Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I don't think Buddhism - at least the Zen variety - is really like this...

There's another article in the Huffington Post today on "How religion changes lives," by one Eileen Flanagan, author of "The Wisdom to Know the Difference: When to Make a Change -- And When to Let Go."

From the first paragraph...uh...there's issues.

I have a friend who describes herself as "a controlling type of person," a single mom who tends to worry about money and germs. A practicing Muslim, she says that fasting during Ramadan helps her to feel more peaceful, despite the physical difficulty. Self-denial, daily prayer, and heightened compassion for the poor change her. "It's a very intense period," she explains. "If you don't grow spiritually from that, you have to reevaluate what you're doing because you should feel different. You should think differently. You should have a peace about you, a patience." Ramadan, she says, is gradually making her a less anxious person, giving her the confidence to think about changing from a clerical job to a more service-oriented career.
She needs Ramadan to make a career choice? Well, good for her.  But in telling others what Ramadan should do for them, well, I guess that woman has more Ramadans to do, if that's what's helping her.

Flanagan goes on to talk about how religions are reputed to quell anxiety; I'm not sure this is true in general.  I feel somewhat un-anxious myself, but that's because I think there's things in Buddhism that are unique within religious traditions for doing this.  Specifically, I need no leaps of faith in order to quell whatever anxiety I might occasionally feel, because it's all dang impermanent anyhow, and this is, on reflection, as obvious as the nose on my face.

And then...Flanagan goes on to talk about how it's all about "fear and loving" a deity that makes religion "work" so well. I wish you could have seen my mother in her last days, Ms. Flanagan. Fear and "loving" a deity did not do much for her anxiety at the end. 

And Ms. Flanagan notes that we Buddhists don't have a deity.  But! We have! Reincarnation!

Although Thich Nhat Hanh makes it sound simple, Buddhists recognize that there are different levels of practice, and reaching total peace will take many lifetimes. The role of reincarnation in change is another difference with the Abrahamic faiths, but when we look at the hoped-for effect of spiritual transformation, we find again the idea that we need to become less anxious about our own wants and more concerned with the needs of others.
 Ms. Flanagan still wants something. And the biggest want seems to be a way to ultimately cheat death.  I think the wish to maintain the denial that death wins in the end is the real source of the anxiety of which Flanagan speaks.  

Buddhism, as I apprehend it, is not like this, but it is providing comfort by seeing things the way they are, and understanding that our lot is what it is, and that all existence on earth, one way or another, must go down a pathway that is similar.

There's no deity to "fear and love,"  and the only people coming to save us are already here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Preaching and Blogging the Dharma

In "The Tale of Yūkichi Takayama" Hakuin writes (as recorded in Norman Waddell's recent " Hakuin's Precious Mirror Cave"):

I do not believe there is any work in the entire Buddhist canon that does not expound the virtues of preaching the Dharma either in its introduction, in the course of its discussion, or in the conclusions it draws.  We must regard the preaching of the Dharma with the greatest veneration, as a karmic cause of the highest order. Yet if a person preaches the Dharma for even the slightest thought for reputation, gain, or profit, or with the slightest sense of self-importance in his heart, then the preaching will generate a karmic cause and will send the preacher straight to hell instead.  Because of that, preaching of the Dharma must be approached with the greatest circumspection; it must be undertaken with the utmost care.

The Vimilakirti Sutra says that one whose mind still resides in the world of birth-and-death must not preach the Dharma.  Elsewhere it is said that those who lack the true eye of wisdom, who cannot distinguish the various capacities of his listeners should not preach the Dharma, and that a person must not preach the teachings of the Lesser Vehicle to those with the capacity to receive those of the Greater Vehicle.  Chao-Chou said that if a false teacher preaches the true Dharma, then the true Dharma becomes a false Dharma.  All of those  words are only too true.  

Now Hakuin, of course, says many other things in the work I've cited,  and there's a great deal of superstitious behavior floating around in Hakuin's work from the time.  (The tale in question from which this quote is taken concerns the "possession" by a kami of a 13 year old boy who was defending Hakuin against some charges that were being made by his contemporaries.)  The superstitious psychology behind the behavior of the main story is not the point of this post however, but rather, what the relationship is between expounding the Dharma and blogging.

It's not for me to say why someone else blogs or what their final motivation is of preaching the Dharma. To be honest, though,  when some folks talk about how they've made peace with the shadows of greed and therefore there's no problem with them profiting from "preaching" the "Dharma," it looks difficult to reconcile such boasts with what Hakuin wrote above.  (That said, I might as well put a link to Amazon here for the book I just mentioned, if only to let you know the source of the quote better.  I doubt you'll find that quote on the internet elsewhere easily.)  I suspect even old Hakuin himself now and then did not live up to his ideal.  But that's part of being human.

I have to try to keep in mind that when I see certain stories and blog posts that seem to be egregious examples against which Hakuin warned, that my response should not be an over-indulgence of ego.  That's not always easy.

I also need to keep in mind that other bloggers and teachers might have different "mileage" than those in the school to which I belong, although that doesn't get anyone a license to avoid dedicating themselves to a practice that lacks self-centeredness.   It is true that the blogger benefits from blogging, but that benefit is voided by active seeking of it, I think.

I had been reading that bit over the weekend, and simply thought that it was of relevance to the phenomenon of Western Buddhists blogging about Buddhism. Whether or not or how it compares to those who've been hogging microphones to declaim for and against other religions lately, well, that's a question I won't go near today.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Not much to blog about today on a Sunday...unless you expected me to comment on the Beck thing

But there is some things I have to attend to elsewhere.

Life is right in front of me. Best to be there.

It's hard to believe that with the cornucopia of content that there's nothing to blog about of substance, but pretty much all the hot air issues have been talked about to death by others, and it's kind of obvious where I stand and everything.

However, if you were thinking that I'd comment on the Beck thing, I'd recommend the Mother Jones article on it, and note these people are thinking:

a) Something's broken outside themselves
b) It's worth it, they believe, to schlep a long distance and get together and say, "That thing outside ourselves must be fixed!"
c) And that won't fix what's really wrong - it's something inside themselves.

And that's how today's news can be read like a sutra, I guess.

So I'm going to be in the real world for a while, attending to what is right in front of me and what's inside of me.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Asian Buddhism and the Death Penalty

I won't comment more on a recent posts  in the Buddhist blogosphere that compared Western Buddhism to Asian Buddhism, and this post is not about that.  Asian cultures are different, and not all in a good romantic way compared to the West.

