Saturday, April 30, 2011

And where does getting all that skill in practicing lead?

To be able to actually see and behave and interact in the world as one is.

You do anyway, you might say, but at least after all that practicing you're paying attention as you're doing it.

It prepares you for the unwanted things that inevitably arise.

But takes a long time to master.  Or at least it's taken me a long time and I'm not nowhere near there yet.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Turns out Zen is about Buddhism

NellaLou has a great post on the continuing saga at Madhushala, and hits all the right notes, in my opinion, about Merzel and what his Sangha and Board should do.

But in writing about that, and  doing some stuff at work related to my company's business as well as searching for temples in which to visit in my upcoming trip to China this summer, I became aware of a few things, not all of which appear to be immediately related to the subject at hand, at least at first:
  1.  I was still wondering why this Rube Goldberg financial structure existed that to the casual visitor's mind, conflated "Big Mind" with "Kanzeon Zen Center." It was, I think, clear enough in retrospect: "Big Mind" served as Genpo Merzel's way of introducing "Zen-like" things into non-Buddhists.  It would  end up  to be a case of the tail wagging the dog here.
  2. Ditto for this "Integral" stuff:  It still appears - to me - that this whole "Integral" thing is nothing more and nothing less than a clumsy attempt to try to "make Buddhism better" by blending it with pop-psychology and New Age woo. 
  3. In Southeastern China, there is a plethora of Zen temples; some of which are undoubtedly brand spanking new (like the one in North East China I wrote about in 2009) but many of which are remnants and regrowth of the original temples. And there's an obvious reason for the original temples and the growth of Chan in this part of China if one thinks about  the realities of that part of the world: Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu provinces are a melting pot of dialects/languages, more than a few of which are not mutually intelligible in any meaningful degree; look up each of the places on Wikipedia if you want more information about that.  If ever there was a place that needed a doctrine of "no reliance on words or letters" it was this place.  And if there was any place here that was "the right" place to see Chan Buddhism in China, it would be here. But exact temples and locations might not matter all that much, eventually; it was the practice itself that mattered. 
  4. Introducing Zen Buddhist concepts to non-Buddhists is not in any way an easy task facilitated by "dialogues" with other "gurus" or creating meta-concepts in order to "bridge" or "transcend" ideologies.  It took Japan over a thousand years to come up with the concepts of Ma ( 間) and Wabisabi (侘寂 ) - not to mention the application of Zen to the martial arts the like.  And they're still struggling with what kind of a culture they want to have!
All of which is to say that Zen Buddhism is about the cultivation of skill of Buddhism.  It took folks a long time to figure out a whole bunch of things related to how we live, including, but not limited to why it's good to boil water, how to get to eat rice, vaccines, karma, how much sleep to get, and 10,000 other things.  Ditto for how to cultivate the skill of Buddhism. And we have to practice it, even when it's painful or not what we "like" or what others "like."

It is true we take vows in Mahayana Buddhist to save all beings, but we do that through living our own mundane little lives which briefly flicker in this place in the blink of the blink of an eye in the life of this small speck of iron in an unfashionable part of the Milky Way galaxy.  And there are no shortcuts in our own little mundane lives. If there were, we'd be cutting out the profundity of it all along with the mundaneness.

Zen Buddhism is about the cultivation of skill of Buddhism. That means that our lives are crafted by us, slowly but surely, imperfectly, impermanently, and surely incomplete.  As NellaLou points out, there is an infusion of doubt (and I'd also add faith) in this.   This skill may be passed to others in the way a craftsman passes his skill to an apprentice; in the same way it's folly to think that one can pass the gist of any highly refined skill to just anyone without emphasizing that diligent training is needed to be able to make any fruitful use of skills.

Temples and sanghas are good of course, but there's a time and a place  for everything, and if the "sangha" in question is more devoted to something that goes against the way in which a life is rightly to be lived, it's time to re-examine what that sangha is all about, just as in finding "the" historical temple of Chan Buddhism overlooks the Much Bigger Thing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Strange things coming from Kanzeon Zen Center

Sweeping Zen, quickly becoming the go-to site for all things Zen, has published the latest letter from the Board of the KZC.  I personally find it representative of a place I do not want to be, a cautionary tale related to me who has lived enough of a live to be a cautionary tale to others.

