Tuesday, October 24, 2017

I've got lots of new material floating around in my head...

Some of it has to do with recent experiences I can't fully talk about yet, some has to do with the deepening of practice that resulted from those experiences.

I can't wait to get some time to put it all down, and be as candid as circumstances allow.

Lots and lots of stuff!

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Someone wrote a book...

I'm a little taken aback when I see stuff in the marketplace like books entitled "Why Buddhism Is True."  It's written by a guy named Robert Wright.

It seems to be a philosophy/science book.  From the link above (NY Times Book review) it seems to say that dissatisfaction - dukkha is programmed into us via natural selection.  Moreover,

Wright’s book is provocative, informative and, in many respects, deeply rewarding. A good example is Wright’s description of his first full entry into the realm of mindfulness. Arriving at this new mental state generated in him an intense emotive response and a memorable feeling that Wright evokes with suggestive but spare prose. It rings true. This scene lets the reader glimpse the power of mindful meditation and be intrigued, even seduced, by the transformative potential of the practice.

 I haven't read the book, I don't know the reviewer, but when I see things like "new mental states" "generated" etc. I am concerned as I say in my day job. 

Again, I'm not sure about the whole thing; if this was in my library I might take it out.  I must admit that 30 years ago Thich Nhat Hanh's "Miracle of Mindfulness" was very helpful to me.  So (obviously) the mindfulness stuff is important - and indeed, I would venture a necessary preceding stop to effecting meaningful change in one's life. 

 But there's something off here; it's not that I don't think Buddhism "is true," although I'm not sure what that means in a sense. There's a lot to Buddhism, and among those things I would posit, especially after spending some time on Twitter, that there's not only chiliocosms full of Buddhas, but also vastly ignorant, hurting people.  Buddhism is a hell of a lot more than meditation, and it sure as hell is not a commodity.

I think, if the NY Times reviewer captured it correctly, the last paragraph of his review damns the book:

I would venture that in most meditative states some subjectivity remains, as representative of the biological interests of the individual. As far as I can imagine, the complete disappearance of a subjective view would result in a “view from nowhere.” But whose view would that be, then? And if not ours, how would we come to know let alone seek such a view, such an emptiness? Mindful meditation is no stranger to the world of paradox. Is there anything stranger than discovering the pleasures of not feeling?

To steal from Richard Feynman, if you can't write an introductory book on Buddhism without a proper and readily grasped notion of emptiness, you have failed at the task of writing an introductory book on Buddhism.  So it's either Mr. Wright or the author of the review.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Poisoning the Well

Folks, google "Logical Fallacies."  I came across this post on "spiritual psychedelic drug taking" by Vince Horn, and could not believe...  well I shouldn't say that, because I'm infinitely mistaken.  Let's just say that its presumption that those opposed to the use of psychedelic drugs as "spiritual" practice should not be branded as "puritans."  Just because someone is opposed to the use of such practices on principle does not mean they are in favor of the War on Drugs.  What Mr. Horn did was invoke the logical fallacy of "poisoning the well" to portray opponents of his position in the worst possible light.

Mr. Horn does his position a grave disservice by presenting opponents of "spiritual psychedelic drug taking" this way.  It's dishonest, to boot.

I for one, have taken far more than my share of intoxicants in my lifetime, and in some aspects need to reduce further my intake of such things.  In no way would I consider these practices as "spiritual."

I can't speak for other Buddhist traditions, but I am firmly in the camp that says that "they're not the same thing and don't pretend they are."  And yes, the War on Drugs was a war on people who were not in certain in-groups in America by and large.  But that doesn't mean that Buddhist practices are compatible with taking strong hallucinogens.  

Let's just say if you're too out of it, you can't help yourself or others.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Woke versus Awake

This post is largely, but not entirely a response to the confluence of a few tweets, one a nice tweet by Brad Warner, which can be found around here, but also this thread.  What I'd like to express in this post is:
  • There's massive amounts of ignorance in the universe; it is an unfathomable amount of ignorance.
  • As I wrote somewhere way back when,  regular Buddhist practice results in something, "awakening-wise" something like the way death is mentioned in the movie Beetlejuice:

  • Just because you're highly experienced at whatever doesn't mean you don't have an obligation to learn more, do more etc. In such ugly times as these, not only is beauty true protest, but insouciance can be fatal.  The same applies for anyone who's ever had any kind of realization in practice.
  • Just because you're highly sensitive to marginalized groups - because you may be in a marginalized group - doesn't mean you're not influenced by a massive amount of ignorance, especially since it tends to be the case with all of us.
  • I don't consider myself woke, especially since I respect what a lot of folks are doing to realize their struggle in life is far more treacherous than mine. I won't opine on anyone's awakened state or lack thereof.  What I do know is privileged folks need to be more cognizant of marginalized folks regardless of what they do or know now, and people who are more aware of the issues and struggles of marginalized folks need to cultivate awareness, wisdom, compassion, and generosity.  Everybody anywhere along  the continua ought to try to excel in both ways.

So those are the points I wanted to cover in this post, and if I leave anything out here, well, consider it covered in my bullet points.  But I want to elaborate a little here and there at least:

I found this thread - pointing to this article - about a kid and a kimono, and how some that are derided as "SJWs" picked a target that revealed their ignorance, especially since it was later pointed out that kimono making is a dying industry in Japan, and wearing kimonos, and other Japanese stuff had been disseminated from Japan.  It was, in fact,  another example of what I mentioned in my post about Buddhist "cultural appropriation."  

I found it interesting because the thread I found on Twitter dealt with two people of Chinese ancestry talking about whether a Westerners using Japanese disseminated stuff was cultural appropriation or not. Yes, Virginia, they were Chinese-splaining proper behavior of Japanese towards Japanese culture.  I didn't know whether or not it was appropriate to White-splain Japanese culture to them, but they had unwittingly stepped on an inter-East Asian fault line (they're probably still unwitting, maybe not if they read this).  That fault line of course is that  if group X comprises subgroups A, B, and C, and A is the vast majority of those people in X,  people in B and C don't expect or desire that A is going to be the spokes-group for them.

I regularly work with East Asians, and there's certain protocols that are observed, because people need to get along with people in their work, and because there's laws, they're good laws, and they should be observed.  It is a tribute to the massive ignorance in the universe that laws that make people do the right thing for their business need to exist, but such laws do need to exist.  I try not to speak for any subgroups of people in which I work because of the law and because we have work to do.  Would that this would be the case in society at large, but it's not that way, even amongst those that favor social justice.

Back to Brad Warner.  Of late Brad Warner took a lot of heat (some of it from me) for his post here, which unfortunately sets of a false equivalence/comparison between alt-right buzzwords and the buzzwords of  what some deride as  SJWs.  I don't like the term SJWs,  because it reduces all people who hold certain positions to a caricature. (Such positions include some of my positions,  e.g.,  "Black Lives Matter" was a clever way to call attention to the fact that Black lives weren't being treated like White lives; it was a kind of koan: How are Black lives different than non-Black lives? That some liberals like Hilary would say "All lives matter" was precisely the point of Black Lives Matter. ) I also don't like the term "allies" either and that whole nomenclature that goes along with some of what those who (often mis)use critical theory use in advancing yes, justice and equality.  That was what Brad was decrying - the reduction of everything to shibboleths.  But, as I replied here and there to him, on one side, there's people trying to fight for people getting screwed by prejudice and bigotry, and on the other side there's racists and bigots who might be little guys screwed and exploited by others, but still racists.