There's a lot of dirt everywhere these days.

In the New York Times today there is an article on the Japanese execution chambers - they hang folks still, but like the US, it takes a long time to exact their death penalty. Shoko Asahara is still not dead, according to Wikipedia.  The description of the  execution chamber and the Japanese execution protocol goes like this:

The journalists were led through the chambers, one by one: a chapel with a Buddhist altar where the condemned are read their last rites; a small room, also with a Buddha statue, where a prison warden officially orders the execution; the execution room, with a pulley and rings for the rope and a trapdoor where the condemned inmate stands; and the viewing room where officials witness the hanging.
The inmate is handcuffed and blindfolded before entering the execution room, officials said. Three prison wardens push separate buttons, only one of which releases the trapdoor — but they never find out which one. Wardens are given a bonus of about $230 every time they attend an execution.
Satoshi Tomiyama, the Justice Ministry official who later briefed the foreign news outlets and others excluded from the tour, said that wardens take the utmost care to treat death row inmates fairly and humanely.
The Buddha statues can be switched with an altar of the indigenous Japanese Shinto religion for followers of that faith, he said. For Christians, the prison provides a wooden cross. Inmates are given fruit and snacks before their execution, and sentences are not carried out on weekends, national holidays and around the New Year.
Mr. Tomiyama read a statement from a warden who carries out executions but did not identify him by name. Executions “are carried out somberly, and the tension is enough to make my hand shake,” he quoted the warden as saying. 

 The article also notes, that with its 99% conviction rate, there's a good chance that Japan's got innocent people on their death row.

Japan is not alone; there is Singapore as well.

JOHOR BAHRU: If clemency is granted from Singapore President Sellapan Ramanathan, Malaysian drug trafficker Yong Vui Kong said that his greatest wish would be to join the anti-drug campaign and guide other young people on the edge to return to the right path.
He said that he might have become a criminal who stops at no evil and brings great devastation to the community today if he was not arrested by the police at that time.
Yong, who has been imprisoned in Singapore's Changi Prison over the past three years said that he is no longer afraid of the uncertain date of the execution.
He said, "I'm not afraid of death anymore! However, I hope to try my best helping more people learn the Buddha dharma before I die."
Yong was sentenced to death after being convicted of drug trafficking when he was 18 years old. Over 100,000 Malaysians had signed to support a petition requesting clemency for Yong from the Singapore President.

 Singapore, of course, is famously aggressive when it comes to executing drug traffickers; there are signs in its airports informing those who've already arrived that they get the death penalty if they've brought narcotics into the country illegally.

Yong's case is particularly poignant.

Vui Kong's mother was depressed most of the time as she felt sad about the impoverished conditions she was living in, the abuse she was enduring and most of all, that she could not provide better for her children. She missed her children badly. Vui Kong was the only one who stayed with her in that place of pain. Her other children had been scattered around Malaysia after the parents' divorce.

His mother, who worked as a dishwasher,earning RM$200 a month, was also beaten and scolded often by others. The young Vui Kong did not know why, even when his mother did nothing wrong. All these had an adverse effect on Vui Kong, witnessing the violence and abuse heaped on his mother.

It was because of this that, at the age of 12, he decided to leave the estate. He lied to his mother that he had found someone to be his godfather and would go and live with him. The truth, however, was that he planned to find work and help take his mother away from his grandfather and that house.

Of course, being so young, Vui Kong ended up in a worse state than his mother. He was soon kicked out of the house of his "godfather". This "godfather" was in fact an operator of an illegal casino and a gambling machine, or horse machine, as Vui Kong described it.

He was on the street and had to beg friends to put him up. He went hungry many-a-time and took on odd jobs such as washing cars for RM3 a day. It was a hard time for me, he said. He lived this way for a couple of years or so.

One day he visited his mother. He saw that she was starving herself. "She ate some rice and little vegetables. Other times, she would eat rice with just one or two fried bananas which cost 2 cents each," he explained. "Why're you starving yourself?" he asked his mother. She answered that she was saving up so that when her children got married, she would be able to give them some money. When Vui Kong heard this, he turned away and cried. His mother was always thinking of her children, despite her own circumstances.

It was this incident which made Vui Kong decide to go to Kuala Lumpur (KL), the capital city of Malaysia. There, he would definitely be able to find good jobs and make money to help his mother. This, he resolved to do. But at the moment, he had no money to even buy a ticket to KL. And so he took on a job in Kota Kinabalu, in Sabah. After a couple of months, he saved enough for a plane ticket to KL.

There is a petition to sign. I think this is a much more worthy cause than fuming about restoring honor to America.  It is honorable, I think, to ask for clemency in this case.

Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter 4, Section LXXX

I'm using, as I have in the past, this translation.

As the terms of Buddhist psychology are used yet again in this chapter, I thin it's useful to quote again from Suzuki on these:

What may be termed Buddhist psychology in the Lanka consists in the analysis of mind, that is, in the classification of the Vijnanas. To understand thus the psychology of Buddhism properly the knowledge of these terms is necessary: citta, manas, vijnana, manovijnana, and alayavijnana.

To begin with Vijnana. Vijnana is composed of the prefix vi, meaning "to divide", and the root jna which means "to perceive", "to know". Thus, Vijnana is the faculty of distinguishing or discerning or judging. When an object is presented before the eye, it is perceived and judged as a red apple or a piece of white linen; the faculty of doing this is called eye-vijnana. In the same way, there are ear-vijnana for sound, nose-vijnana for odour, tongue-vijnana for taste, body-vijnana for touch, and thought-vijnana (manovijnana) for ideas—altogether six forms of Vijnana for distinguishing the various aspects of world external or internal.

Of these six Vijnanas, the Manojivnana is the most important as it is directly related to an inner faculty known as Manas. Manas roughly corresponds to mind as an organ of thought, but in fact it is more than that, for it is also a strong power of attaching itself to the result of thinking. The latter may even be considered subordinate to this power of attachment. The Manas first wills, then it discriminates to judge; to judge is to divide, and this dividing ends in viewing existence dualistically. Hence the Manas' tenacious attachment to the dualistic interpretation of existence. Willing and thinking are inextricably woven into the texture of Manas.

