different understandings about the ways in which lives are to exist, and many of our understandings are incompatible. What are we to make of how you come across? Given the incompatibility, how could you rectify our Fa?" The cosmos is incredibly complex and awfully immense, and there are huge differences in the ways that lives exist, think, and understand life. Human beings think human beings are pretty good, but some gods think, "Human beings walking down the street with their arms swinging to and fro are so ugly." (Audience laughs) "Look at my great wings and my lion-like body, it's so magnificent." (Audience laughs) And there are even greater disparities between our understandings of lives and those of the gods in the distant, gigantic systems. [They might say,] "What you think of as good and bad is different here, so how can Fa-rectification determine good and bad here, where we are?" The differences among the beings [themselves] are also huge. The Great Law that I am imparting is the fundamental Great Law of the Cosmos that encompasses all. It's just that the manifestation takes the form of Buddha images and Buddhist principles. They don't know about these things, and that is why they think that way.

It's really quite clear that Li Hongzhi doesn't exactly place his organization as a Buddhist organization, but rather something he views as superior to Buddhism, and as he says, not directly related to Buddhism.

So why are their followers going to Buddhist festivals and claiming to be Buddhist?  And why is the Portland Buddhist Festival giving these people a platform?    And when someone says "Great Law that I am imparting is the fundamental Great Law of the Cosmos ," shouldn't we give pause to consider whether the person saying that or not has reason to say so?  And if people are following such a person, should they not be helped? And if there are people giving out money to Li Hongzhi, isn't that enough of a harm? 

I myself have heard Li Hongzhi say that only he could profit from his teachings - meaning financially profit. You can read Chinese sources that say worse, but I'm conveying what I have heard personally. And I have heard that with a well known Chinese scholar who has recently produced an updated translation of the Tao Te Ching.  Li Hongzhi's own words show him to be teaching something that's hard to call Buddhism.   Inclusion of Falun Gong in a Buddhist festival was an embarrassment for the Portland Buddhist convert community. And if the organizers don't believe me, I entreat them to seek out Chinese Buddhists to get their view.  There's certainly enough of them in the Portland area.  I have been pretty deeply involved with various Asian communities for quite a few years now.  Is it really true that the European - descended US Buddhist convert community is so divorced from their Asian counterparts that they confuse Falun Gong with Chinese Buddhism? 

Addendum: The more I read about recent events surrounding this group the more appalled I am.  Here's a group led by a guy who's an obvious egomaniac, who has encouraged a regime that is often brutal to take actions that would clearly result in the regime called brutal to act brutal.  That's fairly dangerous. So yes, yes indeed the term "dangerous cult" is apt. It's also bad 功夫 - bad kung fu.  I'm also appalled that there are folks in the US who support this group, because "Chinese Communists".   Then again, it's a similar but even worse instance of the same logic applied to the Dalai Lama.   There's folks in the American Buddhist convert community who will respond with outright hostility when one mentions the Dalai Lama and his connections to the CIA and the economic issues associated with Tibet. 

Educate yourselves. 

Friday, April 03, 2015

Not actually Zen Buddhism...

I haven't had very much to say at all lately on this blog, as is evident.   And, because of the demands of time and life - I hadn't spent much time in the Buddhist blogosphere lately.  Part of it is that some of the old folks who used to blog don't do it so much anymore. 

And part of it is I think much of the Zen Buddhist community in the US is a bit too much, or to put it another way, the practice of Zen in America is not as well reflected in the blogosphere - including this blog - as it should be.  Genjo Marinello is a welcome exception, as is Brad Warner.

But now I have to show other examples, and I think it's relatively easy to discern the difference between them and the aforementioned men.  I had several reactions to a recent blog post by Myoan Grace Schireson:

  • There's less difference between her and her Zen predator bêtes noires than she'd probably like to admit.
  • "How do you do that, and how do you teach people to use the awareness from the cushion to self-reflect, observe, experience and transform their feelings? This is the technology we employ in the SPOT training."  The only other time I see the word "technology" coincident with text speaking about religion - or if you prefer (I don't) "spirituality" is in regard to Scientology.  I leave that with you, as the once-upon-a-time Long Island based "Psychic George" would say.
  • She thinks she's got a cure for something!
  • "SPOT aims to teach sangha leaders, priest or lay, how to trust the Dharma with their most vulnerable secrets and how to rely on the practice during their worst nightmare. When a sangha leader has done this work, the resultant faith in practice is palpable. His or her practice inspires confidence in students entering the sangha."  Because practice alone  is not enough?  Look, I'm all for integrating practice into day-to-day life.

