Saturday, January 21, 2006

Yoo-hoooo ... we're all in here!

Maybe it's just the cynical frame of mind I've been in lately, but reading some of the Zen and other Buddhist blogs to which I subscribe has become tedious.
Tedious, as in a near-complete waste of time.
Tedious, as in one lesson after another in what I consider how NOT to think, and how NOT to behave toward one another.

The angry exchanges between people who declare one another to be deluded, misguided and misinformed have grown wearisome. It has become a pissing contest between people intent on showing how learned they are, how much they know, how far along on the path toward "enlightenment" they are -- or, ironically, how much they don't know, each trying to outdistance the other from the very term "enlightenment" (but doing so in ways calculated to underscore their wisdom nonetheless).

Buddhism, as I understand it, is a way of seeing reality firsthand, through one's own efforts. Despite the guidance of teachers, it seems to me that ultimately we're all flying solo.
It's also my understanding that these glimpses of reality can't adequately be described in words. If all this is so, then why are we so intent on trying to prove each other wrong (or right, for that matter)? It just seems awfully counterproductive to me.
I think it's quite telling that so many of the comments that are posted on these blogs just as quickly disappear, with the notice "Post removed by author" left in their place.

Not long ago, I was told that Dogen Zenji, the great 13th century Japanese Buddhist thinker, said that calling someone a "Buddhist scholar" was a supreme insult. I think I'm beginning to understand why.
And I think I also understand why it's so hard to find a "good Buddhist teacher."
They're all in here, enlightening the blogosphere.

One last comment: Mea culpa. Rather than being above this criticism, I'm right in the thick of it myself.


LBseahag said...

I haven't really dabbled in Buddhism except by being a "Michael Scholar."

And this is one class I am not ditching.

I enjoy learning the world through your eyes.

Chris said...

You must have read some of the same things I read lately.

I keep coming back though. There are diamonds in the rough I suppose.

Unfortunately it does get pretty rough. This, at first, amazed me. Buddhist blogs with rants and flames....where's the love,man? :)

But I guess we are all guilty of being human. Sometimes I read soemthing and, like you, think "what a waste of time". Yet it helps me to see these as if I was looking in a mirror. We can educate ourselves by observing the foolish just as we can by observing the wise.

I actually find it quite humorous and unique to our blogs when I see folks trying to one-up (one-down?) each other about how foolish they are. Yet sometimes even within the same sentence they will blast someone for not being "as foolish" as they.

Your blog, however, is quite refreshing and I look forward to your posts. Thanks.

g said...

Michael, for a while, when visiting some of these sites, I thought I was looking through the window of a dojo, where crafty masters were sparring.

You know how the masters "use" words.

Well, I actually thought that these masters were "demonstrating" the "uselessness" of words.

But I guess I was giving them too much credit.

Michael said...

Many thanks, but I'm mired in a lot of the same crap I rail about. I hope that by noticing this, I can take steps to change my thinking and behavior -- or at least learn to live with my hypocrisy.

Chris H,
I keep coming back, too. I have a confession: I watch "The Jerry Springer Show," even though I smugly consider myself "better than that."
Yes, we're all being human -- no guilt involved, in my opinion. We just work with what we were given.
And I think you hit it on the head: We ARE looking in a mirror. Speaking for myself, I don't think my criticism would often be as strong as it is unless I realized that I do exactly the same things; for me, the level of criticism often matches the level of self-criticism. (What did Shakespeare say, "Methinks he doth protest too much"?)

I think they are crafty masters. It's just that perhaps they're spending too much time sparring with each other and not enough time sparring with the questions of existence. Nobody has proprietary rights to the truth.

Tom said...

Of course, Michael, it does very much beg the question Why don't you stop blogging, then? The pissing in your own bathwater question should not be too easily dismissed in a wave of selflove.

If you think there is too much tedium, and you think that people are being forced at gunpoint to read blogs, then why are you adding to the tedium?

