Joy of Cluelessness

[This post is a little wonky because I cut out a bunch of stuff to put in another post then I was too lazy to edit it down and I’m tired and probably shouldn’t have listened to Rammstein today as now I’m kind of jumpy too]

Nathan at Dangerous Harvests wrote a post “Is Convert Buddhism too Clubby and Exclusive?” based on a post titled what gets in the way? by Peter at living and dying with eyes wide open.

The gist of some of the discussion is very familiar. It comes down to the questions of the utility of ritual, the adoption of foreign practices, including languages, the conflicting desires between preserving what has been established and discarding that which is unfamiliar, improvisation in social settings, individual vs group processes and ultimately the purpose of Sangha.

When these questions come up they almost always revolve around the newcomer convert to Buddhism. Because they don’t know what’s happening they don’t embrace Buddhism.  They are turned off by the ritual, language, setting etc. Apparently. Has someone actually done a study on this or is it just speculation? And how does dipping into Buddhism compare with dipping into Christianity for the spiritual seeker? Christian churches are having a helluva hard time regarding retention rates and returnees as well. Why should Buddhism be any different? And why is the “foreignness” factor one of the first one trotted out blamewise?

So I’ll ramble on that from personal, social and some other perspectives for a while. But first a little caveat.

Now I don’t write this blog with newcomers in mind. Though quite a few people seem to think I should. And I don’t write this blog for people who are too lazy to do a little work in their own, even adopted tradition. Although quite a few people seem to think I should.

There’s already a phalanx of guardians and hand-holders available for the n00bs and the b00bs so my contributions in that realm would be negligible. And there are plenty of other blogs for them to read which do that. [plenty belong to teachers too]  Regardless, the admonishments for my apparent failing in this area keep coming.  Most recently:

I find your comments about ‘How to become a Buddha in 5 weeks’  completely miss the tone and value of a book which, contrary to those turgid dusty  pernickety precise tomes only fanatics read (me included) might actually spark the interest of some new, young, people about a way of life that can alleviate distress like no other- and I can think of worse stuff to buy in a supermarket.

These kinds of comments always end with:

where is the compassion in you?

If one looks hard enough there is a fair bit of compassion, it’s just not dipped in chocolate and farting out rainbows. (Too much chocolate compassion does cause rainbow farts BTW-pretty to look at but they smell like a compost heap)

Then comes anti-intellectual diatribe of some sort……….the majority of these comments, directed at me and a few others, generally have all the same elements in varying order. It’s almost as if people were conditioned to respond in this manner. What would Pavlov‘s dog say?[Mu]

After a few decades of Buddhist practice quite a bit of the socially-accepted veneer tends to look pretty thin and ragged to me. It is possible to put that back on when necessary, when dealing with customs agents for example, but most of what I write here is fairly unadulterated, unsweetened, raw, naked, and from deep in the heart and not just the product of thoughts running amok.  It has nothing to do with anger, bitterness, some vendetta or any such nonsense. I am a fairly content individual most of the time. Sure shit happens but it’s just not the same kind of huge dramatic deal as when I was younger.

But I also realize that I don’t have enough time left in my life to play around with these silly games any more. And I won’t do it just because some confused troll demands it since they are uncomfortable with my words or presentation. What appears between the lines in these instances is, “Write what I want! Write it the way I want. Explain everything to me on my terms. Be nice to me. Agree with me. Do what I say.” To not do so somehow means arrogance on my part. That’s very funny. Fucking deal with it! You don’t get reality on your terms. [I don’t either] Don’t waste your precious time trying to deal with me and make me conform. It won’t happen.  I am completely irrelevant to anyone who bothers to read this. To the entire process actually. That’s the whole fucking point!!!!

One reason I’m writing about comments again is that they are very informative as to the state of mind of many people coming to Dharma centers initially or beginning practice. Full of preconceptions and expectations. And when these are not met and one has to confront the reality that demonstrates … cluelessness is the best word I can think of…then there is a reaction like anger, condemnation or some attempt to assert control of a basically uncontrollable situation. It’s great to admit cluelessness. It’s a point one can work from. [Call it beginner’s mind if you want something more polite]

One cannot completely control … anything. Not mind, body, environment, other people. No one can. God delusions of any kind are some of the most difficult to relinquish. That’s a trick ego plays. “If I will it to be so, or if I pray it to be so, then so shall it be.” It’s magic thinking and it’s nonsense. [Just like “The Secret”] We can pretend we do have some control by our little games but ultimately we just fool ourselves and waste a lot of time. [Here’s a great post about magic thinking by Rafael Ayala]

We can arrange and re-arrange these elements to some extent. For example, if I decide to lose some weight that is possible, or if we decide to stop texting when driving our cars we can do so, or if a group decides to practice Buddhism according to a certain framework that is possible. We come up with “the rules” of whatever activity is going on, or adopt a set of rules that someone else has come up with and go to it. It’s really just that easy.