The social justice folks, being human, are as capable of ignorance, violence, and hatred as anyone else, and, as Brad might point out, some of the people feeding into and exploiting bigotry and racism might make a mean apple pie and make you feel welcome in their home.  Maybe. But the current objectives of one group is not the moral equivalent of the other. It just isn't, regardless of who's in anyone's family.  And you know what? A million billion social  and cultural faux pas by a myriad number of social justice folk is not the same thing as a white person complaining that they are socially sanctioned for calling minority groups with derogatory names! There are however exact analogues for other groups in the world  because racism and bigotry are pretty widespread in the world.

There was something in one of Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, that pointed to one's own self, one's own practice, one's own awareness as the locus of where any meaningful action should be initiated.   "Culture grows out of you," I think he wrote (and I don't know where my copy of the book is, so I'll rely on my memory here.)  Culture and you and/or culture and I are not separate. Cultural dissemination and cultural appropriation can't be completely separate either; and when something is disseminated the disseminated thing may not be bound to the social structures in which the thing existed prior to dissemination.  Bill may have to be killed because he used the skills disseminated to him for evil ends.  Or not.

Culture, social action, and any such related things can be used for good or bad ends; we have to have some degree of ethical principles to use them towards good ends, and we have to be aware of them to use them effectively towards good ends. 

So it's not enough to be "woke," you have to work towards being awake.  And what good is being awake if it's not helping yourself and others?  To the agree that we're awake, we're awake but we became awakened/died each in our own way, each with our own baggage. We still have an obligation to deal with the baggage.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Buddhism, Martial Arts, 書道/書法 and Cultural Appropriation

I could have sworn I'd written about this already but recent stuff I've been reading on social media leads me to believe that Certain Things Need to Be Written Down.  I know I commented on this elsewhere because there was a spate of "cultural appropriation in yoga" stuff a while back.  What motivates me today is not yoga critics but  recent critiques of cultural appropriation such as this.  Now the originator of that Twitter bit often has content worth one's attention, and is often rather witty.  But Certain Things Need to Be Written Down.

And with that a few words about "yoga appropriation" ought to be said first. I thought yoga appropriation as cultural appropriation rather absurd, as yoga as New Agey Thing has been a thing for a lot longer than the last decade and a half or so when it really took off.  And I thought if people didn't get peeved at New Agey yoga appropriation, what's the deal with cultural appropration?

And the trajectory by which the yoga meme (the Dawkins meaning,  folks) went from Indian thing to New Agey Thing to commercial thing to appropriated thing to alleged intellectual property is interesting because in some ways it mirrors the martial arts memes (without the New Agey step more or less), and in my view, despite the capitalist appropriation of yoga and martial arts, really damns the view of cultural appropriation of these disciplines i.e., the outcome of colonization and oppression of people of color by dominant white culture. NB: my examples here do not mean there is no such thing as cultural appropriation. Of course there is.  Yeah, Elvis Presley, white idiots who dress up like Native Americans and so forth.  But my point is not all instances of white people - or any other people - taking up a discipline "outside" their culture is stealing, is cultural appropriation or is wrong. And these "not all instances" are not "corner cases" - isolated instances which prove the general rule. They are, in my view vital for the survival of humanity in fact, at least when it comes to Buddhism.  They can be vital to the survival of the disciplines, too!

In a nut, the processes by which white people were introduced to yoga and martial arts  wasn't cultural appropriation at all.  It was cultural dissemination.  Yes, that's what it was. The same is even more true (and more important) for Buddhism, as I'll show. And it's also true for 書道/書法. I will readily and quickly grant that there is capitalist appropriation of yoga and martial arts just as there is capitalist appropriation of mindfulness.   But it was cultural dissemination to be sure.

Somewhere in my house I have this book. This lady trained for many years with B.K.S. Iyengar.  She didn't take it from him; he willingly taught it to her.  So it was with the Catholic nun who wrote the first book on yoga I ever read 46 or so years ago (though there were bits in there about being careful when you meditate, because Satan or something, if I recall correctly.) Point is, they learned it from those willing to teach it, and those willing to teach it thought it important to teach it to white people.

So it is with martial arts.  My Sifu, at his age (75 or thereabouts) wants me (60) to learn Wing Chun well enough so that I can teach others, and also so his lineage doesn't die out! Now, thankfully for Sifu, there's students in the class much younger and better than I! On the other hand, there's Tae Kwon Do, which is in several ways cultural appropriation of kung fu albeit as a  white and Korean cultural appropriation, but that's a whole other tangent. Here I should make the obligatory point that it is said that at least some of Ip Man's students had some resistance to Bruce Lee's studying of Wing Chun because of his mixed race background.  But I think I just made my point again.  I will make the point again shortly!

The difference between appropriation and dissemination is an order of magnitude more salient when it comes to Buddhism, especially in the Zen school.  Now I have heard some advocates for people of color make some ridiculously ignorant complaints about Western Convert Buddhists, which is used often as a signifier for white Western Convert Buddhists.  (NB: Read Arunlikhati's Angry Asian Buddhist blog for legitimate critiques of white Western Convert Buddhists.  Arunlikhati is a saint in my book.)   These ignorant complaints about white Western Buddhists often, but not always, come from Asian Americans with a Christian background.   So let me dispel a few myths that I've seen straightaway:

  • YES, we know it's "awakening" and "understanding" and seeing into one's nature and not "enlightenment."  And some of us, unlike some of you, can read Chinese and Japanese.
  • YES, we know it's asinine to go to places like Thailand sporting Buddha tattoos.  At least most of us do.
  • YES, we know there are mistranslations of some texts.
  • Many Buddhist texts were written in an Indo-European language before they were written in Sino-Tibetan languages.
  • No, we don't all revere the Dalai Lama.
  • YES there are quite a few frauds and hucksters and degenerates (white and Asian) in the White Western Buddhist Convert area, and YES, we've worked hard to try to deal with that issue. And YES, similar stuff goes on in Asia.
  • NO, we're not all vegan/vegetarian.
  • We're not all liberals. Heck, I'm not a liberal.

Anybody who's read about Bodhidharma knows that Zen was transmitted by cultural dissemination; this is emphasized in  the Platform Sutra.  And anyone who's read the Lotus Sutra knows that Buddhism is supposed to be universal.

But more importantly, one practices Buddhism to try to grok suffering, disillusionment, dukkha. This is about freakin' living one's life to deal with the fundamental human condition, and to help others to do so! If someone's going to call me out for "cultural appropriation," so be it!  But I would hope that such a person develops enough skill to be able to be a better practitioner than me.

Ditto for martial arts, at least in so far as they are taught to develop authentic 功夫.  I would wish that everyone be disciplined and accomplished.  This strictly speaking can't even be culturally appropriated for the same reason that Kierkegaard railed against the notion of "Christian nations." 功夫 happens at the individual level.

