Thursday, June 09, 2011

Upaya and the Buddhist Blogosphere, Part 2

The previous post concerned upaya, the "expedient means" a keen-eyed teacher might use to respond to a student's question, intended to point at the truth in a vivid and spontaneous way rather than making a beautiful explanation about it.

The point we want to carry over to this post is that even when a keen-eyed teacher pokes at our ego, and even when the face we are shown is flat or stern, behind the face is great love and compassion. There are no "stupid" questions. Everyone has "Buddha nature." This is so, even when the questions are clearly arising from anger, fear, or ignorance.

Now, this blog will address a kerfluffle.

This week at the Garrison Institute in New York, there is a large conference of famous Buddhist teachers in North America. It is a private and invitation-only event. As such, the organizers felt no need to publicize the agenda or the list of attendees. In fact, there is no compulsion for them to do so. People can get together and have private events if they want.

The conference has become a topic on some blogs interested in Buddhism and many questions have been aired and discussed. Who organized the event, what were the criteria for invitation, and what was the agenda? In light of recent scandals involving teachers, sex, and money, there have been recent debates about organizing bodies that would have authority to intervene if a teacher was judged to be abusing their power with no one reining them in locally. Some people wondered if this might be on the agenda. Others wondered, to what extent is this group seeking to define the mainstream of Buddhist teaching and practice. Why were certain well-known people invited, and certain others not. How come so few Zen people. Would whites predominate? And so on.

Here, for example, is perhaps the definitive, highly detailed blog post airing out the questions and concerns, on Mudhusala.

Some of the participants in this conference are now hearing from -- well, the rest of us. People who practice, people who are interested in this event and what outcomes might emerge. People who aren't authorized teachers. Long-time students, newer students. Just folks. People. The peanut gallery. That includes the "Zen commentariat," a label coined by one American roshi to poke at people who ask lots of questions on their blogs.

(Sidebar: I guess the Burning House is part of the commentariat, for better or worse.)

One of those teachers, prompted by these questions, has consented to blog the event. James Ford's posts from Garrison can be read here.

While it may appear to some of the "maha council" (as the event presents itself) that people's questions are motivated by undue suspicion and lack an assumption of good faith -- and while that may even be true in some cases -- I hope they will openly blog, write, or speak about the event, addressing people's curiosity and even the fear or anger with love and compassion.

Secrecy has done much harm in more than one local sangha, and where there is an appearance of secrecy, we can hardly be surprised that some "checking mind" would appear.

This morning, I received a lengthy, beautiful letter from one of my school's Zen Masters in Europe. He addressed a difficult and emotional situation that has erupted in one of our centers, and he did so with transparency, honesty, and compassion, out of a deep respect for the parties involved and everyone involved in the sangha who would have questions about it.

That's the way to go. It helps democratize the dharma, making our communities more open and more safe for all beings. May we all plunge deeply together, awaken together, and assist each other with respect and love.

Thanks for reading, and sorry to be so long-winded this morning.

[Photo: the Garrison Institute]


Nathan said...

Judging from James Ford's posts from the council, it's about what I expected - nothing terribly important or worrisome going on there.

Ji Hyang said...

Actually there were some beautiful and powerful conversations across lineages, which are necessary for Buddhism to come into its own in this country--
as well as shared direction of creating more diverse sanghas.

In a private setting sometimes connections can be made which are imperceptible at first, like roots growing underground. You can't always tell at first glance what is happening--but I trust in the luminous threads of Indra's Net...