Passing On the Blogisattva Award-an Open Letter to the Buddhist Blogging Community

Dear Friends,

Early morning Dec. 13: I was sitting at Delhi airport waiting to board my flight which was scheduled for 4AM. With time to fill I was looking around the Internet on my laptop and decided to check out the Blogisattva website. Turns out I had won one of the awards, in the category Best Engage-the-World Blog, from the six categories in which I had been nominated. I looked at that list:

  • Best Engage-the-World Blog
  • Best Achievement Blogging Opinion Pieces or Political Issues
  • Best Blogging on Matters Philosophical, Psychological or Scientific
  • Best Achievement in Skilled Writing
  • Post of the Year!  For the post: Sex and the Sangha:Forgiveness, Retribution or Justice
  • Blog of the year, Svaha!


What kind of reaction to have to all that?


So I got on my flight, slept a couple of hours until it touched down briefly in Bangkok, ate a little breakfast on the plane and slept again until I reached Hong Kong where I had another few hours to pass. I wandered through the airport, looking for one of those airport massage set ups since my neck was stiff and painful due to both sleeping on the plane and the building results of a case of whiplash which occurred due to an accident we had on the way to Delhi the day before. Someone talking on a cell phone had clobbered us soundly from behind, causing damage to the car and two of the four passengers including me. The other injured person, my landlord’s uncle who was catching a ride to Delhi with us to visit his newly married daughter and see her new home for the first time, had bumped his head.

There is a massage/Chinese medicine outlet in the HK airport but it was a little too busy at the time and I didn’t feel like waiting around for an appointment, which may or may not have been completed by the time I had to board my next flight.

So I connected to the airports excellent, very high speed, free public wireless (YVR take a lesson) and checked my email. A note from my sister informed me that my uncle had just died.

I had just chatted on Facebook with my aunt the morning before I left home for the trip to Delhi and she had let me know that his condition, due to a stroke in June, had deteriorated and he hadn’t been wanting to eat any more. He didn’t want to participate in any kind of rehabilitation for the effects of the stroke since it happened. A lot of family members and friends had tried to encourage him but he had just given up upon realizing the paralysis of one side of his body.

These events set me to thinking about the months, as a teenager, that I had gone to live with that particular aunt and uncle in northern Canada, up near Flin Flon Manitoba. It was a tumultuous time in my life and I was not getting along with the rest of my family so to be in a new environment was really quite welcome (for everyone).

My flight was called and for the next 12 hours on the way to Canada, between naps, the distraction of a movie and meals, attempts to exercise my increasingly stiff neck, recalling things left undone and to some extent unsettled back in India, anticipating holiday travel plans to visit relatives including my aunt, there was a fair bit of turmoil going on in my mind.

Upon reaching Vancouver the jet lag of an 11 hour time change and the full on effects of the whiplash set in as I plowed through months of mail, unpacked, got laundry done, arranged further holiday travel and about a thousand other things.

So interspersed with these highlights from my past week’s life stream was the thought that I ought to address this Blogisattva situation.  Considering that I had made some amount of noise about the advisability of this kind of competition on this blog in the posts The Buddhist Contest in 2008 (Yes I gave Tom a little grief about it in the past-so the current curators needn’t feel singled out) and Blogisattvas last June, as well as comments elsewhere there is some amount of, if not irony, then oddness about both being nominated and winning something.

I am highly ambivalent about awards because there is always a certain amount of subtext either immediately present or implied or imagined somewhere down the line. This subtext in this instance involves the Good/Bad Buddhist dichotomy, convert Buddhist stereotypes, the advisability of competition in the Buddhist endeavor, the potential of misdirected intentions, sensations of inadequacy-either Buddhist or writerly for being unmentioned, sensations of grandiosity-either Buddhist or writerly for being mentioned…the latter two reminds me of a little Voltaire quote that often applies to competition type situations:

The only reward to be expected from the cultivation of literature is contempt if one fails and and hatred if one succeeds.

Such a situation is only beneficial for practice if one is willing to wrestle with it and one’s own competitive feelings. The competitive feelings of others are for them to wrestle.

Uku wrote in his blog post Why I don’t like blog contests and awards:

I don’t think this world needs celebrity-awards-contests-glamour-shit.

I don’t think the world “needs” that either but it’s here so it has to be dealt with.

Socially one is expected to follow a gracious script of acceptance upon receipt of recognition. I have been kind of stuck deciding if I want to play against the script about this award situation or not. In seeking the answer to that dilemma a few questions arose that I had to address. These are things like:

Is there such a thing as healthy competition? I don’t really think so. I have yet to see one example of competition where all, or even the majority of the participants feel satisfied with the outcome. If someone can name one such situation I’ll be happy to reconsider that position.

How are any of these categories quantifiable? To  make a comparison between things there has to be some kind of criteria. And to be fair it has to be somewhat objective. There would be some distinguishing characteristics by which to judge. We have the 32 marks of the Buddha, either taken literally or metaphorically, but what are the 32 marks of “best blogging”? And with such an amorphous blog subject matter as “Buddhist”.

What does “engage the world” mean? The only time one is disengaged from the world is if they’re dead, so I don’t understand this category fully.

What am I doing here on this blog and why am I doing it? This blog is like a form of dana to me. The giving of what few gifts I have. Maybe not always the nicest gift sometimes but that’s what’s within my means at that particular moment.  If such a gift is not appropriate for someone they are free to pass it on or just pass on it.  That’s pretty much my theme today.

I am being “participated” here whether I choose to be or not. It’s a situation based on the decisions of others to put it another way. Quite a few things in life are like that. If my taxi driver decides to quit his job while we’re stopped at a red light then it’s likely I won’t get to my destination. If my grocer has an argument with a supplier then it’s possible my favorite cheese won’t be available. If a friend decides to make dinner for me then I’m going to be well fed or vice versa. Someone may decide to strap on a suicide bomb and blow it up at the market I’m visiting that day. Someone may decide to give me a winning lottery ticket for Christmas. It gets complicated when thought about in those terms.

Now I am not ungrateful for the nominations. That is a gift of sorts also. I feel the intention. So to those who chose to enter my name in the contest I accept under those terms. Thanks.

As for winning in this specific category I am neither going to fully accept nor fully decline. Nor am I going to follow the gracious script or play against it. I am going to rewrite it.

I want to give this award away.

