Is There a Problem With Buddhism?

monk and nudes censored for your moral safety Crazy_Photos_From_Asia_20My friend Danny Fisher wrote an article called Misogyny and Sexual Assault Are Still Missing Links in Conversations About Sangha Sex Scandals. It’s a good article and I don’t have problems with anything he says in the article. I think that what he says in it is right.

But the existence of the article and so many others on the same topic lately made me want to make some comments about it on Danny’s Facebook page, which started a conversation I’ll reproduce for you below.

ME: The thing that bothers me most about the Sasaki and Shimano cases is that they’re being taken as evidence of some kind of general trend in American Buddhism. But I don’t think that’s true. This isn’t to deny anything you said in your article, such as pointing out that even Buddhist “masters” can be misogynists and commit sexual assault. Sure they can. But what was going on especially with Sasaki is extremely peculiar. It sounds to me more like some kind of bizarre compulsive behavior that was unique to him than any kind of evidence that there is something wrong with Buddhism in general.

JOSH BARAN: It isn’t just a few bad apples. It may not be “something wrong with Buddhism in general,” but there are some repeating patterns of “masters” who succumb to grandiosity and feelings of entitlement that include abuse of power and sometimes sex. Too many teachers think they are far more awakened then they are and create toxic communities around them where absolute obedience is demanded. Evidence — in the late 70s and early 80s, I ran a support group for people who had left spiritual groups and gurus – and counseled and talked with probably over a thousand people who had left many kinds of groups, gurus and teachers. Shadows need to come to light. In 1981, I heard about Sasaki.

JOSHUA EATON: This isn’t just a problem with Sasaki and Shimano. It’s also a problem with Trungpa Rinpoche, Osel Tendzin, Kalu Rinpoche, Genpo Merzel Roshi, Maezumi Roshi, Jetsunma Akhon Lhamo, Lama Surya Das, Geshe Michael Roach, and others. Honestly, I’ve heard so many stories about abusive student-teacher relationships–many involving prominent teachers–that it’s hard to know where to begin or whom to trust.

ME: Joshua, I don’t know about half of these scandals. But the ones I do know (Sasaki, Shimano, Trungpa, Tendzin, Merzel, Maezumi and I’d add Baker) all take place in large institutions which which all grew at a very rapid pace. Comparable incidents have happened in Hindu, Christian and Islamic based institutions which were similarly large and grew at a similarly accelerated pace. I would suggest the problem is not something to do with Buddhism but with these types of institutions.

Taken from this perspective, Buddhism actually comes off pretty good. There has yet to be (and hopefully will never be) a Buddhist equivalent of Jonestown or Waco (Aum Shinrikyo may be the exception here, but they were only very tangentially Buddhist). Trungpa’s institution had a lot of weird sexual stuff going on but it pales in comparison to the alleged child abuse and drug/power scandals associated with the Hare Krishnas who emerged around the same time and grew at a similarly accelerated pace.

Maybe Buddhist institutions don’t need to be so big. Maybe they don’t need to be so institutional.

Later Josh Baran responded to what I said noting that, “It may be the myth of the fully enlightened master / sage combined with the narrative of skillful means and crazy wisdom, and throw in demand for absolute obedience – produces a particular kind of abuse potential.” I agree that this is the root of the problem. But I don’t think any of this stuff really belongs in Buddhism. It’s there in lots of contemporary Buddhist institutions. But it’s not fundamental to Buddhism. In fact, it shouldn’t be there at all. None of it. Ever. Let me go through Mr. Baran’s points one by one.

1) The Myth of the Fully Enlightened Master: This comes from the standard narrative of Gautama Buddha’s life in which he sits under a tree and meditates and after a while ~poof!~ he’s a fully enlightened master forever and ever, amen. From then on he’s no longer plain old Siddhartha but is now The Buddha, the World Honored One. This is the way it’s been told for centuries. And there are many cases of people in years gone by discussing if a Fully Enlightened Master was or was not capable of making mistakes and so forth. The traditional story of Hyakujo’s Fox is one such case.

But this myth came about only after Gautama Buddha himself was dead and gone and could no longer challenge it like he had when he was alive. Like every other great person who dies — John Lennon, Mother Theresa, JFK, Kurt Cobain, the list is endless — Gautama Buddha was mythologized after his death into something much more fantastic and unreal than he had been in life. But while he was alive, Gautama told of being visited by Mara — that is, dealing with the still living karma of his pre-enlightenment years — right up till the end of his life. So even the original and arguably greatest Fully Enlightened Master of our lineage was not the kind of “Fully Enlightened Master” the myth makers want us to believe our contemporary masters are.

