I’ve just been back about five days from a month in Ireland, driving most of its perimeter and hundreds of miles of the winding, narrow roads of its interior. I arrived home not only overstimulated, sleep-deprived, and jet-lagged, but I caught a bit of food poisoning I think from the absolutely dreadful lukewarm airplane food, so I’ve been asleep the last few days more than awake, my mind and soul apparently still stuck firmly in an Irish dreamtime. I’ve dreamt continuously of traveling still its relatively meager forests, surprisingly abundant stony mountains, actively crumbling coastal cliffs, grim but bustling cities, pastel-painted villages, and layered human structures, old and new.
I’ve been thinking about God a lot lately. This isn’t such a novel state of affairs. Although a “serious Zen practitioner” now for decades, I was raised Christian; I continue to marvel at the tenaciousness of these roots in my own psyche, and keep considering its influences on the culture I’m inextricably bound to. After another intense, decade-long deep dive into the floral Mahayana Buddhist universe, I just reread the New Testament for the first time in at least 20 years. As you’d expect, it was by turns challenging and comforting, and so familiar I struggle to believe it’s been that long. Continue reading “God: an Appreciation”→
When I was about 13, a friend loaned me a copy of British band the Jam’s definitive (if hardly best) album, In the City. The lyrics may be hard to take seriously as an adult, but the vibe was happening, and it really started some motors for a certain art-school-bound teenage suburban romantic back in the day. I’d been hearing a lot of punk up to then in friends’ rough split-level basements, sort of pretending to like it: Sex Pistols, Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash, Circle Jerks, the lot. Punk already felt ancient and tired to me in 1982, although I don’t know if I could have articulated that then, much less dared say it for fear of drawing the disdain of my relentlessly snobbish punk-cult friends. Honestly, punk mostly sounded like my dad’s rocknroll from the ’50s, just sped up and played badly – which of course it mostly was. It generally sounds better to me today than it did then, and I wish looking back I could have taken more advantage of it to process some well-deserved anger at my parents. More mosh pits might’ve helped. But I’d been exposed to enough real violence. I didn’t need it snottily foregrounded in my art. In college, I got into more melodically post-punk bands like Husker Du, Minutemen, and Fugazi, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Continue reading “Mod Culture: an Appreciation”→
Note, 11.9.18: I wrote this 6 or 7 months ago. I’ve made a couple of addenda to the text since then, some notated. My concerns have only compounded, leading me to resign as a Zen priest. I hear from people all the time who share my concerns, who have severed ties with Zen groups, left centers, and lost faith. It is a real crisis, and my reasonableness and careful considerations, in some evidence in the article, have been replaced by a traverse through stages of grief for what I consider the likely end of a valid Zen experiment in America.
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Yogi Berra
The United States and much of the modern world stand at a political crossroads. The stakes feel extremely high, the threats potentially the most catastrophic since the fall of the Soviet Empire. Autocrats consolidate power in the most powerful nations on earth. The greatness of unprecedented collective human success and well being casts dark shadows on natural environments worldwide. New technologies emerge and permeate our minds and lives, amplifying every mistake and human foible; corruption gets painfully revealed, emotions get played, and this often results in drastically skewed perspectives. In this pressured atmosphere a kind of cultic fundamentalism has overwhelmed American public dialogue – at least the fundamentalists have. College professors are shouted down, biased pundits troll each other, orchestrated riots eliminate rational discussion, angrily hurled slogans replace dialectic. Politics in this country has always been a contact sport. It is qualitatively different now, and we all feel it.
For a host of possible reasons, many visible American Buddhist teachers and organizations have made their political affiliations increasingly overt. Rather than seeking nuanced methods of reasoned inquiry toward grounded solutions for complex problems – or more importantly, the maintenance of a space for the cultivation of a sound personal foundation for that potential – many clergy and community leaders are enthusiastically adding their force at one ideological extreme. It might be considered the working end of sharp red wedge. Obviously motivated by a sympathetic impulse to counteract the abusive tendencies of those in power and support the citizenry’s most disenfranchised members, more and more these and other cultural leaders overcompensate by aligning themselves and the traditions they represent with outmoded political and destructive social views that are at times antithetical to the received spirit of those traditions: prejudicial, tribalist, victimized, scientifically unsound, and vociferously illiberal. There are no commonly visible exceptions, critics, or voices of dissent, and I’ve come to wonder if all light between American Buddhism and radical leftism has been eclipsed.