And the blogger I want to give it to is Bhante Sujato.

He writes Sujato’s Blog:Buddhism for a small world: views and opinions and you can follow him on Twitter @sujato for blog updates.  What he can do with a recycled, or is it regifted, Blogisattva Award I don’t know but he seems to be a resourceful person so I’m sure he’ll think of something.

I’m not doing this to try to make some kind of karmic merit, that manifestation of some kind of imaginary spiritual currency that in some situations pays off alleged debts or stokes the spiritually materialist egoic notions of accumulation. I don’t know Bhante Sujato, never met him and probably never will.  He’s not my teacher or even an acquaintance.

But he really walks the talk.

Bhante Sujato is a student of Ajahn Brahm’s in Australia. Here is a full biography.

Bhante Sujato (Anthony Best) was born in Perth, Western Australia on 4/11/1966. He was brought up in a liberal Catholic family and attended a Christian Brothers’ school. Impressed by the profound visions of the world opened up through science, and especially the Theories of Relativity, he rejected his Catholic beliefs while in his teens.

He read philosophy and literature at the University of Western Australia for two years, but left to play rock n’ roll guitar. Together with the singer Peggy van Zalm, he formed Martha’s Vineyard, a successful indie band in the late eighties, which however broke up before realizing its potential.

After a number of years drifting around the alternative music scene, he became disillusioned and, needing a drastic change, went to Thailand in 1992. There, despite having no previous experience of Buddhism, he fell into an intensive retreat at a monastery in Chieng Mai. Afterwards he began to seek ways to embody and deepen the insights offered by this experience. Within a year he had arrived at Wat Pa Nanachat, the International Forest Monastery run for and by English-speaking monks in the tradition of Ajahn Chah. He asked for and was granted novice ordination, and in the following year took full ordination as a bhikkhu on 5/5/1994.

He spent three vassa studying under Ajahn Brahm at Bodhinayana Monastery, and several years in remote hermitages and caves in Thailand and Malaysia.  In early 2003 Bhante Sujato returned to Australia, arriving at the property then known as the Citta Bhavana Hermitage. The decision was made to develop the hermitage into a training monastery, and the name was changed to Santi Forest Monastery. Since that time the monastery has grown rapidly and has accomplished a number of milestones, including the first samaneri ordination on 9th Mar 2008 and many bhikkhu upasampatha, not to mentioned the various completed or on going building projects and many more future projects pertaining to the financial situation.

The vision for the monastery has always included a role for nuns, and Bhante Sujato has become well known for his articulate and passionate support for the fully ordained bhikkhuni lineage, the most pressing controversy within contemporary Theravada Buddhism.

The main influences in Bhante Sujato’s spiritual development have been threefold. Most obvious is the lifestyle of the forest tradition in which he was immersed. This demanded a strict application of the Buddhist monk’s code of discipline (Vinaya) and the repeated reminder that one’s entire life must be dedicated to the practice.

The second great influence was the Buddha’s early teachings. Having spent nearly ten years studying the canonical Pali scriptures, he became increasingly aware of the outstanding and little-known fact of the existence of thousands of parallel passages in Chinese, Sanskrit, and Tibetan texts. This congruence is regarded as the single most important historical clue to the Buddha’s original message, and Bhante Sujato has taken the lead in introducing cross-tradition text studies to the Buddhist community.

The third major spiritual influence comes from his two main meditation teachers. From the little-known Thai monk Ajahn Maha Chatchai he learnt the practice of loving-kindness that still forms the backbone of his own meditation and teaching. From Ajahn Brahm he learnt especially how to understand this practice within the overall context of the Buddha’s path. In recent years Bhante Sujato has taught Dhamma and meditation to a varied audience in his local area and internationally, and has spoken at several major international Buddhist conferences and events.

His writings explore the earliest Buddhist scriptures, using a comparative and historical approach to illuminate the process of formation of Buddhist ideology and identity; books include A Swift Pair of Messengers, A History of Mindfulness, Beginnings, and Sects & Sectarianism.

A special field of interest is the role of women in Buddhism, and particularly in the revival of the bhikkhuni order within the Theravada tradition. Bhante Sujato brings his text-critical faculties to bear on this urgent modern dilemma, in addition to his work in actually establishing a bhikkhuni community at Santi.

He has acted and spoken fearlessly on supporting the bhikkhuni ordination. He had explicitly expressed his genuine wish…in the statement, “My vocation is to work with the international Sangha for the establishment of the four-fold community worldwide. I think we need to accept that this is where the future lies.”

-from the old Santipada site (the new site, with writings is here–Santipada is the production of the Santi Forest Monastery in Australia)

Bhante Sujato was one of those involved with the bhikkhuni ordination that took place last year and caused such furor in Thailand. He has written a lot about that on his blog.

He also writes about other topics that are pretty important including consumerism, progressive politics, environment, drug legalization, Thai vinaya reform, pornography, poverty, fundamentalism, Christianity and interreligious dialogue, sexism, racial issues, gender issues, schisms within Theravada, philosophy, psychology, consumerism, human rights, world events, ethics, freedom and of course Buddhist practice.

When someone is part of an establishment and has given over their life to fulfill the principles of that establishment, to go against it based on the uneasiness of conscience that certain aspects of that establishment may engender, is very difficult. It is far easier to go along to get along and just attend to one’s own personal business. It is far easier not to risk anything.

But for those few individuals who cannot just go along the risk is of everything. That is everything they’ve committed their life to, everything they’ve become familiar with…just plain everything. The risk is of rejection, ostracization, removal of all that one’s life has been dedicated towards until that point. That’s huge and it’s also fairly uncommon. And to chronicle it, as a participant, is revealing and useful to those of us who also would seek to speak truth to power in our own ways.

Taking such risks have very little rewards. Not that rewards are the least bit related to the motivation of the risk taking.

We all share the struggle in this world, so we all share the glory as well as fleeting as it may be.

Thank you friends for your consideration of the words you find here and for the opportunity to respond to your kind gesture. I hope you understand.

Thank you Bhante for all you do. It is an inspiration.

Most sincerely,


Additional Note:

Bhante Sujato has kindly responded to being regifted the Blogisattva

Western Buddhist Teachers-Activists in Everybody Else’s Backyard

Have been seeing a lot of Western Buddhist Teachers, including the Zen variety, signing on to help free Burma. Good for them.  The brutality of the Burmese junta is an abomination. The captivity of the population as well as the militarily enforced deprivation is certainly an affront to human rights and the dignity of the population. It’s good to see so many willing to put their names out in public, in a letter to President Obama no less.

