A Comment on Dharma Wars:Ignoble Silence, Transcendental Egotism and Getting Straight with the Truth

The newest Dharma Cop on the block appears to be Zenshin Michael Haederle former Deputy Bureau chief (Dec.4 entry in link) of People magazine who has written a piece for the latest edition of Tricycle magazine entitled

Dharma Wars:What is it about the Internet that turns Buddhist teachers into bullies?

An accomplished journalist and writer, (some of his articles available here) with a knowledgeable background in Buddhism, Zenshin Michael Haederle (“…a Rinzai Zen lay monk and a widely published journalist who has taught at Syracuse University”from the Tricycle byline) has contributed this odd piece to Tricycle. On the one hand it seems an investigation into some of the reasons for the loud tone one often hears on the Internet and extends that to the Buddhist quarters. On the other hand it appears to be some kind of admonishment to maintain a culture of silence even in the face of inappropriate if not criminal activity.

After reading the piece several times I was a little mystified as to the point of it. The big message seems to be sit down and shut up (yes Brad Warner is quoted in it) but on the other hand, with the help of a few quotations there are some other undertones and what seems to be some amount of  hypocrisy.

The Technological Red Herring and the Iceberg Principle

The article states:

In the era of Internet blogging and online forums with their unfiltered, rapidfire exchanges, disagreements among Buddhist teachers and practitioners seem to erupt out of nowhere.

Out of nowhere? Doesn’t that negate the principle of Karma? Very little comes out of nowhere without some cause, some volitional acts involved including that article. There is a great deal behind all of the situations that are brought up which the author of the article did not bother to indicate. It is not much different than your neighbors having a loud squabble. You are aware there are tensions going on there for some time and by the time it becomes heard in wider quarters a good deal of water has flowed under the bridge. Pretty much anything on the Internet, in print, on television news or called out by the town cryer has a back story. He continues:

What has changed in the past few years is that some Buddhists are now accustomed to casual online mudslinging and name-calling—in short, behaving just as badly as everyone else on the Internet.

I will take up this issue of “ideal” Buddhist behavior later but to continue, bolstering this argument about technology being the culprit in these disputes the authority of a psychologist is brought to bear:

“People say and do things online that they wouldn’t ordinarily say and do in person,” says John Suler, a psychology professor at Rider University, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, who has studied computer users’ behavior for years. Buddhist or not, Internet users readily fall prey to what Suler calls the “online disinhibition effect.” The medium itself drives much of this acting out, he says. “People experience their computers and online environments as an extension of their selves—even as an extension of their minds—and therefore feel free to project their inner dialogues, transferences, and conflicts into their exchanges with others in cyberspace.”

The professor’s theory is common knowledge. By that I mean it is something people commonly believe. Brad Warner said this kind of thing recently and he’s not even a psychologist. Example:

The experience is not at all the same as dealing with real human beings face to face. No more so than cyber-sex is the same as real sex.
You can get very lost in the twisty twirly world of Internet communication and easily lose sight of what’s real and what’s not.

One can also do that with a video game, movie, drugs or all kinds of other ways. A basic lack of reality-checking is the hallmark of a fantasy driven culture like the United States.

The statement from the psychologist is rather ironic since the article author himself states:

It’s hardly news that Buddhists sometimes disagree— there is a long and colorful history of Buddhist teachers debating one another, often quite forcefully, over their understanding of the dharma. And American Buddhism has weathered its share of internecine conflicts, including sex scandals, financial shenanigans, and power abuses.

So why is it so surprising that these things appear on the Internet? And Buddhist teachers in history debated a lot more than Dharma. Inter-sectarian rivalry and power politics, particularly during the introduction of Buddhism to Japan are infamous. Deriding other temples, teachers and their students in addition to their understanding of the Dharma was practically de rigueur. (Soto vs Tendai, Soto vs Rinzai, Nichiren vs just about everybody, see also Schisms and Sects , and A History of Japanese Buddhism) So if it’s hardly news then why bother to write about it?

As for the various melodramas in American Buddhism, a relative culture of silence has reigned about that for quite a number of decades. Certainly the tightly knit inner circles shared their stories and gossip but the general public including many prospective students and especially prospective donors were kept out of that information loop. Bad for Buddhism and bad for business especially when the early retreats, refuges, hermitages, temples etc. were struggling to get by and expand.

With many web sites and blogs (the author doesn’t seem to recognize the difference-see his blog on WordPress set up as a website) currently bringing forward various documentation and commentary on questionable situations of the past Tricycle magazine is tepidly jumping on the bandwagon and attempting to cash in on the attention with this piece. (They’ve even enabled comments for this particular article!) For example on the The Aitken-Shimano Letters situation, the Zensite with Stuart Lachs as well as former Shimano student Genkaku Adam Fisher (see also letter to Eido Tai Shimano-this has been moved to here) have placed decades old documentation into the Internet realm. Much of this documentation was originally in the form of typewritten letters because the Internet wasn’t around at the time the problems first arose!  The technology to disseminate information now is simply faster and more widespread.

Criticism and concern over dubious practices, questionable qualifications, strong opinions and unconventional ideas have not changed just because the medium of it’s dissemination has changed.  Read some old book reviews and criticism of many decades back (here’s one from the NYTimes in 1851-pdf) and see what I mean. The practice of criticism was hardly invented with the Internet.  Consider the element of parody in the plays of Aristophanes-his work is said to have contributed to the condemnation of Socrates. And book burnings didn’t start yesterday either. The tone of much of the material of the past is quite like what one reads in blogs today. Just because the subject matter relates to Buddhism doesn’t make it ethereally exempt from its context.

