All Consuming Anger

…What are they mad about, exactly? They have no idea. What do they want to do to change it? No clue. From whence does their timorous fear and dread come? They can’t quite say. Perfect.

This is aimless, abortive outrage in its purest form, just infantile rage aimed straight into the Void, like a baby that has every comfort and hug and blankie imaginable but still screams like a banshee, wailing and squirming at the sheer terror of … well, of merely existing. Of being alive. Inhaling and exhaling, over and over again, trying to make sense of it all, somehow, even just a tiny little bit, in a glorious neverending tinkling hellride of pure existential terror, until you die.

from I am outraged! Are you not outraged? By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist

That kind of hyperbole is always good for a laugh. Even though he is describing some attributes of current American culture, especially regarding the Tea Party, the tone is certainly wafting about in a lot of other places as well.

Everyone is all angered up with nowhere to go.

And grabbing a piece of the anger pie

Anger as a new kind of commodity fetish. Not a spiritual materialism but an emotional consumerism. And the object, in a peculiar circular fashion seems to be consumer goods themselves.

I was both amused and dismayed to look at some recent petitions and requests.

Slap A QR Code On That Product So That People Can Like It– by coding everything within our sensory experience it can be commodified in that particular facebooky way by the ubiquitous “Like”

Save the Sunchips Bag-greenwashing consumerism.

Allow Access for Overseas Idoling!!! Fans-is there anything more important on the geopolitical front than who wins American Idol?

But what else can we spend our manufactured anger on?

Disinhibition With or Without the Internet

There is a meme going around, supported by some psychological experts, that the Internet has unleashed a torrent of disinhibition. This means that people are not taking the time to consider what they are doing or why they are doing it on the Internet.

The more staunch critics seem to think it’s the Internet’s fault that people behave in a rash, stupid, cruel or destructive manner. Some of this came up in a discussion on the Tricycle blog a little while back in a post called Why We Fight Online.

There is one article that outlines a whole lot of effects attributed to the Internet, on-line spaces and social media. The author John Suler writes in The Online Disinhibition Effect:

It’s well known that people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t ordinarily say or do in the face-to-face world.

This little piece of folk wisdom, aka assumption, underlies much of the criticism of the Internet. It is my contention that what appears on the Internet is not much different than what happens in real life. The only factor that makes it more visible is that it is recorded in some manner.

So let me give you some of those recordings of real life situations to illustrate. The people involved were definitely not on the Internet and mostly did not know they were being recorded in these public places. There are tens of thousands of this kind of video. The disinhibition displayed is not Internet related.

 

There are signs in the buses in Vancouver, for example,  which state that people will be removed from the bus for disruption which includes “No foul, insulting, abusive, or inappropriate language.”, spitting or disorderly conduct. Their complete list of rules and regulations is here.  These buses are now equipped with cameras which capture the numerous incidents.

If such situations were not fairly common there would not be much reason to come up with codified rules and penalties and legislation to back them up.

 

 

How many times has someone given the finger to others on the freeway? Or engaged in other forms of road rage?

The incidents in classrooms are numerous and serious.

Sports is a catalyst for competitive disinhibition.

Hard to say who is disinhibited here. The anonymity of police uniforms, as well as the confusion of some of the people caught in a situation which they do not seem to understand and the tension caused by the security situation of the G20 conference are all contributing factors.

The point is that increasing disinhibition is a global phenomenon, prompted in some cases by the anonymity of crowds in general, and may be possibly influenced by media as a whole but it is just as likely to be influenced by local situations and people’s own confusion in those situations. To make grandiose claims that the Internet in and of itself has such effects is a very limited viewpoint and doesn’t take into account what people are actually doing on a day to day basis.

Disinhibition is hardly a new thing. There have historically been periods of more or less disinhibition. The 1920s had quite a disinhibited culture possibly as a reaction to the Victorianism of previous decades and the current situation came to the fore in the 1960s. Woodstock, Altamont, Vietnam, Kent State, civil rights movement, the Weathermen, radical academia, Hippies and Yippies all contributed to the larger Zeitgeist. And later movements and events in music, society and due to geo-political and economic situations added to this. That might include, just randomly, televised wars,  the fall of the Berlin Wall, punk, domestic terrorism (Red Brigade, FLQ, IRA, etc.), sexual liberation, paparazzi, post-modern philosophy, hip-hop, Glasnost, the Lewinski-Clinton scandal, reactions to the stringency of Reagan and Thatcher, increasing globalization as well as the much later popularization of the Internet.

People have been throwing off social constraints over the past 5 decades. And conversely there have been reactions to the insecurity this has wrought among the more staid types of individuals and groups. This appears in the form of Moral Majority, increasing fundamentalism, over-legislation, censorship and other ways that the power brokers within the status quo (the term itself is a contradiction since nothing stays the same) establishment attempt to stifle change and disinhibition which is a characteristic of that change.

The main thing the Internet is doing is documenting what is going on in many people’s lives. If one has the luxury of not encountering such behavior on a regular basis then quite likely it may appear that the Internet is sometimes a wild place. Some even posit that cyberspace is something we are creating, as if it were something made from nothing. A creation with no origins. Those origins are in the off-line world. The world is a wild place and that realization may be brought to bear on the sheltered via the Internet but the Internet itself is not the cause.

The Internet may be contributing to the speed of change and it may be documenting change but it seems too often to be the scapegoat in the explanations for change, particularly behavioral change,  itself.

We have to make some peace with our technology and look a  lot deeper than that.

