“Can’t we all just get along?” Maybe. Maybe not.

Two recent blog posts by others have prompted some thought about the phrase, “Can’t we all just get along?” (which is a paraphrase of Rodney King’s actual quote “Can we all get along?”)

In response to the Dharma Wars situation Rev. Danny Fisher has written a post entitled The “Dharma Wars” Saga in which he expresses concern about some of the responses and asks some important questions:

But why not use this situation as an occasion for dialogue and understanding?  Why does this piece have to be a dealbreaker of epic proportions where we refuse to read anything published under the banner of Tricycle henceforth?  My wish is that we can all grow from this conflict instead of holding grudges.  How can all of us do better?  How can we help?

On a somewhat different subject, bumper stickers actually, but with many points relative to this discussion,  Genkaku Adam Fisher has a post up mine’s better’n yours which gives some answer to Rev Danny’s question “How can all of us do better?” He states:

Leaving aside helpless and whine-y wails like, “couldn’t we all just get along,” I honestly think there’s a good lesson in all of this. A constant is apparent in all such bumper stickers. Pretty simple, don’t you think? … it’s just “me” and “mine.”

What others may deduce on further reflection is up to them. But it does make me think that I might like to examine my own willingness to puke up one certainty or another, contrast my certainty with your certainty, or slit your throat before you slit mine. What a waste of time…and I have wasted a lot of it in my lifetime.

“Tolerance” is a nice word, but I often feel it doesn’t really hit the mark since it implies and to some extent encourages “intolerance.” “Tolerance” as a selling point is better than nothing, I guess, but what hits the mark better for me are Gautama’s words, words that might have come from anyone’s mouth … the source is irrelevant:

It is not what others do and do not do that is my concern. It is what I do and do not do — that is my concern.

Why not just believe what you like and follow your own Yellow Brick Road? As long as you are not slitting someone’s throat in the process, isn’t that enough? I think it is. Not easy, perhaps, but enough.

Well, I’m going to take up Genkaku’s statement “What others may deduce on further reflection is up to them.” and parade out a few more deductions, though certainly not certainties,  that have arisen upon further reflection of this whole chain of events regarding the Tricycle Dharma Wars issue.

A Grudge or Not

Things come apart.  Health, cars,  relationships, jobs, friends, computers, habits.  Nothing stays one way. Things change. We all know this.

There are a multitude of  reasons things come apart. Some are just the result of natural entropy in the universe and others are prompted in a more volitional manner.

Just because something is labeled Buddhist doesn’t mean we are obliged to support it if we are not in agreement with it’s policies, actions etc.  Just because something’s been around for a long time does not mean it’s continuation is a necessity to the Buddhist community or at all. Just because one has become accustomed to a thing doesn’t mean one must cling to it for a lifetime.

That being said it also doesn’t mean the promotion of the destruction of a thing is a goal either.  Nothing is that clear cut.

I don’t usually feel obliged to explain my motivations to anyone but in this case I am going to lay some of them out very clearly.

What is going on here is a violation of trust and the reaction to it.

Tricycle magazine has spent many years building a readership. The reader and the read are in a relationship. There are certain assumptions made in a mutually satisfying relationship.  These assumptions are based on trust.

Assumptions of trust in this case on the part of readers, in general, include that there is:

  • an editorial policy which includes fact checking for the material published
  • a certain amount of respect for readers and non-readers.  And that they will not be exploited  to make cheap sensationalistic points
  • an appropriate amount of research behind what is written in order to avoid taking statements out of context and recontextualizing them in a negative fashion
  • a self-awareness of bias if a writer is simply writing an opinion piece
  • not a conflict of interest with writers, editors and their subjects and if so that should be disclosed
  • accountability

Assumptions of trust in this case on the part of readers, due to the stated Buddhist nature of the magazine, it’s staff and writers, include that there is:

  • a knowledge of Buddhist ethics as stated in precepts and elsewhere
  • a sensitivity to the spiritual nature of the readers and a recognition that in this area some may be vulnerable to coercive persuasion
  • a respect for Buddhist practitioners of any sect, origin, class, method or manner of practice due to commonality in participating in fulfilling the Buddhadharma as their situations and abilities mandate
  • a respect for all persons regardless of age, gender…(the basic human rights list)

Maybe these assumptions are too optimistic.  Maybe the selling of the Buddhadharma by any and all means is more important than any of this. Since Tricycle has yet to issue any further statement on the issue or reply to criticisms one is left guessing.

To take up Rev. Danny Fisher’s point, which I believe to some degree was directed at me, my question is what would you have me do? Should I apologize to Tricycle and it’s representatives because they have offended me and countless others and I made that known? Bluntly, that’s not going to happen.