2) The Narrative of Skillful Means and Crazy Wisdom: The idea of Skillful Means originates in the Lotus Sutra wherein the Buddha does whatever it takes to bring about realization in his followers even if, on the surface, it seems to be deceptive. Of course such a narrative is ripe for abuse. So is the idea of Crazy Wisdom, which can be used as a cover for plain old unwise craziness. The original intention of these ideas was to convey that wisdom doesn’t always look the way we think it ought to. This is true and important. But neither of these notions means that Buddhist wisdom always has to look crazy or that so-called “skillful means” must always be some sort of trickery.

3) The Demand for Absolute Obedience: This is absolutely not part of Buddhism. No decent Buddhist teacher has ever demanded absolute obedience. It’s antithetical to Buddhism, which stresses the necessity of questioning everything including the supposedly enlightened pronouncements of one’s own teacher. Any teacher who claims that students need to “come under the teacher” to quote what Genpo Merzel Roshi had to say on the subject doesn’t deserve to be “come under” by anyone at all. To say such a thing is to demonstrate that one has absolutely no clue what Buddhism is about.

The other factor I think is crucial to point out in all of this is that, whether he meant to or not, Joshu Sasaki (and others to some extent) taught us American Buddhists something very valuable. And that is that we should never blindly obey religious authority figures even if they are Buddhist Masters. You might say that we didn’t need that lesson. But clearly we did or none of this would ever — indeed none of it could ever — have happened.

We’re not talking about Adolph Hitler with the might of the German Army to enforce his will. Sasaki is a tiny little old man in black robes. The only thing Joshu Sasaki ever had that he could use to compel anyone to obey him was his student’s desire to obey the arbitrary whims of a religious authority figure, their desire to be dominated. And it worked like magic. On people who should have known better, who, I would argue, did know better and chose to ignore what they knew.

Be careful out there.

(Special thanks to James Ford for unknowingly contributing the image used on this page, which I stole from his blog.)

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78 Responses

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  1. stonemirror
    stonemirror September 18, 2013 at 9:10 am |

    “…comes off pretty good…a Buddhist equivalent of Jonestown…”

    Well, there’s Shōkō Asahara, and Aum Shinrikyō. What they were up to certainly had little actual relationship to Buddhism, but he was happy to use mikkyō trappings when it suits him, not to mention the “social currency” of dharma-tourist pictures of himself with the Dalai Lama, etc. Quibbling over the fine points would seem a bit like a “No True Scotsman” argument.

    There’re also packs of Buddhists merrily stoning Muslims in Burma, pretty much even as we speak.

    We’re in for yet another round as it comes out that the guy who shot up the Washington Navy Yard turns out to have been involved in Theravada. This is, I think, the “totally enlightened master” syndrome writ small – people are somehow amazed that it’s possible to both be a Buddhist and be either violent or mentally ill.

    (This also ties into yet another gripe with many of the denizens of places like “Sweeping Zen” – Buddhism being conflated with some sort of “therapy” for something…)

    1. Hoetsu
      Hoetsu September 27, 2013 at 1:54 pm |

      My understanding is that Aum Shinrikyo was more influenced by some of the more inflammatory elements of Christianity than by Buddhism. At the time of the sarin gas attacks they were obsessing about Armageddon prophecies from the Book of Revelations. Shōkō Asahara also tossed in yoga and big doses of current popular culture. That group was/is about as Buddhist as a Benihana’s.

      I agree with Brad, that the “problem” is not Buddhism as much as it is a common problem with religious (and similar) institutions, not to mention sociopathic cult leaders and their followers.

      1. stonemirror
        stonemirror September 28, 2013 at 1:38 pm |

        “That group was/is about as Buddhist as a Benihana’s.”

        As I said, “no true Scotsman”. Aum Shinrikyo was “influenced” by a broad variety of things, including but not limited to random bits and pieces of the bible (chiefly the term “Armageddon” aka “Harumageddon”), Egyptian mythology, science fiction and Shoko Asahara’s generally delusional mental state.

        However, the fact is that Asahara was more than happy to use Buddhist stage dressing and trappings, and Buddhist terminology, as much as possible, redefining it when necessary; he was quite happy to display pictures of himself hobnobbing with various Buddhist luminaries.

        You can say, with equal justification, that Jim Jones’ group was about as Christian as a Carl’s, Jr., but it’s really completely beside the point I’m making. Aum Shinrikyo presented itself, to a very significant degree, as having something to do with mikkyō Buddhism.

        It’s very easy to say, “Oh ho, they were clearly Doing It Wrong!”, after the fact.