Unrealistic Expectations

In the Tricycle article three highly idealistic views of the “proper” behavior of Buddhist people particularly teachers are put forward:

  1. [Suler, the psychologist]“There’s a lot more narcissism in the community than we would expect or hope,” he says. “It’s a bit paradoxical that in a philosophy emphasizing the transcendence of self, some people are very preoccupied with self.”
  2. [anonymous comment] But a few found the whole thing painful to watch. The reader rg1313 commented: The fact that three zen masters have to air there [sic] dirty laundry on blog sites seems a little childish. . . . You teachers are supposed to be role models for our practice not a buddhist sitcom.
  3. [Michael Haederle] Indeed. If any newcomers exploring an interest in Zen had stumbled upon the fray, they wouldn’t have been inspired. With Buddhist virtues like compassion and right speech in short supply, the whole affair looked more like a schoolyard brawl than enlightened discourse between experienced dharma teachers and students.

Awash with expectations and subsequent disappointments that others don’t live up to an unrealistic “standard” these views expose one of the prevailing problems with much that is Corporate American Buddhism. That is transcendental egotism. The spiritual realm or anything with a whiff of spirituality attached to it, is so ridiculously idealized that followers meekly bleat out the statements of a particular canon without understanding their context, origin, relationship to the entire canon, historical perspective and often even their meaning. How many blogs do you see of any religion that are just cut-and-paste of quotes from a canon or spiritual leaders? It’s easier than thinking about them. And it looks like good spiritual study. But it is only pablum.

As an aside the second commenter has the facts wrong as well. Only one person of those three ever claimed to be a Zen master and that is Mr. Barry Graham. Ven Gomyo Seperic belongs to the Shingon sect of Buddhism. A quibble maybe but to pass on erroneous information offered by truly anonymous sources is rather irresponsible.

These individuals listed above are not unique in demanding the unreasonable from anyone who is associated with Buddhism. Somehow the label Buddhist elevates one to some kind of lofty pedestal of perfection. Failure to perform to spec engenders an ever so gentle, and highly passive-aggressive, finger wagging or an article in Tricycle magazine or in this case both.

This ridiculous idealism and access to the mainstream media to purvey it does next to nothing to provide any sort of sound resource for those interested in the Buddhadharma.

Journalistic Errors and Sensationalism

In the article itself there are a number of troubling phrases and inclusions. I will list and address as many as I can stand.

A few days later, it was Graham’s turn. “I have been the subject of some scurrilous rumor-mongering by a couple of former friends and colleagues,” he wrote on his own blog. Graham went on to allege that one of his accusers (he omitted the names) had been convicted of assault, and that the other’s own teaching credentials were fabricated.

Repetition of unproven allegations about unknown subjects is the realm of the National Enquirer.

The flurry of charges and counter-charges between Graham, Seperic, and Malone over inka—the authorization to teach in the Rinzai tradition of Zen—played out before an online audience, quickly blossoming into a fullon dharma smackdown that drew 171 partisan comments from Hoodie Monk readers.

As one of the partisan commenters it behooves me to point out that Ven Kobutsu Malone made only one public statement disavowing Graham as a student and associate and Ven. Gomyo Seperic made 3 posts. Graham himself made only one innuendo-filled statement. The “fullon dharma smackdown” was presented by those of us in the mosh pit. And the subject was not one of dharma but of fraud.

Regarding the comments cited to illustrate aggressive behavior:

Online, as in the real world, this self-regard often seems to fuel unbridled aggression. Consider this exchange from James Ure’s The Buddhist Blog, in which a reader identified as Twisted Branch commented:

Your lack of knowledge of authentic Dhamma teaching is astounding. It’s amazing you even have the courage to call this the “Buddhist blog.” All this crap you ramble on about has absolutely nothing to do with Buddhism. Your blogs are far more offensive to Buddhist tradition than any off-hand use of the term Zen. Please study authentic Buddhist teachings before claiming knowledge of Buddhism.

An anonymous commenter ,(Twisted Branch would be an interesting name if it was real) who may or may not indeed be a practicing Buddhist is no more an authority or an example to cite than any graffiti tagger is on the subject of politics or whatever the subject of the rage they are venting about may be.

The article author continues to characterize Buddhist bloggers:

In cyberspace, we can craft whatever persona we choose and call our blog whatever we want, and Buddhist bloggers often inflate their experience and understanding.

Is there an example of this? To make such a blanket statement about Buddhist bloggers is erroneous at best and defamatory in many cases. Has this author done a study to demonstrate the differences between these claims and what exists in reality on the Internet? If so what was the criteria used and where were the results published? What was the sample size? What “test” was given to determine blogger’s Buddhist IQ?

Shinge Roko Sherry Chayat Roshi, a Zen teacher who serves as spiritual director of the Zen Center of Syracuse, likens this behavior to online personal ads, where people have been known to misrepresent themselves (to put it charitably).

So the author’s Dharma colleague agrees with the author’s somewhat snarky assessment again without any substantiation. Why is this not surprising? Let us consider some Buddhist blogs and what people say about themselves. In the article itself James Ure is quoted:

If you read in my profile I don’t claim to be a teacher.

