Monday, September 29, 2008

NPR LINK


The NPR (National Public Radio) thing is here for anyone who wants to listen. As usual when there's a story about Noah Levine and me, they used a picture of Noah. He's more everyone's image of punk rock, I guess (not a "garage band poser from the suburbs" like me ~ you guys are too funny, I like Noah!*). Well, at least they didn't put my name under his photo like someone did a while back. And if Noah put the title of one of his books on one side of his neck and the other on the other side of his neck, what's he gonna do if he writes a third book?

Maybe we shouldn't ask...

I'm bored stiff with the topic of Big Mind™. But there's a guy in the comments section who can't understand the difference between Nishijima Sensei's acceptance of patronage from the Ida Cosmetics company, for whom he also worked as an adviser and financial consultant, and Genpo asking for $50,000 to spend five days at a luxury resort with rich people and give them Enlightenment. Nishijima never promised Mr. Ida he'd get any sort of special experiences or merit for his contributions. If you don't think Genpo is saying the folks who pay him $50,000 are going to get something that people who pay less can't get, you'd better read his pitch again.

Meeting with a real Zen teacher for personal instruction is indeed a rare opportunity. But it can't be bought or sold. Never. When the emperor of China asked Bodhidharma what merit could be got by studying with him, Bodhidharma said, "None at all." The emperor was most certainly asking this to see if he wanted to become Bodhidharma's sugar daddy and give him some cash and a temple and stuff. Had the emperor wanted to study with Bodhidharma anyway in spite of the lack of merit to be gained, I'm sure Bodhidharma would have accepted him as a student. Honesty is the key. Patronage can be accepted when the relationship between teacher and patron is an honest one.

And FYI, ain't nobody offering me $50,000 for a few days in a hotel with them. But if they did I'd send him packing. Homey don't play that. I don't like hotels anyway and it sounds seriously creepy. "Free money" is never free. If, on the other hand, New World Library offered me a $50,000 advance for my next book (Ha! I wish~!) I'd take it in a heartbeat. I prefer to work for the money I get. You always do anyway, even when the money is "free." And when I do real work, I will take as much money as the work is worth. I have no qualms about that at all. Sorry.

As for people traveling long distances to study with me, I always discourage it. A number of people have asked about this and I always say the same thing. There is no reason anyone should spend a lot of money and effort to study with me. I will only disappoint you.

These questions are trivial. The thing that really bugs me is when people (Genpo's people, I assume) start throwing that whole "The precepts say you can't criticize other Buddhists!" stuff around. There is a very dangerous notion growing among Buddhists in the West that if anyone calls himself a "Buddhist" or calls what he's doing "Buddhism," we as Buddhists must not call him on it no matter what it is for fear (and fear is the operative word) we will be breaking the precepts. This is why there is no outcry from American Buddhists against some of the flagrant abuses already present. As Buddhism continues to grow in popularity, the number of people who see it as an easy way to get rich will increase. We cannot be shy about pointing out when transparent scams masquerade as Buddhism. If Buddhists don't speak out, who will? If hucksters know they can get away with anything because Buddhists are afraid to say anything about it there won't be any real Buddhism left before long.

This is a serious matter.

Whether people like what I say or how I present myself or not doesn't matter a whole lot to me. I feel duty bound to say what needs saying in the best way I can.


*Hey! I just found out that Zero Defex's songs "Drop The A-Bomb On Me" and "Better Way" (aka I Bleed USA) (no YouTube link, but go to Nader's official page & it's there)are being used in official commercials by the Ralph Nader campaign! Gosh.

ADDENDUM

I just saw this in the comments section and I thought it was an interesting observation. Having had some very minor interactions with community the commenter's speaking about, I think this is a very good point. I had considered writing something like this myself, and on the subject of "lifestyle players," which exist in both the BDSM and spiritual communities. I should say, though, I have some deep misgivings about what little I've seen in the consensual BDSM community. I do see some therapeutic usefulness in it. But this may be canceled out by the actual trauma involved. Anyway, I'm no expert & that's about the extent of what I can say on the matter. (I wonder if this is Nina Hartley's post...)

Brad, here is my hunch.

Folks are paying mega bucks to folks like Genpo not just for the verbal teachings.