  2. sri_barence
    sri_barence September 18, 2013 at 10:09 am |

    When I was growing up on The Farm, Stephen (Gaskin) said at one point, “Don’t say ‘Stephen says.'” It seems like he had realized at some point that people would take what he said and use it to excuse bad behavior. Also I think it was important to him (as it is for Brad) to encourage people to think for themselves. I think this is one of the reasons The Farm never turned into Jonestown or Waco.

    Stephen was not faultless; I remember hearing of several incidents where he gave orders and expected them to be obeyed. And people did often obey those orders. Many of them came to regret it later. But Stephen did eventually step down from his leadership position, and settled into the role of “teacher.” I suspect this was partly because people told him they weren’t willing to blindly obey him anymore. On the whole I think this has been a good thing for The Farm. They are still there, more than 40 years after the place was founded. Not many hippy communities can make that claim. I doubt The Farm would have lasted that long if they were playing ‘follow the leader.’

    The Farm did have its share of sexual misconduct issues. And these did seem to coincide with a rapid increase in membership over a relatively short period of time. (The population of The Farm went from 150 to about 1500 in less than 10 years – a tenfold increase.) So my sense is that Brad’s linking the rapid growth of an institution with incidences of abuse is spot on. I wonder if there have been any anthropological or sociological studies that would shed light on this kind of trend. (If indeed such a trend can be shown to exist.)

    I was raised in a culture that praised questioning authority. As a so-called “Zen student,” I never ask the teachers how to live my life, or what I should do next. I have asked them for their point of view from time to time, and it has often proved helpful. But I make my own decisions, and I take responsibility for the consequences of my actions.

    Randall: do you want to be leader of this gang?
    Strutter: No, we agreed: No leader!
    Randall: Right. So shut up and do as I say.
    (from ‘Time Bandits,’ (HandMade Films, 1981)

  3. Harlan
    Harlan September 18, 2013 at 11:39 am |

    American conservative News blogger Matt Drudge linked this story..
    to the Navy Yard shootings under the headline..

    “Buddhism holds ‘special attraction’ for mentally ill”

  4. senorchupacabra
    senorchupacabra September 18, 2013 at 11:45 am |

    I think you nailed it quite early in the post, Brad. It’s not Buddhism, per se, it’s what happens in institutions, period. And the larger a particular institution becomes, the more powerful (and, thus, corrupted) its leadership becomes.

    Add to that that there’s always a certain amount of theatre within the existence of the institution as it is. Generally the leaders dress and speak and certain way, and the underlings dress and speak in a way that concedes the power and control to the leadership and so on. But within religious insitutions, this theatre is manifested 20-fold. You’ve got “masters” who wear specific robes and who demand certain courtesies. But they’re not just “leaders” or even “masters,” they’re leaders or masters who have and/or are a direct link to “The Divine.” I mean, the whole set-up is ripe for various kinds of abuse and corruption.

    I’ve always sort of felt that institutionalizing something as fluid and dynamic as Buddhism was to lose some of its “essence.” But I also suspect that, because of human nature, it’s inevitable. I always just kind of assumed the most enlightened people were not going to be very pretentious people. They weren’t going to go around trying to convince anyone they were “enlightened.” Real “masters” probably lives down the street from some of us, and we don’t even realize it. They just go about their lives and try to stay out of people’s way.

    That’s my assumption, but what the hell do I know?

  5. Fred
    Fred September 18, 2013 at 11:46 am |

    A Zen Master is just someone who got there before you did, not that there is
    any where to get or any one to get there.

    Sasaki’s blackmail was that he would quit if they made a big deal about his sex
    manipulations. No one called him on it because they believed they were someone
    going from point A to Z with his help.

    So the problem was the student confusing the relative and the Absolute, and
    the teacher ignoring the relative while he was the Absolute.

    Great delusion on both sides.

  6. adam fisher
    adam fisher September 18, 2013 at 11:57 am |

    “The only thing Joshu Sasaki ever had that he could use to compel anyone to obey him was his student’s desire to obey the arbitrary whims of a religious authority figure, their desire to be dominated. And it worked like magic. On people who should have known better, who, I would argue, did know better and chose to ignore what they knew.”

    Brad — To the extent that the above conveys a blame-the-victim sentiment (“should have known better” … “did know better”) I take exception: 1. I agree with the notion that each must bear his or her own responsibilities … it’s your life; read ’em and weep but also 2. any serious student I have ever known comes to the teaching/teacher from a tender place, a raw place, a confused place. The attempt to put life in order involves some work in hitherto-shadowed places, places kept under wraps. Implicitly or explicitly asking for help feels naked and unsure. And what’s the first thing anyone does when s/he feels unsure? My guess is that s/he seeks out some certainty, whether real or imagined. Does s/he leave common sense out of the equation? To a certain extent I think s/he does… and I also think it is common as dishwater. Enter the teacher/teaching. The teacher/teaching may not think of itself as a life preserver, but it does not strike me as unusual if the student might. So, if this description is more or less acceptable, whose responsibility is it? Clearly, on the one hand, it is the student’s. But equally clearly, if the teacher/teaching is worth his/her/its salt, it is the responsibility of the one playing the teacher role. If they cannot address a simple issue like hero/heroine worship, if they cannot understand the laying on of an authoritative halo, if they cannot, in short, know the realm of uncertainty in which the student lives, then what the fuck good are they in the first place? Where is THEIR common sense?