I could write a book on this. Perhaps I should.  One point I should make before I close is the same is true for 書道/書法; the author of the Twitter stream I referenced earlier took umbrage at a font.  I imagine he may not be happy at my practice of 書道/書法, but that may be again, like Asian Americans with a Christian background complaining about white Western Buddhists, due to a lack of familiarity with what 書道/書法 even is.  I hope not, but suffice it to say, 書道/書法, like 功夫 happens at the individual level.  When you see a work of  書道/書法, you are in fact seeing someone's mind.  How could anyone culturally appropriate that?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

What *do* other Buddhists think of Falun Da Fa? And is it harming the reputation of predominantly white Buddhist Communities?

You don't have to look very far on my blog to know that I have been highly critical of the Portland Buddhist Peace Fellowship in recent years because of their unfortunate embrace of Falun Da Fa, aka Falun Gong at the Portland Buddhist Festival.

I'm not going to rehash all the reasons that I feel Falun Da Fa has no place at a meeting of Buddhists - or rather, they have as much a right to a place at a meeting of Buddhists as Evangelicals, Taoists, Muslims, and maybe Sam Harris. 

Falun Gong simply does not represent any kind of Buddhism within established traditions.  While it claims to be of "the Buddha School," it as as "Buddhist" as Frederick Lenz's "American Buddhism."

So I've said this for several years now.   Groups like the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and other white liberal groups have tended to be reflexively anti-China.  China is a far from perfect country,  and has done things that I cannot condone, but the white liberal narrative of Buddhist politics and China is ridiculously over-simplified, and I cannot condone that either. 

But I'm curious as to how other Buddhist groups think about the presence of Falun Da Fa at these meetings - not simply Western-based sanghas, but also Asian Sanghas.   We in the Portland area have an abundance of temples nearby; - and we have temples in Vancouver WA as well.  There's also on-line Buddhists, representing Asian viewpoints as well as yes, white convert Buddhists.  I should also point out something about the Portland Buddhist Festival: It seems to have gotten whiter over the years.

I intend to ask members of the local Buddhist communities about Falun Da Fa. So, if you happen to be one of the people or temples I ask about this, I would deeply appreciate a response; but I would also deeply appreciate a thoughtful response. My question will be: How do you feel about Falun Da Fa represented as Buddhist given what is written in general in the Zhuan Falun, and especially the chapter on Falun Da Fa and Buddhism?

I'll publish whatever I wind up with. Hopefully together - including the Buddhist Peace Fellowship - we can come to some kind of closure as to what to do about Falun Da Fa in our Buddhist communities.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Why the Heart Sutra?

Christians have, at times, touted the Lord's Prayer as the "perfect" prayer; it contains evidently all the stuff that monotheists want in a prayer.

The Heart Sutra, in my view, is substantially more profound than the Lord's Prayer, and, at the same time, is not a prayer.  It's more-or-less a sutra.

"Sutra" as Wikipedia helpfully explains, is a Sanskrit word that means string or thread; yes, it is equivalent to the English word "suture," which is what surgeons put in you when they stitch you up after surgery.  Yeah, humanity is that close that a sring or thread in Sanskrit is a string or thread for surgery in English.   Did I mention that the words "Zen" and "thank" also have a common origin?

The Lord's Prayer is a prayer directed to the Christian deity written in the second person. The Heart Sutra on the other hand, is said to be the words of the Buddha to his disciple Sariputra; thus, it is not meant to be addressed to anyone,  rather, it is the quote of the Buddha taken as a statement of fact.

The main point of the short sutra - with is the main point of the "wisdom" sutras in general - is that experiential phenomena - our apprehensions of the five "aggregates" of  form, feeling, volition, conciousness have no inherent essence; thus all is but a temporary co-existence of these aggregates.

This statement of fact by the Buddha includes that when the Bodhisattva of Compassion deeply saw the reality of the emptiness of the five aggregates that they obtained complete awakening. 

How can this be, or why is this so?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Heart Sutra

The Heart Sutra is a fundamental text of Mahayana Buddhism.   As most of my readers who have read my blog are Buddhist, they know about the Heart Sutra.  But I have never written much on it myself.  So I think I'll write a few blog posts on it, as I have the Lotus Sutra and the Lankavatara Sutra.   The Heart Sutra posts should be shorter though.

If you're Buddhist and are reading these posts, I hope my thoughts on the Heart Sutra will be of use to you.  If you're not Buddhist and are reading these posts,  I hope you will come to appreciate what the Heart Sutra captures.

The Heart Sutra,  is the "heart" of the "Perfection of Wisdom in 8000 Lines" or "Perfection of Wisdom" Sutra.  One version is here: http://huntingtonarchive.org/resources/downloads/sutras/02Prajnaparamita/Astasahasrika.pdf.

I hope in coming days to delve into Heart Sutra in depth and its import. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Identity Politics and Zen Buddhism

I'm using almost the exact same title of this post as one by Brad Warner, because a) it's roughly about the same topic, b) there isn't one single viewpoint on this, as you might expect, and c) Ven. Warner has of late posted a couple of rather strange things  (e.g., reposting this bit of creationist claptrap), that, in my view,  merit a response.  Regarding the creationist stuff, see my response to Ven. Warner on the comments section there.  This post, and Ven. Warner's post on identity politics,  should be read in light of the comments on Brad Warner's posting of a video of Jordan Peterson, who, with flimsy arguments, denies the existence of trans and intersex people in his refusal not to use non-traditional  3rd person singular pronouns.

I have written quite a bit on this site about identity politics before, and privilege.   Whatever I've written in the past few years, I generally still affirm as my views, although I freely admit that those posts probably adheres to Mumon's rule: In 20 years, posts about race, gender, sexuality, privilege and class will likely be cringe-worthy demonstrating some kind of form of disrespect. 

I've also written quite a few posts on this site indicating that I agree with Ven. Warner on a number of issues, and I do, and continue to do so, but here a critical response is merited. 

Ven Warner writes:

But what is identity anyhow? Lately a certain faction has emerged who believe that society has an obligation to accept and affirm whatever identity an individual has chosen for him / her / them / zem / em / hum / pehm / per / thon / ver / xem / yo / hir / mer / zhim-self (ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third-person_pronoun). But is that how identity actually works? 
For example, is Brad Warner an Enlightened Zen Master? Or is he a transphobic piece of shit who never should have been given a set of Buddhist robes? Or is he the bassist for Zero Defex (his preferred definition)? Is he white as most people assume? Or is he of mixed race, which he knows to be true given his family history? Is he an angry rebellious punk, like in his books? Or is he kind of a goofball, as he often comes across when you see him in person?

My first response is that while written language has evolved to where gender is expressed pretty much universally, it isn't uniformly so with spoken forms of the language; e.g., in Chinese, "He" is rendered  "他"  and "she" is rendered "她," and both are pronounced, in Pinyin encoding, "Tā."  For this reason native Chinese speakers speaking English often mix up "she" and "he." (The hànzì BTW, are a little sexist there, as happens in several hànzì/kanji but I digress.)  Chinese speakers mean no disrespect when they do this; they have to consciously remember to assign the right word to the right gender.  However, it's one thing to make a language error of this kind; it's another thing to be in-your-face about not calling someone as they wish to be called, because you fundamentally deny who they are as people "in the relative sense," in their flesh-and-blood quotidian existences.  I'll come back to that point.

