On criticizing fellow Buddhists

When I was about 25, I had published some scientific papers, and was getting to be known in an international academic community. I was full of piss and vinegar; testosterone, rebellion, and altogether too much cleverness. I wanted to tear down an intellectual establishment that seemed corrupt, hidebound, and befogged by holy dogmas and hidden assumptions. I was quite rude, in print, to researchers whose ideas I thought were WRONG WRONG WRONG.

Then I started going to conferences, and I met many of the scientists who I previously knew only from their academic publications. Most of them were nothing like what I had imagined based on their work. Their personalities did not seem to match up with their writings.

I remember in particular meeting one researcher whose papers I had savaged. He was kind and friendly. It turned out that we had a shared love of birds, and we had an enjoyable discussion of corvids [ravens and their allies]. I felt quite ashamed, but also grateful for having learned something.

I’ve just been at the 2012 Buddhist Geeks Conference, and had something of the same experience. Some Buddhist leaders, whose work I’ve criticized on this blog, are clearly good guys. Seeing them in person, or interacting with them, gives a very different sense than their writing.

This makes me want to be extra-careful in future to avoid saying anything nasty about anyone. Especially those I now know are fine people; but also those I haven’t met, who are likely to turn out to be fine people too.

The Buddhist Borg

There is, however, a great danger here. This well-meaning impulse is central to the dysfunctional dynamics of Consensus Buddhism. Consensus Buddhism suppresses debate and dissent by declaring discord unseemly. It’s not nice to disagree; can’t we all just get along? We are all Buddhists here, after all!

If I decided that, since I like some Consensus leaders, that I should not quarrel with their ideas, or criticize their activities, I would have been assimilated into the Consensus. “Consensus” means you never say: that guy is WRONG WRONG WRONG. That would be aggressive, and aggression is the #1 Buddhist sin.

In academia, disagreement is understood as the engine of progress. In traditional Buddhism, debate (often vitriolic) is often also understood as a method of learning.

The Buddhist Geeks Conference was as un-Consensus-y as non-traditional Buddhism gets. But even there, hardly anyone was willing to disagree about anything. That would not have been polite. We’re all part of a shiny innovative hip Buddhist movement, right? It’s new and exciting and maybe fragile, and we want to be supportive. We don’t want to be the one who points out unpleasant truths.

The Cool Club

I feel another emotional dynamic at work. I am starting to have some influence in modernist Buddhist circles. Some Buddhist leaders now talk with me as a near-peer. This is enjoyable, because I like them and they are interesting. It’s also good for my ego: Hooray! Now I’m somebody—people in the Cool Club think so!

If I cared more about this, I would now start politicking to become a member of the Inner Circle of Buddhist leadership. Some public flattery, support for a few dubious political positions, a little insincere friendliness; I can play that game. Go along to get ahead.

The cost, to all modernist Buddhists, of there being an Inner Circle, is that disagreements among its membership are suppressed.

Calibrating criticism

Ideally, in productive disagreement, we are uninhibited about attacking each other’s ideas, without attacking each other as people. We don’t take criticism of our ideas as criticism of ourselves. We can disagree fiercely in a public forum, and then have fun going out for a beer together.

Unfortunately, reality is not always ideal. We may not always have quite enough emotional maturity to take attacks impersonally. And, actually, we don’t have selves that are separate from our ideas and activities.

Knowing that our ideological opponents may not always be quite ideally mature, we may pull our punches. Out of compassion, we may politely pass over their mistakes. Then we become part of the problem.

I can’t see any resolution to this difficulty. The best we can do is try to constantly re-calibrate how sharp our criticism should be, balancing the urgent need to shake things up against the desire to avoid unnecessary offense. We have to accept that we’ll sometimes get it wrong.

I do want to tear apart Consensus Buddhism as a hegemonic political force. Inevitably, if anyone pays any attention—and especially if we actually start to weaken it—some people will feel hurt, angry, and/or bewildered. I’d rather they weren’t; but I’m not willing to shut up to avoid that.


Author: David Chapman

Author of the book Meaningness and several Buddhist sites.

55 thoughts on “On criticizing fellow Buddhists”

  1. It’s always good to meet people. The paper, email, letter, tweet – or website comment – always leaves something out and we can form a picture of a person based on very little. Meeting helps.

    If we can manage to criticise a view without attacking the person who holds it then there is room for change. I suppose that’s the nature of civilised debate.

    Thank you for highlighting the dangers of agreement. I think that one of the strengths of Buddhism is its multiplicity, to the extent that different forms of Buddhism can look quite alien to each other. And why not? If we all have different ailments then we’d expect the prescriptions to be different.

  2. I’m somewhat jealous of your going to the conference. I would like to attend one year (not that I’d have much to contribute). I’m curious about how you would characterize the conference in terms of how ‘consensus-y’ it is, since one of the movers and shakers behind it is Vince Horn, who is/was one of Daniel Ingram’s students (and he I would not characterize as very much a part of the consensus) – I would doubt that it’s anywhere near as consensus as the Maha Teachers confab, but is there a softer approach than I would take away from the participation of guys like Ingram, Hokai, etc.?

  3. I had quite a similar experience at #bgeeks12. Ideas and concepts about people, when met with actual in-person felt sense of those persons, do not always hold up, or at least, are found to be a small subset of the greater picture.
    As ‘geeks’, how utterly useful it is to get out from behind our iDevices, and to interact, with actual humans! What a concept!

  4. In my own minute, irrelevant way, I wrestle with the same issues. It’s a measure of my residual crankiness that I’m quite relieved that you’re not born-again “nice.”

    Between “mi-kha” and “idiot compassion” lies the razor’s edge, I guess.

  5. @ James — I found this conference significantly more Consensus-y than last year’s.

    The opening keynote was by Lama Surya Das, whom I’ve named as one of the main architects of the Consensus, and it was a classic Consensus speech.

    It also made it clear that he is, in his words, a mensch—a good guy, friendly, funny, well-meaning, confident, competent. That’s pretty much the goal of tantra! I like him, but in retrospect I should have been snarkier on Twitter during his talk.

    I was somewhat dismayed when he was announced as the keynote speaker. He’s definitely not a geek, and in a recent book he pretty explicitly says he’s not a Buddhist. (He came close to saying that in his BG talk last week, too.) So what was he doing there? I dunno. I thought about asking Vince that, but decided it was none of my business. Maybe I got that wrong too; maybe questioning that (publicly or privately) would have been useful.

    However, the Buddhist Geeks Conference is not the “anti-Consensus-Buddhism” Conference, so there’s no reason it ought not to have Consensus folks there. (Lama Surya Das was certainly not the only one.)

    Maybe it’s time to have a “Non-Consensus, Non-traditional Buddhism Conference”. We’d have to think of something else to call it. “Pragmatic” is close, although maybe it’s Daniel Ingram’s proprietary term. “Postmodern” is accurate, but would probably be misunderstood as implying tiresome French critical theory.

