Sunday, June 12, 2011

Maha Hee Haw

While my family napped, I found myself reading a few different blogs about the Great Big Super Duper Garrison Institute Gathering of Buddhist Teachers and Up and Coming Buddhist Leader People.

Is that the official title? Anyway.

A friend of mine was there and is posting several blogs about it at Natural Wisdom. James Ford has also consented to blog from the event, and to host a guest blogger once he left the conference, over at Monkey Mind.

Then I noticed that the most honestly interesting thing, for this reader, were Ji Hyang's photos of the grounds around Garrison. It's a pretty place. The flowers are exploding in lascivious colors, it seems. If I were there, I'd probably be found on my back among the flowers gazing up at the sky. Sort of similar to how I would eventually get fatigued at the Kwan Um School's big sangha events, and slip out to admire the pond by the monastery.

There are interesting questions and ideas being written about from outside this event. This is from what James Ford refers to as the "Zen commentariat" or maybe it is the "Buddhist commentariat," the unruly hordes of people who wrote lengthy or multiple articles on their blogs expressing criticisms about "Nice Buddhism" and why Brad Warner wasn't invited. (Or was he?) And of course Marnie Louise Froberg's examination of the event.

So, among people who are not there, many questions, many concerns, many ideas: who decides who is mainstream, how the "consensus" (as David Chapman puts it) is enforced through the books and magazines that define North American Buddhism.

Among a couple of people I know who where there, the sense that it was benevolent at best and benign at worst. Some parts better organized than others, some encounters more fruitful than others.

Something here reminds of something I noticed when I left the Zen Centers of the northeast and moved west. At farther-flung Zen Centers of the Kwan Um school, I have heard grumbles that the major sangha events all take place in Rhode Island at our head temple -- which limits participation to those who live near there or can afford to travel there. (This is the reason I haven't attended one myself in years.) The annual sangha "town meeting" is thus limited to one or two occasions per year at one location. That is a problem for a school as spread out as ours, but there is a solution: regional events. Less travel, less expense, more local participation.

Of course, that means actually planning the event and hosting it. We've been talking about a southwest Kwan Um sangha weekend for years. Hasn't happened.

Seems to me that people can put together their own Maha Hee Haw and invite people to discuss whatever they want, or even set up video participation -- or it could all be online.

Call it the first council of the Maha Buddhist Commentariat.

If the Maha Council at Garrison felt exclusive, well -- yes, it was an invitation-only event held in one place. That doesn't mean the conversation about North American Buddhism needs to be ceded to those invitees. The red aspect of my personality wants to say to the disgruntled, "Organize! Hold your own thing and see what happens!"


Barry said...

Back in the 1990s I (pretty much single-handedly) organized three sangha weekends on the west coast (one at DZC, one up in the mountain of SoCal at Zen Mtn Monastery) and one on Vashon Island (Seattle). They were all well-attended and "broke even" on costs. The KUSZ helped financially and logistically with the promotion, but almost all the rest fell on my shoulders. After the last one, I said, "No more. Not alone." And, of course, that was the last of them. Maybe we'll see a regional KUSZ event in the future, but I'm not holding my breath. Thank goodness for frequent flyer miles!

NellaLou said...

That would be a good idea. The question is one of funding. Who would host it for free? Who would pay the fares for those who opt to attend? Who among the commentariat could afford it? Even for the big events some won't go due to cost concerns.

There could be a series of meetings in various locations. It would have to be well formatted in terms of structure so that it could be duplicated to some extent. And the results compiled and published electronically somehow.

An Internet alternative is possible however not everyone has continuous access. I can think of two who would be valuable participants but use library or borrowed computers.

There are lots of possibilities. I'm going to think about this and see if I can come up with some viable options. Others will likely have some ideas as well.

Or maybe we should just make an appeal to Oprah.

Ji Hyang said...

thank you--
there were even more incredibly beautiful things: a ginkgo tree I sat under each morning...deer browsing close by. And yes, it reminded me of WWSF, only more diverse...

Algernon said...

The expenses involved are a factor. Some sort of internet gathering might be more affordable and yet even then, there could be issues around access. I'd be interested to see what you come up with, NellaLou.

Algernon said...

Ah, yes, Barry. That's another phenomenon: most or all of the work resting on one or two sets of shoulders.

Nathan said...

I think having more regional conferences like this makes a lot of sense. I appreciate the funding questions as well, given my work on our zen center's board. Finances and coordination of logistics are major issues in putting together any kind of gathering.

I honestly still don't know what to make of the Maha conference. Reading David Brazier's blog ( for example, made me wonder a bit. If it was a conference focusing on American Buddhism, what's a Brit doing there? And Arun's post breaking down the racial make up of the teachers isn't terribly uplifting either.

Furthermore, I only found 1 teacher from my home state of Minnesota on the list and our head teacher didn't seem to know much about the conference at all, despite the fact our sangha has been around almost 20 years now, and has had a decent sized membership for over a decade.

Anyway, I appreciate those who wrote about their experiences of the conference. And also the idea to have more events like it in more locations.