Monday, June 13, 2011


Last weekend I was contacted by Erin Koch of the Garrison Institute, the people who put on the Buddhist Maha Teacher Council I wrote about on Suicide Girls. She said:

"I respect and appreciate the teachers I have worked with for the past year I also respect difference and open communication. I am very sorry you did not receive your invitation. I have a record of your invitation (Dec. 9).

"I do wish you had corrected your blog and facebook page to reflect the truth. Criticism of the event aside, you were invited and your contributions would have been welcome. Noah Levine asked me to invite you which I did on Dec 9. I think of you as sangha and I want the dharma to be of benefit to us all.

"I feel that your post has given the Garrison Institute a negative appearance to many people who had not previously heard of us and this is upsetting to me. Critiquing the event would have been fair and interesting, but suggesting we are closed network that excluded you is just not correct. Even if you had not been invited, you could have contacted us. Many teachers that were unintentionally excluded from the invite list asked to come and none were turned down.

"I wish you and your students all the best and harbor no bad feeling."

So first off, I apologize to Erin Koch and the Garrison Institute for unintentionally misrepresenting them. I don't recall receiving their invitation. But if she says they sent me one, then they must have sent me one. So I was wrong when I said they didn't invite me -- although I didn't know I'd been invited.

But my being invited or not wasn't really the point of the article. I'd wanted to write about the Maha Council event from the first time I heard about it, which was about one week before the event happened. That seems to be about the time they went public with the fact that it was happening, at least as far as I have been able to find out.

When someone on Facebook asked if I was criticizing the event because I was "butt hurt" at having not been invited, I thought that was a good angle to use to say what I wanted to say. Judging by the comments the article received both here and at Suicide Girls, and the emails I got about it, it seems like most readers understood that my not having been invited (or so I thought) was not the main point.

Most of what I wanted to say about the event was covered before I even wrote my article in Marnie Louise Froberg's blog post. It's a bit long. But I think she's on the right track.

My objections to the Maha Teacher's Council probably had as much to do with the event's title as anything else. To call something a Maha Teacher's Council seems to be an attempt to relate it back to the very earliest council's held by Gautama Buddha's followers after Gautama's death. These meetings were intended to unify the teachings and to create a single religion based on what the man had said. In a way that might have been the beginning of the end for Buddhism. But, on the other hand, we wouldn't have Buddha's teachings today if not for those early Maha Teacher's Councils. Stephen Batchelor's new book Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist really does a good job of addressing this particular issue.

I have mixed feelings about these kinds of events. But since it seems to me that most of the people in American Buddhism Land are falling all over themselves to applaud them, I wanted to point out the other side. I feel there is a real danger of people wanting to set up some kind of an American Buddhist Vatican. I truly believe they will eventually succeed in doing so. It's not there yet. But the seeds have been sown. I would like to be remembered as one of the voices that opposed this.

For those who may be wondering, yes, I probably would have gone to the event if I'd received the invitation. I'd have wanted to see how it worked. I'd have wanted to be able to report my findings. I'd have been just as skeptical if they'd invited me as I was when I believed they had not. But saying anything more than that would be to enter into the realm of speculation, and you can't really learn much there.

So I do apologize to the Garrison Institute for misrepresenting them. I suppose I could have asked to join since Ms Koch says, "Many teachers that were unintentionally excluded from the invite list asked to come and none were turned down." But I only heard about it a scant six or seven days before it began. I couldn't possibly have gone at that point even if I'd wanted to. I have to assume the unintentionally excluded teachers she refers to either lived in upstate New York or were independently wealthy and free in their schedules. Good for them!

Still, I think it's absolutely necessary to look critically at events like this and ask important questions about them.

Anyway, my computer is in the shop and I'm writing this on an old machine I keep as a back-up. It's really sluggish and unwieldy so I'm going to stop here.

