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
New York, NY 10023
(zazen starts at 10 am, talk comes after that)