Friday, March 10, 2006

Warning: Buddhist blog

I've come to hate the designations "Buddhist blog" and "Zen blog."
What makes a blog Buddhist, Zen or non-denominational, anyway?
I subscribe to several blogs linked to Zen or Buddhism either through self-description or by inclusion in "roundup blogs" that post weekly or monthly synopses of blogs deemed Zen or Buddhist in nature.
On some of these blogs, all that's done is a lot of bickering over what's perceived as good or bad in terms of personal practice, teachings, what he said or she said and so on.
Fine. People bicker.
If I don't like it, I tune out.
If I like it, I keep reading.
I can be awfully argumentative and judgmental myself.
Some of the bickering on these blogs seems to come from the heart of whomever is trying to make the point.
But a lot of it seems to come, in my opinion, from unbridled ego, a need to be heard above the din (sometimes just for the sake of being heard), posturing and the desire to be authoritative. (Heck, you can find all of these things, except for the bickering thus far, in one convenient place: my blog.)
I wonder if the fact that I and others describe my blog as Buddhist (at least in intent) is a liability.
Maybe it should be a disclaimer.
The way I see it, if a blog discusses being alive, being in each moment as it comes, explores the human condition, and tries to accept and interpret things and circumstances as neither good nor bad but just as they are, then they're a hell of a lot more Buddhist than any self-proclaimed, tongue-wagging "Buddhist blog" ever could be.
I would be honored if people considered this blog a "human blog," chronicling a life in all its imperfect, idealistic, egotistical, selfless, boring, compelling, agonizing, ecstatic, messy glory.
And if it happens to have an undercurrent of Buddhism or Sufism or Islam or Christianity or Judaism or whatever, great.
Promise not to paint me one color, and I'll promise you the same.
Now, I must go and remove the coat of paint I foolishly applied to myself.


anu said...

You rock Michael.

I simply loved your comment on Kim's blog. It was spot on.

And this is truely another delicious post.

It is so lovely to see people break walls, cross borders and rip apart fences and embrace what is beyond. For that is also theirs, the world beyond and the world beyond that..and it goes on.

MikeDoe said...

Please do continue to write/publish whatever you want. Other people will read or see whatever they want even though it is not there.

I could not even pretend to understand from where you write, I merely like to read the words and look at the pictures from time to time.

I thought on my own blog I would escape this but have not. I thought that DoeDo (an obvious wordplay on an extinct bird and "My Way") would kindof give the hint, but no people still managed to ignore that.

I find it even stranger when people vote on "Best Buddhist Blog". The best Zen blog would perhaps be the one that contains no words and is not published. There would lie a true expression of Zen.

Beth said...

okay, i promise :)
i just like your blog. i like that i never know what kind of post it is going to be: poem, haiku, photo, one of your walks, a piece of your history, something japanese or karate-related, whatever. it's all good.

Michael said...

Thank you very much, Anu, MikeDoe and Kim!

LBseahag said...

I read your blog because you are real. You do not act like you have all the answers, but will search to find also have a great way of seeing the beauty and wonder in your world...and I consider you my friend.

Michael said...

Hi LB,

Just as I consider you my friend. Thanks!

(Some of my friends may beg to differ with you on the "real" part, but let them get their own blogs!)

Tom said...

I confess that I am not altogether sure what points are made in the post and comment thread, here.

But as the writer of a usually-weekly synopsis of blogs that uses the word "roundup," rather uniquely, and had a big awards thing recently, I suspect I'm in the midst, somewhat at least, of what's being complained about here.

Blogmandu doesn't make a red line around what is or is not Buddhist. Some of what I include in Blogmandu I don't agree with, personally. A secret I will let you in on is that the effort is one I fail at often: to be objective and even-handed.

Generally, what is included are posts that are seemingly meant for the public and that may be interesting.

It is perhaps the case that I like discussions, even some that rise in temperature just a litte. I don't like whinny blogs and posts much; maybe that's a matter of taste. Or posts that feel they can discern the size of others' egos, which is finding-fault-in-the-other-monks'-bowl-type shit.