But because of the practice of obedience we’ve all come to adopt to a greater or lesser degree,  it appears to be much more difficult. We stop ourselves from imagining alternatives for no other reason than we’ve become accustomed not to. This is the way it’s always been done and it must continue similarly. So we are told and so we believe. To blindly follow is as much of an error as to randomly change things without understanding what it is we are changing. Both positions lead to a lot of flailing around in potentially deep water.

There is a lot of contradiction involved when we are not aware of what we are doing. Tradition has a purpose, innovation has a purpose, but only when we are aware of those purposes can we fully utilize either position. The contradiction, and the tension that is produced, is only resolved by becoming aware of what we are doing, what we are participating in and the reasons for it.

On one level it is a serious matter in that our lives, decisions, relationships and even societies depend upon some kind of strategy in order to function. But as with our personal identities we build up so much of an accretion upon what is basic and actually needed that we become lost in that maze. But our human nature seems to desire this kind of thing to pass the time. (as well as the rush of the dopamine boost it gives to our brains-pretty addictive shit)

In this way on another level it is all an elaborate game. Sometimes with few consequences and sometimes with deadly consequences.  Only by coming to understand that fully can it actually be rewritten in order to benefit our species.

Music for Game Playing Apes

Peter Gabriel-Games Without Frontiers

Hans plays with lotte, lotte plays with jane
Jane plays with willi, willi is happy again
Suki plays with leo, sacha plays with britt
Adolf builts a bonfire, enrico plays with it
-whistling tunes we hid in the dunes by the seaside
-whistling tunes we’re kissing baboons in the jungle
It’s a knockout
If looks could kill, they probably will
In games without frontiers-war without tears
Games without frontiers-war without tears
Andre has a red flag, chiang ching’s is blue
They all have hills to fly them on except for lin tai yu
Dressing up in costumes, playing silly games
Hiding out in tree-tops shouting out rude names
-whistling tunes we hide in the dunes by the seaside
-whistling tunes we piss on the goons in the jungle
It’s a knockout
If looks could kill they probably will
In games without frontiers-wars without tears
If looks could kill they probably will
In games without frontiers-war without tears
Games without frontiers-war without tears

!!!!! Promotional Interstitial
[Hey do you like the new Boobs header for the blog? Nekid boobs!!! Labeling a photo boobs does wonders for your SEO although that was not my intention in creating this version!]

Now Back to Regularly Scheduled Programming

The point of my little personal digression, aside from some irritation at the moment with this continuing critical theme, is that, with a few exceptions, Buddhism is generally not about prosthelytizing, nor is it concerned with furthering people’s sense of conventional (Samsaric) comfort and delusion, nor is it about putting on a fake smiley face and swallowing and accepting anything that comes along with the label Buddhism on it, nor is it about following a bunch of rules, nor is it about living any text exactly as it’s written, nor is it about living in general without some serious examination.

I want to write about these and a few other points after this brief introduction.

The Joy of Cluelessness

We operate under a large set of familiar assumptions. We learn this from our cultures and their representatives (family, friends, media, school etc). What we are learning is knowledge to some degree but to a larger degree it is a social script.

We learn how to behave, sit in lines, talk pretty and how to interact without killing each other most of the time.  A lot of this revolves around obedience. We learn to take direction, ostensibly from our elders/betters/wise ones, and to inculcate that into our own psyches so that we become self-directed. We believe we can then make our own decisions and conduct our lives. But how much is really our own decision and how much is based on these obedience scripts we have been taught? [I had a teacher who discussed parental scripts once with me-it was quite illuminating]

The point is the script. Every situation has one. It helps people to organize themselves into effective groups and to accomplish the purposes of the groups. Scripts are very useful in a social circumstance. On a personal level, knowledge of them can also help one navigate through society. They make things familiar so that we don’t have to re-learn everything about every situation we encounter.

Social cues are part of the scripts. We recognize them, realize the behavior that is called for, perform that behavior and can move on from the situation. Very handy. And very easy to take that as the truth of a situation without consideration. This can also become something of a trap when it becomes habitual or when we cling to the script too tightly. When we put our belief into the script, which is a piece of fiction, a made up situation no matter how many millions also adhere to it (nations, religions, institutions, etc) then we are not prepared for improvisation when it is called for. This is conditioning at it’s deepest level. Back to Pavlov/Buddha once again. The bell rings, we start to salivate.