Ven. Warner also writes:

What I think I am is often at odds with what other people think I am. Who is right? Is it useful to try to make everyone I encounter agree with the identity I have chosen for myself? Should there be a law requiring them to see me the way I see me? Or is that just a lot of wasted effort?

Ven. Warner, despite being Sōtō and all that, ought to be familiar with Bodhidharma's famous reply to Emperor Wu when he asked Bodhidharma who he was:  不識  - No knowing, often rendered in English as "I don't know."  Of course he's familiar with what Suzuki-roshi said: When you become you Zen becomes Zen.

Both Bodhidharma's and Suzuki-roshi's responses to "Who are you?" in effect point to the Absolute - Emptiness, as a response to the question, as to "keep the question" "Who are you?" is to affirm and express in a certain sense the Absolute or Emptiness.

But...I agree with these folks more or less.  It is a cop-out, a shirking of responsibility to appeal to the Absolute when there are things that need a response in the Relative world.  It is "banging the law" when one cannot bang the facts.   

I could cite a number of other kōans in this regard, which Ven. Warner must surely be aware.

But let me get to the point,  in particular regarding people who are in-your-face not calling someone as they see themselves, because you fundamentally deny who they are as people "in the relative sense," in their flesh-and-blood quotidian existences.  Ven Warner also writes:

Whenever I was unsuccessful at convincing someone else to see me as I saw myself I felt a terrible need to fix the situation. This often proved impossible and so I was left wondering if maybe I really was whatever they said I was, and if I was, in fact, wrong about myself. For me, the first step toward a more Buddhist sort of understanding of identity was seeing how much of a waste of effort it was to try to convince others to see me the way I saw myself. 

What Ven. Warner is doing is implying the appeal to the Absolute I mentioned earlier, as though the answer to the question  "How do I refer to Brad Warner's gender identity colloquially?" is 不識.  That's bullshit in the Relative sense.

We are being polite when we address people by the conventions of polite language. We are impolite when we refer to someone with profanities instead of by their names.   Ven. Warner or I may like some things a certain pundit might say, but if that pundit uses language to deny the existence of or otherwise denigrate an entire class of people then we fall short in not responding to such denigration,  and we fall even further short if our response is 不識.  

This is not to say that those who engage in identity politics don't make this same error; as noted on this blog, the folks at the Portland Buddhist festival have made the same error with respect to Falun Da Fa.   It's something we as Buddhists have to constantly be aware of: Are we shirking some view or responsibility by conflating Absolute and Relative? 

Sunday, January 08, 2017

The Karma of Spiritual Hucksterism

Sedona has no major churches, no relics, no established holy sites. But what it does have are “vortexes” – a series of unmarked points around Sedona’s various cliffs that locals and visitors alike imbue with new-age significance. 
Where that significance comes from – like the actual number of vortexes in Sedona, which varies from guide to guide – is subject to debate. Locals cite legends about the area’s sanctity to local Native American tribes. However, Sedona didn’t become America’s new age capital until the 1980s, when a US psychic named Page Bryant identified the vortexes after a vision. These vortexes were places where spiritual energy was at its highest point, where you could tap into the frequencies of the universe, where you could, by closing your eyes, start to change your life. Spiritual seekers across the country listened. In 1987, Sedona was host to one of the largest branches of the Harmonic Convergence – a new age synchronised meditation – when 5,000 pilgrims came to get in touch with the universe at the Bell Rock butte, believed by many to be a vortex. 
Now, among the juniper trees, you can find strip-malls full of crystal shops, aura-reading stations and psychics. At ChocolaTree Organic Eatery, shiva lingams – statues normally associated with Hindu temples – stand against the walls; next door, a UFO-themed diner called ET Encounter (formerly the Red Planet) serves Roswell-themed burgers and old Star Trek episodes play on the TV. Every other office along the state route running through town offers a “spiritual tour” of the vortexes. The national forests are full of small cairns people have left as spiritual offerings. These are regularly removed by forest service rangers in order to preserve the site’s ecological integrity. 
Near the centre of town, the McLean Meditation Institute avoids the language of what owner Sarah McLean calls the “woos” – those locals who take their magic and their crystals a bit too seriously – by offering mindfulness and meditation classes that, though influenced by eastern traditions, are geared toward the spiritual and the just-plain-stressed alike.

Now I always get intrigued by stuff like a "McLean Meditation Institute," as I've been doing the practice for about 25 years or so myself.   Mindfulness is a pretty marketable thing these days; it's bigger than Jazzercize was in the 1980s.  So if you haven't already clicked on over to there, let's see just who Sarah McLean is and what's with this "Institute." Her bio page states:

Sarah McLean is a contemporary meditation and mindfulness teacher who has been inspiring people to meditate for over 20 years. With kindness and humor, Sarah shares her secrets to creating a successful meditation practice and how the it can lead to increased self-compassion, clear communication, and a more peaceful life.

Sarah first learned about meditation while training in the U.S. Army as a Behavioral Specialist to help soldiers address Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. After the Army and college, Sarah took a nine-month mountain bike journey from Europe to Asia seeking secrets to peace and fulfillment. When she returned, she began her daily meditation practice and studied mind/body health with Dr. Deepak Chopra. She worked with him as the Program Director for the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in California.

After eight years, Sarah took a sabbatical to seek the origins of meditation. She lived in a traditional ashram in South India for six months, and was a two-year resident at a remote Zen Buddhist monastery for two years. In 2001, she settled in Sedona, Arizona and founded the McLean Meditation Institute, a center which offers meditation and mindfulness classes, weekend meditation retreats, and a 200-hour teacher training program.  The Meditation Teacher Academy® is a licensed, post-secondary educational facility that trains meditation and mindfulness teachers worldwide.

Sarah is a popular facilitator at retreats for the Chopra Center, Esalen Institute, and many world-class destinations. She has been interviewed on national television, featured in a variety of award-winning movies, and her work has been touted in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. Her best-seller, Soul-Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation (Hay House), has inspired study groups worldwide. Her upcoming book, The Power of Attention: Awaken to Love and it’s Unlimited Potential with Meditation  (Hay House) is due out in February 2017.

So evidently Ms. McLean was a "Behavioral Specialist" in the Army, did a nine month bicycle  trip  in order to be "seeking secrets to peace and fulfillment," became "Program Director" for Deepak Chopra, and then did a two year residence at "a remote Zen Buddhist monastery." So many questions...at random:

  • Where is that "remote Zen Buddhist monastery?"  Presumably she must have taken vows, if indeed she attended said monastery. 

  • Why would there be "secrets" to peace and fulfillment?  A secret is something hidden from other people; but secrets in order to be secrets must have been hidden by someone.
  • What's the connection to Deepak Chopra, a wellspring of woo?

It's that last bit that intrigues me.   Chopra's wooishness and spiritual huckestering is well known, and has been well criticized, and deservedly so, over the years.  (Just look at his website!)  As a guy that's done Zen for about 25 years, Chopra's schtick bears as much similarity to my practice as "Professional wrestling" bears similarity to Greco-Roman wrestling.  That is to say, Deepak Chopra is woefully unqualified in the area of expounding on "spirituality" - which I'll take as a "way to live."