    I think this may be called a shared responsibility, perhaps, but I do not believe that the entire weight belongs solely to the student … even if it does.

    As to the question “is there something wrong with Buddhism?”: If by “Buddhism” you mean real Buddhism — the Buddhism without “Buddhism” — then of course the answer is no. But if you mean the formatted and institutional Buddhism, then I think the answer can be a qualified yes. I don’t know enough specifics to feel confident in the assertion, but my sense of Buddhism’s history is that its institutions have been hierarchically shaped — a vertical power that flows from the top downward. This can be seen in the documents that shape any number of organizations: The king’s on top and the courtiers await his or her (sometimes oozingly subtle) decisions. To some extent, this is an organizational necessity, but to some extent as well, it reflects an ego trip. It is wide open to power politics and sociopathic behavior. Would a well-praised democracy actually work better? I doubt it. Sasaki and Shimano, among others, are not really aberrations — they are part of a systemic framework that nourishes both flowers and weeds. Those with ranking positions or dearly-held beliefs may say their homeland is pure as the driven snow (let’s get another ethics statement out) but this is just a snow job under cover of “compassion” or “clarity” or “Nirvana” or some other that’s-for-me brocade. No one wants to lose their job or their beliefs.

    Oh well … too much hot air from here. Apologies. But I agree with you about at least one thing: “Be careful out there.”

    1. mtto
      mtto September 18, 2013 at 8:29 pm |

      It’s not the victims that should have known better and are therefor also to blame, but the community, especially long-term or so-called “advanced” practitioners / senior students, who know these things are happening and don’t stop it.

      A lot of discussion has taken place regarding codes of conduct, and if an organization wants to implement a code of conduct banning sexual harassment that is a good thing, but on some level it shouldn’t even be necessary; if you don’t know that sexual assault is wrong, WTF and you need more help than a code of conduct can provide!

  7. Fred
    Fred September 18, 2013 at 12:01 pm |

    The shooter had previously discharged a gun in a rage filled blackout, and was
    being treated for hearing voices.

    Buddhism had nothing to do with it.

    1. Harlan
      Harlan September 18, 2013 at 2:39 pm |

      And he was on psych drugs and he played violent video games and he was angry about his paycheck. I understand why you would say the above and maybe Buddhism had little to do with what happened, probably had very little to do with it. But to have nothing to do with it would be impossible wouldn’t it? And regardless of that we have no idea what the trigger to the event was no matter what factoids the media reports.. Buddhism might have had everything to do with it for all we know because we know very little.

  8. mika
    mika September 18, 2013 at 12:49 pm |

    A good article, much better than all the nonsense with gods and Gods and hallucinatory experiences with the dead. 🙂

    That being said, two quick things:
    1) When I log in, Chrome warns me that the site’s security certificate has expired.
    2) It’s Adolf, not Adolph.

  9. Fred
    Fred September 18, 2013 at 1:55 pm |

    “Alexis told police he believed people were following him and “sending vibrations into his body,” according to a Newport police report.

    He told police that he had twice moved hotels to avoid the noise he heard coming through the floor and the ceiling of his rooms, and that the people following him were using “some sort of microwave machine” to prevent him from sleeping.”

    I guess that the Buddha amulet he wore didn’t ward off the bad vibrations.

  10. Fred
    Fred September 18, 2013 at 3:49 pm |

    I know a guy who took mescaline and all the cracks in the sidewalk spelled out
    “kill your wife now. ”

    I suppose a paranoid schizophrenic could hear voices in the wall tell him that
    Buddha wanted him to shoot the place up.

  11. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 18, 2013 at 3:58 pm |

    “‘One thing my breath has taught me is that there is a necessity for freedom in where awareness takes place’ By that do you mean allowing awareness to arise of its own, without directing what you’re aware of?

    …Most of the Soto groups I’m familiar with do the 30 minute interval thing… ”

    I mean allowing awareness to take place wherever awareness takes place, yes. It’s a freedom of place, to me.

    That’s interesting, the Soto groups in the Bay Area mostly sit 40 minutes. Antaiji is 50, Gold Mountain in S.F. and Talmadge is 50 (they’re Chan). At thirty I can be pretty comfortable and happy; at 40, I’m stretched and out there, and I like the exercise I guess.