My hunch, and it is strictly my own opinion, is that a lot of people think they are into being spiritual, but covertly are thrilling to power and to power imbalance.

If they were conscious about this, they'd explore these issues via psychotherapy, or via consensual adult BDSM.

I do not practice BDSM but I am more and more convinced these days that the adult kink community does a far better job than the spiritual seeker's scene, because the kink practitioners are thinking consciously about power, thinking clearly about what they desire, and have learned to communicate, beforehand, what they all want, what the boundaries are.

More than once, Ive been told that there are lots of people who want to be dominated and paddled, but very few who are willing to function as 'tops'--that is, as the dominants who administer the pain.

Why, in the kink scene, are there so few tops, and so many bottoms?

Because in the kink scene, POWER COMES WITH ACCOUNTABILITY. The top has to answer to an ethos of care and pay attention to whether the bottom is signaling for the session to stop. And the top is the one who is answerable if something goes wrong.

But in the spiritual scene, there is no shortage of wanna be gurus/tops. There are lots of bottoms in the spiritual scene, but also plenty of gurus, eager to accept the power offered to them by the bottoms.

Why?

Because IMO, in the spiritual scene, its a set up where the guru/top enjoys total power and zero accountability.

If anything goes wrong, in the spiritual kink scene, all the blame is foisted onto the bottom.

And in the spiritual kink scene, people are going around being unconscious. They're obsessed with power, but unconscious of it, and determined to stay unconscious of it, and there is no way to talk consciously about power, about what one desires, and no safe words a bottom can use to signal that he or she is being traumatized instead of challenged and wants to scene to stop.

In fact, in the spiritual kink scene, you have no way to know if you are walking into someone's BDSM dungeon or not.

At least in BDSM the dungeon is clearly designated as such.

Result is, in the world of BDSM kink, people examine and name their desires and set it up so everyone, the top and bottom, exits the scene feeling satisfied.

Which is more than can be said for many sectors of the so called spiritual scene. I suspect many don't feel they are spiritual unless they are thrilling to a power imbalance.

Brad once wrote how someone at his old Japanese company said that their cartoon stories taught children to worship power--that some benevolent being could come to the rescue, every time.

Some worship Ultraman, or the Science Team.

Others worship Genpo Roshi.

And never examine the deep structure of all this.

And if you pay 50,000 USD, you have an incentive NOT to want to examine this, because its too painful to face that you paid 50 grand to fulfill a child's fantasy of rescue.

220 comments:

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Anonymous said...

new page! new topic?

Justin said...

I don't really think that criticising other people, other sanghas and other schools achieves very much except to increase divisiveness and make people more attached to their opinions.

I think if there is some clear and specific abuse going on then that's a different matter, but I don't think that our not liking Genpo's prices really constitute that.

Mumon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mumon said...

justin:

But then I doubt you were actually considering it.

Indeed; if I'm going to pay for water by the side of the river I don't what to be attached to what I get.

Anonymous said...

what circumstances do you prefer to be attached to?

Justin said...

Indeed; if I'm going to pay for water by the side of the river I don't what to be attached to what I get.

OK so it's not about protecting your own consumer rights because you can simply go elsewhere. So what is it about?

I think that every single sangha and teacher can be validly criticised: Genpo, Brad, Nishijima, AZI, Thich Nhat Hanh, Kodo Sawaki etc but what do we achieve by doing it? A sense of self-righteousness, attachment to beliefs, dualism, hostility, anger - all of these are obstacles to what we're supposed to be doing here - practicing Zen.

I think it's important to see reality clearly and when genuinelhy neccessary to take a stand against abuse and so on, but most of this kind of thing is just pointless whining that achieves nothing except creating boundaries.

Mumon said...

what circumstances do you prefer to be attached to?

So what is it about?

The point is not to be attached.

To actually be able to help and be helped.

I think that every single sangha and teacher can be validly criticised: Genpo, Brad, Nishijima, AZI, Thich Nhat Hanh, Kodo Sawaki etc but what do we achieve by doing it?

I think you're right that every single teacher can be validly criticized...as far as sanghas, well, that's not as germane to this discussion - they have responsibilities, for sure, but they have rights/entitlements/privileges as well.

