Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Eido Shimano, Shugden, Dalai Lama, and Western Buddhist blogosphere...hopefully my final words for a while

 I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but it ties together some of the threads I'd been talking about on other posts and elsewhere in the Buddhist blogosphere. For very good posts on Eido Shimano, by the way, see the posts here and here. (And thanks to Barry Briggs for the kind words.)  Please also note that I mean nothing untoward in regards to other people and blogs mentioned below; rather I am only trying to make sure we all get it right. As a sign in one of the offices in another department in my company say, "It's not about being right, it's about getting it right."

I've thought more on the issues related to the above topics in the title of this post, and what exactly has been bugging me about the Buddhist blogosphere. Like everything like these things, there was a confluence of events I'm trying to tie together in my mind; to resolve some cognitive dissonances, as it were.   I did find it rather odd that the NY Times contacted Danny Fisher for their article on Eido Shimano.  While he's got a graduate degree in Buddhism and what-not, he wasn't exactly connected to the principals in any way that I know. But good for him; I wouldn't have commented  at all if I had been contacted, as I would not have felt it appropriate to do so; I myself am quite removed from the relevant events.  That Danny Fisher supports the Dalai Lama of course is well-known but even he, I would have hoped, would be a bit more circumspect in quoting severely right-wing News Corporation's Wall-Street Journal op-ed page. Then there's the blogginess of Barbara's Buddhism blog, which, unfortunately, doesn't go into enough depth for my taste sometimes, and too, has a pro-Dalai Lama, anti-China bias.   And Tricycle, for the longest time, has been a big cheerleader of the Dalai Lama as well, but has also been more circumspect as well. And of course the corporate media is famous for making the Dalai Lama branded as avuncular. 

And there's the obvious, easy to find  information on the internet that the Dalai Lama is not all he's cracked-up to be.

How to make sense of all of it.  I mean, how many ways can you say that much of the hero-worship of the Dalai Lama is the result of a marketing campaign, and that the actual history is darker than is portrayed? Why is the US Rinzai hierarchy (rightly, as they admit) criticized for being lax about Eido Shimano's issues but the Dalai Lama invariably gets a free pass, even when it's plain as day that this man is  not the champion of Truth, Justice and the American Way of the media campaign? And I wanted to know more about the Dorje Shugden issue as well.

Well I did a bit of internet surfing, etc. Here's what I've found/learned/concluded:

  • In that article was an oblique reference  to Ch'an in Tibet:
They see Dzogchen as a return to the Hindu ideas that Buddhists resisted in India, and a residue of the Ch’an (Zen) doctrine of Hva-shang Mahayana, proscribed at the time of the early kings. 
China is not having this. "The Dalai Lama must have forgotten that the Tibetan Buddhism was strongly influenced by the Chinese Zen Buddhism throughout its entire process of development," says an anonymous writer at ChinaTibetOnline, a Chinese government website.  "The equal-sized statue of Sakyamuni housed in the Jokhang Temple was originally introduced by the famous Princess Wencheng in China's Tang Dynasty."
My understanding is that the Tibetans are the inheritors of Buddhist traditions from India and latter-day Gandhara that died -- sometimes violently -- by the 13th century. Nalanda itself was sacked and burned about 1200. Most of the early patriarchs of Tibetan Buddhism were Indian, not Chinese, and their teachings traveled directly to Tibet without going through China...

I'm pretty sure it's a gross overstatement to say that Chinese Zen (Chan) influenced Tibetan Buddhism through "its entire process of development." There's supposed to be some connection between Zen and the Nyingma Tibetan school, but I'm not sure what that connection is, or how deep it goes.
First of all, if you read Batchelor's article itself you can begin to understand the similarity to Ch'an if not the influence, in Nyigma teaching:  

The Nyingma teaching of Dzogchen regards awareness (Tib., rig pa) as the innate self-cognizant foundation of both samsara and nirvana. Rig pa is the intrinsic, uncontrived nature of mind, which a Dzogchen master is capable of directly pointing out to his students. For the Nyingmapa, Dzogchen represents the very apogee of what the Buddha taught, whereas Tsongkhapa’s view of emptiness as just a negation of inherent existence, implying no transcendent reality, verges on nihilism.