Addendum

While I was taking a walk after writing this another thought occurred. There is an awful lot of hope and faith  placed upon technology and science. The notion that somehow technology is a signifier of civilization, progress and advancement prevails. It is socially evolutionary. It is the future, here today. It is the next leap forward. Another giant step for mankind.   Along with that is the assumption that somehow users of this technology and those knowledgeable and particularly trained in science have cornered the market on rational progressive behavior. There is a view that the Internet is supposed to be one of the greatest achievements of civilization. Users of the Internet are expected by many to tailor their behavior to fit into that delusional paradigm despite the context in which they happen to live outside of that. Cyberspace as holy ground for rationality and the evolved silicon-superman, the uber-cybermensch. Seems McLuhan wasn’t far off when he talked about the medium being the message. This medium, to which so many dreams, assumptions, delusions, expectations are pinned is shaping the message, but that message is only a distorted mirror constructed by the actuality of the users in their attempts to rebel against or escape from what passes for reality off-screen.  [There will be more on this in an upcoming post.]

Musical Accompaniment

U2-With or Without You

Sex and the Sangha:Update

This is a followup to previous articles including Sex and the Sangha:Forgiveness, Retribution or Justice

The following has been recently posted on the Zen Studies Society ethical guidelines page:

The Zen Studies Society acknowledges that there have been occurrences of improper relationships between teachers and students. In the past, attempts to address concerns about such relationships were not satisfactory. The present board has revised and posted the following Guidelines for Ethical Behavior, including a grievance procedure. The board is adamant that these guidelines be upheld. The board also wishes to begin a process of reconciliation. If you are reading this and feel your concerns have not been acknowledged or heard, please contact a member of the ethics committee. On July 4, 2010, Eido Shimano Roshi and Aiho-san Shimano, who served the Zen Studies Society Board of Directors for the past forty-two years, voluntarily stepped down from the board to facilitate a smooth transition of both temporal authority and spiritual legacy.

July 14, 2010
Apparently the bolded lines above have now been commented out. Here is the current page code (13:37 PDT) which indicates the words are still there but have been set so they don’t display.To access this on the ZSS website go to View in your browser and select Page Source.

Here is a screenshot of the code with the original statement intact. Click on it to read it more clearly.

Notes:

On Bhante Sujato’s blog he has written “On “Sex and the Sangha” and the displacement of pain” which was based on my original post mentioned above. It is a really well thought out read on the dysfunctional aspects of Sangha including the bhikkuni ordination issue in which he is involved. As well there have been many useful comments.

One comment in particular by Linda struck me as pertinent to the above situation and the various discussions going on about it at Robert Aitken Roshi’s blog, Genkaku’s blog and on Zen Forum International.

Linda wrote:

“What i am objecting to is the misuse of “Dhammic” language and ideology in a way that perpetuates suffering.”

Excellent point, Bhante. Unfortunately this seems to happen quite a bit, not only in the ordained sangha, but also among some western (probably others too but I’m speaking from my experience) lay teachers and other practitioners who misuse “Dhammic” language to justify thinking and behavior that is actually just very unexamined and/or “shadow” based. I’ve personally seen this and have also seen the untold damage it can cause.

Ahhh, delusion is a mightily slippery, elusive and powerful force for us all, isn’t it? How to see what we can’t see?

But when group dynamics, community structures, and group-think become increasingly insular, narrow and unresponsive to feedback, combined with dynamics such as undue influence from others one is close to, blaming, other forms of projection (inc. both transference and counter-transference–quite natural but dangerous when unexamined), the (very human) desire to belong, the tendency to control or even ‘get rid of’ those seen as difficult (or those who ‘push one’s buttons’) or just misguided personal perceptions and unwillingness and/or inability to look at one’s own personal and/or group’s shadow issues, it can be particularly difficult to investigate… and very dangerous.
Dysfunctional, dynamics are not even seen, let alone examined or adequately addressed. And much pain ensues…. (I am speaking from my own experience being in a situation like this, and also from working professionally with groups and organizations, not from having actually lived in WPP communities, so this is not specifically about them.)

I guess we would all like to hope for and expect more (in terms of “enlightened” behavior and group dynamics, willingness to listen and examine things deeply, good communication, etc) in spiritual groups/communities, but unfortunately all the worldly dhammas, shadow issues, projection, and group dynamics still exist, and sometimes it seems such groups are no more capable of examining and addressing them than most secular/wordly groups and organizations are (sometimes less so). And even worse, most anything can be justified by whatever view (even the most so-called “spiritual” ones) one wishes to use to justify it. Somehow it seems even worse when “spiritual” views/”teachings”/ideology are used… perhaps because there’s an even greater incongruence, and also because it can get much more subtle and thus more difficult to see the actual issues and problems.

And sadly, in these types of conditions within groups, the worst in each other can get unconsciously fostered, not the best… (not to say the latter doesn’t happen as well at times).

Of course most of these dynamics operate individually as well (e.g. areas one wants to protect, difficult things to see or be with in oneself and the subtle ways one can avoid those, places of fear, contraction, defensiveness, blaming, etc). At least they come up in me! In fact, the deeper I look and the more I practice, the more I see how subtle it can be, and also how difficult at times…

Investigating these areas seems like such an important part of the practice… the process of continually examining one’s views, mind-states, intentions and actions (and the effect they have on both oneself and others) on all levels from the most blatant to the most subtle. And not only individually, but also the willingness to address these issues as a group in terms of group dynamics. Takes a lot of courage, reflection, and radically deep honesty…. and wholehearted (and whole-life) practice, doesn’t it?

This video of Ajahn Brahm on Dealing with Difficult People is great. He discusses the problems authority and the intrinsic attitudes that accompany it as well as the setup of monastic and related Buddhist institutions. Well worth watching.

“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.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Addendum:
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