Lama Surya Das on Diamond Mountain and Is Buddhism Complacency Part a Million

Today is my mom’s birthday. So happy birthday mom, wherever you are! I lit some incense at the shrine we made to her in what used to be her and my dad’s bedroom (dad has since moved upstairs). I chanted the Heart Sutra too, but I screwed up the middle as I always do when chanting that thing without the benefit of a cheat sheet.

Yesterday I came across an article by Lama Surya Das called Spiritual Responsibility and Cult Awareness. It addresses the same incident that I wrote about a couple of posts back, the recent death of a participant in a three-year retreat held by the Diamond Mountain University run by Geshe Michael Roach.

Lama Surya Das appears to me to be saying a lot of the same things I wanted to say in my blog piece. But he says them in a much more nuanced way. He doesn’t hit you over the head with his conclusions. Yet I feel like he also wonders just how well prepared Mr. Roach’s group was for this experience. Plus Lama Surya Das actually has done multi-year long Tibetan Buddhist retreats. So he comes from a more informed place. Read it yourself and see what you think.

*****

When I asked people to come up with questions for me and Skylar, a guy named Rod asked:

How do you reconcile the Buddhist concept of not “chasing” or “desiring more” or “leaning” (or whatever you want to call it) with the need to actually do something in your life?

For instance let’s take something simple like the state of my office. I don’t love the state of my office. It seems like Buddhism says to accept the current state of my office and learn to be happy with it as it is. My guess is that Buddhism would say that if I change it, it will only make me happy temporarily and then I will want to change it again thus creating a perpetual cycle.

So if I follow the Buddhist path here, my office doesn’t change. And if I apply that acceptance principle to all things in my life, I wouldn’t change anything.

Clearly not changing anything is not a good practical plan for life. So what is the method for deciding what to change and what to accept? It seems like the choice is just made willy-nilly without any rhyme or reason.

Did the Buddha outline a method for choosing what to accept and what to change?

This is a question I get so often that my answer on the video seemed kind of flippant. Sorry about that! I feel like a lot of Western people, when they first hear about Buddhism, assume that it must be a philosophy of complacency. I understand that because I wondered that myself.

What changed my mind was seeing how my teachers behaved. Tim McCarthy was not a complacent person who just sat on his cushion looking all beatific when he saw things in his life that needed changing. Quite the opposite. He was active and lively and vigorous to put right the things he thought needed putting right. Gudo Nishijima was like that too. He was never passive about anything.

If you don’t have a Buddhist teacher of your own, you can still see this for yourself quite easily. Does the Dalai Lama seem like the kind of guy who just says “aw fuck it” and lets things be? Is Thich Nhat Hanh sitting back and letting the world fall apart? Or take a look at the website of just about any Buddhist organization and see what kinds of things they do. There are lots of other examples.

Buddha very definitely did outline a method for choosing what to accept and what to change, just not the kind of method most of us today would understand as a method. Most of us, when looking for such a method, would expect it to be formulated like a trouble-shooting guide in an instruction manual. “If the problem fits categories A B or C, it must be changed, if not it can be left as it is.”

Instead, Buddha’s method was to practice zazen (or dhyana as he would have called it). This allows intuition to develop and one can more easily see what needs fixing and what doesn’t.

*****

I’m spending another few days here in Dallas before continuing my journey to the West Coast. It looks like I’ll be giving a talk at the Empty Sky Zen Center in Phoenix on Friday June 29th. It’s not yet fully confirmed. So I’ll wait and put up the full info when I know it.

27 Responses

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  1. km
    km June 23, 2012 at 11:56 am | |

    Step One. Accept

    Step Two. Respond with generosity, ethics, patience, enthusiasm, concentration, wisdom.

