Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Everyone wants to have child-like belief?

Brad Warner points out something that relates to something I'd said for years on this blog:  You have responsibilities as a "student" of a "teacher."   I've said you have to kick the tires to tell if the teacher's legit; you, the "student" have to authenticate the "teacher."

He says people don't like that in general; they want baby-like trust in their teachers.

He may have a point, though I'd put it more as child-like belief. 

What goes with that is a degree of a reluctance to question the teacher.   You can see some of that in the Buddhist blogosphere, particularly if the teacher in question has not had a personal scandal of some sort or another.  So it's OK to criticize Genpo Merzel, Eido Shimano, and even Trungpa Rinpoche for their personal failings (and Merzel for his "Big Mind" hoo-hah.)

But raise questions about the whole guru principle in Tibetan Buddhism?

Nah, can't do that.  Unless you are questioning the Chinese government's claim to hegemony in those matters of "reincarnation." That you can do (and why not?)  But questioning a former head of some government's claims to hegemony in the matters of reincarnation? No, that's off limits.

Furthermore: to what extent does publications like Tricycle even now influence the narratives we create of Buddhism?  And I'm not simply talking on matters of race or politics here.

To what extent are Catholic practitioners of Zen practicing Buddhism?  Can they be?  I have never seen  Suzuki Shosan's Ha Kirishitan (破切支丹) translated into English in its entirety, but from what snippets I've seen it makes Richard Dawkins seem like a Unitarian Universalist. 

To what extent are Rinzai and Soto claims against each other valid? To what extent have we in the West been deformed by the Yasutani tradition to avoid such questioning?  To what extent have we in the West been deformed by the Buddhisms that have been diffused to us?  

I think it's important to keep some of these questions rather than take stock answers we've gotten already from any Authorized Givers of Wisdom.  Maybe answers will come for a few that  are difficult.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On Disruption, Setbacks, Etc. in Life...

Barbara writes about disruption and untoward things happening in life.  So does Dosho Port.   Barbara quotes Pema Chodron that things falling apart is a kind of "test."

If you don't already know I'm sort of dissatisfied with both this "test" idea and that there's a notion of "God" behind all of this anyway, so it's all OK.

No it's not.

That's almost condescending to those who are deeply in suffering. 

That is not to say that suffering isn't transcended, that there is not the manifestation of compassion that with our acute hearing of the cries of the world, that we can't see the inherent emptiness of all phenomena,

But,  saying that suffering isn't transcended through a practice of compassionate seeing into the true nature of things is not to say that this is yet another narrative to be taped onto the one we are mourning as our lives are disrupted.

There is no "god" that disturbs us to our destiny by hard events, to use the first line of Dosho Port's post.  Disturbance, pain, suffering, death, decay, trauma, withering, and calamity are our birthright.  "YOU WILL DIE!" was the teaching of Suzuki Shosan.  That teaching puts all other teachings in perspective. 

To see this in a slightly different aspect, I'd recommend studying this bit from Hakuin.  

A long time ago San-sheng had the head monk Hsiu go to the Zen Master Tsen of Ch'ang-sha and ask him: "What happened to Nan-ch'uan after he passes away?"
Ch'ang-sha replied: "When Shih-t'ou became a novice monk he was seen by the Sixth Patriarch."
Hsiu replied: "I didn't ask you about when Shih-t'ou became a novice monk; I asked you what happened to Nan-ch'uan after he passed away."
Ch'ang-sha replied: "If I were you I would let Nan-ch'uan worry about it himself."
Hsiu replied: "Even though you had a thousand-foot winter pine, there is no bamboo shoot to rise above its branches."
Ch'ang had nothing to say. Hsiu returned and told the story of his conversation to San-sheng. San-sheng unconsciously stuck out his tongue [in surprise] and said: "He has surpassed Lin-chi by seven paces."

