This title sounds like an inspiring metaphor for some simple holiness possible in the midst of our complex, fallen world. And that’s not a bad potential topic. But this morning it’s an image that arrived unbidden as I continue to contemplate, synthesize, and come to terms with how it is American Soto Zen Buddhism has (to borrow a crude line from a very funny movie) gone “full retard”. This is to say that they recently went right ahead and declared themselves the spiritual vanguard of the neo-Marxist cultural revolution. In practice, this means they have outed themselves as a Maoist brainwashing cult.￼￼
Go to any given Soto Zen center today and, after you are sufficiently softened up by some hours of mind-opening meditation and ritual activity, you are more likely than not to be subjected to an alarming lecture, sensitively delivered in dulcet tones, about ecocidal human-caused climate change, the civilization-ending evils of fracking, spooky but invisible white supremacy, the threat of male toxicity, the rise of Trumpian fascism, the need to abolish border enforcement and capitalism, and the overwhelming moral obligation to #resist. Om Mani Padme Hum. All the standard, unquestionable socialist gobbledygook; a uniform code of the in turns bullying/nah nah nah I can’t hear you contemporary left, carved deep into the proverbial gates.
This year I got out. I #walkedaway: from the lies, the emotional blackmail, the manipulations, the indoctrination. As I reflect on how I got so far down the road tolerating this stuff, I see that I basically just compartmentalized. Mine and others’ moderately left-leaning sympathies were taken advantage of. I’ve realized that I could avoid going to the suggested Occupy sit ins, the climate marches, the separate queer/female/youth/brown sitting groups no one wanted or attended, the BLM/Antifa rallies, and I did, concentrating on positive aspects of life and more personal forms of social support; what I couldn’t avoid was the utterly demoralizing world view this all uniformly presents as background. It infects you. It’s not just a couple mistaken views. It’s a monstrous mountain of propaganda and lies, and even more dangerous half-truths. Questions were not allowed. Discussions were suppressed. Epithets, shaming, and ostracizing were performed. Welcome to American Alt-Leftism. Almost everything they decry as evils in some projected other are shadows they’re refusing themselves to own, and integrate.
So I’ve busted loose. A broken cog. A thrown rod. I’m not the only one lately to invoke the image of Tim Robbins in his Shawshank Redemption break-through-the-earth-moment: covered in shit, ecstatically stretching his arms to heaven, he breathes deep fresh air, a free-ish man – born of water and earth, in darkness. American Zen has been possessed by the partisan, relentlessly doctrinaire tenets of “Engaged Buddhism”. Without grounds in Buddha’s actual teaching in which to root their often misguided social crusades, most Zen leaders have built a doctrinal temple on the landfill of postmodern identitarian leftism, in actual service to which this plastic altruism is geared. Tedious sermons are proclaimed from this noxious presumed moral high ground (mountain seat?), by preachers who mostly have no idea who’s really pulling their jaw strings. No matter how sublime the design of the building up there, how fancy the robes, it’s still just a shack sitting on the unstable, corpse-laden mound that is Marxism’s enduring monument. I pray that other people continue to speak up as we confront this ideological pandemic.