I’ve pretty much flogged the ‘how’ to death at this point, but I’ve not really drilled down into the why. Why did all these dedicated, self-enlightened Zen heroes capitulate to such dreadful ideologies, ignore reams of wise teachings from the traditions they are supposed to represent, abandon the true spirit of Zen, turn on their nation, and plain lose all common sense if not human decency?
We’re talking about a lot of individuals here, so generalizations are dangerous. They spoke with one authoritative voice however, these Zen Masters, in inherited rhetoric they didn’t invent, thereby inviting broad assumptions and shared opprobrium. Beyond this relatively tiny radical conspiracy, we see entire swathes of the US and European populace equally bamboozled. Much of this can be credited to the all out assault on truth and sanity by the main stream media, and the self-interested corporate lackies who mostly appear to run the country – this includes a spectrum running from manic sanpaku-eyed Ocasio-Cortez to Mitch McConnell (although at this point I much prefer the latter, who can at least string three words together without saying “um” or “like” and isn’t auditioning for the role of Mall Girl Mao.)
Maybe it started with Jay Leno and the like sending interns out onto Hollywood Blvd. to interview passersby that many of us first began to glimpse how stunningly ill-informed and incurious the average modern American was developing into, especially those under 30. Now on YouTube, dozens of heroic citizen journalists brave assault while vainly attempting to get straight answers out of pussy-hatted and black-masked mobs carrying mass-produced Soros signage at marches and protests, escalating violence day by day, with prime time MSM anchors running cover. What pours out of these “activists” mouths is usually an unbelievable stream of disconnected, predigested disinformation, programming, and sound bites. They rarely know who even the Vice President is, much less branches of government; forget about what’s actually in the Bill of Rights. “America was never great!” they scream with twisted glee.
All these Zen priests are supposed to be leaders, and they certainly assume grand authority, presuming to atone as they do for all the sins of humanity thus far, so assuredly assigning where the real blame lies. “The Patriarchy!” “Colonization!” “Capitalism!” “The Whites!” “AmeriKKKa!” Do they know they are useful idiots in a Marxist revolutionary dialectic set in motion decades ago, forecast and warned of by people like KGB defector Yuri Besmenov in the 1980s, before he was assassinated for his trouble? I assume enough good faith to think not. But a few key people are pulling strings, and they can’t be totally in the dark.
I’m not alone in assuming by just its tone that the SZBA’s repentance statement was largely crafted by Zen priest Greg Snyder, who is named as one of its presenters. It has his borrowed voice and clammy fingerprints. My aforementioned former Zen preceptor played host to another conference of Zen teachers maybe a year before this SZBA business. I did not attend, but he afterwards gushed how Snyder represented the future of American Zen, and solemnly announced how he was now going to recommend Snyder’s Brooklyn Zen (read leftist indoctrination) Center as an East Coast training alternative to the Northern Cali temples which have been standard (I’ve heard from a few people who’ve fled SFZC places in Cali because they saw the same thing happening there.)
At that point I knew Synder’s name, but not much else. It was only later that I read some articles of his in Buddhist magazines and online, and was then only mildly annoyed to see that he was just another guy preaching cliche-ridden radical leftism and calling it Buddhism. His star has continued to rise, as he appears to have tapped deeply into the leftist sympathies of the overall American Buddhist establishment, along with a handful of Black Panthers and Weathermen disguised in monks robes ( see “Radical Dharma“, etc.) He seems to experience no recoil from his laying out a steady barrage of identitarian neo-Marxist rhetoric, indistinguishable from its use in 1000 other contexts, like any other two-bit pol who’ll peddle any lie, push any button to capture and move a base. Concocted, honed, and codified over decades in, and once reserved for, the confines of umpteen university “studies” departments – Womens Studies, Diaspora Studies, Latinx Studies – its finally all ready for prime time, and in a mind-bendingly rapid shift of the Overton Window, now constitutes the Democratic Party platform itself. Viva La Revolucion.
I went through an Ivy League postmodern academy grinder. As I’ve mentioned, the left still had to be sneakier back then. They didn’t just tell you what they were selling was a race/gender grievance communist war forever. It nevertheless all nauseated me, I felt what it was indicating more than understood it, and I all but fled after: the academy, the East Coast, the fine art world which was even then possessed by it, the increasingly debauched machinery of culture, and I went headlong into Zen. I washed dishes. I worked construction. I lived with Indians. I practiced with this sangha, and that sangha, trying to find a way to survive, maybe even thrive, ideally in or close to my beloved mountain west. I guess I hoped Zen was a refuge, a bastion of sanity, or at least a method to preserve and cultivate that. It posits itself as such.
The drive behind this series of posts is obviously an attempt to come to grips with how it turned out to be the opposite of that, a sense of betrayal suffusing that realization, and a sense of responsibility to own my part and at least say something about it. Like, I’m sorry I didn’t see this earlier. Maybe I helped promote something evil. If I did, I didn’t know it. Maybe it was different before, but we’re told to know a thing from its fruits. If Zen’s fruit has turned out to be race war, genocide, the destruction of modern civilization, and dissolution of the United States, was this tree always just toxic? Who handed me this apple? Did I pick it myself?
I am going to continue to presume, as a person of faith, that there is sense and larger purpose in this unraveling, this apocalypse (literally, unveiling). I participate and enact this faith by exerting reason and presenting an analysis; this confession. It’s too late for some things, and I hope not too late for others. But the truth and the real are always on time, aren’t they? Even if we don’t get it until later. Being human, we can be too late, and we shouldn’t let ourselves off too easy. I’m talking to you, boomers! And of course to myself.