Dialogue is only possible when there are at least two parties. Tricycle and the author of the article issued their statement in the form of the article in question. Others responded and are still responding. It appears that is the end of it. We are left with a series of somewhat wounded monologues.

It would have been possible for me and numerous others to contact the editors, writer and other participants privately. But the article itself was so very public, being published in an international magazine and online, that any conversation behind the scenes as it were would have done nothing to alleviate the offense felt or the insinuations that had been laid out to the general public.

As for behind the scenes conversations, I must say that the email around this issue has been fast and furious in many quarters. I have been cajoled,  castigated and ever so gently persuaded to back off both in comments forums and by email. That too is not going to happen.

Let me take up Genkaku Adam Fisher’s point and his echo of the Buddha’s words,

It is not what others do and do not do that is my concern. It is what I do and do not do — that is my concern.

This has been cited to me in one form or another on this and other issues.  It is very nice and comfortable to tend one’s own garden while watching others’ go to ruin. Or is it?  And further is it even possible for someone on the Buddhist path?

“What I do…” is always in relation to a larger whole. While I do agree with Genkaku Adam Fisher it is only insofar as it’s not used as an excuse to cop out and relinquish one’s self to fear.  Actions have a context.  They have a cause.

In concerning myself with “What I do…” I am also concerned with that which is the impetus of what I do as well as the possible results of what I do.  Nothing happens in isolation. Often we see exhortations, even from a few Buddhist teachers to remain silent, be above the fray, to back off. This transcendental egotism, as I called it in a previous post is absolutely unrealistic.   To attempt to limit one’s actions to a singular sphere wherein context is irrelevant is highly deluded if not psycho-pathological.

What is done is done in context. That is where Right Intention holds sway.

Refining one’s ethical standpoint

Here’s some of the motivation on my part.  There is an old saying “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything” If one is unaware of what they stand for, what their ethical limits are, then all manner of atrocity is possible.

If one does not “draw a line in the sand” sometimes then one is tacitly accepting and even collaborating with that which occurs.  I have made my stance very clear here. I have asked to be detached from that which I am aware has caused harm.  At this point I want no commercial relationship with the Tricycle establishment. Even if this distancing is only symbolic it is my position.  And I stand by it.

That does not mean that there is no future for a relationship, once a dialogue between Tricycle and it’s readership occurs, if it occurs.

I do not have a grudge against Tricycle magazine and it’s representatives. I don’t like what they published.  It was hurtful.  I and many others, have explained some of the reasons why.  It was duplicitous. I and many others, have explained some of the reasons why. It was disrespectful. I and many others have explained some of the reasons why.  It was ill-thought out. I and many others have explained some of the reasons why.  They don’t seem to care.

What more can be done?

Violations of trust are not healed by those who are on the receiving end of the violations. In the sense of transformative, or healing justice it is those who have committed the harmful actions who, by realizing the harm done, instigate dialogue and attempt amends with the help of the community.  It involves all of us including those responsible for the article, those directly affected by the article, those of us with knowledge of the situation, those of us who feel some sense of offense and the larger readership of the magazine since their perceptions, either way have also been affected by this.

I can keep explaining and explaining but that’s just like some cry in the wilderness. By reacting, I and others of the community have actually initiated dialogue. Just not the dialogue Tricycle and it’s representatives want to hear right now.

There is room for amelioration of the situation. But it is going to take some work, honesty and soul-searching. (odd thing for a Buddhist to say?)  I’m doing it.  How about Michael, James, Philip and the rest of the Tricycle affiliates?

I really believe the people will listen to what these folks have to say. If only they’d say it. Straight.


9 comments on ““Can’t we all just get along?” Maybe. Maybe not.

  1. I guess I don’t see my comments equaling “Can’t we all just get along?” And I certainly don’t think you have to apologize for speaking your mind. What I was trying to say (apparently not very well) was just, “Does conflict have to equal a break-up?” I’m all for the Buddhoblogosphere voicing concerns like these–in fact, it’s very important–but does that mean we also have to say, “I don’t want to be in relationship with you (Tricycle) anymore.” I see conflict and dialogue about it as a vital part of communication and growing in relationship. Conflict to me doesn’t have to mean that relationship is over and done. Many of your points here are well taken (indeed, dialogue is a two-way street), but I just wanted to clarify that.

    • Thank you for responding Rev. Danny

      Like you I don’t see conflict as necessitating a break-up in all cases. (some cases yes-I speak as one who has been through a divorce) In conflict, or any sort of dialogue, it is important though to delineate initial positions so there is some foundation upon which negotiation can rest. Initial positions always move if the dialogue is progressing. Call it a point of departure, meaning a point from which to depart. From that point an intentionality to depart can be developed.

      However naively, and this may not come through in all I write, I believe there is some kind of win-win position for every conflict. Some settling point where all parties can feel relief without feeling compromised or having to relinquish a sense of human dignity.