The workings of the universe will be the workings of the universe regardless of your personal preferences.   To try to apply on some metaphysical ointment onto the reality of your suffering and disruption and this moment might be avoidance from the very medicine you might need to see to develop the heart of compassion with which to transcend the damned existence of that pain and disruption and loss. You hurt.  Live it. Feel it.  Maybe that's the medicine.


What could possibly go wrong from investigating the matter to exhaustion anyway?

This is also not to say that we should only engage in a self-pity that doesn't realize the fundamental nature of this suffering.  That fundamental nature of this suffering is that it is common to all sentient beings!   But it's difficult for me to see how that compassion - that empathy for all beings is developed and cultivated without first realizing what it is, and that I'd submit comes about from the very experience of suffering, setback and disruption - and death, ultimately, itself.

Springtime is almost upon us. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

"Zen Habits..."

I only recently heard about a site called Zen Habits.  Its author claims it's one of the more popular blogs in the world.   It's author has a nice self-help story.   People like successful self-help stories, but, really - I can't emphasize this too much - failure  is pretty important.  The author's conflation of "Zen" with simple, organized living is a bit de trop for me, and obviously please take that point. But there's various nuances on that point I'd like to explore, though I'm happy the author of that stuff has found success, etc. etc.  "Zen" it ain't of course, at least not in any all-encompassing sense. 

I'd like to examine a few of the points I've found on that guy's site.

The guy boasts an uncluttered inbox.  My inbox is fairly cluttered - it's been intentionally that way for years.  I could unclutter it a bit, but that would mean the data equivalent of water filling up the bathtub somewhere.  But I've kept my inbox cluttered because that's why the universe gave us search engines, and ways to organize lists, even large ones.  I just go through and search and index my huge inbox every day around my key stakeholders.

Voila! I've simplifed simplifying. It invokes one of my rules for using computers: Never get a human to do something you can get a computer to do for you.   No, that does not include learning trigonometry- you'll have to learn that on your own.   But sorting? That's a computer's job.  Once you've learned what a sorting algorithm is, use it by having the computer do it.

At some point I will simplify further but really I'd use my inbox the same way anyway.  

I was inspired to write this by coming across this article on "How to Savor a Life."  It says there:

We procrastinate because we are uncomfortable doing something and want to do more comfortable (easier or more familiar) things instead. We don’t want to write that report/article/chapter, because it’s difficult, and it’s easier to check emails and take care of a bunch of little tasks. It’s easier to put off those dreaded tasks. 
But savoring can help. Let’s take writing as an example (the process is the same for anything, from cleaning your bathroom to doing taxes) … you have something to write and you know it’s important. The usual way is to say, “OK, I should write this, but first maybe I’ll check to see if anything important came into my email … and maybe my Twitter and Facebook too … oh, what’s this interesting article I found?” 
When we savor, we take this task of writing, and we slow down. We give the task some space — no switching quickly to the next thing. We pay attention to it and find the enjoyable aspects of it. And actually, there are enjoyable aspects to any activity, if we slow down and pay attention. When we savor, we notice these things, and fully enjoy them. We bask in the moment of doing, and let ourselves soak in its pleasure. 
So instead of switching to something else, we sit there with the writing. We notice our urge to switch and let it go — after all, we’re savoring this, so we can’t just switch! We think of other things we need to do, and let them go too. We’re savoring here.

This excerpt is why I started to feel a bit of remonstration in my gut about this guy, though his first bits were pretty good. 

First,  in terms of just working and creativity,  our brains are what they are.  A "Zen" "response" to procrastination might just be procrastination!  I learned this way way back in college: if a lab report kept me up all night before it was due, it did me no good to start it earlier; otherwise I'd spend the whole damn week doing the lab report and nothing but the lab report and it was only 2 out of something like 18 credits!  So sometimes "savoring" life means putting aside something unsavory with the intention of taking it up later.  It's a matter of having perspective.

