Sunday, February 27, 2011


Friday, February 25, 2011

I'm still not back to a regular schedule...

My personal life - meaning my routine - and the world at large - by which I mean all the crap going on in Wisconsin, Indiana, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere - are still, after returning from Japan a week ago, quite out of order.  I woke up some 2 hours later than I'd hoped today.

Things are way  out of balance.

It snowed here yesterday -first time it's done that this late in the year in decades. (Yeah, it's February - at this elevation we simply don't get snow in February.)

Back to practice in these weird times.

I've got to remember to go to cash ASAP in my retirement accounts.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

I'd rather avoid blogging more about this sex scandal stuff, but I guess I have to

Via Nathan at Dangerous Harvests, and with the opportunity of a late-morning opening of my office due to snow (What?!) I have the dubious fortune of writing about this letter from Kirsten Mitsuyo Maezumi. Nathan notes that:

Beyond this post [re: Maezumi's], there have been a fair number of calls for Zen students to take responsibility for themselves, to reclaim their power, etc. I support this, and believe that blind faith and idealization on the part of students have aided in teachers going wrong. However, let's consider the circumstances again. These calls for Zen students to basically grow up are coming as a result of scandals in which female students are the main victims. And yet, sanghas are not all women working with a male teacher. What about all those male students? Why is it taking numerous scandals where women have been the primary visible victims to get us to call for students to "grow up"?...

In my view, it's important to note that these questionable at best gendered lenses are being used by both women and men. That despite all the efforts of numerous women and feminist-minded men in the broader Western Zen community, there are still unexamined patterns of sexism that I would argue are influencing who we consider to be "great teachers" and also how we treat those who have been in abusive situations.

If Genpo Roshi were a women with the same sordid track record, would there be so many people willing to defend his teaching, and offer that he's a "humanitarian" and that his "contributions" to Zen must be continued? Somehow I think not so much. And that should make all of us pause.  

There are a lot of dynamics at play here; not just "sex and power, sex and power."  In some ways, the letter from Kirsten Maezumi is more troubling to me than the Eido Shimano affair, mostly because I have sort of known Chozen and Hogen Bays now somewhat better (though I'm not their student) than I knew Eido and Aiho Shimano.  On the other hand, Chozen and Hogen have been training for years now under Harada-roshi, who is "one of the most respected names in the business," so to speak.  Maezumi speaks poignantly, and certainly humanly, of the pain she suffered as a child, and I think it's cruel to deny or minimize that.

It has taken me the last 7 years of intensive meditation and therapy to make any sense of the toll that “Zen” took on our family, and I realized that my suffering was caused by my expectation of him as a father.
He wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot, but that did not need to limit me in my life the capacity for forgiveness and understanding.
He was not a good father, or a good husband to my mother, but he was an outstanding teacher with a love for the dharma and a vision of liberation that took precedence in all he did.
As an adult, in my travels and own seeking, I hear testimonials to his awakened Buddha nature and hear and see the proof of it in the difference it has made for so many other gifted beings to step into their place as teachers and facilitators of peace and consciousness.
It is a lineage spanning continents and decades and I am very proud of him. It is the best consolation I can have; seeing and hearing his students teach. Now I see history repeating itself.

 I also think, in a profound way, these affairs of decades back are mistakes people made; big mistakes, but in a way they are none of my business.  Eido Shimano's and Genpo Merzel's situations are recent events, and it's probably not unfair to say that the behavior of Chozen roshi is highly influenced by her experiences of decades back. 

None of the principals involved is a teacher of mine, formally.  None of them ultimately owe me, nor anyone else in the blogosphere any kind of a statement on this.   They don't owe anyone in the blogosphere a convenient narrative fitting into conventional modes of sexual politics and psychology.  Their lives as they live it now is the narrative I suppose.  And if we are to be truly accepting of all people as they are, where they are - it's kind of an ideal of Buddhism, don't you know - it has to include accepting these people where they are, as they are!  It doesn't mean endorsing Genpo Merzel going back to making "Big Mind™" into a cheap fakery of Zen practice; it doesn't mean endorsing Eido Shimano going back to doing nasty things with students.  It does mean being compassionate towards all involved, regardless of "who's right" and "who's wrong," and understanding that there is pain and suffering all around.