  12. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 18, 2013 at 4:02 pm |

    I had that discussion with a friend at Jikoji: he said, you mean, like, you’re observing your hara, and I said, no, I mean, like, you are at your hara. The only person so far who got this from what I had to say got it because he was trying to fall asleep at 4am and was willing to be open to the experience of the location of mind shifting. Sometimes I have to really work at this sense of where I am, which I have since learned is associated with equalibrioception, and at the openness to my whole body and more which allows proprioception and a sense of gravity, just in order to sleep.

  13. Texas Swamp Monk
    Texas Swamp Monk September 18, 2013 at 4:44 pm |

    I live in DFW/arlington and I have been to that “temple” (its more of a house in the middle of a neighborhood that they turned into a temple). Judging by my experience, it may be possible that they could have said something that he took the wrong way as they are somewhat superstitious, but even then I don’t really believe that “Buddhism”, even in its most dogmatic forms, could influence anyone to kill anybody but themselves. I definitely think that someone who isn’t quite in a mentally stable place could be influenced by Buddhism to commit suicide

  14. Daniel_D
    Daniel_D September 18, 2013 at 5:50 pm |

    It’s sorta the same as saying hate the practitioners, not the religion or mistaking a generally healthy forest as sick because your view is limited to a couple sick trees.

  15. wbtphdjd
    wbtphdjd September 18, 2013 at 9:57 pm |

    I’m kind of surprised that no one else has pointed to what strikes me as the most obvious analogy: Catholic priests molesting children, which is not analogous in being far worse for involving molesting children, whereas I think most of the Buddhist examples we have are the comparably minor, but still inexcusable, instances of teachers having inappropriate sexual relationships with adults. It seems to me that the problem is not just institutions tout court, but specifically religious institutions. Here, it seems, the ways in which Buddhism is a religion in the traditional model are more important than the ways in which it differs. Even though the best Buddhist teachers encourage their students to think for themselves, still the powerful issues that come up with people’s thoughts and beliefs around ultimate matters inclines some of them, anyway, to invest their teachers with absurd power, causing them to be far too trusting.

  16. simeonjin
    simeonjin September 19, 2013 at 12:53 am |

    How do we as a species contain or control our sexual behavior? Through the prisms of culture and therefore religion, morality, and authority. It is precisely because we are afraid of the power of our own sexuality that we defer to these prisms, so that we must contain and control our sexual nature.

    Is the roshi just another prism of control?

    If we were to only see the actual nature of our sexuality directly we might understand the true lack of control we actually have. Instinct trumps intellect every time.

    Does enlightenment have anything to do with instinct? Perhaps it allows for a transformation of instinct to become finer, less savage. Or not.

    Must Sasaki and others be misogynists? Perhaps we can allow for a philogynist instead.

  17. Mumon
    Mumon September 19, 2013 at 7:42 am |

    I DO think that institutions that arose are genetically insensitive to conditions that give rise to scandal.

    I mean, are any of the prominent graduates of Naropa bound by a professional code of ethics besides Danny Fisher, who, for whatever else I might say about him, I think his heart’s in the right place?

    (Terrible sentence construction but I’m pressed for time.)

    And Tricycle – do they STILL take $$$ from the Frederick Lenz foundation?

    When there’s a tendency towards mutual self promotion for $$$(think major Buddhist media) it’s not surprising that there’s other ethical issues, and it’s not surprising that BG and Tricycle fell short.

  18. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 19, 2013 at 6:48 pm |

    replies on comments after the fact are insidious.

    My understanding is that theravadin communities of monks (don’t know about nuns) were democratic in decisions, and operated by seniority with regard to the begging proceeds. I don’t know if that’s still the case, I would guess not in heavily institutionalized instances like Thailand. Monks in the order were not allowed to claim they were arahant. They had no special papers or claim to religious authority.

  19. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 19, 2013 at 6:55 pm |

    meaning on comments, I look to the bottom of the thread to see what’s been added, and it’s a surprise when I look back at something and discover new comments in the middle (you can always quote a little bit as a reference so folks know what you’re talking about). Hate to miss any of the fun…

  20. Mumon
    Mumon September 20, 2013 at 9:25 am |

    In a related area, I’ve posted some questions to a prominent person involved in “pay for service Buddhism.”

  21. Fred
    Fred September 20, 2013 at 9:58 am |

    James Ford via Mumon’s blog:

    “How does the client have assurance that your claims of enlightenment are genuine? How can you ensure that these claims have no bearing on any potential exploitation of the relationship between you and your clients?”

    and Glen Wallis’ X-Buddhism future response.