Too, our brains being what they are, sometimes, it pays to put things down and take up something else. Our brains might continue to work on them in background mode.   I have to do this as a matter of course in my work anyway, since my workday typically involves at seeming random times, doing any one of several to a dozen separate activities, including some long-term but important creative activity.  For many of us that's how our jobs are structured, and if we work with that structure there will be some "procrastination." As long as a deadline's not missed,  there's no harm.  So I'd say work with yourself where you are (to be fair the Zen habits author would probably say the same thing)  but don't sweat at least some procrastination.

Moreover, "we" don't just procrastinate because there is something "bad" about being uncomfortable about doing something or we're "dreading" them.  Another thing I've learned is that sometimes you have to act like a low pass filter when it comes to requests from upper management, if you're in middle management.    This is because upper management's requests may not be fully coherently formed, and you'd only confuse things by acting on them. 

Finally, the unpleasant - like failure - has its place.  It is like sitting with great distress.  You've got to go past the distress by fully being open and accepting of the distress.   That is - not all tasks will have an element of enjoyment in them.  DO NOT expect that.  Maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that it is there, but in any event consider the unpleasantness of the unpleasant task you must do a tiny, minuscule nanocosm of facing your own death.  OK?   While there are aspects of facing death that might bring forth the relief of pain for some, it's not something that most of us will find enjoyable as a general thing.  But it must be openly faced and accepted in order to be transcended in any kind of way.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A little brushwork...

I didn't realize there was something under that... oh well...

Practice and Going Medieval Legally

I could write about that Tibet stuff a lot.  I'm reminded of the movie Words of My Perfect Teacher It's valuable viewing; I highly recommend it, especially as it deconstructs- while upholds respectfully - certain notions in Tibetan Buddhism.

The movie has Steven Segall in it.

But that's not what I wanted to cover today...

I want to give a wag of the finger to a couple of things, in the parlance of Stephen Colbert, who, to my knowledge, is not a tulku

First, I'd like to give a wag of the finger to Eido Shimano.

Look, dude, you know the "brand" of the Zen Studies Society is inevitably bound up with the brand of "Eido Shimano," and that brand recognition has fallen on somewhat hard times, especially with Myoshinji's distancing itself from you

Brands have value whether it's Coca-Cola or Rinzai Buddhism. It would be great if Rinzai Buddhism  had an infinite value, but trust me, it can be valued, just as the assets of any other corporation can be valued.  So the "value" of the brand of the Zen Studies Society will directly affect its ability to, you know, pay you a "pension."

It's absurd for you, Shimano-san, to think that you or ZSS are "preeminent" or some such thing...if you've got to say that you know,'re not...

I would assume that legal folk wrote or vetted Shimano's letter, and I am concerned the Eido Shimano/ZSS affair is going to probably divert substantial assets to lawyers.  So a wag of the finger to them if they are not taking this case pro bono

More importantly than finger wagging though is the issue of practice.  It can be difficult to practice when subpoenas are flying about.  Is this what your Zen is about?  I remember you once said, that if you practiced and after 10 years there was no benefit "you could cut my head off." I don't remember that much else from the few times I went to the Zen Studies Society.  I do remember upstairs tea on a Saturday...but not much else, other than quite deep rigorous practice, as much provided by the sangha as by anything else. I remember your prostration. 

That said, I don't want,  don't need, and probably most everyone who's ever been to the ZSS/Dai Bosatsu centers don't want and don't need legal notices aimed at them.  My relationship to ZSS/Dai Bosatsu is tangential at best.  I don't expect a subpoena frankly...but having been subpoenaed about other issues, and having given a deposition, let me just say that it's very stressful, and unless I'm being compensated at the rate $175/hour or more, plus expenses, I don't want to be involved, and for $175/hour or more, plus expenses,  I'll likely testify that regarding the mid-1990s, when I attended ZSS/Dai Bosatsu a few times,  I've forgotten most everything.   So please don't drain the assets of the ZSS or Eido Shimano trying to get me to say something damnable. Everything that can be said by me is in this post. There you have it.