What about Sarah McLean?  Well, let's go back to the McLean Meditation Institute site.  I'm immediately put off by the corporate (stock?) photography.  I realize that's an esthetic criticism, but I would submit,  like 茶道,書道, 武士道, 生花 there is probably ウェブ道 - the Way of the Web.  Moreover, the imagery is conveying information: this looks like a white woman thing and the meditation thing looks dodgy.  It's fine that there's practices centered around women of course,  but I suspect it's more exploitive of women then benefitting them.   As for meditation the images do not seem to be practicing it in a way that we Zen folks can relate to, to put it mildly.  The models look fairly blissfully asleep.  That's not what we do.

Moreover,  there is the implicit quid pro quo of having "more peace" and "less stress" as a result of a meditation practice.  And there's the "guided meditations."   Now I know that a couple of Zen folks of reasonable repute (and ill repute) have done "guided meditations,"  but I remonstrate. The whole problem with these two things combined together is that if you're actually ever going to transcend the sufferings of conflict and "stress" you will have to clear your own path, and walk your own path, not some that hinted by some teacher.  A BIG part of Zen practice - and Zen practice, if practiced deeply enough is every damn thing you do - a BIG part of Zen practice is understanding and acting both in the understanding of Mind or Buddha Nature and having to urgently deal with diarrhea (or equivalent) at the same time.  A guided meditation won't do that for you.

Another issue with their "meditations" is the more peace and less stress pitch itself.   While with kōan practice the "point" is eventually to be able to convey an understanding of the relationship between the Absolute and Relative related to the  kōan,  you can't do that unless you're deeply focused on the kōan  itself and only the kōan, without any "gaining idea" as the Sōtō folks say.  You have to deal with the stress and lack of peace yourself.

I have many more things to say about this organization. (E.g., they seem to have swiped Deepak Chopra's swiping of Transcendental Meditation.)   But the main thing I would conclude is that they are probably doing damage to people by making them dependent on either their organization or teaching ineffective techniques and purposes or both.   I bet they are doing well though sucking the teat of the Corporate Mindfulness craze, and that's bad in the short term. 

But, here's what I'd like you to takeaway from all this: You don't need them.  You can do this yourself.  Thich Nhat Hanh's "The Miracle of Mindfulness" is a good start.  Save yourself time and money.  And if you get serious, seek out someone with longstanding credentials in a longstanding organization, which probably does, yes, mean you have to find an explicitly religious group.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Dukkha of Christmas

I come from a family with six kids, and as a young child my Christmases were usually anti-climactic, and sometimes worse than that.  Every year my parents would buy clothes that were cheap, unstylish, and identical to my brother's who was 18 months younger than I.  They also contained assembly flaws now and then.  There were usually a couple of toys, but as the middle kid in a cohort of 6, basically Christmas for me was marginalization,  with my older brother and older sister and youngest brother and youngest sister.  I'm sure my 18 month  year younger brother felt similarly to me.   There was extreme pressure given by my parents to accept any and all gifts, which was strange because my parents weren't so much giving gifts often as buying a whole lot of junk and distributing it.  They were filling orders; about the only thing that was often taken into consideration (and often not) was clothing sizes.

And I might add the stuff my parents bought was junk not because my parents were poor, but because they were  miserly.   The Depression had screwed them up mentally.  And one result of that was they bought a whole lot of low quality stuff for a lot of kids rather than less stuff but higher quality.  Their Christmas approach was maximizing the amount of stuff to unwrap and open.  Period.  In a sense then, I don't think any of my brothers and sisters often got what they wanted for Christmas; in a sense my parents weren't actually  buying stuff for any of us.

I come from a large family, and traditionally, for Christmas, that once one was old enough everyone got gifts for everyone else, and of course as nephews and nieces started getting born, well doing a gifting Christmas (literally) became exponentially more difficult.  I was single until I was 43, and what this meant  in practice is that this time of year I was redlining work,  Christmas preparation,  and social life.

At some point I had had enough; that point was sometime after I moved out to the Pacific Northwest from the New York area.  I've sort of resolved to have a minimally labor intensive Christmas efforts.  I have not wrapped any packages this year.  Yes, we don't have that distracting tinsel on our tree either.  But we do have a tree representative of our family.

What remains is the idea of social obligation.   It's that little voice in the back of the head saying you have to get something for X because otherwise Z won't get something from Y.

But that's not a gift giving at all is it? One should give a gift in thought that there are people at the other end, and forgetting yourself. And luckily those to whom I give gifts now are mostly nephews and nieces and their kids. 

But YES,  all the stuff above notwithstanding, I give 'em all gift cards, because frankly, our lives have unfortunately  diverged, and yes, I'm very busy these days,  and so while they're all the same gift, when the receivers do with it is exactly what they want.  In that sense my gift cards are empty too!  

I try to treat social obligation as an itch on my nose when I'm sitting in zazen.

So to me, Christmas has always had and will always have an aspect of emptiness, of a nullity.  Christmas is the stuff of dreams unfulfilled,  of the cheap toy that is broken upon opening the package, after the transient joy of opening the package fades.   Christmas is fundamentally empty.  Christmas is about eternally receiving less than you give.  It's really why it's better to give than to receive - because what you receive will always fall short of what you had hoped, and when you realize that,  you can give without fear or hindrance in the mind, knowing that we're all in the same boat with receiving falling short in our lives; it's a form of dukkha

I am able to be at peace with that.  Christmas is the memory of being forgotten.  And in remembrance of being forgotten on a day that is supposedly joyous,  I will try to be  aware of others.

A peaceful, if not merry Christmas to all. 

Sunday, December 04, 2016

座禅, after 25 years or so of practice, is worth it.

I've practiced Zen for something like 25 years or so, that is, Zen meditation or Zazen (座禅). I don’t often talk or write about it (unless you count 書道/書法) on FB, and I haven’t written about it on the blog much lately, but I do think it’s a good time to write something about Zen practice that appears on FB.

Having done Zen practice for as long as I have, as well as Wing Chun practice now for 5 years, I cannot un-experience what I have experienced. Hakuin, the Zen ancestor in whose tradition I practice, stated more or less that everything that rights what’s wrong, cures what’s sick, etc. that arise from Buddhism arise from 座禅. There's truth in that. Before you go somewhere, you need to know where you are in order to get to a place in which you are not presently abiding.

Many years ago, when I started practicing, I went to the Zen Studies Society in New York City. I attended a teishō (提唱), a talk on the Buddhadharma given by the now disgraced Eido Shimano. The disgrace part is a long story, involving abuse of some women, and if you want to know more you can Google it, since it’s not the point of this writing. The point of this writing is something Eido Shimano said during his 提唱; he said if you practiced 座禅 for ten years, and if you derived no benefit from it, you could cut his head off. While it may be true that Eido Shimano might deserve to have his head cut off, he does not deserve to have his head cut off for recommending 座禅. I myself, who continually still screw up in many ways with many people, might deserve to have my head cut off, but not for recommending 座禅. Hakuin was right about 座禅, but like any skill, 座禅 takes time to master, and I’ve only just started.