It’s interesting to run through that list of names. Most are recognizable to anyone familiar with the American convert Buddhist scene. And particularly on the engaged Buddhist front. So this post is not about most of them. But it may be about some of the others. Yes I am deliberately being vague, but only for the moment. Hold on.

There’s plenty of those others running around Rawanda, Thailand, India, holding Peace Conferences, Seminars, big meetings with lots of important people. Changing the world one backward country at a time. Not unlike NATO and it’s allies.

Of course there are always the retreats to the Greek Islands, the Caribbean and lovely Bali, for which attendees are urged to raise funds from friends and strangers, and no one is[edit del n’t] going to sleep on the streets there, although the climate may be quite appropriate for that. There is no end to all the do-gooder campaigns overseas that can be manufactured and lipsticked up to look like “serious political activist work”. But these forays into hedonistic service-something of an oxymoron yes, I can’t think of another term-are also something other than the point here.

So back to that.

Yes, let “them” “over there” all be like us.  Full of knowledge, wisdom and answers. So free, so democratic, so rational, so ethical, so honest, so incorruptible, so holy, so righteous, so compassionate, so caring, so educated, so socially minded, so concerned, so relevant, so clear minded, so intelligent, so right.  So…distracted.

Yes, let’s all go somewhere else and play at politics for a while. And get a nice vacation in to boot. We can put the pictures up on our blogs, tell everyone about our great work and encourage others to sign up as well. We can put out our begging bowls on Twitter and Facebook and get people to support our roles as “facilitators” in this fabulous endeavor. [Never mind actually getting a job to pay our own way.]  And most importantly it allows us the luxury of forgetting whatever is going on “back home”. To even admit anything is going on “back home” would destroy the little escapist bubble we’ve created in that exotic place. OMG, if there really was a MG, please don’t  let me have to deal with that possibility.

Now it needn’t all be quite that elaborate. Escapist social action, with minimal actual work is easily available with the strokes of a computer keyboard. Add one’s name to a petition or letter. The further removed the subjects of the contents of the letter from one’s own situation the better. Looks good on the Internet and feels good too. Now we’re really doing something! And without having to disturb our regular schedule. And you know if there is little to no possibility of any kind of feedback so much the better. Always good to have a safety harness, helicopter and stunt double when one goes out on a limb even metaphorically.

So today I undertook a little compare and contrast exercise of two lists. One is of the letter to Obama regarding the Burmese situation and the other is the list of signees of a petition to remove Eido Shimano from ZSS. [you dear reader can sign it too if you feel so inclined]

Now it seems ZSS-Zen Studies Society is celebrating Eido Shimano by not only continuing his residency but by allowing him to give Jukai to new students. A whole new bucket of fresh meat. How nice for him. My heart’s absolutely bursting with mudita! The generosity of the ZSS board knows no bounds with regard to their leader. Return every slap by turning the other cheek, or even better offering some fresh cheeks for a bit of slap [and tickle] as well.

[Yikes! The snark beast has been rebirthed! Feeling so much better and re-energized after hibernating through the rainy season.]

So back to those lists. I’ll confine this comparison to Zen teachers. [I tell ya it was some work looking all these up too in order to find their affiliations and roles. I was tempted to put the whole AZTA list here in addition to the letter signatories, but I don’t have that kind of time.]