    The danger is that we’d form a new Inner Circle. But maybe that’s inevitable if we’re going to get anything done.

    Being a monkey is just tricky like that!

  6. Am I to infer that you were born in a Monkey year, David?
    Suggestion for a group name: “Everyday Buddhism”–?

  7. @ Kate — I meant that we are social primates. Like other social primates, we get things done by forming coalitions. When the coalitions grow beyond a certain size, we develop an inner circle of leaders, who typically have “alpha male” personality characteristics. This sucks, and it’s also mostly the only way to get anything done.

    God hates us, which is why He made us evolve from monkeys, instead of ratites.

  8. @ David – re: ‘Maybe it’s time to have a “Non-Consensus, Non-traditional Buddhism Conference”. We’d have to think of something else to call it.’

    You *could* call it a Buddhist conference.

    In all seriousness though, defining something by what it *isn’t* is tricky (most of the time).

    You could definie it by what it *is*:

    How about the world’s first Buddhists who ‘eat-meat-like-football-laugh-at-themselves-when-they-screw-things-up-(whcih-they-do-mroe-otfen-than-yuo-mihgt-expcet)-think-‘nice’-is-a-dirty-word-are-deeply-suspicious-of-anyone-who-ever-posts-stuff-on-web-forums-or-blogsites-but-still-do-it-themselves-sometimes-(maybe-allowing-themselves-a-bit-of-good-old-fashioned-Christian-guilt-when-they-do-so)-or-even-if-they-don’t-do-this-stuff-at-the-very-least-don’t-have-a-big-problem-with-anyone-who-does-any-of-these-things-and-by-the-way-are-you-looking-forward-to-the-Hobbit-Movie-as-much-as-me-and-check-out-this-cool-new-app-for-counting-my-mantra-recitation-on-my-iPhone’ Conference.

    Or you could define it by how it sees the rest of the world:

    For example, the ‘Pro-pro, anti-anti’ conference for people who are generally in favour of things rather than against them (regardless of what the things are) and are only really against people who themselves are keen on being against-other-people.

    Or following your post on ‘our Buddhism goes up to eleven’ you could just go for a ‘Metal’ title, like ‘Buddhism Unleashed’ or connect the best aspects of Metal and web-connectivity with an online conference with a title like ‘Kiss my App’ or in the words of Nigel Tufnell you could run the ‘None more black’ Buddhist conference.

    Best go now before I start digging out too many more Spinal Tap quotes.

  9. If there is some inherent flaw in so called consensus buddhism, there is no need to “fix” it. It shall fall apart in it’s own time. People stop benefitting from it and look elsewhere, or at least have a suspicion that it is not working as intended, and start looking further. And for some it just might be the appropriate medicine that keps them from flipping, who knows.

    Forming new cliques around opposing consensus buddhism could rise from feeling of insecurity or fear. Same applies to defending the consensus buddhism from it’s opponents. Isn’t samsara brilliant?

    Sometimes it takes just that, meeting those we have demonized and seeing the basic goodness in them that resonates with us. Glad you did that, David. Last few bloggings have been most entertaining, so thanks.

    As you all seemed to have a consensus over this topic, I decided not to conform. ;)

    Besides, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? THAT is the burning question fo me with this spesific topic, not how to fix things.

    Thanks for listening folks.

  10. You *could* call it a Buddhist conference.

    Actually, I think the Buddhist Geeks conference is close to being that. Ken McLeod observed that there have never been general Buddhist conferences before. That’s somewhat remarkable, once he pointed it out. It’s one of the ways in which the Geeks conference is really important; it has been badly needed, in retrospect. Opening it up to non-geeks is probably a good thing.

  11. A bunch of nonsensical comments in response to some sincere questions.
    A few thoughts: Mr Ingram does not own the term Pragmatic, so it could certainly be used with its generally accepted meaning, although a qualifying statement would be required to set it apart from what is an extremely marginal, although perhaps highly relevant Buddhist mini-movement. I think Mr McLeod probably got there before Mr Ingram however as far as pragmatic is concerned and his aims are certainly worth aligning with as they imply a truly pragmatic approach to the Buddhist path, including the tantric path.
    I agree with challenging the status-quo, which I think should emerge out of our spontaneous response to what is missing. In this sense, one of the themes of the conference, ‘it’s up to us to make the change we want to see’ (is that Gandhi by the way?) necessitates a willingness to speak up and say our piece, even it sends a few waves moving. The Geeks conference seems like the ideal place to have a go at such action. What stopped you from speaking your mind Dave?
    I think the point about separating criticism of behaviour from criticism of a person is both healthy and usually reveals the shared aspect of a collective behaviour. Criticising an individual is fine too of course, but if it is to provide worthwhile meat, it should take place between individuals in an agreed upon context. I think it’s a case of establishing agreed, shared rules on the nature of the dynamic. Perhaps this could have been a topic worth discussing in one of the non-conference thingymajig. Maybe next year?
    Perhaps a refinement in the overall behaviour you have described is to find greater clarity with yourself about owning what you think and feel, de-arming the aggressiveness or need to push, and then speaking what’s left with greater sobriety? I don’t think it has to be a case of either, or. You could actually be really confrontational and also be ‘nice’ about the whole affair. It’s like martial arts; there are different modes of attack and defence. It’s a matter of choosing the most appropriate strategy. Just a thought.

  12. What stopped you from speaking your mind Dave?

    Several things, but mainly that I find the Buddhist Geeks Conference wonderful and important, and—especially in the opening talk—I didn’t want to do anything that might undercut it.

    Relatedly, I should say that my “Pragmatic/Postmodern Buddhist Conference” suggestion was 98% a joke. Maybe at some point, if the BG series heads further toward “general contemporary Buddhism”, a more-specific, small alternative would be useful, but that’s probably years off at minimum.

    Actually, if there were enough interest in such a thing, it would make sense to organize it as an adjunct to the BG conference—on the day before, or as a subsession—so we could attend both.

  13. @ Matthew – ah, you’re right, I do enjoy a bit of nonsense – especially when David makes merry such as with his conference proposal. However just as he said his suggestion was 98% jest, actually my nonsense wasn’t *utterly* without sincerity. Since the labels of ‘Buddhist Consensus’ and ‘Traditional Buddhism’ were applied, I was simply seeking to play with what third label would be created by looking at the ingredients that would go into the ‘Non-Consensus, Non-Traditional’ recipe that David has been describing on this (and other) Blogs.

    Regarding your ‘What stopped you from speaking your mind. . .’ question, that sparked some interesting thoughts about Buddhism and conferences. As a starter for ten, my own experiences of keynote speeches at conferences is that they are there to be listened to, and to help shape the conference overall. They are not there to be publically critiqued or challenged. The keynote speaker is normally an honoured guest, and the implication of one attending their speech is that the audience respect that fact. To raise a major challenge or objection in a public forum like that would be impolite and break the spirit of the occasion for those attending. It would also be a bit odd (as the implication is that the audience member has gone to an event spoiling for a fight).

