Saturday, December 21, 2013

Zen "teacher" scandals, their critics, and the fetishism of the "teacher" of Zen

One reason I'm kind of bored with the Shimano thing is that in looking at the Sweeping Zen stories (they don't seem to stop), I kind of get to wondering what this all has to do with Zen practice, with the practice of most of us who aren't involved in Zen teacher scandals,  and who aren't in any of the sanghas that have been blacklisted.

I mean, yeah, the jokers are still out there, but if you google "genpo," the number 2 suggestion is "genpo roshi affiar."  A similar result holds for "Eido Shimano."   While it's not the sole focus of the Sweeping Zen website by any means,  scandals do seem prominently displayed.  So why the focus, especially when anyone could google a Zen osho these days to find out if there's any dirt on them?

I think it has to do more with issues of attachment than many of the people talking about his would like to admit, and the fact that there are avowed "Zen teachers" in the thick of this leads me to question their credentials,  at least in terms of the root meaning of the word (i.e., what do they have that would give you credence in them).   I'm not talking about Genjo Marinello here, by the way.

This stuff doesn't have to do with the improvement or edification of  my practice, and I suspect it's true for others as well, at least directly. 

I do think for many of the people who are ostenisibly "Zen teachers" who are commenting on this stuff there is a dynamic of the fetishism of the "teacher" of Zen - and this doesn't just express itself as a positive idealization of the "guru," but also  but also as a condemning idealization of the guru.

Let me ask a question: Ethics aside, does anyone think Dennis Merzel or Eido Shimano or Sasaki knows nothing  or has no experience about Zen?  Are they worthy of compassion?  Yeah, don't let them near attractive women students...but then again I wouldn't recommend anyone go near a "teacher" who says things like

Japanese men in power and Western men in power tend to indulge in sexual encounters with subordinates as part of their privileged position. Whether they are US President, congressman, or business man, or spiritual teacher or minister, sexual liaisons seem to be included in male privilege all over the world.

This "teacher," in my view,  raises red flags to me just as much as Shimano or Merzel would.

I happen to be a white male working in an international company in a managerial role; I have had numerous dealings with professionals from pretty much every name electronics company you can think of outside of some industrial applications.   In my experience of about 35 years in the profession, there have been, amongst the thousands of people I've been working with there have been just two cases of sexual indiscretions. One was clearly consensual, and in the other the woman was hardly powerless in the situation.

Companies in the West have good reasons for ethical guidelines they have about these things (less so in Japan, but on the other hand there are other forces at work in Japan that put a lid on this to some extent).  Disturbing the 和 (wa or harmony) of the workplace is very bad for business, and most business people get that.  Even in government, it's the exception rather than the rule.  For every Bill Clinton or Jack Kennedy you've got more than a couple of a Richard Nixons,  Jimmy Carters, and Barack Obamas.   They arguably misuse their power anyway,  but they are generally acting on behalf interests that want power misused that way.

From someone who claims to be a "Zen teacher" who writes the above,  I would question their credentials as a "Zen teacher."   From someone who claims to be a clinical psychologist, I would wonder what kind of professional and ethical criteria relate to someone who makes such generalizations.  I wonder how this attachment to stereotypes of males in power ripples through their practice. 

I realize that my criticism can be applied to myself here, and I wouldn't say I'm completely free of attachments myself,  but then again, I think it does harm to perpetuate a false stereotype, and that ought to be in the "public interest" as much as any "Zen scandal."

I'm done with this post, I've got to take a long shower.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Scandals Schmandals...I've been busy...

I haven't had much time in the past few months to post here; there's been a lot to do at work, so much so that even home life has not been given the attention I should have given to it.

It's not that I haven't had ideas of what to post...for example, the nature of giving and charity, and what that ought to mean from my meager understanding of Buddhism.

For another example, I have thought of posting about holiday blues and family turmoil in light of the Lotus Sutra.

It's been so that I haven't even had much attention to give to the rest of the Buddhist blogosphere, and with the notable exception of Barbara's blog, it looks like the  same old same old.

I think much of the Buddhist blogosphere is overly attached to  the "Zen master scandal" stuff  and there's a kind of inverse guru fetishism implied in it.

And I really don't have time for that,  although I did comment on a post by Gracie Myoan Schireson regarding a review of a book on the Shimano scandal here;  and I stand by those comments.

My own practice has been woefully inadequate of late, or perhaps I'm realizing that it's been woefully inadequate to begin with (and a knee situation hasn't made sitting easy of late, to put it mildly).

It's time for compassion.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Competitive yoga?

I'm not part of the whole yoga culture thing, but there you are.

So much about that I don't' understand.

I mean, martial arts are sometimes competitive - and those that are competitive often aren't good for their intended purpose.  And as a movie character said, the main principle behind the best of martial arts is founded on benevolence.

So I don't get competitive yoga at all.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Asian Version of the Dharma Money Issue

I was recently asked by a Christian person whether or not there was a similarity between asking for indulgences that the Catholic Church of yore used to have and, in Asia, the practice of offering money in Buddhist temples followed by a chant/offering of incense.  The Christian used to think it was similar.

I was at a loss for words temporarily (other than to say, well, you'd have to deeply understand karma and interdependence), mostly because the topic at hand wasn't the topic of this blog post; it was a tangent to a more important topic.  I wasn't exactly satisfied with my answer...of course a better answer came to me later:

  • When one offers money at a temple, like everything else at a temple, one just does it, and does it wholeheartedly.  In effect, the act of offering at a temple is the offering of one's own life itself at that moment.  In that sense, it's more like the Christian communion in reverse than the other way around.