And with that said, I think I've said the last of this, with the exception of  the issue of "Big Mind™"  masquerading as a Zen practice.  "Big Mind™" - that's still hogwash, as I've said numerous times.  I think the teachers' lives as they live them is where the rubber meets the road these days, and I wish Chozen and Hogen all the success in the world in their new endeavors in the Portland area, especially the Heart of Wisdom temple.

 Nathan, in the comments, points me to Chozen's reply here.  It is more cogent and appropriate than anything I could have written. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

And Now Libya

I've been reading Al Jazeera's English feed on the Libya uprising.  I've also been following the #Libya hashtag on Twitter.

It's amazing how even such a monstrous regime as the Libyan regime seems like it's going to fall.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Back Again...

Still quite foggy from all the traveling though.  Now it's time to do things.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Movie Review I'll be meaning to do:

I want to remember to post a review of this film I recently saw: Gransmaster Ip Man, a very loosely based bio-pic about the man who was purported to be Bruce Lee's trainer.  It is simultaneously the best Kung Fu movie I've ever seen and somewhat troubling because it portends - to me at any rate - further troubles in the world which I deeply hope do not come to pass.

I'll be off on travel the next few days...

Business in Japan.   You can't believe all the sightseeing I won't be able to do. I'll be mostly in the Kansai area, which, is somewhat different from the Kanto area as Wikipedia notes. Especially there's a difference in personalities between the two; it's as though one region was like Brooklyn (Kansai area) and the other was more like ...well...whatever place in NYC accountants work (maybe Hartford CT)...the Tokyo region is somewhat like a whole NY full of accountants and insurance salesman..  That's a horrendous and crude over-generalization, but there clearly is a difference in personalities in the two regions, and even an inexperienced foreigner can see the difference first-hand.  Perhaps more to the point: Osaka is like a whole more like  NYC's Times Square, and Tokyo is much less so, save for Shinjuku, Roppongi, Shibuya, Asakusa and places like that.

If I get a chance maybe I'll blog a few pictures but chances are verbal content might be a tad sparse over the coming week.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Update on the Karmapa Situation

I mentioned about the situation here. Early reports had said (can't find them now!) that the Indian police had cleared the Karmapa of wrongdoing, but like any government with a policy agency, they're still hanging on to this like a pit bull.

And so I'm led to believe the Karmapa is innocent here, just from the behavior I've read about from the government in question here.

Elephant Journal: Is this Right Livelihood?

Brad Warner complained about some viewing restrictions at Elephant Journal which led me to start thinking about ...well... what is this Elephant Journal thing about anyway?  I was especially intrigued to do this after I saw a comment from the author of the apparently defunct Smiling Buddha Cabaret.  NellaLou mentioned that

Why would you put anything on elephant journal anyways? No one's going to get paid there until all the subscribers finish paying off Waylon's mortgage for him. And he has a finicky censorship policy regarding comments that seems to depend upon how hysterical he feels that day. (Yeah I'm currently banned-again.)

 And I commented that

While I wouldn't know about Mr. Lewis's mortgage, and haven't written for the publication, I do question the very idea of a "guide to what [they] like to call ‘the mindful life’: yoga, organics, sustainability, genuine spirituality, conscious consumerism, fair fashion, the contemplative arts…anything that helps us to live a good life that also happens to be good for others, and our planet."

Especially when they don't pay for content and by default claim to retain the rights to publication, photos, etc. "unless previously arranged in writing."

Frankly, if they're getting money from other people's content and the other people aren't being compensated somehow, that's hardly "good for others and good for the planet."

It's unethical.

Which seems to be the case, in my opinion: they want a contractual obligation, and other than exposure on their "Journal" there does not seem to be any kind of a quid pro quo.  It also might mean that any claims they have on rights to publication are worth the paper they're not printed on, which is another way of saying those "rights" might be unenforceable.  Anyone who's ever watched The Paper Chase knows that "Every contract has to have a quid pro quo."  That is, X does Y for Z and X then gets B from Z for doing Y.