    That said, this made me think about my experiences of conferences in general. These have been twofold – business conferences that ‘address the problem of X’ – how to sell more / save more / make the product bigger, better or more exciting – and academic conferences that seek to ‘expand understanding of X’, through talks by specialists on their current research. Okay, there is debate in both forums, but highly controlled and structured. My experiences of Buddhist and Inter-faith networking sessions have been that they do neither of these two things, and fall into either making lists (of what we have in common and what we don’t have in common) or creating bureaucracy in lieu of anything practical to talk about.

    @ David – Was ‘Buddhist Geeks’ actually a conference (by any of these definitions), or was it a series of Buddhist teachings, or was it something else? I ask because you clearly extracted value from the experience of going, but I’m not certain I understand what that value was.

  14. @ngakpa — Yes, I think the Buddhist Geeks promote “expanding understanding of X.” I’m not sure exactly what they’d say X is; something like “diverse contemporary approaches and initiatives in Buddhism and meditation.”

    The most interesting talks, for me, were from academic scientists studying meditation. There also were talks from Buddhist entrepreneurs, addressing issues in the interface between markets and dharma, and those also were mainly interesting. The third category of speakers were Buddhist teachers, most of whom I felt said nothing we haven’t heard a billion times already.

    On the whole, I’d conclude from this that currently there is little innovation in Buddhist teaching. (The one thing that came up repeatedly was: Skype! Good Or Evil?)

    Not that I have any ideas about how to teach differently. But then, thankfully, I’m not a teacher.

    I’ve heard good things about the innovative approach you took in Finland a couple weeks ago :-) . Maybe the next BG conference should have a Regency Dance session. Now that‘s geeky…

  15. David, one of the things I value about your blogs is your very careful use of language. From my perspective you go out of your way to present your ideas clearly and contextually and without desire to harm other individuals. Please keep up the good work :-)

  16. @ David – Regency Dance geeky? That’s a delightfully contradictory notion. Although since being a Geek is currently fashionable that would mean that Lama Shé-zér & I were associated in some small way with something that is fashionable – and I’ve generally managed to avoid that over the last 40 years (albeit more by accident than design). The ‘innovation’ of Natural Dignity comes via realisation though, rather than through a Buddhist Brainstorming session. There were no flipcharts, whiteboards or webex conferences. In this case it is the realisation of Ngak’chang Rinpoche & Khandro Déchen, and the realised inspiration of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

    I hope that your approach of constructive criticism continues to be applied universally – even to Geekdom, and to Scientific approaches to Buddhism, and all the new fashionable stuff that folk are doing – wherever those activities have a risk of becoming something that could create an exclusive (rather than inclusive) definition of Buddhism, or wherever they drift into just the latest manifestation of fad-ism (I would be dismayed if the Geek conference just turned into the Buddhist equivalent of Zumba).

  17. Nice article. Seems like we all agree here nicely, do I smell consensus buddhism? How easily you take criticism yourself David?

  18. I have no clue what the conference was about. Has there been a forum for discussion? This would be the place to put forward controversial questions. For example how do Buddhists interact with the ‘market’? Is it just a natural event a Buddhist has to cope with? Of course not, but Buddhists are behaving often as when it is. I am asking because in Germany in fall there will be a conference about meditation and stress reduction but it will only be about the ‘good things’ meditation can do, nowhere the question will be asked (as far as one can see from the participants/speakers) what the circumstances are in which we live and which induce stress in the first place. So, how was the conference? Where there topics about social questions? For example that Buddhism in the west is mostly for the well off! Do have/feel Buddhists a responsibility visavis certain social phenomena? For example, what is Facebook doing with his one-identity-policy to the identity of the citizen (especially the younger), this should be a very interesting question to Buddhists? Are there questions about climate, energy, the enslavement of far more than 80% of world population in poverty etc. pp.? Or is it just about being geeky? Did Mr. Das really say something? If so, what? If not, what was it worth to hear him anyway?

  19. @ Matthias Steingass — These are good questions. I’m not sure what the best forum is for asking them. Since I am not involved with the organization that produced the conference, this post’s comment thread is not ideal!

    Write-ups of the conference by participants are appearing now. I think you’d find the one by Ted Meissner interesting and to your taste.

    [Update: I attributed this wrongly; it was by Dana Nourie, not Ted Meissner; see comment from Linda Blanchard below. I regret the error.]

    Interestingly, Dana apparently found Lama Surya Das’s opening keynote to be the most exciting of the conference. How one perceives a talk depends on where you are coming from yourself, evidently!

    how do Buddhists interact with the ‘market’?

    This was a major subject throughout the conference. Generally, I’d say that the attitude of the majority of speakers was to avoid both rejecting markets and being ruled by them. Markets are enabling (for those who are positioned to use them) and also highly problematic. There was a lot of discussion of ways in which Buddhism can make use of the positive aspects of markets and ways in which it can resist the negative ones.

    As one of many examples, the head of Kiva discussed the microlending model (pioneered by the Grameen Bank), and how it relates to Buddhism and social change.

    a conference about meditation and stress reduction but it will only be about the ‘good things’ meditation can do

    A scientist, Willoughby Brighton, presented her research on the negative effects of meditation. Some fraction of meditators are seriously harmed (sometimes functionally disabled for years), and that’s something that needs to be acknowledged, studied, and ameliorated where possible.

    nowhere the question will be asked (as far as one can see from the participants/speakers) what the circumstances are in which we live and which induce stress in the first place. So, […] were there topics about social questions? Do have/feel Buddhists a responsibility vis-a-vis certain social phenomena?

    Yes, many of the speakers addressed these issues. The overwhelming sense of the conference was that Buddhism is necessarily entwined with social concern.

    Did Mr. Das really say something? If so, what? If not, what was it worth to hear him anyway?

    He addressed just about exactly the list of issues you mentioned — “climate, energy, the enslavement of far more than 80% of world population in poverty etc.”

    Dana found that inspiring, and maybe most of the rest of the conferees did also. My reaction was more like “yes, we know all that—now what?”

  20. Thank you for your reply. Interesting links those. I was merely curious as you seem to be bent on critizising pretty mich every branch of Buddhism and philosophy there is outside of your own tradition of course, and that might piss some people off. Surely you seem to be prepared well enough for dissident views on your blogs, which is cool. Keep on blogging away.

  21. @ Mouchoir de Monsieur — Your comment was automatically marked as spam by WordPress. I’ve fished it out of the spam box and published it.

    I wrote that I oppose Consensus Buddhism “as a hegemonic political force.” It’s clearly valuable for many people, and I don’t oppose it as a brand of Buddhism. I disagree with it, in the same way that I disagree with Theravada and Mormonism, but I don’t want to harm any of them.

    I do want to (1) make clear points of disagreement, to help readers understand what the alternatives are, and (2) help open up contemporary Western Buddhism to new approaches. The main problem with the Consensus is that its dominance of non-traditional Buddhism has left little space for anything else.

  22. The organizers have just announced that recordings of all the sessions from the the conference are now available online.