If you're in New York and want to talk to me about any of this come see me on Saturday:

Saturday June 18th at Noon at Ordinary Mind Zendo
107 West 74th Street
between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues
Apt. BR
New York, NY 10023
T 917-608-3348

(zazen starts at 10 am, talk comes after that)


Mysterion said...


Mysterion said...

The Vatican is, other than metaphorically, a bad example.

For centuries, the Vatican was a Mithraic Temple. The Pope (Bishop of Rome) did not even occupy the Vatican until 1377.

Until recently, two powerful families alternated in their choice of pope - or bishop of Rome. The Lombards were one family. I think Orsini was the other. Anyway it (the office of the pope) was a position alternated between two factions.

The Roman church was NOT about self-appointed authority until recently. Of course, the church has rewritten her own PC history.

What appears to be transpiring is more along the Presbyterian model.

Presbyterian [ˌprɛzbɪˈtɪərɪən]
various Protestant Churches governed by presbyters or lay elders and strictly adhering to forms of Calvinism.

Colin Kawaguchi said...

I think you should go to these things dude. Yeah it is a ship heading in the wrong direction. But without the voice of dissent many of the attendees will never even consider the issues from other angles. I figure most (if not all) of the people there are only doing what they think is "right". You know, trying to network, and set up ways to reach people who may never hear about the big B-man* otherwise. Go to their event and give them something to think about. Or just sit and stare at the wall, same difference either way right?

*By "the big B-man" I am not referring to you ;)

Moon Face Buddha said...

Go or don't go, that is your choice Brad.

Bitch or don't bitch, that is also your choice.

You may actually have had something interesting to say about this event if you had attended.

Anonymous said...

I get that you don't like the Maha Council, but is there any sort of gathering of buddhist teachers you would approve and want to participate in?

What sort of even would it have to be to get your 'blessings'?

Unknown said...

How is it that people don't get this? Fuck "blessings". Fuck "bitching". It's a group of people that honestly seems to have more than a whiff of "We are the keepers of the way" and so questions need to be asked.

Look I'm not a Buddhist. Frankly organized anything makes my nuts itch. But I can tell you that if you look even lightly into history anytime a group of people want to set themselves up as an authority it never ever ever ends well.

And one of the first signs of that happening is people getting really really really hung up on how they are seen by others.

~C4Chaos said...

seems like there were more dancing and talent show than your Vatican-ish conspiracy theory. see if you just checked your email or contacted them before going off on a rant then maybe you could've been on the stage performing a cover of My Sharona.

r said...

- “Many teachers that were unintentionally excluded from the invite list asked to come and none were turned down”.

- Plato knew what he was talking about after all. - Would have been a pity otherwise.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, Robert Aitken once said,
"There is no Pope in Buddhism."

+ [added to 2:54 am] said...

Unlike some of what I’ve said before - I think there’s room for apology on both sides.

One point that’s never been mentioned (- I think) is that brad has several e-mail addresses.

- With regard to one of them he once mentioned still referring to e-mails several months old. He was far loaded more than he could deal with - it seems.

Had they sent it to his “spoozila” address he would see it on reasonable time, - I guess.

So it seems there’s room for apology on their side too - for both having had him [as if] not being able to come to the event, and for causing him the embarrassment of having to afterwards eventually apologize.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Batchelor: On Making a Raft

Recorded: Wednesday Oct 21, 2009

Why would one make and use a raft to cross a river only to haul it uselessly around as a burden? This is often our unskillful practice, says Stephen Batchelor. We use spiritual practice to encounter life with freshness and openness, not clinging to any particular method, just as we do not carry around a raft after having crossed a river. Each moment is an opportunity to practice. If we truly embody the practice, we can act appropriately and spontaneously in every situation.

Martine Batchelor & Stephen Batchelor: Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? Part 1 thru 14

Lisa Ernst said...