Citta comes from the root cit, "to think", but in the Lanka the derivation is made from the root ci, "to pile up", "to arrange in order". The Citta is thus a storehouse where the seeds of all thoughts and deeds are accumulated and stored up. The Citta, however, has a double sense, general and specific. When it is used in the general sense it means "mind", "mentation", "ideas", including the activities of Manas and Manovijnana, and also of the Vijnanas; while specifically it is a synonym of Alayavijnana in its relative aspects, and distinguishable from all the rest of the mental faculties. When, however, it is used in the form of Citta-matra, Mind-only, it acquires still another connotation. We can say that Citta appears here in its highest possible sense, for it is then neither simply mentation nor intellection, nor perception as a function of consciousness. It is identifiable with the Alaya in its absolute aspect. This will become clearer later on.

Alayavijnana is alaya+vijnana, and alaya is a store where things are hoarded for future use. The Citta as a cumulative faculty is thus identified with the Alayavijnana. Strictly speaking, the Alaya is not a Vijnana, has no discerning power in it; it indiscriminately harbours all that is poured into it through the channel of the Vijnanas. The Alaya is perfectly neutral, indifferent, and does not offer to give judgments.

Essentially, this talks about the seventh and eighth stages of attaining Buddhahood.

The Blessed One said this to [Mahāmati]: Those Bodhisattva-Mahāsattvas who have reached the sixth stage as well as all the Śrāvakas [those who are "hearers"]and Pratyekabuddhas ["lone Buddhas"] attain perfect tranquillisation. At the seventh stage, the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattvas, giving up the view of self-nature as subsisting in all things, attain perfect tranquillisation in every minute of their mental lives, which is not however the case with the Śrāvakas and Pratyekabuddhas; for with them there is something effect-producing, and in their attainment of perfect tranquillisation there is a trace [of dualism], of grasped and grasping. Therefore, they do not attain perfect tranquillisation in every minute of their mental lives which is possible at the seventh stage. They cannot attain to [the clear conviction of] an undifferentiated state of all things (212) and the cessation of [all] multiplicities. Their attainment is due to understanding the aspect of all things in which their self-nature is discriminated as good and as not-good. Therefore, until the seventh stage there is not a well-established attainment of tranquillisation in every minute of their mental lives.

Mahāmati, at the eighth stage the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattvas, Śrāvakas, and Pratyekabuddhas cease cherishing discriminative ideas that arise from the Citta, Mana and Manovijñāna. From the first stage up to the sixth, they perceive that the triple world is no more than the Citta. Manas, and Manovijñāna, that as it is born of a discriminating mind there is no ego-soul and what belongs to it, and that there is no falling into the multitudinousness of external objects except through [the discrimination of] the Mind itself. The ignorant turning their self-knowledge (svajñāna) towards the dualism of grasped and grasping fail to understand, for there is the working of habit-energy which has "been accumulating since beginningless time owing to false reasoning and discrimination.

Mahāmati, at the eighth stage there is Nirvana for the Śrāvakas and Pratyekabuddhas and Bodhisattvas; but the Bodhisattvas are kept away by the power of all the Buddhas1 from [being intoxicated by] the bliss of the Samādhi, and thereby they will not enter into Nirvana. When the stage of Tathagatahood is not fulfilled there would be the cessation of all doings, and if [the Bodhisattvas] were not supported [by the Buddhas] the Tathagata-family would become extinct. Therefore, the Buddhas, the Blessed Ones, point out the virtues of Buddhahood which are beyond conception. (213) Therefore, [the Bodhisattvas] do not enter into Nirvana, but the Śrāvakas and Pratyekabuddhas, engrossed in the bliss of the Samādhis, therein cherish the thought of Nirvana.

And furthermore, the Śrāvakas, and Pratyekabuddhas enter into the eighth stage they can be so intoxicated by happiness that they fail to enter Nirvana.

That leaves only 9 sections left of this to be covered (I'd covered Chapter 8 before.) I will continue with another sutra, likely the Suringama, after that.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Can we pursue happiness? Should we pursue happiness?

A recent post on the Tricycle blog talked about "The Pursuit of Happiness Project," which is some kind of conference:

Hosted by Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion, the conference marks the fifth year of a project in which 18 senior fellows studied the traditional teachings of happiness versus scientific understanding of what happiness is.

It's at Emory University, which I believe is in Georgia (Atlanta area?), and its website states:

Most famously formulated in the American Declaration of Independence, "the pursuit of happiness" theme is an ancient and enduring Western ideal grounded in various Hebrew, Greco-Roman, Christian, and Enlightenment sources. Recent developments in positive psychology have brought the idea of happiness back to public attention with a flurry of books and undergraduate courses. By putting religion and science in conversation, and by focusing on the relation between altruistic love and happiness, our project will retrieve some of the rich traditional teachings captured in this ideal and reconstruct them for our day in light of the new findings of the human and social sciences and of the new liberties of constitutional democracies.

Before I go any further, the Voice of Cynicism (see? I can do Big Mind speak too!) in me wants you to know about the rest of the story, also from their website:

Project Accomplishments
  • Roundtable, October 13-15, 2006
  • Roundtable, April 20-22, 2007
  • Roundtable, October 12-14, 2007
  • Roundtable, April 11-13, 2008
  • Roundtable, April 17-19, 2009
  • Roundtable, October 16-18, 2009
  • Roundtable, April 16-18, 2010
The John Templeton Foundation and an anonymous donor

Voice of Cynicism:  Now, I tell people regularly working on my project never to write in status reports, "We had a meeting"  and call that an accomplishment.  What I, and those in upper management want to know is the results: inquiring minds want to know just which rich traditional teachings were captured in this [Judeo-Christian and Western philosphical]  ideal and reconstructed for our day in light of the new findings of the human and social sciences?

Blogging Me: Of course the John Templeton Foundation's famous for not asking  questions that result in answers that can stand up to criticism (just ask Richard Dawkins), and it's a good gig, I suppose, for those that can make the right pitch.  OK, well, that's the Voice of Cynicism for you; always trying to ask about those damned results.  
 But, as I often do, I digress.

I want to know, and perhaps it's worth asking in depth: should we be happy? Should we pursue happiness?

I once admit I actually bought and read the book to the left above here; it's probably still in my house somewhere.  I don't remember the details other than a warm and fuzzy feeling throughout.   But I also remember the book I  read to the left below here (many times in Japanese hotels, and finally obtained a copy in a Pure Land Japanese-heritage Buddhist temple); and especially it brings to my mind the story of the Buddha himself.

