Thursday, February 10, 2011

Brad Warner's take

For most, I suppose, it's a tempest in an overrated Buddhist teapot, but Genpo Roshi's announcement that he would disrobe as a Soto monk and yet continue with his "Big Mind" business model for enlightenment has aroused any number of reactions. I haven't read them all, but one of Genpo's biggest detractors, Brad Warner, another Soto monk, offered a pretty cogent and sometimes touching analysis of Genpo's activities that ended with:

Some people think it's a violation of the Buddhist precepts to point out garbage like this for what it is. Genpo and his buddies count on this mistaken interpretation of the precepts to intimidate those who ought to speak out against what so many of us can see clearly is abusive and harmful. I don't agree with that interpretation. This is some very nasty shit. And all of us who teach Zen are implicated in it by association. Our silence allows it to continue.

Fuck you Genpo Roshi.

The first comment below that fiery ending was this:

Genpo Roshi said...
I'll fight you any day of the week, Warner. Any day, any time. Name the place and let's do it.

So much for Buddhist serenity as it is generally conceived.

And here is Brad's take on Genpo's announcement that he would disrobe.

As near as I can get it, Brad's quarrel with Genpo is a little like the quarrel I have in my mind with a Catholic
church that abhors abortion: If you urge those who are pregnant to bear the baby and offer few if any support mechanisms that will care for mother and child postpartum, then how healthy can the mandate or the one mandating it be? Genpo has a thriving business that promises a just-add-water time frame in which to achieve what is commonly called "enlightenment," but provides little if any support to those who have managed to strip away their delusions in the course of experiencing that "enlightenment." On the face of it, it is a cruelty masquerading as a kindness and as such is manipulative ... if remunerative.

Brad, as far as I can see it, has manufactured a quasi-bad-boy persona along the Zen Buddhist circuit, but his public persona strikes me as masking an honest thoughtfulness. He is not just some nitwit railing against the hypocrisies that humanity can nourish. He is talking about flesh-and-blood people who honestly long for some more stable and peaceful way. And of course they are vulnerable and sometimes foolish. But that's no reason to take advantage of their vulnerabilities. Brad speaks out for what I consider a common decency that deserves even more attention in a world of spiritual endeavor.

Mind you, I never met Brad and for all I know he is the neighborhood child molester, but his written words strike me as thoughtful and honest ... even when he gets a hard-on as in the case of Genpo.

As with the Eido Tai Shimano thread on this blog (which celebrated a first birthday today with close to 5,000 comments), so much anguish and anger and confusion is woven into the manipulations of so-called spiritual teachers that it is hard not to think it is just part of the territory. It all reminds me of the old insult that went "He's so dumb he could fuck up a wet dream!" Why and how the desire arises to fuck up this wet dream or that, I don't honestly know. But in spiritual life, it seems somehow especially heinous and deserving of reproof.

"Caveat emptor!" is too simple and too dismissive in the world of spiritual endeavor. It just indicates how anyone might rightly desire to elude the thorny particulars of a teacher's misconduct and the student's longing to trust. Teachers need to hold themselves to a more benevolent and clear-headed standard. I don't honestly say it will happen, but the imperative is there. It goes with the territory ... even it the territory is littered with those who decline to acknowledge that imperative in subtle and gross ways. As U.S. President Harry S. Truman once said, "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

"Our silence allows it to continue." How sad and how true.

 Brad Warner's arguments, both in particular and in general, have my ear ... up to and including a resounding, "fuck you!"


  1. I'am new to Zen but now after seeing this, I view Western Zen as a torn bag or uncooked rice on the snow. One place I need to see the power of truth is in Zen, I insists that my sensi, roshi tell the truth.

    Of my own selfishness I looked at the man in question, and his webpage bio starts with:

    Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi, a lineage holder in both the Soto and Rinzai Zen traditions, is the second Dharma successor of Taizan Maezumi Roshi. His Big Mind process combines his 35 years of studying and teaching the wisdom of the Zen tradition with the insights of Western psychology. Founder of Kanzeon Zen Center International and president of The White Plum Asanga, he is the author of four books, including The Path of the Human Being.

    One does not have to shine the light unto who they are if there intention is mindful. You offer when asked...I have no judgement of this man, but I will post what little I have come to understand. I he reads this perhaps he can gain what he has lost.

    Without a commitment to truth there is no path to travel. Dharma is a synonym for truth and Zen practice is synonymous with living a life of truth.