Burma letter Affiliation/Role Shimano petition Affiliation/Role
(where not otherwise indicated information is from the petition site)
Rev. Hozan Alan Senauke Soto Zen priest…residing at the Berkeley Zen Center (BZC) in Berkeley, California, where he currently serves as Vice Abbot. He is a former Executive Director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship…received Dharma transmission from…Sojun Mel Weitsman in 1998 (from) Rev. Hozan Alan Senauke <—–same as
Robert Joshin Althouse Robert Joshin Althouse  is a Zen teacher in the White Plum Asanga and a dharma heir of Jikyo Nicolee McMahon Roshi. He is the current abbot of Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago in Illinois.(from) Robert Joshin Althouse <—–same as
Rev. Susan Myoyu Anderson spiritual director of Great Plains Zen Center (GPZC) studied for over twenty years with Taizan Maezumi Roshi(from)
Carolyn Atkinson Head Teacher a Dharma Heir and Lineage Holder of the late Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi (from)
Rev. Zentatsu Richard Baker founder and guiding teacher of Dharma Sangha—which consists of Crestone Mountain Zen Center located in Crestone, CO and the Buddhistisches Studienzentrum (Johanneshof) in Germany’s Black Forest. (from)
Ezra Bayda received dharma transmission from Charlotte Joko Beck, and presently teaches at the Zen Center San Diego.(from)
Mitra Bishop a Dharma heir of Ven. Philip Kapleau-roshi.
Abbot of Mountain Gate in Northern New Mexico, and Spiritual Director of Hidden Valley Zen Center in San Marcos CA.(from)
Many of her students have signed the petition
Melissa Blacker Zen priest with Boundless Way Zen, a Dharma heir of James Ishmael Ford (from)
Bruce Seiryo Blackman Zen teacher in the White Plum Asanga of the late Taizan Maezumi-roshi and a Dharma heir of Sr. Janet Jinne Richardson-roshi (from)
Joe Bobrow a Zen teacher in the Diamond Sangha (from)
Dae Bong Sunim resident Zen Master of Gye Ryong San International Zen Center- Mu Sang Sa in Korea. He became a monk in 1984. He received Inka from Zen Master Seung Sahn in 1992 and Dharma Transmission in 1999. (from)
Merle Boyd Zen priest with the White Plum Asanga lineage of Taizan Maezumi…founder and guiding teacher of the Lincroft Zen Sangha located in Lincroft, New Jersey and is a Dharma heir of Wendy Egyoku Nakao (from)
Mitchell Cantor Mitchell Doshin Cantor Sensei has been a student of Peter Muryo Matthiessen Roshi since 1986. Doshin received Denkai from Muryo Roshi in 2002. He additionally studied with Madeline Ko-I Bastis Sensei…and received dharma transmission in 2006. Doshin is the teacher at the Southern Palm Zen Group in Boca Raton FL(from)
John Crook dharma heir of the late Chan Master Sheng-yenof Dharma Drum Mountain, Taiwan, having received dharma transmission in 1993 (from)
James Ford a Soto Zen priest… serving as a guiding teacher at the Boundless Way Zen Network (from)
John M. Gage abbott and sensei of the Vista Zen Center (Hotei-ji) (from)
Elizabeth Hamilton teaches at Zen Center San Diego  She received dharma transmission in 1994 from Joko Beck. (from)
Rev. Zenkei Blanche Hartman a Soto Zen priest in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, a Dharma heir of Sojun Mel Weitsman. Zenkei is a Senior Dharma Teacher at San Francisco Zen Center (from)
Kip Ryodo Hawley Sensei with the White Plum Asanga of the late Taizan Maezumi-roshi and a Dharma heir of Wendy Egyoku Nakao-roshi (from)
Taigen Henderson a Dharma heir of Sensei Sunyana Graef (from)
Joan Hoeberichts Zen priest in the White Plum Asanga, the lineage of the late Taizan Maezumi-roshi (from)
Amy Hollowell Amy Hollowell Sensei is one of three dharma heirs, or successors, of the French Zen master Catherine Genno Pagès Roshi, who founded Dana Zen Center in Montreuil, France, in 1994. Genno Roshi is the first dharma heir of the American Zen master Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi (from)
Zen Master Soeng Hyang (Barbara Rhodes) is the School Zen Master and Guiding Dharma Teacher of the Kwan Um School of Zen. She received dharma transmission from Zen Master Seung Sahn (from)
Rev. Keido Les Kaye Les received Dharma Transmission, authority to teach, from Hoitsu Suzuki son and successor to Shunryu Suzuki. He was appointed teacher at Kannon Do Zen Center (from)
Rev. Taigen Dan Leighton a Soto Zen priest and Dharma successor in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. (from)
Stanley Lombardo was a founding member of the Kansas Zen Center (from)
Barry Magid a Zen teacher of the Ordinary Mind School of Zen..heir of Charlotte Joko Beck (from)
Genjo Marinello Abbot of Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji (from)
Rev. Nicolee Jikyo McMahon received Dharma Transmission from Taizan Maezumi Roshi in 1995. (from)
Rev. Wendy Egyoku Nakau abbot of the Zen Center of Los Angeles (from)
Rev. Tonen O’Connor Soto Zen Buddhist priest and has been the resident priest at the Milwaukee Zen Center (from)
Rev. Enkyo O’Hara Abbot of The Village Zendo in New York City. A Soto Zen priest, O’Hara, Roshi received Dharma transmission from Tetsugen Bernard Glassman. (from)
Rev. Joen Snyder O’Neal ordained as a Zen priest by Katagiri Roshi in 1980 and received Dharma transmission from him in 1989. (from)
Michael O’Sullivan Senior Dharma Teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen, is the founder and abbot of The Three Treasures Zen Center, located in Oneonta, New York (from)
Ji Hyang Padma currently serves as the Buddhist Advisor at Wellesley College….has served as Abbot of Cambridge Zen Center (from)
Rev. Tony Patchell Zen priest and Dharma heir in the Suzuki-roshi lineage, trained at the San Francisco Zen Center. (from)
Rev. Josho Pat Phelan a Soto Zen priest in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki currently serving as guiding teacher at Chapel Hill Zen Center (from)
Rev. Dosho Port Soto Zen priest and Dharma heir of Dainin Katagiri-roshi (from)
Rev. Susan Jion Postal Susan Ji-on Postal, teacher and founder of the Empty Hand Zen Center in New Rochelle, New York (from) Many of her students have signed the petition.
Rev. Taihaku Priest founder of Shao Shan Spiritual Practice Center (from)
Jason Quinn Abbot in the Empty Gate center in Berkley California (from)
Rev. Densho Quintero Soto Zen priest and Dharma heir of Shohaku Okumura-roshi (head teacher of Sanshin Zen Community in Bloomington Indiana and Director of the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center (from)
Sylvan Genko Rainwater Zen Buddhist monk at Dharma Rain Zen Center – Portland, Oregon. (from)
Rev. Zuiko Redding Soto Zen priest and the guiding teacher of Cedar Rapids Zen Center in Iowa. (from)
Caitriona Reed received Lamp Transmission from her teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. She is co-founder of Ordinary Dharma in Los Angeles (from)
Joan Rieck Sanbo Kyodan, Three Treasures Sangha of the Sandias, Bernalillo, NM (from)
Judith Roitman JDPSN began practicing Zen with Zen Master Seung Sahn in 1976 at the Cambridge Zen Center. She was one of the founders of the Kansas Zen Center (from)
Rev. Daigaku Rumme Soto Zen priest and resident of City Center (from)
Rev. Seisen Saunders founder and head teacher of Sweetwater Zen Center (from)
Elihu Genmyo Smith first Dharma Heir of Charlotte Joko Beck (from) (more)
Abbot Myogen Steve Stucky received dharma transmission from Sojun Mel Weitsman in 1993. He founded Dharma Eye Zen Center in Marin County (from)
Rev. Heng Sure senior disciple of the late Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, and is currently the director of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery (from)
Rev. Jisho Warner founder of Stone Creek Zen Center (from)
Tom Aitken Family heir & POA for Robert Aitken
Jiro Andy Afable Second Dharma Heir [of Eido Shimano] – Former Vice-Abbot of Dai Bosatsu Zendo (1998 – 2003)

/Rinzai teacher and founder of Early Light Zendo in Southbridge, Massachusetts (from)

Ji Kai Myo-on (Yvonne Rand) a “lay householder” Soto Zen priest and guiding teacher of Goat-in-the-Road (from)-a Dharma heir of the late Dainin Katagiri (from)
Kan-kan (Kurt)
Head Teacher, Cold Mountain Sangha
Sante Poromaa Co-Leader of the Zen Buddhist Society of Sweden and Teacher of the Cloud Water Zen Group) (from)
Zuiko enji Angie
Soto Zen roshi and guiding teacher of Floating Zendo (from)
resident priest at Anchorage Zen Community (from)
sensei at Auckland Zen Centre(from)
NC Zen Center Founder
Gentei Sandy
abbot, North Carolina Zen Center
Sensei at Windhorse Zen Community
Sensei atWindhorse Zen Community
priest withFive Mountain Sangha
Kojun Jean
Teacher in Kobun Chino lineage
Soto priest, formerly Kwan Um/Chogye
Teacher with Kwan Um School of Zen
Patty Jishin
teacher at Twining Vines Sangha
Jane Genshin
teacher at Twining Vines Sangha
Former Dai Bosatsu Zendo Ordained/Former ZSS Board Member
Sambo Kyodan teacher
Teacher, Montague Farm Zendo
Diamond Sangha Teachers Circle; Clear Spring Sangha
Daizen Brian Victoria Soto Zen Priest, Author of “Zen at War”
Bodhin Kjolhede Abbot of Rochester Zen Center