And in a few others:

I am not a monk, lay-ordained, enlightened or anything like that.  I am not even a particularly good Buddhist but I strive.  And in that striving I walk the path. John of Sweep the dust, Push the dirt blog

I have practiced and studied Zen Buddhism for several years and consider myself just an ordinary practitioner of the Buddha Dharma. Kyle on The Reformed Buddhist blog

I’m…a practicing Buddhist who follows the Theravada vehicle.-Richard of My Buddha is Pink blog

An angry demon striving to be a saint, I sit. Jordan on Slow Zen blog [Oh Jordan you’ve given into hyperbole-they might take away your Metta-tokens!]

I’m a lay practitioner. Striving to do zazen everyday and pay attention to the 10 precepts (as put forward by Nishijima sensei) as guidelines. Buddhism seems to be ‘helpful’ to me in ineffable ways. I’m drawn to the Japanese Soto Zen tradition. I have not looked much at other Buddhist traditions. Lauren on Whitebelt Zen blog

Notes and clumsy texts from a Zen Buddhist lay monk following The Way by Dogen Zenji, Gudo Nishijima Roshi and Peter Rocca (my teacher). byline of Marcus “Uku” Laitinen of Zen-The Possible Way blog

I started studying Buddhism about 4 years ago. It felt like something was missing from my life and for whatever reason, the middle path opened for me. I am still a novice when it comes to the technical aspects of the Buddha’s teachings. But, the core of the teachings– generosity and compassion are very simple to understand. The key is putting them into play and sticking to them, that’s where the practice comes into play, and I could use plenty of practice. I have no specific lineage or tradition that I follow, maybe one day that will come into play. I feel though that Buddhism as a way of life is meant for us to engage the world with the things we learn. Nate of Precious Metal blog

I am not a Dharma teacher nor would I like to pretend to be one, so please use common sense with what you read here-and hopefully at all other times as well. -Marnie aka NellaLou.  Yes I say it right in the About page of this very blog you are reading.

There is one blog by a Buddhist badger Bitterroot Badger who states “And seeing as I’ve been a follower of the Buddha for years..” I wonder how he types with those claws!

And as for teachers, there are a small number who make outrageous claims and have come under suspicion. Increasingly it is becoming difficult to hide fraudulent claims and practices even in the Buddhist sphere. These types are by far a small minority just as in real life the number of grifters is a small minority of the people one meets. I know of what I speak here-look at the blog roll on the right under Buddhist Practices-Monks etc. It is familiar territory. Here’s what a few of the majority have to say about themselves:

I’m also a long time Zen practitioner ordained as a Soto Zen priest and one of the guiding teachers for the Boundless Way Zen project, currently serving as school abbot. James Ford Roshi of Monkey Mind blog

I was ordained a Sramanera in the Tibetan tradition on November 26th, 2001, but I’ve lived in Japan and did a stint in Russia as well. On May 11th, 2008, I had the great fortune to be ordained a Bikkhu at Dieu Phap, a Vietnamese temple in San Gabriel, CA. I’m currently in Nepal where I hope to attend the Rangjung Yeshe Institute for an excellent education in Tibetan language and philosophy. Rinchen Gyatso on A Monk Amok blog

I am not the 5th or 9th reincarnation of a great lama, I have not received any empowerments or initiations, I am not the holder of any lineage, I am yet to attain any of the jhanas, I am not a widely respected teacher, I am not a stream enterer (at least I don’t feel like one)and I do not have many disciples. Nonetheless, you may find some of my observations and musings interesting. I have been a Buddhist monk for 32 years and am the spiritual advisor to the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society in Singapore. Shravasti Dhammika  on Dhamma Musings blog

It is quite possible to check the credentials of teachers with a little work, so claims can be refuted and facts put forward. People may have an opinion about the process or about those involved or may pontificate about what the “proper Buddhist” practice is, but the personal authority of opinion is just that. If someone is a member of a Vinaya or registered Sangha or affiliated with a group or lineage then there are possible procedures. When that cannot be established one has to do as one’s conscience dictates. That was what happened in the Graham case.

If these kinds of claims about Buddhist practice on blogs are exaggerated then the meaning of exaggeration has been changed with the appearance of this article. So perhaps this writer and his colleagues could put in a little time doing actual research rather than taking swipes at a group they know so little about. Call it a reality test.

The author’s teaching associate at the Zen Center of Syracuse, Shinge Roshi, is quoted in the article:

“People who purportedly are teachers—whether they’ve been given transmission or not—are seen as Zen authorities online,” she says. “Sometimes students get swept into currents of basically malevolent speech. How can that be what the Buddha taught? I’m very concerned about it.”

Not all of those quoted belong to the Zen sect. Ven. Gomyo Seperic is a priest in the Shingon-shu Omuro-ha lineage.

Shinge Roshi takes a dim view of the whole dharmateachers- with-attitude phenomenon. “If you see ‘Buddhist teachers’ getting caught in an angry give-and-take, they’re not teachers—or if they are, they never should have been given transmission,” she says. “How can you cast these terrible aspersions on others without bringing shame on your own lineage? That’s really what I’m struck by—that people seem to be oblivious to the karmic results of their actions and their words.

Is she suggesting that these people be “excommunicated” or whatever the equivalent is in Zen? By what court? What hypocrisy in this statement! Oblivious is certainly the obvious word.

“There’s something about the social distance that happens on the Web,” concurs James Ishmael Ford, a Zen teacher and blogger. “Anybody with a keyboard is instantly allowed to present whatever they’ve pulled out of their butt as if it were the dharma. There’s some ugly stuff out there. There’s massive misinformation, and there’s an amazing amount of ego wrapped in opinion.”