Now I fully understand how difficult it is to get a business going and continuing, especially in these times.   But the very idea that they will "retain rights" is not what I would consider an ethical business practice - it is hardly what I would consider "genuine spirituality." On second thought, maybe it is, because I do think "spirituality" is a word that connotes that someone isn't actually doing or being in any way working to relieve themselves and others from  dukkha, it's a word that connotes that those "being spiritual" are thinking and acting like they're actually doing or being in any way working to relieve themselves and others from  dukkha.

There's a difference; do you see that?

It's why I question the whole premise of  Elephant Journal, actually. Is this publication just making "the mindful life" just another Thing to Be Consumed?

It's telling - to me at any rate - that Mr. Lewis, they guy running the Elephant Journal show, has some 'net show called "The Walk the Talk" show.

I almost think Genpo Roshi might have more integrity at this point.  But don't worry, I really don't.

If I had a net show,  it would be called "The Fall Down Seven Times and Get up Eight Times" show.

That would be more realistic, because if you're not aware of where you're failing, you're hardly walking anything at all - you're stuck.

I guess all of that means I'm not going to be feature interviewed anywhere soon in the Buddhist media.

Oh well.  So it goes.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Well, this says something!

Speaking of dukkha  and karma and samsara...I have to note this...

When  was the last time the announcement of a  business partnership eroded (at least temporarily)  14% of the value of a multibillion dollar company announcing the parntership?

The Asia Times Perspective on the Karmapa: Very Complicated Stuff Here

I generally don't read the Asia Times as much as I used to do.  This Hong Kong based media outlet publishes analysis that is, unique sometimes, to say the least.  Nobody I think can say that this stuff is American or Taiwanese PRC "propaganda," that's for sure.

So its recent article on the Karmapa makes for some interesting reading. If the article has any credibility there may be more to this inter-sect rivalry, and, according to them, some basis for suspecting PRC involvement in these things. 

The Kagyu sect - also known as the Black Hat sect by virtue of the magical headgear woven of goddess hair worn by the Karmapa on ceremonial occasions - disputes the presumption of the Dalai Lama to speak on its behalf. Kagyu adherents point out that the Karmapa holds precedence as a reincarnation over the Dalai Lama since the Karmapa reincarnation was initiated over 100 years before the first Dalai Lama was enthroned. The seat of the Karmapa was the Tsurpha monastery inside the present-day PRC; the 16th Karmapa fled to Sikkim with the Kagyu sect's most important regalia and treasures, and established an imposing new seat called Rumtek a few miles outside the Sikkimese capital of Gangtok.

This institutional friction was exacerbated in the 1960s when the Dalai Lama's decidedly un-Buddhist brother, Gyalo Thondup - who was the US Central Intelligence Agency liaison for the secret war against the Chinese occupation of Tibet - spearheaded the creation of a "united front" that would centralize the control of the fractious emigre community and sects under the control of the government in exile in Dharmsala. The other sects were apparently loathe to bow to Gelugpa control and formed their own political organization, the "Fourteen Settlements" group under the leadership of Gungthang Tsultrim.

In 1977, Gungthang was assassinated. His assassin allegedly told police that he had been paid $35,000 to commit the crime by the government-in-exile, and further alleged that he had been promised a bounty of double that amount to kill the current Karmapa. [1]

Efforts to centralize control of the emigre community collapsed, leaving a residue of bad feeling between Gelugpa and Kagyu leaders.

The situation was complicated by a split within the Kagyu sect itself upon the death of the 16th Karmapa in 1981.The conflict boils down to the rivalry between two Rinpoche in the Kagyu order, Tai Situ Rinpoche and Shamar Rinpoche ("Rinpoche" is an honorific typically applied to reincarnated lamas).

They have battled for decades over control of Rumtek and its ecclesiastical and worldly treasures (which are now in legal limbo; Indian courts have awarded control to a trust established by Shamar Rinpoche, but the local government has not taking the politically traumatic step of evicting the partisans of Tai Situ Rinpoche, who actually occupy the facility).

