Sunday, June 23, 2019

Spirituality? Wash your mouth out with soap!

I write this a lot on various forums, social media, etc. 

And I'm going to expand a little on it today, based on, yes, another Brad Warner blog post.  But I mean the "target" of this post to be a little bigger than Ven. Warner, because I think there's too much "spiritual" quackery in the world generally, and because this "spirituality" is pretty deeply infested in American Buddhist communities in particular.  As for "spiritual" quackery in the world, I was going to write "America," then I realized, no, it's in Europe too, I've seen it first hand.  Then I realized it's in Russia, with some pretty strange crackpotty Christian sects.   And it's in Japan of course.  South Korea? Land of Sung Myung Moon? And which took to a proliferation of Christian sects as a duck to water?  And Africa?... 

You get the point. "Spirituality" is a whole lot bigger than Western Buddhists' take on it.  It's bigger than the 12 Step movement's take on it.  And so, you may ask, what would I, a practicing Zen Buddhist of about 25+ years now, have against "spirituality"?  Uh... well, let's go to the dictionary, at least that which comes from Google:


the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.
"the shift in priorities allows us to embrace our spirituality in a more profound way"

So, first off, as a Buddhist of the Mahayana variety, there's no notion of human spirit or soul separate from form, feeling, thought, volition and consciousness.  So "spirituality" as defined by Google connotes a false dichotomy, and as I point out, it's really in essence theological kitsch, as Milan Kundera would call it, and as others have.  I sure as hell am not the first person to point out the relationship of "spirituality" to kitsch;  google around and you'll see.

Now this isn't a matter of philosophy or semantics,  but instead goes to the very marrow of what is in Zen practice - to practice is to be really present, amidst the shit, amidst the pain and suffering amidst the loss, and not at all being separated from the shit, the pain and suffering, loss, and what have you.  It's all here, right now.

Secondly, "spirituality" as is commonly conceived is really at its heart a religious position, and yet many people are reluctant to embrace the idea of religiousness and religious positions, but are just OK with embracing "spirituality."  This is especially true in 12 Step groups, which are, for all intents and purposes, religious groups, but refuse to identify themselves as such.  

I think we should call ducks ducks, if we're speaking English.  Maybe I'm funny that way, but a duck is a duck, it's not a "bird, but not a duck."

Now,  if you can accept the above, at least as I see it, a whole bunch of corollaries and conclusions fall into place with a big SNAP!

  • Guru shmuru.  Really, they may have taken different paths in life and have had different circumstances, but that "spiritual" teacher isn't any different than you on a fundamental basis.
  • It's unnecessary and a category mistake for Buddhist publications to frame the misdeeds of Buddhist teachers as having consequences for  "spirituality."
  • Brad Warner is not a Perfect Master and he didn't have to write a book about it, but OK.
  • All religions have dirt.  You can't have a religion without the dirt.  Or, as Leonard Cohen put it, "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
  • That's why practice amidst the shit of daily life is so critical.  'Cause that's the only place it happens.
  • Chogyam Trungpa died of alcohol misuse but that didn't invalidate at least some of what he said.
  • Everyone is a hypocrite.  Some are dishonest though.
I could go on, but I do wish "spirituality" as a word to describe religious practice and orientation were dropped,  just the same as I wish no wait staff would ever use the word "perfect" in response to a mean I'm ordering.  Maybe I should write a book of aphorisms based on this, William Blake style. 

But maybe that's just me. Your mileage may vary.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Brief Replies to Recent Posts by Brad Warner

He's avoided social media, so  I thought I'd weigh in on a few of his recent posts....

  • On transgender-ness,  I think there's more science around this than Ven. Warner gives credit.

  • I do wish Ven. Warner would really look at his own politicization of Buddhism more deeply than bash "progressive" Buddhist teachers.   I cannot really compare a teacher's visit to Yasukuni Shrine with supporting a regime that is harming so many people such as our present one. 

         Also, he really ought to study history more...

And yet when I look at the overall history of Buddhism, I see it as generally apolitical. For example, in Dogen’s voluminous writings I can only recall a couple of very tangential references to anything one might call “political.” He had some financial support from certain of the samurai and every once in a while he refers to them, but that’s about it.

        Well, actually, I could think of more than a few reasons why Dogen didn't write much political     stuff.   Like, for example,  because of who he was, as Ven. Warner points out,  he was not really in a position to state things that would be critical of the shogun. For example.  But generally apolitical? Give me a break.  Not just Tibet.  Check out the history of the Mongols, and the role Chan and other Buddhists played  in the Yuan Dynasty.  

All of that said,  I mildly agree with his larger point, that Buddhism should in general be welcoming of political differences.  Where he and I disagree is that there is a point where the political difference becomes  an obligation to speak out because of concern for others.  In general, I find Ven. Warner blissfully unaware of the fact that there are many who are indeed suffering in the US  and the world because of the political situation. 