  2. jakeritter
    jakeritter June 23, 2012 at 12:10 pm | |

    too me it’s always seemed like that problem is over thinking it all. i fell into Buddhism because it’s a philosophy of action and experience and the application of those thing. Zazen is what helps us realize what is the correct action and experience is what you gain weather it was the ‘correct’ or ‘incorrrect’ action.

    we can only take action in the present moment and then learn from it on the cushion when the effect of our action has taken place and readjust our relationship to those actions. it seems to me more like ‘don’t be attached to the action or the effect’. just do it and learn from it.

    Just live and learn and readjust. rinse repeat. that’s how i look at it anywho.

  3. Fred
    Fred June 23, 2012 at 12:41 pm | |

    “This scandal is very troubling as well as troublesome, and raises a lot of questions about spiritual centers and accountability. Michael’s group is not the only one whose retreats might look, to the outside viewer, like a mere refugee camp, trailer camp, barracks or prison”

    So another Lama is saying that in fact it is a scandal?

    If the woman was an enlightened being, would she describe events truthfully
    rather than protect her position as a teacher, Lama, goddess?

    Do people in the top echelons of the Zen hierarchy ever falsify their words?

  4. matt
    matt June 23, 2012 at 1:36 pm | |

    So you accept “this is it” and don’t attach to it being otherwise. However, there is still “taking care” of what is coming up. You eat because hunger comes up. You also clean the messy office because “messy” comes up too. Taking care is just what we do. With no separation, taking care of ourselves (eating) is not really different from taking care if the messy office. It’s just what you do.

  5. Oliver
    Oliver June 23, 2012 at 2:11 pm | |

    Happy birthday to your mom, too!
    BTW: Is this the artwork from “Revolver” (aka as “Best Beatles Album”) on your shirt?

  6. Mysterion
    Mysterion June 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm | |

    I have given this new site a few looks but I’m sorry. It’s terrible. And I hate to see the old site replaced by this one.

    I might stop by every now and then but I leave this place to these new, weird commenters. Adieu.

    For now.

    1. Darrin
      Darrin June 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm | |

      “I have given this new site a few looks but I’m sorry. It’s terrible. And I hate to see the old site replaced by this one.

      I might stop by every now and then but I leave this place to these new, weird commenters. Adieu.

      For now.”

      Very strange post Mysterion. I guess you like the nasty anonymous people. I think there is no place for personal attacks and the lack of anonymity on the other site does not give people pause. Accountability is necessary in everything, but we try to avoid it.

      1. Geoff
        Geoff June 30, 2012 at 11:27 am | |

        How was Mysterion’s response strange? I find your response (as a response) odd as you appear to attribute a motivation to Mysterion’s post that doesn’t seem actually to be there.

        From my point of view, I’m with Mysterion on this: whilst – granted – there were a some utter tits patrolling the comments section of the old blog; there was also a rather magnificent, chaotic vigour to the whole thing. There was passion there (albeit sometimes of the whoopy cushion and custard pie variety), which is presently not here, and I – for one – miss that whole scene.

        Disclaimer: not that my opinion matters of course – This is Brad’s blog and he can do with it whatever he likes.

  7. lcrane1
    lcrane1 June 23, 2012 at 6:46 pm | |

    A very generous and helpful post. Thanks.
    And bows in memory of your mother.

  8. Ted
    Ted June 24, 2012 at 5:22 am | |

    Fred, if you want to know why Christie spoke the way she did, you might benefit from reading An Introduction To Tantra, by Lama Yeshe.

    I thought the Surya Das article was really nicely done, particularly the conclusion.

  9. Fred
    Fred June 24, 2012 at 9:54 am | |

    Ted, if you purport to be living in the truth, awareness, enlightenment, or
    whatever, and in a moment of severe attachment to ego, form, emotion,
    passion, etc., you commit violence towards another being

    then
    you should simply state what occurred and admit that you are not God, but
    a human with frailties

    unless you are attached to a social persona and a position in other’s perception
    as a Diety.

    As for Tantric sex, swordplay or whatever, NO.

    Hiding behind holywords and concepts to cover your ego’s ass, doesn’t cut it.