They also continue to battle over the very identity of the 17th Karmapa.

Tai Situ Rinpoche claimed to have found a secret note from the 16th Karmapa that directed him to the boy subsequently acknowledged by the Dalai Lama and enthroned in 1992 as Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa.

Shamar Rinpoche had none of that, asserting that a dream led him to a different Karmapa, one Trinley Thaye Dorje, whom he quietly brought to India from the PRC and enthroned in 1994.

Adherents of Shamar Rinpoche consider Ogyen Trinley Dorje's acknowledgement by the Dalai Lama as a piece of low, Gelugpa skullduggery. An America student of Shamar Rinpoche, Erik Curren, wrote a book on the Karmapa controversy titled "Buddha's Not Smiling". Talking to Asia Times, Mr Curren characterized the elevation of Ogyen Trinley Dorje as a virtual coup d'etat against the Kagyu sect by the Dalai Lama, with the intention of elevating an easily-manipulated son of nomads to the position of Karmapa.

And not only that...

The most useful accusation against Ogyen Trinley Dorje - one that attracted the close and hostile attention of the Indian security apparatus-is that his patron, Tai Situ Rinpoche, is colluding with the PRC to extend Chinese influence into India's Himalayan border regions...

A 1998 suit filed by a follower of Shamar Rinpoche further accused Tai Situ Rinpoche-and the Dalai Lama and his brother-of scheming to seize Rumtek, destabilize Sikkim, and hand it over to the Chinese. [3]

Certainly, beyond pleasant Buddhist platitudes concerning universal brotherhood, Tai Situ Rinpoche has made no secret of his efforts to re-establish his position inside Tibet with the help of the Chinese government.

He has rebuilt his traditional seat, Palpung Monastery, in western Sichuan province. His lavish website offers gorgeous views of the monastery and states that 300 students and 50 monks reside there.

For its part, the Chinese government appears to encourage the establishment of Tibetan organizations overseas that are affiliated with partisans of Tai Situ Rinpoche and promote Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the Karmapa.

In India, Tai Situ Rinpoche's reception has been less friendly. The Indian government banned him from entry into India from 1994 to1998 (he travels under a Bhutanese passport). His travel to the Himalayan border regions is restricted to Himachal Pradesh, where the Tibetan government in exile is located, and where his main facility inside India, Palpung Sherabling, is located. He cannot travel to the Northeast, Jammu/Kashmir, or Sikkim, where Rumtek is located. [4]
If you sit back and think about all of this for a few moments,  the existence of these charges and counter charges should not be surprising.  It comes from mixing religion and politics.  It arises also (read more in the article) that there are local geopolitical ramifications between a rapprochement of the Tibetan Buddhist community inside and outside Tibet/China that go beyond Tibet/China; namely, into India itself.

I've not written much about this thing except to say something like, "I really don't know what's going on but you have to expect countries to expect things of people living within them, and there are laws to follow." To which I'd add: And you can't expect the countries to not act like geopolitical entities, especially when they're big geopolitical entities who appear to each other to be in a zero sum game.  And, to the Western Buddhist blogosphere: Don't presume automatically anything about anything here.  To non-partisan parties here it is strange that the moment some outside agency raises some critique of these folks, it's always "Those Bad Non-Tibetans!" kind of response.  This is especially true given that China and India have been historical enemies forever.   That's why I maintain that judgment by those who aren't intimately familiar with the situation (and I for one am not) is premature to say the least.

I don't have an axe to grind in this  at all, except to say that I've really liked Western followers of the Karmapa I've met in the Portland area.   I hope they all work it out.  And I'm sure that there are those who will respond that all I'm doing is regurgitating PRC propaganda or some such hoo-hah.  But stuff happens behind closed doors.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

持久 (じきゅう) : More on Genpo Merzel: Sympathy and Criticism and Caveat Emptor

Once, when my son was younger, he took Tai Kwon Do lessons at the local martial arts school, and once we had a birthday party for him there.   Or perhaps it was the opening of their new dojo; I don't know which.  At any rate, at some point the instructors asked me to break a board - me, who knew jack about such things.

