Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Buddhist Geeks: Buddhist? Tech savvy?

I want to expand on some of the points made in my last post about Buddhist Geeks.   I think that it's important to propagate some of the issues that have been seen with them that are continuing.   Here they are in a nutshell:

  • Much of Buddhist Geeks' "geekiness" - which I'd take to be tech savviness - just isn't there.   There's a lot of buzzwords associated with what they do,  but they don't have the chops.   They just don't. 
  • Much of Buddhist Geeks' "Buddhism" - which I'd take to be more of a buffet restaurant approach to Buddhism -  is superficial.   There's a lot of buzzwords associated with what they do, but I don't see the chops.
  • I think I've said this before, but they come across as highly provincial.   That is to say, they are of a particular time and place formed much by being part of an "officially" promoted "younger generation of Buddhists."  Well, here of course "officially" means various enterprises such as Tricycle and what used to be called Shambhala Sun.  So the  "offically" part  is tongue in cheek, a bit of snark, for  that once upon a time when some folks at Tricycle and elsewhere figured out that a) younger people were tech savvy, and b) there was a younger generation of Buddhists although c) that seemed to be declining. 
  • The focus on Buddhist Geeks "curating" promotion of research into awareness and consciousness - or being a filter between the two areas is troublesome in its own right.  To the extent that this research is valuable as research, having a group of fairly amateur Buddhists promoting it does little good either for Buddhism or the research itself.
    • And their association with folks such as Charles Tart is really a concern.   If I were an awareness/neuroscience researcher I'd think twice about propagating my work through the Buddhist Geeks venue.  In fact, I'd be hesitant to promote Buddhism through that venue as well.
  • To what extent is "Geekiness" in Buddhist Geeks an erasure of the culture, skill, and wisdom of the Asian traditions?  I remember Arun the Angry Asian Buddhist was pointing out the lack of Asian representatives in Buddhist Geeks media, but I think  we have to pay attention to the balance of what in Buddhist Geeks is there instead of the culture, skill, and wisdom of Asian traditions (which are emerging just fine in Asia, thank you very much). 
    • Take Daniel Ingram.  Please.  According to that last link,  Ingram has become "part of the global movement of meditation reform, a movement that seeks to preserve core meditation technology and supports, integrate helpful aspects from across traditions, refine the techniques and maps through exploration and verification, and spread the message that it can be done. It is also a movement to strip away the aspects of dogma, ritual, rigid hierarchy, myth and falsehood that hinder high-level practice and keep the culture of meditation mired in unhelpful taboos and misplaced effort."  Daniel Ingram is the erasure of Asian cultural references from Westernized Buddhism under the pretext of "strip[ping] away the aspects of dogma, ritual, rigid hierarchy, myth and falsehood that hinder high-level practice and keep the culture of meditation mired in unhelpful taboos and misplaced effort."
      • I know I've mentioned this guy in the past, but I think in some ways this guy is as troublesome as Genpo Merzel, another guy who has been known to do erasure for money with questionable consequences.  Most importantly, Ingram seems to be chasing after certain states of mind; that should raise a red flag right there. 
  • Also, when it comes to technology they're pretty narrow.   Are the Geeks concerned with technologies to save the environment? To feed people? To give them shelter? To make people healthier? To determine how to translate Buddhist ideals, ethics and awareness into everyday life? To reduce the harmful effects of wealth inequality? To crack the problem of creating technology for environmentally sustainable production of agarwood
  • Also, when it comes to Buddhism, they're pretty narrow.  Are the Geeks concerned with pro bono applications of Buddhism and technology?  That's a serious question; they seem to be rather tied to maintaining the status quo in terms of inequity of wealth, despite (and because) they are a "for benefit" corporation. (That's because there's technology in the form of the Prisoner's Dilemma.)  But beyond right conduct (that's part of Buddhism you know, I read that somewhere) are they concerned with Buddhist texts? 
Whom am I to say this?

When it comes to the "convergence of Buddhism, technology, and global culture" or whatever some folks call it,  I have some experience in that area.

I have a rather strong technical background, and I've alluded to that quite a few times over the history of this little blog.  If you go to my linkedin page or search for me on the USPTO website, you'll note that there are many patents of which I'm an inventor.  Let me just say this about that, as Richard Nixon might never have said:  I have, in my work,  not only done a very significant amount of technical research, these days I have a reasonable amount of control over what research gets funded. And that spans a pretty wide gamut.

Moreover, when there's all this breathless hype (hopefully it is dying out) about "mindfulness" and "meditation" and tech folks,  I kind of yawn.   You have to go at this stuff for decades.   And some of the folks that may be themselves off as teachers just haven't paid their dues, and yeah, you generally have to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues about the Dharma, metaphorically speaking.  Otherwise, you might be more or less a dilettante who might be unintentionally embarrassing yourself. 

Global culture? Let's just say that when you watch CNN International, I'm their target demographic.

As for my own Buddhist credentials, I think I'm a rather poor representative despite the couple of decades plus I've put into the endeavor, which is to say you could easily find better examples of Buddhists with Buddhist accomplishment.  That said, talking about Zen Buddhism in terms of computer science terms really trivializes not only Zen and its associated meditation, but, in my view, Buddhism itself.