This part I can accept:

Though he did resign as a Soto Zen Buddhist Priest on February 6th, until April 15th he had not resigned from the Japanese Soto Zen headquarters, the Shumucho. He stayed involved with the Japanese organization temporarily out of concern for the official status of those of his successors who want to remain affiliated with the Japanese Soto school.  When he first announced his intention to resign from the Soto school, he was told by Junpu Kuroda Hojo-san, Maezumi Roshi’s younger brother, who had spoken to the head of the Shumucho, that if he did so, the ordinations of all those who had received Jukai, Shukke Tokudo, Denkai, and Shiho from him would be regarded as invalid by the headquarters of the Japanese Soto school.  At that time he was, and still is, working on completing the necessary paperwork for Tammy Myoho Gabrysch Sensei to be recognized as both a Shuso and Dharma successor by the Shumucho.  He chose not to impose problems on his successors and those who had received Jukai and Shukke Tokudo from him by withdrawing from the Japanese Soto school before these matters were settled.  From his discussions with Bishop Daikagu Rumme, General Director of the Soto Zen Administrative Office of North America, his understanding was that that if he did choose to resign it should not affect his successors etc., but even the Bishop was not 100% sure of that.  On April 15th he received word from Bishop Daigaku that considering the imminent release of more statements critical of Genpo Roshi, and because this could be an embarrassment to the Japanese Soto school, now would be the time for him to officially submit his resignation, which he did on that date.
 I guess, despite Brad Warner's remonstrations to the contrary, official affiliation with the Soto school is indeed a big deal - it says if the Soto Zen official is mired in wrongdoing that the correction propagates through his descendants -at least as regards what sort of lapel pins they can wear today, I guess.    It's a different take on the old Catholic saw about corrupt priests administering sacraments (and the bigwigs in that body decided long ago that the sacraments' "power" is still "effective")  - and in a way the Zen teacher's position is by nature substantially more intimate, so it's not surprising they should differ with Christianity on this point.  But...

As part of our efforts to sustain Kanzeon, with Genpo Roshi’s support one of Roshi’s successors was invited in early February to step in to take Roshi’s place as full-time teacher at the Zen Center, which he generously agreed to do. It was hoped that during this time of transition he would help support the sangha and the continuing existence of Kanzeon Zen Center while it remained at its present location, and that he would be financially supported by Kanzeon Inc.  Also, in response to the request of members of the White Plum, the Board created a separate website for Kanzeon, which included the introduction of him as our new teacher.
In large part because of the critical and hostile feelings expressed by a few people in the local community, further inflamed and amplified by some outside Zen Teachers, students and others, Roshi felt he was no longer welcome to teach at Kanzeon.  Because his teaching activities at Kanzeon and mainly through Big Mind were the primary source of revenue for the Center, the necessary condition for this transition was that our properties had to be sold.
This decision to put Kanzeon’s two buildings up for sale was particularly painful for all concerned, most of all for those of us who continue to live, meet and practice here in those very buildings. It has also generated a lot of comment and criticism to the effect that the properties were being sold out from under the local community without their input, perhaps even to support Genpo Roshi’s activities elsewhere.  These suspicions and accusations are based on misunderstandings and mistaken assumptions which we would like to clear up.
First, the money originally used to buy the properties did not come from the local Salt Lake sangha. Almost all of it was donated with extraordinary generosity by members of Roshi’s European Sangha and students, by his former wife Hobai and himself, and from his inheritance from his mother.
Second, for years Kanzeon’s income from membership dues and programs have covered only a small fraction of Kanzeon’s overhead, while additional donations and contributions from all but a few local members of the Center have been very minimal.  Contrary to the impression that has been widely voiced on the internet, and even in our own community, the reality is that the Center has been largely supported by Genpo Roshi’s teaching and Big Mind work.
As is well known, Roshi has been widely criticized within the Zen community for receiving large donations from people who have attended small Big Mind workshops with him. These people, almost all of them needless to say wealthy, successful in their professions or businesses, have chosen to give amounts which they could just as easily spend on other things, so that they could study with Genpo Roshi.  To the best of our knowledge, not a single one has ever felt they wasted their time or money.  On the contrary, they are extremely grateful, they gladly allow their expressions of thanks to be quoted, many of them have returned again for additional workshops.
On the other hand, those who criticize these events, and Roshi for giving them, have never attended them.  And those who condemn them include not only representatives of the far-flung Zen world, but people in the Kanzeon community itself, the very people who are benefiting from them without realizing or acknowledging it.  It is these donations that have enabled Roshi to support Kanzeon’s Salt Lake City properties, full-time staff and office infrastructure, to continue supporting residents, extending scholarships, promoting social action programs, allowing free and partial tuition to many who could not attend at full price, and, by the way, provide Maezumi Roshi’s widow Ekyo Maezumi a place to live and a salary to help sustain her.  In fact, contrary to a widely disseminated but inaccurate impression, it is Big Mind that is supporting Kanzeon rather than the other way around, since the local Sangha provides only a minimal portion of the funds needed to support us.

The level of denial here, from a standpoint of Buddhist ethics is simply breathtaking to me.  Let me show you.