Frankly, there are select reasons to "flame," at times. It's my excuse in the hole.

Ken Wilber has identified the Mean Green Meme [aka, Boomeritis Buddhism] as the West's biggest obstacle to enlightenment. Much of the passion and invective comes from folks who are there, at the very point where their worldview can be overturned.

Soft, squishy, self-congratulatory Buddhism won't get one over this wall. Fire must meet fire. [Though, at other times, of course, fire is best met with water.]

MikeDoe said...

Guilty as charged.

In the end Zen has to be a solo journey since it is a journey into YOUR mind and YOUR body starting as always from wherever YOU are now.

I still feel the need to write stuff on a blog and so I will continue to do so, but without any express claims about anything. Probably.

A Zen Blog Flame war is itself uniquely funny.

Where else in the Blogsphere will you find an argument about the correct way to sit and stare at a wall....

ZenMaster1: This is a flame-war
ZenMaster2: There are no flames
ZenStudent: There are no Zen Masters.
Bystander: Guys, get a life!

Anonymous said...


Kitty said...

As I was thinking about this post, one of my favorite Joseph Campbell quotes popped into my mind:

"Where you stumble, there your treasure lies."

Real-E said...

The best book on Buddhism I have read is called "Hardcore Zen" by Brent Warner. Essentially, the author is a bit like myself, an old punk rocker searching for a spiritual path. In the book he explains the Buddha's statement which is, to paraphrase, "hey this is what I discovered but it is derrived from my experiences and it could all be wrong so take your own path, question everything and find whatever it is that you discover". I think those folks that you wrote of have missed the boat. Buddhism should not be dogmatic or a specifically prescribed practise.

Just my thoughts on the subject....

Matt said...

I think Buddhism is one of the wisest belief systems ( religions )around.

I agree with you that too many people wish to be right..even at the cost of many lives and much suffering.

I believe that if we live our lives by example, rather than opinion.. we have a better chance of proving ourselves right..if that is what is important to us.

Michael said...

Hi Tom,
I understand your point, but blogging isn't the problem -- back-and-forth bickering with little regard for the viewpoints of others is the problem, as I see it.
Stating one's views and then blasting anyone who may have a contrary viewpoint is another part of the problem.
I would say it's a lack of civility. I have the opportunity to comment on it, so I do, for better or worse.
In a way, yes, I'm adding to the tedium. But if the result of my comment and the comments of others is to move the discussion along, then I see merit in doing so. Your mileage may vary.
And no, I don't think people are being forced to read the blogs of others, nor do I recall saying so explicitly or implicitly -- but then again, my memory isn't what it used to be.
As for passion and invective being necessary, I agree wholeheartedly. But there's a way to communicate respectfully in this manner, without raising the hackles of the reader, or demeaning him or her.
I'm aware that compassion is an extremely misused and misunderstood word where Buddhism is concerned. I know that sometimes compassion can be a shoulder to lean on, other times it can be a kick in the teeth. Maybe the most compassionate thing I could've done was to keep silent, rather than comment.
But in the interest of participating in the journey we're all on, I said what I felt needed to be said.
Thanks, as always, for your comments. We may disagree, but respectfully so.

Hi JohnDoe,
I, too, am guilty -- and I realize that an admission of guilt doesn't automatically provide one license to continue committing the same errors.
Yeah, I guess it is all pretty silly in the long run, but, as long as we're all in the same shitstorm, it might pay to be nice, I think.

Thanks, Anonymous.

Hi real-e etc.,
Yes, I like Brad Warner's book a lot. I got quite a bit out of it.
But, I wouldn't agree that any of my fellow bloggers have missed the boat. At least, I'm certainly no judge of that.
I think we're all trying to do the best we can, and taking different paths up the same mountain.

Michael said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for your comments.
I know that my ego, my conception of self, gets me in all sorts of trouble.
The thing is, many times when something angers me, it's really just my reaction to the mirror that's being held up in front of me.