The Buddha lived in the lap of luxury; he had a family, and yet was still disturbed at the sight of sickness and death.  The Buddha came to realize that sickness, death, and suffering were our lot.  It is the condition of being human.  There is simply no escape from this.  We are born to die. 

So what's this about happiness anyway?

Well, the Buddha said,

A man struggling for existence will naturally look for something of value.  There are two ways of looking -- a right way and a wrong way.   If he looks in the wrong way he recognizes that sickness, old age and death are unavoidable, but he seeks the opposite.

If he looks in the right way he recognizes the true nature of sickness, old age and death, and he searches for meaning in that which transcends all human sufferings.  In my life of pleasures I seem to be looking in the wrong way."

The true nature of these things,  like happiness, is that they are fundamentally empty.   There is no essence of happiness; the pain is really felt, the happiness is really felt, but it cannot be captured and mounted like a butterfly. Happiness is pleasurable, and that should set off warning bells right there that from a Buddhist standpoint, it is neither to be craved nor avoided.  Yes, one should not be attached to happiness in the same way that one should not be attached to the avoidance of suffering.

Of course, deep mindful  practiced existence of this will bring relief via transcendence of suffering via profound, heavy compassion for all beings.  But to want to "get happy" by doing these things is simply another attachment, and you'll be sure to avoid the happiness that comes from radical acceptance of what is really there..  The highest principle in the transcendence of unhappiness is vast emptiness and nothing holy.

Just do your best with what you have at the time; remember the sufferings you feel are echoed in every other being and their sufferings are resonating in your suffering.

And just forget about pursuing happiness.  You'll be happy When the Revolution Comes. Or Jesus. Or Maritreya, or the 12th Imam. Or Bono.

You're not there anyway, so maybe it'll be a good idea to try to be nice to those around you and give them a break.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Layoff Economy Cause Suffering and It's Bad Business

In reading this blogpost at The Baseline Scenario on management consultants (I'll have more on that later), I came across, via (ugh) The Huffington Post, this article critical of management consultants.  I'll have a word to say on that in a bit.  Of more importance, though is that the Huff Post post linked to this article in Newseeek on the true costs of layoffs.

... Much of the conventional wisdom about downsizing—like the fact that it automatically drives a company's stock price higher, or increases profitability—turns out to be wrong. There's substantial research into the physical and health effects of downsizing on employees—research that reinforces the seemingly hyperbolic notion that layoffs are literally killing people. There is also empirical evidence showing that labor-market flexibility isn't necessarily so good for countries, either. A recent study of 20 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development economies over a 20-year period by two Dutch economists found that labor-productivity growth was higher in economies having more highly regulated industrial-relations systems—meaning they had more formal prohibitions against the letting go of workers...

There are a number of myths that have taken hold to justify managers' urge to downsize. Many of them aren't true. For instance, contrary to popular belief, companies that announce layoffs do not enjoy higher stock prices than peers—either immediately or over time. A study of 141 layoff announcements between 1979 and 1997 found negative stock returns to companies announcing layoffs, with larger and permanent layoffs leading to greater negative effects. An examination of 1,445 downsizing announcements between 1990 and 1998 also reported that downsizing had a negative effect on stock-market returns, and the negative effects were larger the greater the extent of the downsizing. Yet another study comparing 300 layoff announcements in the United States and 73 in Japan found that in both countries, there were negative abnormal shareholder returns following the announcement.
Layoffs don't increase individual company productivity, either. A study of productivity changes between 1977 and 1987 in more than 140,000 U.S. companies using Census of Manufacturers data found that companies that enjoyed the greatest increases in productivity were just as likely to have added workers as they were to have downsized. The study concluded that the growth in productivity during the 1980s could not be attributed to firms becoming "lean and mean." Wharton professor Peter Cappelli found that labor costs per employee decreased under downsizing, but sales per employee fell, too.
Another myth: layoffs increase profits. Even after statistically controlling for prior profitability, a study of 122 companies found that downsizing reduced subsequent profitability and that the negative consequences of downsizing were particularly evident in R&D-intensive industries and in companies that experienced growth in sales. Cascio's study of firms in the S&P 500 found that companies that downsized remained less profitable than those that did not. An American Management Association survey that assessed companies' own perceptions of layoff effects found that only about half reported that downsizing increased operating profits, while just a third reported a positive effect on worker productivity.
Layoffs don't even reliably cut costs...
 Of course, despite what the author of The Baseline Scenario says, too often management consultants have recommended layoffs and job cutting.   So many companies have been gutted by this mentality.  Which brings me to my next point...one business blogger asks, "If management consultants are so bad why are they still around?"

The answer is very simple: they tell management what they want to hear.  It's the same type of question as, "If hocus-pocus fortune-tellers are so bad, why are they still around?

The Truth about Conflation of the "New Age" Woo and Buddhism

I was looking around for things in the Buddhist world upon which to write, and came upon this article (purportedly) on "The Truth about Tibetan Buddhism" as reason.com, a libertarian publication.

I know I’m not supposed to say this, but Tibetan Buddhism really freaked me out.
The most striking thing is how different real Tibetan Buddhism is from the re-branded, part-time version imported over here by the Dalai Lama’s army of celebrities.
Listening to Richard Gere, the first incarnation of the Hollywood Lama, you could be forgiven for thinking that Tibetan Buddhism involves sitting in the lotus position for 20 hours a day and thinking Bambi-style thoughts. Tibetan Buddhism has a “resonance and a sense of mystery,” says Gere, through which you can find “beingness” (whatever that means).
Watching Jennifer Aniston’s character Rachel read a collection of the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Central Perk on Friends a few years ago, you might also think that Tibetan Buddhism is something you can ingest while sipping on a skinny-milk, no-cream, hazelnut latte.

 The author of the article, Brendan O'Neill, goes on to quote professors of religion to who note that Buddhism in general and Tibetan Buddhism in particular is traditionally misogynist, anti-gay,  etc.  O'Neill sums his point up:

Of course, this only means that Tibetan Buddhism is the same as loads of other religions. Yet it is striking how much the backward elements of Tibetan Buddhism are forgiven or glossed over by its hippyish, celebrity, and middle-class followers over here. So if you’re a Catholic in Hollywood it is immediately assumed you’re a grumpy old git with demented views, but if you’re a “Tibetan” Buddhist you are looked upon as a super-cool, enlightened creature of good manners and taste. (Admittedly, Mel Gibson doesn’t help in this regard.)...

