My Buddhist Geeks interview with Hokai Sobol

I’m excited and honored to have a podcast interview up now on the Buddhist Geeks web site.

The Buddhist Geeks are doing fascinating, important work in expanding the range of Buddhist voices, and particularly in encouraging discussion of the future of Buddhism.

The podcast is about “Consensus Buddhism,” which I’ve been writing about here for the past few months.

The interview is in two parts; the next is coming in a week. Together, they cover much of the whole story I intend to present here, although of course only in summary. So, it touches on many points I expect to expand into full web pages over coming months.

I was particularly pleased that the discussion was with Hokai Sobol. Hokai is a teacher of Shingon (Japanese Vajrayana). He thinks deeply about how Vajrayana can function in contemporary society—which is also one of my main preoccupations. From the brief conversations I’ve had with him, it seems that we have reached some of the same conclusions. I’m greatly looking forward to his further work.

Author: David Chapman

Author of the book Meaningness and several Buddhist sites.

7 thoughts on “My Buddhist Geeks interview with Hokai Sobol”

  1. Superb interview! Aside from even content, learning to model your method of analysis is of great value. But the content, seen also in your posts, is brilliantly insightful and helpful. Thank you.

    Criticism/Suggestion (hopefully respectful):
    Though he tried, Hokkai was unfortunately unable to pin you down to particulars. You remained abstract and did not mention practices or thoughts that Concensus Buddism would like to suppress aside from the Lama-Student relationship where the lama is viewed as a higher spiritual authority. And certainly you meant more than simply that part of the Lama-Student relationship because I see adoration and deep respect of teachers in Zen and Theravada Western circles too. (I don’t know Shin circles). The Vajrayana teacher-student relationship is very different from the Concensus teacher-student relationship though both view their teachers as more authoritative, no? You didn’t seem to really tell us its important distinctions from Concensus Buddhist teacher-student relationships. You hinted at it, but just hinted.

    You could tell that Hokkai wanted to get more nitty-gritty stuff but you left that behind in a cloud of abstract, sociological analytic terms (favorites of mine too, actually). But I think you would reach a wider audience with more concrete examples. Listeners could actually remember your points and see if they agree. You risk them saying, “yeah, hell, if that is what you think should be allowed in Buddhism, then of course we support the concensus.” But that is a risk worth taking after you lay down the fundamentals — maybe in your next interview.

    Again, superb. Thanks

  2. Please continue to give me a hard time about excessive abstraction. I will continue to complain that I can’t write / say everything at once, but your reminders will make it more likely that I produce examples sooner rather than later.

    Regarding the teacher/student relationship, I would be as eager to ask Hokai for his thoughts about it as vice versa. I know that it’s one of the matters he ponders continually. I hope he writes more soon. I suppose I shall have to do so also, despite reluctance for various reasons.

    An unrelated example of something suppressed comes to mind because Rinpoche just sent me something about it. It might be particularly shocking and repugnant for some—it’s in the category of ‘abhorrent Tantric practices’—so I scarcely dare mention it. And it’s extremely difficult to understand, conceptually, on top of being so nasty. It needs a long web page to lead people gently to the horrifying conclusion. But I’ll give it to you raw, and straight from the horse-rider’s mouth.

    Consensus Buddhism muddles up the renunciative practice of deliberate poverty with Western Christian and leftish moral ideas about the harmfulness of ownership, and sees “materialism” as a great evil. Wanting to own nice things is bad, bad, bad.

    Rinpoche writes:

    A British television presenter asked for our views on ‘envy’ in respect of ‘giving up materialism’ as ‘the Buddhist way of life’. We wrote back providing our view, and were not surprised when no further interest was shown in us as regards appearing in the prospective television programme on Buddhism. The shocking nature of the view we presented was that we do not need to give up ‘materialism’ to be free of envy. We said that—from the point of view of Vajrayana—people could be materialistic on behalf of all beings. We opined that this could be said to be full-blooded unwithheld materialism. We explained that envy merely arises out of our painful sense of poverty—however much or little we own—and so ‘giving up materialism’ might not necessarily be the greatest help for people. We hazarded the suggestion that ‘appreciation’ was the key to shedding the disease of envy – because when we awaken appreciation, we become ‘rich’ in the sense that our enjoyment increases exponentially. We do not have to own phenomena in order to appreciate or enjoy phenomena. When we become ‘rich with appreciative enjoyment’, we become disinhibited in terms of appreciating the wealth of others. When we appreciate the wealth of others, envy ceases to exist and our appreciation becomes boundless. Our enjoyment of existence becomes the dance of self-liberated materialism. To self-abnegate—with regard to desire for objects—as a means of ridding oneself of envy is a primitive psychological mechanism. […] This banal philosophy puts forth the asinine proposal that ‘if we were all the same there would be no prejudice’. If we all had nothing – there would be nothing to envy. If we were all agreed – there would be no argument. If we all had the same outlook – there would be no misunderstanding. A truly loathsome idea, which—taken to its logical conclusion—would make the ultimate pinnacle of tolerance a state in which all beings were single cell inhabitants of a primæval stew.

  3. Hallo David

    Thanks,it contains something old and something new
    Two remarks
    – When I did read, some years ago, ‘One Dharma’ of Joseph Goldstein, I thought it was not at all One but ‘one of the Dharma’s’. I’m interested in a comment of him to this post; can you or somebody who knows Goldstein send your post and ask for comment?
    – I agrree with you criticism on the ‘second principle of individualism’. Most ‘consensus buddhists’ (is my impression) practice their buddhism in a individualistic way. Even if they do it in a group, in a so-called sangha. Most don’t like rituals and most don’t feel that the essence of practicing is or had to be a social activity; they only do it together with otheers for practical reasons (I know I exaggerate). Of course this is touching the question if some of the buddhisms is a religion (something social) respectively a philosophy or a lifestyle (something individualistic); and most buddhists in my country (Netherlands) don’t like that question.


  4. Hi, Joop,

    I’ll be posting a detailed analysis of One Dharma soon, I hope.

    I’m confident that it’s not “one dharma among others” but “the One Dharma that unifies all the others”. One reason is that he actually explained many of the reasons this unification can’t work. And then he ignored those reasons.

    The book is odd in that he goes back and forth between triumphant proclamations (“this is THE right way forward for all of Western Buddhism”) and self-doubt (“I don’t understand what is going on here, I’m groping toward a personal solution to a personal problem”).

    He wrote it ten years ago, and I expect his view is somewhat different now. I’ve mentioned that I think he and the other Consensus leaders have come to understand that there’s a problem, that they may have got some things wrong, or at least that their solution isn’t the one solution for everyone, everywhere.

    I’d certainly be interested to know his reaction. I’m afraid he may take it as a personal attack, which isn’t my intention. I would hesitate to send him my analysis myself, but maybe that is the right thing to do. I’ll think about that; thank you for the suggestion!


  5. I like the interview. Nice Buddhists I find a pain in the royal uhem, being English I call them “middle class english bedwetters” (insult intended).

  6. In all seriousness though, this PC middle class sanitasation of Dharma is a real pain, one model fits all, the kind knowing smiles of disapproval as though they are privy to something one is not, that feeling of limp wristed “we are all one, I love you” smell of Bovine Scatology …. aaaaahhhh……….OM please save me from your followers Ah Hum……Soz for being so blunt, but I`m just a poor english class working boy who knows not his betters.

    Love the Vampyre Stories … Very good.

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