    So, anyone who missed it and wants to catch up can do so. And anyone who wonders “was this OK / did it address my issue / etc” can check for themselves.

  23. glad to hear your thoughts on this issue. i’ve been traveling all around the country interviewing buddhist teachers and have run into the same issues with how i previously viewed their ideas vs getting to know them as individuals. i’ve taken it as an opportunity for more practice, as I’ve learned to really enjoy re-evaluating my own attachments to my views and learning how to communicate with others about differing views without the personal attachments.

  24. Thanks David for your answers and the links. Actually my questions about ‘markets’ and ‘climate, energy, poverty’ are interconnected and I wonder if a Buddhist like Mr. Das sees this? I have yet to see/hear/read his speech to make any judgment. “Occupy Buddhism” sounds well but as a slogan it comes a bit late. I would ask the same questions as you: now what?

    The background of my questions is that I always thought Buddhism has something to do with consciousness. How consciousness is formed by the circumstances it evolves with. As individual consciousnesses in interaction form society, it should be of interest for the Buddhist what values are held in the society of individuals. Especially, as the (Mahayana) Buddhist accepts an ethical assignment, s/he should be interested in the question how to better the society of individuals? I see no impetus in this direction (apart from some rare exceptions).

    But obviously this is off-topic in this thread, so I leave it here.

    Thanks again, Matthias

  25. David, thanks for the post. For me, blogging on the SBA site has really become an exercise in trying to understand how the principle of “Right Speech” works. Before I criticize others or respond to someone’s criticism of something I’ve posted, I try to pause and ask myself what my intention is for what I’m going to write. Is it to further my own and other people’s understanding of the issue at hand? Or is it to demonstrate my intellectual superiority and my refusal to be bested? Am I responding to the argument, or am I reacting to being argued with? It is possible, I think, to vigorously criticize and forcefully join an argument while maintaining an intention of compassion, and trying to achieve that has become a big part of my practice.

  26. @namgyal dorje. Ha. If you do, you do. I was perhaps being a little overly serious :) Are you a Brit by any chance?
    I have just watched many of the presentations through the live-stream page. Unfortunately some of the talks are interrupted by feed errors, but otherwise it is fantastic to be able to access them and participate from afar. If you are reading this post and haven’t watched the videos, I recommend doing so. They’re free. http://live.soundstrue.com/buddhistgeeks/event.php

    David, I was going to ask you which of the talks you found most stimulating, but you beat me to it by mentioning that you found the more technical, scientifically themed talks to be most stimulating. I am the opposite I’m afraid! I found Michael Stone’s talk and then Stephen Batchelor’s closing very rewarding. I often find Batchelor’s ideas to be important, yet his presentation often dry and unstimulating. He seemed to share more of his actual experience with the dharma this time and it made his talk more accessible.
    As for Lama Surya Dass, I couldn’t finish it. I appreciated his candour, humour and engagement, but after the umpteenth spiritual clishè, I had to stop. He had very little to say say amongst the spiritual (slightly new-agey) one liners, which is a shame as he obviously made some effort.
    My overall impression though was that the conference could have gone a step further in pushing some of the more cutting edge areas of Buddhism. They could have jettisoned Spellman, Elizabeth, Surya Dass and brought on some fresher faces with less traditional views.

  27. Well done for throwing that question at me. Here are a few quick thoughts.
    Young voices are trickier to think of. Fresh voices, or less ‘consensus Buddhism’ are not so difficult to come up with.
    I think there is room for debates and more themed talks that are cohesive and linked to a more specific theme than just emerging Buddhism and technology. Glenn Wallis and Brad Warner could debate Buddhism and punk and its relevance for the 21st century as an off the wall example :)
    Perhaps a technical day featuring scientists and researchers and a separate day examining the fallacies of hagiography in Buddhist teachings with historians such as Rita Gross and John Peacock would produce richer material? John Stevens would be a great addition as he’s an historian on sex and Buddhism and we don’t hear enough about that. Have you read his Lust for Enlightenment by the way? It’s worth a read.
    I’d like to hear more about leadership within Buddhism and the issue of teachers discussed more thoroughly, both the problems with generational differences and traditionalist, and the creation of new lineages and empowering of upstarts, like myself. Again, this could run as a theme for a day or half a day rather than just be relegated to a discussion amongst participants.
    The organisers could also challenge younger teachers like Ethan Nichtern and Lodro Rinzler to present possible solutions to specific problems. Why not pair up teachers a month before and have them attack a central issue that folks like you are discussing whilst encouraging them to think outside the box and be radical? They could do a podcast a month or two before and it would also drum up interest and excitement for the event itself.
    Why not have this years presenters go away and build on what they presented and even make a short video presentation on the results. Perhaps one a month. I’d like to hear D.Ingram develop a map or two to chart progress in practice. He seems to have enough tools to get going with that. People could try it out and he could report back in 2013 at the next conference.
    Looking through the Buddhist Geeks archives, perhaps Jeffery Martin could come and show the results of his immense research into persistent, non-symbolic consciousness (or awakening). He claims to have interviewed thousands of these folk who claim to be enlightened. I’d like to hear more about developments in that work. He’s quite young too and has a ponytail :)
    Nick Jankel a Buddhist entrepreneur could have some useful things to say on marketing and the selling of 21st century dharma. Tammi Simon seemed to be more of an apologist justifying why it is actually ok to make money from the dharma. Got that, let’s move on now.
    Otherwise some research by Vince & Co into the next generation of students following after folk like Bernie Glassman and some of the other big names may prove to be a source of new blood. There could be an up and comers section in which they get to present.
    The conference felt too bitty and because of this didn’t go deeply enough into any specific issues. I’m not a huge fan of the 20min presentations. Even bumping them up to 30mins would produce more meat. Are people’s attention spans so short these days?
    Who would you like to see participate?

  28. Wow, these are truly excellent suggestions!

    Maybe you could send them directly to the organizers? http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/contact/

    I think part of the reason the scientists’ presentations worked for me is that they are professionally committed to the idea that a conference talk should describe one specific new idea, backed with data. Buddhist teachers tend to blather vague, clichéd platitudes.

    Your suggestions are exciting to me because they would push Buddhist teachers to act more like scientists: to say something original and then back it up.

    Mmm… an interesting thought experiment would be to follow the academic model: to write a CfP (Call for Papers), stressing that prospective presenters must say something new and concrete and to make a case for it. Airy spiritual verbiage would be explicitly unacceptable.

    I’d love to hear Hokai Sobol say what he thinks :-) . I’d also like some of the young Aro teachers to talk to a different kind of audience than they are used to. That would be eye-opening both for them and for a BG-type crowd, I think. They’d have to up their game, but they might also blow some people’s minds.

    I’d love to hear Brad Warner and/or Glenn Wallis, separately or together. John Stevens would indeed be interesting.

    Some thoughtful quasi-Buddhist bloggers: Jayarava, Robert Ellis, and Will Buckingham come to mind.

