Everybody knows that there is a locus of problems around Genpo Merzel by now; even Genpo Merzel must be dimly aware of that, regardless of the size of his mind. That locus of problems extends to the Rinzai folks as well.
But I think the best expression of this issue plaguing Western Buddhism comes from a guy who is hardly associated with Western Buddhism (but doesn't seem to mind anyone who makes that association), namely, Andrew Cohen. I simply don't get it; this guy is as phony as a $3 bill. Know why I say that? Read his "declaration of integrity."
Almost from the very beginning of my teaching career, over twenty years ago, people have responded to me in extreme ways. I have been perceived by some to be a dangerous character, possessed of unusual charisma and spiritual energy that could seduce the weak-minded and innocent seeker to abandon all common sense, objectivity, autonomy, and self-respect and become one of his helpless minions—soul-ravaged and mind-controlled. I’ve been branded a pathological narcissist who never recovered from his childhood traumas and unhealthy relationship with his mother and as a result was using his power position as spiritually enlightened guru to dominate and control others in order to compensate for his lack of self-esteem.
On the other hand, there have been those (some of whom are now, ironically, my worst detractors) who hailed me as a spiritual hero, a 21st-century Buddha, a true revolutionary and spiritual activist whose unwillingness to compromise the standards of his own teaching, even in his most intimate and important relationships, was an expression of an unusual degree of courage and a rare commitment to the highest.
I guess it goes with the territory: to be a guru in a postmodern context one has to be either crazy or very courageous—neither of which are characteristics I find it easy to relate to. More than anything else, I’ve always aspired to be an authentic human being, and that’s why the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me, as far as I’m concerned, was a few years ago, after a teaching in North Carolina, when the gentleman who had driven me to the airport told me: “Andrew, you are a real mensch. Even if you weren’t enlightened, I’d still want to be your friend.”
Read the whole thing; it's a masterpiece of a narcissistic lack of self-awareness. You've read all kinds of critiques of Cohen, no doubt (one of the better ones is here, although I'd have a few words to speak with John Horgan about regarding Zen Buddhism in general).
As I said above, I'm focusing on Andrew Cohen is that this guy, to me is obviously phony. Here's the intro to a book of his that is supposedly coming out:
Why do some of us seek for higher truths? Why is it that certain individuals are driven blindly, madly, and passionately to transcend their own limitations? Why do we, at times, feel compelled to improve ourselves, not only for our own sake but for the sake of a higher cause that we can sense yet barely see? Why is it that in those precious moments when we are most conscious and most awake, we seem to intuit a deeper sense of purpose that is infinitely bigger than our personal worlds can contain? What is that soft vibration that tugs at our hearts and beckons us to courageously leap beyond the small confines of the separate self so that we can participate in the life-process in a much deeper and more authentic way?That vibration is none other than the spiritual impulse, the impulse to evolve at the level of consciousness. It could be that same impulse that caused you to pick up this book and, no doubt, that compelled me to write it. And it’s not just a feeling that you or I might have. This impulse is something much bigger. In fact, I believe it is that very same impulse that caused something to come from nothing fourteen billion years ago, that compelled an entire material universe to miraculously emerge from complete emptiness.
Consider these few bullet points:
- The effect of the first few paragraphs is to appeal, I think, to the part of us that is infatuated with our own existences.
- And he's got not only something for the part of us that has a very high opinion of our selves, but also he's got the best most enlightened version of all enlightened versions of enlightened teachers!
- And none of that, to me, at all, addresses the core issues of The Great Matter. Really, it's like the relationship of play money to real money.
Now given all the above - that Andrew Cohen is the spiritual huckster par excellence, an obvious question arises - why did otherwise legit Zen teachers in legit Zen organizations give this guy the time of day? Is it because Cohen's narcissism reinforces their own? And could it be that Cohen's narcissism - or Genpo Merzel's, or Jun Po Kelley, or Wilber's - reinforces my narcissism, my lack of self awareness, etc. even as I criticize them?
That's what I thought as I surfed around the 'net when not busy on my recent Euro trip: Geez, I don't want to sound like those guys. And so it's a good thing to keep in mind: don't be like them. Don't be attached to them, or one's own attachments. Just now.