And this is not to minimize the whole Zen predators thing - I'll get to that in a bit.   And I suppose Grace Schireson can offer something useful to people - like Eido Shimano - I'll get to that  in a bit.   But what she's advertising here is a "technology" that really ought to be part of practice itself, and therefore calls into question the quality of her own practice.

I mean, clearly you can kind of sort of see where this might go (but the dog won't hunt): Ms. Abbess Schireson has been creating at least on-line, a persona that is mostly rightly pointing out the issues with Zen "teachers" as "gurus," but then she - and a few others creates another guru, the guru of "certification" of "Zen teachers" by a certification body, or at least "SPOT" (not "Smart Personal Object Technology").  "SPOT" is her guru.

I must admit, it's my 詠春券 training that has started to open up my eyes in this area.  I've been fortunate enough to learn this from people who have had the "real deal" in terms of training.  Part of that real deal is that at least in some groups that study this stuff, there's not uniforms, belts, or ranks.  Really.  You know what your "rank" is because if you stay around and practice  詠春券 for any length of time your rank is the practice of humility.   And in  詠春券, the sifu  I have openly admits he can only take you so far.  He doesn't try to "inspire confidence," rather he tries to teach  詠春券.  He's good at that because he's practiced a very very very long time. 

It's why I tend to vehemently agree with Brad Warner when it comes to this whole certification of "Zen teachers" thing, and I must modestly dissent from Genjo Osho and Myoan Abbess.  Genjo and Myoan are "selling" "Only use certified 'Zen teachers'"  because you might not know what you're getting and it could be dangerous!!!

That brings me to Eido Shimano.  I recently had a good discussion with my Zen Osho, who had attended sesshin under Shimano at Dai Bosatsu.   I had never discussed that topic with him before, because it really wasn't particularly germane to what happened at our little sangha.  But that afternoon, over tea, we discussed various things, and Shimano came up.  He pointed out that, yes, Shimano is a very sick man, and could not explain why Shimano behaved as he did.  But there was useful teaching from Shimano.  I think Genjo Marinello has said similar things too.

That's the point: I, too, obtained useful teaching from Shimano.  However I think part of the reason for that is that I didn't jump in with both feet and go into guru worship or something, and I didn't do that because I'd seen enough cultiness elsewhere, I suppose. 

I suppose that's why some folks still are congregating around Shimano for Zen retreats.  Look at the people in the picture at that link.  What are they thinking about the Shimano situation? What would a conversation like be between one of them and Myoan Grace Schireson Abbess?  And don't get me wrong, I agree with Genjo Osho that Shimano shouldn't be teaching.   But at this point, those who congregate around Shimano can't be completely ignorant of what's gone down with respect to Shimano.   They are obtaining something useful from Shimano, but they have to realize the history of this man now.   And my osho - who as far as I know is not a member of one of those American Zen teachers' societies or what not - could give you at least some of what Shimano had to give, as could I, and I'm not accredited for anything, except as a technology guy who invented a bunch of stuff that people use for mobile phones.

No belts, no ranks. 

One other thing about my conversation with Osho: it raised the question "What does it mean to have compassion for Eido Shimano?"

And is that practice reflected in clumsy zombie metaphors raised in order to sell services?


Thursday, January 01, 2015

Mercy Killing

I have clearly heard teachers in American Zen Buddhism imply that mercy killing may be mandated by the precepts in certain circumstances.  So I guess I'm going to have to reconcile that with this bit from a Chinese Buddhist site that says mercy killing is necessarily a no-no.

Forming our own narratives..