In large part because of the critical and hostile feelings expressed by a few people in the local community, further inflamed and amplified by some outside Zen Teachers, students and others, Roshi felt he was no longer welcome to teach at Kanzeon.

 "At least in part those people outside made Roshi feel he was no longer able to teach."  I mean, did they actually think about how this would read to the outside world?  Because that's how it seems to read to me.  Really, here's a guy abusing his power, and the Board (I'm assuming it's the Board) opines that people in the "local community" "inflamed" and "amplified" by "outside" Zen Teachers, students "and others." made Roshi feel he was unable to teach.  But evidently it was fine to still use the honorific that means literally "Old Teacher."

The following sentence:

Because his teaching activities at Kanzeon and mainly through Big Mind were the primary source of revenue for the Center, the necessary condition for this transition was that our properties had to be sold.

I can live with.  I know it's a great suffering for the Sangha at KZC,  but that's what happens in these things, and I have great empathy for them for this.  Though further down in the post we'll get to something that I think is potentially explosive on this point.  A bit further down:

First, the money originally used to buy the properties did not come from the local Salt Lake sangha. Almost all of it was donated with extraordinary generosity by members of Roshi’s European Sangha and students, by his former wife Hobai and himself, and from his inheritance from his mother.

 Did you not go, "Whoa! Who actually owns those buildings?"  But wait gets... worse...

Second, for years Kanzeon’s income from membership dues and programs have covered only a small fraction of Kanzeon’s overhead, while additional donations and contributions from all but a few local members of the Center have been very minimal.  Contrary to the impression that has been widely voiced on the internet, and even in our own community, the reality is that the Center has been largely supported by Genpo Roshi’s teaching and Big Mind work.

EXACTLY THE PROBLEM! Forget about the fact for a moment that lots of people in the Zen community, myself included, think "Big Mind" is a load of horse hockey.  The sangha could not sustain the facilities. End of story! Right there.

Now for the nuclear explosion, at least as I see it.  At the Sweeping Zen Facebook entry on this, comments have been prolific, to say the least.  One Rob Evans has, through public sources, started to go through the tax forms filed for the Frederick Lenz Foundation and "Big Mind" Inc. I'm assuming these are correct forms, and if others have updated information I will happily correct this post as soon as I am aware that I have the correct information. But, before I go into the  reputed details that have been published on the internet ,  first, now, remember this, from Genpo Merzel?

...But no, none of that money goes to me. I have a very small and comfortable little house in the Zen Center and I drive normal cars and I don’t have Mercedes or, what was it that Bhagawan had? His Rolls-Royce’?  No. I’ve never had been interested in wealth or being rich in any way. I don’t have a lot of desire. My biggest desire has been to get the teaching out there and this has made that possible. The money that we receive really just goes to get that teaching out there to the world...
Well, if you look at the records for "Big Mind Inc." for 2009, an interesting story unfolds... It's address is SE Temple. I don't know the sangha and I don't know the address, but if KZC was the owner of the property, I'd assume BMI was paying it rent, no?  BMI took in about $1.4 million in 2009.   Here's some other interesting bits from that return, which again, I'm assuming is correct:

  • Does the organization have a written whisleblower policy? No. But you'd probably have guess that by now.
  • Dennis Genpo Merzel made has income from "BMI" $185,900 and from related organizations $108,000.
  • Bruce Lambson   was the guy ripping into Warner when he criticized BM, if I recall correctly.  Mr. Lambson was working a full 40 hour week for BMI, but made no salary. The related organizations payed him $56,568.
Now, I don't begrudge Merzel for his income. And maybe he's speaking correctly in that none of the money from the "Big Heart Circle" money went to him.  But money as any accountant can tell you is fungible. Also, I'm sure there's other Zen Teachers who do well, too, and well they should - if they're supporting themselves in a way that doesn't burden the Sangha.   And of course Dennis Genpo Merzel is in his "peak earning years."  But as far as I see it, Dennis Genpo Merzel wasn't being fully forthright with Vincent Horn. I am a man, whose income is hovering in the neighborhood of the top 10th percentile.  But Dennis Genpo Merzel's combined income for 2009 is much more substantial, to say the least.  It can be relatively easy  to say you're not attached to wealth when you're pulling in over a quarter million dollars a year.

When I go to a local sangha here in the Portland OR area, I go full well knowing that I'm not one of the poorer guys there. But BMI and KZC were so closely joined at the hip that for all intents and purposes they seemed one and the same, and presented themselves as such even on their website - I recall visiting that site quite a few times to try to disentangle them, just to see if KZC still did sesshins without "Big" "Mind."    And regardless of what Dennis Genpo Merzel was saying, he was living well.  Not Bhagwan N Rolls-Royces well, but quite comfortably upper middle class.  More comfortably upper middle class than I am. 