  • Typically, though people often come to the temple indeed for some reason such as a sick relative, what they say isn't an "I'd like to get something" prayer of course; it's an invocation of the form "Homage to X."  It's declarative.

  • I was however not off-base with the words karma and interdependence.  Most Buddhist chants when they aren't declarative, are in the 2nd person, but the identity of the 2nd person is not of course, separate from the chanter.  In Buddhism, of course, there is the principle of no-self.  So who is invoking what to whom, or who could possibly be trying to get something from whom?

  • Of course, there is the money for services thing, but that's not wholly unreasonable, I'd point out. Temples have to operate on budgets too.

There, that's better.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Huguosi (護国寺), "Protect the Nation Temple" - Emerging Buddhism?

On my recent trip to China I stopped off in Wenzhou.  I had a chance to visit 護国寺.  Evidently there used to be a 護国寺 in Beijing, but it was destroyed in the 1950s. So originally 護国寺 was about protecting the nation in imperial times. You can read into the name of the temple now all kinds of cynical things about the government, but about my visit there, well, it's clear the people going there don't seem particularly cynical about it.  Like many temples this one seems brand spanking new; in fact construction is still going on there.  It's evidently a Pure Land temple - no 禅堂 to be seen, but typically the schools of Buddhism tend to mix.

In the main hall (2nd picture down) there was a chanting service going on with lots of lay people being led in chanting by a monk, on a Saturday mid-afternoon.

I saw a bunch of blue collar guys - in their 20s- entering the temple smoking cigarettes, and having a regular Chinese bro early fall afternoon, laughing loudly.  A few minutes later  a monk was showing these guys how to offer incense, which they reverently did.

Say what you will about China and religion, but on this day, 護国寺 was bringing people calmness and tranquility and peace, and yes, compassion.   You might say China is trying to co-opt Buddhism, but I might point out it seems to be the other way around as well.  Wenzhou tends to have a high population of Christians (yeah, there's brand spanking new Christian churches there too) but it's clear that there's a resurgence of Buddhism amongst people here.

So just to let you know, there's more forms of emerging Buddhism than you can shake a stick at, which of course you can't.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Quick Review: Journey to the West

It really is a shame we don't get enough foreign movies in the US.  On my recent trip over to Asia, I did get a chance to see - in the air - the movie "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons."  If you get a chance to see this, you should. This is the most explicitly Buddhist film I've seen in a long time, but being as it's produced by Stephen Chow,  it is very fictional and very funny (among other things.)  It is very loosely based on  "Journey to the West," which is a classic of Chinese literature. 

It purports to tell the story of how Xuanzang came to go to the West to get the sutras, and is sort of a prequel, I'd guess to the other Journey to the West. So imagine a Buddhist themed movie in the style of Kung Fu Hustle.  In this movie, Xuanzang is a hapless demon hunter who attempts to tame demons by singing to them from the children's book "300 Nursery Rhymes."  He believes that within the demons there is good, and they will respond to compassion with compassion.

Needless to say the demons don't actually see it that way, being that there's demons, and Xuanzang has competition from other demon hunters with less lofty ideals, but in the end, Xuanzang umm...gets enlightened.  No, seriously.

What is really odd in this movie, and I'd say ultimately what makes this movie great -  is the rather extremes of things that take place in the movie.  One minute a  child is eaten by a demon, and a few minutes later there is extreme slapstick.  However, the message of compassion in the movie is clear. It is clear that the violence that does exist in the movie is a motivator for Xuanzang's compassion as well as constancy in his practice.  This really is a Buddhist-themed movie, and that's what's interesting to me as well.  What other religion could have such a movie  about one of its iconic figures that generates laughter?  OK, there's probably some Bollywood movie somewhere that does something similar, or, I suppose if it was to your taste, some of the relatively humorous parts of Bagger Vance. But Bagger Vance has nothing at all on this movie.

Stephen Chow is one of the greatest artists working in cinema today; it's a real pity that this and movies like it don't get wider distribution in the United States.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Attention Relaxation Time

It is true if you have decent enough hearing and you practice this practice long enough, you can hear the ash falling from a joss stick if you are being attentive enough to it.   On the other hand, there's  tricks the mind does with the senses, which you can profitably employ if you  are, yeah, being mindful.  

The human body appears to privilege certain senses over others.  I suspect that's why everyone I see walking down the street while I'm driving is walking in time to the music I'm playing in my car, even though they don't hear it. (I suppose if I were more woo-ful I would attribute that effect to an underlying rhythm of the universe, but I also suspect this is a field fertile for YouTube-ery if it hasn't already been covered.)

I have mentioned that one of the things I have learned from Wing Chun Kuen  (詠春券) is just how naturally  tense everyone tends to be, especially me, especially when confronted by a someone with 8 or more inches and 100 lbs than I have.  I have been working to try to be aware of how tense I am at a given moment, especially under high stress situations, such as running late for an appointment, or meeting deadlines at work. 

I have found that, for example, when waiting at a red light, the experience of time really changes if I am  preoccupied with doing something else  mentally instead of focusing on how silly the light timing is (a wide variety of activities are not recommended for this.)  In particular, if I focus the mind on practicing being relaxed, the time indeed goes quicker paradoxically.

Try it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

One more comment I don't want to let pass...

I like Justin Whitaker's on-line writing.  He and I would probably get on quite well in person.  However,  one of my comments didn't make it through Justin's filter on the comments for his blog entry "Are Mormons Christians?"  I'm not entirely sure why; I was dead serious compassionate when I wrote it.