  • Regarding Buddhist robes, ...
    •  At my recent sesshin I was asked to wear the top of a samue, as per the rest of attendees.  I should have brought one that I own, but didn't think of it when I packed.  It did make a difference in my practice in that it helped underscore the gravity of the task at hand.   
    • I'm  a little surprised at Ven. Warner's remark that his teacher didn't do chanting 'cause the thought there was too much of it in Japan.   In my experience that Western trained teachers don't do chanting nearly as well, as effectively,  as the Rinzai Japanese teachers I've known.  I'm sure he's saying true things there, but still...
    • He's right; the robes are a costume, but then is there any difference between "playing" a Zen priest and being a Zen priest? 
    •  Again, at my recent sesshin, I made reference - very obliquely - to the ubiquity of mud at Tahoma-san.  Harada-roshi was not wearing particularly fancy robes, and his not particularly fancy robes were not immune to the mud.   I think that was kind of the  best "answer" to the point of Warner's post here.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

More Thoughts on Other Religions, Their Relations with Buddhism and Hurt People

It's an interesting confluence of things these days; I'm reading more about the anti-12 Step movement on line, and the more I read, the more I'm appalled.  I'm appalled not simply because 12 Step treatment for compulsive behaviors is so prevalent in the US and so ineffective, but also because the adherents of 12 Step groups - which are legally and in every other way religions - tend not to look on other religions as on a par with their 12 Step practices.

You can see this by looking, for example, how Buddhism is occasionally represented on a site like, or my current bête noire,  one Ms. "InkyMama,"  who claims to be a "Buddhist" "meditation teacher" who is  "currently working on a forthcoming collection of meditations on the 12 Steps, the 4 Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path." Despite her claims of being a "teacher," I haven't been able to verify that she has any credentials from anywhere to teach whatsoever. 

Some of her bilge has already been published on as so-called "guided meditations;" and basically her schtick is basically pulling out some aspect of Buddhism; and some aspect of 12 Step religions, and making an absurd claim that there's correspondence between these two different aspects of two different religions.   Now maybe in some varieties of Buddhism guided meditations have a place; but in the Zen school, it's almost entirely unheard of in my experience, at least, in terms of more authentic teaching, and Brad Warner explains why.   Although I've cheerfully upbraided Ven. Warner on some of his political meanderings and his super reliance on Dōgen, his commitment to authentic practice seems very strong.   I'll still continue cheerfully upbraiding though when the situation seems to warrant it. 

I've debunked her stuff chapter and verse elsewhere, but suffice to say here, anyone who's serious about Buddhist practice and has been in contact with 12 Step spiritual religious practices will eventually realize:

  • We Buddhists don't really have a "higher power."
  • We don't really have "character defects;" in fact the opposite is more true.
  • There's no "we" who are "powerless."
  • Buddhism can't really be warped into a 12 Step religious framework.
I could go on, but as I wrote elsewhere, maybe her cultural appropriation of Buddhism is good in the way that maybe Frederick Lenz's cultural appropriation might have been good in that it will spur people on to look for the real thing.  I hope so, because there is so much misinformation about Buddhism in 12 Step circles, and a growing realization that even Refuge Recovery is tainted with 12 Step - inherited Christian moralism and dualism.

Also though the confluence of this 12 Step distortion of Buddhism happened, it's not the only place where religious principles alien to Buddhism rub elbows with Buddhism.  I'm not going to delve into whether Roman Catholic priests should study or teach Zen - although I wouldn't be a student of such a teacher, preferring the original flavor to the Western appropriation.  But I would like to go back to the issue of Adam Tebbe, which I think hasn't gotten nearly the shrift it merited. 

Adam Tebbe was for a few years heavily associated with a kind of American Sōtō Zen Buddhism qua Tricycle qua TMZ.  There were, for a while a few teachers with whom he was associated, and indeed they blogged on his site.  Jundo Cohen gives him credit for propagating information about predatory teachers, although I think what Tebbe was really doing was becoming absorbed in the scandal, that is scandal blogging, as opposed to ferreting out new information, i.e., journalism.  I think it's sad that Tebbe was more or less unconciously aided and abetted by a couple of teachers here and there who I think didn't see a couple of warning signs which were more or less evident to anyone who questioned why the main focus of a site purporting to be an encyclopedic resource for "Zen" was so focused on what to me was scandal blogging.  Adam Tebbe was - probably still is - a hurting person, and somewhere along the way,  if his "testimony" is accurate - he seems to have had a psychotic break, or at least the language he's using to describe his experience is not inconsistent with having such a break.