I have a minor confession to make: our family went and saw The Interview on Christmas Day.   There's a lot of critiques of this movie out there,  that probably give every point of view possible already.  But you'll also find  - as often happens in movie reviews - that there's aspects of that movie that the critics miss. As this was written up as "frat boy humor comedy" blah blah, I expected that.   Another review mentioned some racist remarks by one of the characters.  My wife and son did not seem to notice (probably since the object of humor related to those remarks was Seth Rogen's character - that was left out of one of the reviews.)

So while I tend to agree with much of what was posted in some places before the movie was reviewed, I did want to see the film just to see what was behind this masterpiece of PR.  Yes, Rogen and Franco make things I usually don't want to see, still can't beat the way the PR was done.  While the final product did point out some of the nasty things about North Korea, it was done by this generation's answer to the Three Stooges, more or less.  And yeah, there's nothing here that any informed person would learn about North Korea.  But You Natzy Spy!  was similar fare, and so was Duck Soup, which was banned in fascist Italy, if what I've read is correct.

Happy New Year, all! I hope I'll have more chances to post here in the coming months.

Monday, December 01, 2014


This is why I have had my suspicions about the "business" sections of bookstores for decades.

In 1940, a young sociologist named Robert K. Merton published an essay called “Bureaucratic Structure and Personality,” in which he coined the phrase “displacement of goals.” Bureaucracy develops, Merton wrote, because large organizations require rules and procedures, lest they fall into the administrative and financial chaos and governance-by-whim of the kind that brought down William Durant. But eventually the rules and procedures devised to help the organization achieve its goals take on a life of their own, and become “an immediate value in the life-organization of the bureaucrat.” In other words, when people orient their lives around the rules, the purpose of the organization gets lost.

No matter what is tried there's no magic bullet to run one capitalist organization better than all the others, actually, because capitalism.   But then you also don't need the idea that there is a "Welch Way" or a "Google Way," etc.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I don't think ultimately this will work...

"Mindfulness" and "meditation" are only going to be used in the service of capitalism so long as increased profits are made.  Critics of mindfulness capitalism - and I count myself among them - should note that as soon as profits aren't optimized via mindfulness, it will be spat out like a cherrystone. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

It's skill we need, not cults

Ross Douthat - known as Chunky Bobo in some quarters - writes:

From the Franciscans to the Jesuits, groups that looked cultlike to their critics have repeatedly revitalized the Catholic Church, and a similar story can be told about the role of charismatic visionaries in the American experience. (The enduring influence of one of the 19th century’s most despised and feared religious movements, for instance, is the reason the state of Utah now leads the United States on many social indicators.) 
...[PayPal co-founder Peter] Thiel’s argument is broader: Not only religious vitality but the entirety of human innovation, he argues, depends on the belief that there are major secrets left to be uncovered, insights that existing institutions have failed to unlock (or perhaps forgotten), better ways of living that a small group might successfully embrace.

Of course whenever I study social sciences I always go to an associate well let's just say that this "we need more crackpots" argument is a bit self-serving.  (Why are "futurists" rarely dystopian?) 

No we do not need more cults.  We need amateurs who through their amateurish love of the practice of life get to be virtuosos.

That's what we need.

Saturday, August 09, 2014


Attributed to Hui Neng, it means - paraphrased of course - "Originally there is not one thing."   無一物 is "not one thing," or "having nothing."

It's good not to have things you might get stuck to.


Friday, August 08, 2014

Beyond the clichés...

I have at least one post pending on one Robert Sharf, who, I would submit,  despite his academic credentials doesn't get it.

That's a post for another day.

This blog-by-a-Buddhist has been going, on and off, for almost ten years.  I have tried to make this blog not merely some repetition of European-American Buddhist  paradigms.  I've tried to fit it to how an American Buddhist lives his life when he's somewhere between or among various cultures.  Unlike some bloggers I can't remember the last time I've ever removed something from this blog, if ever.

I just read a snippet of someone's blog post where it kind of sort of seemed they thought they were in the know because they knew a story about some old Buddha long ago, and then they go on to paraphrase thoughts and ideas that are in some of the more popular European-American Buddhist books.

If you go back in this blog, you can find some of that too, - you certainly can.   I won't delete that junk, and I would encourage the writer of that other blog post not to delete that junk either.  In fact, generally I would say don't delete your blog least not for a year or so, if at all. 