Now my understanding of this issue is that emptiness is itself empty, and the term "inherent existence" is sort of an oxymoron, as existence (based on my reading of existentialism, I admit, so it might fuzz things up a bit here) is the reference to the condition or act of being, where as to have something inhere to it is for that something to be part of its essence.  And having no essence (which is my take on emptiness, and from my readings of Suzuki and others seems to be common) means that voidness has no essence of voidness either,  which puts a stopping plug into the issue of the charges of contradictions nihilism (both for Buddhism and existentialism, since that means that the old saw about "how can you know you know nothing" and similar logical games is defeated by saying that we don't even say that you can't know anything).

But, as usual, I'm afraid I've digressed. Point is, the functions of Mind in the Nyingma teaching have analogs in Ch'an/Zen, these finer philosophical points aside (which, to my way of thinking, are on a set of measure zero - in other words, negligible -  in terms of efficacy compared to what one needs to do on a day to day basis anyway).

Now back to Batchelor's article and Ch'an in Tibet: Google Hva-shang and this is the first link

During this period of Tibetan history [ in the 8th century], Buddhism, which had come to Tibet a century earlier, was degenerating. Tibet had become fertile ground for differing schools of thought. Because of this, King Trisong Detsen arranged a debate in Samye to decide which of these tenets should take root in Tibet. The King invited Kamalashila to represent the Indian Buddhist school while Hva Shang Mahayana represented the Chinese Ch'an school. It is said that when Kamalashila and Hva Shang Mahayana first met in Samye, Kamalashila twirled his rosary around his finger inferring the question, "What is the source of the circling in samsara?" and when Hva Shang saw that, he covered his head, indicating that "ignorance is the source of suffering." Kamalashila then felt that Hva Shang Mahayana was someone who understood.

The debate in Samye became known as the Great Debate at Samye. The rules directed that the winning side would be sanctioned by the King while the losing side would have to leave the country. Kamalashila and the Indian Buddhist School won the debate and the Ch'an Buddhists were no longer allowed to spread their teachings in Tibet. However, although Hva Shang had to leave Tibet, even up to today, in order to remember his good qualities, Tibetan monks wear a blue cord attached to their upper garment.
Also, after Hva Shang lost the debate he left immediately leaving one of his shoes behind. Tibetans believe that this was a sign that aspects of his tenets would remain in Tibet.

I mean, folks, that was the first link from Google. Here's the second link, from Wikipedia:

The teachings of Moheyan and other Chan masters were unified with the Kham Dzogchen lineages {this may or may not be congruent with the Kahma (Tibetan: bka' ma) lineages} through the Kunkhyen (Tibetan for "omniscient"), Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo.[13]

  • Tricycle again mentioned the Dorje Shugden issue in 2008  here on its blog. One of the commenters there said something that is one of my main points here (I added the hyperlink.)

