A New Year’s Message for the Drop-outs

I was going through old mail files which included various notifications over the years from Twitter, Facebook, blog comments and so forth and came across a lot of names that haven’t been present in the blogosphere or on the Internet in general for quite a while. I do know from my statistics and so forth that some of you might be reading this.

There’s nothing that says anyone who has participated in online activities has to continue doing so. I read recently of one group who is targeting “backsliders”, that is those who haven’t participated for a while. Personally I don’t care for that approach. There’s nothing worse than forced participation in anything. Especially if one’s heart can’t be in it or if one is doing it only due to group pressure. Then it becomes fake.

And I notice quite a number have either closed their blogs or have recently announced their closure. Same deal. Go with what is moving you at present. And I do hope that the reason for such closures and unparticipation is due to these life movements and not from other causes.

Especially I hope that if there were “incidents” it does not cause you to give up your Buddhist practice. What is online is not necessarily representative of the whole of Buddhism by any means. It is the sharper edge, the louder crowd in many instances. That’s not for everyone. It’s hard for people particularly if they have a more sensitive nature.

I just want to let you know that I do think about you all. Not just during the time I was doing mail clean up but at other times as well. I wonder “Where is…now?” or “I hope…is doing OK.”

Maybe you feel like you were forgotten or trampled over by the more vociferous. Maybe few people visited your blog or responded to comments you left. Or maybe you’ve just got better things to do.

Whatever the case I just wanted to let you know that your presence was noticed as is your absence. I hope you have a good year and that withdrawal from online participation does not equate with withdrawal from  all that Buddhism can bring about in your life.

7 comments on “A New Year’s Message for the Drop-outs

  1. Yeah, the Buddhoblogosphere is a tough crowd. In my experience, basement-dwelling anti-social computer game geeks with massive Asperger’s tendencies are a lot better at resolving interpersonal dramas than self-proclaimed online Buddhists. Go figure. We’re just bastards, I guess.

    • The flame wars on Usenet, way back when, come to mind. Got in many (even with 14 year olds)-pretty much all resolved in a day or two. And hey I’m writing from a basement right now!

      Much of what goes on is about conformity and insecurity. Putting on a Buddhist label. I have a whole set of sub-categorizations for this behavior…what it sometimes comes down to is wanting to be seen as Buddhist but not actually wanting to deal with Buddhism at all.

      Like some people find a usefulness in meditation but want to call that alone Buddhism, then they want to take anything that doesn’t conform to that personal use of meditation as a tool for other purposes and throw it out. That’s where we get the “cultural baggage” , “serenity”, “anti-dogma” “Buddhism as psychology” crowds. Just like the hard core atheists and Christianity-an all or nothing type of scenario. Most Christians aren’t fundamentalists just like most Buddhists aren’t dogmatists. But be a little knowledgeable about the religion you profess and the label shows up.

      And then there’s the resentfulness. That’s what astounds me. I’ve seen it in person as well at some places I’ve visited over the years too (never went back). There’s like this sense that people feel threatened by anyone coming on their “turf” which sometimes expands so as to include Buddhism itself. And frankly this has only happened to me in convert communities. It’s so freakin’ clubby and competitive and this has gotten much worse over the decades. I’ve never experienced that in all my years in Asia, which is probably why I spend so much time there.

      Sure there’s times of being cognizant of being an outsider and even hassle about it in everyday interactions but not within a religious context. Of course there’s some stuff about Buddhism in Asia that’s crap-these are long-standing institutional problems, not problems with some deficiency within the dharma-but most of those who comment on it either have never experienced it themselves nor do they have any knowledge of the history or the culture involved. It’s just a blanket condemnation in Western terms of the whole situation being somehow sub-par.

      And the same institutional problems are being forged in the west as well. Those and a whole host of others.

      Way back when people were not so sure of themselves and everyone who read one watered down interpretation of some aspect of Buddhism didn’t declare themselves an expert on all things Buddhist, there were some really nice groups I encountered. People just doing practice sincerely without artifice in somebody’s basement or wherever they could. There’s probably still groups like that around but they are not common especially where the big shows come to town. Everybody gets competitive-bigger accommodation, better artwork on the altar, nicer cushions, more variety, advertisements in Tricycle, more adherents needed to pay for it. This is not spreading the dharma but incorporating the consumerist ethic into the dharma.