Justin wrote:

The split, however, between Mormons and (other) Christians comes in the understanding of the Trinity as three separate beings in a unified purpose rather than one God in three Persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Christian belief in the unity of the Trinity, or “triune God” is found most clearly in the Nicene Creed, or Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, completed in 381 CE. Before that, and after, there were other followers of Jesus who held different conceptions of both Jesus’ divinity/humanity and the nature of God. The List of Christian Heresies compiled over at wikipedia is telling of the amazing diversity of beliefs within the community of people claiming to follow Jesus. That diversity should tell us something: that the ascendance of this one particular way of understanding the nature of Jesus and his teachings was one historical contingency among many...

But perhaps, in this age of increasing cosmopolitanism, the best thing to do is simply ask: Dude, are you a Christian? Yes? Okay then. Cool. Let’s talk about what that means to you and I can share what that means to me. Allowing others to identify themselves empowers them. Accepting their choices opens the door to dialogue, where both parties can learn and grow.

"Allowing others to identify themselves empowers them.  Accepting their choices opens the door to dialogue, where both parties can learn and grow."

I am an ex-Christian.  I'm an ex-Catholic, in particular, though for a spell I tried liberal Presbyterianism. Christians who follow the Nicene and other creeds are very particular about how they self-identify. For them, "Christian" has meant a very particular thing. To admit Mormons as Christians would be to challenge Christians' own self-identity.  It's sort of disrespectful to them not to acknowledge that.

Moreover, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints carries rather unique baggage for traditional Christians; it's absurd to downplay that.  The facts of Joseph Smith's life are well-documented, unlike, say Jesus (if he even existed.)  It's easy to doubt much of the claims of the Mormon faith. (And don't get me wrong, the Mormons I've met are by and large some of the nicest people I've met, unless the subject of discussion turns to religion or politics.) 

So given that it's so easy to doubt the Mormon faith, putting that in an equivalence class, "spiritually" with the mainstream -and yes, even fundamentalist Christian religion is going to be a non-starter for the majority of Christians.

It will call into question their faith, and will, in so doing, be disempowering to them.

Really, I'd be insulting Asians or African-descended folks or others if I claimed to be anything but of European descent (though way back when, no doubt, all "races" were one.)

Moreover, I agree with fundamentalist Christians that Christianity is fundamentally different from other religions.  All paths do not lead to the same place, and if I'm wrong and go to hell, I hope I can do some good there.

I think this Mormon versus Christian thing is a really trivial issue, given the issues we face right now.  As an ex-Christian, can't we just recommend that Christians who say that Mormons aren't Christians and Mormons who say they are  to agree to politely disagree on this point?

A Response to Herb Eko Deer on money and Buddhism

Now before I begin with Eko's post, let me just say there are some things I can see paying for regarding the Dharma; it would seem unseemly to me not paying honoraria to oshōs to officiate at weddings and funerals and what-not. That's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about a situation where someone that wants to cultivate the Way in all aspects of his life is providing a significant portion of the sustenance of another person who ostensibly is helping that person along the Way.

Think about that for a second. OK? Uh...Shouldn't everyone be helping each other cultivate the Way without an explicit "quid pro quo"? And the real question of course, is what is the quo for which quid is requested.

Thanks. Oh and one other thing, see my previous posts if you happen to take umbrage at my placing "teach" or "teacher" and the like in quote marks.   Now on to Eko:

Why isn’t meditation taught in schools? Why not in police stations and hospitals? Why isn’t it offered in corporations or government administrations? Why not in the military?

It is simply not valued enough, not as a religion, but as a practical way to foster peace and serenity, not to mention spiritual awakening. 

I believe it would shift the planets energy towards peace if it were valued, implemented and supported for its full potential. Compassion and wisdom are priceless. This is because they are more valuable than any price we could pay, not because they are impractical or not valuable enough.

The issues with teaching meditation in schools, corporations, and what not  are several:
  • Ethical issues of power and the potential for coercion:  in schools, police stations, hospitals, and work-places there are hierarchies of power, and those hierarchies of power should not be compromised by anyone's beliefs, whether for or against meditation.
  • Ethical issues of religious freedom: While I very highly value a meditative practice, it's absurd to think in this society that everyone values it equally.   Although I find their way of life problematic on so many levels, we have to dwell with fundamentalists.

There is a sort of “free dharma” movement who’s members think Dharma teachers should not be compensated financially for their teachings. These voices, in my experience, are usually practitioners who are not authorized teachers themselves.
So what are we talking about? Well, the teachings for example include “introductions” to meditation, perhaps extended workshops, dharma talks, face to face teachings, books, articles or blogs, or “just” holding the space for meditation to happen. These are offered by teachers who must pay for utilities, maintenance, insurance, food, etc.
As i understand the complaint, since the Buddha didn’t charge set fees for his teachings no students seeking teachings should ever be asked to contribute to any of these teachings or activities. But, since the Buddha accepted offerings it is ok for teachers to accept their money as long as it is not asked for.

The complaint that's been made is the one I've referred to above.  Nobody in his right mind would challenge a fee to attend a retreat, or the above honoraria.  We're talking about people claiming explicitly - explicitly - to be enlightened (with or without wishy-washy language to try to walk back any claims to being a Buddha themselves) charging money so that you, too, Bucky, can see what the Buddha saw.

The issue, Eko, is that  you can't sell it and  a student can't pay for that. Because ultimately the trainee is living his own life.  