Frank J. Korom describes it as “New Age orientalism,” where Westerners in search of some cheap and easy purpose in their empty lives “appropriate Tibet and portions of its religious culture for their own purposes.” They treat a very old, complex religion as a kind of buffet of ideas that they can pick morsels from, jettisoning the stranger, more demanding stuff—like the dancing demons and the prostration workout—but picking up the shiny things, like the sacred necklaces and bracelets and the BS about reincarnation.
It is all about them. They have bent and warped a religion to suit their own needs. As the Tibetan lama Dagyab Kyabgon Rinpoche puts it, “The concept of ‘Tibet’ becomes a symbol for all those qualities that Westerners feel lacking: joie de vivre, harmony, warmth and spirituality… Tibet thus becomes a utopia, and Tibetans become noble savages.” Western losers have ransacked Tibetan Buddhism in search of the holy grail of self-meaning.

 Barbara O'Brien remonstrates in response:

To prove this point, O'Neill sites an old episode of the television series Friends in which Jennifer Anniston's character read a collection of the Dalai Lama's teachings. And he tells us about a student at Boston University who was asked why she wore a Tibetan necklace:

"It keeps me healthy and happy," she said, reducing Tibetan Buddhism, as so many Dalai Lama-loving undergrads do, to the religious equivalent of knocking back a vitamin pill.

...What really happened: O'Neill visited Lhasa, apparently carrying with him his own set of frivolous notions about Tibetan Buddhism, and he was stunned by the intensity of devotion and practice he saw there. From this he concluded that few westerners ever "got" Buddhism, especially the Tibetan version.

...First off, there's "Western New Age" circles -- more than one, I suspect -- and "Western Buddhist" circles, and they aren't the same circles. There's some overlap, of course. But I believe most western Buddhists see clearly that Buddhism and whatever it is that gets shoveled into the "New Age" bin are very different.

I'll ignore the bits in her post about how the Dalai Lama is "the symbol of Tibet" and all that hoo-ha; my point centers on O'Neill's conflation of Buddhism with "New Age"  and Barbara's response.  

First off, she's right.  There, I said it, for those of you who think I spend all my time bashing "popular" Buddhist bloggers.  She's right in that most Western Buddhists do not, I think, conflate "New Age" with Buddhism.  But...

O'Neill's not entirely wrong for pointing out that such a conflation exists.  It does. And clearly, professors of religion in US universities are not going to be unexposed to youths who are unsure in their own minds what Buddhism is, and what Buddhism-with-a-smattering-of-New Age is.

And this conflation can be observed from within the Buddhist blogosphere itself.

Don't believe me? Here are some examples:
  • Elephant Journal. Now, it does claim to have a section on "Non-New Agey Spirituality,"  but it looks like a handle for "anything that's spiritual, not religious, without crystals."  Buddhism isn't about getting good at asanas, or being a vegetarian per se.
  • The Huffington Post.  If I were a name Buddhist writer, I'd rather try to get a gig at The Daily Beast, myself; Tina Brown is less flaky than Arianna Huffington. But when a Buddhist blogs at the Huffington Post, he should know he's putting himself in an equivalence class with spiritual hucksters such as  Deepak Chopra, Robert Lanza, Andrew Cohen, and John Morton, and others. (But they did publish an excerpt critical of the Landmark Forum, but that only underscores my point: Legit Buddhism is conflated, by context, with woo.)  And can you fault O'Neill when he surfs over to its page on Buddhism and sees this?

       Why, it's an article about the future of Buddhism in the West, with a picture of Richard Gere!
  • Ken Wilber. Enough said.
  • Genpo Roshi, Bill Harris, "The Secret." Ugh.
It is very true that there are very serious Buddhist practitioners in the United States who are not New Agey, and I truly respect Barbara for her practice (though I think she needs a bit more exposure politically).  But it does us no good to ignore or to make a big tent for all kinds of crazy stuff that can be marketed as Buddhist.

Moreover, there is a bit of Orientalism floating around in regards to attitudes about Buddhism, and it's fed by groups that claim to support Tibetan independence which gives a very selective ridiculously idealistic view of its history.  (The same can be said of the way India is viewed as well.  I remember a colleague once told another , who was of Indian descent, when asked what India was like.  The  Indian descendant said, "What do you think it's like?" The reply was, "It's dusty, dirty, and crowded with many poor people."  The answer was something to the effect of, "Yep, that's exactly what it's like."  Of course that was some 15 or 20 years ago and things have changed much in India.)

So I think we need to do a better job of explaining ourselves, but we do need to point out, when we see it, that something has nothing to do with Buddhism as Buddhists have explained it.  And if there's woo, it's not Buddhism.

And as one other commenter on Barbara's Buddhist blog indicated, libertarians have their own issues of ideology as well. And they have their own problems.

The Dukkha of the Political Class in the United States

Most of the posts on this blog, especially recently, have had Buddhist themes.  If one is serious about alleviating the suffering of people in the United States, one should be very concerned about the situation in Washington.  While not dire in any sense of the word compared to some of the more pressing issues in the world, the fact that we are governed by proxies for a plutocracy should be of grave concern to all.

Over at the New Yorker, there is a must-read for those who are following the political and economic situation in the United States on the Koch family, who are famous for funding right-wing causes.

The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.
In a statement, Koch Industries said that the Greenpeace report “distorts the environmental record of our companies.” And David Koch, in a recent, admiring article about him in New York, protested that the “radical press” had turned his family into “whipping boys,” and had exaggerated its influence on American politics. But Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times....