I don't know to what extent the Board of KZC knew about this, nor the greater sangha.  But what I do know is there are massive consequences from attachments all over the place here, and I would reiterate the points I made earlier:  It's time to let go of Dennis Merzel as a teacher, at least for now.   I wish them peace and contentment.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

An Open Blog Post to the Board and Sangha of the Kanzeon Zen Center and the Successors of Genpo Merzel

To the Aforementioned:

Regarding the recent behavior of Genpo Merzel, the Board of KZC has stated in the past that you wished other Buddhists  "will extend us a little patience and allow us the time and breathing space to restore the peace and harmony of the sangha and the strength and sound practice of its members."  You also stated that, "Genpo Merzel has repeatedly reiterated his full support for all of the actions taken by the Board" in addressing the real trouble arising from Genpo Merzel's behavior.  The actions taken included Genpo Merzel's refraining from teaching for at least a year.

And yet now he is apparently back to teaching, it seems because money is an issue.  To me this is a horrible reason to allow this man back into your trust.  (Or is he in your trust?)  It seems  your sangha's Board is saying the sangha depends for its existence on  income from what to many Buddhist teachers and practitioners is a corruption of Zen Buddhism as taught by someone who abuses his position of authority, breaks the vows he has taken, and goes back on promises made when caught in the abuse.  What does this say about your own ethics? To those who have taken the precepts, what does this say about how you keep the precepts?

As a lay member of a sangha, I would encourage all lay members of the Kanzeon sangha to find another teacher.  I am sure many of you think Genpo Merzel is a great Zen teacher.  Remember, though, there are other teachers and sanghas.   And perhaps it is time to learn that there is a point at which you have to leave the teacher.  And it may be well before you've broken through that koan or well before you've fully integrated Genpo Merzel's teaching into your lives.

Finally, to the successors of Genpo Merzel: it is time to take the lead on this, and seek out other teachers yourselves if you wish to remain Zen students.  In particular, it is time to let go of attachment to "Big Mind."

I strongly wish you find peace and contentment soon by letting go of the attachment that somehow Genpo Merzel is needed by you as a "teacher."


Mumon K.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

More Weirdness from Genpo Merzel...

The link directs to

But you can't see at "" this: . If you clicked the "news" link at "" you'd see this instead: .

Not very big-minded of Merzel, I'd say.

Interesting Times...

Spring has arrived the radioactive spring the spring of the shortage, the dark spring.  Spring has arrived.  Now visible  are the first shoots of plants that will destroy the granite, that will overturn the order, that will lead to a bright tomorrow after the catastrophic misery yet to be endured.

Spring has arrived. There is still the remote hope of the Catalan sun, burning bright, and the satori which will transcend the complete loss of everything which will enable us to be free to do anything.

Spring has arrived, and remotely the promise of the sticky hot Zhejiang summer, the smile on the face of the abbot of the timeless temple which endures despite the temblors and upheavals and poison.

Spring has arrived.  And with it the thieves and patriots are emboldened, the citizenry is outraged, the children rebellious, and the rocks and stones cry out, "Let me be your messenger!"

Spring has arrived, with and all the timeless wisdom and ignorance and compassion and hatred permeates space like the dew and fog that abound outside the outskirts of the benighted city.

Spring has arrived, and for a few weeks it is Wednesday, Anything Can Happen Day.

Spring has arrived, and like this  it is none but a tragic farcical replay of Matinée d'Ivresse, and few care or are aware because it ain't squat, it ain't a paper cut even, compared to the horrors of Kampuchea and Auschwitz and the Great Leap Forward.

But it still early Spring. And I'm actually pretty optimistic despite the pervasive gloom that can be found that things won't be quite that horrible. May your near future be far better than the worst it could be.

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.

間 (ma), Parent Practice, Mac Arthur Park, the iPhone

In helping my son with a project for school I have oddly enough had to teach my son the value of leaving something out.  Clearly every engineer knows that this discipline does not come second nature to most engineers, and we have a term for the opposite ingrained tendency: creeping featurism.  The opposite tendency is an aesthetic that has been referred to by some as  "間  (ma)" - which translates as interval, space, etc.  A Japanese word which expresses this in the opposite sense is 間も無く (mamonaku), which means basically in a very short time - "no interval," from the kanji.  You hear the word on the shinkansen when they announce in Japanese that the train is about to arrive in a station.

I haven't been that much aware that this is a strategy Apple builds into its products until I read about it recently, but in helping my son with his project I noticed that this principle is all around.  It is why overall horrid song MacArthur Park sold phenomenally well: it has a hook.  It is why Rush Limbaugh is still there after all these years: the Oxycontin addled demagogue repeats right-wing talking points well to the masses so they get the "hook."   (And Glenn Beck, since he's been  going off the metaphorical  reservation, is the natural target for other right-wingers now.)  It is also a good explanation of Suzuki-Roshi's idea of the Worst Horse.