Within a few minutes of trying I had broken a board 1 inch think. It was pine. I'm glad it wasn't oak.

On the larger piece of the broken board I later painted 持久 - pronounced in Japanese "jikyuu" - which means "persistence" or "endurance."   It's there to remind me to be persistent and to endure.

And everyone around me knows I have to keep persisting and enduring.

I bring that up by way of explaining more my sentiments regarding Genpo Merzel.  I think it's too trite - way- to trite, to go into unmitigated condemnation of the man, though you can be sure he had it coming.  There's more to see here than that in us. 

"Genpo Roshi" had built himself into a brand, following all the bromides of current American capitalism in decline: It doesn't matter what the brand is trying to sell; the brand's the thing.  You can see that on his Twitter account, or by going to Google images and searching him.  To some extent we can't help but "brand" ourselves one way or the other, but like that Magritte painting of a pipe with "This is not a pipe" in French written under it, the brand is not the person or thing.  

Anybody and his brother can be trained to hold a Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT) meeting and pretend to be a Guy Who Knows His Stuff.  Anybody and his brother can get a photographer to propagate a "look" that one wants to be known by; Charlie Manson did it.

It takes 持久と仕事 - persistence and work - to actually live a life authentically, oddly enough. It's not enough to boast to people how you don't care about what people think because umm... you care deeply about all sentient beings. Walking the walk is the hard part.

Genpo Merzel is us: He's fallen seven times.  We're all falling seven hundred times.  He wasn't my teacher; we wouldn't have had each other in a teacher student relationship, and he's deeply hurt many people and completely trashed his own brand all by himself, without any help from his blogosphere critics or Brad Warner or anyone.  I still think what many of his critics wrote was true: "Big Mind" was and is a load of horse hockey.  But to think that your Zen practice or other Buddhist or "spiritual" practices - or lack thereof - insures you against the type of crap Genpo stepped into is also horse hockey.

Work and persist to be what you can and should. Caveat emptor.

That's all.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Reality Check: A "Cultural Genocide" isn't a Real Genocide.

Some folks in the Buddhist blogosphere's recent harrumphing over a damned Groupon commercial is frankly over the top.

To even begin to equate what is going on in Tibet - even if you believe the worst of what's being written - with what went on in Cambodia or worse, in Nazi occupied Europe is pretty abominable.  And calling what's going on in Tibet a "cultural genocide" does a grave disservice to historical memory and the suffering of those who suffered under the real thing.  It does that by conflating and associating what's thought to be going on in Tibet  - some of which is undoubtedly true - with a real genocide.

Culture is a set of ideascustoms, skills, arts, etc. of a people or group, that are transferred, communicated, or passed along, as in or to succeeding generations.  It is inherently not life, and changed by succeeding generations.  Genocide is the systematic killing of a whole national or ethnic group. It's about killing people.  And that's just not what's going on in Tibet. Sorry folks, but that is the truth.

I had relatives killed by Nazis (at least one known relatively close relative and who knows how many of an extended family) - though I'm not of Jewish descent and they weren't either.  But I would not say their killing was part of a genocide either, even though my ancestral group was considered untermenschen by Nazis.

No, genocide was waged against Jews and gypsies and Armenians and Cambodians.

Wanna know what? The rape of Nanjing might arguably not be a genocide either, but it sure looks a hell of a lot like one to me. It was,  however, certainly a set of war crimes of horrific proportions.   There simply is no comparison to Tibet folks. 

Don't like it? Consider this: Racist relatives in my family used to refer to marriage between different "races" as "genocide," and they meant it pretty much exactly the same wayExcept for the fact that intermarriage involved sex; which, I guess for the overt racists, made intermarriage worse somehow.

I would say ditto for "cultural rape," though  that the latter term is often far more prevalently used as a metaphor.  But maybe that's because of an over-arching ignorance of the prevalence of real rape in our culture as well, and the suffering associated with that.  So I think it'd be better not to use such terms.

