Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Brad Does Not Believe All Members of SZBA and AZTA Are Only In It For the Money, OK?

The last post I put on this blog got a lot of people talking. And that's what it was intended to do. So in that sense it was a success.

But if there's one thing I've learned from being a writer it's that it is absolutely impossible to write something that cannot be misinterpreted. I think certain writers attempt to do this by writing things so innocuous that nobody could ever disagree with them. But that kind of writing is useless.

Nevertheless, I was really sad, mad and upset when two Zen teachers who I highly respect sent me emails after having read what I wrote. Near as I can tell they believed my message in that piece was as follows: All Zen teachers belonging to AZTA and SZBA are only in it for the money while I, Brad Warner the magnificent, am much better than those guys because I care naught for the cash. Or something like that.

One of these emails said, "I feel you've done a great disservice to teachers in the United States with this entry. People actually take what you say seriously. I wonder how many will avoid a Zen teacher like the plague, thinking we are only interested in making money from the dharma." The other said, "it saddens me that not only are you not abstaining from praising the self and maligning others, but on the contrary have made it your modus operandi. It's how you make a buck." (Enough bucks that I had to crash in other people's houses for a year, thank you.)

I have not read all of the reactions to what I wrote (there have been a whole lot!). But so far these are the only two people I've come across who read the piece in that way. However, just in case there are others I want to be very clear.

1) I do not believe that all members of AZTA and SZBA are just in it for the money. In fact, as far as I can tell after a quick look at the rosters of these organizations, none of the members of these organizations are just in it for the money. (Though I don't know everyone, so I could be mistaken.)

2) When describing how I thought Zen teachers actually viewed what they (we) do, I was not trying to set myself apart from others as better than them. I was actually trying to express the view that I believe most of us take toward the idea of doing Zen teaching for the money. And that view is that we are not in it for the cash and therefore I feel we should not label ourselves as "professionals."

I had believed my feelings about this were adequately expressed in the following lines that appear in the piece. In paragraph one I said, "Some of those who belong to or even hold important positions in these organizations are friends of mine. I respect their views on most matters." And about 2/3 of the way through the piece I talk about how members of the "helping professions" charge for their services and conclude by stating, "No decent Zen teacher I know of views what he or she does in that way."

I do not feel that I have done any disservice to teachers in the United States by raising this matter. On the contrary, I feel it needed to be raised. And I am happy to have done it.

People have been throwing this word "professionalism" around very carelessly. I am well aware that among the connotations of the word "professionalism" is the idea that a "professional" has a commitment to certain ethical standards. But in its most basic form that is not what the word "professional" means. We need to be careful about these words.

Professionals uphold their ethical standards for a variety of reasons. But, as professionals, they have one very powerful motivating factor for upholding those standards that non-professionals do not. And that factor is money. Doctors, therapists and lawyers can lose their jobs if they don't follow their ethical standards. But this must never be a motivating factor for Zen teachers to uphold their (our) ethical standards.

This is why I view Zen teaching as a type of art rather than a part of the helping profession. If I didn't look upon it that way, I couldn't do it at all.

But let me get back to SZBA and AZTA. As they currently stand, both of these organizations are completely benign and harmless. They're just little groups of Zen teachers who come together and talk to each other. Right now, they're like peer support groups. It's impossible for anyone who has not tried to teach Zen to really grasp what it's actually like to do this. Even the nicest of those who haven't tried to teach this stuff have all kinds of weird fantasies about what is or what ought to be involved.

The problem is, I feel a lot of people (both members and outsiders) want these organizations to be much more than what they are now. And I feel that it is almost inevitable that these forces will win out in the end. People are already calling for these organizations to "have teeth" so they can deal with folks like Eido and Genpo and all the rest effectively. But the only way I can imagine for these organizations to ever grow any teeth would be for them to gain some kind of economic power over their membership. I believe this will happen eventually, the way it has with so many other religious organizations.

On the personal side, I want to point out where I come from on these matters. My first teacher was a student (for lack of a better word) of Kobun Chino Roshi. Kobun was quite famous for having quit the Soto-shu and being very anti-establishment. The teacher who ordained me, Gudo Nishijima Roshi, made no bones about his feelings regarding the Soto-shu, calling them "a guild of funeral directors."

