Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Response to Sweeping Zen

I was going to call this post something along the lines of "I am not a Buddhist and I have a distaste for religion." I'm hoping that's going a bit too far.

The post was to be a lot like a comment I just posted to Brad Warner's Facebook page:

People are easily drawn into emotionally-charged scenarios. I think each person has baggage from their past that acts like a magnet to draw them in and as a lens to distort their view of what’s happening. One of the things Buddha taught is step free of those distortions, at least momentarily, so that distortions are less liable to negatively affect actions. It’s called detachment.

It’s not that practitioners have a license to be amoral. It’s just that the motivation for action in any instance is different. It’s “not doing wrong,” followed by “good doing”, as opposed to “doing good”. What Dogen meant by “doing good” is action motivated by societal rules and expectations and it can be the source of a lot of harm. Not doing wrong is independent of those rules. It’s not amoral, it’s a higher morality dependent on the specific circumstances. Ideally, it is a fluid stance from moment-to-moment. In any situation, only the people directly involved have the slightest chance of knowing what that might be.

Tebbe is over-reacting for reasons only he has the foggiest notion of understanding. It’s not my business to know why. My suggestion to him is that he spend some time on a zafu to investigate the root cause. The Sasaki case also is none of my business since I, myself, have no way of knowing anything. I refuse to take second and third hand reactionary statements as truth. What is my business, however, and only to the extent I can remain detached so that it doesn’t become too emotionally disturbing and interfere with living life, is watching the reactions around the blogosphere. In that sense, Tebbe’s reporting appears to me to be not only inflammatory, but also detrimental to any successful resolution of the case. It sets off other people’s triggers and emotional alarms. It gets more difficult and more difficult when people on the outside with an inability to know, i.e. not directly involved, start forming their own judgments, especially when such judgments are based on their fears, own unrelated past experiences and agendas. I, for the time being, have removed Sweeping Zen off my reading list.

I hope Brad Warner doesn’t sell his robes on eBay, either for the rent money or out of disgust at the limitations on life the powers that be try to throw on him. As I’ve said before, the inclusion of of Brad’s personal life in the reporting on the Sasaki case is divisive and a person has to wonder about the agenda of anyone acting in such a fashion. In my opinion, he’s one of the few examples of someone living zen instead of preaching it, and I think “Buddhism”-- for lack of a better term, would suffer at the loss.

By the way, Jordan Fountain wrote a great post on the role of morality in Zen awhile back:


Jordan said...

I like Robin's comments on my last post too.

Yeah, Zen is fine, but the longer I practice the more I realize that we can do without the Buddhism.

Happi said...

I’ve noticed that you’re less of a Buddhist zealot these days and, at least to some extent, can say I see your point. It’s interesting, especially when I remind myself that you were one of the influences that made me seriously reflect on whether I was willing to allow the hubris and indirect costs of associating with Buddhism (or any religion) into my life.

What I’m going to say next relates a little to Uchiyama’s (and, therefore, possibly Okumura’s) thinking and, if I hadn’t run short of time yesterday, would have been part of the above post: We can think of any role we have in life (job, marriage, parenting, whatever) as a cloud. [In this analogy, different clouds are made up of different elements and, as a result, have different properties in regard to weights, responsibilities, indirect costs, etc. At any given moment in time, different clouds can overlap.] Buddhism and, by extension, Zen is a cloud too. And both are extensions of what the Buddha taught. I think a person is fine walking through the cloud that is Buddhism, Zen or what the Buddha taught as long as he or she doesn’t try to grasp onto the cloud in order to define themselves. When we grasp onto the cloud looking for refuge or to define ourselves, especially in a way that tries to define the borders of the cloud itself, we run into trouble. We lose whatever our original features are. That effect can last only moments or in some cases years. In the latter case, one day we wake up and find ourselves materialized into a brick wall that can be very difficult to extract ourselves from.

I have a couple of reasons I’ll continue to say I’m Buddhist and Zen, at least for the time being. The first reason is very practical in that my life situation appears to require it at the moment. The second is that I’d like for Buddhism, Zen and what the Buddha taught to continue to exist as part of the same cloud.

When a person strongly defines themselves as anti-Buddhist (like Mike often seems to), it creates two problems. The first problem is at the level of the individual, namely that the anti-Buddhism cloud can be every bit as much of a trap as the Buddhism cloud is. It can cause a person to loose their original features. The second problem relates to the role of what the Buddha taught in society, humanity, and the universe (whether the universe was created by God, the Big Bang, or as part of a computer simulation -- like in the Matrix). Given the tendency of humans to allow will-power, as opposed to wisdom-power, to run the show, I predict that without the individuals like you, me and people like Brad Warner, are more effective within the Buddhism cloud than outside it – at least if we don’t allow it to define us too tightly. Otherwise, at some point in the future, Buddhism may become a cloud so dense, or a bigger more evil monster, that it is capable of destroying what the Buddha taught entirely. And that would be a shame.

The reaction of “Buddhism” against someone who is strongly anti-Buddhist, more often than not, is to cause the cloud that is Buddhism to strengthen it’s borders and definition in opposition. That, in turn, causes Buddhism to become a cloud made of a heavier substance and puts more people within it at risk. While I’m permitted, I’d rather be someone within the cloud of Buddhism working to keep the borders and definitions of that cloud soft and flexible -- which I think is most in accord with not doing wrong and what the Buddha taught.

…I think I’m going put this up as post once I proof read it a couple of times.

I enjoyed reading Rusty’s comment. Good morning to you in Okinawa, Jordan, and, as always, thanks.

Happi said...

As a footnote, if I comment on what I just wrote, I'd say: What a wonderful piece of idealistic thinking!

That doesn't mean it isn't true. Only that it, like everything else, is a partial truth. At different points in our life, each one of us is forced to take a stance on some issues.

Happi said...

Assuming the reports of their comments are accurate, of course.