Interesting contrast between the domestic and foreign policies of these teachers and leaders of the Zen community dontcha think? Not much overlap. Of course there are thousands of other teachers who don’t bother with this kind of thing at all. And many of the above listed are very fine teachers. As are most of the Zen teachers in America. Check the AZTA website and Sweeping Zen for more names. I’m not saying it’s necessary to bother with any of this either. It just seems rather interesting that so many jump on board for these high profile (I mean the President himself will possibly read one’s name! And who knows maybe having one’s name on the same page as the President will sell a few more books. ) international campaigns but few can bother with issues at home.

And another thing that is noticeable is that quite a number of folks who have signed the petition are students of some of the teachers who have signed the letter. (Yeah I looked them all up too) As well there are far more “establishment” teachers on the Burma letter and far more “independents” if you look at lineages, on the petition side.  Another strange dichotomy to be sure. Maybe someone should do a sociological study on risk aversion (or self-examination) among the establishment.

One might consider it to be a matter for the Rinzai sector (a very convenient categorical dodge) or something that doesn’t concern the Zen community as a whole or one that, if kept under wraps, won’t tarnish the convert Buddhist community. Hmm that sounds an awful lot like denial.

I suppose in such instances it is necessary to become gardeners in everyone else’s back yard because of all the Astroturf in the local gardens.

And with the continuation of the cult of Shimano there are more questions to be asked. Of course it is unlikely they will now be asked on ZFI since some heavy hitters have arrived to quash this kind of dissent. So it’s up to bloggers I suppose to keep the bellows pumping. Feet to the fire and all that.

It just strikes me as an exercise in extreme cognitive dissonance to fete someone (see below) with so much baggage as one is simultaneously trying to oust him. The ZSS hired a group to assist with their process of reconciliation and redress, yet completely ignored the group’s recommendation to fire Shimano immediately. And then they have gone on to celebrate this man!?! That is the most ethically vacant situation I can possibly think of.

No coincidence that I am posting this today. From the Zen Studies Society website:

Harvest Jukai Sesshin, Oct. 30–Nov. 7  To commemorate his 50th anniversary living in the United States, Eido Roshi is going to conduct a Jukai Ceremony at Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-ji on the closing day of Harvest Sesshin, Saturday, November 6.

Congratulations to all those who have vowed to undertake the journey to the cessation of anger, greed and delusion. I can’t think of a better place to learn about that in depth. Don’t forget to check your ethics at the gate.

Musical Accompaniment:

The Who-Won’t Get Fooled Again

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.


Here’s a little something extra along the same lines for those in the mood-

Beyond Spiritual Activism: Creating a Just and Sustainable Movement for Change by Be Scofield

And a further discussion-

Off the Mat Vs. the Old New Left: Subverting the Dominant Paradigm, With Love by Carol Horton

A big thanks to Sweeping Zen website for providing so many of the biographical details as well as interviews. It’s a hugely useful resource.

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.


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

Varieties of Avidya

Bhaisajguru, the Medicine Buddha

ImageBhaisajguru, the Medicine Buddha

Recently Barry Briggs brought to attention various definitions of avidya in a post called Three Poisons. This is usually translated as ignorance. He quotes teacher Ken McLeod, who is a translator, as using the term indifference rather than ignorance. Barry seemed rather partial to the new rendering while Ben in comments brought up some potentially difficult semantic and motivational issues with it.

Personally I’m not sold on the term indifference. And I will return to the issue of translations of this term shortly.

The term indifference can be a facet of the broader category of ignorance.This got me thinking about avidya in general and it’s numerous manifestations. There appear to be quite a number if one takes it out of the ideological realm and puts it in practical terms.

The term Three Poisons is derived from the Three Unwholesome Roots-lobha, dosa, moha and these I find translated as greed/lust/desire/craving, hate/ill-will, delusion/ignorance. Ken McLeod’s translations, which Barry quoted are “attachment, aversion, indifference”.

One might look at some of the types of ignorance through the notion of obstacles to practice.

Fortunately there are all kinds of Buddhist lists relating to these obstacles. These lists include:

1. The ten fetters-samyojana

  • belief in a substantial self
  • skeptical doubt/doubt/uncertainty about the teachings/lack of trust
  • clinging to rules and ritual
  • sensual craving
  • ill will
  • craving for fine-material existence
  • craving for immaterial existence
  • conceit(mana)
  • restlessness
  • ignorance

2. The five hindrances-panca nivarana

  • sensual desire,
  • ill-will,
  • sloth and torpor,
  • restlessness,
  • skeptical doubt

3. The ten defilements or impurities-klesha

  • greed
  • hate
  • delusion
  • conceit
  • speculative/wrong views
  • skeptical doubt
  • mental torpor
  • restlessness
  • lack of shame
  • lack of moral dread

4. The four taints outlined in the Abhidharma-asava

  • sensual desire,
  • desire for eternal existence or becoming,
  • speculative opinions or ignorance of the dhamma or the way things are
  • and ignorance by way of attachment to opinions

5. The five aggregates as they relate to clinging or attachment-skandha

  • matter (rupakhandha)
  • sensations (vedanakhandha)
  • perceptions (sannakhandha)
  • mental formations (sankharakhandha)
  • consciousness (vinnanakhandha)

6. The 8 fold path can be miss-taken

  • Understanding/View
  • Thinking/Intention
  • Speech
  • Action
  • Livelihood
  • Effort
  • Mindfulness
  • Concentration

7. misunderstandings can also arise around the three characteristics

  • All conditioned phenomena are unsatisfactory
  • All conditioned phenomena are impermanent
  • All  phenomena are devoid of Self [That would include nibbāna/nirvana, which is not conditioned.-note added as per comment below for clarification]

That’s a fairly big mountain of obstacles to address. There are facets of ignorance that can be outlined from the above lists.  And if we look further into the Dharma we can also find remedies to these.