Furthermore, I have my own personal reasons for being deeply suspicious of and prejudiced against all kinds of groups and organizations. So I am clearly not objective about these things. But then again, neither is anyone else.

That's not an apology or a way of back-pedaling. I meant and still mean every word I wrote. But I think it's good to be clear about this kind of stuff.

• April 14, 2011 (Thu) 7:00 pm Berry College 2277 Martha Berry Highway, Mount Berry, GA 30149-9707
• April 15, 2011 (Fri) 6:30pm Aurora Coffee Shop in Little 5 Points, 468 Moreland Ace., Atlanta, GA 30307
• April 17, 2011(Sun) 10:45 am Atlanta Soto Zen Center 1167 C/D Zonolite Place, Atlanta, GA
• April 18, 2011 (Mon) 7:00 pm Universalist Unitarian Church Atlanta, GA
• April 19, 2011 (Tue) 7:30pm Atlanta Soto Zen Center 1167 C/D Zonolite Place, Atlanta, GA

• April 20, 2011 (Wed) 7:00 PM Universalist Unitarian Church 1808 Woodmont Blvd, Nashville, TN 37215
• April 22-24, 2011 (Fri-Sun) 3-Day Zazen Retreat at Punel Ridge near Nashville, TN Contact Nashville Zen Center for info

More info (including links to all venues) on my tour page


Excalibur said...

Words and letters will get you nowhere.

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Zen teatchers sending angry emails... Nerds flaming in their robes...

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Actually, the AZTA is far from benign and harmless. It is a transparent power-grab by people who wish to be seen as the arbiters of who is a legitimate Zen teacher and who is not. Of course this is done behind a smokescreen of smarmy passive-aggressive blather that provides the AZTA with plausible deniability.

Caveat meditator.

Mumon said...

What's wrong w/ directing funerals? All of that said, the subject is still more complex than you are expressing (honestly, I feel); my reply to your original post is here.

merciless said...

Brad, I think you crashed in other people's houses for over a year for the same reason some guys always borrow cigarettes and never buy them. But you make it sound rather noble..

Anonymous said...

The horrendous part is that if you're in it at ALL for the money you wind up in it ONLY for the money.

Bizarro Seagal said...

In the West, since people started living longer, they had to learn how to be babies longer.

kevin said...

I've said this before elsewhere, but whatever happened to "Hearing the words, understand the meaning;
don’t set up standards of your own."

I feel sad for both you and those two teachers as well. It's tragic that friends and colleagues could perceive that post as an insult or attack.

It's also tragic that, while your delivery can be somewhat abrasive, people don't appreciate that you mean well.

I also feel sad for those who get behind those misguided views, being paranoid enough to think that way and caring enough about the actions of others who may have malevolent or selfish motives to taint their views of honest individuals.

Thank you for the clarification.

Takuhatsu said...

Bring back the alms bowl. Problem solved. Next?

anon #108 said...

Brad: But if there's one thing I've learned from being a writer it's that it is absolutely impossible to write something that cannot be misinterpreted.

He's right, you know.

For those who can't get enough of this debate and might have missed it:

An interesting post by Brad Warner...

- I am 'jiblet'. Students should carefully study ALL my posts, on this topic and others, but my latest policy statement on page 4 (in reply to 'Jundo' and written before this latest post of Brad's appeared) is highly recommended. All donations are gratefully received*.

*None of this paragraph is intended as anti-Warner/anti-Jundo/anti-anyone-else-in-particular sarcasm or snark. It may be narcissism disguised as self-mocking irony. Whatever. I'm just passing the time.

Anonymous said...

Brad, may I ask you some questions?

Is it more that word “professional” you are struggling with or is it if there is an organization behind? How much are you overlapping “the Genpo thing” with the question of getting paid for being a companion? How much can you (and anyone else) really integrate western values in eastern philosophy? Do you see yourself really more as an artist than a companion?

Are you still a punk in your heart?

Best greetings from Germany.

Anonymous said...

THIS sez a lot...

Brad's legacy?