Let me be clear about my perspective, in our modern American culture, expecting the teacher to cover the overhead for you to come and be taught for free is ludicrous. Not to mention I don’t hear anyone pining for the good old celibate days. Things have changed, but the teachings are still pure, in their impurity...

I have to say, what kind of teacher teaches what cannot be taught?  But putting that aside, Eko is making what, at least from my perspective is a straw-man argument.

Money is empty, it is not good or bad, asking for it is not good or bad, giving it is not good or bad. Renunciation also is empty, it is not valuable or ethical in itself. It does not really exist and we cannot absolutely renunciate the basic necessities of life. The buddha never turned down a meal and he accepted offerings, this is not renunciation, this is modesty. He simply took what he needed and didn’t ask for more. Of course when he expected others to dedicate their entire lives to his path and support his cause full time was no modest compensation.

Well. The goodness or badness of giving and receiving money depends on the circumstances, no?  And we baldly have to ask the question here: Is Herb Eko Deer fundamentally more of a Buddha than you are I? And did the Buddha expect something in the way of a guaranteed middle class lifestyle from either his monks or lay supporters? 

Herb Eko Deer, like everyone else, needs money for food and shelter.   That's a given.  And people who patronize him as "teacher" should certainly support him.   I'm not talking about supporting someone who chooses to do this (mostly) full time at levels significantly different than what I would pay another trained person.


  • We're talking about levels of payment significantly more than compared to compensation of a music teacher or martial arts teacher.
  • It's unrealistic and  ahistorical to think that, unless one is an abbot of a temple, that one did this kind of thing full time in the past, at least in the Chinese and Japanese traditions.  This is not about not giving to those who need it.  It's partly about how the word "cynic" evolved.  But above all, it's about humanizing the provider; to what degree is the provider a person of accomplishment (in the sense of 功夫) if all they can claim is to be able to "teach?" 
That last point is a major one in my book: what good is your "teaching" if you can't allow someone to authenticate it outside of the context of a reference as explicit teaching, if it's not tangible like playing music or demonstrating proficiency at martial arts?

In fact, Daido Loori mentioned various "outside" practices, namely art practice and body practice in his book "The Eight Gates of Zen." 

By contrast, there's Genpo Merzel ("Big ___") and a guy litigating his former sangha who was not embraced by Myoshinji.

Herb Eko Deer seems to have an interest in the martial arts.   Hopefully he has access to a good tradition here. Some work better than others, as Sam Harris pointed out.   I probably won't have the time to learn Brazilian Ju Jitsu in my life.  But I'd encourage  Eko to  continue to practice martial arts if he isn't already, because this is a skill that can be taught well from the background of Zen training.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Even in academia, this is a pretty serious offense, isn't it?

Despite what some denialists say,  even in the corporate world, there's a lot of effort made to get the science right, because the company wants to be able to make informed decisions.  It may not propagate the right science to the world at large, but at least it tries to figure out what's going on my experience  of my career of working at over 4 companies.  (Yes, that's 5.)

Seriously, if someone working in my organization was found to be deliberately making results up, results that were defining our company's future  he'd be fired. 

So I had to scratch my head when I read Jundo Cohen's piece on Brian Victoria the other day, and asked myself, "Where is that guy?"  And I read it again when I saw Jundo had sent me an e-mail asking me about his piece at Sweeping Zen.  But, Jundo, truth be told, I really started asking that when I read this at the Zen site: D. T. Suzuki and the Question of War by one Kemmyō Taira Satō, translated in collaboration with Thomas W. Kirchner.  Satō is a Shin Buddhist priest; unfortunately (I'm a bit pressed for time especially today) I wasn't able to look up further credentials of Satō  other than being a "scholar."  But as I'll explain shortly that doesn't matter so much.

Victoria, like Cohen, are Soto Zen priests.  Victoria is well-known in our neck of the woods for writing Zen at War, which did point out that there was some pretty nasty things said by Hakuun Yasutani, who has directly or indirectly influenced much of Zen in the West, including the Maezumi White Plum folks. (Yasutani's been said - I forget where - to have created a new school of Zen apart from Soto/Rinzai but I forget where I read that, incidentally.)

Victoria has been associated with Antioch University; assuming that last link is still valid apparently he can be contacted at: .  Time permitting, I may try to contact him in the next few days, because it behooves all concerned to come to some kind of agreement here. I encourage Jundo to do so as well.

What does Victoria think of what Satō  wrote? Why does that matter? From the Zen site:

Despite its many contributions, however, Zen at War left me with the impression that the author, in his desire to present as strong a case as possible, often allowed his political concerns to take precedence over scholarly accuracy. This was especially the case with regard to his portrayal of Daisetsu Teitarō Suzuki (1870–1966), whom Victoria depicts as an active supporter of the Japanese WWII war effort. This is a very serious accusation, given the importance of the issues raised in Zen at War.

I had the opportunity to become closely acquainted with Suzuki and his views on war when I worked at the Matsugaoka Bunko 松ヶ岡文庫 in Kama- kura under his guidance from 1964 until his death in 1966. This period of contact with Suzuki, as well as my own study of his works in the years since then, have left me with an impression of Suzuki and his thought that is far dif- ferent from the picture presented by Victoria. This disparity, combined with the desire to set the record straight, have inspired the present attempt to clarify what I regard as Suzuki’s true attitude to war.