We in the West like to hold up the "Renaissance man" as some kind of ideal, but clearly we prefer  that with a more carefully chosen set of features than "everything."  If you can do one thing well, or make something that is so incredibly excellent in one or two features, you can leave out something, and people seem to like it better; you can include your version of "Someone left the cake out in the rain..." it seems, and it seems to make the whole thing better as far as we humans can tell.  Very strange.  But that allows me too to embed a really otherwise sucky song in this blog post.  Enjoy!

Doubtful that will enlighten you today, but it's just a Note in Samsara, you know.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I have a student...

Actually, he's my son. He's not my student.  But I am entrusted with the responsibility to guide him in life to a point where he can help all beings.  He doesn't quite fully appreciate that right now.  Neither do I.

In a sense, I feel really bad for folks like Genpo Roshi.  I wonder if they're even aware of this.  Geez, I wonder if I am.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Wenzhou region is replete with Chan Temples

As I had previously mentioned, this year I'm going to spend a near two weeks in China, visiting my wife's family, among other things, in China. My wife comes from Wenzhou, which, as Wikipedia describes it:

Wenzhou, also known as Yongjia (or Yung-chia,永嘉) has a history which goes back to about 2000 BC, when it became known for its pottery production. In the 2nd century BC it was called the Kingdom of Dong'ou. Under the Tang Dynasty, it was promoted to prefecture status and given its current name in 675 AD.

Throughout its history, Wenzhou's traditional economic role has been as a port giving access to the mountainous interior of southern Zhejiang Province. In 1876 Wenzhou was opened to the foreign tea trade, but no foreign settlement was ever established there. Between 1937 and 1942, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, Wenzhou achieved importance as one of the few ports still under Chinese control. It declined in the later years of the war, but began to recover after coastal trade along the Zhejiang coast was re-established in 1955...

Wenzhou is also the birthplace of China’s Mercantilism. From the Southern Song Dynasty, in contrasted to the Confucianism represented by Zhu Xi and Lu Jiuyuan in China urging people to study to be officials in the future, the theory of Wenzhou’s Yongjia School represented by Ye Shi, emphasized the importance of business. The theory has an enduring impact on the mindset of Wenzhou natives and has become the “cultural gene” in the economic development of Wenzhou ever since.

Renowned as the cradle of mathematicians in China, the city has teemed with over 200 mathematic professors in the recent 100 years, among whom Su Buqing, Gu Chaohao, Jiang Lifu and other mathematicians have enjoyed great fame both at home and abroad. Furthermore, Wenzhou is also reputed as the “Home of Swimming in China”, “City of Chess” and “City of Poetry in China”.

They speak a rather unusual dialect/language

Anyway, I've been there a few times before, and whether it's an improvement in Google maps, an improvement in the opening up of China or what-not, it seems now that there are many more Chan temples in Wenzhou than I'd been able to find before. I do hope to visit at least one of them, as I have when I went to Tianjin and Xi'an, to talk to the monks, and perhaps find an afternoon for practice at a temple.

That last part might be difficult, since it is difficult for a layman to actually spend time practicing at a Chinese Chan temple, for the moment at least. But then again, my darling wife is one heck of a negotiator...but then again, we're talking theA-list of top seeded world class negotiators when we're talking about Wenzhou, as the rest of the Wikipedia entry would imply.  These are the folks who basically started China's upward climb to economic dominance.

(Click on the link below and it has 3 links at the lower left, with increasing radius.)

View Larger Map

And oh...they have a Shangri-La Hotel there now! Considering that it's only slightly more expensive than the Shiloh Inn in Long Beach Washington  (and substantially cheaper than anything 3 steps down in comfort and quality from its price equivalent in any major American city)...and this is the finest hotel chain I've stayed at in Asia...well...I gotta do some negotiating on my own...maybe I'll bring them for the breakfast at least. You can't beat a Shangri-La breakfast...

Boycott the Huffington Post

Visual Art Source is on strike against them. And in an update they've filed suit against the Huffington Post...

And here's their inevitable Facebook page.

I haven't linked to them for at least about a month now.

Much of their site is woo-laden nonsense. And void forbid they actually talk about, uh, cults such as MSIA. Some of us remember a book called "Life 102."  Some of us remember that lawyers were involved. Too, I can get by without seeing reposts of articles by Robert Reich (what's he doing there?) and folks like him.

But if you're concerned about right livelihood, you should not allow Arianna Huffington to walk away with many millions of dollars while she's stiffing those who work to make her site successful.


