Saturday, November 24, 2007

DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL

Here’s the second case in Dogen’s book of koans, Shinji Shobogenzo:

Master Obaku Ki-un on Mt. Obaku in the Ko district ask Master Hyakujo Ekao, “When I want to share with others the teachings which you have given us, how should I preach them?”

Master Hyakujo just remained sitting on his cushion without saying anything.

Obaku Ki-un said, “How can I teach sons and grandsons of disciples in the future?”

Master Hyakujo said, “What you have said shows that you are a real person.”


This is one of the questions I get so often I’m thinking of putting it into my F.A.Q., which I haven’t updated since the Bronze Age, by the way. People always want to know, “How can I teach Buddhism to others?”

The short answer is, don’t.

Of course I don’t mean totally “don’t.” But in most cases you don’t really need to teach anybody anything. Leave it alone, give it a rest, as Brian’s mom says in Life of Brian. If your friends and family want to know about Buddhism they’ll ask. Otherwise the Buddhist policy is: (If they) Don’t ask, don’t tell.

This was brought home to me recently when a certain Buddhist Master started to try and kindly bestow his teachings upon me. Jesus God Almighty if there is anything more annoying than that I really don’t want to know what it is. I finally figured out how to set my Spam filter to direct his e-mails right into my trash, so at least I don’t have to read that shit anymore.

But I imagine anyone who reads my stuff shares my disdain for teachers who try and push their teachings on you. Gawd, I hope no one out there is trying to push the stuff I say on anyone. Still, maybe you have some feeling that this or that friend of yours could benefit from the practice and you’d like to give them the chance. That’s nice. But, unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do.

Trying to teach Buddhism to someone you know is like trying to get someone you know to sleep with you. You can’t push the issue or you’ll just scare them off. Or worse, they’ll feel like you’ve raped them with your religion. It just doesn’t do any good at all.

Even in my position these days I don’t really tell people I meet about Zen unless they ask. Even then I usually throw out facetious jokey answers the first few times in order to see if they seriously want to know. If someone isn’t really very sincerely desirous of the teachings there is no point at all in trying to bestow them upon them. They’re not going to listen with the necessary intention anyhow, so you’re just wasting your breath and making yourself look silly.

Anyway, that’s my little sermon for the day. Have a good one.

23 comments:

Yueheng said...

Otherwise the Buddhist policy is: (If they) Don’t ask, don’t tell.

If Shakyamuni had followed this policy, there wouldn't have been any Buddhism at all in the first place :)

Gerry Gomez said...

The Buddha's inclination was not to teach, not to tell anyone.

And Buddh-ISM is an invention of "orientalist" scholarship a couple of centuries ago (see: The Reification of Religion by Jonathan Z. Smith), and has little to do with what the Buddha and his practice was about.

I think it is best if you not mention your practice to most people, or at least wait 10 or 20 years until you have your ego in check.

Gerry

Gerry Gomez said...

Also, see The Meaning and End of Religion by Wilfred Cantwell Smith.

Oh my god, I am turning into mysterion..............

Mysterion said...
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Mysterion said...
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daiji said...
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Anonymous said...

I sometimes use quotations of your work in e-mails, but mostly if I feel that it only helps to further explain something, if that makes sense. From a work e-mail about passive vs. active learning:

"I've been reading a bit on zen buddhism lately, specifically Brad Warner's work. And a quote from a recent article of his concerning what has been happening in Myanmar/Burma seems applicable here: 'The most truly compassionate thing you can do for the world is to work on yourself. That is your interface with everything. That's where it all begins. This is how you start to fix what's wrong with the world. The ripples you send out never dissipate completely.

Anyway I think the point I'm trying to make is what we've talked about in various forms: students need to teach themselves how to learn effectively. If they're not getting the answers, they need to figure out how to get them, beyond simply asking someone. "

I've realized in my excitement about something I tend to proselytize a bit more than I should. But nevertheless, this hit home. Thanks for the reminder.

Mysterion said...
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roman said...

yueheng, i am afraid Buddha was addressed by very serious truth- seekers so he started to teach them

Brad probably means that there is no point teaching Buddhism to people who are not dead serious about Buddhism

roman said...

yueheng, i am afraid Buddha was addressed by very serious truth- seekers so he started to teach them

Brad probably means that there is no point teaching Buddhism to people who are not dead serious about Buddhism

Jinzang said...

I took the koan to mean that Zen CAN'T be taught, not that it SHOULDN'T be taught. You know, beyond words and concepts, yadda, yadda, yadda. Not that this changes your main point.

Back in the old days (not so long ago) if someone came to a Zen monastery in order to be a monk, they beat him up and dragged him outside. Only the ones who came back got in.

Mysterion said...
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Yueheng said...

roman wrote thus:

i am afraid Buddha was addressed by very serious truth- seekers so he started to teach them

According to the official account, after some initial hesitation that no one would understand the insights that he had attained, Shakyamuni went to visit his former teachers, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta with the intention of sharing his enlightenment with them . They had passed away.

Shakyamuni then went to the Deer Park in Benares to seek his five former companions who had practiced austerities with him. When they saw him approaching, they were determined to ignore this sell-out who had abandoned the path of self-denial. But, so the story says, Shakyamuni's radiance was so irresistible that they succumbed and listened to him preach.

Mysterion said...
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Blake said...

I have, in my office at work, my zafu and zabuton, sitting on the floor. I like to shut my door and crank out some quality meditation in the morning. I don't bother stowing my gear away. Of course, people at work have asked me about the cushions on my floor. I just tell them they are for naps. If they come back, asking me whether or not I really nap, I tell them the truth: that I meditate. I have had a few people ask me about Buddhism but I really don't have much to say. I mean, it's like talking about a color or an emotion.

And I'm not so good at quoting people. Unless it requires making a funny voice.

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esmerelda_verde said...

I have found that mentioning Buddhism has resulted in some pretty stupid questions like 'So you think the Dahli Lama is God don't you?' Since I have a very punk rock attitude and appearance most of the people at work would not believe me anyway.

I actually have quite a few Buddist friends and we don't talk about it either. Except I recommended Brad's books and they suggested some of theirs. Mostly its just something we do.

Mysterion said...
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joyce said...

i fully agree with you brad...i found myself wanting to share things i am learning with my family, but unless they are open to a whole other way at looking at life than they have been viewing it for so many years, they will never understand...buddhism is not something you can just force feed to people, they got to experience its truth for themselves...you are truly wasting your breath trying to help anyone do anything unless they want it...i have learned that and that the best way to influence people with what you believe is to be that truth yourself...live your life in the way you think is so right fully and as they see you doing it and realize that it really works then they may come asking you questions, be the change and the turth you want everyone else to experience...worry about experiencing it yourself first...true story brad...peace

dood said...

“When I want to share with others the teachings which you have given us, how should I preach them?”

Master Hyakujo just remained sitting on his cushion without saying anything.

my interpretation? just sit there without saying anything - that will teach more than flapping mouth will...

great post !

take care,
do

Carrie said...

This post reminded me of this other post:

http://noimpactman.typepad.com/blog/2007/11/triggering-an-e.html

It can be hard to remember what being lectured at feels like, especially when you're excited about getting to lecture.

But if I can trust someone not to lecture me, I find I'm curious about their life, even if I know I'm going to disagree with parts of it.

George W. said...

Yes..this has taken me some time to find out. Still..if I read it earlier I wouldn't have listened anyway... (laughs)

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