      So then things like the ethical portion of the Buddhist “menu” go by the wayside, as well as explanations of cognitive processes, the history, sociological contexts and meanings, even the Sutras themselves are seen as superfluous to this watered down “expert” knowledge.

      Then there’s those who know stuff, usually teachers, who can pull all kinds of obscure references out of their asses but have not comprehended what they actually mean. Maybe they are even fluent in some Asian languages. This is impressive. So they wallow in that kind of “expert” spotlight and still don’t know the meaning of the words they speak so eloquently.

      This is especially true in Zen.

      No I don’t think we’re bastards, even the more bastardly seeming ones. What has been missing, and is still missing is

      -strong, ethical, knowledgeable leadership in the dharma.
      -Buddhist education of all types
      -a future vision that incorporates the past rather than a focus on trying to emulate or recreate the past
      -grassroots participation in leadership decisions
      -a leadership group that is actually concerned with the future of Buddhism, particularly Zen, which is less of a country club, ivory tower, self-congratulating, damage-control spinning group.

      There’s way more points I could put but this is only a comment. On the latter point you should see the application form to get into the AZTA (American Zen Teacher’s Association). It’s so comprehensive you’d think that it was developed by the CIA for top secret security clearance. And all that for a group that is “little more than a listserv”??? The point is exclusion from the club, plain and simple. This is of course disguised as “standards” but considering what has, is and continues to go on in the American Zen community “standards” are one of the biggest jokes around.

      Maybe I’ll cop some of this comment into a blog post.

      Bastardy aren’t I?

      • Going back to the old listservs, there seems to be something about “zen” that really attracts a lot of weirdness. As I recall, the general Buddhism forums weren’t too bad, but any group that had the word “zen” in the title just seemed to attract every kind of troll. I’ve no idea why this is. Maybe “zen” becomes like a Rorchach inkblot for all kinds of mental garbage. Frankly, I’d never use the word “zen” in the title of any group or center if I could help it, but can you imagine some of the applications the AZTA must get?!

        There could well be other dynamics involved, but filtering out the weirdness must take a pretty comprehensive application process.

        Anyway, more importantly, thanks for speaking out and insisting on the importance of ethical standards and accountability; people new to Buddhism really need to know that the crap that’s been going on isn’t some kind of “enlightened” behavior.

        • For quite some time, and even presently that word Zen has been at the extreme ends of some kind of semantic continuum for a long time. It’s either come to mean a zombie-like serenity or raving lunacy.

          I understand that screening for any organization is important. However in this instance it strikes me as very odd that an organization that is “little more than a listserv” with no mandate, authority, charter, officers, legal standing or formal organization would bother with such rigorous entrance standards. It’s like one performs this Sisyphian task to get in and finds out they really are nowhere. Or maybe that’s the “Zen” of the thing.

      • Buddhism in its social aspect looks a bit like one of those steamy jungles crawling with things from the adventure books I read as a kid. Towering trees dominate, but they’re strangled with vines and rot and fungus and bugs. Every once in a while one of them falls, and suddenly new, fresh green shoots spring up.

        I have a feeling ‘Buddhism’ was no great shakes in T’ang China when the Emperor had his own National Teacher either. Someone could’ve produced a list of problems uncannily like yours then, I’m sure.

        But then there was Rinzai, teaching at an obscure run-down temple somewhere in the provinces, with about a dozen students.

        So the wheel turns.

        But it wouldn’t if somebody wasn’t there to hack at the rotting hulking giants and tear down the strangling vines, even if you get accused of being ‘fundamentalist’ in the process. That’s not so bad. A T’ang emperor would just have beheaded you instead.

        Real, actual fundamentalism is a different problem, of course. There’s some of that around too, but not all that much AFAICT.

  2. Dear NellaLou,

    I found your blog via the Blogisattva awards event. I really enjoy your writings. Thanks for Smiling Buddha Cabaret.


    – roy.

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