  • Don't link to the Huffington Post in your blogs. Drive their traffic way, way down, until this is settled.
  • Don't even click on any Huffington Post article or the site itself. Arianna gets her revenue for the site just like any other paid advertising site, including this one: by selling ads. 
  • Spread the word.  Make a mention on your blog, Facebook page, on Twitter, etc.  I'm not one for following internet memes/viral stuff, but if there's one thing that ought to be made as viral as what Glenn Beck might have done to that little girl in 1990 it ought to be this. It's one tiny thing you can do to make the world a better lace
I admit, the Huffington Post has at times been great fodder for explaining Buddhist concepts by contrasting what they put up with what I've observed and learned.  But if people are hurting for income, especially in these times, it's time to level the playing field a bit.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Useful Practice and Its Professional and Amateur Enemies

The title of this entry's a bit overblown, to be sure. It's taken from a book by Ivan Illich (which, oddly enough is not mentioned on the Wikipedia entry on him;  for more background on the thinker go here; start with Deschooling Society. )  The book from whose title I morphed into the title of this post is "The Right to Useful Unemployment and Its Professional Enemies.")  I thought I would visit this question because of recent posts on the subject from Brad Warner and Nate, . dealing with the question  of whether "Zen teachers" should be accredited in some way or not.

The reason I've quoted Illich above is because the  relevant and salient point Illich makes in his writing  is relative to the whole question of profession, and how we in the West have tended to turn "professions" into a kind of mystical priesthood, with a division between those who "know" and are "trained to know" and those who are recipients of that grand knowledge conferred by the priesthood of professionals.   In particular, Illich noted a couple or three decades ago or so, that the idea of a medical profession often result in people not actively taking responsibility for their own health. Yep. I read it in Illich first.  Too bad I lost the book.  I have no idea where it went, but if he had heard that he probably would have been pleased to hear it.

I tend to view this whole question of profession, qualification, and what-not from the perspective of my own déformation professionnelle: I am a "Doctor of Philosophy" in Electrical Engineering.  I am not, in the legal sense, a "Professional Engineer."  I can design communication systems, queuing systems a signal coding and processing systems, and   control systems.  I can  balance a portfolio according to some predefined risk/loss criteria, predict and estimate all kinds of things.  I've done all of the preceding. I cannot, at present, sign off on your building plans or even the wiring used in your house (though I've put wiring in my houses, thank you very much).  

As a systems engineer with a heavy focus on mathematics, operations research, statistics, and what-not the thing that ties all the aforementioned things together (which involve all kinds of things technical from natural resource  or space exploration to genetics, for Void sakes) is they all have expressions in the common language of mathematics.  One of the  ongoing frustrations/problems/"challenges"  of my work though is explaining and convincing to others who do not have this training that these analogues exist, allowing for new research opportunities.  It is often not understood that training in a specialized area such as I have means that training is highly adaptable to a number of areas.  But it is not readily adaptable in other areas: Even though much of my research work was very heavy on theoretical statistics even today I can only read about 2% of the papers in the Annals of Statistics.  And I am not trying in any way to minimize my responsibility for the aforementioned frustrations/problems/"challenges":  I not not without responsibility for shaping my organization's future; I am a part of that organization.

In a nut, the "professional" training and education I've achieved has given my very narrow - and yet broadly applicable - skills. It's useless for skydiving - or even designing a parachute.  To get back to "Zen teachers," then, let's consider what  Brad Warner writes:

Zen is not in the helping profession. Zen teachers are not professionals.

A Zen teacher is someone who has chosen to do serious work on herself or himself. Our experiences in doing this work on ourselves can be useful to others. Many of us allow other people to join us in this work. Those who join us in this work may very well be helped. And most of us will try our best to help them when we can.

But fundamentally a Zen teacher is not a professional who helps students who are non-professionals in exchange for compensation. The so-called “students” are actually companions in work that is being undertaken by both teacher and student. The only real difference is that the teacher is someone who has done this work for a bit longer than the student. Yet the teacher is no more advanced, because the concept of “advancement” is an illusion.

This is why I refuse to accept students. I do not wish to share my work with anyone who defines herself or himself as my student. That would be unfair to both of us. Such a person is only a hindrance to me. They get in the way of what I need to do. Frankly, students are a nuisance. Furthermore, their attitude of viewing themselves as students is a hindrance to them. It’s such a hindrance that it makes it impossible for me to help them even if I wanted to.

Zen teachers are not in the helping profession. That would imply that we charge money to people who come to us to be helped, the way a professional therapist does. It would imply that we promise to help heal them in exchange for that money, the way professional doctors do. It implies that we promise them concrete results from our paid efforts to help them, the way professional lawyers do. No decent Zen teacher I know of views what he or she does in that way.