There might be people who are marginally stable mentally and who might post things on blogs they would not like posted on their resumé, especially if they underemployed, and the victims of this current economy.   They ought to think twice about what they put out in cyberspace.

I  have been more outspoken of late about our Middle East policy; it I think is the great moral challenge of our time.  But I try to think before I post; but I also do want things to be said that ought to be said. 

But - in general - censor less.  You're not going to get your dream job, nor are you going to get the 見性 you deny you want to experience if you just stick within the realm of insider jargon, whether it's business/marketing speak or Zen.  From a Zen perspective, censorship can be a kind of attachment.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

"Buddhist sect leader detained"...?

So reads the headline in an article in the NY Times about the detention of one Wu Zeheng, who is said in the article to run a group called "Huazang Dharma."  The NY Times article links to his group's website.  The Times article states:

According to its website, the group calls on followers to perform a good deed each day and to fast several days a month and then to donate to charity the money they would have spent on food. The website also speaks of the group’s “commitment to the prosperity of the Chinese nation and world peace.” 
Mr. Wu, who is also addressed by followers as His Holiness Vairocana Xing Wu, founded Huazang Dharma in the late 1980s and traces its teachings back to the earliest days of Buddhism. A number of followers believe he possesses healing powers and say the traditional Chinese medicine he prescribes can cure cancer and other diseases. 
Nicole Ho, who lives in the United States and who credits Mr. Wu with saving the life of her ailing father, has been a devout follower since 1995. “His ability and level of wisdom is simply different from anyone else,” she said. “With Master Wu, you listen and feel good from head to toe.” 
Mr. Wu had been briefly detained twice by the police in recent years, but his followers said the current detentions of him and his followers suggested the authorities were determined to crush the group. 
According to several witnesses, the police entered Mr. Wu’s home in Zhuhai on July 29 saying they wanted to examine his residency registration papers and then took him away. A number of followers living in apartments in the same complex were also detained at the same time, including children who were studying meditation and martial arts. Meanwhile, the police in the nearby city of Shenzhen raided two businesses affiliated with Huazang Dharma and the homes of people working there.

Nobody can support taking kids away by police, assuming that's what happened. 
But... His Holiness Vairocana...?  According to his website:

Mr. Wu Zeheng, with an alias Xin Yu and Buddhist name His Holiness the Vairocana Xing Wu, is the Patriarch of Buddhism, the 88th successor of Buddha, the 61th Successor of Zen Dharma, the 51th Successor of the Caodong Dharma, and the 32nd Successor of the Offspring Sangha Dharma. Holding the Symbol of Buddha Dharma - the”Kashaya and alms bowl ” (the hundreds patched robe and the alms bowl) that is the direct line of descent from Supreme Shakyamuni Buddha.

Well all right...seriously... there's claims there about being a direct successor of the Buddha, "61st successor of Zen Dharma,"... elsewhere on the site you can see claims about faith healing and what-not. Such a person who makes such claims isn't so much a Buddhist leader as a Buddhist antagonist, and one who really obscures the Way.

My point is,  as you might expect, I'm not overly fond of charlatans, and I'm not overly fond of propaganda critical of the Chinese government that glosses over the chicanery of folks like Wu.  And donning Taiwanese scarves prominently on one's website is going to be just about as popular as honoring the Naqba in some West Bank Israeli settlement.

I really can't get all that worked up on the "religious freedom" of hucksters like Wu - to me he comes across as more or less a Chinese Frederick Lenz.

Monday, August 04, 2014

No ethnicty is excluded

Many early images of the Buddha look like this one - came into being after Alexander the Great invaded Bactria.  It's the Buddha, not Apollo.

It's images like this that come to my mind when I hear people make generalizations about Buddhists, and Western Buddhists in particular, as to whether they are authentic or not.  It's the flip side to the other problem - the relative invisibility of Asian Buddhist communities to Western Buddhist communities.   And so occasionally I have heard remarks from some people who do not take Western Buddhists seriously (and they are not all of European descent).  But as the above picture shows, it is likely there were Western Buddhist practitioners before there were Korean or Japanese practitioners.   And yes,  indeed, it is because of Western imperialism...usurping Persian and Indian imperialism  all of which had long been rendered irrelevant by the time the Mongols arrived. 