...After the 1980 election, Charles and David Koch receded from the public arena. But they poured more than a hundred million dollars into dozens of seemingly independent organizations. Tax records indicate that in 2008 the three main Koch family foundations gave money to thirty-four political and policy organizations, three of which they founded, and several of which they direct. The Kochs and their company have given additional millions to political campaigns, advocacy groups, and lobbyists. The family’s subterranean financial role has fuelled suspicion on the left; Lee Fang, of the liberal blog ThinkProgress, has called the Kochs “the billionaires behind the hate.”
Only the Kochs know precisely how much they have spent on politics. Public tax records show that between 1998 and 2008 the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation spent more than forty-eight million dollars. The Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, which is controlled by Charles Koch and his wife, along with two company employees and an accountant, spent more than twenty-eight million. The David H. Koch Charitable Foundation spent more than a hundred and twenty million. Meanwhile, since 1998 Koch Industries has spent more than fifty million dollars on lobbying. Separately, the company’s political-action committee, KochPAC, has donated some eight million dollars to political campaigns, more than eighty per cent of it to Republicans. So far in 2010, Koch Industries leads all other energy companies in political contributions, as it has since 2006. In addition, during the past dozen years the Kochs and other family members have personally spent more than two million dollars on political contributions. In the second quarter of 2010, David Koch was the biggest individual contributor to the Republican Governors Association, with a million-dollar donation. Other gifts by the Kochs may be untraceable; federal tax law permits anonymous personal donations to politically active nonprofit groups.
In recent decades, members of several industrial dynasties have spent parts of their fortunes on a conservative agenda. In the nineteen-eighties, the Olin family, which owns a chemicals-and-manufacturing conglomerate, became known for funding right-leaning thinking in academia, particularly in law schools. And during the nineties Richard Mellon Scaife, a descendant of Andrew Mellon, spent millions attempting to discredit President Bill Clinton. Ari Rabin-Havt, a vice-president at the Democratic-leaning Web site Media Matters, said that the Kochs’ effort is unusual, in its marshalling of corporate and personal funds: “Their role, in terms of financial commitments, is staggering.”
Of course, Democrats give money, too. Their most prominent donor, the financier George Soros, runs a foundation, the Open Society Institute, that has spent as much as a hundred million dollars a year in America. Soros has also made generous private contributions to various Democratic campaigns, including Obama’s. But Michael Vachon, his spokesman, argued that Soros’s giving is transparent, and that “none of his contributions are in the service of his own economic interests.” The Kochs have given millions of dollars to nonprofit groups that criticize environmental regulation and support lower taxes for industry. Gus diZerega, the former friend, suggested that the Kochs’ youthful idealism about libertarianism had largely devolved into a rationale for corporate self-interest. He said of Charles, “Perhaps he has confused making money with freedom.”
It's actually even worse than this article suggests, and for those who may be wondering about how come things are so polarized and paralyzed in the politics in the US  there is a simple answer: this corrupt money, meant to increase the profit margins of the very, very few, is flowing into both major parties. And the Koch family is doing this too.

But, here's a key piece of information: the Kochs haven't just given to right-wingers. Back in April of 2001, The American Prospect's Bob Dreyfuss reported that the Kochs also funded the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC):
And for $25,000, 28 giant companies found their way onto the DLC's executive council, including Aetna, AT&T, American Airlines, AIG, BellSouth, Chevron, DuPont, Enron, IBM, Merck and Company, Microsoft, Philip Morris, Texaco, and Verizon Communications. Few, if any, of these corporations would be seen as leaning Democratic, of course, but here and there are some real surprises. One member of the DLC's executive council is none other than Koch Industries, the privately held, Kansas-based oil company whose namesake family members are avatars of the far right, having helped to found archconservative institutions like the Cato Institute and Citizens for a Sound Economy. Not only that, but two Koch executives, Richard Fink and Robert P. Hall III, are listed as members of the board of trustees and the event committee, respectively--meaning that they gave significantly more than $25,000.

The DLC board of trustees is an elite body whose membership is reserved for major donors, and many of the trustees are financial wheeler-dealers who run investment companies and capital management firms--though senior executives from a handful of corporations, such as Koch, Aetna, and Coca-Cola, are included.
I added the emphasis.

Fitting, isn't it? The entity that tries to undermine the progressive agenda from within the Democratic Party was getting funding from the guys who are trying to destroy the Democratic Party from the outside.
There has been a concerted effort in the past 40 years to take right wing money and use it to distort the legal system (Federalist Society), the political system (the various groups funded by the Koch brothers), and even organized religion (The Institute on Religion and Public Life and The Institute on Religion and Democracy).  At the time this has happened these groups have had a disparate effect on influencing public policy, and now we have the highest unemployment of any developed nation, and we spend more per capita on the military than any other comparable nation.  Our roads are crumbling, our schools are underfunded.  Hunger is a real issue in many American communities.

A class war has been waged against the American people by these people who have bought the government for their own ends.  There simply isn't a nicer, gentler way to put it.

This situation can only be reversed by people pushing back against this in a way that helps all.  Even the right-wingers, since ultimately, if their policies were to come to fruition, it will eventually destabilize our political system entirely.  But at the very least the American people should realize that a class war is being waged against them.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Re: My feelings and thoughts on the Eido Shimano scandal itself:

I'd covered it in detail here.  And I mentioned it  here, in mentioning the passing of Robert Aitken.   And I first discussed it, and my relationship with the ZSS here.  So, on the Eido Shimano scandal itself, I've already spoken; that's not primarily what the post below was about.

In the post below I  was admittedly weaving around some disparate ideas, among them the relationship between various schools of Tibetan Buddhism, blogger biases, and the Dalai Lama.  However the main point of that post is quite simple: the issue of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan diaspora's plight is in a similar category of the Eido Shimano scandal in that they both proceeded unchecked due to inherent conflicts of interest. A subsidiary point in the post is that Western Buddhist bloggers would do well to examine these issues and examine their own biases in these issues, and probe deeper.  If  I've made any factual error I'm happy to be shown what it is and correct it.

I hope that clears things up a bit.

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.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Commentary on commentary on the Eido Shimano controversy

I, like so many others, have been following the reverberations of the Eido Shimano affair in the blogosphere.

I've been reading, inter alia, Barbara's Buddhism blog on About.com.  As you can see, I made comments on that post, to the effect of 1) Genjo Marinello's obviously been quite conflicted over this, and 2) there's a whole host of other things that happened here, and some of these are quite important.

Barbara's response to myself is somewhat telling:

BTW, I found Genjo Marinello’s dharma talk audio archive — the links work better in iTunes — and listened to the first teisho, on “Neither Mind Nor Buddha.” I thought it was a pretty good teisho on shunyata that also addressed the issue of why teachers screw up. However, what was missing was an admission of the severity of Eido Shimano’s “transgressions,” and there was no acknowledgment of the suffering he caused. I’ve talked to people with first-hand knowledge of the situation who said the young women were genuinely damaged. The sensei made it sound as if Eido Shimano had just stumbled over some quibbling technicality.
 First a bit of a qubbile: Genjo Marinello should at least be referenced as at least "Osho," although he has obtained inka.