James Ford Roshi (for a guy who’s hung up on titles the author forgot one here) is quite correct and downright diplomatic in his response. It could apply to anyone not only those who’ve been so negatively characterized by this article. Or was that the point?

In general there is a difference between a website of an organization and a chronicling of personal opinion in a blog just as there is a difference between journalism and personal innuendo.  The author of the Tricycle article doesn’t seem to get this point.


Who’s bullying who in this rather passive-aggressive manner?  Has Michael Haederle studied Neuro-linguistic programming or just the tactics of the propagandists?

The characterizations associated with the individuals in the first half of the article include  “outrageous rhetoric” , “barbed public exchanges “, “online rancor “, “schoolyard brawl”, “in-your-face attitude”, “the know-it-alls who delight in denigrating others while touting their own dharmic understanding.”, “unbridled aggression”, “painful to watch”, “casual online mudslinging and name-calling”, “acting out”.

It is very interesting that all of the negatively characterized individuals in this article are not in the American Corporate Buddhist mainstream.    Ven. Gomyo Seperic lives in Japan, Ven. Kobutsu Malone maintains a life in relative hermitage, Mr. Barry Graham (no matter what is said of credentials) maintains a somewhat outsider stance, Ven Brad Warner very publicly doesn’t want to become a corporate entity and anonymous commentors with opinions (right or wrong) by their very nature remain on the margin. All have one thing in common. That is independence. Independence from the mainstream but not disconnection from it.

It is also to be noted that titles are not forgotten for those whom the author lauds such as Shinge Roshi, Merzel Roshi, Venerable Thubten Chodron and others are simply Brad Warner, or worse Graham, Seperic, and Malone without titles even though in at least 3 of the 4 latter cases they have legitimate religious titles.

In contrast to the “Buddhist-themed website is a vehicle for vicious personal attacks” which characterizes the above individuals, others find the Internet:

an effective way to post text, video, or audio links to teachings that would otherwise be unavailable to people living far from practice centers

these sites don’t solicit feedback, but when they do, participants more often see themselves as members of a community, and they may even know each other offline. The discourse accordingly tends to be civil and supportive.

So we’ve got the bad guys labeled as vitriolic and aggressive and the good guys labeled with “civil and supportive””lovingkindness”, “skillful”, “community”, “effective”, .   Buddhists should behave according to the formula presented, that being,  “One might suppose that Buddhists, with their mandate to realize no-self and manifest lovingkindness, would be able to navigate such pitfalls a bit more skillfully than most Internet users.” The lines are drawn.

Those characterized in a positive light include John Daido Loori (lets invoke the memory of a beloved dead guy to get the sympathy flowing), Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Ven Thubten Chodron and Shinge Roshi, the latter being a colleague of Mr. Haederle’s. As well  “the prominent Soto Zen teacher Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi ” is mentioned briefly as being connected to the “controversial Big Mind program”. A professor (full credentials included) and a teacher are also mentioned. It has not been noted that those in the first half of the article do have some designations and credentials beyond rabble-rousers.

Continuing to draw the lines, previous problems in American Buddhism are characterized as “sex scandals, financial shenanigans, and power abuses.” These vague terms when particularized to cases incorporate misuse of funds, fraud, tax evasion, drug trafficking, extortion, sexual coercion, rape, gross abuse of power, prostitution in terms of trading sex for titles and position, and psychological, emotional and sexual abuse. Associating these things with the term “shenanigans” belittles the suffering of the victims of these crimes. “Shenanigans” are something naughty children are accused of and often excused for.

Sincere, truthful, words however harsh are brought up as if they are capital crimes. Right speech has been invoked. The Abhaya Sutta:To Prince Abhaya delineates the conditions of Right Speech. The third condition:

[3] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.

It is not necessary nor is it even possible for all Buddhists to agree on everything much less errors of practice and judgment involving harm done to others and one’s self. As for the proper timing, the sooner the better as then the non-beneficial actions will be hopefully curtailed before more damage is done.

The distorted perspective of Right Speech equals Noble Silence in every circumstance seems to be one of the tenets of the upper-middle class genteel American Buddhist establishment. This gentrification of Buddhist principles worships authority at any cost and disregards it’s own errors as “shenanigans” at worst, while vilifying those on the margins of that gentility.

American Corporate Buddhism is becoming one of the most prominent spokes-vehicles for Buddhist religion in America. It dominates the conventional media, is highly sheltered, self-retroflexive,  self-referential,  non-inclusive in terms of minority populations, and easy to market.

This article is but another tip of a much bigger iceberg.

It should be noted that Ven. Kobutsu Malone received ordination from Eido Shimano Roshi on Oct. 24, 1993. And that subsequently there has been a falling out. That others of the Shimano clan now wish to impugn his reputation with innuendo and guilt by association with mere bloggers and hold him, his associates, and others who have the independence to think and speak for themselves rather than for the agenda of those in positions of power in the Zen community up as the worst examples of Buddhist practice and behavior, is certainly no small coincidence. Take a look at the The Aitken-Shimano Letters situation that appears on the Zensite and elsewhere and you can discover for yourself what this Roshi teaches. It would be with far more trepidation that I would engage with those who have not fallen out with such a leader. A clear and obvious agenda rather than hidden interests and passive-aggressive articles is certainly what I would prefer.