All scholars employ quotations from relevant texts to support and develop their arguments, and are of course at liberty to select those passages that best suit their purposes. Even so, Victoria’s highly selective citations from Suzuki’s works often seem motivated less by a desire to clarify Suzuki’s actual views than by a determination to present a certain picture of the man and his work. As I read Zen at War, wondering if Suzuki had indeed taken the positions that Victoria attributes to him, I checked each and every quotation against the original Japanese texts, an experience that left me with a number of ques- tions regarding his use of Suzuki’s writings. Ideally, every position attributed to Suzuki in Zen at War deserves close reexamination, but considerations of space do not allow this. I will attempt, nevertheless, to evaluate the points Victoria raises and the evidence he presents as I clarify what I feel are Suzuki’s true views. In the process I will quote rather liberally from his works in order to provide the reader with as a full a context as possible. 

I've read most of Satō's piece and the charges he makes are pretty serious.  Either Victoria was working from highly edited texts himself, or was indeed cherry-picking quotes, but if Satō is to be believed, in any event D. T. Suzuki's not represented based on the context of what Suzuki wrote.  In particular, Suzuki's views of Japan after the war, and his views of Nazi Germany appear to be significantly misrepresented, though in the latter case,  it would not surprise me if a resurrected Suzuki would admit to harboring racist feelings in the 1930s.  But then that was the norm throughout the world then, and to a large extent is now.

One of the interesting notes in the piece was that Suzuki not only had deep connections with  Sōen Shaku (釈 宗演), the first man to bring Zen to America (and the 4th generation of myself), but also Imakita Kōsen (今北洪川)  Shaku's immediate ancestor.

Another point of contention, a serious one, in my opinion, is the idea that Zen and Buddhism should be automatically linked to pacifism.   This is absurdly ahistorical not simply considering the history of Japan, and famous Buddhists such as Suzuki Shōsan,  but geez, going all the way back to Shaolin-si, at least.

So I'm left scratching my head,  if the above is true, why would Victoria have written what he's written?  Does he plan to correct the record if  the critics are found to be true?  And how can that be done?  And what of the academic institutions linked to him? What's their position?

It is true that there was some horrible things done in the name of Buddhism in Japan during the 1930s-1940s.   But that doesn't justify faulty scholarship, if that's the case, here, which though I haven't read the Japanese, seems to be the case if the English versions of what I'm reading are accurate.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Quick Reply to Dosho Port

I'd posted some kind of response to what Dosho wrote here (see comment below) in response to my comment about Dosho answering my questions to Kenneth Folk.   Unfortunately it's not there as of when I last looked, but  did want to make sure my responses were read by others, at least the gist of them.

I'd actually forgotten what the precise reply was in a couple of areas, but I remember the general points:

  • I'm grateful to Dosho for having replied to my questions.
  • On some issues, I think we still differ...
Dosho adheres to the Soto Zen Buddhist  Association's ethics code.  That's good,  I guess, and not unexpected.   Although Brad Warner's made trenchant critiques of  "professional organizations for Buddhist providers" it is undeniable that the idea is not without some merit.  (The problems with the SZBA arise in its consideration of people that instruct others about Zen practice, of the potential homogenization and pasteurization1 of the practice, etc. etc.)  But it's undeniable the idea of the association has some merit.

The notion of what a Buddhist service provider is, I think, differs in what Dosho does, versus, doing what my oshō does or, what Maezumi-roshi did with Daido Loori-roshi (according to what Loori wrote), at least in regard to  kōan practice.  It could be a Soto versus Rinzai thing.

Dosho wrote (quoting me at first):

You write,

“’Spiritual market place?’ Does that connote right livelihood? In a market place there is a buyer and seller. Are we buying and selling here? How much of this buying and selling might depend on the Greater Fool Theory ( ) for its consummation?”
The Greater Fool Theory is funny! Almost all of the teachers I know are sincerely devoted to the dharma, having been profoundly impacted by it and are not out to sell bull shit to someone because they bought horse shit. 
Like many services, we’re not buying and selling here. It’s about giving and receiving. 
And yes to “spiritual marketplace” too – the metaphor has some value. Katagiri Roshi liked it a lot. Like a local farmer’s market and not corporate socialism (which granted may be the downfall of us all). 
By spiritual marketplace, I mean spiritual teachers openly displaying their practice and teaching so that people can choose this one or that one. 
And like in other fields but admittedly more so in this one, there are charlatans – like the farmer who puts a few nice green beans on top but the beans on the bottom are rotten. So consumer beware. 

There's a sense where "spiritual marketplace" might make sense but I would still submit, Katagiri-roshi notwithstanding, that the transactional nature of metaphor leaves something to be desired.   If you're walking on a residential street do you walk down a marketplace of gardening and lawn care?  Well, yes, in some cases you do, but the bushes don't care. The flower doesn't have to shout its beauty.

That said, I'm certain  Dosho's right: most of the providers are sincerely devoted to the Dharma.

But my "Greater Fool Theory" was a kind of metaphor.  To unwrap it a little, and keep the metaphor, the seller of the Dharma thinks the buyer of the Dharma lacks something, and if the buyer of the Dharma thinks he lacks something too buyer and seller may try to make a transaction.  Now it is true that traditionally there is a kind of teacher/student recognition procedure in Soto Zen, as I understand it.  But do you see my point? There's an "interbeing" going on, nothing is taught, per se,  only recognition.

And, I might add...look up the definition for some cases the word can be really apt, as I would opine  is the case with Kenneth Folk.

Again this is not to say what Dosho or others like him is without merit or value - don't take that away from what I'm writing here. 