But when we walk into a new situation we must learn a new script. If it is in our own culture we can take bits and pieces of what we know and for the most part improvise as we figure the situation out. If it is in a situation that is very different than what we are used to, we must learn almost from scratch. This is the point of cluelessness. A very excellent place to be however uncomfortable. If we can accept our cluelessness then we can open ourselves up to the new experience, learning, being in that very moment because we cannot rely upon memory, knowledge or any other prop we carry around in our heads. We have to be there, pay attention and react from a much deeper place. We have to deal with things as they present themselves, in real time. This is a very unreal or shocking experience for many people. We almost never deal with the world in that way. This is one reason why home-leaving in whatever form (monastery, retreat, group) is very beneficial. We are forced to deal with a situation on it’s own terms alone.

We may eventually become comfortable with a new situation but the experience if continued will make changes we may not be aware of as they are happening. It is very dependent upon how fearful we are of letting go of the familiar rut.

I think this is one of the main reasons people don’t return to dharma centers or leave retreats early or whatever. The egg starts to crack and people panic. Not in an obvious way but in some minor way and they are neither prepared for it nor can they accept the possibility of real change happening. It’s about fear of losing something. The familiar hand holds fall away or we can’t find them. We are left to grope in the dark and to trust in the unknown whether that is in people around us, the experience, the situation, a new or foreign script or some part of ourselves we’ve not encountered before.

It’s about fear of untrodden ground, fear of losing the compass however badly it has misled us previously, fear of encountering one’s self in a naked way, fear of the unknown.

There’s a thing in psychology called an approach-avoidance conflict. It is basically the conflict within us between desire and fear.

By example consider the moment you meet someone who strikes you as attractive. Maybe it’s sexual, maybe not. You desire to become closer to them. You fear rejection or embarrassment or something. There’s a back and forth that goes on emotionally. Questions are raised and they swirl around in our minds as we try to deal with the situation. Do I talk now? What do I say? What if they don’t like my jokes? How can I make some impression? Should I touch their hand? Should I sit closer? Should I back away? Should I try to hide my tension better? Do they know I am nervous? What do they think about me? How can I get to see them again? Is that too pushy? ….

We encounter/desire/need something. There are possible obstacles. We are pushed and pulled between these two poles to the point of tension and stress like a frantic pendulum. This occurs in hundreds of situations every day. Here are a bunch more examples.

  • We need to go to the dentist but are afraid to. But we want relief from tooth pain. We pick up the phone to make an appointment but then decide to do it later and put the phone down. We pick it up again later…
  • We are invited to a party. We will only know 2-3 people there. To go or not? Buy a new set of clothes or not? Bring wine or not?
  • A friend serves us some odd kind of food at a meal. We don’t like the look of it. Eat it or not? Pretend to like it or not?
  • We bang our elbow on a chair in a restaurant where we’ve eaten with a large group of friends. It really hurts and there may be some actual damage. Do we admit the pain? Pretend it never happened? Make a joke about it? Go to a hospital?
  • We receive a gift of a sweater from a friend. It is a hideous chemical orange color. Orange makes us look rather ill. Do we trade it in for a more suitable color? Do we wear it anyways? Do we “re-gift” it elsewhere in the future? Does it end up at Goodwill?
  • A boorish individual at a bar has you cornered. He is talking non-stop about some Caribbean cruise he took and all the sex he had. He is trying to impress one of your friends who likes him. Do you walk away? Do you bring up the matter with your friend? Do you sit and laugh at his sexist bullshit? Do you try to change the subject? Do you confront him?
  • At the grocery store someone with a whole basket full of stuff cuts in line in front of you and says they were there before but just had to get one more thing. Do you ignore it? Do you confront them? Do you chat with them?
  • Your child seems to mope when he comes home from school. He won’t say what’s going on. Do you continue to question him? Do you meet with the teacher? Do you call his friend’s mother and ask some questions? Do you ignore the situation? Do you ask his siblings? Do you check his room or computer usage?
  • Your boss gives you a huge pile of work to do on a Friday afternoon. The deadline is Monday. You had been considering asking for a raise. Do you do the work and give up your weekend? Do you let the boss know that you are only being paid until 5 o’clock? Do you do only what is possible within the time allotted? Do you delegate it elsewhere if possible?

[Have I captured the picture of “social anxiety” well enough? It’s not a few tablets of Paxil that’s going to help this situation in the long run! A huge portion of social anxiety is dealing with approach-avoidance conflicts. ]

Every one of these situations encompasses some kind of approach and related avoidance obstacles. These situations happen in an instant of time and the frantic decision-making is so fast it is generally beyond our conscious perception because we are weighing in so many related factors, trying to judge potential outcomes and work our way into the best possible imagined scenario. There is something we want in the situation, even if it is not to offend a friend, and something to avoid, even if it is food poisoning.