These remedies include-

development of the four Brahma-viharas or highest attitudes

  • metta-loving kindness
  • karuna-compassion
  • mudita-sympathetic joy
  • upekkha-equanimity

This can be done by way of:

1. Iddhipada or the four bases of power or success

  • chanda-desire [more on this one in the end note]
  • viriya-persistence/energy/effort
  • citta-intention, mind, thoughtfulness
  • vimamsa or panna-investigation/discrimination

2. Sammappadhana or the four right efforts

  • guarding-prevent unwholesome/unskillful from arising
  • abandon-prevent unwholesome/unskillful continuing
  • develop-cause wholesome/skillful to arise
  • sustain-maintain wholesome/skillful

The 8-fold path itself also serves as remedy.

These 3 latter items (Iddhipada, Sammappadhana, 8-fold path) are part of the bodhipakkhiyā dhammā which is the 37 qualities related to enlightenment.

The precepts also provide direction in avoiding unskillful and unwholesome situations.

I want to look at ignorance as unskillfulness, contrasted with wisdom or skillfulness and try to match up a few remedies for some of the problematic situations. This approach emphasizes the difference between kusala and akusala and can be used to reconcile those.

Kusala – Skillful, tending towards integration and balance, beneficial, good, wholesome…  Leads to liberation.
Akusala – Unskillful, tending towards disintegration and imbalance, detrimental, evil, unwholesome.

~from p.13 of Abhidharmakosa Study Materials Introductory at the Abhidharmakosa Study Blog

Perhaps a chart will make these facets a little more clear.

Obstacle Ignorance, error or unskillful factor Remedy or wisdom factor
1 ignorance or unskillfulness basic unskillfulness, being unaware, lost and moved through life by samsaric currents, clinging to insubstantiality, clutching at straws, looking for refuge in insubstantial things “It’s fate”, “That’s just the way I am”,  “We have to just go along with it”, “This relative idea is the absolute truth” developing skillfulness, disembedding, learning to recognize and counter compulsions, recognizing impermanence and attempts to cling to it, learning and practicing the Buddhadharma, developing discriminating wisdom (vimamsa)
2 belief in substantial self egotism, atman(soul) beliefs, deep attachment to props of identity, selfishness recognizing anatta (no permanent self), Tibetan Chöd practice
3 skeptical doubt or lack of trust cynicism, insensitivity, arrogance, unreliable grounded perspective, interdependence and interbeing
4 clinging to rules and rituals dogmatism, narrow mindedness, faithless, equanimity, Right View
5 sensual craving lust, addictions, wasteful, renunciation, equanimity
6 ill will anger, brutality, resentment, stubbornness compassion, mudita or sympathetic joy,
7 craving for fine-material existence envy, jealousy, paranoia study of desire (chanda) as in the endnote to this post
8 craving for immaterial existence excessive religiousity, soul beliefs, piousness, fundamentalism, greed in seeking merit accumulation, spiritual materialism study of anatta,
9 conceit, pride arrogance, insensitivity, self-centeredness, low self-esteem, unforgiving study of anatta, compassion
10 sloth and torpor laziness, indifference, unmotivated, convenience oriented, desire (chanda)
sometimes a poison is also a medicine, cultivation of bodhicitta
11 restlessness agitation, anxiety, unbalanced sensations, lack of commitment, indecisive, scattered refuge, clarification of the third of the four basis of power which is citta-intention, mind, thoughtfulness
12 greed hoarding, superficial attachments, uncooperative, miserly generosity, metta, Tibetan Tonglen practice
13 speculative or wrong views or ignoring the way things are defensiveness, combativeness, constricted, confused, hypocritical, Right View, understanding The Three Characteristics
14 lack of shame over-indulgence, performance for attention, histrionics, callousness, extreme ambition Right Action See also #22
15 lack of moral dread behaving without conscience, minimizing consequences, ungrateful understanding of karma, review of precepts, Right Mindfulness
16 skanda-matter-rupa materialism, lust, shallowly oriented clarification of desire (chanda) – see end note of this post
17 skanda-sensations or feeling-vedana hedonism, emotional instability Right Mindfulness
18 skanda-perceptions excessive risk taking, obsessed with novelty, excessive extroversion, lack of shame (one of the kleshas) See #11, 14
19 skanda-mental formations-sankhara over-intellectualism, compulsive theorizing, lost in details See #13, 26, 27
20 skanda-consciousness day dreamy, tormented by mental contents, disorganized thinking, excessive introversion See #10, 13,
21 Inappropriate or wrong
See #1 <————
22 Inappropriate or wrong Thinking/Intention See # 4-12 <———–
23 Inappropriate or wrong Speech petty, gossipy, dishonest, withholding necessary information The 4 Right Efforts
24 Inappropriate or wrong Action passive, complacent The 4 Right Efforts, review of precepts
25 Inappropriate or wrong Livelihood irresponsible, lazy, disrespectful of others, selfish attitude See #7, 12, 15
26 Inappropriate or wrong Effort laziness, apathetic, workaholism and overexertion The 4 Right Efforts
27 Inappropriate or wrong Mindfulness complacent, indifferent, unreliable, mental dullness, overfocused Understanding of skandas (#16-20), Right Mindfulness
28 Inappropriate or wrong Concentration/
unfocused, dissipated See also #20 Right Concentration See also #20
29 Misunderstanding unsatisfactoriness Continuous satisfaction seeking through appetites See # 5, 12, 16
30 Misunderstanding impermanence Rigidity, clinging See #3 4, 5, 7, 8
31 Misunderstanding that all conditioned phenomena are devoid of Self The ignorance of nihilism-“nothing exists” “nothing matters” or the belief in substantial self noted above See #2

That’s just a quick sketch of the ignorance situation when applied to the various obstacles to practice. It’s a pretty neat system of illness and remedy when you delve into it.  There’s a lot more that could be said about all of this (and has been). Pretty much every good dharma talk you encounter addresses some of this stuff from different perspectives.

The practice of wisdom-prajna is generally the antidote to ignorance. The development of prajna includes

  • Study (Sanskrit: śruta)
  • Reflection (Sanskrit: cintā)
  • Meditation (Sanskrit: bhāvanā)

This leaves open the questions What to study? What to reflect upon? What meditation? The more precisely we can pin down our ignorance factors the more precisely we can then apply the necessary antidotes. For example if we are willing to concede the existence of mis-perception, sensual desire or any other aspect we can then choose to openly reflect the light of the dharma into those aspects as we study, reflect and meditate. [Is there such a thing as a Concordance to the Suttas? Can anyone recommend something along that line other than Google?]