I am doubtful that one can be a "teacher" if there are no "students." But that fits with my own "teacher's" point in that there is no teacher.   On the other hand,  Warner's not entirely incorrect here: "Zen teachers" are like swimming coaches, or perhaps martial arts teachers: they are also perfecting their skills as they try to impart what they know to others.  If you're not trying to impart what you know, then I can't really think you're a teacher, and if you are ignoring those to whom you're trying to impart your experience of "serious work" on yourself,  I can't really think you're a teacher.  All the rest is form, and form has its place where it has its place. And I personally do think it has its place in the fact that a Buddhist clergy is needed to minister to a sangha.  But also, let's face it: if you wanted to learn how to scuba dive, you'd want to learn it from someone who would teach you how not to get the bends.  If you wanted to learn to fly, you'd best learn it from a guy who already can fly.  And in a very real sense, Zen training is just like that.  So you'd want to know that the person from whom you're learning is good at a Zen Buddhist way.  But, unlike PADI certification or whatever the pilot's certification society is called, you, dear reader, will ultimately have to authenticate your "teacher."

There's a real problem with errant Zen teachers, entrenched organizations, and the very real fact that the great innovators in Zen have often been outsiders.   I've written in the past that the student authenticates the teacher as much as the other way around - and I qualify that to note that I agree with my "teacher's" saying that "There is no teacher."  Ultimately, this way though is about "your" way - and making "your" way is not isolated from the 10,000 things and All The People.
Warner makes another point with which I agree: you can't charge for this service. So I largely agree with Warner, but I do think that some form of a meta-sangha - to coin a phrase from cojoining Greek and Sanskrit - is necessary.  But I think the whole "professional Zen teacher" thing is an entree into all the abuses we've ever seen by clergy of all kinds of religions.  "Zen teachers" should be able to support themselves  and should support themselves and their families in ways separate from their official clergy function.  If they're hermits, that's another story.  And mention of hermits brings to mind the wild sexual escapades of some cloistered monks I have been told about second hand.  That's why to me, why they're another story: (as well as solitary hermits).  I'm sure there's  solitary hermits and monastic communities for which "outside means to live" does not apply; maybe it doesn't even apply for a majority of such communities.  I'm sure those monks who still beg for a living have a few of them that haven't become cynical in the original derogatory sense of the world.  But then again I'm not qualified to sign off on your building plans. I know what I know.

Nathan writes:

One thing I wonder, as someone who experienced the drift towards professionalization in the Minnesota adult basic education (ABE) field, is the longer term impact. Many of those in the beginning days have been focusing on the benefits - such as teachers having more formal education and training. However, in the case of ABE, the potential negative aspects are either being downplayed or just can't be seen yet. The increased focused on ABE professionalization has come in almost direct response to a rise of high stakes testing that few in the field support. How much of the decisions being made about what constitutes an ABE professional are coming not out of a creative and diverse understanding of the field, but out of a fear that "not professionalizing" will doom all the adult education programs out there?

Which brings me back to American Zen teachers. Is the drive to professionalize Zen teaching coming from, at least in part, a fear that not doing so will doom Zen in America? And if so, is that a wise place to approach all of this from? 

And that's a good point: if the goal of all of this is to keep something, to gain something, or the like, then this motive should be examined: if the keeping or gaining is not in the service of all beings, what's the point? Or to quote Martin Buber (maybe it's only a paraphrase): If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am for myself only, then what am I?

That ought to enter into the conversation as well.

So maybe the "solution" is an "organization" that promises exactly none of the "benefits" of professionalism, doesn't certify anyone for anything, but still propagates information related to "Zen teachers" for good or for ill.  Maybe to a certain extent that "organization" already exists: it's part of humanity.  Or maybe it doesn't.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

十年に結婚した現存 - Being Married there 10 years

Extreme gratitude, love,  and humility.

Is the toilet backed up again?

Who left the dishes on the table?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Genpo Merzel has largely disappeared from cyberspace...

No Twitter, no Facebook it seems.  His mug did show up here,  but I find it difficult to believe that he would make himself, you know, available, live.  I like how the words "Integral," "Evolution," and "Spirituality" or variants of those words are peppered on that site.  It seems Ol' Merzel is  labeled  as presenting something on "The Future of Buddhism," with what looks like a subtitle, "Big Mind, Big Heart and the Evolution of the Dharma."

See what I mean?

Friday, April 01, 2011

Why I don't have a top ten list of "Spiritual Teachers"

The older I get, the more I realize the wisdom of my teacher's line about "There is no teacher." Seriously. "Teacher" is still kind of an odd term to apply to him, but given that I'm pressed for time this morning, I'll go with it.  "Dude" doesn't seem to cut it as an appellation, and 親分 (oyabun), well, I'll be posting about that later, I suppose, but that term doesn't apply either.