When someone is coming to a dharma center or temple of any kind for the first time they will be experiencing some form of approach-avoidance conflict. For some people this can play out for a considerable time and may even take years to deal with. Any time someone immediately complains about some “foreignness” factor it is likely that has become an obstacle for them and something to be avoided no matter how much they would like to participate. Efforts are then made to change the script to eradicate the apparent obstacle rather than deal with it and make necessary personal adjustments for the sake of the group.

For others that factor is the reason they approach. The enchantment of the new takes over and a honeymoon phase or as mentioned below in the Sutra Thumping section, an all out dharma rapture fundamentalist nightmare occurs. The fear, in that case becomes displaced into “not fitting in properly”, “not being a perfect Buddhist” so an extraordinary effort is made to adhere to the security of the script and to make sure everyone else does as well.

Both extremes are detrimental to the individual and to those around them. In both cases the obstacle is not in the situation but is one they are perceiving within themselves.

On Prosthelytizing

In the Suttas the Buddha did go out and teach and those who came to hear came willingly. He did not seek them out and attempt to convert them nor ask for their obedience or following. He offered something to those who came and particularly to those who invited him to come and teach. If only one or two people came it didn’t matter. He gave them the same quality teaching as when he spoke to crowds.

It was a voluntary thing not a coercive thing. If it rang true with the listener fine, if not then there was no compulsion to make them return.

We might want to consider that in our dharma centers (and churches!). If people are being bugged the minute they walk in the door about memberships, committees, future group activities and getting involved maybe that’s just a little coercive?

If someone asked me a lot of questions, at the end of a sitting or teaching event, such as “Are you coming back?”, “Can we count on you to sign up for membership?” etc. I’d take that as kind of pushy. If no one said anything it would be just as bad. Whereas if someone simply said, “We enjoyed having you with us today. Please come again.”  I’d take that as a real invitation. So perhaps sometimes it is the tone of the situation that determines repeat visits. If Walmart can have greeters why can’t a dharma center? Why can’t some script or protocol be devised for welcoming new members?

Personally I find prosthelytizing quite disrespectful and self-indulgent. It is an attempt to impose our solutions on someone else.

Comfortable Delusion

One of the things that seems to cause some tension is the balance between what the individual wants to accomplish in a Buddhist situation and what the group wants to accomplish. If it is only about the individual’s practice then throwing out any and all rituals, chanting etc. is no problem. (maybe) But when it becomes about the Sangha and their purpose, which I think is what is missing in a lot of Western convert contexts where everyone seems to be there for themselves mostly, then imposing an individual’s desire upon the group is not feasible.

The scripts change over time and over cultures. But there has to be some foundation for group practice before improvisation can really take place and be effective.

To modify a thing you have to have a grasp of what the thing is and how it works and why it’s arranged the way it is. For example if I want to modify a car into a racing machine it would behoove me to understand something about carburetors, headers, dual exhaust, manifolds, intake valves, cam shafts, transmissions and so forth. If I start slapping parts on or taking parts off randomly just because I like the new look or whatever that vehicle isn’t going to go anywhere.

There is a lot of talk about stripping out “cultural baggage” and so forth. This is often touted by those who cling desperately to scientific paradigms. And there is little examination, despite much information available from social science and religious scholars, of the utility of many practices and little understanding of group dynamics and related aspects in many of these calls for Nekkid Buddhism. Who is qualified to determine what is cultural baggage and what is essential?

The reason we come to dharma practice is because something isn’t working out for us with the current foundation. But if we want to recast our practice into the mold of our current foundation how can it work for us? Everything has to be examined including our own preconceptions.

Bonus Quote

Paulo Coelho paulocoelho

Writing is a socially acceptable form of getting naked in public

about 8 hours ago via web

Musical Interlude for Naked Apes

Depeche Mode-Stripped

[Or if you prefer the Rammstein version-I’m digging the lederhosen there.]

Come with me
Into the trees
We’ll lay on the grass
And let the hours pass
Take my hand
Come back to the land
Let’s get away
Just for one day
Let me see you
Stripped down to the bone
Let me see you
Stripped down to the bone
Has nothing on this
You’re breathing in fumes
I taste when we kiss
Take my hand
Come back to the land
Where everything’s ours
For a few hours
Let me see you
Stripped down to the bone
Let me see you
Stripped down to the bone
Let me hear you
Make decisions
Without your television
Let me hear you speaking
Just for me
Let me see you
Stripped down to the bone
Let me hear you speaking
Just for me
Let me see you
Stripped down to the bone
Let me hear you crying
Just for me

fakesmileSmiley Face Buddhism

Fuck it. I don’t even want to go there. See photo at left.

On Following a Bunch of Rules

Here’s something from Twitter today directed at a bunch of other bloggers. The issuer of these tweets doesn’t know any of the parties involved and has not interacted with them beyond this AFAIK. He seems to follow random Buddhist Twitter folks and harass a lot of them about rules and his own personal preferences. If it were simply his own critique I wouldn’t bother mentioning it but many of these statements seem to imply that this fellow is writing on behalf of all Buddhists everywhere.  This seems to apply only to Buddhists and not any one else, to whom he is very well mannered and considerate.