Ima Pimp said...

Or...maybe you are continuing the "win a date with Brad" concept in being someone's companion for the right price? I think here is another term for companion that may be more accurate, if that is the case.

Its not "teacher."

I.P. said...

(P.S) but it IS considered professional!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

professionals upholding ethical standards

Anonymous said...


Uku said...

Keep up the good work, Brad. Don't worry about the critics. This world needs more Buddhists like you who are ready to fight for the human beings.

Support from Finland.


Nicholas said...


You reminded me of the chapter in the Shobogenzo, Ikka-No-Myoju.

Lisa said...

Hard to believe someone could have misinterpreted so egregiously your meaning. I thought it was a good post, clearly communicating your position on this matter. I am happy to have read it, and I agree with your opinion.

Dan said...

It was a good post, and I understood it. My Art teacher would always say, I am teaching you a specific technique, and how to master this technique. But what you do with it, is up to you. He wasn't teaching us his art, or his ideas. In fact, he hated the word artist. You draw, you paint, you work. You DO art, you are not an artist.

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicholas said...

Seeking to add to and collaborate with Mysterion:

Aside from Brad's criticism of those capitilizing on their "authority",I just perceived Brad's posts to be in the spirit of earlier statements, including those in his books, that warn of the dangers of foisting problems onto a perceived Zen authority that should be handled by a therapist.

That just creates problems for all parties...

Nicholas said...


Rick said...

So you think they're just in it for the money?

Nicholas said...

Eager to post tonight:

Rick, who was your question directed to and who are the "they" you're referring to?

john e mumbles said...

Nice Mothers album cover! I ran into them in downtown Winnipeg waaaaaaay back in the day (I was very young!)...

Later, in the 1970's, I caught Frank Zappa in concert, an unforgettable experience.

Zappa always seemed like a musician's musician, but outside at the same time. Kinda like you, Brad, indefinable.

[& a shout out to UKU!]

Nicholas said...

Zen is not in the business of helping people, and teaching people that they are *originally* in the white ox cart isn't a help?

I'll buy that in the sense that nothing is gained or lost, but in the absolute sense I won't.

Nicholas said...


Obaku addressed the assembly and said, “You
are all partakers of brewer’s grain. If you go on
studying Zen like that, you will never finish it. Do
you know that in all the land of T’ang there is no
Zen teacher?”

Then a monk came forward and said, “But surely
there are those who teach disciples and preside
over the assemblies. What about that?”
Obaku said, “I do not say that there is no Zen,
but that there is no Zen teacher...”

That's whats going on here. I better run along back to my ox cart, I was instructed in the Diamond Sutra not to consciously try to create buddha-lands.

Anonymous said...

Brad do you think this can help my Zazen?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

"Nevertheless, I was really sad, mad and upset when two Zen teachers who I highly respect sent me emails after having read what I wrote."

Is this more sarcasm?

Lone Wolf said...

Having been a part of various organizations with hierarchical structures, such as martial art and Buddhist groups to name a couple, I believe that hierarchy often causes many difficulties and gets in the way of true communication and learning. Teachers and students should have a natural open respect for one another...like members of a book club or D&D nerds.

In college, the teachers I learn the most from are those that speak to me naturally and openly as equals, while engaging me at the level I am able to understand, not like some peon that needs to wear a bib and be fed with a spoon (and I use to be one of those students that came to the teacher with my bib on and my mouth open). Students shouldn't leave their brain at the door of the Zen Center, but at the same time they should acknowledge the teacher has more experience with practice. Anyways, some Professors, most of them with PhD's I notice, have their head so far up their ass they have lost any sense of "beginners mind" and it's often very difficult to communicate with them. And I imagine that it's just as difficult to communicate with a student who looks up to a teacher as some divine being who can answer all their questions about the meaning of life.

I bring this up here simply because I see a lot of problematic hierarchy in Buddhism. Students putting their teachers on pedestals like they are some infallible perfect enlightened being (and many teachers play along with it) while shedding responsibility on to the teacher for the work they need to do on themselves. I like that Brad has spent much of his time pointing out such nonsense, because to many student/teacher relationships turn into "Dorkboy and the Godhead" and that is not healthy for either the student or the teacher and leads to many of the infamous scandals that plague Buddhism and other religious/spiritual organizations.

