Monday, December 06, 2004

Prominent American Buddhists: The strange case of Dr. Lenz...

This is part IV of a continuing series (Previously I wrote on Richard Thurman, Bernie Glassman, and Richard Baker.)

While he's been dead for a few years, the story Frederick Lenz is another cautionary tale for those that would consider taking up a study of the Dharma.

Lenz was, as I read it, a narcissist and exploited those around him. And his espousal of Buddhism seemed to have done little to affect his own day to day behavior.

Oddly enough, this guy's content lives on thanks to the internet. Despite the fact that he's in his grave, we can, thanks to the net, see the visage of some big-hair 80's rock-star like wannabe "Zen master." ("A Zen master is a teacher of enlightenment("direct perception of life without illusions"). In my experience that is about the only thing any two Zen masters have in common.")

Now, the fact is this isn't the point. The point is, from a Buddhist perspective, to answer the question of why do we suffer, and what can we do about suffering with concrete, mindful action. Yeah, when you're "enlightened" you see your "self" and things as they are, and that impels the "enlightened" one to act sincerely and whole-heartedly.

This takes years to develop, and is not some witty entertainment. It's not a gimmick. It's not a quasi-private joke amongst a select group of cognoscenti. It is hard work to integrate into the marrow of one's bones what one can see by practicing mindfulness. Takes years.

Oddly enough, though all the money Lenz collected over the years from his "seminars," seems to be getting put to relatively good use.

Some of the money (not an especially large amount- apparently Lenz's estate was worth around 18 million) has gone to the Zen Center of Utah.

The "Big Mind Process" is an innovative technique developed by Genpo Merzel Roshi, who heads the Salt Lake City Zen Center. The process is designed to fast track participants towards achieving self-realization. The innovative and accessible approach taught through this process allows participants to awaken to a universal mind consciousness, creating a major shift in perspective, from a self-centered view of the world to one where all beings are seen as connected with one another. The Foundation's grant permits Kanzeon to train teachers in this new process and to offer the program in ever-expanding parts of the United States.

When I read this I was concerned about two aspects:

1. The head of the Zen Center sits on the "advisory committee" of the foundation.

2. As I've noted above, true practice, true "enlightenment" takes years of practice/enlightenment.

After contacting them, I've been told basically that the Board makes the grant decisions ( the head of the center is not on the board), and that they agree with my second point.

So, despite the weirdness of it all, it looks like some good will eventually come out of all the misery that was engendered by Lenz.

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