    Many academic Buddhologists—Geoffrey Samuel, David Germano, Jacob Dalton, and David Gordon White come to mind off-hand—although I’m not sure how they’d relate to this sort of audience.

    I’ve just finished my second glass of wine, so I’m not thinking particularly clearly. I guess it would be easy to come up with more names. It’s a bit like a fantasy football league… Entertaining but maybe not obviously useful, since I’m certainly not going to organize something like this!

    Still, I do again suggest that you forward your thoughts to the BG conference organizers.

  29. ‘… an interesting thought experiment would be to follow the academic model: to write a CfP (Call for Papers), stressing that prospective presenters must say something new and concrete and to make a case for it. Airy spiritual verbiage would be explicitly unacceptable.’

    I couldn’t agree more, especially regarding vagaries. I think inviting well-prepared Buddhologists would be awesome. Ok, I think we have a pretty decent package of ideas to present. I shall forward my ideas and suggest Vince & Co come and read this blog post. Enjoy your wine!

  30. I’m not sure how this comment thread has turned into fantasizing about conference speakers, but I guess there’s no reason not to run with it…

    One of the things I think academics could do for practitioners is to explode the usual understanding of Buddhist history as traditional. Up until about 20 years ago, everyone took Buddhism’s claims to tradition mainly at face value. Recent research makes it clear that Buddhism has constantly innovated. In order to hide that, it invented its own history. Most of what Buddhists take for granted about Buddhist history is plain fiction. When you realize that, it really opens out possibilities for both innovation and renewal.

    I forgot David L. McMahan! (He did an interesting podcast with Ted Meissner, btw.)

    In addition to his own book (tremendously influential for me), he edited Buddhism in the Modern World. It’s a collection of papers by young Buddhist academics. They are of mixed interestingness, but some pieces are worthwhile, for example those by Sarah Jacoby and her husband Antonio Terrone, who’ve done terrific anthropological work on contemporary Tibetan Buddhism.

    Some of those academics, now in their 30s, could probably speak to a younger audience in a way that most in the older generation can’t.

    @ JR — Good point about women teachers. The Buddhist Geeks conference did well on that: only barely under half female speakers.

    The Hamburg Buddhist Festival looks like huge fun! Thanks for the link. There’s nothing like that in the English-speaking world, as far as I know. Maybe the Buddhist Geeks conference could grow into that, or could sprout something like that as a separate project.

    I obviously can’t speak for the organizers, but my impression is that their conference is meant as a showcase for ideas. That’s valuable, and so is a festival, whose purpose is celebration. I’m sure there’s room for both.

    Thinking out loud: Personally, I’d be most interested in a third thing, which would be a small gathering of people who are working out new possibilities, to brainstorm together and exchange ideas that are still half-baked. (This would be interesting for me because I have a lot of half-baked ideas that I’d like feedback on!)

    I used to go to workshops like that when I was a graduate student. The “Hurricane Ranch Discussions” with Daniel Ingram, Hokai Sobol, Kenneth Folk, Vince Horn, and Tarin Greco are quite like that (and they were generous enough to make them available as a podcast!).

  31. @ David,
    Love how this Buddhist conference charged-up your writing passion !!

    Great writing — you trick me. The first section lulled me into thinking this would be a “nice” post — but then you turned refreshingly nasty (albeit with a bit of balance).

    My experience in Buddhisty circles is that deep questioning sets one off as an undesirable character. There is a certain sweetness that is expected — or at least one should appear whiling to accept top down teaching. Even when I approached your Buddhist group, this happened too. (as you know)

    As you say, “reality is not always ideal”.

    You said, “.. but I’m not willing to shut up to avoid that.”

    What motivated that — people implicitly suggesting you “shut up”, or your inner dialogue of the balance between the issues you discussed in this post?

  32. What motivated that — people implicitly suggesting you “shut up”, or your inner dialogue of the balance between the issues you discussed in this post?

    Only the latter. So, it could be regarded as some sort of emotional vomiting, which is rarely useful. I was really excited, however…

  33. @ David – re: “One of the things I think academics could do for practitioners is to explode the usual understanding of Buddhist history as traditional. . . Most of what Buddhists take for granted about Buddhist history is plain fiction. When you realize that, it really opens out possibilities for both innovation and renewal.” I concur that there is value in all practitioners at least touching on academic understanding of what we do. Perhaps I would say that, as my first degree was in Religious Studies, but I do find it really helps frame the teachings. It gives us a context that is robust. That said, academia of course is as rife with internal politics as the religions it studies. One British-based leading Buddhist academic I met last year described the current ‘Buddhist academic scene’ as ‘a Bloodbath’. Just as Buddhists own concepts of their history is ‘plain fiction’, so academic concepts are also developed in terms of what is politic, expedient, convenient, popular or liable to result in academic grant funding.

    Whilst I encourage the people I have the pleasure of teaching to look at academic material to help frame their understanding, I don’t think Buddhists should use academic material for some kind of mia culpa self-flagellation exercise. I don’t think you think that way either, but it could go that way if folk weren’t careful – and could result in us throwing the baby out with the bathwater if Buddhists utterly abandoned concepts or teachings that were hard to reliably source. I also do not think academic concepts of truth, history, authenticity and so on are more valid that Buddhist ones, not least because the political pressures in academia are not so very different from those that occur within religious organisations. I do however like the notion of a sort of creative destruction that might help Buddhists get back to the essentials. For example in recognising that such-and-such an historical Buddhist figure (perhaps Shakyamuni himself) has little or no academic historical validity – we can recognise that what really matters about lineage is not that we can historically document our teachers’ lineage of transmission back to 500 years B.C.E. but perhaps what really matters is that we endeavour in all respects to practice as we have been taught to practice by our teachers, who have done the same in relation to their own teachers, and so on. What makes us authentic vajrayanists is our authentic intention to maintain that which we have received – not our historically appropriate action. It is our willingness to be emtpy in relation to our lineage, to get out of the way, and allow lineage to shine through. Historical precision – if it happens – is a consequence, rather than a goal. Otherwise we’d have to translate all those bendzras, bendzaras, badzras and so on back into ‘Vajra’ because we happened to know that those phrases only exist because some Tibetans struggled to pronounce ‘Vajra’. I feel this suggestion about using academic material does provide some freedom. . . and yes renewal. . . although I’m not sure how it enables true innovation. I’d welcome your further thoughts on the subject of innovation in this context.

  34. I don’t think Buddhists should use academic material for some kind of mia culpa self-flagellation exercise. [That] could result in us throwing the baby out with the bathwater if Buddhists utterly abandoned concepts or teachings that were hard to reliably source. I also do not think academic concepts of truth, history, authenticity and so on are more valid that Buddhist ones…

    Oh, yes, quite so. My point rather is that arguing about whose lineage is the One True Way (and whose is Just Made Up) is pointless, because they were all Just Made Up (by someone at some point). What matters is “does this work now?”

    Understanding that Just Making Up has gone on throughout Buddhist history helps legitimize Just Making Up now.