As an initially uninvited teacher who asked to be invited, I found the teacher's council anything but an attempt at message or thought control. With the great diversity of attendees, the notion that we could have all concluded and agreed on a specific message or direction for Buddhism is beyond my imagining. We did have lively discussions that clarified some of the concerns and challenges of Western Buddhism, but ultimately we concluded nothing, and I'm grateful for that. I'm genuinely sorry you didn't attend as I believe you would have found the event and its agenda quite open and fluid.

Anthony Weiner said...

She said fluid.

Blake said...

HA! Mr. Garrison. Nice.

I still stand by my view that if it ain't open to your unpublished, lay practitioners, it ain't open.

Josh said...

" But I can tell you that if you look even lightly into history anytime a group of people want to set themselves up as an authority it never ever ever ends well."


Also; I'm glad Brad took the time to publish this communication with the Garrison folks, and issue an apology about "misrepresenting" them. Transparency, which is a key word in modern society with which we are all familiar, is important.
However, I was one (of the many) readers who quickly went PAST the point he made about not being invited, and became concerned about the existing if the event at all. Having been raised with the Soka Gakkai (in it's earlier days in the US, when all the tabloids were calling us a cult), the adult version of me has a tendency to shy AWAY from these organized events. People who want to introduce structure to buddhism (in this social, hierarchical, organizational way), even if their intent is good, will inevitably end up compromising critical thought, deep understanding, and lifelong pursuit in favor of making the organization functional. It becomes more about soundbites, easy reading, and the distribution of a common "message" to all of us "lay men and women" from the "teachers" (notice my generous use of quotes). They need to be careful, and voices like Brad's need to be heard and listened to.

Ran K. said...

Somehow I feel that when the eye is present committees are not necessary, and when the eye is absent committees will not make up for it.

Flushed Brown said...

After Ran K. ...
I feel that when the eye is present over the pyramid, the Illuminati is not necessary, and when the eye is absent Illuminati will not make up for its absence.

Alan_A said...

Re: the purpose of the Council - thought control is bad, but quality control might be nice.

Just sayin'...

Erin Koch said...

Thanks Brad. I think all your comments are valuable. Have fun at Ordinary Mind this weekend. They come to Garrison all the time and I plan their retreats. :)Maybe you will have a retreat here sometime. Take good care. Erin

No Apology said...

Brad and Erin
sitting in a tree
sharing fluids
with Lisa E.

Awakened Yeti said...

Just sayin'...

talk about quality control...

oh no you di'int!

talk to the hand

Prince William said...

Various medical authorities swarm in and out of here predicting I have between two days and two months to live. I think they are guessing. I remain cheerful and unimpressed. I look forward without dogmatic optimism but without dread. I love you all and I deeply implore you to keep the lasagna flying.

Please pardon my levity, I don't see how to take death seriously. It seems absurd.


(Robert Anton Wilson's final blog entry five days before his death.)

Anonymous said...

Honestly, i'm still glad we survived the apocalypse. Close call.

Anonymous said...

Assignment for
Intrepid Buddhist Reporter Brad
when visiting Ordinary Mind Zendo
this Saturday:

Joko Beck "revoked
Dharma transmission" from her students
Ezra Bayda and Elizabeth Hamilton. Then
she chose Gary Nafstad as her
"Dharma successor".

What's up with that shit? Can you
get the inside scoop? What did her
students say or do to deserve
"Dharma revocation"? Is she senile?
How does senility affect Dharma
transmission / revocation ?

What exactly is "Dharma transmission"
again? And "Dharma revocation"?

If you've seen something,
can you un-see it? How can
you tell who is blind:
you or the other guy?

How many levels of meta-blindness
might there be?

Please clarify this Buddhist
nonsense -- ideally before
Joko Beck dies.

This blog comment will now

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

No apology: Me likey your poem.

Mysterion said...

speaking of Laying Elders, how is Richard (Shoes Outside the Door) Baker?
Zentatsu Richard Baker-roshi

PhilBob-SquareHead said...

Apologize? We're coming to revoke your punk license.

Rev. Joe said...