There was some buzz in Twitter about "Spiritual Teachers" possibly instigated by this post over at, uh, yeah, Tricycle.  But of course I've said enough about Tricycle for a week or so (until of course they do something else blog-worthy, I suppose).  But via Twitter I cam across this odd post by Diane Musho Hamilton.  She's a bit more poetic I think that the average Integralian - you know, they always say, "integral this" and "integral that." "Integral Cheerios," for example, would not be out of character.

In her response to a Watkins Review article  on a "top 100" "Spiritual Teachers"  she lists her own, though not in much of an articulated order.  Can you see where this post is going yet?

Watkins included Wayne Dyer and Louise Hay, and I listed Genpo Roshi and Choygam Trungpa Rinpoche. Ken Wilber made their list at number nine, just before Rhonda Byrne—but for me, Ken comes in third, just after His Holiness and Oprah. Why? Because he has had more influence in my life that almost any other single writer or spiritual teacher.

Ken doesn’t claim to be a teacher. We all know that. True, he does not fulfill the role of guru, but a substantial number of people around the globe have discovered boundless perfection while sitting alone at night reading his books. Not only has reading Ken’s work opened their minds, but his writing evokes a deep, abiding compassion by helping his readers embrace the complexity-of-the-world-as-it-is through the door of their cognitive understanding. It is a bit of a quandary how one of the world’s most cutting edge thinkers also has the simultaneous capacity for opening the heart. But isn’t that what good theory does?  Help us turn towards the real? And isn’t Ken’s genius precisely for showing us that mind and heart are one—that truth and compassion are the same thing?

Ken’s writing throws nothing out—not evolution, neuroscience or biochemistry, not history, political theory, or social engagement. And certainly not the great spiritual traditions. He is able to bridge meditative insight from the East with the Western mystical traditions, and presence the latest and greatest innovations of science and psychology in our contemplation. And without the pretense of spiritual guidance, he implicitly encourages his readers to be free to grow and to awaken, participating in the magnificence of evolution, and trusting their unique moment of now in the coursing of history. And what a talent that is.

I wanted to include a bit of  the Wilber bit because - well, it's fawning.  And even though I have a low opinion of Wilber's work - who clearly is inferior as a philosopher to those who actually profess the subject - no matter what their particular specialty  biases or what-not- this post is not about Wilber.  Much.  

No, it's that first sentence in the quote - of this post of March 29 - that grabbed my attention. On the exact same day as that post by Adam Tebbe comes out about how Genpo Merzel is doing a "disrobing do-over" - on the exact same day - Diane Musho Hamilton publishes a "list" of "spiritual teachers" that includes him.

Merzel is below Oprah Winfrey, to be sure...but I digress. 

Merzel?  Ms. Hamilton should read all of NellaLou's post on the subject of "Sex and the Sangha."  Admittedly, Musho is a "student" of Genpo Merzel, but as I continually tell my guys, if the student cannot teach the teacher now and then, the teacher is a horrible teacher.  And this was a perfect opportunity for Musho to teach something to her teacher.

 On the Zen Forum International site in an area discussing recent issues with Eido Shimano, one "sweepingzen" (Tebbe?) wrote, "I would also like to state that it's getting very old hearing people trying to save Shimano's reputation.'Eido Roshi’s uncompromising and penetrating Dharma Eye, which reveals directly the luminous power of the unconditioned mind.'  If Roko Chayat believes that then perhaps she is too close to the matters at hand to see the situation clearly."

The exact  thing applies to Musho Hamilton re: Genpo Merzel.  If she think's he's a "top ten" "spiritual teacher,"  then she's way too close to the situation to have any kind of clear viewpoint of such matters. Genpo Merzel has done great harm to the reputation of Zen practice.  Holding him up as some kind of ideal is an insult to those who are struggling with their own practices, not to mention those who have been immediately harmed by his behavior.
Of course, if you poke enough, you could say that about all the people on her list.  I don't have the  time or space to go through every last one of them, but the point is, by holding people up to some kind of ideal as a "great" spiritual teacher,  they are pointing away from The Matter at Hand. 

And they totally don't get nonduality. The preceding sentence intentionally self-referential , referential to myself and my own practice and self-contradictory - go read that last sentence again.  But the reality is, people just starting out in this practice aren't going to get the subtlety of all that.  And holding up Genpo Merzel or any of these other folk are setting up a stumbling block for the inexperienced practitioner, and it's not even a good stumbling block - the kind that is intentionally placed there to improve the practice!

So I think it's best not to have a "spiritual teachers" list.  There is no teacher.

Now go figure it out.  Pay attention.