How do we respond to such a person?  Right now the response of most of the on-line Buddhist media and what's left of the Buddhist blogosphere has been mostly silence.  When the subject has come up, the response has tended toward "I hope he finds peace in his path," and though I've said this too, I would also add that I'd wish he'd stop denigrating Buddhism in his pushing of Christianity, especially since it comes across with a certain "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, warmest, bravest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life" quality to it.  I do think though it's incumbent on the Buddhist blogosphere - and especially those teachers that were formerly close to Tebbe - to make some kind of statement, to pay some attention to the fact that this happened, as I titled an earlier blog post on this subject.

Two or three years ago I was having a beer with my teacher (yes, this happens), and the subject of Eido Shimano came up.  We both agreed that from our standpoints it was impossible to explain Shimano's predatory behavior; my teacher opined that Shimano must have been really mentally troubled.

So it is - and ironically so - with Tebbe.  I can't explain or know what he went through, the pain and troubles he's had that would have related to a psychotic break.   I can't explain why at this stage of his life, he has to deprecate the Dharma, but I will certainly remonstrate against that. 

But one thing I have learned deeper since the time I've spoken with my teacher.  We're not kidding around at all, it's not just a pep talk, to say that we're inherently  Buddhas, inherently capable of transcending suffering.   I don't know why some folks suffer profoundly in ways I can't understand, but I can attest that suffering can be transcended, and you don't need another religious or "spiritual" path to do that.  And this fact that we are inherently Buddhas has profound implications about how other religions are in relation to Buddhism.  It's not something to be erased, papered over, swept under the rug or otherwise ignored.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Engaging Buddhist Practice

Sometimes, you wake up and find out that you've got to help a lot more people a lot more deeply than you've been doing.

That's a good thing.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Well, this happened...

I hadn't thought much about severely disturbed people and the practice of Zen, but Adam Tebbe clearly had problems beyond what he thought his practice could address.  But it seems we should have a protocol for such things.

I can't begrudge those who, after practicing Zen Buddhism for a while decide on another path; as others have put it before, they're practicing whether they know it or not.  What does concern me, though is that Mr. Tebbe is still deeply, deeply hurting, and it's unconscionable for there to be somewhere "Christian" people and clergy looking to "benefit" in some way from Mr. Tebbe's troubles.

I put the word "benefit" in quotes because while one might feel they have "won one for the Kingdom" or "been able to reach more souls" or whatever, of course, this is more about their own perceived gain, their own "getting something."

I'm sure he's been told this already, but for Mr. Tebbe and those who are with him, I wish them peace.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

And while I'm at it...

I also gotta write a response to this "Meditation and Control" essay.

Here's my response: What would this author have to say about playing tennis? Or practicing an art? A martial art? Weightlifting?

I don't think he gets the point.

12 Step Religions are not Buddhism...

I would like to do a series of posts on the above topic.  There's several reasons why:

  • From a Buddhist perspective, the whole idea of the 12 Steps themselves are incompatible with Buddhism.
  • If one has a compulsive behavior syndrome, it's simply cruel and ineffective to apply 12 Step religious constraints as a "treatment" for the syndrome. And I use the word "syndrome" instead of "disorder" because in a lot of cases the use of the word "disorder" is not only stigmatizing, but incorrect: if one's brain is structured to work a certain way,  and it's working that way, and if it conveys certain benefits to its owner being structured that way, it's really not correct to imply that the structure is "wrong."
  • In fact, if one knows the history of  12 Step groups, and understands 12 Step doctrine, it's cruel to apply that doctrine to pretty much anything.
  • To the extent that compulsive behavior syndromes are injurious to the subject with the syndrome, there's more effective techniques, and these techniques actually are inherited, or appropriated, from Buddhist practice.

The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn from the crow, wrote William Blake.

I shall be writing more on this topic.  Maybe I'll write a book, too.

We are the Greatest Bullshit Artists

I mentioned a while back that I had lots of new ideas.   Of late I have had some family difficulties and am working through them.  They have brought new opportunities for "practice" as well.

"Practice" is in quotes because a) I think the word's a bit overused in American Buddhist circles, and b) I can't think of a better word at the moment.

I just came over hear because I thought to myself, "Where can I go for something...uplifting... from a Buddhist perspective?

And I couldn't think of many places.

Of late, Brad Warner's blog has become reactionary, especially in response to White American Convert Buddhist liberalism.  So it goes.   James Ford's blog - and a few others - still burns brightly with the glow of White American Convert Buddhist liberalism. Sweeping Zen doesn't have much new content now that Eido Shimano and Joshu Sasaki have passed away. 

There just aren't the blogs around that there were even 10 years ago.  I'll have to check again, but it seems that good American Buddhist writing is hard to find.

And that's because I submit the mission of "Buddhist" blogs was somewhat ill-begotten back when blogging was the rage.

And that probably has to do with the fact that we are our own best bullshit artists. The level of bullshittery with which we engage ourselves is truly breathtaking.  At least, speaking for me.  I can convince myself that I should want or need all kinds of stuff.

At any rate, let's see what today has to offer...