This was my first experience of an academic conference of any kind, especially one dedicated to Buddhism. Everyone who attended is some kind of Buddhist scholar — except me. During the conference we watched hours and hours and then more hours and hours of presentations about various aspects of these people’s research into all manner of things pertaining to lay Buddhist practice. Some of the presentations were fascinating. Others were informative but frankly kind of boring. Others were just confusing. Some were borderline insane. Others were surreal.
For example, the most surreal was the final presentation. It was by a Sri Lankan monk who couldn’t speak much English but was able, it seems, to write and read it. At dinner he kept saying, “Olive oil! No cholesterol!” and pouring olive oil on his Chinese food. The next day he started to pour white wine on his food thinking it was olive oil until someone stopped him.
Anyway, he attempted to read his paper aloud to the group, in something like the way Miss Molly would read books to the children on the old Romper Room TV show. But in the middle of a heavily accented recitation of a huge long list of arcane stuff from the Pali Canon (“number 27: revengefulness, number 28: jealousy, number 29: envy of other’s well being, number 30…” I swear I am not even exaggerating) it all broke down when he came across something he couldn’t pronounce. His assistant was called to the stage. But he couldn’t pronounce it either. There was a lot of tense discussion in whatever language they speak in Sri Lanka (Singhalese, I think). Then some of the organizers rushed to the podium to try to straighten matters out and things got even more confused. Finally Prof. Scherer, the main organizer of the event, lept into the fray and summarized the monk’s presentation for him. Nice save!
I’ve never been the world’s biggest fan of Buddhist scholarship. No. Let me try that again. I very much appreciate Buddhist scholarship. I own loads of books by Buddhist scholars. So in that sense I am a fan. Buddhist scholars have brought us translations of the most important Buddhist works and for that I am eternally grateful. But academia in general always reminds me of little boys fighting in a sandbox. The most important thing seems to always be winning against the other guy rather than anything to do with uncovering facts or unknown truths or whatever it is academia is supposed to do for us.
Which also had me wondering just what academia is supposed to do for us. I mean for the culture as a whole. Is it all a lot of hot air blown around by scholars? I suppose some of it trickles down to the rest of us. Like when they found the so-called “God particle.” Which I never even really tried to understand. But it seems like most of it just blows around conferences like this and never really goes anywhere else. Or am I missing the point of the exercise? I might be.
At this conference I’ve been hanging out a lot more with a group of students from Christchurch University in Canterbury, England than with the academics. The students are a lot more fun.
What I’ve learned mostly from this conference is that what I know to be Buddhism may be incompatible with much of what goes by the name “Buddhism.” A cornerstone of Dogen’s philosophy is “shin jin inga.” It means “deep belief in cause and effect.” We do not accept the existence of miracles. We do not accept that the belief in miracles is Buddhism. This is not a trivial thing. Yet I have found that lots of what passes for “Buddhism” includes belief in miracles and belief in beings with supernormal powers. I cannot accept that as Buddhism. Nor can I accept the worship of gurus as compatible with Buddhism. I’m kind of a hardliner about this. It makes me unpopular in certain circles. This conference is surely one of them.
So anyway, last week I was in Finland, this week I’m in Spain, in a couple of days I’ll be in Germany, then Scotland an finally England. The complete dates are on my EVENTS page. But here’s the summary what’s left.
Nov. 7 University of Koblenz, Koblenz, Germany
Nov. 9 Dogen Zendo Frankfurt , Germany
Nov. 10 Balance Yoga Frankfurt, Germany
Nov. 14 Dharma Buchladen Berlin, Germany
Nov. 17- 18 Merchant City Yoga Glasgow, Scotland
Nov. 23-25 Weekend Sesshin at Fawcett Mill Fields, Penrith, Lake District UK Sponsored by Yoga Manchester
Nov. 25 Manchester, England Sponsored by Yoga Manchester
Dec. 2 London, England, The Vibast Community Centre, 163 Old Street, EC1V 9NH, for info email@example.com
I’m doing two events in Koblenz. The first will be a talk called “Empowerment and Autonomy in Zen Buddhism” at the university (16-18h) and then there will be a more public lecture “Sex, Sünde, Zen” (Sex, Sin, Zen) downtown (20-22h; both November, 7th). The locations, for the Koblez gigs are on www.autonomies.de. I would try to copy them down. But I know I’d mess them up. So please go look at that page for info.
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