It is in the interest of American Corporate Buddhism,  Eido Shimano Roshi having built one of the earliest corporates, his successors and close associates including Dharma heir Shinge Roshi (Sherry Chayat) , The Zen Center of Syracuse of which Shinge Roshi is the Abbot and where Micheal Haederle has taught,  The Zen Studies Society (which maintains both New York Zendo Shobo-Ji and Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-Ji) of which Shinge Roshi is an officer , some of their numerous benefactors and associates (check the contributors at the end of the document), their student base and their various publishers (including Wisdom Publications) and others who benefit by their on-going existence, to put forward an admonishment to silence any agitation within the cyber-sangha. They have a great deal to lose. If people like Ven Kobutsu Malone, Genkaku Adam Fisher and the many others involved find too much of a voice many more questions will be asked publicly. Questions that had been asked privately decades ago without sufficient answer.

In all of this it seems somebody’s getting played here and it looks like Tricycle magazine is at the top of that list. Either played or just another player.

Things are not always as they appear.

Someone asked my connection to these people. Well here is the disclaimer I wrote in the comments where they asked:

My own connections. I’ve not met any of the people mentioned personally. I live in the Himalayan mountains in North India most of the time. A good quiet place out of the traffic but with quite a view. A couple of the people I email with now and then. I don’t belong to any of their schools/organizations nor are any of them my teachers. I have no financial ties to any of them nor are they my relatives-except in that existential sort of way we are all related on this planet.
Is that enough of a disclaimer or do you need to see my tax returns as well?…

And someone in the same place inferred something about the use of my time to do this to which I responded:

[comment regarding Internet bullying being very old news]
What you are criticizing is the article in Tricycle. That is where this “finger wagging” occurred. It is old news. That was also my point
Why is Tricycle and this author getting so excited about it now? And why these particular instances when controversy has occurred for so long?That is the investigation I undertook.

It can be noted that there are much bigger Dharma wars on the Internet such as the Warner-Cohen bouts with thousands of comments, a digital sangha, published author etc. certainly more high profile, yet these are not even mentioned in favor of a tiny situation that involves less than a dozen people. That struck as very very odd.
Links:These include long lines of lineage charts as well as notes about revocations of Dharma transmissions and the like. Many of the current American Zen teachers are listed. So if you want to know where their teachings came from and what their connections are here is a starting point. If there are additions needed to update these charts you can contact Dr. Matthew Ciolek of the Australian National University at an email on those pages. This is the most complete listing I have found.
Zen Who’s Who-Hakuin School of Zen Buddhism

Zen Who’s Who-Sanbo Kyodan: Harada-Yasutani School of Zen Buddhism
Blog Reactions:

For all you bad, bad Buddhist bullies-Buddha Jones blog has a say on the matter

Some interesting comments on the Reblogging Brad Warner blog since he was mentioned in it This post.

[Nov. 17 2009]

Dharma Wars and Appolgies to Canada-Brad Warner has a say about the Tricycle article, this blog post and various comments. Comments on his post are here

Barbara O’Brien brings Virtual Dharma War to the table apparently unaware of the facts of the matter. It isn’t all big egos and flame wars among Dharma teachers. There is a lot more at stake. It’s explained above Barbara.

[Nov.18 2009]

On Notes in Samsara blog, Mumon, who is personally acquainted with Eido Shimano Roshi, gives his reasoned and balanced take on the situation in  Scandals, internet fights and more

Jade has written her reaction here Dharma Wars?

[Nov.19 2009]

James Ure, one of the bloggers quoted, without permission or notification I might add, has written his response on his blog in the article Throwing Mud

[Nov.20 2009]

Nathan of Dangerous Harvests blog has made a post called Dharma Wars Warring and it includes a copy of a letter he has sent to Tricycle magazine

tinythinker who describes himself “FYI, I am not a cleric, priest, minister, monk, dharma teacher, sunday school teacher, arm-chair preacher, sage, or prophet. I am just some guy sharing his experiences and ideas.” and keeps the blog peaceful turmoil has a comment in the post “Dharma Wars” and the problems with Buddhists/Buddhism online

[Nov.21 2009]

James Ure of The Buddhist Blog has added a further post on the topic at  Are (Some) Buddhist Magazines Behind the Times?

[Nov. 22 2009}

John of  Sweep the Dust, Push the Dirt blog has a comment or two on this subject Tricycle, training wheels and a crack marketing department

Kyle on The Reformed Buddhist, in his pull no punches style lets loose with  Ex-Bureau Cheif of People Magazine Zenshin Michael Haederle

[Nov. 23 2009]

Richard wrote an interesting piece on his blog My Buddha is Pink. The post is entitledKnowing the right questions to ask

Nathan on Dangerous Harvests writes Dharma WarsII as a followup to his previous post and with some additional insights

Justin Whitaker at American Buddhist Perspective has written A War Fought with Hugs on the issue

Ambud wrote Dharma Wars about the situation

[Nov. 24 2009]

Rev. Ryushin Sean Malone, son of Ven. Kobutsu Malone  left a comment at Tricycle blog in defense of his father. Comments continue there.

I have a followup post on this situation called Alternative Transportation. I have also written a letter to Tricycle requesting that this blog be removed from their blogroll. They have now done so.

[Nov. 25 2009]

Nobody Expects the Buddhist Inquisition-Kyle of The Reformed Buddhist blog considers the situation further

Tricycle Ego-Masturbation– John at Sweep the Dust blog has additional comment for Tricycle and their request for support from the on-line community for a grant

Thinking About Michael Haederle’s “Dharma Wars” is posted by James Ford Roshi of Monkey Mind blog. This is one of the only teachers, in any tradition to venture forth boldly with an opinion. Props for that whether I agree or not with everything he said. The rest apparently cower.