Michael said...

Hi Kitty,
Your comment sums things up better than I ever could...

Tom said...


I, of course, have no problem whatever with you saying what you felt needed to be said.

"Back-and-forth bickering with little regard for the viewpoints of others is the problem" is precisely right -- but you are suggesting the quite wrong solution, IMHO.

The solution is decidedly not to condemn the bickering or try to make it socially unacceptable. People who are on the path will bicker until they are further along the path. People will bicker so long as they are isolated within themself or their family or their group or their country. People will bicker when they see into the universality of Mind but continue to struggle with the worldviews of others who are still archly competitive or egoic or view the world foremost as a battleground. [The Green Meme is discribed in the prior sentence.]

The green meme is egalitarian, wants equality and fairness -- but only for those who are also egalitarian and believe in equality and fairness. The green meme wants to distroy dissenters to their vision of perfect harmony.

The green meme is terrible -- you are right -- but it is still a rare-enough achievement. Certainly, there are "higher" memes: Ones that see into the value and sometime wisdom of the "lower" memes. Anyway, that's what I think, and if you disagree, well, stick it in your ear.

Michael said...

Hi Tom,

Now I understand what you mean. Now that you've explained it, I see the wisdom in it.
But, I think a wise person tries to convey wisdom according to the level of comprehension of his or her audience. If the beat-them-over-the-head-with-a-stick approach doesn't work, shouldn't another method be tried, if the person is that intent on conveying a viewpoint?

Mike Cross said...

Yes, as an Englishman, I proudly subscribe to the traditional method of making oneself understood to foreigners who don't seem to understand English: shout louder at them.
No, seriously. Your blog Michael is one of the few that I feel I have learnt something from--not only because of what you say but also because of the way you say it. I feel that your way of expressing yourself is a really nice example of how to be. But that doesn't mean that I want to imitate you. Your style is your own, as mine is mine.
Conversely, you may be one of very few visitors to my blog who seems to have been able to look beyond my confrontational style and notice that the content of what I am saying is truly valuable, as I know with all my heart that it is--not because of any virtue that I possess, but because of what I represent: the coming together of two truly great teachings, of Zen Master Dogen and FM Alexander.
I feel that on these blogs ideas are battling with each other for supremacy, and so I engage freely in Dharma combat with others. I don't pretend, for the sake of politeness, that my teaching is the same as other teaching which is inferior to mine. I know that what I am offering is a cut above what, for example, Brad Warner is offering. But because of his winning style, Brad's teaching is a lot more popular than mine. It is a victory of style over content, so far. But I think that will gradually change, as more people like you are attracted to the reality I am struggling to express. Time will tell.
When Master Dogen came back from Japan and announced that he was introducing true Buddhism into Japan for the first time, it was not that the whole country bowed down before him: rather, it is said that the Buddhist establishment became angry and burned his temple down.

Michael said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks **very** much for your comments!
I've learned a lot from all the blogs I've visited since getting into blogging just a couple months ago. I enjoy your blog and appreciate your insights, though I don't agree with everything you write. From our correspondence, I think -- in fact, I know -- you would prefer people to have this bit of healthy skepticism, rather than unquestioning acceptance of everything you or anyone else write.
Similarly, I enjoy Brad's blog, and Pierre's, and JohnDoe's writings, and so on. A lot of what is written strikes me as true. I reject other aspects, or at least reserve judgment on them.
As my understanding and experience increase, I'm sure the proportions will change.
The way I see it, the things people write will stand on their own merits, or not. How forcefully or how subtly they're expressed doesn't make a difference -- unless we allow ourselves to be intimidated or swindled.
I recently expressed my belief that nobody has proprietary rights to the truth, and I still feel very strongly about this. I think that all the blogs I've visited offer pieces of the truth, different paths up the same mountain. Again, once my understanding increases, what I consider a facet of the truth may not be thought of as such tomorrow, and vice versa.
I care very much what you all have to say. I think it would be supremely foolish of me not to consider all of your viewpoints. It's just that it's sometimes hard for me to pick and choose through the din.