    Self Z from X-Buddhism Y states that he/she is ” Enlightened “, whatever that
    may be, and for 5 Grand you too can be instantaneously No-Self upon the

  22. Fred
    Fred September 20, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
  23. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 20, 2013 at 2:30 pm |

    That’s kinda sorta hard to believe, Fred. He was/is usually associated with Daniel Ingram, although they possibly had a falling out as often happens with that cranky quirky arahat Daniel…

    Anyway, Ken was one person who commented favorably on this Buddhist Geeks article of mine although now I see they have removed comments…

    A year ago or two ago Ken handed over the teaching duties to Vince Horn, and kinda retired, but now it seems he’s doing something again. After reading my article at Buddhist Geeks (ahem) Click on Home, then Life Retreat, “Teachers” and Ken Folk w/a pic is in that list. Looks like his wife is too, and Vince Horn and his, etc. The BG family cult!

  24. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 20, 2013 at 2:32 pm |

    (Note this comment may appear twice, sorry!)

    That’s kinda sorta hard to believe, Fred. He was/is usually associated with Daniel Ingram, although they possibly had a falling out as often happens with that cranky quirky arahat Daniel…

    Anyway, Ken was one person who commented favorably on this Buddhist Geeks article of mine although now I see they have removed comments…

    A year ago or two ago Ken handed over the teaching duties to Vince Horn, and kinda retired, but now it seems he’s doing something again. After reading my article at Buddhist Geeks (ahem) Click on Home, then Life Retreat, “Teachers” and Ken Folk w/a pic is in that list. Looks like his wife is too, and Vince Horn and his, etc. The BG family cult!

  25. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 20, 2013 at 2:55 pm |

    Oh, and in case you’re wondering, just because I know who these guys are doesn’t mean I’d give them a dime for their “instruction.” I’ve always rolled my own.

    Last night there was a street preacher standing on a corner opposite of where we were changing a flat tire on our trailer full of gear after a music type gig. I suppose to some passing by it was entertaining, possibly as entertaining as the music we’d just made inside the establishment. He sure seemed to be working hard at trying to save all of our souls from hellfire and damnation. Our little band on the other hand could care less about all that: we were just trying to have a good time with a room full of other peeps drinking and boogeying around.

    But my point? We were paid for our efforts, he was collecting donations for his. What’s the difference?

  26. Fred
    Fred September 20, 2013 at 2:59 pm |

    “What has never been altered is also what has never been born, and the true ‘unborn’ cannot be sought or realized through effort. – (maha-ati-natural-liberation-through-primordial-awareness)”

    Then it is not necessary to pay someone to help you realize through effort

  27. Fred
    Fred September 20, 2013 at 5:01 pm |

    Ken Folk:

    “My standard fee is $125 for a 45-minute session. Use this coupon code for a 20% discount: partridge-346

    (The coupon sets the fee to $100 and you can use it as many times as you want, or until further notice.)”

  28. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 20, 2013 at 7:25 pm |

    Everybody come tomorrow, no charge! Completely FREE: no donation allowed!!

  29. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 21, 2013 at 12:29 pm |

    Break a pen, John! (*Includes adult themes, parental guidance suggested.).

    “…Miao-chiang said that from what he had seen in Burma and China, the Buddhism of the Small Vehicle was not necessarily that small, and the Buddhism of the Great Vehicle was not necessarily that great.”
    (“Zen Baggage”, by Bill Porter, pg 74)

    “But unlike in India, the residents of these monasteries did not support themselves by begging. The Chinese did not respect people who begged, and monks had to rely instead on donations from lay supporters.” (Ibid, pg 86)

    Actually, begging was not respected in India at the time of the Gautamid, from what I’ve read. I did think the monks in Redwood Valley were nuts to contemplate begging rounds in Ukiah, though.

  30. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 21, 2013 at 12:31 pm |

    “Buddhist Comix”, whatdya think, John? not the holy roller stuff, but the contradictions, the scams, the absurdity of it all… I’ll write a story if you’ll sketch the panels!

  31. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 21, 2013 at 1:46 pm |

    From Rev. Dan’s comment thread, on the post referenced by Brad:

    “Am I right that misogyny and sexual assault are prevalent in general American society, and that our society is actually light-years ahead of many other parts of the world? How old are the laws that include fondling (groping?) in the category of sexual assault? Curious about that. Yes I believe the law is correct to include it. I am just wondering about how the law has changed since I was young, in the fifties and sixties. I know that people used belts on their children regularly in the fifties and sixties without fear of a knock on the door from child protective services, and that has all changed, and I’m glad of it.