Happily [in a way], since I fall prey to all manner of error, I want to give latitude to others to be imperfect. Sometimes I succeed in generosity of this kind.

Happily, I generally think that other people are mostly nice. I come to think this because I am pretty damn sure I am a nice fellow, even as I come to learn I am disliked by many.

Phats said...

Hmm May I be superficial blog? haha!

Okeh all joking aside, I see exactly what you are saying. I agree with Anu, you do infact rock!

Patry Francis said...

Important words, Michael, whether it's a blog or a conversation. Once you get involved in labeling yourself, it can easily devolve into a marketing issue. Very un-Buddhist, I would think.

Gareth said...

It's an odd expression Buddhist Blogger...

Should I allow that classification of myself to influence what I write?

Not really, but it does I suppose.

I'm reading Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness By Shunryu Suzuki. In the introduction he's talking about the similarities between Daoist texts and Zen texts, and the poem the commentary is on.

He says something like; to a Daoist it's a Daoist text and to a Buddhist it's a Buddhist text.

I wonder what it is to an Egotist?

Michael said...

Hello Tom,

Actually, my post isn't a complaint per se, and I'm sorry you took it that way.

In a nutshell, my point is that a blog, or a blog entry, doesn't have to be labeled Buddhist by its creator or by others for it to make points or raise issues consistent with Buddhist tenets.
Similarly, some so-called Buddhist blogs can be decidedly un-Buddhist in character.

These points considered, labeling often complicates things and may even be unnecessary. A label can be a very limiting thing.
Some would say it even smacks of dualistic thinking.

But, for the purposes of a weekly roundup such as yours, I realize that if you don't have parameters by which to glean the multitude of blogs out there, your work would be impossible to complete.

You wrote: "It is perhaps the case that I like discussions, even some that rise in temperature just a litte. I don't like whinny blogs and posts much; maybe that's a matter of taste. Or posts that feel they can discern the size of others' egos, which is finding-fault-in-the-other-monks'-bowl-type shit."

Fair enough. Sometimes, one doesn't need to guess at the size of the ego of the blogster: He or she makes it plain enough to see. It fills the screen. In my opinion, some of what is being argued on some blogs and individual posts is argument for argument's sake. But, as I pointed out, if I don't like it, I'll tune out. If I like it, I read on. It's all relative. Something I may dismiss as a silly argument may be seen by another as the making of a profound point. Fair enough.

As for your being disliked by some people, well, don't count me among that number. I often disagree with you, but I think you're all right. And I like and read the weekly roundups, and I also like the attention directed my way as a result of the Blogisattvas.

Michael said...

Phats, Patry,
Many thanks!!

Ultimately, we see what we want to see.

Tom said...

Human beings are language-driven beings. Our intelligence is dependent on language.

In most things, the perameters of labels is easy to see. A chair is usually recognizable, for example; there's little gray area. A Buddhist blog presents a lot of gray area, but I don't think it means we need to abandon labeling here.

Humans can handle a lot of ambivalence and uncertainty and inexactitude and inconsistancy. This is so even for young children.

While we have a natural preference for absolutes and issues made black-and-white it is probably the case [I am just suggesting] that rather than trying to view things in hightened contrast, we should try to get more comfortable in the universe as it is, full of uncertainties and non-absolutes.

That being said, I look forward to mikedoe's completely blank blog. Of course, I won't read it or visit it, since there would be no point. Perhaps a better blog, using mikedoe's logic, would be no blog at all. I will expect mikedoe to practice what he preaches. Goodbye, mikedoe.

MikeDoe said...

Mikedoe does preach what he practices, which is not much. I do not consider my blog to be anything other than my blog. I certainly do not consider it to be a Zen, Buddhist or Taoist blog. If anyone sees it like that then that is there call not mine. I have already explained in length on the blog that I am not a buddhist or a zennist or a taoist. I have not explained that I am not a frog but I do not expect many people to reach that conclusion about me....

As for blogs, well Tom, I have already written and killed two. This current blog survived this weekend but it was a close call.

Kitty said...

Michael, I can relate to what you wrote. I have my blog listed on the "Buddhist Blog webring", and have their little navigation bar on my page, but I had to think a bit before doing that, and I'm still not 100% clear about it.