Maybe Soto Zen will get some gospel music!

Anonymous said...

Phil: Have you lost weight? looking good bro..

Awakened Yeti said...

whats your reason for existence?

to express your hate?

Anonymous said...

"I feel there is a real danger of people wanting to set up some kind of an American Buddhist Vatican. I truly believe they will eventually succeed in doing so. It's not there yet. But the seeds have been sown. I would like to be remembered as one of the voices that opposed this."

OMG. Here is Warner in full "anti-" stance, true to his stereotypical form. What a hero! Recorded for the ages! Oh, if only we'd listen to YOU, and thus be saved from ourselves. All those teachers who got together and actually listened to each other are clearly just idiots.

Buddhism in America is a big anarchic mess, and I too kinda like it that way. And I see absolutely NO threat to the chaos factor anytime soon.

I myself have studied in a few traditions, never even traveling to Asia or finding the need to (though I'd like to when I have time and funds.) I can say for myself that there is NO way all these traditions are just going to melt together into one centralized institution. Not only that, a goodly portion of the American/European psyche, especially post-Boomer (Warner and myself just two cases in point) will simply rebel from such over-structuring.

Hardly anyone is even suggesting such a thing - certainly not many who have any modicum of respect.

What every tradition and person in the West NEEDS however is greater exposure to other traditions and people in them! Come on!

A few teachers and practitioners getting together and talking - in person and not on some Buddhist blog or chat room: that's a problem? Warner, you are ridiculous. And yes, we think you were largely just hurt that you weren't invited.

Anonymous said...

or, it turns out, just thought you weren't.
There's still a bit of egg, on your chin there...

Mysterion said...


in zen, one shares their errors with others. perhaps something can be learned from it.

there's a guy in our neighborhood who has been through 12 step a couple of times. that's not 12 step, that's 12 stumble.

when I mentioned that to him, along with the obvious - trading one crutch (alcohol) for another (jesus) - he came to accept that he was just lame and has sobered up.

Pretaville said...

Suicide girls zen.

Tattoo'd gothic ho-hotties
with perky petite tits and shaven snatch Zen.

profitable Zen.

what is the sound of one cashier clapping, grasshoppahs

Mysterion said...

do not confuse compassion with empathy

Pretaville said...

Your #2 post--complete BS as per usual, mysti-berg.

Catholicism was the de facto religion of Pax Romana per Constantine, circa 300 AD, regardless where the Pope lived. There were a few pagan holdovers (mostly neo-platonists) until 5-6 century. The gnostics (or as you say, confusedly, mithraists) were..mostly eliminated (tho some holdouts there as well).Augustine was a gnostic for a time, but finally rejects it.

Speaking of gnostics...RA Wilson? A somewhat amusing wizard yet...wrong on most important things...RAW actually valued the US Constitution along with all his mystic hoo-doo.

Pretaville said...

Presbyterian [ˌprɛzbɪˈtɪərɪən]
various Protestant Churches governed by presbyters or lay elders and strictly adhering to forms of Calvinism

In other words, let the plebes decide who gets to be topdog? So like ask for a show of hands at the Stockton truck-stop for who's mayor. Or, Sarah Palin for Prez..!

You think a bit of "auto de fe" sucks, try a scottish calvinist beheading or torture dungeon

Anonymous said...

The ego-centric American mind believes that Buddhist practice can be done alone in the confines of one's living room in between bouts of checking your email and watching youtube. The American mind is averse to organized anything. We trust no one, are not willing to sacrifice one iota of ego to another person. We justify our solitary and essentially hinayana practice by comparing ourselves to Siddartha himself--"Buddha did it alone why can't I?" Well, the thing is Buddha really wanted it, the great death that is, and the rest of you do not. You are not willing to walk a path of any sort. That is what separates you from Buddha, plain and simple.