There is enormous bias in the Buddhist community towards the Dalai Lama such that it becomes an obstacle to objectively investigating his actions in India. I agree that these blogs are filled with positive (and political) stories about the Dalai Lama but no one wants to investigate the shadow side of the Dalai Lama’s leadership. I can understand this. No small child wants to find out that Santa Claus doesn’t exist - it’s a massive disappointment, a blow to the magical world they believed existed in their imagination But it’s time to grow up now. It’s time to objectively examine the Dalai Lama’s actions of ostracism and oppression in his own community and report the truth for the good of Buddhism, even if it’s disappointing to discover that the champion of tolerance and religious freedom is a political and religious dictator who is harming the lineage of his own Root Guru. The France 24 investigation revealed this clearly but it’s not enough - someone in the Buddhist community needs to blow the whistle on these activities that are destroying Buddhism. Tricycle needs to be honest here and investigate. You might think that this is an ‘arcane sectarian’ dispute but you aren’t seeing dependent relationship and what this is going to lead to in the future. It’s no good burying your head in the sand until Tsongkhapa’s tradition has been destroyed. Simply have the courage to report what you see.
  • And that all brings me to my main point: Given the recent issue of scandal in my lineage (which those in a position to do so in our lineage have acknowledged, and which I have written about), it is obviously not simply sauce for the goose but simply good practice to examine our biases all over the place.  Too often much of what is written about in the Buddhist blogosphere, especially the media friendly "popular" blogs - ones written by bloggers that the corporate media go to for "Buddhist blogger" quotes is, to put it baldly, shallow and   sometimes  factually  incorrect.  And less often, corrected.
  • In addition,  too often these bloggers have biases, especially when it comes to the Dalai Lama.  Somebody might accuse me of having pro-Chinese biases (heck, some have, OK?), and yeah, full disclosure: my wife and her family and their families are all Chinese.   But having written that, I've also seen a China that is rarely portrayed in any media, and generally it's tolerant of religion as long as it's not used to subvert the power of the state, which is pretty much what most folks in America would want with the exception of a few extremist Christians.  And people that don't acknowledge that when it comes to these issues are themselves guilty of a prejudice against China.  I don't like many things that government does and I don't parrot their lines, but I also try not to quote from right wing flacks; they too have their agenda, it's naive to the point of neglectful to not be aware of it.
  • And, while I'm on the subject, there is a  5 word phrase missing in all of the Dalai Lama's wonderful declarations of human rights and democracy and such: separation of religion and state.  The Dalai Lama could fix that right now, and he hasn't.   If we have learned one thing it is that religious ideology is poisonous to the governance of a state when a religious hierarchy is the state.  Ah, well maybe that needs to be better taught.
  • And the issue of separation of religion and state  is important for the same reason that the ZSS board tripped up with Eido Shimano: conflict of interest.  For a variety of reasons, in several formats, in my professional life I have had to deal with what they call "anti-trust" training. OK, I bet Danny Fisher never had to do that, so maybe it's this post is just my whole déformation professionnelle! Central to all the avoidance of anti-trust legal actions is the avoidance of even the appearance of a conflict of interest.  (You do not ever want to go be a target of an anti-trust investigation.  Ever.)  There was a conflict of interest in the fact that the Board of the ZSS was spiritually dependent on,  the guy they were supposed to be overseeing  (as well as having him and his wife on the board itself).  To put it simply, the members of the board needed to get something (i.e., spiritual guidance) from the person they were supposed to be independently overseeing.  For that reason truly independent oversight could not be achieved. Likewise, the Roman Catholic Church has the same issue with the Pope, and look at all the Peace Love and Understanding the assertion of the political and religious supremacy of the Papacy has brought all these years.  And therefore ditto with the Dalai Lama: an imaginary government of Tibet or the one in exile, for that matter cannot maintain the appearance of maintenance of execution of law without fear or favor as well as justice, if  the head of state can be believed to hold the spiritual fate of the government in his hands. It's a conflict of interest, and it's inherently unethical because it can lead to exactly the kinds of abuses we have seen from the history of Tibet.  In any American corporation if there were analogous conditions there would be a poop-storm of litigation following wrongful acts from this arrangement. (Yes,  it's also conflicts for the royalty in the UK and Sweden and Japan.  But nobody takes their religions as seriously, to be frank about it, and this is a Buddhist blog, you know. Oh, and Iran. Iran.)
  • I would encourage anyone to do their own background on anything.  Don't believe anything I write; ask your own questions.


David said...