Finally, Dosho wrote in regard to my question about a "teacher's" claims of enlightenment:

• How does the client have assurance that your claims of enlightenment are genuine? How can you ensure that these claims have no bearing on any potential exploitation of the relationship between you and your clients?I have received dharma transmission from Katagiri Roshi and am in the end-game of koan introspection – how enlightenment is operationalized in the koan tradition. I’m certainly not completely enlightened; still a ½ baked potato after all these years and lack any magic powers to induce enlightenment or any special states in others. I see myself as a player/coach and still have work to do. 

I'm grateful for the acknowledgment that Dosho's not fully enlightened, but I noted concern that the position of even Team Lead in an organization carries with it a giant megaphone that the provider is often not aware he's using; how much more so it can be for an oshō!  I myself have had difficulty giving feedback to my sifu to help him teach me at times; given the sheer number of students in 詠春 he's had, who am I to judge? But the fact is,  I have had a career myself and I know a little about how to instruct others (just a little).  But position connotes power.

I might add, I've practiced kōans,  that's plural, and I would still have a problem referring to myself as enlightened in the sense of the Buddha's enlightenment were I to complete a  relevant curriculum.  I think implying that would do a disservice to all involved, which includes all beings.  I do not think Dosho is implying this, rather, he is stating his teacher's authentication of him, which I do think counts for something.  I'd also say Dōgen's practice-enlightenement might be viewed similarly - merely because one recognizes one's awakening in day-to-day practice hardly means that one has the same position as Shakyamuni in terms of depth and penetration of awakening.  Again, I think Dosho's on the same page as I am here, more or less.

As I said, I'm glad Dosho replied; I think he's sincere here, as are many practitioners in the field.

There's also a post on this general topic on Sweeping Zen from Herb Eko Deer.  I think it also deserves a reply which I hope to get to later this week.

1. Pasteurization is a good metaphor here: there is the potential for vital components to a life is here, but also the potential for exposure to  unhealthy pathogens.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Has Tricycle become the Weekly World News of the Whole Foods Customer?

I've seen the magazine at two of my local upscale groceries.  Used to be you'd see Weekly World News or the National Enquirer or some such rot in a grocery.  At other groceries you still do, but there's also magazines with Oprah's mug on them as well.

We have many choices in our free enterprise system, don't we?

I guess I'm asking this question in the title  because I've been re-reading some blog-posts from the last few days, including, but not limited to NellaLou's here,  my own posts, and that of the Speculative non-Buddhists .  It seems to me there's scandals reported in Buddhism all over the place, that DC area shooter, Thailand monks,  Buddhist Geeks conference flippant remarks about unwanted sexual situations, etc. etc.

Who makes the narrative for all this?

Yeah, I'm making the narrative here, and you can help.

But I think it's too easy to sit back and let others define the narrative for us, or perhaps a better phrasing is someone puts forth a narrative and we're inclined to adopt a narrative because adopting a dissonant narrative involves the work of constructing a dissonant narrative.  Or something like that.   But it's why the echo chamber effect we see in right wing media happens in situations outside of right wing media.

So who has been making the narrative in Western Buddhist media?

Well, I'll go through a couple of them, based on what my browser's presenting me at this moment.  Of course they change this stuff, and by the time you get to it the various Western Buddhist media might be different.

But let's look at it for a second. It might give us insight we might not otherwise have.

First, let's look at the  Shambhala Sun's site.  Did you know America is Angry, and the Left became "unhinged" when George W. Bush took advantage of a conservative controlled Supreme Court to stop the vote count in Florida in the year 2000, and therefore questions will always remain about the propriety of his assumption of the American presidency?  Note to Shambhala Sun: I think one reason "America is angry" has to do with articles like this, with their false sense of balance and equivalence.

I mean, this was the first article I looked at in writing this blog post, and right the freak there is the problem I'm trying to point out: Western Buddhist media provides a narrative that really is more of an impediment to ethical practice than an enabler of it.

From that article:

The hostile left-wing Volvo driver might be shocked to hear it, but he’s not so different from Rush Limbaugh: both lack a filter with which to screen their bile. Meditation practice provides this filter by training us to be nonreactive, to consider our actions, to “check in” and directly experience how we feel physically and emotionally before acting on it. They teach us to see the larger world and our place in it more clearly, and to experience what we are feeling with some degree of awareness.

We don’t need to become Buddhists to deal with our anger but everyone can benefit from what Buddhists have learned from millennia of training. These practices are not a panacea or a cure, but a process through which we learn to see our emotions as dynamic and changing. By undertaking this work, we are less likely to give the finger to the next hapless driver who accidentally cuts us off. Or start a war

As I've also noted elsewhere,  there's nothing at all ethical or useful categorically, with respect to Buddhism, in making "non-reactivity" good in and of itself; rather we should strive to have the right action at the right time

Oh, and that's not why at least we Zen Buddhists practice meditation. Sometimes reacting non-responsively to a situation is a good idea.  Sometimes it means death.

But more over, this article is itself injurious to right speech, in my thinking in that it posits a false equivalence between Rush Limbaugh and an angry Volvo driver! And in so doing, presupposes there is a "Buddhist" political point of view and modus operandi.  But, regarding the equivalence:

Dude, whoever wrote that article: Rush Limbaugh is partly a character, like Stephen Colbert, only his real-life politics align with the jerk he plays behind the microphone.

Plus he's worth scores of millions of dollars.

There is no equivalence here.

Not that I'd justify angry drivers whatever the political persuasion.  I don't.  But I also can't justify this kind of speech with an implicit political agenda  purporting to  be "Buddhist" speech. (BTW, do lefties still drive Volvos?  I thought they all went over to Priuses.)

