Tuesday, September 03, 2013

More on the Cultural Provincialism of Buddhist Geeks

All of this means is that Vincent Horn has work to do.  Hopefully he takes his Buddhist Geeks project to a better place as a result of this.

Anyway, I was looking at some of their material yesterday, and was struck by a few things:

  • The Buddhist lineage holders they have represented ...are...just who? There's Diane Hamilton.   Is Shinzen Young a recognized lineage holder? I know, I know, he's trained in this and that, and maybe he does have some authentic lineage recognition.  I think he's a decent enough teacher from what I've seen.  Ken McLeod has some training though. But Rinzai seems largely missing (with one exception I'll get to shortly). South East Asian: absent. Asian teachers from Asia are scarce except perhaps for a Tibetan teacher. Yes, yes, they had Martine Batchelor.  But still...

  • There is a huge over-representation of those "Integral" folks.  "Integral," for those of you who read this blog and don't know about it, is a philosophy as crafted by someone who didn't really know what was going on in philosophy at the time.  I can't really put it more politely than that, and I can be substantially less polite, so I should leave it there. (But for a hint as to why I'm so negative, let the thing speak for itself, so to speak.)  To a Buddhist, a Mahayana Buddhist, a Mahayana Buddhist that's read Nagarjuna and the Lotus Sutra,   "Integral" "philosophy" which purports to "explain/address everything" is not simply redundant  - it's not even wrong, as the physicist (Pauli?) said.  (You can go back and read that sentence in your best Christopher Walken impression, if you want.) Teachers associated with "Integral" in Buddhist Geeks include Diane Hamilton, Keith Martin-Smith, David Frenette,  Hokai Sobol and others.  Remember the overwhelming majority of Buddhist teachers in the US have no connection with "Integral" whatsoever.  "Integral" is not anything that professional philosophers  work with in any degree that I'm aware of.  "Integral" has been roundly and justly derided in more than a few places (including this place) for its arrogant claims.  Why this over-representation?  Why no critics of Integral, of which there are more than a few, not the least folks who do have at least an introductory understanding of Western and Eastern thought?  This I think is related to why BG have been so reluctant to respond to Arun's points about the lack of Asian representation in BG. Implicit in Arun's comments (not to mention Barbara's and mine) is that there's something missing from BG.   But Integral folks would claim their philosophy has "nothing missing,"  which is kind of absurd because it doesn't contain its annihilation or synthesis. (Take some Hegel with some Nagarjuna and call me in the morning.) At any rate a decent portion of the Buddhist blogosphere, Brad Warner included, regards these Integral folks as spiritual hucksters.   That these folks have a prominent place at any Buddhist conference raises some questions, to say the least. 

  • Regarding the things of technology, Buddhist Geeks is again highly provincial.   I can't expect them to be exposed to the breadth of technical folks that I have.  But just as one point: with the exception of a few folks dealing with computers/communication (and most that I've seen not in any deep sense) what other technical areas have been represented?  By whom?  I deal with folks who approach this subject much more deeply, and yes, that means these folks are not doing the difficult work, generally. And more to my point, environmental, biological, defense/security sciences, etc. are all left out of BG, as far as I've been able to tell. 

  • Oh, yes, they have "meditation  as technology."  This is rather problematic from a Buddhist standpoint, unless it's simply a bad expression.  Technology relates to the use of tools. Tools are used for purposes,  and meditation neither needs tools, nor, strictly speaking, is itself a tool. 


Nathan said...

Thanks for keeping on this. I wonder if being surrounded by Integral folks for awhile now, if Vince and others at BG have become used to spitting out defensive blurbs and moving on. That's sort of the Integral way from what I have seen.

Have to say, Barbara's hostility makes the conversation on her blog almost useless. I don't know how she expects folks like Vince to actually respond, but how he did isn't surprising at all.

Mumon K said...


Barbara was pretty blunt,and as I implied, kind of channeling Andy Rooney for a bit.

But I wouldn't say she was hostile. Cantankerous maybe. But not hateful.

But your point re: conversation on her blog may unfortunately be correct.

Andy Rooney + Integral. Not a recipe with great potential for Kumbayasity.

Al said...

I've found Barbara's blog, over the years, to not be a terribly good Buddhist blog or very worth reading. She's posted some rather odd stuff before.

As to the Integral thing, well, BG is based out of Boulder and Vince (and maybe Ryan when he was there) had a pretty strong connection to the Integral folks, also based out of Boulder. I met them all in person at "Dharmapalooza" a couple of years before the first Buddhist Geeks conference and that event was hosted at the Integral center in Boulder, as well as at the local Shambhala Center. So the connection there isn't accidental or even unintentional, necessarily.

