Monday, January 17, 2011

Why do I link to certan blogs? Like The Zennist

That's the thought I've had lately, especially since reading his post on the "taboo against the transcendent."

Looking at the slick Buddhist magazines in the bookstore a couple of blocks away from where I live I am inclined to believe that a dumbed down, mediocritized version of Buddhism is winning the day, versus Buddhism according to the Buddha.  
Granted, that looking at some aspects of Buddhism intellectually is difficult even for trained academicians, there should not be so much dumbed down and mediocritized Buddhism circulating in the market place.  (People are not that stupid!)
I confess, that I don’t have a good answer to explain this phenomenon.  The only thing that has recently crossed my mind as a likely explanation is that, somehow, marketing the transcendent is a taboo.  It would be like going back in a time machine to the Victorian era trying to sell Playboy magazines, hoping to make a fortune.  
Along with the particular taboo just mentioned, I would include the example of publications and research about people who have been abducted by interdimensional or extraterrestrial beings, psychedelic drug culture, shamanism, gnosticism, out of body and near death experiences, past lives, alternative healing strategies, etc.  I realize that this is an odd assortment of subjects but I believe that while these subjects have their followers, they are treated, more or less, as taboos in the public market place of ideas and by the mainstream media (MSM).  Therefore, I should not be surprised (but I am!) that Buddhism sold in the slick magazines, with a corporate look, have been significantly bowdlerized in which the element of the transcendent has been either expunged or altered.

But why the taboo against the transcendent which I believe to be the case with Buddhism today?  This is a tough nut to crack.  The problem certainly has its origin in the common, everyday collective psyche this much is obvious.  Looking into the collective psyche it is not without fear, and accompanying this fear, a drive to keep everything simple, safe, and controllable, above all ‘human’.  This is the view of anthropocentrism, that man is the measure of all things—there is nothing higher.  In other words, transcendence is impossible because there is nothing higher than man.  But Buddhism denies this.  The Buddha never claims to be a human—he is higher than even a god (A. ii. 37).
People who have been abducted by interdimensional or extraterrestrial beings, psychedelic drug culture, shamanism, gnosticism, out of body and near death experiences, past lives, alternative healing strategies, etc.?

Is he kidding? There's a good reason these things as "transcendent" are taboo in many publications: because there's quite good non-transcendent explanations for all of them!  And perhaps the reason the historical Buddha "never claimed to be a human" was a simple fact: it was, uh, obvious.

One may still intellectually have a position bearing on the transcendent that passes the giggle test.  But one may equally have a position lacking belief in the transcendent as well, since both positions are metaphysical positions which can neither be decisively demonstrated in the realm of the physical.  How many times must I write something to that effect?

But I do wonder about the question above.  Am I showing I'm a smarter Buddhist? I mean, there's always something to refute that's as easy to do as shooting fish in a barrel.   But if I said nothing would that hinder my obligation to help people?

So I'm thinking about that.


Petteri Sulonen said...

Oh... kay.

This is one reason I stopped subscribing to him. He's just getting weirder by the day. His vendetta against Dogen and Soto is off-putting too.

The other reason is that he's just reiterating the same few thoughts over and over again, and only one or two of them even make any sense. The bit about Mickey Mouse not having Buddha nature was the last remotely interesting thing of his that I can remember, and even that wasn't that interesting.

There's a line somewhere between "original thinker" and "crank," and The Zennist has crossed that line and, if you pardon the pun, gone altogether beyond.

Nathan said...

I'm not sure what he means with that list - most of those things are easy to find writings about. Entire journals are devoted to shamanism, for example - they just might not be landing in Barnes and Nobles.

The thing is, I think some of his criticisms about modern practice are useful. Even accurate to some degree. I can imagine he's hitting hard on Soto because we're pretty popular - at least amongst English language bloggers.

I took a gander at the Zen International discussion board a month back, and saw he'd been there for a few months, ruffling some feathers. I guess they tossed him at some point. Or something else happened because he's not there anymore.

My biggest issue with his writing has always been a smug certainty that just doesn't ring wise, no matter how accurate a given opinion seems to be. Being so damned certain that you know what this practice is all about, and that most everyone else out there are acting like kids, is pretty foolish.

Mumon said...


Yeah, the guy's not got much depth, which I'm sure would shock him. Plus, for a guy that prides himself on complaining about being banned from certain sites, he's not much in the way of engaging his critics, to say the least; just try putting a comment in the vein as what I wrote here on my blog. My only concern is that the list I have on my blog I keep up because it's, well, a pain to remember a blogroll.


Traditionally there has been a kind of tension (usually distorted) between Soto and Rinzai Zen, and you probably know the rap: Rinzai "strives" towards enlightenment with koans (which usually misrepresents what "strive" means and how koans are practiced), and Soto's practice-enlightenment can degenerate in to buji Zen, calling anything at all Zen when it's not (which of course the Soto folks don't do either).

Re: forums: see my above remark to Petteri.

And yes, I agree: so much of what he writes seems to be "my buddhism's better than yours" that I don't want to be perceived that way, and in that way he, um, does a good service. I just wouldn't want, as I said, to have a curious Buddhist take what he's saying necessarily as the definition of Buddhism, when a) my reading of the Buddhist canon definitely differs from his, and b) your point implies, as does my agreement, that I would wish to realize a more effective practice in the blogosphere.

But then again that last point arises in my awareness in response to many Buddhist bloggers :-); and so it's interesting this tension between wanting to effectively practice on line and to avoid the greed trip that comes from seeing a point about which it's easy to refute, when the latter is so easy to come by when humans are on line.

Petteri Sulonen said...

@Nathan: Most certainly some of his criticisms are useful, as was the Mickey Mouse post. I'm just wondering if he's not the proverbial stopped clock that's right twice a day.

Nathan said...

Making fierce, even brutal critiques and then being unwilling, or uninterested in some level of engagement, is a mark of great hubris in my opinion. In this way, The Zennist has plenty of friends - that path is common enough.

The challenge is that he's got a fair amount of knowledge. I'm fairly well read, but he's dug into the written teachings in a way I haven't. And I can imagine that some folks will fall for that knowledge as being wisdom.

Reminds me of the old Diamond Sutra scholar who ended up burning his pile of commentaries. 20 years of study built a lot of knowledge, but not much awakening.