Rev. Danny Fisher has posted  The “Dharma Wars” Saga recapitulating the situation and offering his own opinion on the situation.

[Nov. 28 2009]

Partly in response to Rev Danny Fisher’s post I’ve written the following Can’t we all just get along? Maybe. Maybe not.

[Dec. 1 2009]

TMcG of Full Contact Enlightenment has written Dude. Where’s my Lightsaber – Dharma Wars The author works in the on-line media and has some very pertinent comments and questions.

[Dec. 14 2009]

This blog has a post Dharma Wars-James Shaheen Responds to a Blogger based on comments left on TMcG’s post

TMcG has responded to those comments at The sequel

The Buddha is my DJ has a post on Fame that touches on these issues as well

34 comments on “A Comment on Dharma Wars:Ignoble Silence, Transcendental Egotism and Getting Straight with the Truth

  1. HA! Great post on this topic. I was getting all riled up while reading it and was going to put in my two cents at the end about me never claiming to be anything more than I am. But you did it for me.

    I have issue with the image associated with Buddhist Practitioners when the media/public/whatever insists that be taking Refuge and beginning a practice you are somehow “beyond” all these little mundane things that rise up in our lives. I consider myself still smack-dab in the middle of them with maybe a tab more awareness of where I am.

    Corporate Buddhism is a good business in the States now. Advertisers flock to Tricycle (its like flipping through Cosmo or Maxim) and they have business to keep floating. Loud people disrupt that.


  2. Having been a journalist and editor for more than 20 years, I am constantly bemused. However, I have learned through the trade that “effective” columnists intentionally write in a manner to provoke responses. I long for the days when an effective columnist was graded on his or her ability to be persuasive rather than on his or her clever use of calumny and ad hominem.

  3. A very thorough and accurate presentation of a superficial and flawed article. Nice job!

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  5. I’m glad you really dug into this article. When I read it, I found myself shaking my head at some of the same stuff you did. It would be really interesting to flush out this whole “American corporate Buddhism” term. What are the traits, how it is being pushed, and what might it mean for our practice in both the short and long-term?

  6. Oh man, great job on this article Nella, well said. This guys article almost pushed me over the edge to write a screaming and yelling foul post….but then that wouldn’t be very Buddhist of me. :-)

    Engaging our audience with candor and honesty is the cornerstone of understanding, not just the passive believe everything you heard. I wonder just want provoked Tricycle to have this published? Hmmmm i wonder……Status quo perhaps.

    Excellent post!

  7. Thanks for this. I’ve struggled with my feelings about this for 30 years, watching institutional Buddhism cover up and distance itself from real problems while casting aspersions on victims and the distraught. I’ve relied on a sufi saying from Idries Shah, “false gold only exists because there is such a thing as the Real.” An encounter with the real is possible, everyday.

  8. “The experience is not at all the same as dealing with real human beings face to face. No more so than cyber-sex is the same as real sex.
    You can get very lost in the twisty twirly world of Internet communication and easily lose sight of what’s real and what’s not.”

    Online correspondence and teaching and the college campus classroom differ greatly in experience also but no one seems to doubt that you can learn physics online.

  9. Yes, well said NellaLou. Thank you so much for digging into this article and setting things straight. A very fine post. All the best, Marcus

  10. I’m miffed that you failed to mention that I’m not a teacher either!

    Seriously, Tricycle kinda sorta has a conflict of interest w.rt.t. “Big MindTM”: they take $$ from associations affiliated with Merzel’s organization.

  11. I was disgusted by the Tricycle article. I was ordained by one of one of the “teachers” who was outed by some of the so called “bullies”. Some of these self proclaimed teachers are working on books. I wonder if we’ll see adds and reviews on the 3 wheeler?

  12. I just had the most bizarre exchange with Barbara O’Brien on her About.com blog here.

    Virtual Dharma War

    I commented on her post about this Dharma Wars thing thusly-am posting it here in case she deletes the comments.

    (start of comments)

    (1) NellaLou says:

    Basically Barbara it looks like you’ve simply restated Michael Haederle’s apparent position without much critical thinking about it or knowledge of those who’s reputations he has impugned, including your own as a Buddhist blogger?

    I’m not against anyone having an opinion that agrees with someone I disagree with vehemently but I’m just saying Hmmm in this case.

    November 17, 2009 at 6:53 am
    (2) Barbara O’Brien says:

    Wow, NellaLou, that was snarky, especially since I was not entirely restating Haederle’s premise. Haederle was focusing on flame wars between teachers, and my brief observations — based on my participation in online discussions going back to USENET days, before there was a Web — are more about online discussions in general.

    If Haederle said something about a teacher you don’t think is true, do speak up. But try to be polite next time.

    November 17, 2009 at 7:04 am
    (3) NellaLou says:

    Wow, Barbara that was a little defensive. I do believe I was rather polite in stating what your post appeared to be about. I too was around in USENET days so you realize my comment was not even close to snarky.

    I will refrain from any further comment here.

    November 17, 2009 at 8:12 am
    (4) Barbara O’Brien says:



    Now I did not attack her personally nor offer any characterization of her personally. I only questioned her opinion. And gave a fairly mild initial comment and response.

    But of course upon a little bit of digging into Barbara’s bio, it states she belongs to the Empty Hand Zen Center. Check the links page in which Barbara’s name and Roko (Sherry) Chayat (mentioned in this post) appear. Numerous other names affiliated with the Zen Studies Society of Eido Shimano also appear on the EHZC website. Just so you know where Barbara is coming from when she pooh-pooh’s internet flame wars yet jumps all over me for being “snarky” and “weird”


    Good to know who you’re dealing with.