  10. Jinzang
    Jinzang June 24, 2012 at 5:28 pm | |

    Seeing yourself as a deity, or “divine pride,” does not mean inflating your ego until it assumes godlike proportions. It means seeing everything, internal and external, as God would, not grasping at one and rejecting the other.

  11. MJGibbs
    MJGibbs June 24, 2012 at 9:21 pm | |

    My dreams are fuzzy as hell these days. I hardly remember them at all. But I do remember Brad appearing in mine last night. He was standing behind a retail sales counter, looking around for Joshu Sasaki’s book “Buddha is the Center of Gravity” in order to give or show to me, while I was trying to explain that I already have that book. That is all I recall lol.

  12. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 25, 2012 at 1:20 am | |

    Thanks, Brad, for posting a picture that show your mom’s sense of humor and your own- makes me laugh.

    I did read the article, and by the end of it I had to wonder why he considered it a “scandal” at all.

    Reading Michael Roach’s account, I can’t blame the board or Mr. Roach for what happened; they didn’t know where the couple had gone, and in fact believed they had left the area. A tangled skein, admittedly.

    I always assumed that the best would be to remain in the American mainstream and do the caterpillar to butterfly act. My assumption is that if one person can change themselves while in the midst of the American mainstream, then others can do that, and then there’s hope that our society can actually bootstrap itself up.

    I guess I need to be careful about assuming I can change anything, since fundamentally there’s nothing to be done about any of it. Boubi kicks ass!

  13. Fred
    Fred June 25, 2012 at 9:07 am | |

    Jinzang said: “Seeing yourself as a deity, or “divine pride,” does not mean inflating your ego until it assumes godlike proportions. It means seeing everything, internal and external, as God would, not grasping at one and rejecting the other.”

    Seeing that the inside and outside are one, then there is no need for the
    concept of ” karma “, and Tibetan lamas are not ” reincarnations ” of those
    who died before them.

    The One is reborn as Itself and a human is as much just form as a stone. A man
    of no distinction leaves no trace, as the One is just the One. ” The Self, setting
    itself out in array, sees Itself. “

  14. Fred
    Fred June 25, 2012 at 9:14 am | |

    Brad,

    This “Random Linkage | Full Contact Enlightenment June 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink ”

    was sending out viruses at some time

  15. Ted
    Ted June 25, 2012 at 5:19 pm | |

    Fred, what Jinzang said is exactly the point I was trying to get across.

  16. Fred
    Fred June 25, 2012 at 6:17 pm | |

    And what point would that be?

    Would a realized God-state stab itself in the gut?

  17. Jinzang
    Jinzang June 25, 2012 at 7:06 pm | |

    “Seeing that the inside and outside are one, then there is no need for the
    concept of ‘karma’.”

    It can’t be stressed enough how dangerous the idea is that you are beyond karma or beyond good and evil. There’s a reason why Hyakujo’s fox is the second koan in the Gateless Gate, right after Joshu’s dog. And that is because after recognition there’s a tendency to exaggerate what you’ve understood and think you’re beyond worldly concerns. This sort of arrogance has been the downfall of many. And it’s the reason why a good teacher will get on your case to bring you down to earth.

  18. Fred
    Fred June 25, 2012 at 7:13 pm | |

    Yes it has. A man died in the desert for that very reason.

  19. Ted
    Ted June 26, 2012 at 9:31 am | |

    The point is not that no karma is collected from a negative act, but that how we think about our world is a practice. So suppose that we create a negative karma. What next? How do we think about it?

  20. Fred
    Fred June 27, 2012 at 1:59 pm | |

    Ted said
    “The point is not that no karma is collected from a negative act, but that how we think about our world is a practice. So suppose that we create a negative karma. What next? How do we think about it?”

    How you think about your world may be your practice.

    Conceptual thinking reinforces the self conditioned by human culture.

    Dogen said to study the self to forget the self.

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