With love and respect,

MikeDoe said...

"The way I see it, the things people write will stand on their own merits, or not"

That is the answer.

I personally, don't have any views on who is the most right on any subject. Everyone has a different style of writing and sometimes this style interferes with the content. At other times the style is the content.

The fact that I agree or disagree with someone or a viewpoint is not important. Each can trigger my own thoughts. Your own thoughts often point to the truth.

I will write some stuff on my own new and shiny blog when I have something to say!

Michael said...

Thank you, John.

Tom said...

Ken Wilber writes of a special dispensation for slamming the Greens. [Like Kermet, I too am green, btw. So clobber me ... please.]

Consider Green pathology: A perfect world can be achieved from a carefully envisioned formulation. All that's needed is that everyone follow the detailed rules. If everyone will submit to this prison AND BEHAVE and allow their brain to be washed then life will be perfect bliss. We will all be happy and equal in an enchanted wonderland of MY construction.

Michael, when you wrote "And no, I don't think people are being forced to read the blogs of others, nor do I recall saying so explicitly or implicitly" I got the idea of 'forced reading' from your expression of feeling tedium and that you were wasting your time.

People should write whatever they are compelled to for whatever reason. It is our responsibility as readers, surely, to choose, on the fly, what we will read or not read.

Michael said...

I agree completely, Tom.

Will said...

Ah, but what if all of this opinion-mongering (alas, Sir, I am guilty and have nothing to say in my defence) is not the real point, but actually whilst we blather away about this and that, we find ourselves forming human connections that we wouldn't otherwise?

It is perhaps true that we do rant at times, or that I rant at times, that there is a kind of clamouring to be heard. It is also true, however, that if you wanted a lesson in ranting, you could do far worse than looking at the Buddhist masters of old, many of whom had perfected the art to a high degree. Nevertheless, I find what is now fashionably known as the blangha (thanks to Nacho's irrepressible penchant for rhetoric, I believe) to be a wonderful and thought-provoking place to hang out. Rants 'n' all.

All the best,


Michael said...

Ah, Will, wonderfully put.
I personally don't think I'd choose arguing with someone as a way to connect with them, but I suppose I wouldn't rule it out, either, and I know for a fact that I've done it.
I think that just being honest with myself and with others in revealing that I'd like to establish such ties is the best course for me, and one I need to follow more. Sometimes, though, my subconscious mind has other notions...
But, yes, ties form in strange ways.
I agree that ranting is a clamoring to be heard. I have a blog, the mere fact of which proves I clamor to be heard, through ranting or otherwise.
(I'm a ham, and I love an audience.)
As for the way I express myself, I just want to learn to select the weapon appropriate for the situation.
When I can hear well, I prefer music at a comfortable volume. When my hearing begins to fade, I'll turn up the sound.

Lone Wolf said...

I couldn't agree with you more Michael, it gets a bit old. I just try to speak from my experience which has nothing to do with being enlightened.

Will said...

Agreed! Ranting and arguging aren't really the best ways to connect. But blathering? Blathering is another matter... I suppose what I mean is it is often not so much what we say as the fact of saying it that forms the connections.

Keep on hamming it up!

All the best,


Michael said...

Hi Lone Wolf,

I learn a lot from your postings. I bow to your experience!

Hello Will,

Yes, our words, our sentiments do bind us to one another. I know this is helpful to me because it shows that we're all pretty much in the same boat -- or at least in the same fleet.
"Blather" is a great word. I'm such a blathering idiot sometimes.

Catastrophe Jones said...

On a complete tangent you won't receive, because I heard you have finally succumbed to the unfortunate, ineluctable frailty of your physical being, the actual quote is:

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks."