Before I start, if you’re in Northeast Ohio, you can come see me speak tonight (Fri. Oct. 12) in Cleveland and see Zero Defex (the hardcore band I play bass in) perform tomorrow (Sat. Oct. 13) night in Kent. Scroll down to the end of this piece for full details. Now onto the article.
I take back everything I said about San Francisco Zen Center and its treatment of Ed Brown in a previous blog post a few days ago. Well, maybe not everything. But some things.
Yesterday San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC) released its official statement about the business concerning one of their teachers, Ed Brown, that I wrote about in a previous installment of this blog. You can read the SFZC statement by following this link.
Their statement is pretty thorough. There’s even a little nod to my article at the very end. Which is nice of them to acknowledge my existence. I like SFZC. Some of my best friends are members of SFZC!
So, OK, they’re not beholden to a cabal of left-wing donors. Which isn’t precisely what I said last time. But a lot of folks took it that way, so I’d better make it clear that they’re not.
One of the things about Zen that I failed to acknowledge in my previous article on the Ed Brown stuff is that there have always been two kinds of people who show up at Zen centers and temples. There are the people who come for training, who are really serious and committed to Zen practice. And there are another kinds of people who show up now and then for a sort of entertainment — perhaps we can call it zentertainment — that the temple or center also provides.
This second group has always wielded a bit more influence over what happens in the temples/centers than they probably should. And the reason they wield such influence is because these folks who come for zentertainment, but aren’t really very dedicated to the practice, are the ones who pay the bills.
It’s easy to understand why. Monks and Zen students don’t work. I mean, they do work. But their work is mostly just trying to keep the temple/center running. They don’t bring in any money for the place. And it takes money to keep a temple or center going. The bigger the temple or center, the more money is required.
Dogen even wrote about this 800 years ago. There’s a piece in Shobogenzo all about how monks need to treat donors and visitors. He says that monks have to be very deferential to those people. The monks are supposed to perform whatever religious services donors ask for and to generally be real nice to visitors when they show up. My truncated version of this chapter of Shobogenzo can be found at the end of my book Don’t Be a Jerk (Chapter 25, Chanting Sutras).
This is what the folks at SFZC were trying to do regarding Ed Brown. The person who complained about Ed’s talk doesn’t seem to have been an actual Zen student, but rather someone who just showed up for the talk. Even if I’m wrong and the particular person who complained about Ed did happen to be a student, the way she was treated was the way SFZC generally deals with the audience members who come for zentertainment, rather than how they generally deal with actual students.
I should have figured this out before I wrote what I wrote. I muddied the waters with that story about Suzuki Roshi’s vegetarian student. That story was a case of a teacher dealing directly with a student who the teacher (Suzuki) knew was seriously interested in deepening his Zen practice. I’m sure Suzuki Roshi treated people who came to him for zentertainment quite differently.
One of my great failings in life is that I’m not real good at people pleasing. If I were, I might be presiding over a medium sized center, perhaps as big as an average church or something. Instead, I usually get ten to fifteen people showing up at the Angel City Zen Center events I host regularly in Los Angeles. When I do an out-of-town gig, such as the one I’m doing in Cleveland tonight (see below) or the many events I do in Europe every year, lots more people come out. That’s because I can turn on the zentertainment at events like that. I’m actually pretty good, if I do say so myself. I even get invited by struggling Zen centers who want to boost their attendance.
Yet in my own little center I am absolutely terrible at what SFZC is very good at. At their center, they provide both an “insider” type experience that fosters real spiritual growth among those who commit to their program, and they provide spectacular zentertainment that keeps the punters happily donating to making the place run.
In order to do this effectively, they have to be deferential to folks who come around mostly just to be entertained. Right now this country is going through a phase in which it is seen as some kind of a virtue to be easily offended on behalf of people that the media has deemed as sufficiently “marginalized.” Those that the media deems as “privileged” must then play Superman or Wonder Womxn (or perhaps Dreamer, the trans superhero from the Supergirl TV series) and rush to their defense — even if no actual “marginalized person” was offended. This is especially true in the San Francisco Bay area.
Whether the folks at SFZC agree with these wanna-be superheroes or not, they have to deal with them because they make up much of the audience that pays for the zentertainment. If it wasn’t such do-gooders they had to deal with, it would be something else. Different Zen centers have different sorts of zentertainment audiences. I was once cautioned before giving a talk at a Zen center in the South that I shouldn’t say anything too left-wing because many of their donors were very conservative. So it goes.
For what it’s worth, I apologize to the folks at San Francisco Zen Center who were saddened by what I said about them. SFZC is a good place, staffed by a lot of very nice, extremely well-meaning people, who are generally serious and committed to Zen practice.
They also do goofy stuff sometimes. Oh! And I’m well aware of how cantankerous Ed Brown can be sometimes. I think Ed is aware of this too. I hope they can resolve this stuff.
Friday Oct. 12, 2018 CLEVELAND, OHIO 7:00pm UU Church 2728 Lancashire Rd., Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
October 26-28, 2018 3-DAY ZEN RETREAT AT MT. BALDY ZEN CENTER
The Angel City Zen Center is running a fundraiser right now to keep the center going. Please help them out!
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IT CAME FROM BEYOND ZEN and SEX SIN AND ZEN are now available as audiobooks from Audible.com! You can also get Don’t Be a Jerk, Hardcore Zen, Sit Down and Shut Up and There is No God and He is Always With You in audio form — all read by me, Brad Warner!
ALL THESE EVENTS TAKE PLACE WHETHER I’M THERE OR NOT.
Every Monday at 7:30pm there’s zazen at Angel City Zen Center (NEW TIME, NEW PLACE!) 1407 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90026 Beginners only!
Every Saturday at 10:00 am there’s zazen at the Angel City Zen Center (NEW PLACE!) 1407 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90026 Beginners only!
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