  35. Some of the conferences I attend do take submissions for papers from the general public, and those selected present them Sunday mornings as an addition to the “name” speakers. That would be wonderful to see, as every one of the breakout sessions had people quite passionate about moving away from traditional hierarchical structures and towards more democratic models. The panel talked about that, too, so it does seem to be something for which we’re seeing an interest.

    David, was it your experience in the breakout sessions that there was still “concensus Buddhism”? In all those I attended, we had lively discussion, sharing of diverse views, all in a friendly fashion — very little concensus, lots of energetic mutual exploration. *That* was the most encouraging thing to me.

    By the way, I also wasn’t quite as excited about Surya’s presentation, much as it was nice to finally see him speak in person, it didn’t really contribute anything new to the dialogue, in my opinion. Seemed a bit unplanned, if that makes sense?

  36. Hi, Ted! Thanks for dropping by. Sorry again to confuse you and Dana earlier. It was fun to meet both of you at the conference!

    To be clear, I didn’t think most of the presentations were “Consensus-y”; just that there was more of that this year than last year.

    I’m embarrassed to admit that I mostly used the breakout sessions as time to walk around outside letting my brain cool down to within its rated operating temperature limits. I’m afraid I probably missed some of the best stuff that way.

  37. I just listened to your interivew on Buddhist Geeks and look forward to reading more on this blog. I think pointed critique and the adversarial style of Western academia has its value, and so I feel it’s useful to regard it as a skillful means. Unique insights may arise from a lively debate, the sparks of two hard edges colliding, that may not come up when everyone is trying to reach a common ground. What’s most interesting about this style of communication as Buddhists is the injunction not to hold to fixed views (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.4.05.irel.html).

    It occurs to me one very intriguing way to take that seriously is to have two debaters come prepared to defend *two opposite views*, first one, than switching off in the second round. This would also be an act of compassion in that it would require the debater to try to understand deeply the opposing viewpoint. Who knows how practical this is, or whether anyone would be up for it, but it just came to me as I was reading this post.

    It should be relatively easier for Buddhists to engage in respectful debate because of many shared values. If we are practicing non-attachment to views, we should be able to bounce back from having them challenged, and not take it personally. But also, cultivating lovingkindness keeps our speech on track, aimed at discussing, agreeing or refuting views, but with a deep respect and feeling of good will toward the one who is representing that view. To align with right speech, I believe that if our debates remain affectionate, they will not be divisive.

    For me, entering into the heart space that metta practice often arouses seems to disincline me from debate. Debate belongs to analysis, to brain-centered being, but when you are in your heart, perceptions tend to be directed toward unity. That’s my experience, anyway. This is perhaps another good reason to consider that adversarial style as a skillful means – it represents a particular human capacity that is not better or worse than another. Some by their kamma will be greatly attracted to such verbal and intellectual wrestling matches. Others will not.

    I will probably have to read more of your writing but for now, I have this as my first impression: Consensus Buddhism is self-delusional and self-perpetuating, and opening up discourse to frank disagreement and critique is the antidote. “Consensus” as you’ve used it has a pejorative ring to it, and I’m not sure that’s your intention. Again, I’ll admit this is merely my first impression and I hope to get a better sense of your perspective by reading further. Thank you for your contributions to this discussion.

  38. Well… I don’t know if you want advice, but since you seem like you might be open to it:

    Think about what you want to accomplish. It is not clear from your post. If you just want to annoy Vince Horn, calling him names might suffice. (This is DH0.)

    Maybe you actually want to communicate something to other people about him. (That would be DH1, ad hominem.) But probably your actual point is not about him (why should anyone care about Vince?). Probably he is an example or representative of a trend you are disturbed by, and think other people should be too. You never say what that is.

    What you say about the BG logo (and some other things) seem like they are trying to be DH2, “responding to tone.” However, mostly I can’t figure out what tone you are criticizing, or why. To do DH2 effectively, you need to be specific. When you say Vince is “being a dick”, I think maybe you are attempting DH2; but without convincing examples, it’s DH0.

    Objecting to the logo is the most specific thing you have to say. Consider now Paul Graham’s advice “tone is so hard to judge; someone who has a chip on their shoulder about some topic might be offended by a tone that to other readers seemed neutral.” I don’t find the logo objectionable. I would guess most people don’t. So if you want us to object to the logo, you need to explain much more clearly what the problem with it is, and why it matters. As Graham says, “if the worst thing you can say about something is to criticize its tone, you’re not saying much.”

    Let’s say your point is that the logo proves Vince is an egotist. (You’d need to make an actual argument for that, which is missing, but let’s suppose you did so.) Then this would be a successful DH1, ad hominem. It’s not just DH0, name-calling, because his being an egotist might be relevant to something. Maybe BG shouldn’t be run by an egotist. But I don’t off-hand see a problem if BG were run by an egotist. You’d need to convince me of that.

    To get to DH3 (contradiction) or above, you need at minimum to say “Vince/BG says/does X, and that’s wrong.” I can’t find any clear examples of contradiction in your post. The closest thing is a bunch of statements in your last section that amount to saying “I don’t like their style,” which is DH2, not DH3. (And is about you, not them.) I think you may be attempting DH3, but you fail because you don’t come out with an actual contradiction. Much less explain why what they say/do is wrong (DH4). Much less critique anything they do that actually matters (DH5/DH6) as opposed to trivial side issues.


    If you are trying to communicate, your post needs to persuade, not just fulminate. Fulminating can work as a rhetorical strategy in some cases, but the audience needs at least to understand what you are fulminating about, and I couldn’t figure that out.

    You need to explain to the reader what your agenda is, why they should care about the type of problem you care about, and then show that this is a problem of that type.

    A blog post should have only one point. It should say what the point is in the first paragraph; then it should explain the point; then it should end by saying what the point was again, and how your middle part made the point. (A skilled writer can deviate from this formula, but you are not a skilled writer. Start with that recipe.)

    If there are several things you want to say, it’s usually best to break the post up so there’s one point per post. If you need to tie several points together in a single post, explain at the beginning what all the points are and how they are connected. Then make the points one by one, and make a connection after each.


    Mostly your post is about you. The middle third is explicitly about you. The main message of the rest is “My dislike of Buddhist Geeks is an expression of my complicated personality. It shows what I’m like.”

    For anyone to want to read that, we’d have to have some reason to care what you are like. You don’t give the reader any reason to find you interesting. Maybe people who know you and care about you will enjoy the post; those of us who don’t know you won’t.

    You would also have to convey what you are like in a way that gives a clear picture, and the picture you want people to have. I find your explanation of yourself unclear and unappealing. You come across as confused, extraordinarily self-involved, oblivious, hostile, and immature. Is that the impression you want to give?

    You write:

    I make a few points about the Buddhist Geeks project which you may disagree with and think are rude – but they are points nonetheless? … it’s opinion.

    Nobody cares about your opinion. (Unless they know you extremely well and love you, and probably not even then.)