It is helpful to consider ignorance as darkness. People tend to feel rather bad about themselves when asked to take on the label of ignorant. We know that we know stuff, have had experience and maybe learned a thing or two. But we also know that no one knows it all, no one is utterly perfect. It is only by admitting there’s some darkness that we can manage the situation. We are all unskillful in the dark;banging into the walls, stubbing our toes, tripping on shoes left in the middle of the floor, spilling our glass of water. The dharma is like a flashlight that allows a more skillful orientation. But if we don’t admit that it’s dark it’s like walking through a dark house with our eyes closed as well. Even a flashlight won’t help if we won’t open our eyes to it.

A few things that became obvious when I was working this out was that actions arising from ignorance in pretty much every instance are accompanied by defensiveness and actions that close one off, be they as mild as indifference or outright hostility. When these manifestations appear they are tied to distorted self-beliefs and being embedded in egoic processes hence the defensiveness. If you observe some skillful people, especially when they are in conflict, there remains a sense of openness to their approach. They remain willing to listen, willing to discuss, willing to continue towards solutions to problems, willing to be challenged, willing to reconsider positions in light of new information, willing to accept disagreement with some adjustment but without much defensiveness.

Getting Back to Translations

It seems to me that attempted translations and expositions are slippery things. There are a couple of things to consider about translations versus original terms. I personally prefer the original terms but I know that puts a lot of people off since one really shouldn’t have to learn a whole new language in order to practice. But then again working with new terms does tend to get a person out of their habitual mental ruts which is helpful. And it takes a little bit of effort to come to understand them which again combats the tendency to laziness and expecting to be spoon-fed by others.

Something from the old Usenet news group talk.religion.buddhism, Glossary of Buddhist Terms, has this written in the introduction:

Another reason is that the words that would have to be used to render a Pali or Sanskrit technical term into English (or any other living language) are inevitably freighted with unintended meanings. The advantage of using a “dead” language is that semantic precision becomes less of a moving target.

Languages that are currently in use change so definitions and nuances change as well.

There are some disadvantages to adopting the original terms though, since often the definitions become entangled with currently prevailing notions. Consider the term “karma” as one example. It has come to mean, in popular parlance, something like the “revenge of the gods” or “payback time” or some extraordinary omnipresent, omniscient “force” with all kinds of supernatural odors wafting about it.

Or consider the word “nirvana” which in popular culture has often come to signify some extraordinary and even supernatural state of outrageous bliss where one loses touch with everything. Chogyam Trungpa, among many other teachers, tried to dispel this kind of notion when he said:

If we regard meditation as just getting into a fog so that you do not see, you do not feel, something is terribly wrong. In that case meditation would reduce one to a zombie. The enlightened man would have to be rescued. Someone would have to feed him and take him to the bathroom. We would have to have an enlightenment ward.

Glimpses of Abhidharma

Matthieu Ricard said something similar recently:

The goal of meditation is not to shut down the mind or anesthetize it, but rather to make it free, lucid and balanced.

On the other hand there are some good reasons to use the original terms. For example from the same Glossary of Buddhism mentioned above:

One reason is simply that these “foreign” terms have the authority of 2500 years of tradition in many cases, and are understood by members of all Buddhist traditions (even if their first language is something like Finnish or Swahili).

If we are all saying karma rather than “cause and effect”, “Ursache und Wirkung”, “årsak og virkning” “”na kusababisha athari” (German, Norwegian, Swahili) then there is a common Buddhist language set that facilitates communication.

So each of us has to decide which is given the weight, a common Buddhist language or individual linguistic preferences.

Links, References Consulted and Inspirations

Dharma Lists from Insight Meditation Center

No Religion by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

The Five Aggregates by Ven Thubten Pende

Noble Eightfold Path


Upadana (clinging)

Abhidharmakosa Study Blog

End Note on Desire as Remedy:

[Nathan had a good post today about questions regarding the usefulness of desire so perhaps others will find the following useful]

Iddhipada-vibhanga Sutta: Analysis of the Bases of Power from Access to Insight. Particularly the element of desire which is both poison and medicine:

“And how is desire overly sluggish? Whatever desire is accompanied by laziness, conjoined with laziness, that is called overly sluggish desire.

“And how is desire overly active? Whatever desire is accompanied by restlessness, conjoined with restlessness, that is called overly active desire.

“And how is desire inwardly restricted? Whatever desire is accompanied by sloth & drowsiness, conjoined with sloth & drowsiness, that is called inwardly restricted desire.

“And how is desire outwardly scattered? Whatever desire is stirred up by the five strings of sensuality, outwardly dispersed & dissipated, that is called outwardly scattered desire.

Paracelsus the alchemist-physician related a similar notion in the 16th century when he noted:

Alle Ding’ sind Gift, und nichts ohn’ Gift; allein die Dosis macht, daß ein Ding kein Gift ist.“All things are poison and nothing is without poison, only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.”

Which is often interpreted as:

The only difference between a medicine, an intoxicant and a poison is the dosage.

Further on desire as a skillful means Ajahn Thanissaro writes in Wings to Awakening

…although the desire here is directed toward a state of concentration — which is a type of becoming — if that becoming is aimed at going beyond becoming, this desire shifts from a cause of stress to part of the path to its ending. And even though the desire for Awakening, when not yet realized, can be a cause for frustration, that frustration counts as a skillful emotion, as it leads to further efforts along the path [§179]. It is to be transcended, not by abandoning the desire, but by acting on it properly, as explained below, until gaining the desired results.

And he hits the nail on the head with these prescriptions a little further down in the same section. I’m just going to quote the whole thing because it’s so pertinent [emphasis mine]:

Many popular Western writings criticize the four qualities listed in the bases of power — desire, persistence (effort), intent (will), and discrimination (the discriminating mind) — as enemies of proper meditation, both in that they interfere with the calming of the mind and are antithetical to the goal of the Unfabricated, which lies beyond desire, effort, and the categories of discrimination. The first part of the extended formula deals with the first of these criticisms.

