I've seen the magazine at two of my local upscale groceries. Used to be you'd see Weekly World News or the National Enquirer or some such rot in a grocery. At other groceries you still do, but there's also magazines with Oprah's mug on them as well.
We have many choices in our free enterprise system, don't we?
I guess I'm asking this question in the title because I've been re-reading some blog-posts from the last few days, including, but not limited to NellaLou's here, my own posts, and that of the Speculative non-Buddhists . It seems to me there's scandals reported in Buddhism all over the place, that DC area shooter, Thailand monks, Buddhist Geeks conference flippant remarks about unwanted sexual situations, etc. etc.
Who makes the narrative for all this?
Yeah, I'm making the narrative here, and you can help.
But I think it's too easy to sit back and let others define the narrative for us, or perhaps a better phrasing is someone puts forth a narrative and we're inclined to adopt a narrative because adopting a dissonant narrative involves the work of constructing a dissonant narrative. Or something like that. But it's why the echo chamber effect we see in right wing media happens in situations outside of right wing media.
So who has been making the narrative in Western Buddhist media?
Well, I'll go through a couple of them, based on what my browser's presenting me at this moment. Of course they change this stuff, and by the time you get to it the various Western Buddhist media might be different.
But let's look at it for a second. It might give us insight we might not otherwise have.
First, let's look at the Shambhala Sun's site. Did you know America is Angry, and the Left became "unhinged" when George W. Bush took advantage of a conservative controlled Supreme Court to stop the vote count in Florida in the year 2000, and therefore questions will always remain about the propriety of his assumption of the American presidency? Note to Shambhala Sun: I think one reason "America is angry" has to do with articles like this, with their false sense of balance and equivalence.
I mean, this was the first article I looked at in writing this blog post, and right the freak there is the problem I'm trying to point out: Western Buddhist media provides a narrative that really is more of an impediment to ethical practice than an enabler of it.
From that article:
The hostile left-wing Volvo driver might be shocked to hear it, but he’s not so different from Rush Limbaugh: both lack a filter with which to screen their bile. Meditation practice provides this filter by training us to be nonreactive, to consider our actions, to “check in” and directly experience how we feel physically and emotionally before acting on it. They teach us to see the larger world and our place in it more clearly, and to experience what we are feeling with some degree of awareness.
We don’t need to become Buddhists to deal with our anger but everyone can benefit from what Buddhists have learned from millennia of training. These practices are not a panacea or a cure, but a process through which we learn to see our emotions as dynamic and changing. By undertaking this work, we are less likely to give the finger to the next hapless driver who accidentally cuts us off. Or start a war
As I've also noted elsewhere, there's nothing at all ethical or useful categorically, with respect to Buddhism, in making "non-reactivity" good in and of itself; rather we should strive to have the right action at the right time.
Oh, and that's not why at least we Zen Buddhists practice meditation. Sometimes reacting non-responsively to a situation is a good idea. Sometimes it means death.
But more over, this article is itself injurious to right speech, in my thinking in that it posits a false equivalence between Rush Limbaugh and an angry Volvo driver! And in so doing, presupposes there is a "Buddhist" political point of view and modus operandi. But, regarding the equivalence:
Dude, whoever wrote that article: Rush Limbaugh is partly a character, like Stephen Colbert, only his real-life politics align with the jerk he plays behind the microphone.
Plus he's worth scores of millions of dollars.
There is no equivalence here.
Not that I'd justify angry drivers whatever the political persuasion. I don't. But I also can't justify this kind of speech with an implicit political agenda purporting to be "Buddhist" speech. (BTW, do lefties still drive Volvos? I thought they all went over to Priuses.)
Anyway, to conclude: Shambhala Sun, in publishing such articles, in part serves a purpose not completely dissimilar to the tabloid rags of yore. But instead of being distracted at gaping at some celebrity scandal you can be distracted by tut-tutting your head at all the right-wing or left-wing folks, and distract yourself into feeling superior to them because you meditate.
That's some hell of an editorial policy that admits such articles injurious to the 8-fold path, don't you think?
I better get over to Tricycle or I'm never going to accomplish anything meaningful today.
What do I see at Tricycle?
- Buddhistdoor is recruiting an executive editor. That's the first thing I see.
- Scrolling down, I see links to stories, many of which are behind a paywall, but the majority of which seem to deal with either a) "Buddhist celebrities" (e.g., Thanissaro Bhikkhu), b) the shooting in the DC area, but above c) (inclusive of a) & b)) stories in some way related to Buddhism outside the experiential realm of the average reader of Tricycle.
- Then there's the ads. Buddhist Geeks has an ad there.
I had to poke around a bit, but at least in 2012, The Tricycle Foundation did receive a grant from the Frederick Lenz Foundation.
If you go to Tricycle's "About" page, there is links to what are said to be IRS forms, but alas, as of this writing, they're dead links.
The fact is, the editorial policy at Tricycle will in some part depend on who gives it money. The fact that Tricycle still does not acknowledge the wrongdoing of the likes of Lenz, is in effect whitewashing his shady past, and implicitly green lighting new misbehavior.
So Tricycle, like Shambhala Sun:
- Helps to mystify Buddhist experience rather than clarify it by positing Buddhist content as outside of one's self (perfect for mental cause tourism).
- Plays down, or ignores any role it might have in the historical issues facing Western Buddhism. For years in Tricycle there were ads from Genpo Merzel's outfit, Eido Shimano's outfit, etc. etc.
How has Tricycle responded? It's unclear as to what their ethical or editorial responsibilities and standards they have or attempt to meet. Just like the National Enquirer.
Once upon a time Tricycle linked to outside Buddhist blogs. They do not anymore. They did attempt to create a social network within their domain; naturally this can't demolish any echo chambers in existence.
Now I'm not saying that all the Buddhist luminaries presented in Tricycle or the Shambhala Sun have nothing to say, they're all immoral, yada yada yada. No, what I'm saying is the very structure of the Buddhist media in the West is conducive to not illuminating and dealing with the stench of feces within the sangha. Tricycle and the Shambhala sun present themselves as hipster kitsch; there is the absolute denial of their own shit through the absence of its appearance in their context (whereas tabloid rags are kitschy in a way Kundera could not imagine living in the drab Communist world in which he was at the time when he came up with his kitsch formula.)
I don't fault the Buddhist luminaries necessarily for presenting in these magazines; you've got to try to help people wherever they are.
I do think it's time we in the West paid a more critical eye towards these publishing institutions and their role in shaping the discourse in Western Buddhism.