      I know you do not advocate a quietist position Rev. Danny. Some do and my comments on that were perhaps too much of a scattershot approach mostly meant for those who have basically urged me to be quiet on this matter using such pacifiers as “Let’s just forgive and forget”, “Why stir up the pot?”or “Can’t we all just get along?”.

      That position of helplessness, often learned, is a lot more dangerous that speaking out. It accedes to anything that smacks of power and is rather lazy in that those who hold such a helpless viewpoint don’t really bother to think about any issues. It’s all left in the hands of the powers that be.

      So Rev. Danny I hope my rather blanket statement did not distress you. It was not my intention to do that.

  2. Here is something that came in my email on Nov. 26 2009:

    A message to all members of The Tricycle Community
    Dear Tricycle Community Members,

    No time for retreat? That time is over: Now you can go on retreat without missing a day of work!

    Tricycle Online Retreats begin on November 30 with Sharon Salzberg, cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and one of the first Westerners to teach Insight meditation. When you become a Tricycle Community Sustaining Member, you can take part in this retreat and other online retreats throughout the year.

    If you’re interested in reading more about our first online retreat, click here.

    We look forward to sitting with you!

    All best,

    The Tricycle Staff

    (emphasis mine)

    And this is after a plea on the blog for votes to win a financial web award. Both after publication of the article Dharma Wars. Quite a bit of audacity to such requests. Especially considering the Tricycle Community has blogs from quite a number of members. And many of those who have a membership blog on the outside as well. There seems to be all kinds of time to think of ways to put the squeeze on on-line readers they’ve insulted, but not for any sort of response to criticism of their article. So there’s the “dialogue”.

  3. When there were verbal conflicts in the Zen community, Zen Master Seung Sahn said something like, “People arguing about their different opinions: that’s a correct Zen center.”

    The point I take from this is: I like harmony and agreement; I dislike argument and conflict. That’s simply my personal likes/dislikes.

    Tricycle published an article expressing opinions in conflict with some Buddhist teachers and bloggers. NellaLou made blog posts expressing views in conflict with Tricycle. Myself and others may like or dislike the ensuing argument. It’s not necessary to consider ANY of this good or bad, right or wrong. It’s the situation we’ve got, so it’s the situation we practice with… examining whatever happens, trying to perceive it clearly, trying to respond compassionately, open to all possibilities of what that may mean.


  4. It’s not simply “he said, she said.” It’s not just a “difference of opinion.” It’s a selective rendering of facts on the part of Tricycle which renders certain people (bloggers, and those not in the “Tricycle in-crowd”) in an unfavorable light, and renders others whose ethics are indisputably in question in a good light, without ever, ever reporting on the ethical questions of the latter group.

    Tricycle appears to have breached a place in which a wall should have been. In most major news organizations, including the Wall Street Journal, and the NY Times, at least in principle there is a separation between content generation and revenue (i.e., advertising) generation. That Tricycle has not recognized that not having a wall opens itself to all kinds of conflicts of interest is of ultimate concern to me.

    I’m all for dialogue with Tricycle; if they want to help establish and re-affirm editorial ethical guidelines, I’ll stand right with them.

    But it doesn’t appear to be the place for that yet.

    • Very good point Mumon

      All the “good” examples in the article have a commercial or personal relationship with the magazine. Those I’ve found in the only issue I have at hand have been tagged with page and date. I’ve linked others to their information. Quite the tight little club.

      -John Daido Loori’s Mountains and Rivers Order-print advertiser (pg. 21 Fall 2009)-also teachers from there write for Tricycle
      Insight Meditation Society-print advertiser and of course Sharon Salzberg makes frequent appearances in Tricycle print and Community.
      -Spirit Rock Meditation Center-print advertiser and many teachers write for Tricycle. Jack Kornfeld has solicited funds on Tricycle blog in the past.
      -the Sravasti website of Venerable Thubten Chodron who has written for Tricycle many times
      -Shinge Roshi’s (aka Roko Chayat) own Zen Center of Syracuse-colleague of the author and contributor to Tricycle
      -Unfettered Mind-owner of this site Ken McLeod has written for Tricycle in 2002, 2003, 2004
      -Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi-print advertiser included in a seminar ad-(p.113 Fall 2009) and has discussed Big Mind in a feature in Tricycle

      Few of the “bad” guys have been mentioned in the pages or on-line. Barry Graham’s old blog got a mention a year ago for writing in this article Great Buddhist Blogs and he’s milked that couple of words for all it’s worth. Ironic that a year ago blogs were being lauded and this year are being pilloried.

      Kobutsu is mentioned “Dogo Barry Graham is a student of the great Kobutsu Malone.” in the blog on May 7 2008 This is part of the story that the author also missed. Kobutsu in a straightforward statement removed himself from this relationship. So where once Kobutsu was labeled “great” by Tricycle he suddenly became a bully for doing as his conscience dictated? Ridiculous.