The purpose of these terms is to trigger an emotional response that incites divisive behavior. It is the very antithesis of right speech.  And the fact that the Dalai Lama himself does it and his supporters repeat those words in America makes it no less the antithesis of right speech. 

So, can we please find another term of art for what is going on in Tibet if it's not an actual genocide?  Because I would hardly call the casual bandying about of the term anything like right speech.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

When my life is busy, less blog posts ...but I had to pipe up on Merzel...

It's kind of strange, but there are priorities.  But that one I did with Dylan, well, I could watch the video in that 3 or 4 more times.  And I already have. 

But I digress.  There is a confluence of 2 events that gives me schadenfreude on the one hand, and a degree of sorrow on the other; both though flow from hubris, and it's entirely possible (yes it is) that the event that gives me schadenfreude might ultimately have harmed more people than that which gives me a degree of sorrow.  Perhaps it's a miniature mutant version of Stalin's famous dictum that one death is a tragedy, but millions of deaths are just statistics.
On the one hand the reviews of the Broadway extravaganza Spiderman are out. or at least there's one the NY Times.   You know when you see in the home page "may be among the worst musicals ever" that you're in for a reading treat that's the NY Times equivalent of a Friar's Club Roast.  This musical catastrophe, which employed who knows how many people and cost how many millions will probably close soon; careers will be stalled, bills won't get paid - it'll be an economic mess.  And thanks, at least in part, to the hubris of Bono, who, with the Edge once made good rock n' roll, especially when he was on Long Island.  I'm sure all involved had wished he'd have moved to Davos and never schemed to make a comic book equivalent of Springtime for Hitler. 

Read the review though is a dark joy to read- if you ignore the human costs - and frankly, there's no reason to be overly serious here; the cast and all involved should have had career parachutes the moment they sensed this was the Hindenburg.

Career advice for all: be on the outlook for risk.  Your banker is. Ah, I could tell you stories.  Someday if we meet I will.

Then of course there's the abrupt resignation of Genpo Merzel, and I truly feel sorrow for all around.

I have chosen to disrobe as a Buddhist Priest, and will stop giving Buddhist Precepts or Ordinations, but I will continue teaching Big Mind.  I will spend the rest of my life truly integrating the Soto Zen Buddhist Ethics into my life and practice so I can once again regain dignity and respect. My actions have caused a tremendous amount of pain, confusion, and controversy for my wife, family, and Sangha, and for this I am truly sorry and greatly regret. My behavior was not in alignment with the Buddhist Precepts. I feel disrobing is just a small part of an appropriate response.
I am also resigning as an elder of the White Plum Asanga. My actions should not be viewed as a reflection on the moral fabric of any of the White Plum members.

 Know what I said, "Be on the outlook for risk?"  It applies here too.

Hubris (manifested as greed)  seems to be at the heart of both of these debacles, in my view.   The hubris shows in Merzel's apology (which I take as "as sincere as he can muster at the moment").  And it also shows in the link on the "Big Mind" home page to this study.

Objectives: To test the hypothesis that a novel Zen dialogue–based method can bring about significant improvements in spiritual, meditation, and well-being parameters. Design: A pretest–posttest design was used with participants being randomly assigned to either treatment or no treatment group at the Zen Center. The participants were 14 females and 2 males within each group with no prior formal Zen or meditation training. Those participants in the treatment group received intensive interaction for 1 day with an experienced Zen teacher using a dialogue method to induce a deep meditative state without instruction in formal meditation sitting practice. The outcome was measured with multiple previously standardized instruments designed to assess meditation states, well-being, and spirituality. Results: A repeated-measures analysis of variance showed statistically significant differences between the treatment and control groups for all parameters measured. In addition, the meditative state measure suggested qualities consistent with deep meditation experiences. The results justify further investigation of the technique as a rapid spiritual intervention tool particularly for clients facing end-of-life issues.

I had thought I had made a blog post on the topics of science and reality...but I haven't been able to find it.  But my point is - the point I'd wanted to originally make when I saw related articles I can't find now - was that researchers - and investors I might add - always need to be on the lookout for confirmation bias.  There is a whole host of other issues I could raise with this "Big Mind" "study," but for now, I'm just awed by the fact that there's so much hubris/shame associated here that they thought - somebody thought - they could legitimize this thing with a cargo-cult scientific "study." I mean, this really is cargo cult science!   I could probably  think of a dozen objections to the purpose, method, outcomes and usefulness of this "study."