    This is not a fact about you, personally; it is a fact about opinions. Opinions are totally worthless, and everyone knows that, and treats them that way.

    An “opinion piece” of writing is effective if it gives readers better tools to state or argue their opinions. For some reason, most people like arguing about opinions, and they like winning those arguments.

    If there are other people out there who don’t like Buddhist Geeks, they’d be glad to read an opinion piece that gave them better ways of expressing their dislike. Yours fails at that.

  39. Back in the mid 90s there was a Buddhism in America conference, hhhmmmm…in Boston? Pretty good array of presenters with Jon Kabat Zinn, Miranda Shaw, Bob Thurman. Yet a cliche. Those were the days Helen Tworkov’s ignorance of Buddhism and addiction to Orientalist stereotypes characterized the Tri-Cycle magazine she managed as a tricycle for those not quite ready for a two wheeler with training wheels. Called the conference organizer, one Al Rappaport asking why there wasn’t a full spectrum of buddhist representation. His response was utterly shocking ignorance: the other traditions aren’t real Buddhism. Having heard his accent, I asked what qualifies a New York Jew to make such specious generalizations. As a weakling, he hung up on me. Thus it goes, stereotypes and memes in place of a sense of buddhadharma.

    You better catch up on what constitutes an extant Buddhist canon. The Theravada canon has been redacted in favor of its dogmas. Reading through Gregory Schopen’s publications beginning with his 1979 IIJ Rebirth in Sukhavati as the Generalized Goal of Indic Buddhism is an eye opener. What’s more, the primal buddhist texts are not texts but inscriptions on monumental archaeology and iconography. None of the textual sources can be dated that late. Schopen’s demonstrated that practices of stupa circumabulation cited in Buddhaghosa have been censored out of the extant Pali canon, likely in the 17th century, Since Theravada was so marginal to mainstream Indic buddhism, its only recourse for survival was that of moving on to territories in which buddhist knowledge was weak to less, then introducing itself as the real deal.
    Of equal interest is Schopen’s review of 17 extant vinayas – buddhist corporate law – in Tibetan translation. Many of our conformist views, such as vows of poverty, just don’t survive. They’re there from the major movements in India. Same applies to ‘ancestor worship’ as a Sinic addition to Buddhism – it’s there from the beginning in India as evidenced by inscriptions.

    I was my buddhist master’s second student, His first was mythologist Joseph Campbell. To this day Joe’s interpretations, including his statement of Theravada being a dualist misunderstanding of Buddhadharma, remain among the finest explications.
    As for psychology, since the Esalen days starting in 1962, including Alan Watt’s autodidactic vodkha infused pronouncements, reducing buddhism to psychotherapy has been a dead end. By the late 60s with dual majors in psychology and philosophy, at that time equally dead ends, I chose to matriculate to a Japanese Buddhist graduate school to learn and master dormant human potentials on the basis of a robust, living wisdom tradition. By 72 pasted the testing like that of Zen, becoming a Kyoshi (same title as Thich Nhat Hahn, ‘Teachings Master’), a base camp for further explorations. Western psychology must not be confused with Dharma meta-praxis. Certainly Western therapy adds things missing in Buddhism, as does immersion in Western gnostic esoteric traditions. We just cast our nets way too narrow. To take an seemingly extreme position, mastery of Cleary’s version of the Kegongyo or Flower Adornment Sutra is a first step to comprehending a generalized sense of bodhisattva buddhism/Awakener butsudo. One generalized expression in that text informing most matured buddhism is bonno soku bodai – awakening is awakened passion, not knee jerk, amygdala fight/flight driven fear responses to life. Newer work bringing together neuroscience and ‘doing’ ‘making’ (hint, there ain’t no word ‘meditation’, a Christian term, found in buddhism – instead there are active verbs with continuative expression about training, the same stuff you find with work class athletes).

  40. I’ve published little things over the years. By 1974 I’d rendered bodhicitta ‘enlightened attitude’ which apparently Surya Das saw and loved sufficiently to ‘borrow’ without crediting.

    The Pali canon includes much of the same material as found in the Chinese canon, and both date from roughly the same period. We have to remember Pali was not a primary buddhist language, and that much of the authority claims of theravada are self-dealing. I’m not at all interested in monastic buddhism for which reason the lengthy Gandhavyuha is of much greater interest since it concerns ‘integrative bodhisattvas’, those who’ve made rites of passage through a few steps of monasticism to gain stability and continuity (tantra) in post-monastic living in the world as awakeners (waking up, waking up others) and doing so anonymously, contributing to benefitting the commonweal, not stinking of religion nor wearing it on their sleeves.

  41. Ken, thanks for this, very interesting!

    One of the many IOUs in my blog project here is a history of the formation of “Consensus Buddhism,” i.e. the pop modernist version dominant in America today. That happened in the early 90s, and Helen Tworkov and her Tricycle were key forces. Although she was not a teacher, she may have had more influence on Consensus Buddhism than any other single person—exerting power by choosing what to publish, in a time before the web. For Buddhist beginners, Tricycle was often the main source of information as to what “Buddhism” was. I think the Consensus started to crumble in the early 2000s partly because the internet made available a much wider range of Buddhist voices, without central censorship.

    I’ve read only a little of Schopen’s work, and found it extremely interesting. I am actively avoiding reading more, because I don’t want to get sucked into the vast project of trying to understand early Buddhist history! Figuring out the evolution of Tibetan Buddhism has been quite overwhelmingly vast enough.

  42. The importance of reading Schopen is twofold: (1) his deconstruction of stereotypes taken for granted as ‘real buddhism’ (eg, vows of poverty), and (2) all the fascinating things his detective work turns up as real truthes providing both keys to look for elsewhere and sharpening your own detective work.
    He doesnt understand gnosis.