You know, I think by now everyone gets it that you don't like the Dalai Lama and Barbara bugs you. I have to say that until you mentioned you were married to a Chinese woman, I thought perhaps you and Barbara were dating. . .

There are people I don't like, but I don't spend all my time trying to run them down. You might want to consider doing some self-reflection and investigate why Barbara and the Dalai Lama bother you so much. In the latter's case, why do you care what he does or doesn't do, or what other people think about him. The Dalai Lama is not in your tradition, how is anything about him any skin off your nose?

Before you ask why I am bothered by anything you write, let me tell you, I'm not. I'm just commenting which you have invited folks to do by having a comment feature on this blog you have put out for people to read.

The rest of your argument or whatever it is, it seems pretty much a case of apples and oranges to me.

Mumon said...


Thanks for your comment; here's my reply:

1. People have, and are suffering as a result of the Dalai Lama's past actions and his present arrangement.

2. For better or worse, the distortion of the Dalai Lama in the Western media and its reverberations in the Buddhist blogosphere is a distortion of Buddhism itself.

3. It's not that Barbara bugs me per se; I do wish her well.

4. I actually have a life outside of this, and the vast marjority of the work on this blog is about other things.

5. Apples and oranges? Conflicts of interest are conflicts of interest.

Petteri Sulonen said...

Sorry, Mumon, but I just don't get what the Dorje Shugden controversy and the Dalai Lama have to do with Eido Roshi's dick. This post looks a lot like a desperate attempt to deflect attention from the ZSS scandal by going "Looky! Dorje Shugden!"

I.e., I concur with David above – from where I'm at, it looks like there may be some unexamined issues here, and you would do well to reflect on your feelings re this scandal a bit – *without* bring the HHDL, the Dolgyal, Danny Fisher, or Barbara into the equation. Just my 5¢...

(And once that done, you could address the Dalai Lama's free pass, Dorje Shugden/the NKT, and the various biases of various bloggers in a separate thread. 'Cuz some of it is true, but it really has fuck all to do with Eido Shimano.)

Mumon said...


I'm sorry you feel that way, and perhaps my post is a bit of a random walk, but I still maintain: the issues of Eido Shimano have to do with a lack of effective oversight, and they are the identical issues with the Dalai Lama.

And too much of the Western Buddhist blogosphere does indeed give him a free pass and is superficial in examining these issues.

Adam said...

I understood your point about separation of church and state, which you included HHDL, Eido roshi, and the Pope as examples of why it's important that the spritual heads of these organizations are not also the organizational/governmental heads of their respective organizations/goverments in exile.

Separation of church and state protects both the church, and the state.

Lineageholder said...

Thank you for not letting go of the Dorje Shugden issue and the Dalai Lama's role in this, it is important. I think the bias and blindness that people show with respect to the Dalai Lama allows Buddhism to degenerate. What is it that people are so keen to dismiss when there is valid criticism of him? Even here in these comments, people are dismissing your view of him as if 'it's just your opinion'. I would say to these people that there is clear evidence of the Dalai Lama's actions of ostracism and persecution, check it for yourself and don't just believe the media hype.

Jamyang said...

Parenti is a residual American radical leftist, a throwback to the sixties. He characteristically describes himself as a “progressive”, the word being for leftists as sought-after a designation as “compassionate” is for Tibetan Buddhists. From Parenti’s website: “one of the nation’s leading progressive political analysts … unrivaled among fellow progressive activists and thinkers… etc etc.” His subscribes to the Leninist dictum that Western democracies are “bourgeois democracies,” a charade to mislead the people into thinking that they were free and self-governing. Since the late 80s though, he is said to have noticeably modified his position. He also strongly argues that western accounts of Stalins’s great purges are exaggerated, and like the former Trotskyist, Christopher Hitchens, has attacked mother Theresa as a fraud and “fast-track saint.” On a more bizarre level he has attacked US intervention in Yugoslavia, and now heads the
United States chapter of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milošević.