    One of the primary characteristics of
    psychologically or spiritually mature people is that they never lie to themselves. Being honest with oneself is a prerequisite to personal growth and a genuine liberation of the heart.

    This is so important that we can safely say, as an absolute truth in Zen practice, that deceiving oneself is never acceptable. Serious practitioners strive to be impeccably honest with themselves.

    Truth brings inner peace by overcoming the conflicts and turmoil we carry within our own minds. Truth can bring an inner security that frees us from neurotically defending, apologizing for, hating, or hiding ourselves from ourselves.

    Truth can also help overcome conflict between people, truth is not the same as facts. Facts alone carry no power whereas truth does. A variety of forces come together to give truth its power. One is the force of inner purity and calm that can only be found in truth and honesty. Another is the confidence that comes with knowing what is true. Yet another is the strength of the good intentions that stand behind speaking the truth. Still another is the way that truth makes reconciliation and forgiveness possible.

    Zen/Buddhism also uses truth as a way to find release from clinging and the suffering that ensues. The Four Noble Truths are not meant to be truths in the sense of a creed that a Buddhist must believe. They are pragmatic truths, much like how it is true that if you cut yourself deeply with a knife, you will hurt and if you keep the wound clean, you promote its healing.

    The Four Noble Truths is the Buddha’s way of saying that, if you cling or grasp to anything, you will suffer, if you let go of that clinging, that suffering will end. The Four Noble Truths have no value in the abstract.

    They are verified through direct experience, by discovering how to be directly honest about our suffering and its causes. The need for personal honesty is the reason that Buddhist practice depends on mindfulness. Mindfulness is sometimes defined as the practice of being honest about what is happening in the present moment. The awesome freedom and profound peace toward which the Buddhist path moves has nothing to do with how much we know, whom we know, how rich, smart, or beautiful we are, or who admires or even loves us. Rather, this path has everything to do with telling ourselves the truth and, in doing so, becoming a true person.

    And finally there is the impact you have provided to all you betrayed. You have lost the path and must walk it seeking forgivness.


  2. I usually agree with Brad when it comes to his take on the charlatans and snake oil salesmen masquerading as Buddhist masters. He also has a pretty good approach to unwinding some of Dogen's more obtuse utterings. See, Sit Down and Shut Up, his best book, I think.

  3. The one area of Buddhism that causes me concern as a newbie is the requirement (if one wishes to make any real progress) to sit at the feet of a guide/teacher. I know it is no different in Christianity or any other spiritual quest that sooner or later the individual is going to need "one on one" instruction/guidance. The "other" religions (for the want of a better word) have churches/congregations that hopefully may provide some protection from charlatans however in Buddhism there isn't always that buffer, as we tend to be more solitary in our quest. For a vulnerable seeker this "requirement", if a local Sangha is not available for guidance, can be a significant danger. When people view Buddhism they see, erroneously, a completely safe environment in which charlatans could never operate, we are just not like the others!! Where possible experienced practitioners have an obligation to expose those would take advantage of people.

  4. Tullik -- Yes it's thorny: How could anyone possibly know before they find out if a teacher or spiritual path or anything else for that matter were thoroughly benevolent? The intellect pipes up and says, "Well, so-and-so and such-and-such vouch for this person/institution." But anyone who has taken an interest in Buddhism has probably discovered that the intellect is an iffy solver of problems ... dubious ... not good and not bad, but not something to bet the farm on. And the same thing goes for emotions -- that gut feeling that the Dalai Lama really is a good guy and wishes us the best, for example. If emotions can't assure anything and intellect is a limper at best, how are we supposed to figure out who is a tried-and-true, no-bones-about-it teacher?

    The answer is, we risk -- take a leap with no damned clue about where we may land. Sniff the scene, call on past experience and understanding, size the person up, listen to people you may, for the moment, trust ... do all the Sherlock Holmes stuff you like ... and then MAKE YOUR MOVE.

    The impetus for all this, I imagine, is the uncertainty anyone might feel in his or her life. Suffering, as the Buddhists say. Something has to be done, Buddhism seems to have a bead on things ... so I guess I'll try that. But the bald fact is that anyone who gives it a try cannot possibly know until AFTER they try it.

    No matter how beautiful the scene seems to be -- teacher, temple, spiritual persuasion -- still there is the fine print of putting into action what we can discuss from now until the cows come home. Bottom line -- into the fires! Will you get singed? Count on it. Will you be rewarded? Count on it. Will everything turn up roses? I haven't got a clue, but you simply cannot know until you give it a shot. One thing's for sure: Pretty palaver doesn't assure peace.