Dogen Sangha International Post Mortem

I’m going to keep posting commercials until everyone in the world buys a copy of the Hardcore Zen audiobook.

This one came out pretty good. This was a surprise because I’m working with iMovie, which is a pain in the butt compared to Final Cut. I used to use Final Cut. But now the program no longer works so I’m stuck with iMovie. iMove is made for dad to edit out the parts where little Molly drools on the dog and then upload it to YouTube and not much else. Bending it to do what I’m doing takes a certain amount of what feels to me like fooling the program into doing things it doesn’t want to do.

Be that as it may. I was talking with Tim McCarthy, my first Zen teacher, yesterday about the demise of Dogen Sangha International (DSI) and about lineages in general. Tim pointed out that the Asian model for passing on lineages in things like Zen, the martial arts, tea ceremony and so on goes something like this. A teacher will often appoint several successors to whom he (or she, but I’ll use he for now) gives his blessing to teach as part of his lineage. When the teacher wishes to retire or feels he’s about to die, he will often single out one of these successors to inherit whatever that teacher has established in the form of a school. There may be property involved, there might be money, there might be a roster of students, teachers and other such members of that school.

In the case of DSI, the school was almost entirely conceptual. There was no property or money passed on to me and not even a list of members. The only property DSI may or may not have held were certain intellectual property items in the form of the copyrights to certain of Nishijima’s written work in English.

I say “may or may not” because even this was never really made clear to me. However, I had long believed that if there was one thing all of Nishijima Roshi’s dharma heirs agreed upon it was that some one person or entity should take charge of Nishijima Roshi’s written work. There has been a hell of a lot of bickering about Nishijima Roshi’s written material in English because he did not produce any of it by himself. He always worked with some native English speaker to turn his ideas into publishable English.

I had believed that all of this had been settled. I was well aware that a number of people were not entirely happy with the way it had been settled. But I had believed at least they accepted things. When I published my last blog I found out immediately that this was not true.

If I felt that Nishijima Roshi’s written legacy in English might disappear unless I entered into the fray and fought for DSI to administer all of this material, I might be inclined to fight about it. But everything is available, even if there are several sources for it. What matters is that it’s out there. Since this is true it doesn’t seem important to me to spend any effort on consolidating things.

What has happened in DSI regarding this material is precisely what always happens when people produce some kind of collaborative piece of art without stipulating one single person or entity as the sole owner of that thing. This is why filmmakers these days are usually very meticulous about having everyone involved sign contracts specifically stating what sort of compensation they will receive and what, if any, rights of ownership they’ll have over the finished product. You don’t want some guy whose only role in Titanic was to go “Arrrrrggghhh!!” and fall off the ship to start saying he now owns the whole movie.

There are currently no legal versions of any of the Ultraman programs made between 1966 and 1974 available outside of Japan because of problems of this nature. Eventually all the animosity involved in this tore the original Tsuburaya Productions apart. None of the Tsuburaya family are involved in the company that now bears their name.

Some of you who like to post in the comments section appear to believe that, as far as spiritual organizations go, this situation is unique to Dogen Sangha. This is because Dogen Sangha is far more open about our own shortcomings than anyone else in this business. We don’t have professional PR people, legal departments and so forth to promote a false image of solidarity like other spiritual organizations do. And trust me folks, they really do. Even the ones headed by those beatifically smiling faces you see on all the covers of the Buddhist mags. Especially them! This is one of the things I like about us. We are honest and open to a fault. It’s one of the reasons Dogen Sangha will never be as “successful” as those other spiritual organizations. But in my way of thinking this is the true success of Dogen Sangha.

The issue of the matter of there being multiple successors with one person being singled out as a kind of special successor, or head successor, or whatever, will always be a problem for organizations like Dogen Sangha. The Western solution in many cases seems to be to either try to create some kind of legal framework around this process or to democratize it or both. That’s how we handle things. That’s how we arrogantly think things must be handled.

But Buddhism isn’t like a government or a corporation. When you try to force it into that mold, it breaks. Lots of people will assure you this is not true. But they’re mistaken.

Typically when one person is singled out as some kind of special successor in cases like these, the older members of the group refuse to accept him, those who joined around the same time as the newly appointed special successor may grudgingly agree to go along, and those who join after the appointment has been made simply accept it. This is precisely what happened with DSI.

I don’t have any interest in trying to convince Nishijima Roshi’s older students to accept me as their new dharma daddy. It’s like asking me to join in a fight over who gets to eat the last chicken leg in the Col. Sanders bucket. I’m a vegetarian. I don’t care who eats it.

I also have no desire to lead Dogen Sangha International. It’s not fun. It doesn’t make money. It doesn’t make me a hit with the ladies. And worse than that it doesn’t even help spread the teachings of Dogen. So why do it? That’s a serious question that I have put to a number of people and I have never heard a single convincing answer.

Once when I was having some trouble with my little band of misfit meditators in Los Angeles, I went to see Mel Weitsman of the Berkeley Zen Center about it. After listening to me whine for a while, he asked, “What’s your bottom line with your group?” I had never thought about it like that. I said that my bottom line was, “I sit zazen ever day. On Saturdays I invite other people to sit with me.” And that was it. That’s what was at the very bottom for me.

In that case if someone were to come on Saturday and start making a lot of fuss and noise, they’d be interfering with my bottom line and I’d ask them to leave. If they refused to go, I’d end the practice of opening my place to strangers.

As far as Dogen Sangha (International or otherwise) is concerned, I feel pretty much the same way. My bottom line is that I sit and you can join me if you want. Anything that interferes with that needs to be stripped away. Dogen Sangha International was interfering with that, and now it’s gone.

SOMEONE SENT ME AN E-MAIL ABOUT THE SPANISH VERSION OF HARDCORE ZEN. I LOST YOUR E-MAIL. PLEASE SEND IT AGAIN IF YOU SEE THIS!

158 Responses

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  1. ZG
    ZG April 26, 2012 at 11:17 am | |

    Sorry, it was "too much problems and dirty things."

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous April 26, 2012 at 3:09 pm | |

    …and he didn't say "women are" those things.

    Dalai ain't goin' out like that, hater.

  3. ZG
    ZG April 26, 2012 at 7:25 pm | |

    Don't call me a hater bitch! Mr. Lama is the hater. He thinks wimmons is dirty. I guess you do too. Denial ain't just a river in Egypt. DL is an old school he-man woman hater like you.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous April 27, 2012 at 6:38 am | |

    Hater.

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous April 27, 2012 at 7:36 am | |

    I'm a hater cause DL thinks chicks are dirty? Dude ain't really God you know. He's just a old monk who is talking about something he knows nothing about. He positively shuttered when answering the question.

  6. Anonymous
    Anonymous April 27, 2012 at 8:47 am | |

    And you are nobody at all. Except a hater.

  7. ZG
    ZG April 27, 2012 at 8:59 am | |

    Ok, I'm a hater. You got me..

    But what did you hear the DL say?

  8. ZG
    ZG April 27, 2012 at 9:59 pm | |

    Ah ha..

    You heard the same as I.

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