It's all the same.   Hopefully I can be on the lookout for such things in my own life.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

About "Groundhog Day" and "Buddhist Themed Movies" and "Wabisabi"

I cannot believe that some folks in the blogosphere are still pointing to that movie and saying "See? It's got Buddhist themes!"  I appreciate the spirit of Kyle's post on the subject, but I think I'd like to go a bit further.

It was Soen Nakagawa who mentioned that even tabloid headlines could be read as sutras in the right view, or something like that.  (Yeah, that's right, that was  Eido Shimano's teacher, who died tragically in some event following a depression resulting from a brain injury.  It was very Zen.)

Hey, I'm not immune to putting forth my own nominees for "Buddhist Themed" films.  But frankly, because of the viewpoint I kind of inherited I don't want to watch a movie because I think it's got some "Buddhist" theme. I want to watch a movie because I hope it's a great movie, and can appreciate the skills of all who came together to make the movie.  I never watched "Groundhog Day" because Bill Murray gives me that praecox feeling.  I am not inclined to laugh at someone because they're jerks.  Unless of course they're genuinely humorous, and frankly Murray doesn't cut it for me.  But I digress.

The notion of explicitly "Buddhist" themed films (think "Kundun" or "Seven Years in Tibet") as well as allegorical "Buddhist" themed films  is fraught with the identical sad baggage that plagues so-called "Christian" themed films: quite simply such films suck at least in part because it would look like somebody's trying to say "See? Buddhism is so great!" rather than making a damn fine work of art.

That is not to say that one can't bring Buddhist principles and sensibilities into their work.  In fact, one might think that it would sort of be incumbent for a Buddhist trying to practice Buddhism  to do so, and one would be right in this regard.  Two might even be right as well, but there I go again.

And I think that's where wabisabi comes in; rather than a long detailed bit on esthetics, I'll just say: go to the Wikipedia link.  My point is any kind of over-arching themes like Buddhism such be done in a manner in which it's understated - to the point where someone watching the film - or reading the report - doesn't realize there's "Buddhism" behind it.   Or, to put it another way, self-consciously trying to include "Buddhism" in a film - especially a Zen flavor - would have the very effect of undermining a message of Buddhism in the film.

It is, in fact the surest way to transform something into a Dharma Burger is to infuse it  in a heavy-handed way with Buddhist themes.  On the other hand, if there were to be  a movie that simply "nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect" (as quoted in the reference from the Wikipedia link) that might have the potential to be simply a damn good film.

Get it?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Buddhism In the News and Around the 'Net

  • This might be a bit for The Worst Horse: Clint Eastwood talks admiringly of Buddhism. "‘I do believe in self-help. I’m not a New Age person but I do believe in meditation, and for that reason I’ve always liked the Buddhist religion. When I’ve been to Japan I’ve been to Buddhist temples and meditated and I found that rewarding."

  • The Chinese media - I won't bother to link simply because I'm not going to take the time to do it - plays up the Buddhist angle in this movie more than the guy at Salon does.
  • P.Z. Meyers has a nice bit about all the reasons people are atheists, and concludes with "My main point is that one general flaw in many atheists is a lack of appreciation for why they find themselves comfortable with that label, and it always lies in a set of sometimes unexamined working metrics for how the world works. You are an atheist — take pride in what you do believe, not what you deny."  I generally shy away from the atheist label, but I am a non-theist.  I'm not convinced "take pride" is good advice in general and in this case.  It just is.
  • I'm not sure what to make of the current Karmapa controversy, except to say that if you're in somebody's country, you can't not expect them to want to benefit from your presence there, just like being in any community.  Yeah, there's a question of boundaries and limits, but those boundaries and limits are in part defined by one's position.  And there are laws.  And Buddhist bloggers should be mindful of the tendency to resort to "groupthink" in things.