@DhammaLinks Can whoever sent the filth please cease. We read to learn and share the Dhamma not your dirty mouth. Perhaps you can leave us? 7:28 PM Feb 27th

@Bodhipaksa Sorry, I’m a bit confused. You’re listed as a Buddhist practitioner & teacher. You support euthanasia? Perhaps I misunderstood? 2:47 AM Mar 22nd

@Bodhipaksa Re papal resignation? How is this Buddhist exactly? 7:06 PM Mar 24th

@Bodhipaksa re American politics. Sorry to be nuisance, but I’m not sure of relevance of this to Buddhist practice. I’m not even American. 7:11 PM Mar 24th

@BuddhistBuzz Re the f!ck it tweet – this is disgusting and unacceptable! Whoever posted it needs to remember the 4th precept – and now! 7:24 AM Apr 18th

@newsbuddhism What has God (Kansas City Star) have to do with Buddhism? We should not propagate ignorance – there’s enough around already. 8:07 PM May 19th

@ newsbuddhism If you keep sending me same tweets, I will have to do same for you. This is an abuse of Twitter, and can’t be called “news”. 3:59 PM May 20th

@newsbuddhism I have reported your site for spam. Why? Updates mainly links; posting multiple duplicate updates. 6:40 PM May 20th

@monkforamonth I’m sorry “Monk” has your time ended? What’s with the “Divinity” thing? It’s hardly Buddhist from what I understand. 12:48 AM May 24th

@ DhammaLinks What is the relevance of the beer/farting tweet? Use of “Christ” also objectionable. I thought this site was for Dhamma. about 8 hours ago

@ DhammaLinks I suggest you don’t retweet @someguy (name changed). Remarks are offensive and inappropriate on your twitter page. about 8 hours ago

@Barbara_FuShin Sorry, Barb. I just get tired of people calling themselves Buddha & acting the opposite. Need more Metta, need more Metta, n about 3 hours ago

If you don’t like what these people write @gregqbear then UNFOLLOW. It’s not that complicated.

Dharma policing is a difficult business to get into. And once it becomes a habit it’s difficult to get out of.  And there are certainly gradations of it. Does that mean there is no room for criticism or questioning?  I think there is a difference but the line is very fine.

In terms of rules this piece seems to succinctly state the Buddhist position. (thanks again Richard-you have a talent for quotes)

‘A few days ago, Sunakkhatta came to me, saluted me, sat down to one side and said: “Lord, I am leaving the Blessed Lord, I am no longer under the Lord’s rule.” So I said to him: “Well, Sunakkhatta, did I ever say to you: ‘Come, Sunakkhatta, be under my rule’?”
“No Lord.”
“Or did you ever say to me: ‘Lord , I will be under your rule’?”
“No Lord.”
“So, Sunakkhatta, if I did not say that to you and you did not say that to me – you foolish man, who are you and what are you giving up? Consider, foolish man, how far the fault is yours.”

from Patika Sutta

There are quite a few who seem to think that obedience and following within some strict confines, usually defined by them and their interpretation of the Suttas or other texts or accomplished teachers, is not only necessary but requires their moral enforcement as well.

The difference, it seems to me, is that blind obedience to rules or texts or a teacher is a dead end street. Questioning and criticism, even strong criticism,  has a legitimate purpose.

I can think of 3 times since I began this blog that I’ve gone slightly overboard with criticism and my impulses were not primarily to elicit a dialogue but to clobber someone over the head. I am neither proud nor ashamed of that. It was what it was. But usually that’s not what I’m after.

If we make attempts to understand someone else’s viewpoint there will naturally be questions and clarifications. If we have gone too far in some endeavor it is quite likely that there will be a reaction. That’s pretty much the way the world works.

One can dismiss all criticism, take all to heart or consider it from a somewhat analytical viewpoint and check it’s validity. I choose the latter personally.

What I’ve seen over time is that there seems to be two sorts of critics involved in Internet Buddhism.

One seeks only to stifle anything that does not agree with their preconceived notions and the other that is sincerely seeking some kind of response or is expressing some honest reaction. I’ll deal with the former in the next section, Sutra Thumping. But for now I want to write about the more sincere type.

The Buddha treated others like grown ups. They were responsible for their actions and thoughts. He didn’t babysit them. They had to do it themselves. They didn’t hide behind stuff.

To resort to smiley-faces, robes woven of fancy words, fiery torches to keep detractors away all serve to keep reality at bay.  They are defenses. To encounter reality requires vulnerability.