And the history's not so important as the practice. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mindful Leadership

If you go to see people speak at a conference on "Mindful Leadership," you are probably a follower.  If you think the speakers are "thought leaders" on "mindful leadership" then you really aren't being a mindful leader, even if you fork over approximately 400 bucks for the "early adopter fee."

If you think:

Workplace leadership is all about growing the business, meeting the deadline, closing the deal, and finishing the project. And the speed and pace can be intense - getting it done faster, better, cheaper and smarter. Such a work style with all its ambition and energy has its benefits no doubt, but it also has a profound blind spot: in our relentless pursuit of ‘success’, we often forget to live our lives. When we lead a career that is excessively focused on being more successful, more admired or just more comfortable, we can deceive ourselves into neglecting the world around us, where we end up managing our lives rather than actually living them. 

and you're not some guy named Michael Carroll, that's another person's narrative, somebody else's picture of a rice cake, so to speak. 

Where do you find yourself?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The conversation moves on...

I was sitting the first mini-retreat I'd been able to have in years  - or returning therefrom - when Joshu Sasaki died.

Brad Warner somewhere talks about saying something about Sasaki and getting a bunch of vitriol in return.

The vitriol was in hindsight reasonable to have been expected.

But...  the retreat....

We have an essence that is fundamentally empty and awake, and we can know that fundamental emptiness and awareness of subject and object, host and guest,  ailing and caregiver.  Putting all thoughts and conceptions away - including the one about putting all thoughts and conceptions away - is key to this awareness.

This awareness is's sort of the thing that is.

In view of that, your transgressions, my transgressions, Joshu Sasaki's transgressions are not excused,  and are certainly not condoned or encouraged, but they're also ... harmonized, or in a sense "justified."  By justified I don't mean that it was in any way morally or ethically correct for any of us to transgress, but rather by justified I mean that word in the sense that the transgressions are exactly in the place and time they are in, and in the presence of boundless compassion, are not really so problematic.

It presents a couple of new koans though... such as OK, so we're all awake fundamentally, so what to do with perpetrators of transgressions, those who've done things significantly more harmful than dropping cigarette ashes on a stone Buddha?  And what to do with those who can't even get to the vantage point to be able to ask the last question?

It's why I had some questions recently about some teachers' "teaching," in response to the scandal thing.

But I must say I don't have great pat one-size-fits-all answers to those questions, and perhaps we're not supposed to have them.  Your view? 

Monday, July 28, 2014

36 Hour Tahoma Sesshin

Just enough for legs.

Very long ferry line on the way.

Clouds on Tahoma.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

People are actually asking this question?

I find it very difficult to think that in this day and age people have to address these issues, though I'm kind of glad Warner did - though I did not read all the way through.

Though any reference to Eckart Tolle should tell you enough (though again I am supportive of the sentiments of the author of that last linked piece too.)

But...Eckart Tolle is not what Zen Buddhism is about.   As to the author of that piece writing this:

This was the case with Zen Buddhism in Japan during and before WWII, the cultivation of stillness, compassion and love can co-exist with the worst fascism and imperialism. The entire institution of Zen Buddhism – the masters, monks and professors supported the cruel and colonizing efforts of the state and emperor. They defended the “wars of compassion,” gorged themselves in killing and advocated merging the small self with the larger self of the state. This was all done within the monastical, academic and ethical systems of Zen Buddhism.

Some of it was.   Some of those folks lacked ethics and some did not.   This does not mean those who lacked a practice of ethics were not Zen Buddhists; but the ethics is a real thing with Zen Buddhism.

But let's put it this way: when one has understanding - which is one way in which awakening is put - one really can move about the world in a way to more effectively help people - or hurt them if one lacks an ethical practice.

If you're relying on Eckart Tolle for any kind of "wisdom" you already have difficulties.  Not only because of what Warner & Ms. Scofield say, but rather because things like what Tolle is saying have nothing to do with awakening, as far as I can tell.

I disagree with Warner though - meditation by itself won't save the world.   It can help, for sure, but it's in the day-to-day conscious life practice that world changing actually happens.