Only 1 in a million can do it alone, the rest of you should get off your lazy self-absorbed asses and walk the path. If that is too much for you then you can at least get out from behind the computer and walk to the bookstore and flip through a tricycle or something. Seriously, get outside in the sun guys. Make an attempt to build relationships, real relationships with people, plants, animals, the dirt, whatever. Just do it.

Mysterion said...

The Roman Republic morphed into an Imperial system. The Roman religion expanded to include the Emperors -- Julius Caesar (the son of Venus) was the first to deify himself.

Under the Imperial system, the Emperors to accepted divine honors before their deaths. These living gods required sacrificial rituals as signs of loyalty. Emperor worship would continue until Constantine made Christianity an acceptable part of Roman religions. Emperors such as Julian revived the old ways deeply rooted Mithraism. By 392 AD, Emperor Theodosius I banned the practice of pagan religions in Rome altogether and Christianity became the official religion of the state.

"In 330 Constantine renamed with his name the city of Byzantium where he had defeated Licinius. The monuments he built in Costantinopolis reflect the ambiguity of the emperor's religious politics. He built temples to Castor and Pollux and to Tyche, the local deity, and he placed at the top of a column a portrait of himself wearing the symbols of Sol Invictus, the god of the Sun, who was very popular among his troops. At the same time he allowed the Christian community to build large churches, in one of which (Aghia Apostoli - Holy Apostles - lost) he was eventually buried." source

"In AD 380 emperor Theodosius took the final step and made Christianity the official religion of state." source

So, sometime after 380, the Pope's office was contrived.

anonymous anonymous said...

mysterion said: "there's a guy in our neighborhood who has been through 12 step a couple of times. that's not 12 step, that's 12 stumble.

when I mentioned that to him, along with the obvious - trading one crutch (alcohol) for another (jesus) - he came to accept that he was just lame and has sobered up."

I love it. mysterion can absolutely walk on water. There is just no end to the man's talents. Just a couple of words from him, "Suck it up Lame-ass." and the man's life is completely turned around. You really do perform miracles Chas. Just like Obama has with the American economy!

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lame neighbor said...

All this time, I was just being lame!

I was just being lame!

Why couldn't I see this for myself? It was so high, I couldn't get over it. So low, I couldn't get under it. It took the brilliant mind of my good friend Charles to come up with the solution to my problem. I WAS JUST BEING LAME!

Anonymous said...

I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle dharma gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures.

When the Buddha raised a small flower, only mysterion knew what he meant.

He meant that mysterion's neighbor was totally lame.

Mysterion said...

The concept of "Walking on Water" was borrowed from Buddhism by Xtian writers.

The 1908 publication "Buddhist and Christian Gospels" that points this out can be found HERE.

But again - 1908???

Everybody already knew this too.

Brad Warner said...

Pretaville said:
Suicide girls zen.

Tattoo'd gothic ho-hotties
with perky petite tits and shaven snatch Zen.

profitable Zen.

what is the sound of one cashier clapping, grasshoppahs

I wish...

As I said, it's keeping me at poverty level. I made a lot more working a so-called "real job."

Anonymous said...

Sit down and shut up. Anyone ever come up with that advice? My egocentric American mind just can't take all of this arguing and one up man-ship.
I am the one in a million,who likes to be organized while sitting behind my computer,reading Tricycle and catching rays.Om Shanti

Awakened Yeti said...

I once listened to mark hosler bitching about how he was always living at poverty level, some 10 minutes or so after he finished professing the magnificent glory of his life-long resistance to "selling out".

We could say that poverty is a state of mind as well, but somehow there is a lingering odor of patchouli which obscures the tactile validity of this to certain perspectives.

And of course, the origin of dukkha has nothing to do with it. All that ancient wisdom stuff is a great platform for jumping off into the real world - but beyond that, just a bunch of bullshit, of course.

Since we have already come into being, why not move in every direction? Why not ride every wind that comes our way? Why not drink the ocean, eat the sun, and shit stars all day long?