It would be nice to see Buddhist Geeks actually address some of these issues, but I am not optimistic they will.   As I wrote before, they think they carved out a brand space for some kind of convergence of Buddhism and technology.  But you know who else thought that? Frederick Lenz.  (I know it's a form of Godwin's Law, which really isn't a law, especially when we have folks that look a lot like fascists running for president.)   But many of the same complaints lodged against Lenz could conceivably be lodged against Buddhist Geeks, although that they're less of a harmful cult than Lenz's gig, but  where I come from, misspent opportunities because of opportunity costs being paid to questionable endeavors is harmful.  We don't live forever.

To sum up though, I don't think Buddhism and technology mean what they think those terms mean.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Alienation from the Buddhist Blogosphere...

Obviously, because I haven't been blogging much lately other stuff has filled the time; some good, some not so good.  Lately though I've been doing more on my practice, and I'm looking at some of the old Buddhist blogosphere haunts.

I don't plan on linking to others, or even mentioning some of them by name.  But here's some stuff:

  • What happened to  Oh, he went to of course, and then is likely on a hiatus or working outside the blogosphere.   Good for him! I have to add editing this blog structure on my to-do list. 
  • Tricycle just keeps getting weirder and weirder.   I think Tricycle is in large measure responsible for the commoditization of mindfulness.  
  • Buddhist Geeks.   Is this still a thing?   Regardless,  the folks there keep putting stuff out there, and are evidently into "branding" Buddhist Geeks as some kind of technically hip form of "American" Buddhism.  Buddhist Geeks is tempting me to re-title and perhaps re-purpose this blog as "Old School Zen," or perhaps "May True Dharma Continue."  The reason I am tempted is that so much of Buddhist Geeks appears to be irrelevant to the project of Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism.  To put it another way, trying to express Buddhist meditation practice using the memes of computer programming, is just a more constrained form of scratching one's foot through one's shoe.  Ditto for meditation research.  I think the proprietors of Buddhist Geeks have good intentions.  But I also think that "Old School" Zen practices are what they are because they've evolved over centuries to be that way.   There are some aspects to those practices that might seem out of step with Western culture, but, so what?  I think it's a valid question to raise: Can those aspects of  "Old School" Zen practices really be ported over to modern, Western ways of practice without reference to the benefits and characteristics of "Old School" practice? (And either way, why or why not is that bad cultural appropriation?) That seems to be a topic largely unexplored in Western Zen and Western Buddhism in general, except in regards to concerns about decolonialization (which is kind of strange if we're talking about Japanese Zen, in a multitude of directions).   As an example, the relationship between Zen and the deepest meaning of kung fu is pretty much wide open territory. 
    • Also they should put more transcripts in.  Reading is often a quicker way of assimilating information. 
  • "Engaged" Buddhism:  I used to do that on this blog, and wouldn't forswear doing it again.  But in this political season, I've posted those opinions copiously elsewhere, especially in places that aren't a Western Buddhist echochamber.  Yeah, we have one too.   But that aside, I'm coming to think there's more useful "Old School" Zen Buddhist things to write about than politics, except, perhaps, where somebody's trying to hijack progressive politics one way or another, in a way that doesn't bring everyone along.   Or when, out of political considerations, one wants to call charlatans such as Frederick Lenz or Li Hongzhi Buddhists. 
    • That said, I also think it's extremely useful to explore the issues of ethnicity and race in Western American Buddhism.   Too much of it comes across as the Buddhist equivalent of P.F. Chang's, or, alternatively, like one must completely reflexively abandon from Asian paradigms.  That also impinges on my "Old School" writing inclinations.
  • Kōans:  I've seen a nonsensical site wherein some guy purported to give "answers" to kōans, which completely, and totally misses the entire point of kōans!
  • Sweeping Zen:  A while back Adam Tebbe was rather, um, characteristic of himself at the time toward me, regarding the scandals at the time of Eido Shimano and Joshu Sasaki.   I believe the point of contention involved lots of questions about how Buddhists might respond to the situations presented by Shimano and Sasaki, and to what extent Sweeping Zen might be "tabloidizing" these scandals.  My understanding is that Mr. Tebbe was in a better place these days, and his blog kind of reflects it, though it is a bit Sōtō heavy.  But they have Genjō Marinello on there, and the Kwan Um folks, so lately it's been more or less OK.   That said, I still think the whole affair points to, yes, sick Zen authorities that abused their power flowing with a whole goulash of Orientalism, misunderstanding about the Dharma, and harmful innocence in the sense that Rollo May indicated. And I still agree with Brad Warner about Myoan Grace Schireson. I also still agree with him on the futility of standardized certification of Zen teachers beyond one's own teacher or tradition. 
  • MOOC-derived/On line/Cloud-based sanghas:  It might be helpful for people to practice where there are no "teachers" or temples around, and it might be useful to rank beginners, but eventually you must come face to face with someone.

So I guess yeah, there's some alienation from what the Buddhist blogosphere is these days on my part, though if anyone knows of any blogs that address some of the points above that I'm not currently following,  please let me know!