  • There is the case where a monk develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on desire & the fabrications of exertion, thinking, ‘This desire of mine will be neither overly sluggish nor overly active, neither inwardly restricted nor outwardly scattered.’ (Similarly with concentration founded on persistence, intent, and discrimination.)

This passage shows that the problem lies, not in the desire, effort, intent, or discrimination, but in the fact that these qualities can be unskillfully applied or improperly tuned to their task. If they were absent, the practice — if it could be called a practice — would stagnate from loss of direction or motivation. If they ran wild, they would interfere with mindful concentration. So the trick is not to deny them, but to tune them skillfully so that they will help focus the mind on the present moment. Thus, for instance, in the practice of meditation, as with any skill, it is important not to focus desire too strongly on the results one hopes to get, for that would interfere with the mind’s ability to focus on giving rise to the causes leading to those results. If, instead, one focuses desire on putting the causes in proper order in the present moment, desire becomes an indispensable part of the process of mastery.

Passage §67 deals with the second criticism — that desire, etc., are antithetical to the goal — by showing that these qualities are necessary for anyone who pursues a path, but are automatically abandoned on reaching the goal at the path’s end. The image of the path is important here, for it carries important implications. First, the path is not the goal; it is simply the way there, just as the road to the Grand Canyon should not be confused with the Grand Canyon itself. Even though many stretches of the road bear no resemblance to the Grand Canyon, that does not mean that the road does not lead there. Secondly, the path of practice does not cause the goal, it simply leads there, just as neither the road to the Grand Canyon nor the act of walking to the Grand Canyon can cause the Grand Canyon to be. The goal at the end of the Buddhist path is unfabricated, and therefore no amount of desire or effort can bring it into being. Nevertheless, the path to the goal is a fabricated process [§105], and in that process desire, effort, intent, and discrimination all have an important role to play, just as the effort of walking plays a role in arriving at the Grand Canyon.

The Paradox of Freedom


A post that Dosho Port wrote Three Great Minds  inspired a post at Barbara’s blog called When Bad Stuff Comes in Big Doses and inspired me to do a Twitter mini-binge. (Thanks for some retweets @ohiobuddhist and @RevDannyFisher)

These are them:

RT @ Bodhipaksa Are Americans individualistic? Not so much… about 19 hours ago (Link title Sweet land of… conformity?)

RT @leashless Never forget how much freedoms, and the free, scare people |See prev. tweet link Free to be U & me? Hmm 27 minutes ago via web

RT @mujaku The crew seized the ship they threw the man overboard who gazed at the stars,along with his charts. We are free, they shouted. 21 minutes ago via web

RT @bitterrootbadge There are no relative phenomena in samsara and nirvana on which one can depend. It is important to know this.D Khyentse 18 minutes ago via web

RT @acadiechick RT @superspiritgirl: “Freedom rarely arrives in the form we think it should” ~Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche 16 minutes ago via web

One more good ‘un. There ends today’s tweets on the paradox of freedom. 12 minutes ago via web

[Whew, nearly 20 people referenced directly or indirectly just to get started! Then this link will go to Twitter->Facebook and who knows where?]


I want to work my way backwards through these to come to the point of this post, which actually still eludes me so I’ll have to move towards it.

Never think that you will be able to settle your life down by practicing the Dharma. The Dharma is not therapy. In fact, it is just the opposite. The purpose of the Dharma is to really stir up your life. It is meant to turn your life upside down. If that is what you asked for, why complain? If it is not turning your life upside down, on the other hand, the Dharma is not working.  That kind of Dharma is just another one of these New Age methods; the Dharma should really disturb you.

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche via RevDannyFisher

Someone argued for the merits of relative benefits of Dharma-therapeutic- in response to this. And said Rinpoche didn’t understand therapy very well. I think Rinpoche understands it better than the critic. What is upside down?

“Freedom rarely arrives in the form we think it should” ~Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Imagine freedom. It’s all that can be done until it is realized.

There are no relative phenomena in samsara and nirvana on which one can depend. It is important to know this.D Khyentse Rinpoche

The existential crisis.

The crew seized the ship they threw the man overboard who gazed at the stars,along with his charts. We are free, they shouted.


Never forget how much freedoms, and the free, scare people

What of the aftermath?

For many years now, researchers worldwide have been conducting surveys to compare the values of people in different countries. And when it comes to questions about how much the respondents value the individual against the collective — that is, how much they give priority to individual interest over the demand of groups, or personal conscience over the orders of authority — Americans consistently answer in a way that favors the group over the individual. In fact, we are more likely to favor the group than Europeans are.  from Sweet land of… conformity?

There is security, of a sort, in groups. The Australopithecines knew this as they stood up on the African plains having emerged from their tree-dwelling shelter of the jungle. They then walked all over the world, in groups, and possibly evolved into Homo Sapiens (OK I missed a few steps in between).

Individuals are at risk, in terms of evolution, as well as environmentally, culturally. What does that say about freedom? Is freedom a group endeavor? That presents a conundrum in itself.  Or is freedom only experienced by the individual?


The point of this post-I’ve realized it now. Freedom is not relaxing. It requires constant attention.  Freedom is not a celebration. How can one celebrate when all others are not free?   Freedom is not mindless bliss.  It requires clarity.

Freedom is disturbing. And beautiful.

“If it’s not paradoxical, it’s not true.” Shunryu Suzuki

from Zen Is Right Here: Teaching Stories and Anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki By David Chadwick


An Artistic Digression


Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943)
Le boeuf écorché (The beef carcass)
oil on canvas
51 1/8 x 29½ in. (129.8 x 75 cm.)
Painted in circa 1924

Christie’s has a description and history of the painting.

And here is more on it quoted in an article by  Andrew Graham Dixon:

“In 1925, when he had a studio large enough in the Rue du Mont St Gothard, he procured the entire carcass of a steer… He did at least four similar canvases, as well as sketches … and meantime the steer decomposed. According to the legend, when the glorious colours of the flesh were hidden from the enthralled gaze of the painter by an accumulation of flies, he paid a wretched little model to sit beside it and fan them away. He got from the butcher a pail of blood, so that when a portion of the beef dried out, he could freshen its colour. Other dwellers in the Rue Mont St Gothard complained of the odour of the rotting flesh, and when the police arrived Soutine harangued them on how much more important art was than sanitation or olfactory agreeableness.”


“Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all,” declared André Breton in 1928.

from Convulsive Beauty and Its Discontents