Since we are already here, we may as well take full advantage of our situation. Its only natural, after all. And it would be a shame to let it go to waste.

Anonymous said...

Rhett Butler: So, you see I shall have to marry you.
Scarlett: I've never heard of such bad taste.
Rhett Butler: Would you be more convinced if I fell to my knees?
Scarlett: Turn me loose, you varmint, and get out of here!
Rhett Butler: Forgive me for startling you with the impetuosity of my sentiments, my dear Scarlett. I mean, my dear Mrs. Kennedy. But it cannot have escaped your notice that for some time past the friendship I have felt for you has ripened into a deeper feeling. A feeling more beautiful, more pure, more sacred. Dare I name it? Can it be love?
Scarlett: Get up off your knees! I don't like your common jokes!
Rhett Butler: This is an honorable proposal of marriage made at what I consider a most opportune moment. I can't go all my life waiting to catch you between husbands.
Scarlett: You're coarse, and you're conceited. And I think this conversation has gone far enough.

james said...

After 35 years on the Zen circuit, I can tell you that if one in a million are your best odds at enlightenment by practicing alone, TAKE THEM!!! Your odds at enlightenment by practicing with a teacher: 1 in a trillion. Actually, more than that now, because probably the only Zen teacher alive with any credibility just died. And she would have NEVER gone to Garrison for that ridiculous ass-licking conference.

Laurent said...

I'm a french zen sitter (you will excuse me for my languages errors).
I heard about you by your french mate Miche Proulx.
I learned about this invitation.
In France, there was a commemoration about the 40th birthday of the arrival of Taisen Deshimaru.
The International Zen Association (so called!), "forgot" to invite Stéphane Thibaut, which was one of the first disciples of Deshimaru. In fact, thy were afraid, because he is a little bit "provocative", but is it a reason why??
One year before, Philippe Coupey invited Kojun Kishigami, one of the few ones alive that received the Kodo Sawaki la Gendronnière temple, they made all to prohibit him to sit on the master chair. In fact, it mades him laugh, but what to think about disciples that pretends to be legitimated by their practive with Deshimaru??
Me and my girlfriend, were fired out from a little dojo in center France. The referent is now the president of the french buddhiste union (Union Bouddhiste Française). We heard as you can read me by the responsible : "you're here home, it's my own property, and i authorize to get in who I want".
And all the others community in the french zen wold are "eclipsed" by the IZA.
Talking about our problem of exclusion, we found uneasy silences, and no response from IZA bureau to my letter.
The fact is, they want to create a religious congregation to have a pension for their old days.
But since ten years, responsible are always further from zen practicers. They have too important things to do.
I agree completely with your vision about what happened after Shakyamuni's death : I think it's the node of the buddhist disease; from generations.
What's real buddhism?? I always see that question on buddhists forums, but it's always some conflict to resolve what should not be a question but a practice!!
Mahakasyapa made a strong return to austerity and monastic way, but Ananda, who was treated of not having been awakened, have been criticised because he did not remember all he heard. In fact, is there one awakened or pretending that, who can work without an unawakened?? Mahakasyapa did not need the help of Ananda??
Then it is.
Then, I don't believe talking about what will become buddhism will be so useful if the basics are not realized, if high responsibles don't go down were the practice is : in the little dojos, in the life of their practicers.
Now, we are three to practice. My only joy, even if I don't consider myself as a superpracticer, is that our only disciple, who had strong psychic problems, goes well with zazen, better and better. Because we try to lead it consciously. It means without leaders!
And to really have discovered what is to practice by ourselves, without dependence from anyone.

With all my sympathy.


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

I would venture that Brad's right on this one: it's like holding some international convention with half of the countries missing and others with grossly inflated representation (like the UN Security Council, which everyone recognizes is completely unfair). If you can't represent "Maha", either don't call it that and pretend it's inclusive, or don't hold the event until you can include everyone. The Karmic effects of this council were clearly not well thought out.