Secondly, I mentioned two dharma podcasts from Cho Bo Ji, and to be honest the point of the dharma talk was the subject of the dharma talk, not a place where Cho Bo Ji would explain or ask forgiveness of Eido Shimano's transgressions and ethical lapses.

My point was that this was evidently so present in what Genjo Osho was doing that it evidently crept into his dharma talks!

Then, below an at-least-at-one-time monk Chana writes that a) there are difficulties in American Zen, and b) the Soto sect is in trouble, and c) it has to do with a metastasis of Zen from its original foundations.  Chana illustrates an example from Bankei, who (he says) taught that life provided its own koans and that's why Hui Neng could get enlightened in two shakes of a lamb's tail.  

Now I'd like to first comment on Chana's comment before I get to Barbara, since my comments on Barbara's comments are corollary to my comments on Chana's comment. Chana is partially correct and partially wrong: the emphasis in American Zen on seated meditation alone, is hardly what the masters taught.  That said, I would submit, having read both Bankei and Hakuin that Hakuin wins on points here:  Bankei's Zen is a lazy man's Zen compared to Hakuin's Zen which must be pursued.  Hui Neng might have been enlightened in the time it takes for lightening to flash, but if his life wasn't primed for it it would never have happened.  That is the experience of my life, and so many others.  Finally, Hakuin was a very strong emphasizer of making sure this practice, even as koan practice, carries over into every day life, is practiced moment by moment.

Now to Barbara: her reply misses Chana's point entirely.  Even Dogen I would submit would emphasize mindfulness in the midst of activity.  The stuff on a cushion is only one small part of the whole enchilada. 

And that's  why there's been ethical lapses in the first place! Duh!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Oh, no...there's a sequel to the "Secret!"

From Newsweek, comes this story. I've got to take a quick tangent here because the very first sentence is the 2nd best sentence in a text I've read this week, and that means I have to bring you the first. From the Newsweek article:

In the world of publishing, a self-help author who manages to stop after one book is as rare as a poet who gets booked onto Larry King. 

 And, the winner for best sentence in a blogpost I've read this week, M. J. Rosenberg's dis of Pam Gellar  through the mention of a blog post by Robert Wright  in the Times on Jeffery  Goldberg's recent cheerleading for war between Israel and Iran:

In his next post, he writes about a vicious Islamophobe called Pam Gellar, who he aptly calls, a "lunatic racist" but begins by noting that the crazed Gellar once called him a nasty name. (This is like writing a piece on Jeffrey Dahlmer but pegging it to the fact he once called you fat).  
Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, "The Power":

Take the erstwhile Australian television producer Rhonda Byrne, whose monumental 2006 bestseller The Secret laid bare “the law that determines the complete order in the Universe, every moment of your life, and every single thing you experience.” Following that—and The Secret Gratitude Book (2007) and The Secret Daily Teachings (2008)—what more was there to say?
Enough, it turns out, to half fill the 250 extremely small pages of her new opus, The Power, which the day after publication this week ranked in the top five on Amazon. This was in spite of Byrne’s apparent refusal to give interviews or publicize the book in any way, a subject of some speculation in publishing circles. It’s easy to dismiss someone like Byrne as a marginal crackpot, but The Secret has 19 million copies in print, according to her publisher, Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. To put it another way, about eight times as many people shelled out money for Rhonda Byrne’s thoughts as listen to Glenn Beck’s for free (in an average week). Maybe we ought to pay more attention to what she has to say.
This is easy, since she tends to say the same thing over and over. The Power is a distillation of the central insight of The Secret: the “law of attraction.” It’s still true, apparently, that you can get anything you want, from parking spots to cures for obscure diseases, just by wishing for them and pretending they are already in your possession...

Or maybe you can’t, since it’s gibberish, but all you really need to take away from Byrne is that “feelings” are everything that matters in life. The “power” of the title is the power of love, the mainspring of the universe. A good part of The Power describes how Byrne greets each blessed moment with overwhelming love and gratitude toward all creation. You can do that even if you haven’t been collecting royalties on tens of millions of books and DVDs, as she has. But it’s also a crucial prerequisite for her future success, or anyone’s, since what you put out in love, “the Universe” pays back in wish fulfillment.

This of course is the essence of spiritual - heck garden variety materialism.  It is a sad commentary on our times that a prescription for what is ailing people materially, as well as psychologically and spiritually is some kind of materialist narcissism.

No, it's not all about me. Or you.  What I want and what I get and how I can help all beings are not necessarily connected to each other.

(Thanks once again to the inimitable P.Z. Myers.)

More on the Dorje Shugden Controversy and the Dalai Lama

This is a good source, evidently, for the Dorje Shugden point of view.

Apparently, the thing started to unravel in 1996. If your irony meter doesn't go off reading the following, then have it checked:

9 April 1996
The Tibetan Freedom Movement bans the worship of Dorje Shugden by its members.

And here's a blog devoted to the issue of Dorje Shugden and the ongoing actions by the Dalai Lama against them.

Now, I have no stake in the issue of whose practice is "more Buddhist," whether it's the Dorje Shugden folk or the Dalai Lama folk.  But what I do have a stake in is the uncritical attitude in the Western Buddhist blogosphere toward the Dalai Lama given the history, which often takes the form of China-bashing. And if we mean religious freedom, dammit, let's mean it: as long as no one is in danger of harming themselves or others, religious beliefs and practices should be allowed.
Of course the Chinese government is not unaware of this, and to me, it all seems like a case of pots calling the kettles black.

And here's something you don't see much in the Buddhist Blogosphere...

I admit I haven't been following this at all, but it is clear that this isn't just pro-Chinese propaganda.

Regarding recent scandals in Western Buddhism, I think some folks haven't received an appropriate amount of attention, and I am still amazed by the reluctance to have any criticism of the Dalai Lama in the Western Buddhist blogosphere.

The notes on the Youtube site say it comes from January 5th, 1998, but if you look around evidently this is still a very big thing in the Tibetan community.

As I've said this is a continuing controversy:

I realize I'm writing on an event over 2 years old, but to take a fresh look at this, especially in light of recent scandals, look at Barbara's Buddhism blog post on the subject from around that time.

