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.