When you do such a practice as 座禅 for a long enough period of time, it cannot but unalterably shift your perspective. Your perspective of who you are, your nature, your relationship with others, with the world, with what you experience, all of that is changed. (Though as they say, at the same time nothing changes.) After a certain point, there’s no going back. And because of the way in which perspective is shifted, one tends not to be categorically rigidly fixed in one position mentally. One acquires the capability to transcend the slavery of one's thoughts. I know some folks on FB may think I have rigid fixed positions on things, but that is usually because they, themselves, have rigid fixed positions and are often surprised that their views don’t get unconditional approval and encouragement. Instead they think they are facing diametric opposition. There’s a great 詠春拳 metaphor for this, but most folks wouldn’t get it. Suffice it to say the world doesn’t work at all according to the presumptions of American football, or one's thoughts. It's not what you or I think it is, whatever it is.

So for example, most folks have views about Donald Trump one way or another. Truth is, he’s likely to be the next president. I admit to the view that anyone who voted for Trump or supported him who wasn’t on the gravy train of grift was conned, and any sincerely expressed outrage about expression of that view has more to do with stages of grief than it does my view. But my views about what to do are tempered by the perspective shift I’ve acquired over the years. It’s why though I am pretty left of center to some rightists/conservatives/libertarians, it’s only because it is seen by them from the perspective of rightists/conservatives/libertarians, many of whom don’t get that the world doesn’t work at all according to the presumptions of American football, or one's thoughts. It's not what you or I think it is, whatever it is.

I’m very grateful for the practices that have been demonstrated to me; personally, I would not know how to survive in this world with everything more or less intact. And I’m grateful to my family for giving me the space to practice, and to try and fail, and try and fail again.

Friday, December 02, 2016

I wouldn't go that far...I'd go further

Many of us, perhaps even many Trump voters, don't want fascism in the US.

Brad Warner I think finds the tumult in the aftermath of Trump's election a bit much.

Ven. Warner says:

What distresses me is that a large part of the Buddhist community in America has demonized all of Trump’s supporters and made a lot of blanket assumptions about them. I am not a fan of Trump either (I have made that clear already in my blog). But unless we start communicating with each other, the problems you’ve cited will only get worse.

I will plead to being loud and vocal about my distaste for the politics and outlook Trump's supporters.  They are nothing less than a clear and present danger to the health, wellbeing, and livelihood of most Americans, including themselves.   Ven. Warner may call what I just wrote demonization, but I would submit it is objectively true.

Many of us, perhaps even many Trump supporters, don't want fascism in the US.   But those of us who are fans of history see far too many parallels to remain silent.

Ven. Warner is right that we have to start - or continue - communicating with each other.  But the primary thing we should be communicating now, when US fascism is a threat is this: We will not refrain from defense of ourselves and others out of a sense of compassion and benevolence.  Rather, because we act out of a spirit of compassion and benevolence,  we will not refrain from acting until fascism, racism, sexual and other forms of oppression are extinguished.

This does not mean "the precept throws the bomb," but it doesn't not mean that we  ignore what is really meant by "skillful means," according to the Lotus Sutra.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

"What is your exercise goal?"

Today, two people at worked asked me essentially the same question.  I was actually confused; isn't the "goal" of exercise to sustain and cultivate one's existence?  I was going to say "Why did Bodhidharma come from the West," but that would have been too inside baseball.

When I explained, - putting into words the best I can - "So that can exist!" one person mentioned it was very Zen, which is kind of funny to me. 

Saturday, June 04, 2016

From the Founder of Falun Da Fa, which had been listed as attending today's Portland Buddhist Festival

Sorry for 2 posts in a row about this topic, but I think it's important for people to know just what we're talking about when we talk about Falun Da Fa, and its relationship to what ethnic Buddhists think and what liberal convert Western Buddhists think about Buddhism.

So here's Li Hongzhi himself, on Zen Buddhism:

Zen Buddhism Is ExtremeThere are two types of people, namely, those who are extreme and those who take the middle road. From the outset Zen Buddhism has been in the extreme category, and it does not amount to a cultivation system. Controversy has always surrounded Zen. Though people have cultivated according to Zen’s methods, they have actually been under the care of Buddha Shakyamuni, owing to their intention to cultivate Buddhahood and their seeking goodness. Zen doesn’t constitute a system. Boddhidharma does not have his own heavenly kingdom, and thus cannot provide salvation to people. The fact is that Boddhidharma himself, back in his day, took Buddha Shakyamuni to be the founding master. Though he is called Zen’s patriarch, he was in fact Buddha Shakyamuni’s disciple—a disciple of the twenty-eighth generation, and one who very much venerated Buddha Shakyamuni. Working from Buddha Shakyamuni’s theories, he focused his enlightenment on “nothingness,” and this didn’t depart from the tenets of Shakyamuni. With the passage of time, Zen went downhill. Later generations came to regard Boddhidharma’s approach as a cultivation way in its own right, and believed it to be supreme. His wasn’t supreme, however. Zen was actually declining with each successive generation, and Boddhidharma said it himself: His teachings would only extend for six generations. 
Boddhidharma gave a relatively large amount of weight to the “nothingness” that Buddha Shakyamuni taught, and held Buddha Shakyamuni in great esteem; he was known as his disciple of the twenty-eighth generation. But the generations that followed were completely trapped in extremes. And once that became the case, it arrived at the stage of degeneration, where Boddhidharma and Shakyamuni were seen almost as equals. People began to venerate Boddhidharma, and considered Boddhidharma’s theories to be the one and only Buddhist truth. This basically amounted to going astray. 
That’s because Boddhidharma cultivated to a low level and reached only the celestial rank of Arhat—meaning, he was merely an Arhat. How much could he really have known? When all was said and done he had not reached the level of Tathagata. The gap between his level and that of Buddha Shakyamuni was phenomenal! And for this reason, his teachings are closest to the philosophy of ordinary people, and his theories are easiest for ordinary people to accept—particularly those who treat religion as a form of philosophy or ideology. Those who take an academic approach and study Buddhism as philosophy tend to accept his theory the most. It closely resembles ordinary philosophy. 
Buddhas are to be found on every plane, however high one may go. [But according to Zen,] you cultivate and cultivate, and then, supposedly, nothing exists. In their cultivation they don’t even acknowledge so much as human beings. Living, visible human beings are right here before us and yet they don’t acknowledge them as real. It’s even worse than with those ordinary persons of poor spiritual insight who say, “I’ll believe it if I see it, and won’t if I don’t.” These people don’t even acknowledge what they do see. Why live, then? Why bother opening your eyes? Shut your eyes, don’t lie down, don’t stand… Nothing exists, right? They’ve gone to extremes. Boddhidharma said that his Dharma could be passed down for only six generations. It’s folly how people today still cling tightly to this doctrine that was never valid in the first place. It’s a dead end that they have gone down. They don’t acknowledge themselves, don’t acknowledge Buddhas, and how about planet Earth? If they don’t acknowledge even their own existence, what’s the point of having a name? And what’s the point of eating? You could just go hungry all day, not look at what time it is, and block out all sounds…  
And after all that, everything is gone. So doesn’t that discredit Buddha Shakyamuni? If Buddha Shakyamuni didn’t teach anything, what was he doing for forty-nine years? Do they know what the true meaning of “emptiness” is in Buddha Shakyamuni’s teaching? When Buddha Shakyamuni [said that he] didn’t leave behind any Fa, he was saying that he didn’t truly teach the cultivation method or the Fa of the universe. What he spoke about were only things at his cultivation level, and what he left to ordinary people was Tathagata Fa—in particular, cultivation experiences and lessons learned. The real Dharma that Shakyamuni imparted when in this world was the rules and disciplines (jie-lü), and he discussed certain insights of different levels, which is the Fa at a certain level. But Buddha Shakyamuni didn’t want people to be trapped at his level, and thus said, “I have not taught any Dharma in my life.” He said that because he knew that the Dharma he taught was not the highest. A Tathagata is a Buddha, but not one at the highest level. Buddha Fa is boundless. A cultivator shouldn’t be limited by his Dharma. A person with a great spiritual potential (da gen-ji) can cultivate even higher, where insights both higher and deeper, as with corresponding manifestations of Fa, await. 