  43. May I submit yet another category: Celebrity Buddhists. No, not Richard Gere and Steven Segal (when he’s not off with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpiao’s posse), nor Nichirenists Patrick Duffy of Dallas fame and Tina Turner who agelessly rocks. I’m thinking instead of big frogs in little ponds, the Dharma Kings and Queens with captured audiences richly kowtowing. They span a spectrum from New Age to Transpersonal with lots of confusion about psychotherapy, tree hugging, and other memes ensuring Success. They also seem to abide well within a good ole boy system of accolades and pats on the back, a cabal of ‘masters’. Key to their gaijin no bukkyo – Japanese for ‘the buddhism of outsiders who don’t understand that they don’t understand’ is a kind of vascillation between pretaloka and ashuraloka, always wanting robes, costumes, and make up to dance with the stars of devaloka. The human realm is not their’s in the mandala dance.
    The collectivism or consensus yana – excuse me, due to time in Australia and England, but Australia first for learning new English in a culture akin to the American Southwest, Texas in particular, but without the obscurity of right wing religious fundamentalism – I came to coin the term for those Celebrities as WANKERYANA. Wanker gives a new twist and turn, literally and metaphorically, since wanker means master in context of masturbation! Be assured with flashing neon consumer advocacy warning, Wankeryana emphasizes Big Three Buddhism, in this case a singular noun, Theravada, Tibetan (homogenizing its rich diversity) and Zen (not Zens, plural, another homogenized case).
    You can name your candidates for Wankeryana Celebrity Buddhism, thinking perhaps of the Karashians. I’m personally divided in my submission: Roshi Joan, former acid queen of Esalen with her former husband, Stan Grof. Upaya has done amazing things, the Zen Brain seminars with Al Kaszniak and Jim Austin (first season) incredible. Other than that, however, looks like a Protestant bible college promoting senseis (what’s that mean in Zen? a neologism devoid of definition), chaplain programs, all sorts of stuff (a kind word). Missing is a mission statement and strategic plan spelling out what all the costly, priviledged programs mean, amount to, and what validity or pragmatics lie beyond degree earning or certification. Are they worth more than a couple of dollars for a Starbucks? Or the Big Macs of Buddhism? Maybe the Fleshlights of Buddhism? Don’t know and sure as hell can’t find out.
    Joan herself seems intoxicated in auto-hagriography. Little poems trying to echo verse of Chinese and Japanese Zens, no sense of Son! Most repugnant is the tacit Zen fundamentalism admissive of Tibetan and Theravada fundies in league with Western neo Buddhist Wankeryana

  44. Outlaw Buddhism. Maverick Buddhism. Ever heard of them? Likely not unless your research guided you or serendipity had you trip over an obscure article published through University of Chicago long, long ago about the Hijiri.
    Buddhism entered Japan as a present from Korea’s Emperor to Japan’s Emperor, two Korean nuns. Japanese didn’t know what to do with foreign invasion other than contain it, while also convinced something sophisticated had come their way, Shindo (Tao of Shin/Kami, Japanese shamanism had a throat hold as official shamanism rendered institutionalized monopoloy – just look at the incredibly expensive robes they wear). So the Japanese righted the situation, establishing a department of government. It’s first patriarchal steps were to install monks in place of inferior women. The second step of governance was to regulate Buddhism to benefit the Emperor, the State, and the Aristocrats. Ordinations were regulated and limited, temples regulated and limited, publication of sutras likewise regulated and limited. At that time, a priviledged few could read sutras since they were in classical Chinese. With introduction of Chinese writing, Kanji (Han dynasty writing), few could master it. But that didn’t bottle the thirst of new, liberative teachings despite them being cast in the mold of magic benefitting the ruling oligarchy.
    Then came the hiriji – Outlaw or Maverick Buddhists.Vajrayanists. The Japanese film of the 80s, Kukai (Ocean Cloud Born) is a fabulous telling of one such hijiri’s story, the founder in time of Shingon – True Sound, Mantrayana vajrayana. His posthumous name is Kobo Daishi.

    Since Buddhism was state regulated, anyone crossing the line was a felon. A 6th century chinese forgery text, the Brahmajala Sutra (Bomenkyo in japanese) not only introduced vegetarian Taoist longevity practices but, as well, a bodhisattva initiation. No, not ordination. Ordination is for entry into corporate law or vinaya, for monks. Initiation is a rite of passage. That damned text’s including of a rite of self-initiation brokered the origins of Outlaw Buddhism in Japan.

    Kukai did it. then had to get out of Dodge – in his case Nara, the ancient capital of Japan. As a side note, many gringos add the honoric “O” prefix to japanese words – like O-Sensei of Aikido’s founder. Never do that with Nara. Why? O-Nara means fart in Japanese. Let scholars do that and don’t tell them.
    Kukai and myriad other hijiri got out of Nara, heading for remote areas of Japan. Teaching mandala dancing and music, Developing flood control projects, clinics and hospitals, schools including heretofore outlawed reading and writing. Kukai developed the Japanese phonetic alphabet allow for reading, education and literarcy without having to master difficult Chinese characters. Hijiri often got down on hands and knees, burrowing tunnels through mountains to save lives.
    The Zen icon of wandering free illuminating with bamboo shakuhachi flutes comes from hijiri.

  45. Sorry for gate-crashing a party where all the guests are gone. It is not my intention to be fashionably late. I just fortuitously but belatedly found you. So, it’s just you and me now, Dave.

    Why do you feel the need to criticize those smarmy Buddhists, or non non-traditional Buddhism? That would be analogous to Asians in Asia who, no longer finding their native religion or the one they were born into satisfying, shopped around, and were subsequently attracted to a sense of peace induced by the liturgies in church. But – whether from discovering the unsavory history of Christianity, or from disinclination, or for any other reasons – they did not buy into the metaphysical notion of the trinity, or even the concept of God. Hence they labeled themselves Secular Christians, or Secular Catholics(!)

    They appropriated the new religion. But then the new recruits, finding that it had not evolved over time into a version that matched their credence, set about to criticize their complaisant predecessors. The irony of it is that the organization was heretical to begin with. No amount of reforms would alter that fact, according to the traditional church from which they split.

    1) Do you imagine that such a schismatic offshoot of Christianity or Catholism would get away with impunity? Lesser transgressions than this had met with draconian Church penalty. Yet the West has seen it fit to reinvent Buddhism to accommodate its idiosyncrasies; and moreover to deem it a worthwhile if not necessary effort to further subject it to revision, following what they perceive as the historical course of Buddhism as it adapts itself to the local customs with which it interacts. There, however, is a difference between adaptation and a complete makeover. Could the West have gotten away with the offense because Buddhism is (theoretically) passive and, while not exactly endorsing the distortion of its teaching had shown remarkable tolerance for the mavericks thus far? But if you don’t like the product as it is packaged, why would you even buy it in the first place? To toy with it? There are other doctrines on sale, but the majority, if not all of them, would require a strict adherence to their principles, not let converts arbitrarily innovate at will.

    2) If the main posture of those Secular Christians(!) was one of disbelief, the angst of which was relieved by the rituals, but not the dogma, of the church, don’t you think they should have gone with the epithet “atheist” rather than “Christian” which, in this case, would be a second order identification? How is that different from calling oneself a secular [or reluctant] Buddhist rather than an atheist?

    It’s not “does this work now?” but ”do I find it valuable enough as is, to stick by it without needing to refurbish it to my own (contemporary) taste.”

    An (illuminating?) aside from The Unabomber’s Manifesto. Cross-reference the butt of your ire, the p.c. Buddhists.

    224. The people who rise to positions of power in leftist movements tend to be leftists of the most power-hungry type, because power-hungry people are those who strive hardest to get into positions of power. Once the power-hungry types have captured control of the movement, there are many leftists of a gentler breed who inwardly disapprove of many of the actions of the leaders, but cannot bring themselves to oppose them. They NEED their faith in the movement, and because they cannot give up this faith they go along with the leaders. True, SOME leftists do have the guts to oppose the totalitarian tendencies that emerge, but they generally lose, because the power-hungry types are better organized, are more ruthless and Machiavellian and have taken care to build themselves a strong power base.

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