As to Asian teachers, well, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche gave a keynote at the first Buddhist Geeks conference. I know MacLeod has done two (?) three year retreats and was given authority to teach within his lineage. There Theravdana schools have largely been represented by "Vipassana" folks. I do believe that Vince and Emily, his wife, are both licensed to teach Vipassana from the center in Los Angeles. I'm not sure if Shinzen was given authority to teach by anyone (maybe Sasaki?) but I have enough confidence in him that I haven't been worried. You didn't even touch on the "Pragmatic Dharma" folks like Kenneth Folk and Daniel Ingram, who are coming from a Theravadan background.

The main thing missing, if you want to focus on it, is participation by members of the Asian-American Buddhist community. Given the divergence between them and the convert community and the lack of shared interests and connections, I'm not surprised. How many American Zen groups actually have any direct connection to Asian Buddhism or, say, Japanese or Korean Zen teachers anymore?

Al said...

Oh, as far as technical goes, again, I think BG largely comes from the Boulder scene, which has its software and web development shops but isn't Palo Alto by any means.

Mumon K said...


How many American Zen groups actually have any direct connection to Asian Buddhism or, say, Japanese or Korean Zen teachers anymore?

Mine does. There's Harada-roshi's which implicitly affects Chozen and Hogen Bays' sangha here.

There's others.

Then there's all those "Asian" temples here too - many of which regularly participate in our Portland Buddhist festival.

I do think the Integral thing matters, and matters greatly, and I think has greatly distorted the expounding/view/practice of Buddhism by those people who are "Integralists." It might be just me, but Integral is to Buddhism in some important ways as Falun Da Fa is to Buddhism, and I am concerned about "teachers" who lend Integral legitimacy by sharing a forum with them, just as I would if Li Hongzhi shared a forum with them.

Al said...

Who is lending Integral a forum? I see historical connections but, having been to two out of three Buddhist Geeks conferences and knowing many of the people involved, I don't see anyone trotting out anything integral.

I can't speak to the dark recesses of their non-existent souls but I just don't see it.

Mumon K said...

Who is lending Integral a forum?


It's all over the place over @ Buddhist Geeks:


And Diane Hamilton...her schtick is largely integral, for sure.

Al said...

I see Kelly Bearer in those links. I don't know much about Diane Hamilton.

I see far more people with a Naropa connection though. Can we call BG a front for Naropan thought? Maybe it is a Shambhala thing? :-)

Most of the stuff links to interviews from two or more years back with Boulder area folks or people with Boulder connections that have some Integral connection.

I really don't see BG as a Integral front or beachhead, if that is the implication that is meant.

I read plenty of Ken Wilber back in the day and moved on. I'd like to think that doesn't tar me as "Integral" forever though.

I really do think this is a mistaken direction to focus on.

Mumon K said...


I meant nothing explicitly nefarious, but I did mean that what's being presented too often (e.g., by Hamilton, "Enlightenment through an Evolutionary Lens") really is not in any reasonable sense a mainstream - or even futuristic - view of Buddhism because it is distorted by its conflation with Integral stuff.

I guess some people liked Wilber too much or something, kinda like Ayn Rand.

As to Naropa, well, we should all grow beyond our Alma Mater or whatever the plural of Alma Mater is.

Al said...

The Ayn Rand comment is probably too apt.

I do think growing is important. That said, I do think the annual cry of "where are the Asian faces" or "where are the older faces" isn't going to go very far. As to the latter, the Batchelors are not exactly young, nor was Ponlob Rinpoche, nor is Shinzen, Kennth Folk, Ken MacLeod, or others so I think that the age issue simply isn't true. Heck, we had quite a few boomers last year.

The Asian American issue is complex. For all we know, attempts were made to invite a variety of folks and got nowhere. Without dialogue with BG on that, it isn't going to go far. I think that Twitter and blog comments are likely to be a poor medium of communication.

I plan to go in the spring since it is in San Francisco and a small body of water is all that will separate it from my house. I doubt I'll go to Boulder again as, for me, the roughly $1,000 expense for all of it wasn't worth it. I'd rather spend that money on Burning Man, frankly, or, more likely, my hackerspace work in Oakland.

Mumon K said...


I understand what you've written; I do think that the issue, as I titled in my post, does in fact go deeper than just "few Asians," though that's a serious indicator of the larger issue, namely, that culturally, BG, is very provincial, especially for what they claim to want to do.

Heck, I know there's universes to which I've never been exposed, but regularly I get asked in the course of what I do to give views on what's "emerging." At the very least, some recognition that prognostication or exposition on "the state of the emerging X" is error-prone and can be improved would help improve it.