Thursday, March 31, 2011

What's up with the Tricycle blog?

Tricycle a few months ago removed its blogroll from its blog, and evidently in the process changed the RSS feed for its site.  I have been thinking about removing the Tricycle blog  from my own blogroll, come to think of it, though it remains a convenient "handle" to see what the well-funded Buddhist press in the US is churning out and how they're trying to exploit online social networking trends. Otherwise, I think Tricycle and its ability to propagate Buddhist ideas and values is becoming marginal at best.
As I mentioned in a recent post on Frederick Lenz, Tricycle employee James Shaheen is on the advisory committee board of the Frederick Lenz Foundation - clearly in my view a conflict of interest with the stated mission of the Tricycle Foundation - I cannot imagine the what parallel universe in which hawking Frederick Lenz's "Buddhism"  is in any way consistent with the Tricycle Foundation's desire to make "Buddhist views, values, and practices broadly available."   (Then again, Genpo Merzel seems to be on the same committee of the Lenz Foundation! ) Nor can I see how his participation in the Lenz Foundation helps make Tricycle  "the most inclusive and widely read vehicle for the dissemination of Buddhist perspectives."  The "mission" of the Tricycle Foundation is purportedly: create forums for exploring contemporary and historic Buddhist activity, examine the impact of its new context in the democratic traditions of the West, and introduce fresh views and attainable methods for enlightened living to the culture at large. At the core of the Foundation’s mission is the alleviation of suffering that Buddhist teachings are meant bring about.

 I'm trying to parse the above.  It's not easy.  By "forum" I might assume that they mean "an assembly, place, radio program, etc. for the discussion of public matters or current questions;" I hardly think they man a "law court or tribunal" but they might possibly mean a public square "where legal and political business is conducted,"  albeit not in an ancient Roman city or town. 

Can a magazine or a foundation "introduce fresh views and attainable methods for enlightened living" to the culture at large?  I mean, I wouldn't rely on a magazine to teach me how to swim,  or to judge my own 書道 or how I was raising my son, or how I was getting along with my wife or even - eventually - rely on a book or literature to gauge whether I was performing singular value decomposition on a given matrix properly or even making a meal! And Tricycle aims  to introduce to us, dear reader "attainable methods for enlightened living.

Can you see my point?   Their stated mission seems to involve the tacit assumption that they can assume the role of providing methods for enlightened living.

And I haven't even gotten to the point about Buddhism transcending versus alleviating suffering!

Moreover,  I think we can see the results of such muddled expressions of "Buddhism"  in the recent entries and selections from the Tricycle blog.

 Is knowing that a Watkins review of "spiritual power" people includes the usual New Age hacks people going to help all beings?  Is criticizing Genpo Roshi well after the animals have left the barn, well after accepting advertising and pimping "Big Mind" for years going to help all beings? Are lame defenses of airbrushed portrayals of Zen teachers helping beings?    Is being ignorant of basic science and logic helping all beings?

Don't get me wrong - at least they're mentioning some of these issues, and frankly, this was the first place I'd heard that Merzel was trying to do a "do-over" with respect to his disrobing.

But people, the issue with Tricycle stems from its muddled mission and issues inherent in associations to the Lenz Foundation. It is perhaps why I cannot remember seeing anything in Tricycle remotely critical of Lenz? Have you? I'm willing to be corrected on this point, but I think this point is worth noting.  Tricycle criticizes all manner of teachers after the fact - with, it seems to me, the possible exception of Frederick Lenz????? WHAT?  And they have a guy who's the editor and publisher as listed on an advisory committee board of the Lenz Foundation????

I will admit that when I was first investigating Buddhism in America, the information provided to me by Tricycle was invaluable in providing a context for my learning about Buddhism, and of course if they had any connections to Lenz and his ilk it was not known.  And wide propagation of associations with the Lenz Foundation - if there were any at the time, which I don't remember (until at some point the Lenz group was "supporting"  "Change Your Mind Day") would not have helped any beings familiar with the hucksterism of Lenz.

But today, I think, the only way Tricycle could even approach its mission of helping to "alleviate" the suffering of all beings would be for it to look itself in the eye and publicly distance itself from the Lenz foundation.

It might also help its blog, too.


Nathan said...

You know, back when Trike was considering publishing an article about online Buddhism I was working on, I had a conversation with Mr. Shaheen. During that conversation, the Lenz Foundation came up, and I remember Shaheen expressing disappointment that Trike was using their money. He seemed to want, from what I heard, to distance the organization from the Lenz Foundation. That conversation happened in Dec. 2009. So, I find it surprising that he's on the Lenz advisory board.

And you know, I hadn't noticed the disappearance of the blogroll either. I probably go on the Trike blog once every two weeks or so these days. Just makes me think that all the interest in Buddhist bloggers they expressed following the Dharma Wars article fallout was really fleeting, which sends my mind into cynical places fairly quickly.

Mumon said...


I kind of feel like they want to be the Huffington Post of American Buddhism to some extent: they want their blogs to define what American Buddhist blogging is, and they want to control the agenda of their "community" discussion, although there is a link to - the Ning based community - which, to my knowledge, doesn't link to external blogs either, or at least I can't easily find how to do that.

I'm amazed that you related what you did about your conversation w/ Mr. Shaheen, but I mean, unless there's 2 James Shaheens in the community or unless the Lenz Foundation is incorrect in saying Mr. Shaheen's on the advisory committee or their website has a is what it is.

Anonymous said...

Thsnks for this posting. It saddens me to have to post this anonymously but I am speaking from the inside (so to speak)... When James Shaheen was first approached with Tricycle Foundation taking Lenz money, he was vehemently opposed and adamant that no Lenz advertising should ever be allowed in the magazine. Why such a dramatic change? Tricycle saw that their future depended on going online and they needed money to fund this effort. Lenz Foundation supplied $100,000. With the promise of more. Money talks.

Tricyle Foundation is a 501C3 - check their tax filings. They have been running hundreds of thousands of dollars in the red since the very beginning. Lenz they decided was a necessary evil for them...

Every Buddhist organization that takes money from Lenz Foundation whispers behind their backs how unpleasant it all is to have to humble themselves to an organization that promotes Rama. But they do.

As for Genpo, he was the primary "advisor" to Lenz Foundation for grants to Buddhist organizations. He basically told them who to fund for the first few years. Look at the grants. Genpo got hundreds of thousands of dollars for Big Mind. Bernie Glassman got hundreds of thousands of dollars... Bernie and Genpo and Ken Wilber got money to fund their retreats for the rich,...