    Barbara has now changed her comments entry from “Weird.” to the following:

    November 17, 2009 at 8:12 am
    (4) Barbara O’Brien says:

    (Sigh) I hate flaming before breakfast.

    Well there you go. Revisionist Internet history at it’s finest.

    • Just posted over there. I like Barbara – her Online persona, that is, I don’t actually know her – but I’ve seen her get hot-headed with people before. Sorry you were on the receiving end of it this time. Anyway, I tried to explain some of the situation in a way that hopefully won’t piss her off.

      I don’t think Empty Hand is affiliated with Eido Shimano, et al. The teacher there says she’s in Suzuki’s lineage. Rather, I think most Zen teachers just collaborate and trade links by virtue of Zen teachers being a rather small community.

    • Weird interaction with Barbara. I’ve seen you much snarkier but people do get defensive when their teachers/lineage/zendo gets involved.

      I also hate when people envoke the “I’ve been on computers way before they existed so I’ve seen it all” crap.

      Point of fact: I am including in my blog-bio my history as a reincarnated Lebonese fish-monger and Tibetan goat-herd.



  13. My thanks as well – I’m not quite sure what a “lay monk” (byline for Haederle) is… But well said on your part and hopefully this’ll receive the attention and clarification it deserves.

  14. Yes, lay monk. That was troubling me as well. I believe that’s what they have in Japan, “monks” who can marry and get intoxicated. Funny.

    Why even bother calling yourself a monk? I can only laugh.

  15. Excellent deconstruction of a strange article at Tricycle at best. At worst a straight out hit piece. I’m the James Ure that he took out of context. He obviously knew nothing of my blog and my history online. I’ve been doing this now for 5 years. I wrote a piece about my inclusion in the article over on my blog. The now infamous “Buddhist Blog.” These guys and gals in their ivory tours don’t get it. They don’t know where the average practitioners are in this country and don’t understand what it means to struggle without any centers around to support us. We’re not privileged and we’re not holders of any titles but I would much rather listen to a lone Buddhist out in Montana than some over-educated elitist.

  16. FYI, there is no affiliation between Empty Hand and Eido Shimano. Let me repeat, there is no affiliation between Empty Hand and Eido Shimano. Our teacher was a student of Maureen Stuart for many years but received transmission through the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi of the San Francisco Zen Center. Empty Hand is an affiliate of SFZC. So, NellaLou, I will expect a correction about that on this blog.

    Also FYI, I think Robert Aitken Roshi was absolutely right to criticize Eido Shimano. Eido Shimano should have been stopped a lot sooner, IMO. I have some personal experience with sexual exploitation and do not tolerate it.

    Also FYI, NellaLou, the reason I thought you were rude is that I had no idea what you were talking about and thought you were criticizing me because you thought I hadn’t written anything original. If you had just plainly said you thought the Tricycle article was unfairly smearing teachers, then there wouldn’t have been a problem. Once Jaime McLeod explained matters to me I put a correction on my post.

    I’m very sorry for the misunderstanding. Sometimes you have to spell things out for me.

    • Dear Barbara

      Thank you for your comment. I will address your points one by one.


      There is no affiliation between Empty Hand and Eido Shimano.

      Is everybody clear about that? I sincerely apologize to those involved with the Empty Hand Sangha, the teachers and associates there, if inference to any connection to this man gave discomfort.

      Point 2. Stopping sexual exploitation when those around the abuser are party to that abuse by their silence and support is very difficult. All kinds of ulterior motives present themselves especially where power and titles are involved. Yes Aitken Roshi was very right to express his concerns. Unfortunately they fell on some ignorant ears for a long time. It is unfortunate too that those who did express dismay at the very least were ostracized and ignored.

      Point 3 Barbara stated:

      Also FYI, NellaLou, the reason I thought you were rude is that I had no idea what you were talking about and thought you were criticizing me because you thought I hadn’t written anything original. If you had just plainly said you thought the Tricycle article was unfairly smearing teachers, then there wouldn’t have been a problem. Once Jaime McLeod explained matters to me I put a correction on my post.

      The two things I was getting at, in the piece itself regardless of any ulterior motives on his part, were a general lack of critical reading of Haederle’s piece and the smear, not necessarily at teachers but at Buddhist bloggers with his comments such as:

      Buddhist bloggers often inflate their experience and understanding.

      This is but one of numerous examples. As you yourself are a Buddhist blogger it struck me as rather odd you would then continue to cite examples from your own experience to bolster his arguments against Buddhist bloggers. It appeared to be rather self defeating.

      As a knowledgeable journalist regarding both Buddhism and the on-line world it seemed, in this case, you suspended any skepticism or critical facility in order to agree with this person. I was quite astounded by that.

      Rather than label me “weird” “snarky” and “rude” would it have been so difficult to ask “What is your criticism about exactly?” rather than jumping to conclusions? I did not label you in this fashion and merely questioned your objectivity. When you responded with such hostility I wrote the comment you are referring to on my own blog. I jumped to an inference which as you state was incorrect as well. And I correct that here very clearly. I am not interested in defending my opinion and comments at all costs. If I am wrong about something I will make amends as well as I can.

