Temple on a Trash Heap

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.

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You Don’t Need an Ideology

I queued this to what I think is a watershed moment in a fascinating discussion, held from being infuriating solely by Peterson keeping his relative cool and eloquence responding to questions hardly befitting a high school student, much less a puffed up professional journo. She carefully tries to lay traps, but is so outmatched they end up clamping on her own fingers and toes. Like lobsters? It’s not that she’s dumb; clearly she isn’t. But she is obviously utterly possessed by ideology.

I have points I’d like to drill down on myself with Peterson, points of real divergence. I first discovered him some years ago now, and have watched his ascension with fascination, and appreciated his support of ideas and feelings with which I broadly sympathize. He has been and appears to be increasingly wrong on certain things. I find little to disagree with here, also sharing his world weariness about the sheer stupidity of the ideologies that seem to hold our cultural elite in zombified thrall. Ideologies that for all their spun candy floss seems to basically boil down to simply: “White (orange) man bad. Brown lady good.”

JP: “Part of the problem in discussions like this, and the reason I think that it indicates ideological possession, is that it becomes so predictable.”
GQ: “But having a coherent ideology means that it is predictable.”
JP: “You don’t need an ideology.”

Exactly! No ideology – not feminist, not nationalist, not antifascist, not even anarchist. Just questions, faith, and reason. Takes courage, intelligence, and care. Many today would seem to rather trade those in for self-righteousness, anger, and resentment.

God: an Appreciation

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”

Mod Culture: 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”

If You Meet the Buddha On the Road, Protest His Privilege: Zen Gets Radical


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.

Kasemir Malevich abstractly diagramming the Bolshevik Revolution, 1917

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.

Continue reading “If You Meet the Buddha On the Road, Protest His Privilege: Zen Gets Radical”