But there is one more thing I ought to add that I do remember: it wasn't widely known in the mid-1990s to anyone who walked in off the street to ZSS that Eido Shimano was the subject of scandal.  I didn't know it, and if I had I likely would have gone to another practice center...but I ultimately did go to another practice center anyway because the "teacher" was more accessible. 

I mean, a guy who attended ZSS a few times, such as myself, didn't get sanzen from Eido Shimano.  I did get sanzen from Shugen Arnold, but they were the guys downtown (at the time), not affiliated with ZSS.

All of which is to say that I don't wish to be contacted regarding any aspects of the Shimano affair, and I'd hate to have to lawyer up myself, to go to the mattresses legally speaking, to have my life interrupted by this.  I don't expect to be contacted, but things I didn't expect to happen have happened. 

And if going medieval legally is what Eido Shimano's practice is after all these years, I don't think it's worth even a cheap Yukio Mishima imitation.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

What might a Buddhist response on Tibetan self-immolations look like? Part 2

I had started this post a couple of days ago, but have been sort of busy.  Evidently the post resulted in a a response from Barbara, who took issue with how I related events in Vietnam.  I still stand by my point, which was that the immolation of the Buddhist monk did not succeed, and certainly wasn't immediately causative in the removal of the Diem regime.  The Diem regime was horribly oppressive to Buddhists, and the non-violent mass protests by Buddhists did play a part in what unfolded. But what did unfold was simply that a religious extremist clique that was oppressing Buddhists was toppled from power by a corrupt clique, with a wink and a nod from the United States.   That is to say, the fall of the Diem regime happened because it could have, and if all of those things above were not in place, it would not have happened, at least that way.  In other words: non-violent mass protests by Buddhists + oppression by the Catholic Diem regime + corrupt junta-in-waiting + indifference of the US to the fate of the Ngos = coup d'état.  Notice you didn't necessarily need a self-immolation there. And the objective of ending violence in Vietnam and having a secure position for Buddhists in Vietnam wasn't part of the deal. 

Seriously, I think a point of disagreement here is one of how one views the world politically.

Barbara also takes a bit of issue with the immediate causes of the self-immolations, and in particular objecting to Beijing's rather direct management of official religions in that country.  I can understand her point, but there is a counter-argument to it as well.  It also goes to the issue of the Dalai Lama's rather unfortunate dealings with certain American agencies back in the last century, and why, as I said, the Chinese government doesn't exactly see him the way the "Free Tibet®" crowd.  And yeah, he did say he "relinquished authority," but...well, I replied to that elsewhere.

But again, most  of that above is really not my point here.  Let me get to that point...

Another Buddhist blog recently,  perhaps in anticipation of this blog post, has a post that references ninjutsu (忍術) which,  oddly enough is in the service of something called "social action," to use that which is attractive and repulsive in the service of one's practice.

That's not horrible, actually.  But at the same time there's a blind spot.

And unfortunately I can't show that blind spot.  

But I can talk about 功夫.

Which is what this post is more-or-less about: a Buddhist response to the self-immolations in Tibet would be to encourage those monks who are challenging "ownership" of "Tibetan Buddhism" "in China" to instead lead lives that, through the practice of Buddhism, make the point irrelevant, in the same way that one can train one's self to use what one is physically capable of doing to make potential foe's strengths irrelevant as well.

That it may be problematic for the Dalai Lama to say this or to speak to stop the self-immolations I can understand.  But I do think these things ought to be said.  Finally, I do want one other point to be made regarding what Barbara wrote here:

Something I didn't appreciate until I did the research is that in Tibetan Buddhism, the reborn lamas are thought to play a mystical role in transmitting the dharma to succeeding generations. In Tibetan understanding, if the legitimate succession of lamas is broken, the dharma itself may be lost. As zennies we may choose to disbelieve this, but it's not our tradition. And I appreciate that the way high lamas were chosen in the past often smacked of political favoritism rather than mysticism. 
Even so, from a Tibetan perspective, for the government to choose high lamas from the sons of loyal party members is a bit like the government handing out Chan dharma transmissions to political cronies and not allowing authentic transmissions to be recognized. It irreparably screws up the tradition. For Gelugpa monks in China, including the Tibetan Autonomous Region, being cut off from the Dalai Lama is being cut off from full transmission of dharma. This is why it is a Big Deal; dismissing it as just not being allowed to carry a photo is callous.