Here’s a bunch of Pema Chodron quotes on that theme:

We don’t get wise by staying in a room with all the doors and windows closed. -Pema Chödrön 8:00 PM May 23rd

The more you’re willing to open your heart, the more challenges come along that make you want to shut it. -Pema Chödrön 4:54 PM May 22nd

The next moment is always fresh and open. You don’t have to get frozen in an identity of any kind. -Pema Chödrön 6:00 AM May 19th

Renunciation is realizing that our nostalgia for wanting to stay in a protected, limited, petty world is insane. 4:20 PM May 13th

There are whole parts of ourselves that are so unwanted that whenever they begin to come up we run away. -Pema Chödrön 4:00 PM May 8th

[A]llow yourself to feel wounded first and then try to figure out what is the right speech and right action that might follow. -Pema Chödrön 8:00 AM Apr 29th

And here’s some Chogyam Trungpa to top it off:

“If the warrior does not feel alone and sad, then he or she can be corrupted very easily. In fact, such a person may not be a warrior at all. To be a good warrior, one has to feel sad and lonely, but rich and resourceful at the same time. This makes the warrior sensitive to every aspect of phenomena: to sights, smells,… sounds, and feelings. In that sense, the warrior is also an artist, appreciating whatever goes on in the world. Everything is extremely vivid. The rustling of your armor or the sound of rain drops falling on your coat is very loud. The fluttering of occasional butterflies around you is almost an insult, because you are so sensitive.” –

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche via Rev. Danny Fisher

Sutra Thumping and Sutra Burning

I don’t want to do a whole post right now on what fundamentalism is or the difference between fundamentalism and serious study and analysis of a subject (briefly the former does not often involve the latter) but I have been seeing a lot of comments around on numerous blogs, particularly Zen blogs about Zen being a cult, people who practice Zen as being almost evil in terms of Buddhism as a whole, the use of the English word nuns instead of bhiksunis as being nearly abominable, anyone who questions rather than wholeheartedly accepts some very questionable statements and actions as being a fundamentalist and so forth. These from people who takes the label Buddhist. The writer of some of these recent comments has no opinion of their own apparently.  They either take some obscure lines of text or just blatantly make statements such as those mentioned without any justification whatsoever and refuse to engage in any sort of dialogue. And often, like some Buddhist spinmeister they throw in some text that is completely unrelated to the post on which they are commenting. (example, example, example, example– these are all the same person machado/panchenlama.  Panchenlama?!?-don’t we already have enough fake Panchen Lamas to go around-not to mention fake tulkus, priests etc)

This kind of destructive dharma (or any scripture) rapture pretty well always burns itself out. There’s absolutely nowhere to go with it. Someone figures they’ve found THE TRUTH and identifies so strongly with it and puts every bit of reason and thinking to rest that they never get much further than the state they engendered in the first place. It satisfies some deep unfulfilled desire and is applied again and again. Sort of like one’s favorite porn video. And as soon as the money shot is taken one has to start getting all lathered up again. (I didn’t intend to psychoanalyze Fred Phelps here but…ahem)

There is another kind of Thumper who isn’t particularly familiar with Sutras or anything related to it. They have enshrined their own view of what Buddhism is and often enshrined themselves as the sole keeper of said truth and anyone who disagrees or questions is some kind of heretic. These are two sides of the same deluded coin.

There is a huge difference between that kind of unthinking commentary and actual rational commentary, questioning and exchange. It seeks to silence anything that does not fall within very narrow and quite distorted parameters. And the amount of hypocrisy that is involved is very obvious.

The reason I tend to use quotes from Sutras and so forth is to insure that my opinion is based in valid Buddhist thought and not just something that I pulled out of my ass as is rather frequent on the Internet. It is first a challenge to myself to justify that my thinking is hovering somewhere in the region of Right View and that the point being made is being made with some modicum of Right Intention and usually only then is it put forward. Some folks seem to misconstrue mention of any text or any deep thinking, examination or contemplation about a topic as fundamentalism. That’s actually anti-intellectualism on their part and is something of a straw man criticism. If we are to just toss crap off the top of our heads without considering it seriously it’s just so much foam on the ocean.

This is relevant in terms of Sangha because it is one of the frequent criticisms among converts. No one wants to do any of the work involved. That doesn’t mean one has to study Pali or something and read texts in the original language.

Chanting in English is not a problem. Nor is a different fashion or seating arrangement.

I’m talking about some deeper issues. Here’s a brief example.

Dukkha translated as suffering suffers in translation. There is a huge section of the literature that explains it. I’ve hit it in a couple of posts in the past so don’t want to repeat all that. If we are not aware of the full meaning of a term how can we apply it to practice. When a concept is at the foundation of what we are doing and we’ve not understood the concept itself how much off kilter will any further work become? That’s the whole point of Right View. It’s about really understanding stuff. Not parroting it, not using it for our own selfish and self-aggrandizing purposes, not hiding behind it, but understanding it.