This could have been written by a fundamentalist Christian; its characterization of Zen - indeed, Mahayana Buddhism,  is  an ignorant caricature.  (And if you haven't guessed, Li Hongzi is better than all practitioners of Zen because... he's fully a Buddha and you're not.)

From the same source:

The Decline of Mankind and Dangerous Notions
If back in ancient China someone spoke of cultivating the Way, people would say he had a “virtuous foundation.” Those who talked about Buddhas, Daoist deities, or Gods were considered really good. Yet, today, talk of cultivating Buddhahood or the Dao invites laughter. Mankind’s moral values have undergone enormous changes. They are sliding downward a thousand miles a day, so quickly. With the erosion of their values, people have actually come to believe that the ancients were ignorant and superstitious. Man’s thinking has changed dramatically, and it is frightening. Consider that Buddha Shakyamuni once said: The changes in society with the Age of Law’s End will be truly terrible. Case in point, in today’s society people have no law in the heart (xin-fa) that might serve as a restraint, especially in China. This is true in other countries as well, though it assumes different forms. In mainland China, the Cultural Revolution shattered the so-called “old thinking and ideas” that people had, and forbade people to believe in the teachings of Confucius. People were left with no moral restraint or moral code, and weren’t allowed to have religious beliefs. People came to disbelieve that doing wrong would lead to karmic retribution... 

...The gangster businessmen depicted in the TV series The Bund have been eagerly imitated in China. Yet it was only a portrayal of the old Shanghai of the 1930s, and took artistic license, at that. Real life wasn’t like that. Hong Kong’s gangster movies and TV programs have had a terrible influence on mainland China in terms of people’s thinking. Mankind’s values have changed, and in China too we now see homosexuality, drug abuse, drug trafficking, organized crime, promiscuous sex, and prostitution. It’s gotten out of hand! There’s a saying about how when a poor country bumpkin strikes it rich, look out. He has no self-control and will dare to do anything. Isn’t it scary to see mankind reaching this point? What will become of mankind when things go still further? The concepts of good and bad are now inverted in people’s minds. Nowadays people admire those who are ruthless, those who will go to any lengths, and those who will kill and maim. That’s what people esteem... 
When I discuss what has happened with society, people immediately get it, which indicates that man’s innate nature has not changed. However, mankind has slid to a terribly dangerous point. When I talked about homosexuality while giving classes in the West, I said, “These wanton sexual practices in the West have gotten almost as bad as incest.” Someone then brought up that “homosexuality is legally protected by the state.” Good and bad are not to be gauged by the approval of some individual or collective. Human judgment of good and bad is based entirely on people’s own notions. People think, “I think he’s good…” or “He’s good to me, so I would say he’s good.” Or he has formed a set notion, and, if according to his notion someone is good, he will say that person is good. The same holds true with groups. When something is in the group’s interest or it furthers a certain goal, the group will say that it’s good and consent to it. But it is not necessarily truly good. The truth of the universe, the Buddha Fa, is the sole, unchanging criterion that measures human beings and everything that exists—the sole criterion that determines what is good or bad. I told them [the students in the West], “To be perfectly frank, your government may approve of it, but your Lord does not!” Each time mankind has reached this point, it has in fact been in grave danger and out of control. Now that it has become what it has, if it goes further, what will it be like next?! Buddha Shakyamuni said that during the Age of Law’s End a multitude of demons would reincarnate as human beings and become monks in monasteries who damage the Fa. Taiwan, in particular, now has many renowned monks and lay Buddhists who are actually demons. They extol themselves as the founders of religions, but fail to realize that they are demons. They had laid out their entire lives before reincarnating and coming here, and they live out their lives in accordance with the damage that they plotted. The human world is terrifying. Many of the well-known, supposed “masters” in India are possessed by giant pythons. Among the qigong masters in China, quite a large number are possessed by foxes and weasels, though there are snakes as well. The Age of Law’s End is a time of chaos. The head of Aum Shinrikyo in Japan is the incarnation of a demon from Hell who came to the human world to foment chaos. Human beings are right in the middle of all this, and, being here in the human world, they don’t have a chance to think about such things. They can sense that something is amiss with the world, but have no idea how bad it is. Once it is spelled out, people are startled.

And finally, Falun DaFa's founder has this to say about Buddhism:

Buddhism’s Teachings Are the Smallest and Weakest Part of Buddha Fa
Sentient beings! Don’t use Buddhism to measure the Great Fa of Zhen Shan Ren, for that simply can’t be done. That’s done only because people are used to calling the sutras of Buddhism “Fa.” The cosmic body is in fact so vast as to exceed a Buddha’s knowledge of the universe. The Daoist Taiji theory is likewise but an understanding of the universe at a lesser level and, on the plane of ordinary man, no longer constitutes a real Fa; rather, it encompasses merely a few, limited phenomena from the periphery of the universe with which people can cultivate. Since ordinary people are the lowest plane of man, they are not allowed to know the true Buddha Fa. But people have heard that sages have said: “Paying respects to Buddha can sow the karmic seeds of the opportunity to cultivate,” “The chanting of incantations by cultivators can invoke the protection of higher beings,” “Observing the monastic rules can allow you to reach the standard required of a cultivator.” Throughout history, people have always looked into and debated whether the Awakened One’s words inherently amount to Buddha Fa. What a Tathagata says is an embodiment of Buddha-nature, and it can be called an expression of Fa. But it is not the universe’s true Fa, for, in the past, people were strictly prohibited from knowing the true embodiment of Buddha Fa. What Buddha Fa is, was something that could be discerned only after cultivating to a higher plane; thus, even less was it the case that human beings were allowed to know the essence of cultivation. Falun Dafa has, for the first time in all the ages, revealed the special property of the universe—Buddha Fa—to human beings. It is equal to bestowing upon man a ladder to heaven. Seen in this light, how could you evaluate the Great Fa of the universe with things from Buddhism’s past? 