Look,  we've just had the Sasaki affair on top of the Shimano affair, etc. etc. etc. I have to applaud the really trenchant posts that Brad Warner's been writing about this, especially, for purposes of reference here, this post.  To put it simply: Tibetan lamas are just people, or as Brad Warner puts it, overdeveloped apes just like you and me, or to put it in a Zen metaphor, we're all foxes living out a few hundred or so lives.

Certainly you can object to the Chinese government choosing religious officials based on political considerations if and when those officials are unqualified.  But contrary to what I've seen from some "Free Tibet®" apologists, there are authentic Dharma practitioners amongst the clergy in China, but admittedly, I myself, have not been to Tibet (though I have been to the Lama temple in Beijing, where discussion about such events has been quite frank, at least to non-Chinese). my larger point here: I swear I'm not channeling Christopher Hitchens, but it's some kind of odd sort of Orientalism to   decry the guru syndrome in Westernized Zen Buddhism because of abuses of authority but to uphold the guru syndrome in Tibetan Buddhism!  The point may be taken "Yeah, that's what they believe," but it doesn't mean we should encourage it!

Some Catholics make similar points regarding the Pope (as do at least some Copts, some Greek Orthodox, etc.)  But Christianity hasn't been "lost" because of schisms, the Protestant Reformation, etc. and besides,  to take Barbara's point to its logical conclusion Barbara and I, and the folks in our respective lineages  may not be authentic practitioners of the Dharma, because our practice is not dependent on the Tibetans' lineage.  I can't buy that.

It may be upsetting to some for me to say that the Dalai Lama has a pretense of religious authority because of the above, but my own teacher is as much a human as I am and you are as well as the Dalai Lama.   Or for that matter, anybody in China.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What might a Buddhist response on Tibetan self-immolations look like? Part 1

Some time back in the 70s, the National Lampoon ran a cover with a man's hand pointing a loaded gun to a dog, with the caption "If you don't buy this magazine we'll shoot this dog."

Although admittedly in questionable taste, what made the cover funny was the utter absurdity of the situation- as though we might believe that someone would shoot a dog if we didn't buy the magazine.

And although it might be seen as in bad taste, that's the metaphor that went through my mind as I started to write on this topic. And it might be inappropriate because the difference between a "suicide for political cause" and a garden variety suicide (if there can be such a thing) might not be that big a difference. 

On the other hand, I think the idea of a web-site more-or-less promoting the "martyrdom" of self-immolating Buddhist monks in Tibet is in equally bad taste, especially when you consider that  the difference between a "suicide for political cause" and a garden variety suicide (if there can be such a thing) might not be that big a difference. It might be that the self-immolating Buddhist monks have a strong viewpoint and feel driven to their actions.   On the other hand, I do kind of get this feeling: "If you, Mr. Chinese Guard, don't give us a Free Tibet® the monk gets it!"  

But does it follow that a) "the Chinese" are "at fault" here, and b) is there a more effective, ethical response possible?

First, "the Chinese" are a very diverse bunch of people; they are the one of the oldest continuing national entities composed of a multitude of ethnic groups.  True, they're 95% Han Chinese, but they comprise many minorities within them, with varying degrees of tranquility to be honest.  But one thing that's the case, most Chinese, except those that openly challenge the government do not feel repressed per se.  There are definite problems with the Chinese government, and they're not unlike the problems in the US - corruption, concentration of wealth, etc.  But the idea that, for example a group of Han Chinese might be (forcibly) "relocated" to Tibet - except for armed forces - is ridiculous.  The real answer is quite simple:  As Deep Throat said, "Follow the money."