Music for Fancy-Brained Apes

Peter Gabriel Shock the Monkey

Shock the monkey to life
Shock the monkey to life
Cover me when I run
Cover me through the fire
Something knocked me out’ the trees
Now I’m on my knees
Cover me, darling please
Hey, hey, hey
Monkey, monkey, monkey
Don’t you know you’re gonna shock the monkey
Hey, hey
Fox the fox
Rat on the rat
You can ape the ape
I know about that
There is one thing you must be sure of
I can’t take any more
Darling, don’t you monkey with the monkey
Hey, hey, hey
Monkey, monkey, monkey
Don’t you know you’re gonna shock the monkey
Hey, hey
Shock the monkey
Hey, hey, hey, yeah
Wheels keep turning
Something’s burning
Don’t like it but I guess I’m learning
Shock! – watch the monkey get hurt, monkey
Cover me, when I sleep
Cover me, when I breathe
You throw your pearls before the swine
Make the monkey blind
Cover me, darling please
Hey, hey, hey, yeah
Too much at stake
Ground beneath me shake
And the news is breaking
Shock! – watch the monkey get hurt, monkey
Shock the monkey
Shock the monkey
Shock the monkey to life (repeat 6 times)
Shock the monkey
Shock the monkey to life

13 comments on “Joy of Cluelessness

  1. Hi Nella,

    Wow, we run into the same people. I got some crap (a little and kindly applied) for using the term “Sutra-thumper” when actually I use the term “Sutra-HUMPER”.

    I don’t have issue with those that quote scripture. As you alluded to in your post, some people do it quite well (Bitterroot Badger, Richard from “my Buddha is Pink”) and it can add much to a conversation. I am no expert in either Mahayana Sutras or the Pali Canon so I really appreciate the input from those that are…

    but…it requires commentary and explaination as well as interpretation. Some prefer to cut and paste something and leave it as a comment expecting it to explain everything. It simply doesn’t. I prefer some amount of conversation to go along with it. When it comes to comments on a blog…well the owner of said blog has every reason to trim the fat. I felt rather bad for the individual that was willing to guest post on mine to only receive horrible criticism from “panchenlama” but at the same time we met in a more respectful way by other commenters that disagreed with his views but was kind enough to explain why.

    As per the Twitter thing…I guess I ran into the tail end of that but it is common. I get the same comments from Christian Evangelicals or from some ‘individuals’ that insist on warning me about other ‘individuals’ or someone letting the world know that I “shoot dogs.” Well, I unfollow and ignore. If someone dislikes your conversation then they have every right to pay it no mind.

    The take home is simple. If someone on your twitter-stream, blog or sangha do not add to the conversation, then ignore them.

    And I can’t agree more about the prosyletizing aspect of some religious people (and religions). I can deal with it on one level with some Christian sects but when it becomes as standard Buddhist practice, I need to just walk away.

    Cheers and great post!


    • Hi John
      The quoting really does need context. There’s a lot of that on Brad Warner’s blog. Huge sections of Shobogenzo and the like with no explanation. I just skip them. In the course of a conversation though it can give additional perspective.
      And sometimes it seems commenters don’t realize that there is a conversation taking place since they don’t read anyone else’s comments. Then some just don’t give a shit and only want to fill the place up with their “big personality” and to hell with everyone else. (I just used that phrase on Justin’s blog and have taken a liking to it)(and you know I have someone in mind when I am saying that-his title is as big as his “personality”)
      That person who commented on your blog and elsewhere was pretty over the top. She appears to dislike you and anyone who has anything to do with you or Zen. She’s welcome to comment here too but we all know how that would probably go!

      The option to ignore seems to be one few people imagine. Sometimes one has to even tell them that. Hanging on to other people’s or one’s own mental ejaculations is kind of icky.

      Someone needs to invent blog condoms.

      • I love this whole blog thing but it really needs to be about (if not polite) then mindful conversation. I am all about people disagreeing with me but please explain why and remember that when on my blog you are in my house. If I invited someone into my home for talk and tea, it will not last too long if I receive nothing but quotes and bad attitude.

        In this online world we seem to forget the option to ignore (and erase) these people, an option I seem to take more and more.


        PS. The PG version of the header seems even more profane.

      • hahaha! i like the updated banner!

        “There is a lot of talk about stripping out “cultural baggage” and so forth. This is often touted by those who cling desperately to scientific paradigms. And there is little examination, despite much information available from social science and religious scholars, of the utility of many practices and little understanding of group dynamics and related aspects in many of these calls for Nekkid Buddhism. Who is qualified to determine what is cultural baggage and what is essential?”