      It is pretty clear that Philip Ryan web editor has long had a dharmaman-crush on Barry Graham by the old posts on the Tricycle blog. Who else at Tricycle does I wonder? (Is that gossipy enough for you James?!)

      Ven Kobutsu is mentioned a couple of times including for an article that appeared on The Buddhist Channel which was based on an interview done on this very EW blog.

      Ven Gomyo Seperic’s blog is mentioned in 2007 “And always good poetry stuff on A Hoodie Monk.”

      James Ure’s Buddhist Blog is mentioned in a note of thanks for mentioning Tricycle’s Big Sit event in 2009 and again in passing a couple of times.

      So one can examine the depth of the relationships between Tricycle and those who have been named in the article. Quite a difference. And the most obvious difference is the exchange of money.

  5. Nella Lou:

    I’m awed by your exploration of the whole landscape based on my comment. You’re spot on. The only thing I’d add is this is in part I think a consequence about how Tricycle came to be in the first place (people with connections and money and time making an economically upscale Buddhist journal) , and (hopefully) our critiques will be taken by them as an opportunity to mature (to one that is able to observe and report without fear or favor).

  6. Thanks to NellaLou and others for detailing the financial aspect of the Tricycle controversy. The information you’ve provided goes far beyond what I’d known previously.

    In many places in times past, Buddhist teachers were typically monks. Their vows prevented them from holding wealth and possessions (with varying degrees of success). The idea is that since they were removed from the marketplace, financial concerns would have less of an influence on their teachings.

    (In modern times, when there’s a need to protest the authorities and the existing social system, it often comes first from college students or other young people. That’s because people not enmeshed in the marketplace have a different perspective from those trying to protect a situation dependent on the status quo. The young people’s perspective may not be superior, but it inevitably provides a viewpoint *different* than those deeply involved in commerce. I think there’s some parallel to the role of monks.)

    Though this had some advantages… I’m not at all sure that it’s a superior system, or that we should strive to have more monkish teachers today. In the old system in India, monks lived by begging from others. So you might have, e.g., a big monk making claims that supporting monks would give the lay people magical help from a spiritual realm. If a lay person wanted a good marriage or success in business, etc, they’d donate to the monks. The monks might — even subconsciously — promote superstitious beliefs that benefitted them personally.

    The old system in China sometimes had monks living in self-sufficient temples. Even if this made the monks less financially dependent on the lay people… monks might compensate by seeking respect and status from the community, and this could influence their teachings also.

    All of us, teachers and monks included, have our own desires to contend with, so it’s always an issue: how to best present teachings that are helpful to all beings… without (consciously or otherwise) twisting it to promote personal gain? There’s no clear and simple answer, but it is an issue we can be aware of, as we work with questions about how Buddhism could be best structured in it’s relatively new homes in the West.

    In the school I personally practice with, there are some monks, but more commonly teachers and Zen masters are lay people. The Zen school pays such teachers, but not very much. (If a Zen master comes to my center to lead a retreat, we pay his expenses plus ~$150/day.) It’s enough to help make it feasible for teachers to take a weekend to run a retreat… but hardly enough as a primary income source, so the teacher needs to keep a “real job” during the work week.

    It’s kind of a hybrid system. The teachers get compensated for their efforts, but their life sustenence isn’t dependent on the popularity of their teaching. Again, who knows if this will turn out to be a workable system going forward. We can only remain aware and questioning about the role of financial incentives, and continue to test different organizational systems, seeing which one(s) best promote a teaching least corrupted by the teachers’ self-interest.

    Returning to the specific point of this comments thread… if indeed Tricycle doesn’t make great efforts to separate its editorial decisions from business ones, it’s very hard for me to imagine that they WOULDN’T tilt their articles in order to favor teachers who buy lots of advertising in their mag.


  7. umm, if none of their advertisers were allowed to write for them, well, how would tricycle be funded? admit it, if they published a magazine of dharma talks by Anonymous, no one would buy it, because so many budhists in the west are obbsessed with authority and authenticity in ways that go far beyond what is healthy for themselves or their teachers.

    and it is worth pointing out that tricycle is by no means alone in this practice, the other two magazines (which are really one organization) do the same thing. having worked in nonprofit publishing, this critique seems a bit too conspiracy-theory for me. part of the point of being a non-profit publication is that you want to focus on the quality and content of the publication, not the bottom line. tricycle could probably survive losing a few of its advertisers due to a critical story. the real problem, it seems to me, is that most of the sangha scandals and accusations of hucksterism out there are very difficult to substantiate in a way that meets journalistic standards, and lawsuits are a lot more costly than lost advertisers.

Comments are closed.