I can't tell you how much I don't want to get mixed up in the Dalai Lama-Shugden controversy. Unfortunately, hundreds of Dalai Lama supporters and Shugden devotees clashed in the streets of Manhattan yesterday afternoon and had to be separated by police. I can't very well ignore that. So here goes...

At a time when the majority of monks from Lhasa's three largest monasteries are in prison or detention camps, and possibly being tortured, it shouldn't be hard to understand why some Tibetan Buddhists might be infuriated by the Shugden protesters, as His Holiness's Radio City audience was. The Shugden cult is undermining the fragile coherence of the Tibetan diaspora and the future of Tibetan Buddhism itself. And for what?

If you ask the Shugden culties, as I keep doing, why they don't just break with institutional Tibetan Buddhism and go their own way, you get no answer. Truly, if the point were worship of Shugden, there is absolutely nothing stopping NKT and the rest from setting up a new sect and doing whatever they like. Then they can worship Mickey Mouse phones for all I care.

There are, like most of these things, a political backstory, which neither Barbara nor I for that matter, have the knowledge to explore.

But notice Barbara's language here: implicit within is the cult-like certainty that the Dalai Lama can do no wrong. I mean, yeah, right, people have been getting death threats for opposing the Dalai Lama, why should they be complaining?

Eido Shimano and Genpo Roshi and the blogosphere and questioning teachers

By now, everyone's heard about the Eido Shimano scandal being written up in the Times.  As an ex-New Yorker, I can tell you this is a bigger deal than you think, because Eido Shimano was quoted when they needed "the NY  Zen Buddhist" viewpoint (there was at least one more article in which his name appears but doesn't in the search, if memory serves me.).  Though the Zen Mountain Monastery folks got in too, sometimes.

And as I've said, that's all well and good, and I wish them all the best.  If you want a more candid opinion, from those in the know, there are podcasts of Genjo Marinello of late that  are worth hearing.  I have never met Genjo, but I have great respect for his teaching.

Back to the Times article.  These part struck me a little:

The Aitken papers were soon circulating on the Internet. On June 15, Mr. Shimano’s board of directors, which exercises ultimate authority in the society, met to discuss the allegations. Mr. Shimano, who was then on the board, was not present, but most board members concurred that the charges most likely had some validity...
First, this more recent affair occurred in a different news media culture. Clerical impropriety is a hot topic, of course. And on the Internet, where several bloggers were scrutinizing the Aitken papers, the new affair was sure to be mentioned. “The Internet was turning the heat up,” one member said. Board members had to act; they could not afford to be seen as indifferent. 

Second, there has been a shift within the American Buddhist community, which has become more concerned about relations between teachers and students. 

Historically, because that relationship is considered sacrosanct, affairs were not always condemned, or even disapproved of. 

“Unlike the therapeutic environment with analysis, with Buddhist teachers and students there are debates about what is appropriate and what isn’t,” says James Shaheen, editor of Tricycle. As to sexual relationships between teacher and student, “most people would come down on the side of ‘Let’s just not do it.’
What is interesting to me is that on the internets, my impression was there was a general wave of questioning of the ethics and motives of teachers.    Stuart Lachs' groundbreaking work in this area is completely ignored in the Times article.  Brian Victoria's work, while not relevant to the article (and Victoria has been mentioned in the Times before) is also relevant here too.

But the idea that there should be ethical and fiduciary responsibilities for Buddhist teachers is kind of a no-brainer, especially to those of us who saw the Catholic Church disintegrate over pedophilia scandals.  

And the other thing that's ignored in this article is the "Genpo Roshi "controversy.  Now  Dennis Genpo Merzel I'm sure doesn't put himself in the same category as Eido Shimano.   But if he doesn't then he should at least put himself in the category of LGAT guys.  In terms of the number of people who are misguided, in terms of mischaracterization of the Dharma, Dennis Genpo Roshi's "Big Mind" is leaving I think a substantial footprint.

In fact, I'd say the "Big Mind" scandal is actually a bigger scandal in terms of number of people involved than the Eido Shimano scandal. That's an opinion, of course, but I would maintain that the Times has, at least until now, let a big fish get away when it comes to Zen Buddhist internet scandals in the blogosphere.   That's their perogative of course.  And for all I know Dennis Merzel featured in an earlier version of the story.

Regardless, I hope these scandals get resolved to everyone's benefit.

Right now I'm glad I practice in a tradition that has taken,  steps to resolve its own issues here, even if they're too late.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A bit of a meta-blog post here...

As written here,

Meta- (from Greek: μετά = "after", "beyond", "with", "adjacent", "self"), is a prefix used in English (and other Greek-owing languages) to indicate a concept which is an abstraction from another concept, used to complete or add to the latter.

Kyle's post here,  about Arun's post here,  about David Nichtern's post here, as well as  Rev. Paul Dōch’ŏng Lynch's post here, as well as Nathan's post here (to some extent) all touch upon a theme: "Buddhism" is changing/progressing/must be improved/promoted.

The Four Noble Truths remain the Four Noble Truths.  "Western" Buddhism is either a Buddhism into which one takes refuge, to allow the Four Noble Truths to be realized or it's not (perhaps a residue of the Frederick Lenz debacle). (Kyle got that right in his post about Arun's post.)

"Buddhism" doesn't need my help, your help, the blogosphere's help, anyone sitting on a brocade throne (or not), or better blogging.

No - look around you, hear around you feel around you smell around you, become aware of the monkey mind..  That's where your practice is.  That's  where help/improvment/tweaking in the manner of creating peace, loving-kindness,  wisdom, compassion and generosity  is desperately needed.

Why, then, do blog? The blogosphere is a good place to say things to other Buddhists, as well as read what other Buddhists have to say in response; that's why I blog.  Plus, as Milan Kundera put it:

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

And that "power" in the case of Buddhism is the power of greed, hatred, anger and ignorance. This practice helps build a memory of wisdom, compassion and generosity.  And by practice here I mean a heck of a lot more than just blogging.

And while I'm on the subject of Kundera (warning: tangent!) here's another quote:

There is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one's own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels for someone, for someone, pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echos.

This morning I was able to make peace in my family by understanding this concept, which I came to not from Kundera, but from my practice. 

I hope I've offended no one, but I did want to get that out there. I hope all are in a state of equanimity this day.

I'll have more to say about equanimity later.