        I think a lot of this stems from the convert community, having just shunned one religon, being reluctant to replace it with another one. For many, I think there is an initial feeling of hypocracy in trading one religion for another, given their reasoning (usually… uh.. this whole Christian thing doesn’t make sense/isn’t based in reality) for leaving their previous religion in the first place.

        Now take into account that Eastern thought in general is very different (just different, not better/worse) and those that initially seek the dharma find themselves with some real barriers to overcome. And as you’ve said, it’s very difficult to throw away one’s script in favor of the great wide open. So why shouldn’t there be an avenue for those that feel like they’ll never “get” Buddhism, but feel that for some reason, a part of them is called towards it?

        Throwing out the cultural “baggage” (a term I think is mostly silly except when it comes to Polka music) isn’t the answer, but I don’t know what is. Some people are able to dive right in, throwing out their pre-concieved notions of what Buddhism “should be”, while others get stuck behind that wall. The compassionate thing to do (IMO) is to help those that aren’t able to get passed that wall, but without Super-sizing the dharma or proselytizing. How does one doe that?

        I dunno. Still thinking about the boobs.

  2. Nella, that one single quote sums it up.

    “The more you’re willing to open your heart, the more challenges come along that make you want to shut it. -Pema Chödrön ”

    Tell people what it is.

    Because I am still going through approach avoidance and here is why.

    I am scared to practice.

    Because the times when I have tried, stuff blew up in my face that hurt like fucking hell.

    Exactly the way Pema states it in the quote.

    One thing we get living in this modern world is the luxury of assuming stuff is manageable.

    Its worth pausing to consider that Buddha and both his lay followers and monks endured the following:

    Chronic pain from toothache

    Lowered vitality from malaria and parasite infections

    Going to bed night after night, hungry to the core

    Mass death from famines and epidemics with no incoming help from Doctors Without Borders

    No pain relief for childbirth or post childbirth complications

    Going through many, many deaths in the family and neighborhood before reaching age 10.

    Jon Krakauer, in his forties, was on an Everest expedition hit by a blizzard on the summit. Many members of his team died. One man was left crippled.

    Krakauer said, in his book, Into Thing Air, that prior to that episode, he had never been to a funeral.

    Ponder this. He had reached his early forties and had never been to a funeral.

    This would have been unthinkable in Buddhas time.

    And Krakauer admitted in his book that the worst mistake made by the guides was to assume that Everest was manageable.

    • Things are rarely what we think they are because our thinking alone is too limited. And we get all wrapped up in it. Like it’s important for the entire existence of the universe.
      The more I practice the broader I find my perspective becoming. That’s a huge relief when freaky stuff happens because the context is much bigger than just what’s hammering away in my brain.
      As you mentioned stuff blows up. I have found it useful to look away from the specific stuff and look directly at the pain/fear/agitation or whatever. I made a couple of posts a while back on this. The titles start with Dialogue.

      I am thinking to do a few more of these. One specifically about fear. By doing this I am trying to befriend these aspects/emotions/states and get a better understanding of them when they arise. I got the idea from a lot of Chogyam Trungpa’s teachings on being a friend with yourself. That has to include these unpleasant things as well.
      It has been helpful to me to do it this way-getting out of the specifics since then whatever I discover is useful in a multitude of circumstances. And when these states arise again they are not so hurtful or alarming or unpleasant. They are just reactions.
      I don’t know how it would work for yourself or others but it’s good for me.

  3. I’d never known Peter Gabriel was ever so Punk. I would lunge as to demand more punk, if I wasn’t so passive-aggressive ><

    • I think Peter Gabriel is a fairly subversive individual. Not only socially but in terms of psychology as well. Turning whatever is established on it’s head. Part of making art really.

  4. It’s so good to see a blog that discusses Buddhism and painful shyness–

    For me Buddhist practice (along with 12 Step programs) is what finally helped me to heal this problem.

    Along the same lines here is a good article (from the same 12 Step program) on Meditation and Social Anxiety

  5. (finally getting around to commenting)

    Our friend M.F.Machado stopped by my blog as well this week. But she (I think she’s a she) seems to have gone easy on me (a soft spot for Theravadin types maybe):

    I don’t know if it’s built into Buddhism or just in Western folks coming to Buddhism (one thing I’ve found in studying Buddhism is that ‘Buddhists’ have been squabbling amongst themselves since the get-go; this is not a new thing), but there IS a ton of judgmentalism (new word?) popping up. I’ve seen it in myself at times, in close friends, on blogs, all over (of course I might just be projecting when it comes to others’ comments, but hey, if it walks like its judgmental and talks like its judgmental…).

    Anyhow, as I said on my blog: Okay.

    LOOOOOVE the Peter Gabriel! (and the boob header is awesome too, damned censors).

Comments are closed.