Anyway, to conclude: Shambhala Sun, in publishing such articles, in part serves a purpose not completely dissimilar to the tabloid rags of yore.  But instead of being distracted at gaping at some celebrity  scandal you can be distracted by tut-tutting your head at all the right-wing or left-wing folks, and distract yourself into feeling superior to them because you meditate.

That's some hell of an editorial policy that admits such articles injurious to the 8-fold path, don't you think?

I better get over to Tricycle or I'm never going to accomplish anything meaningful today.

What do I see at Tricycle?

  • Buddhistdoor is recruiting an executive editor.   That's the first thing I see.
  • Scrolling down, I see links to stories, many of which are behind a paywall, but the majority of which seem to deal with either a) "Buddhist celebrities" (e.g.,  Thanissaro Bhikkhu), b) the shooting in the DC area, but above  c) (inclusive of a) & b)) stories in some way related to Buddhism outside  the experiential realm of the average reader of Tricycle. 
  • Then there's the ads.  Buddhist Geeks has an ad there. 

I had to poke around a bit, but at least in 2012, The Tricycle Foundation did receive a grant from the Frederick Lenz Foundation

If you go to Tricycle's "About" page, there is  links to what are said to be IRS forms, but alas, as of this writing, they're dead links.

The fact is, the editorial policy at Tricycle will in some part depend on who gives it money.   The fact that Tricycle still does not acknowledge the wrongdoing of the likes of Lenz, is in effect whitewashing his shady past, and implicitly green lighting new misbehavior.

So Tricycle, like Shambhala Sun:

  • Helps to mystify Buddhist experience rather than clarify it by positing Buddhist content as outside of one's self (perfect for mental cause tourism).
  • Plays down, or ignores  any role it might have in the historical  issues facing Western Buddhism.  For years in Tricycle there were ads from Genpo Merzel's outfit, Eido Shimano's outfit, etc. etc.

How has Tricycle responded? It's unclear as to what their ethical or editorial responsibilities and  standards they have or attempt to meet.  Just like the National Enquirer. 

Once upon a time Tricycle linked to outside Buddhist blogs.  They do not anymore.  They did attempt to create a social network within their domain; naturally this can't demolish any echo chambers in existence.

Now I'm not saying that all the Buddhist luminaries presented in Tricycle or the Shambhala Sun have nothing to say, they're all immoral, yada yada yada. No, what I'm saying is the very structure of the Buddhist media in the West is conducive to not illuminating and dealing with the stench of feces within the sangha.    Tricycle and the Shambhala sun present themselves as hipster kitsch; there is the absolute denial of their own shit  through the absence of its appearance in their context (whereas tabloid rags are kitschy in a way Kundera could not imagine living in the drab Communist world in which he was at the time when he came up with his kitsch formula.)

I don't fault the Buddhist luminaries necessarily for presenting in these magazines; you've got to try to help people wherever they are.

I do think it's time we in the West paid a more critical eye towards these publishing institutions and their role in shaping the discourse in Western Buddhism.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The West has no monopoly on Buddhist scandals

From Thailand comes this story:

Thailand has seized nearly $800,000 worth of assets, including a Porsche and a Mercedes-Benz, from a monk who was disrobed for a controversial trip in a private jet, authorities said Friday.
Thailand's Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) said Wiraphon Sukphon was suspected of deceiving people to give him donations.
"Monks can receive donations and must use them for the benefit of the public, not for private use and their own personal comforts," Police Colonel Seehanat Prayoonrat, secretary of the AMLO, told AFP.
Wiraphon went by the name Luang Pu Nen Kham to bolster his claims to be the reincarnation of a famous miracle-performing monk.
The disgraced cleric, who is believed to be abroad, is also being sought in Thailand on suspicion of having sex with an underage girl around a decade ago while he was a monk, and of fathering a child with her.

See also here. Apparently this guy milked something like $0.77 million which probably goes a lot farther in Thailand than it does here. 

The fact is, humans will have scandals.  If someone is a kind of Buddhist service provider, choose one that not only adheres to a code of ethics with which you feel is ethical. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Some Questions for Kenneth Folk

James Ford has offered some what I think is valuable perspective on my recent posts on "fee-for-service Buddhism" here. In particular, it was issues discussed regarding Mr. Kenneth Folk.  I used the quote marks back there because I wanted to specifically emphasize a bracketing of whether or not an economic system where a "teacher" or "coach" should be paid for services is a form of right livelihood.

James says:

So, given the complexities of the Japanese ordination models which have produced many Dharma teachers here in the West as well as the significant numbers of lay teachers, we have come up front and ugly, to confront that connection between money and teaching.
Among the options I see, we can 
1) scrap the non monastic ordained and lay teacher models.
2) keep these systems amateur (in the most positive use of that term), where the teacher is expected to make her or his living in some way unconnected to the Dharma.
3) revisit the “ethics” of financial support for non monastic teachers 
Frankly, I think the horse has been out of the barn vastly too long for option one.
Option two is what many are doing, myself included. I’m endlessly grateful for having stumbled into a line of work that has, I think, fruitfully, pushed me and challenged me as a Dharma teacher. I think those who have taken on various uniquely Western disciplines as psychologists, social workers, coaches and the various related, also fit into this option two adaptation. 
And, I think, as good as it has been for me, and a number of other teachers, it isn’t an ideal model. For one where is the line between a psychological counseling and Buddhist teaching? Or, coaching? Or, the rising discipline of “spiritual direction?” I find that line so movable depending on this or that as to be almost meaningless. 
So. Acknowledging it isn’t going to be easy, still, I think we need to go with all deliberation toward option three.