    My mother worked part-time in the fifties and sixties while she raised two children. I think the majority of women during that time were homemakers. A quick check online reveals- nothing. I must be Googling the wrong thing! I’m thinking most families in the fifties revolved around a bread-winner and a homemaker; am I wrong? We also know that in most of these marriages, sexuality was kind of strange. What can I say.

    What I’m trying to get at is that things have changed, and maybe one reason Sasaki is a criminal is that the law has changed or finally been established, and that’s why many members of these panels are not quite as ready to brand him a criminal as they should be; the panelists were raised in the era before a woman could take her boss to court for harassment, much less have him arrested for assault for, you know, normal office hanky-panky! I believe we have a Supreme Court justice who is a criminal, but there he sits.

    Yes, if someone presses charges against Sasaki he will likely be convicted. I think the more important discussion for Zen practitioners is what it means that Sasaki excused himself by saying “My hand just moves. It’s will-less (ishinashini).” (that’s in the article here: There a lot of things that are not on the radar of American Zen practitioners, and ishinashini is one of them. Because there is such a thing as ishinashini, I have learned this (over and over, it seems):

    “How do I stay true to this place and this freedom of mind, when freedom knows no bounds of decorum? Mind of friendliness, of compassion, of sympathetic joy, of equanimity in ten directions to infinity is the gate.” (comment on Brad Warner’s blog)

    Now you might well ask, how does the extension of the mind of friendliness, of compassion, of sympathetic joy, of equanimity in ten directions to infinity play out in love and sex in America? Looks like Sasaki’s beliefs empowered his hand in the wrong direction on that one, but until American zen practitioners understand the relationship between thought and belief and the power of belief to become action, we will continue to have cases for the justice system like Sasaki’s.”

  32. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 21, 2013 at 3:39 pm |

    “Ma-tsu was responsible for introducing a nonlinguistic means of instruction into Zen; the shout, the nose twist, the slap were all among his favorite devices.” (Zen Baggage pg 84)

  33. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 22, 2013 at 9:31 am |

    I dunno, Mark, I mostly just paint these days, when I feel so inclined to do visual art; I’d like to see what you come up with as story, though!

    The comics thing yesterday in Smallville was way better than I, or anyone expected, great crowd!

    Go here:

    Under “Latest Headlines” click on “Residents…comic…” and you will see a pic of me in action at least for a second if they block you, otherwise you’ll be able to read the article, too.

  34. Fred
    Fred September 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm |

    “Because there is such a thing as ishinashini”

  35. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 22, 2013 at 8:06 pm |

    Indeed, like Dr. Strangelove, but all of us, every day, acting on the basis of our beliefs and thinking we control what we believe. We can affect what we believe, that’s why I’d say it’s important to think and speak about what we believe, but I don’t believe we can actually control it. At least, not the belief that gives rise to the phenomena of ishinashini.

    Nevertheless, “heil Alfred!”, er, heh heh, excuse me Mr. President…

  36. zaroff
    zaroff September 23, 2013 at 6:06 am |

    worse thing you can do is try to learn something from another human…
    best thing you can do is try to learn anything from another human…
    there are no ‘Other’ humans.

  37. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 24, 2013 at 6:14 pm |

    Humans Shmumans…the concept is overrated, just ask the trees….

    Fred, that was a great clip, makes me want to see the whole movie again for the umpteenth time.

    Mark, I realized I missed the MAD connection in my comics thing but did mention Warren Publishing because Creepy and Eerie mags were v. influential on my young twisted perspective…

  38. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 24, 2013 at 11:07 pm |

    John, you would enjoy my good friend Clay. His attic room on the fourth floor of the Victorian at 19th and Lake opened onto the roof when we were in high school, and he had tons of Creepy and Eerie and Movie Monsters (I think it was), along with Marvel and D.C. comics.

    Today he writes me this: “Getting ready to do a face cast of yours truly to make some make-up prosthetics to turn me into an (alien) wizard.” He’s into making films, for his own benefit if no one else’s. He’s the one who put together this film, that’s him on the bicycle (and me buying a cookie):

  39. Fred
    Fred September 25, 2013 at 7:16 am |

    Nice Zen film. You can stop the world when your mind stops, but you can’t
    ignore cause and effect.

  40. Fred
    Fred September 25, 2013 at 10:58 am |

    Sorry, ” stopping the world ” came out of this mind, but it was actually from
    Carlos Castaneda and sat in storage for 40 years. He found it in the library of
    UCLA in either Buddhism or Native American spiritual tradition.