      And Barbara you are a qualified journalist and professional blog writer for a big corporation. Neither I nor most of your readers or those who leave comments are any of these things. Here we are talking about expectations, not in terms of Buddhist behavior, if indeed there is such a thing, but as a professional in the business world. By name calling, inferring and jumping to conclusions about either commenters or those articles and stories you report on, it appears to be rather unprofessional in that capacity.

      Point 4 Barbara stated:

      I’m very sorry for the misunderstanding. Sometimes you have to spell things out for me.

      I am sorry too that things have gotten to this point. I will endeavor to spell things out as clearly as possible from now on and I hope I have done so adequately in this reply.

  17. Damn it James! I’m a lone Buddhist in Montana AND an over-educated elitist! Now simply confused :) Or were you talking about that OTHER lone Buddhist in Montana? hehe… sigh.

  18. I think you must be the Uni-Buddhist Justin…..Oh man, was that just a Ted Kaczynski joke? hehee

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  20. It is my feeling that Tricycle Magazine’s editing staff has made a serious error in judgment. Random anonymous blog posts are NOT equivalent to published hardcopy. For example, hypothetically, say some anonymous person posted to a blog and said, “I am the Queen of England, and Tricycle’s editor is a Nimrod who owes me $50.” The New York Times (or any respectible publication) would probably NOT print “Nimrod, the Editor of Tricycle, owes the Queen of England $50, according to her. Of course, now that this statement has been published, anybody can re-print it… or parts of it. hrm… Interesting how that works, eh?

    One might even consider it simple common courtesy to double-check what are being put up as facts before printing them in an apparent attempt to ruin the reputations of well known people ….. people such as Ven. Kobutsu Malone, Osho; Ven. Gomyo Seperic, Ajari; or even Mr. Barry Graham, whatever his title may be (I honestly do not know the title he uses, nor do I know the location of the monastery over which he allegedly presides as “abbot.” I do know that Rev. Kobutsu is a ZEN PRIEST, not a monk; and Rev. Gomyo is a SHINGON PRIEST, not a Zen monk.)

    Tricycle’s editor owes the entire Buddhist community an apology. The Dharma and those trying to teach it will not be safe until Tricycle’s egregious misstatements are corrected, and this sort of behavior by the Buddhist Tabloids is stopped.

    That said, I would like to quote one post on Tricycle’s site before the infamous Editors decide to remove it. This post literally made me weep last night, and right now it’s especially poignant in the light of Ven. Kobutsu’s cardiac emergency at the hospital today. Gee thanks, Tricycle editors. And I’m sure you wish him well.



    12. Rev. Ryushin Sean Malone – November 23, 2009

    Dear Tricycle,

    How dare your corporation insult my father whom I have personally watched for 20 years, pour his life into helping people?

    He has brought true Buddha Dharma to people who have nothing, the majority being prisoners. He has no great temple, no money and receives not a dime from any Buddhist group to support his efforts. Why is it that the greatest teachers alive value Kobutsu as being a living manifestation of Buddha Dharma? One such master is my own teacher, the Venerable Shodo Harada Rodaishi, who candidly referred to my father, during sanzen with me one evening, as “A living Buddha.” Not only have you insulted Ven. Kobutsu, You have insulted Venerable Gomyo Kevin Seperic, Ajari, countless bloggers, Buddhist practitioners across the world, me personally, my family and most importantly, The Buddha Dharma itself!

    You are but a poison corporate Buddhism who’s job it is to feed people with what you think Buddha Dharma should be and not what truly is. Not only that, but, only teachers you approve of who teach love ‘n light, flowers and bunny rabbits, elusive “happiness,” who advertise in your rag with their large bank accounts, and are featured time and time again in your magazine. As far as I am concerned, you are hiding the truth from people and mischaracterizing the real teachers out in the trenches. You fail to offer real guidance toward walking on the path of The Awakened State Of Mind .

    How can corporate entities such as Tricycle teaching, “Doing nothing can make you wise,” offer guidance for intelligent action?

    Do you Tricycle editors check your facts? Do you even grasp what my father’s single blog posting was about? He was exposing a conman involved in fraud pretending to be a monk, even an abbot! How could you refer to that man as an “abbot”? How dare you refer to my father as “Malone”? Which one of you has stood with your students while they were being murdered by the state? How dare you disrespect Venerable Kobutsu?

    Corporations, such as yours peddle supposed Dharma teachings for profit, when brave men like my father slog their guts out in hell for the sake of all beings. You call this man who loves so deeply a bully? How dare you?

  21. Pingback: The “Dharma Wars” Saga « Rev. Danny Fisher

  22. I want to thank NellaLou for her previous article, Had it not been for her crtique. this thread would never have been provided to me.

    Thank you both.

    michael j, a novice along the path

  23. [Suler, the psychologist]“There’s a lot more narcissism in the community than we would expect or hope,” he says. “It’s a bit paradoxical that in a philosophy emphasizing the transcendence of self, some people are very preoccupied with self.”

    There’s a lot more sickness in hospitals than we would expect or hope. It’s a bit paradoxical that in a building emphasizing good health, some of the people you find there are really quite ill.


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  26. Pingback: Thinking About Michael Haederle’s “Dharma Wars” | Monkey Mind

  27. Maybe if the author and his acolytes concentrated more on their own practice and less on other people’s writings and credentials they wouldn’t be so bitter. I can’t imagine going through life spending so much energy breaking other people down. I feel sorry for you all.

    • Your condescending sympathy is much appreciated. We should perhaps all take lessons in passive-aggressive ball busting from you.

      I’d rather have it out in the open.
      Thanks again.

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