His main anti-Tibet screed is Frendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth, which he last expanded and updated in 2007. Starting off with this dramatic line “Along with the blood-drenched landscape of religious conflict…” Parenti embarks on a general smear of Buddhist societies throughout history and then settles on Tibet in particular, where he essentially regurgitates official Chinese propaganda, received through the writings of Anna Louise Strong, and Stuart and Roma Gelder, to which he provides a cover of scholarship by citing Tom Grunfeld and Melvin Goldstein.

He is so unbelievably ill-informed on Tibet that it would be laughable, if a generation of Chinese students in the US did not seem to regard him as the leading authority on Tibet. He writes that Kublai Khan (1215-1294) created the first “Grand Lama” or Dalai Lama (1391-1474) and a century later the third in line gave himself the title “Dalai” and then decided to “retroactively” recognize his two predecessors as Dalai Lamas. This would be on the level of nonsensical drivel as someone claiming that Napoleon Bonaparte appointed George Washington president of the United States, but that only till John Adams was elected did the title become official – or any claptrap along those lines. A more in-depth critique of Parenti, A Lie Repeated - The Far Left’s Flawed History of Tibet by Joshua Michael Schrei, appeared some years ago, and is well recommended.


Jamyang said...

Onother propagandists for China with pretensions regarding Tibetan history is Tom Grunfeld of Empire State College NY, author of The Making of Modern Tibet. I have written a fairly long review essay, Acme of Obscenity on his anti- Tibet “history”, where I have also provided detailed information of his Maoist background and his lack of qualifications (no knowledge of spoken or written Tibetan or Chinese language – for starters). If a similar book appeared today about Blacks or Jews there would, without doubt, be universal public outcry. Tom Grunfeld writes that Tibetan mothers licked their babies as they emerged from the womb – like animals. He goes on to specify that Tibetan were cruel, dirty, ignorant, syphilitic (90% of the population suffering from venereal diseases according to TG) sexual degenerates who were observed making love on rooftops in full public view. Clearly this is intended to portray Tibetans as barbaric, subhuman, even bestial, thereby justifying Communist Chinese rule in Tibet as necessary and civilizing.

I have tried to find a suitable description or label for these anti-Tibet propagandists but Tibetan is a poor language for constructing political epithets. English, as Orwell has noted, is similarly inadequate when compared to the political language of the left in Europe, especially in Soviet Russia. Americans are also not very good at this sort of thing. During the cold war they came up with the weak “commie” and the pathetic “chicom” for Chinese Communist. At present the worst insult the right-wing in the USA can manage about China’s apologists and supporters is “panda hugger”; which only makes me think of my little daughter in bed with her toy bhiladomchen.

Jamyang said...

A more recent Indian propagandist for China has been N. Ram, editor of the very influential paper The Hindu, who the Chinese gave the full Tibet tour a couple of years ago and who in 2007 published two detailed articles where he compared the Dalai Lama to Ayatolah Khomeini, maintained that Chinese Communist rule in Tibet was benevolent and progressive, and prophesied that in twenty-five years (possibly even earlier) China would remake Tibet into a fully developed society. The Tibetan film-maker, Tenzin Sonam, in his sharp rebuttal, China’s India PR Guy, effectively demonstrated that Ram was just another propagandist for Communist China and a “useful-idiot”; a label Lenin had memorably attached to “starry-eyed Western sympathizers who made a beeline for Moscow to report on the glories of the ‘Soviet paradise’.”

In 2008 when Chinese students in the US were bussed in by PRC embassies and consulates and paid to oppose the anti-torch rallies in San Francisco and demonstrations in New York and elsewhere, the Chinese counter-demonstrators handed out leaflets “proving” that Tibet had always been a part of China, and that before the Communist invasion it had been a brutal and inhuman “slave society.” The one Western authority consistently cited in these documents to prove their claims was the American political scientist, Michael Parenti.