  41. Fred
    Fred September 25, 2013 at 11:02 am |
  42. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 25, 2013 at 12:09 pm |

    Not sure where Stigweard got his history, but a quick check reveals no history regarding Toltec Nagual, only new-age post-Castaneda stuff. My first check, correct me if I’m wrong. And I learned this, from Wikipedia:

    “While the skeptical school of thought does not deny that cultural traits of a seemingly central Mexican origin have diffused into a larger area of Mesoamerica, it tends to ascribe this to the dominance of Teotihuacán in the Classic period and the general diffusion of cultural traits within the region. Recent scholarship, then, does not see Tula, Hidalgo as the capital of the Toltecs of the Aztec accounts. Rather, it takes “Toltec” to mean simply an inhabitant of Tula during its apogee. Separating the term “Toltec” from those of the Aztec accounts, it attempts to find archaeological clues to the ethnicity, history and social organization of the inhabitants of Tula.”

    What I’d like to see are the sources Castaneda studied in the library at UCLA. I have found the work of Brian Stross at the University of Texas, Austin, useful; he has a piece titled The Mesoamerican Sacrum Bone: Doorway to the Otherworld.

  43. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 25, 2013 at 12:19 pm |

    I wrote a letter to Brian Stross, and here’s the first part of it:

    ‘”I was googling “sacrum” and “seat of the soul”, and I found your article; I was very excited to find it.

    My interest was keyed by a conversation between Mary and Jesus, reported as follows in “The Gospels of Mary” by Marvin Meyer (© 2004, pg 20):

    “I said to him, ‘Master, how does a person see a vision, with the soul or with the spirit?’ The saviour answered and said, ‘A person sees neither with the soul nor with the spirit. The mind, which is between the two, sees the vision…'”

    What interests me about this statement is not so much that it is the mind that sees the vision, but the assertion that the mind, or consciousness, takes place between two other aspects of being.’

    My conclusion was this:

    ‘It occurs to me that the postures and practices of prayer around the world are frameworks to allow the discovery of the relationship between the sense of location in the spontaneous occurrence of consciousness and the two respirations, particularly as it pertains to the generation of feeling and flexibility at the sacrum.

    I would take the point of your article in particular to be that the mind that sees the vision was considered to be dependent on the sacrum bone in some respect, in some of the cultures of ancient Mexico and Central America.’ (you can read the whole thing, here.

    Last I heard Brian was researching the three-legged stool in native cultures in the southwest and Mexico, if I remember correctly.

  44. How This Blog Works September 25, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
  45. Fred
    Fred September 25, 2013 at 5:14 pm |

    “In Sanskrit, a nāgá (नाग) is a cobra, a specific type of snake (hooded snake)”
    supposedly. In other contexts it is a water deity, animal spirit, etc

    The Spanish probably applied the root word to the new world shamans,

    And Castaneda used the nagual for the Void.

  46. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 25, 2013 at 7:01 pm |

    Mark, you need to get an acting agent, bro. I loved that video the first time you posted it and more now with the back story on your friend and pointing out yerself not buying the cookie.

    Love Castaneda.

  47. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 25, 2013 at 7:57 pm |

    And that Stross article is exceptional, thanks Mark!

  48. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 26, 2013 at 9:47 am |

    I did enjoy the first couple of Castaneda books, and he did have a way of drawing in elements I believed had a basis in fact no matter how strange in his stories.

    You’re welcome, John; the three-legged stool bit is interesting too. Couple of quotes:

    “In some languages sitting can be said to imply being present and at home, as when in Tzeltal a visitor will say “Are you seated?” instead of “Are you home?” as we might.”

    “The notion of seating and being seated is clearly important in Mesoamerica, as elsewhere, and much ethnographic evidence indicates that what has been called the “shaman’s stool” is important in the Americas, both north and south. In northern Mexico, for example the
    Huichol shaman will take a chair, a backed seat usually referred to as his “throne,” with him when his ritual participation is called for. The “throne” can thus be seen as a device for creating sacred space, which is a requisite for opening the cosmic portal linking this world to the Otherworld (Eliade 1968). The Huichol of Jalisco, Mexico have another name for seats of the gods, tepari, which are carved stone seats, often circular and with a hole
    in the middle, through with communication is said to take place between Huichol shamans and the deities (Lumholtz 1973, Furst 1979). These sacred stone “seats” of the gods are sometimes referred to as sacrificial altars, and there is little doubt that the tepari “seat of the gods” is not far conceptually from being the “portal” linking this world and the
    Otherworld, known to the Classic Maya as the ol ‘center’, among other terms (Freidel, Schele, and Parker 1993:215-218; Schele and Mathews 1998:45).”

    All that and more is here.

  49. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 26, 2013 at 9:56 am |

    ‘ol’ is in bold in the original- it’s a Mayan word, so the meaning is the ol center, as opposed to, say, a regular ol’ center. Hopefully the tags work?

  50. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 26, 2013 at 9:56 am |

    yup strong tags work.

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