I really like how Gudo Nishijima worked while he taught Zen. I believe teachers who primarily communicate with their little group of worshipers may lose touch with the real world. But this is only assumption sense I've never been a Zen teacher.

This rant might be a bit off topic, but I still feel it relates somehow. Just my two cents. Ching! Ching!

Brad Warner said...

Anonymous at 9:13 said:
"Nevertheless, I was really sad, mad and upset when two Zen teachers who I highly respect sent me emails after having read what I wrote."

Is this more sarcasm?

No. Not at all.

Anonymous said...

"No. Not at all."

Was that sarcasm?

Anonymous said...

"Was that sarcasm?"

What about that?

Anonymous said...

"What about that?"

Yes. That was sarcasm.

Germaine said...

Hi Brad. I agree it is good to be clear. But it isn't always so easy to determine when you are being sincere and when you are mocking. You go both ways.

Mumon said...

BTW, how much money are we talking about?

I mean who knows?

Look at Bernie Glassman - how much did he get for the clown nose routine?

Would he have made more if there was a goat involved?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for using one of the greatest album covers of all time. Be sure to keep "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" in mind for future essays! I keep waiting for you to work in some Robyn.

Anonymous said...

The ANSWER is clear.

Anonymous said...

"Dilettantes! Dilettantes! — this is the derogatory cry those who apply themselves to art or science for the sake of gain raise against those who pursue it for love of it and pleasure in it. This derogation rests on their vulgar conviction that no one would take up a thing seriously unless prompted to it by want, hunger, or some other kind of greediness. The public has the same outlook and consequently holds the same opinion, which is the origin of its universal respect for “the professional” and its mistrust of the dilettante. The truth, however, is that to the dilettante the thing is the end, while to the professional as such it is the means; and only he who is directly interested in a thing, and occupies himself with it from love of it, will pursue it with entire seriousness. It is from such as these, and not from wage-earners, that the greatest things have always come." ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

Anonymous said...

cosa nostra

Anonymous said...


Bizarro Seagal said...

Let the bloodhounds of money beware.

Anonymous said...

David Byrne recently settled his copyright complaint against former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who used a Talking Heads song without permission in his U.S. Senate campaign, by making Crist film this 90-second abject apology and post it to YouTube.


Anonymous said...

Nonin Chowaney said...
"Well, there are three essential aspects to Zen Buddhist practice. Number one is sitting regularly. There is no way around that. The second is practicing under the guidance of a teacher. There is no way around that. The third is connecting with and practicing with a group. There is no way around that. Those are my three pillars of Zen practice: sitting zazen, practicing under the guidance of a teacher, and connecting with and practicing with a group."


So by his definition, all of the people who, for lack of a better word, are 'followers' of Brad Warner, are not Zen Buddhists. Thoughts?

Yuse Tomato said...

There are only two pillows of Zen: the zafu and the zabuton.

anon #108 said...

Hi 1.00am,

"So by his [Nonin Chowaney's] definition, all of the people who, for lack of a better word, are 'followers' of Brad Warner, are not Zen Buddhists. Thoughts?"

What do you mean by a "follower of Brad Warner"? I think perhaps you do need a better word.

Anyway, as far as I'm aware, BW also believes that "sitting zazen, practicing under the guidance of a teacher, and connecting with and practicing with a group" are fine and fundamental things, recommended - essential even - for all who want to practice Zen/Buddhism (the group comes with the teacher usually, doesn't it?). I've certainly never read or heard Brad say "You don't need to sit," "You don't need to find a teacher" or "You don't need to sit with a group".

(Personally, I haven't sat with a group for some time, but I'm free not to do that, whether Brad wants me too or not. Not "a 'follower' of Brad Warner", you see.)

Brad Warner said...

"Followers of Brad Warner???"

Do I need to call the cops?

Seriously, though, a teacher and a communal practice are part of Zen.

But we have to redefine the word "teacher" and eliminate the word "student" if you ask me.

Anonymous Bob said...

