Tuesday, April 19, 2011

And speaking of 間 (ma) and Western Buddhist blogging and media

I guess what can do really really well is present Asian Buddhist ideas from a  perspective of a European American much closer to Asian culture than most of the Western Buddhists with whom I'm familiar.  I'm reminded of this from, yep, yet again Vincent Horn and Danny Fisher.  Consider:

Danny: One narrative that’s on my mind, has been no my mind kind of a lot is the whole kind of narrative of Buddhism in America. And I suspect that many of the people who, not all but many of the people who listen to Buddhist Geeks and follow your website probably take a look at other Buddhist blogs and things happening with Buddhism in the internet.
And it feels like there’s a lot of conversation about that and how well particular communities, groups, individuals, cultures are represented. I mean I think sometimes a mistake that you hear coming out of perhaps this Anglo middle class community is when you talk about the history of Buddhism in America, the narrative arc of Buddhism in America. You sort of say where does it start?
Well there were these guys the Beats poets and they got really interested in Zen and all these other stuff. Again, the problem with that is that it ignores that Buddhism has much deeper root in America, you know, with east Asian settlers in particularly the western United States and people who came over here to do things like work on the railroad and then ended up contributing to the growth and development of temples and centers all over the west that were there for people like the Beats to drink deeply.
And again that’s a problem if that kind of thing gets perpetuated this idea that the narrative of Buddhism in America starts with the Beats. I mean that obviously points to the problem of how we’re privileging maybe the experience of one group, one part of the picture not the whole. And by the way, could I stop for a minute and just add one thing to what I had said before.


Vincent: Cool. And you know it’s interesting because there’s a recent article that came out kind of academic article by someone that we’ve had on the show before on Buddhist Geeks named Stuart Lachs.
And it’s entitled Modern Day Zen Hagiography. In it he goes into incredible details on two Zen masters that were modern day Zen masters. And he talks specifically about the way that they’re biographies were factually and accurate. He sort of points out the kind of accuracies there and then make some conclusions about how this type of hagiography even for inside practitioners, people that are part of the tradition can actually contribute to scandalous and unethical behavior from the Zen master.
Obviously you know in the last few months and we don’t necessarily need to get into the gory details of this. But for everyone listening to show you’re probably aware of some of the recent scandals that have come to the larger cultures attention. Scandals from various Zen masters and of course there’s a history of scandals on all the Buddhist traditions from teachers and people in position of power. It’s really interesting given that it’s current in our practice community, this tension of scandal and people being in hurt in community.
And also this point from Stuart is the way we can see of a Zen master, if we don’t see that it’s not literal that there’s metaphor culture mixed in with kind of mythical storylines that this can actually contribute to some really scandalous and unethical behavior actually. I wonder if you could maybe respond to that and maybe share some of your perspective and on this complex issue. 

 Naturally there's a current "history of Buddhism in America," which as the Angry Asian Buddhist would point out, that would never start the narrative with the Beats.  Hell, even for many, if not most Americans of European descent (Anglos? You talkin' to me?) our own personal history with Buddhism would never have begun that way if we reflected on it for a bit.  In my case it began with a trip to Chinatown when I was 5 or 6 years old. CHINATOWN! You think it was any freakin' different for Allen Freakin' Ginsberg?

That reminds me, I need to get a link about a summer program for youths from the USA near Shaolin  (yeah, the one in China) here.  No Chinese language experience or ethnic background necessary.  I'm just sayin'.

I included the quote from Vincent because I think, despite the verbiage here, they're actually on to something.  But they're seeing from this perspective that seems so outside to me.  I'd rather leave outside out, so to speak.  There's folks like me that I feel are "much closer to the metal" it seems that this Eastern/Western divide is more illusory than all that.  As is the "hagiography" divide.  The big thing about Stuart Lachs, despite his brilliant (but sometimes flawed) criticisms of Buddhist hagiography is that and yet he is still swimming in the Zen water!  That's a huge, huge point these guys seem to miss - or don't get to the point in reaching quickly for a guy like me.

I'm grateful to them for this conversation, but I think there's folks like me who can complement what they're dong here.


Kyle Lovett said...

Funny you should mention how you came to be interested in Buddhism. My first teacher was a Japanese man who immigrated to the US in the late 1970's, and my second was a Korean teacher. I didn't even know about the connection to the beats, or even many other "anglo's" (though my heritage is Romanian/Hungarian) who were also practing Buddhism until I came online and started reading up.

Also, I think that saying certain pop culture views of Zen, for lack of a better term can "actually contribute to some really scandalous and unethical behavior" is almost like partially blaming a rape victim for wearing a short skirt. What contributes to all cases of sexual and financial abuse by anyone is the greed, power trips and the ego of the perpetrator. Everything else is window dressing.

So, ummm, yea pretty much agree with you here.

Mumon said...


Yeah, it reminds me of Bob Dylan. Doesn't everything? No seriously, - and yeah, I totally date myself here - I'm reading their back and forth, and I'm just hearing "Somethin's happenin' and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones" in my mind.

But that's OK here, because there's enough good there to make it an worthwhile exchange.

J said...

Most yokels don't understand Gary Snyder, if they've ever read him at all. They get their "zen" by way of like Luke Skywalkers, more likely, or Stevie McJobs.

Japhy probably uses a Mac, assuming he's still capable of writing and functioning. But he's no corporate liberal (ie, conservative) unless he's sold out completely.