I'll also note before I go deeper into this  that the notion of fee for services is not unknown in Japan,  and one of the more lively debates/scandals etc. over there - at least as of several years ago - was  the fact that some temples were selling "better" Buddhist funerary names for more money.  And temples remained in the family over there, etc.   So these types of issues aren't even unique to the West.

And I'll state flat out, that my preference above is James' Option 2; it seems to have worked best to avoid so many attendant problems historically.

I'll also note before I go deeper here, that from a Zen perspective, "teacher" or "coach" seems a bit much, and "roshi," as I've noted before, is a bit over-the-top as well, mostly because it's applied in Japan to very old great or dead great widely recognized leaders in the field, though translated back into Chinese it literally means "teacher." 

So over there, you don't call someone a teacher unless they're pretty much not in a position to abuse their position, Sasaki-roshi notwithstanding.  The term of use in Japan is  oshō, "和尚"  which my dictionary says is composed of characters for "harmony" and "further." I like that.  That said, for purposes of this conversation, since many of the principals involved are not in the Zen school, or even possibly recognize where I want to go with this ethically, I won't quibble with others' use of the word teacher here, but note in passing that I would hope that those who use it stipulate to  possibly committing the same wrongdoing critics of Western Buddhism  have been accused of doing, which is the use of jargon for the purposes of mystification.  I, myself, maintain the position of my  和尚: There is no teacher.  Bodhidharma is the teacher.  The most neutral terms, I think would be "provider" and "client," and I'll use those terms in what follows. (I could use the more geeky and probably even better "server" and "client," but let's stick with "provider" and "client" for now, since it's a similar terminology used in the secular world.)

James wishes that the rhetoric might be a "toned down" in this.   I won't speak for others, but I can't see that right speech categorically might exclude rhetorical styles that are within the pale of Hunter S. Thompson or Mike Taibbi or at least a good old fashioned polemic.  But that's just me.  R.D. Laing's The Politics of Experience, is one of the best polemics I've ever read, and despite Laing's own failings as a human being, he made some points that echo down even to this conversation *.  And regarding the blog posts of others, as I said elsewhere, there's an internet version of active listening.  It works more often than you might think. Use it.  And for those who took umbrage at my use of the term huckster, I think I used the word properly in context, especially given the existence of a coupon code.

Anyway, that's just the prelude to this post.  Anyhow,  Al commented on James' post, that perhaps we might want to address questions to Mr. Folk directly.  Again I come at this post from the perspective of a professional who is well-paid for what I do but with that status comes a host of ethical obligations to which I adhere for purposes of right livelihood, and because it's my job, and because I don't need the trouble of going through legal disclosure.  I have never had that done but once (and that's an amusing story in and of itself which I can't go into the details in any great degree).  Trust me,  although it's never happened to me,  you do not want to be deposed for in relation to an anti-trust action.  Angela Davis was right: a fair trial is no trial at all if you're innocent, and Clarence Darrow was right if you're guilty.

And regarding ethical issues of pay-for-service professionals, I'll note that in the secular sector, there's issues that arise there too:

  • The abuse of fee-for-service by medical, psychological, and counseling  professionals is not unheard of, and I've known of several instances in my life (and one that affected me personally) where this structure's been abused.  The usual mode of abuse here is maintaining  a provider/client relationship and money flows from client to provider long after services from the provider are no longer needed.
  • There's also of the abuse issues that arise from the power relationship between provider and client, including but hardly limited to sexual abuse issues.  In fact the asymmetry of the power relation between provider and client is one of the big issues that arise in the medical field, in the US especially, especially when it comes to attempts to negotiate fees in an emergency room.

The secular sphere has put some safeguards in place but they are inadequate even there.

So based on all of the above, here's questions I'd ask to Mr. Folk directly:

  • What code of ethics would you adhere to? Is it published? If someone has a dispute with the services you rendered, how is redress effected?
  • How does the client know when he no longer needs your services?
  • From a Buddhist perspective, are you concerned with the ethical quandaries of teaching meditation without the corresponding instruction in right conduct?  If you feel it is not necessary,  why is that so, and why or why not, from your perspective, is that a Buddhist right livelihood? 
  • Aside from time constraints, under what circumstances would you refuse services to a client?
  • Do you offer pro bono services to those who cannot meet your fees?
  • How does the client have assurance that your claims of enlightenment are genuine?  How can you ensure that these claims have no bearing on any potential exploitation of the relationship between you and your clients?
  • Regarding your fees, are you aware that the motivation for certain pricing schemes and business transaction methods are structured precisely to encourage a sale? For example Publisher's Clearing House makes people go through a lot of effort to enter into their contests because they have found that it makes one more likely to subscribe to a magazine if one goes through a lot of effort to register for a "free, no obligation" contest.  Then there is  the well-known pricing with prices ending in "9," and there's more recent results on the use of numbers in context with other things to encourage certain behaviors.  Are you aware of how your "coupon code" discount might be construed?
  • How were your fees set at the levels they are? What factors, such as cost-structure and retirement planning were considered in setting them?

As I said on James' blog,  I'm pretty easy to find, and look forward to Mr. Folk's respsonse.  For that matter, other practitioners of "fee-for-service Buddhism" are encouraged to reply as well.

Update: Dosho Port answers the questions here.

*Speaking of active listening and R. D. Laing there's a story about how there was an incommunicative schizophrenic patient who spent his days sitting on the floor rocking back and forth.  Nobody had been able to speak to get him to communicate, until Laing sat down next to him, and rocked back and forth...until the patient spoke to him, if I remember the story correctly.