Clearly, Falun DaFa's founder has said - and I'm quoting his official English translation - one link away from the site on the Portland Buddhist Festival's site - that Buddhist Fa - the Way, the Law - is inferior to Falun DaFa.  It says it right there! Right there they are distinguishing themselves as not Buddhist in precisely the way that a Buddhist from anywhere outside of the liberal Western convert Buddhist community would recognize themselves as Buddhist!

So tell me again why they're included at the Portland Buddhist Festival if they, themselves distance themselves from Buddhists???

I'll be skipping the Portland Buddhist Festival this year...

Last year I showed up and Falun DaFa was there.  They're there again this year.  I brought this up to the BPF organizer, Heidi, and received some not too kind vitriol in response; something about me not being inclusive or something or other.

I hate to say it but it's times like that which cause me to wonder how so much anti-Chinese weirdness has infected the American psyche.  There's a lot to have against the Chinese government these days, which, among other things means there's a lot to have against the Chinese Communist Party these days.  Like any government party,  made of human beings, they need to acknowledge wrongdoing and change some of their ways.

But the Western  largely-European-descended liberal Buddhist community comprising Boomers, Gen Xers and (to a lesser extent) Millennials seems blind to the issues with some of the PRC's critics.  I've written quite a few times on the Dalai Lama, and frankly, compared to Falun DaFa, the Dalai Lama is the Dalai Lama of said liberal Buddhists.  So I want to take this opportunity, in the spirit of inclusion, to include in the narrative of Falun DaFa that will be presented today some of the other stuff about Falun DaFa.

But, first, I have to get this out of the way: I understand it's a Buddhist festival.  Buddhism is a religion.  So while I have no major beef with the followers of Thich Nhat Hanh (and they have their own issues with the government of Vietnam, naturally), nor do I have any major beefs with the Unitarian Universalist Church,  I do wonder about a group that claims to practice "Mindfulness in a non-religious manner," especially since the eventual place Mindfulness winds up is nothing but religious.  Like I said, I've no major beef with the Vietnamese Zen folks or the UU folks; it's just that it seems "Mindfulness in a non-religious manner" sounds suspiciously like "spiritual not religious," which has been deconstructed by many better than me.

But back to Falun DaFa.  First of all,  I notice that in all the participating Buddhist groups, there are no mainstream Chinese groups participating at all. This is not for lack of the existence of Chinese temples in the area; in fact there are quite a few Chinese temples in the area. For example, not far away is 妙法禪寺 - "Excellent Way Cha'n Temple."  I would hope the  organizers of the Portland Buddhist Festival continue in their efforts to reach out to the Chinese community of Portland.  They might begin to understand that many in the Chinese community view Falun DaFa in the same way that many view Scientology, or Frederick Lenz's cult (the latter which led to the formation of the "Portland Buddhist Festival" as distinct from "Change Your Mind Day.")

Secondly, it's easy to find a lot of websites if you google "Falun DaFa ex-Members."  Some might be put up by the Chinese government, but many are undeniably not, and are either politically neutral or not sympathetic to the Chinese government.  Here's one example:

Over the year, I immersed myself in Falun Gong material – Li’s speeches, videos, books, nd Falun Gong publications. Li’s coercive and inflated style (which Dean Peerman describes as “gaseous-cosmic” [2004, p. 30]) contrasted with the polite and humble nature of the participants. More significantly, Li’s speeches repeatedly contradicted both what Falun Gong members were telling me and what they were telling the media. I had hoped that my research would help Falun Gong, but I became increasingly aware that this would be unlikely.  
…The Western media get most of their information about Falun Gong from press releases disseminated by the Rachlin media group. This group is essentially a Public Relations firm for Falun Gong, managed by Gail Rachlin, who is one of Li’s inner circle.Journalists also get their stories from interviewing participants. However, Li forbids practitioners from talking about what he calls “high level things” to ordinary people, and instructs them to lie to those uninterested in spiritual matters (“tell them that we’re justdoing exercises” [Li, 2002, p. 21]). Therefore spokespeople tend to be evasive about their beliefs, and resort to formulaic principles and repetitions of their slogan ‘truthfulness, compassion, forbearance’. Moreover, Li sets the terms of the debate by directing members to get sympathy by telling listeners about the persecution, with the hidden intention of later turning them into converts (Li cited in Rahn, 2005; see also Li, 2002, 2003a). Members do not see this strategy as deceptive: a Falun Gong spokesperson told me that by focusing on the persecution and not pushing their religion or leader, members were being inoffensive. 
Generally, practitioners do not know if the information in the media is accurate. They themselves get most of their information from reading press releases, and usually if I asked them if something was true they replied, “Yes – I read it in the newspaper”. FalunGong also have their own media (Li, 2005b), and are heavily involved in the  Epoch Times, a free newspaper that is most well known for its polemic  Nine commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party , which Li promotes (Li, 2005c)
As practitioners do not teach Falun Gong beliefs, I found more information from Li’sbooks and speeches. Copies are available on the Internet, but they are not necessarily thesame as the originals. For example, disciples removed a chapter of Li’s improbableautobiographical claims of supernatural exploits from  Zhuan Falun, as well as from theInternet (see Penny, 2003 for a discussion on the content). They also removed Englishtranslations of   Zhuan Falun 11 , a book in which Li makes several scientific slip-ups(such as mistaking a light year for a measurement of time) and offends potentialsupporters by condemning homosexuality and Buddhism. Curiously, when I asked aresearch assistant to translate parts of   Zhuan Falun 11 for me, his car was broken intoafter he left my office, and my instructions on what to translate were stolen. Although Iam sure this event was a coincidence, it helped me to appreciate the wariness Falun Gong and the Chinese government have of each other. 

Further, as Deng and Fang (2000) observe, English translations of Li’s speeches have a
less strident tone, they sometimes differ from the original Chinese in critical parts, and the most anti-gay, racist and anti-human scriptures have never been translated into
English. Also, Li has instructed followers to destroy any unauthorised versions of his
speeches (1998b). While these sources shed some light on Falun Gong beliefs, an equally critical issue in relation to Falun Gong is the torture and persecution of members. The press often quote Amnesty International, but Amnesty’s reports are not independently verified, and mainly come from Falun Gong sources (for example, Amnesty, 2000). 
The Hong Kong Centre for Human Rights is the only independent source of information, although the Centre is actually not an organisation, but one man – Lu Si Qing. However, statistics of arrests from both Amnesty and the Hong Kong Centre are often much higher than those reported by Western journalists who were present in China when the arrests were made (Rahn, 2000), which suggests that other information may be similarly exaggerated.

This is pretty fair and balanced, and comes from someone who took the trouble to spend time with members.  I suggest the organizers of the Portland Buddhist Festival look further into Falun DaFa, and in particular seek out Chinese Buddhists from Chinese Buddhist temples to get their viewpoint on this group.

I first heard Falun DaFa probably 20 years ago, when my future wife and I joined by a Professor of Chinese from Portland State University, Wu Qianzhi, at an event at PSU where Falun DaFa members spoke.   What he said in translating what they were saying pretty much did have "cult of Li Hongzhi" written all over it. 

Like the Lenz cult, I can't say that what Li is propagating has much at all to do with the 4 Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, or anything like that.