Secondly, suppose much of what we've read about Tibet is true.  I say "much" because it is certainly true that at least some of what the Free Tibet® crowd is saying is demonstrably false.  But I want to examine what the proper response is.

First, suppose that the Chinese are administering Tibet as though anyone of Chinese descent might move there, regardless of ethnic background.

 So what?

That alone shouldn't be cause to advocate to destabilize a political entity; if on the other hand you had a situation like Palestine, where the Palestinians were being denied basic services and rights, that would be a problem.

But what about the Dalai Lama? Nobody can carry pictures of the Dalai Lama! What a violation!

I have been to China quite a few times.   You know, you can talk about the Dalai Lama in China.   Of course, in the Chinese point of view a) China is a multiethnic state (which it is, whether folks in the West like it or not), and b) the Dalai Lama is kind of like Jefferson Davis or Huey Newton on the lam.  Governmental entities enjoy the supremacy of political power in their domains, in all senses of the word "enjoy."  Some might be worse than others, but this is a fact.  And because of that it means that the Dalai Lama is a challenge to the supremacy of the rule of law by the government of the People's Republic of China, and they will behave accordingly, just as the US government is over-stepping its boundaries with Wikileaks phenomena.  And just as I might add, the Dalai Lama is doing with his pretense of authority in Tibet (it being a pretense because he actually doesn't exercise authority in Tibet - and that's a fact.)

Now,  what would the response to outright oppression -again taking for granted that oppression indeed exists somehow - be from a Buddhist standpoint?  We in the West have been captivated by Gandhi and Martin Luther King and thanks to Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk in Vietnam who self-immolated, but it seems to me that some input  from 功夫 might be in order here, or at least Sun Tzu.  I mean, after all, did the Buddhist monk in Vietnam who burnt himself achieve his objectives?

No, no he did not.  It took the NVA and the Vietcong to achieve their objectives, which weren't necessarily the monk's objectives.

I don't think violence on any side is the answer in Tibet, and I think the current immolations can't simply be put as the responsibility of the Chinese.  I'll explore the notion of more skillful responses later, but for now I will just say that such notions of action  would not aim to deprive people of loved ones as a necessary condition of their execution.  And I'll also say that I find the Dalai Lama's reticence to articulate what I see as a more  skillful response to this situation is troubling.

And needless to say, I find it also troubling that there are folks who call themselves Western Buddhists who aren't engaging in particularly effective means here, to say the least.

Monday, February 11, 2013

"Free Tibet" is not about Buddhism.

And it's not about "freedom"...and it's perhaps not even about "Tibet."

It's certainly not about China.

It is more instead about caricatures of these things.

I might post more on this in the coming few days...

But I saw Yet Another "Free Tibet" blog post today...and I was astounded at the level of ethnic ignorance I saw parading as being "informed."

I have said it before and I'll say it again: as a Buddhist and as an American, especially as an American of European descent married to someone of Asian descent, who regularly associates in day to day work with Europeans, Americans, East and South Asians, Middle Easterners, etc. ANY type of governmental polity built upon the political primacy of any ethnic, religious, or other group of  such constructs is hardly the stuff of which right livelihood can be claimed, or to put it bluntly, it's morally repugnant.

And "cultural genocide" trivializes the real thing.

I probably will say more, especially regarding human rights issues and 功夫, but geez...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

I think it's mediocrity...

I have nice things to post I think on relaxation, etc. but I wanted to compare a couple of things...this bit from a the wife of a student of Sasaki's and The Platform Sutra of Hui Neng.

It's interesting trying to reconcile the two, as coincidentally, I've read both side-by-side sort of recently.

Hui Neng wasn't talking about the crap Sasaki was doing.

It is as though the transformative qualities of practice and precepts and realization of emptiness were turned off.


It is a question which reverberates within myself.