Am I misrepresenting myself? I don't seem to fit in with a lot of the other "Buddhist blogs" out there.

Maybe different blogs are going to approach Buddhism in different ways. My purpose in blogging is to look at what's going on in my life, and then to relate my experiences to the broader issues of all life.

Since the filter through which I perceive and interact with the world seems to coincide most closely with Buddhist philosophy, I naturally talk about Buddhist concepts, but it's generally not a philosophical discussion about Buddhist practice.

How do express this best? OK, I don't blog about Buddhism, I blog about life from a "Buddhist" perspective. I don't talk about Buddhist concepts, I talk using them, or through them, if that makes sense. Sometimes I use Buddhist terminology to refer to the concepts, but usually not. I think that's kind of what you were getting at, if I read your post correctly, and if I'm not projecting too much into what you wrote. (As to the latter, I don't think I am, because that's what I see you doing in your blog, too.)

Mike Cross said...

Nice post, Michael.

The word "Buddhist" is interesting: where did it come from?

Buddha means one who is awake, a human being who is awake -- not necessarily a "Buddhist" who is awake, but a human being who is awake.

The historical Buddha taught the Dharma, the Truth. He never said he was teaching Gautama-ism, or any other kind of -ism.

Similarly, it would sound strange if I called myself an Alexander-ist, someone who believed in Alexander-ism.

What matters is the Dharma, the Work.

If you meet a self-proclaimed "compassionate Buddhist," don't try to explain all this to him, because you never will. Just kick him in the bollocks and run for it, I say -- one foot in front of the other, rapidly.

Michael said...

Hi Kitty,
Yes, I recoil against pigeonholing, but I recognize that a degree of it is necessary to navigate around something as vast as the blogosphere.
So, I, too, am a member of the Buddhist Blogs Webring and have been so almost from the start of my blog.
I don't think we're misrepresenting ourselves. It's just that rather than talk about Buddhist theory, I'd like to chronicle its application (or attempts at application) in real life, without hitting myself or other people over the head with the proclamation "This Is Buddhism In Action!"
I suspect you feel the same way. If we begin to misrepresent ourselves, I'm sure there will be plenty of readers to point that out.

Hi Mike,
As always, thanks for your comments! I'm sitting here laughing my ass off at the advice you give in case of an encounter with a "compassionate Buddhist."
I've said it before: I think (rightly or wrongly) that compassion is one of the most misunderstood and misused words in Buddhism. Sometimes compassion is a helping hand or a listening ear, sometimes it's a kick in the teeth. I think compassion is doing whatever the situation calls for, with the Dharma in mind.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks, Michael.

On a more serious note, I think compassion is like free and easy breathing. If one succeeds in getting ones miserable self out of the way, then it naturally happens, a spontaneous dispersal of energy (following the 2nd law of thermodynamics). But if one pursues it directly, it doesn't work: everything becomes artificial. So how to be compassionate is not the primary problem. How to get oneself out of the way is the primary problem -- in Dharma practice, in Alexander work, and in whatever you call it when those two are no longer two.

Michael said...


That Was Zen This Is Tao said...

This makes a lot of sense to me. I have difficulty pigeonholing my blog to a poetry blog, a Buddhist blog, an activist blog or a queer blog. It's all these things, and none of these things. It's simply about me, and my experience, and what I want to share with the world.

Michael said...

Hi An,

There should be a category of blog titled "life blog." Maybe there is, and I just don't know about it.

Jo said...

Honestly? I read your blog because you know what it's like to live with cancer, the photographs you post are always something that makes me think and alot of times brings peace, and your words make me think as well and at times when I'm really sick of the whole "cancer" thing.

I never really thought of your blog as a Buddhist blog. Just the blog of a man who thinks alot and has alot to share. ;)

Michael said...

Thanks, Jo, for your very kind words. I think that in the case of blogs, labels can help me find what I'm looking for in the vast recesses of the Internet.
I think labels can be very useful. It depends on how they're applied, and and the intentions of the people who apply them.
How did your tests go? Last Friday, or the Friday before, right? I hope the results were good ones!