The reality of this Soto Zen leadership is that they are mostly boomers, inordinately college educated, Jewish, and “white”, proudly countercultural, and rooted in California (whether or not they live elsewhere; their roots or training emanate mostly from the north left coast). None of these things are in themselves problems, of course. Sane people don’t demonize individuals wholesale based on circumstantial markers beyond individual control like ethnicity or geography, much less proudly “repent” on their behalf. Added together however, these categories do begin to form the outlines of a puzzle: how something (Zen) that in its actual literature and traditions does not naturally or inherently result in communism, was still forcefully and successfully co-opted without apparent resistance by people possessed by radical neo-Marxist ideology, which it turns out, is their actual religion. That is what the “repentance statement” means, and shows. It certainly isn’t an objective, informed analysis of history. And it is simply not true: spiritually true, morally true, or factually true. What in it that is true (that oh wow, gee, injustice has occurred during 40,000+ years of human society, surprise surprise, on our way to the most abundant, advanced, and fair civilization in the entire human story) is warped and distorted beyond recognition in service to a larger lie, i.e. identitarian neo-Marxism.
Zen Buddhism’s immune system turned out to be incapable of withstanding this infection, which flowered from deep within its breast; while every other religion and the culture generally continues to see lively and purposeful debate along these meaningful ideological divides, in Soto Zen there was no debate. I attempted to initiate one, or at least a conversation, from a left of center position addressing the way further left. I didn’t vote for Trump, certainly never attempted a case in his favor; I just didn’t want Zen helping set the stage for all out race war. I’ve never much liked any president as a personality; no one most of us would genuinely like would want or be capable of getting the job. But again, as a person of faith and someone who appreciates his family, the land, people, and society of his birth, and something we can shorthand as God (or Buddha, I suppose), I’ve practiced and found reasons to trust that something intelligent is guiding this ship, caring for us if we care for ourselves and each other. This means, I didn’t vote for him, but I didn’t grouse about Bush either (though protested his wars at California beaches and street corners on the weekend). I still prayed he’d be well do a good job, as I wish for Trump – as every American should, every human on the planet.
The original Zen meal chant I learned used to contain a prayer for the leaders of the nation. I was disappointed to find when I started with my last teacher, probably in keeping with his teachers, that he had taken that part out. Another sign I probably should have attended to. I went to a church yesterday that said a prayer for the president, and our quite progressive female governor, both by name. It made me want to go back, as did how friendly and bright-eyed all the people were. I went because its a traditional Anglican church, from a branch that’s split off from the increasingly left-possessed mainline Episcopal church. I’d gone a few times to a nearby Episcopal church that flies rainbow flags for Pride month. All the sermons I heard there, spread over months, focused on immigration in a quite doctrinaire way. Their music was better, of course, because the choir was obviously comprised predominantly of gay men and sharp-dressed lesbians (they can sing! Alleluia) but generally most people were glassy-eyed and uneasy-seeming, uncordial, and in nearly all the handful of personal encounters I had there, within seconds somehow Trump was insulted, conservatives were bashed, and fear was cultivated. Litmus tests were being administered. We all must have experienced this, somewhere. I seem to get it everywhere these days. I have furtive conversations in bars with insurance salesman where we lower our voices amidst the mustachioed skinny jean hipsters and say, “he didn’t turn out half-bad afterall, right?”
How many Trump supporters or just “conservatives” appear to be in the SZBA? The correct response is laughter and a shake of the head. If they’re there, man are they (understandably) keeping their heads down. There is total consensus, for now, on aligning the religion with the most radical forms of political leftism, and dissenters are thoroughly purged. Sure, lip service to tolerance is made; that’s always how the left disguises its bigotry. But as a left-of-center moderate, when I dissented or even asked questions, I was totally shut down and ostracized, without hesitation or recourse, and no one stood by or for me. That other dissenters were also sent packing, I only learned later. I honestly thought at first, totally naive, that people would actually want to talk about these things, dialogue toward consensus, listen to ideas they hadn’t considered – especially these “spiritual friends” and fellow priest-monk-philosophers. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Then again, I was poking at the foundations of heavy psychic and institutional structures, and people don’t tend to like to have their houses shaken. Isn’t the ideal just a grass hut anyway?
So my former teacher yet again provides good personal examples, and I think he is in many ways stereotypical. It’s not personal. He was protesting against the Vietnam War and taking Acid long before starting Zen practice, and these generational values often appeared to subsume he and his peers dedication to Dogen’s teachings. No Zen teacher anywhere, ever, for 2000 years, said to willfully dismantle your country’s government and economy, blame certain groups for the flaws in your culture or personal life, and institute a centralized authoritarian political system that without exception has proven to be more murderous and destructive than any other force in human history. The Buddha actually did not say to do those things. Shocking, I know.
It’s been said that anyone who thinks “communism just hasn’t been done right” just thinks they’d be the exception, the one to do it better: communism in their own image. These are also just the types of people who end up drawing up the lists, and drafting the re-education camp curricula (oh look, they already have). There’s no such thing as a peaceful and tolerant communist revolution, or state. It might have been the day I first heard that sentiment, or the week, when my teacher said to me, “Communism just hasn’t really been done right yet.” My blood chilled; it was another hold-the-phone-away-and-look-at-it moment. “I am an atheist and Marxist!” he’d occasionally say to me over the years, beaming with pride. And I would smile and shrug and think, ok, whatever, as long as we’re sitting zazen and reading Dogen, you do you, brother. Until that joke wasn’t funny anymore.