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