SATURDAY MAY 3, 2014 10:30 AM
The program will begin with 20-25 minutes of chanting in Korean (Monkey Mind is part of Seung Sahn’s Korean Kwan Um Zen lineage), followed by 30 minutes of zazen, a short break and then a talk by me. I’m also hoping to meet and talk with those interested in helping me set up a stable and regular sitting group here in Philadelphia. So if you want to help with that, come on by!
Also happening in Philly, on MAY 21, 2014 at 6:30 pm the film BRAD WARNER’S HARDCORE ZEN will have its Philadelphia premiere at Drexel University! I will do a Q&A after the screening. I’ll announce the exact location once I get it.
The film will also play in Cleveland at the Cleveland Buddhist Temple on May 17th, 2014 at 6:30pm. I’ll do a Q&A afterwards and there is talk of Zero Defex doing a short performance before the film.
Also, you can still sign up for our 3-DAY ZEN & YOGA RETREAT at Mt. Baldy near Los Angeles, CA May 9-11, 2014. Cushions are going fast, so book now if you want in! I will be there and offering dokusan (private consultations) to anyone who attends.
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Last week I read a story about a British woman who was deported from Sri Lanka for having a tattoo of Buddha. I tweeted a link to the story adding, “Anyone who thinks a tattoo of Buddha is offensive doesn’t understand anything the Buddha ever said.”
Most of the responses I got were pretty positive. But a few people objected. A guy on Twitter said, “White Buddhist tells Singhalese Buddhists about Buddhism.”
It’s the prevailing attitude among certain folks that those of the white, privileged West shouldn’t arrogantly impose our attitudes upon other cultures. The days when our Western attitudes were considered more advanced and therefore better than the primitive ways of other peoples are over. And we certainly should not feel entitled to steal ideas from those cultures, change them around, make them our own, and then come back and tell those cultures the “right” way to do the things they came up with in the first place.
Generally I would agree with that sentiment.
My Twitter friend appears to believe that my sentiments represent those of an arrogant, over-privileged American telling people who have been steeped in Buddhism for thousands of years what their religion is really about. How dare I?
But does the mere fact of being an American Buddhist really make one less qualified to say what Buddhism is actually about? If we were to follow that line of thinking to its logical conclusion, then I, as a person who grew up in a Christian country, would be more qualified to speak about the true meaning of Jesus’ life than a Singhalese Catholic monk who spent thirty years studying and practicing Christianity.
Having lived a large portion of my life outside of the United States, as a child in Kenya and an adult in Japan, it seems to me that people all over the world are very much alike, often in surprising ways. The kinds of Buddhists who find tattoos of Buddha offensive or who attack their neighbors for being of the wrong religion are pretty much the equivalent of American Christians who think Jesus had blond hair and blue eyes and hated homosexuals. They don’t know any more about Buddhism than our homegrown reactionary, racist “Christians” know what Jesus’ message was about.
I think it is perfectly reasonable for those of us who know better about what the Buddha taught – whether Asian or not – to take these folks to task, and to shame them for using their woeful misunderstanding of the Buddha Way as a justification for acting like assholes. The same as I would accept a Sri Lankan Christian shaming Americans who used Christianity as excuse for intolerant violence and just plain ridiculousness.
Simply growing up in a culture in which most people answer “Buddhist” when asked what religion they follow does not automatically qualify a person to explain what Buddhism is really about. Most Japanese people I knew when I lived in Tokyo knew far less about Buddhism than I did.
I was surprised by this at first. But as I continued to live in Japan, learn more Japanese, and become more attuned to the culture, it dawned on me that it made perfect sense that I would know way more about Buddhism than they did. I’d spent a significant proportion of my life studying and practicing it and they hadn’t. It had nothing at all to do with what race I was or where I was born. People who study and practice a thing know more about it than those who don’t. That’s just how life works.
This begs another question about whether Western Buddhism is more or less legitimate than Asian Buddhism. This question, which used to come up all the time when I first started practicing Zen in the early 80s, seems to be less important to people I meet these days. In fact, once I was accused by someone on the Internets of not being a legit Zen teacher because I was ordained in Japan! That was an interesting turn around, I thought. Because back when I started it was the teachers who were ordained by fellow Westerners who were considered somehow less legit.
When people ask me about the differences between Buddhism in Japan and in the US and Europe, I usually tell them that in the US or Europe you’re far more likely to be able to walk into a Buddhist center and actually start practicing Buddhism than you are in Japan. Japanese Buddhists, by and large, are far less interested in meditation, which is the core of what the Buddha taught, than Buddhists in the West.
But I think this is what usually happens when Buddhism travels from one country to another. The Chinese Buddhists brought meditation back into Buddhism when Buddhists in India had largely abandoned it, the Korean and Japanese Buddhists brought meditation back into Buddhism when the Chinese had largely abandoned it, and now we in the West are bringing meditation back at a time when the Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Sri Lankan and other cultures we’re getting our traditions from have largely abandoned it.
I think those of us in the West who are deeply interested in Buddhism also tend to understand Buddhist philosophy better than the average Asian who tends to assume they know all about Buddhism because they’ve grown up around it. It’s a bit like how some of our most hardcore Christians in the US don’t know much about what’s actually in the Bible.
A Pew Forum survey showed that agnostics and atheists in American tend to know more about the Bible than those who call themselves Christians. That’s because atheists and agnostics don’t just assume they know. They go look the stuff up! It’s the same with Western Buddhists. We don’t have any reason to assume we know what the Buddha said just because we’ve been raised around a miasma of mixed up misquotations and folk sayings wrongly attributed to the Buddha – the same as American Christians often think that things from Dante’s Inferno and Shakespeare are part of the Bible.
Tattoos of the Buddha are not offensive to anyone who really understand the Buddha. That’s all there is to that.
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Your donations are always gratefully accepted!
I am going to be in Norway from Sept. 24 to 28, Finland from Oct. 3 to 5, the Netherlands from Oct. 24 to 29 and the UK sometime after that. I do not have details yet. But I do have a few large gaps in my schedule that I’d like to fill. They are:
I’m talking to some folks in Munich about doing something there during one of these weeks. I’d really like to set something up in Berlin one of those weeks as well. If you’re interested in helping me set that stuff up, please write to me at email@example.com and we’ll get to work on it. It doesn’t have to be Munich or Berlin!
Sometimes a movie is made to tour.
Are you interested in seeing HARDCORE ZEN with your local community? Would you like Brad Warner to speak at your university, meditation group, or personal guests?
Now you can have both. The film will screen at a location at your discretion. Simply contact firstname.lastname@example.org with the following specifics: your location, contact info, and potential date for the event.