"So by his definition, all of the people who, for lack of a better word, are 'followers' of Brad Warner, are not Zen Buddhists. Thoughts?"

Anon@100: I am taking some time away from my viewing of lingerie football videos on YouTube to comment on your comment. My guess is that most but not all of Brad's followers follow him online only. Most but not all are without definite or serious intention. Most but not all are more interested in killing some time rather than hard practice. Most but not all like to read his blog and comment on it only for fun.

CAPTCHA : looke : I kid you not

J said...

he said for a nominal service charge...

we could reach nirvana too-night

Zappa knew the score on bogus gurus, er jew-roos

R said...

- Like Christ, - for example?

J said...

Faulty analogy.

Did Jeeebus charge people for the sermon on the Mount? (yes, assuming it occured). Did Boodha? Nope.

Sort of the guru's problem. Until he produces a legitimate miracle, or at least something faintly wondrous, he's sort of suspect--Id say snake oil salesmen--whether preachers, rabbis, or gurus-- are in that boat together. Zappa was not one to bless any religious people (tho I don't think he was a Darwinian materialist either).

But it's a free country. A guru who's a good counselor and ..maybe also knows some wicked aikido moves, or schzewan cook...might have something to offer.

Anonymous said...

"But it's a free country."

Free country? What country are you talkin about?

Self Referential Douchenozzle said...

Self Referential Douchenozzle said...

Anonymous said...

Sigh. 'Followers' as in people who click on the 'Follow with Google Friend Connect' button on a blog. Did I not say "for lack of a better word"?

Anyway, it is interesting to note the differences in perception about what is required for authentic Zen Buddhist practice. Dogmatists like Nonin Chowaney have no problem at all referring to their teacher as their 'master'. Does anyone at all here (i.e. who 'follow' this blog), refer to their teacher as 'master'? Needless to say I'd be quite surprised...

R [- @ 10:07 am] said...

I’m not really happy to discuss, - but, -

I see no basis for assuming anyone was charged for the Sermon on the Mount.

+ : You seem to have it severely wrong: - Serious men would not produce “miracles”, - as the word you use; - today - often, - one who would claim to would be suspected.

- By men of good reason.

+, - again, - I don’t know Zappa but I don’t think I’d like him that much. - Few American musicians that I do. But maybe I’m wrong here. I never listened to much of what he did.

- I was just annoyed by the anti-Semite tone of “jew-roos”. But you don’t seem to like Christ either.

- I don’t know if you know Mysterion but I do definitely think one of his kind is enough.

- Though I won’t be surprised if he could find pleasure in a game of chess too.
You two could enjoy yourselves together.

- It seems.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ZM said...

But if there's one thing I've learned from being a writer it's that it is absolutely impossible to write something that cannot be misinterpreted.

Yeah Brad, I feel your pain. You did exactly this to me a few years ago. I used to respect you too.

Anonymous said...

What is the sound of one zen master furiously back-peddling?

proulx michel said...

An onee mouse wrote:

Does anyone at all here (i.e. who 'follow' this blog), refer to their teacher as 'master'? Needless to say I'd be quite surprised

Wel, I, for one, do. But I also think of myself as a student, albeit not exclusively of Nishijima. By the way, all the good "masters" i've met in my life saw themselves as students.

Don't forget that the origins of "master" is Latin magister, that is "school teacher".
The normal binomial is thus master/student and not master/slave (the latter being the current thing in English).
In Italian, "maestro" never means anything else than a teacher (or instructor in crafts). The binomial with slave in Italian would always be padrone/schiavo.
It is not so clear in French, but still.

My experience, anyway, is that all the good arts and crafts masters whom I have met had maintained the student spirit. That is, however well known (and World known!) they are, they will always be curious of what YOU could teach them.

R said...

I don't know the origin of the use of the word “master” for a “Zen master” in the west, but in my view one who has “completed the grate task of a lifetime of practice” [- Bendowa] has mastered action in reality. - It is not a mastery over other but a mastery of a skill or a being. It does not mean there is nothing to improve but the view is different.

- Though this would not correspond to any other use of the word but for one who has attained that which is said to be ineffable.