But I don't think every teacher should be criticized. I don't think White Plum Asanga teachers should be criticized in general though I do have some differences with some of them.

But there's a point where a line is crossed, and publicly it's appropriate to say, "Nuh-uh." Or something like that.

Supporting an organization that purveys the detritus of Frederick Lenz as "American Buddhism" is going to yield a "Nuh-uh" from me, because it's NOT about being able to help and be helped.

Attaching prices to the Dharma that equate some level of extra spiritual development with extra extra cost is beyond the pale too.

We as Buddhists should be able to learn from the mistakes of those in the past in other religious traditions as well as our own, and as Stuart Lach's writings make all to painfully clear, too many Zen teachers have done what too many clergy in other traditions have done: abuse their authority.

It's not about whining, self-righteousness, attachment to beliefs, dualism, hostility, anger, etc. etc. etc.

It is about what we are entitled to and what our responsibilities are in a mature clergy/teacher - parishioner/student relationship, as informed by the Buddhadharma.

Anonymous said...

We as Buddhists...

What does the Buddha say about criticism? That should cover it, right?

There are these three sorts of teacher who are worthy of criticism in the world, and when anyone criticizes these sorts of teachers, the criticism is true, factual, righteous, & unblameworthy. Which three?

Anonymous said...

When sewing a rakusu in Genpo's sanga, the instructions don't cost a dime. They don't sell kits or fabric. They *do* sell rings. Big whoop. They also tell you you can buy rings at Michael's.

Mumon said...

What does the Buddha say about criticism? That should cover it, right?

And, reading that bit, it comes down to authentication of the teacher by the student, to resurrect a point I'd made elsewhere.

Moon Face Buddha said...

We can hardly blame Genpo Roshi for putting a price on the Dharma. Every monk that begged for alms, including Siddharta, was putting a price on the Dharma. If you want to pay the price then go ahead. The Dharma is the same regardless how much you pay for it :)

Mike H said...

Justin:

I don't really think that criticising other people, other sanghas and other schools achieves very much except to increase divisiveness and make people more attached to their opinions.

Agreed. Almost.

I think if there is some clear and specific abuse going on then that's a different matter, but I don't think that our not liking Genpo's prices really constitute that.


Agreed. Almost.

I have nothing against Genpo'$ pricing structure, I have something against the message that it seems to me to send out:

There is a message that Buddhism costs serious money.

There is a message that spending more money is in some way better.

There is a message that spending lots of money will get you enlightened faster.

I don't recall Buddha ever teaching such messages.

I don't think that these messages have any inherrent truth to them.

Fundamentally I think they encourage delusional beliefs on a path that is about shedding them.

...

I think it's valid to be critical when abuse is going on - not the case here.

I think it is valid to be critical when the core teachings are wrong - not the case here.

I think it is valid to be critical when the teachings are encouraging delusions which are harmful - This is where I begin to wonder.

Did Buddha ever run a credit check before spending time with people?

Justin said...

The point is not to be attached.

Then why be so concerned about what some other teacher is charging in another sangha? Surely this is attachment and a distraction.

I think it is valid to be critical when the teachings are encouraging delusions which are harmful - This is where I begin to wonder.

I think you can wonder about this sort of thing endlessly.

Did Buddha ever run a credit check before spending time with people?

Monks have always lived off the lay-people including donations for services rendered, although Genpo seems to be charging more than most.

Mumon said...

justin:

I think you can wonder about this sort of thing endlessly.

This is where I go "res ipsa loquitur."

Mike H said...

justin:

I think that we have a difference of opinion on this matter and so I think I will say no more.

Anonymous said...

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Jinzang said...

I think you can wonder about this sort of thing endlessly.

And that is why the Internet was invented.

thought said...

It's profound. while the nature of mind is empty, the nature of wondering (thought) *is* endless!

walk away from the gun :-)

Sheep said...

Mouths are flapping... (:

Anonymous said...

There is a historical aspect to this that is as old as the concept of religion. Why would anyone be surprised that this happens in a Buddhist or spiritual community. As poorly and gossipy as it is written, read "Shoes Outside the Door." Buy it used on Amazon or in the bargin bin at your local bookstore, it is not worth the full, retail price. It will tell you this story of how money corrupts practice and spirituality.

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