|It ain't cute|
Buddhism in its Western incarnation - let us face it - has been mostly about being nice, and, me, I’m not really into “nice.” I never would go out of my way to see Mary Lou Retton or Alan Alda or Mary Tyler Moore on TV. I consider perky to be a character flaw. And bubbly to be a bad thing. I think that cute isn’t.
So, now, allow me to put the two paragraphs, above, together: On a spectrum of awful-to-nice, I think Buddha recommended the middle. And I think that Buddhism in America is often sticky, cloying, gagging, “Hello Kitty,” sugary, diabetes-causing nice. And that we should disembowel this nice thing we’re on with a chainsaw and garden shovel and spray it with a few left-and-right passes of Uzi machine-gun fire.
The United States headquarters for the Defense of Buddhism is Nice! [DOBIN] is Tricycle magazine. a place of “rainbows and unicorns.”1 Its magazine articles overflow with the usual sugary articles and smiley faces from the usual suspects, the one or two dozen people that are professional Buddhists and write 99% of Trike’s articles and defend each other to the hilt. And to defend against encroachment into their mob of dharma writers-slash-security police, Trike prints stuff like “Dharma Wars” that accuses the wrestling-with-reality Buddhoblogosphere of being primitives and louts, that engage in "full-on dharma smackdown”s that draw scores of “partisan” comments.
Until recently, this Trike mob cohesiveness was in force until a blow up last Saturday at a party poolside at Robert Thurman’s mansion in Connecticut where Sharon Salzberg and Pema Chodron got into a bit of a tiff. “I’m nicer than you are, bitch!” said one. “You won’t seem so when I bust your teeth in, Lard Butt,” said the other. Next thing you know they were in where the petunias were going to be planted, covered in mud, pulling hair, ripping blouses and gouging out eyeballs.
Perhaps we’re at the beginning of the end of Western Buddhism’s Dharma of Sunnybrook Farm period. I hope so. This era of entrapment in the Gulag of Nice has been a long, long dispiriting thing, with the cabal of Tricycle Buddhist Professionals competing ever more for the Nicer-than-sticky-nice-is-possible Championship, with an ultimate prize of being lifted to paranirvana on a purple polka-dotted crane while huge royalty checks from Shambhala Publishers rain down like confetti.
Here a sucky quote, that I’ve spanked out of the internet, written by one of today’s (and Trike's) syruppity Buddhism pros:
Learning how to be kind to ourselves, learning how to respect ourselves, is important. The reason it's important is that, fundamentally, when we look into our own hearts and begin to discover what is confused and what is brilliant, what is bitter and what is sweet, it isn't just ourselves that we're discovering. We're discovering the universe.My comment: It might appear to be cosmic-consciousness inspiring, or gleefully universalist, but it’s really just brain-soothing reader-scamming drivel. Thinking of yourself IS NOT a sure-shooting direct, guaranteed line to rising above the trees and seeing things as they are. What crap the idea expressed is! Compare the stickiness above to something real in that realm: Thomas Merton’s Vision in Louisville that was printed in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, which ends, beautifully, thus [The ellipsis is Merton's, not mine, btw]:
It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely…. I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.Truly, I feel I know that Merton is writing from what he knows. Is there loft and poetry in Merton's writing? Yes. But it is there to convey, as best he can, an ineffable experience, not to snooker the reader.
[Btw, I, of course, snarkily looked for an over-ripe to-be-damned quote by Sharon Salzberg that I could rip apart and snarl at in this blogpost, but instead ran into some wonderful stuff! I think that's kind of nice, but not in a nice way, if you know what I mean.]
1 From a comment by ProgBud's own Kyle Lovett, at Trike.
Note: The title of this post is a nose-twist on the old Zen saw "If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him." What does that old saying come from? and what does it mean? you might ask. Sam Harris explains:
The ninth-century Buddhist master Lin Chi is supposed to have said, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” Like much of Zen teaching, this seems too cute by half, but it makes a valuable point: to turn the Buddha into a religious fetish is to miss the essence of what he taught. In considering what Buddhism can offer the world in the twenty-first century, I propose that we take Lin Chi’s admonishment rather seriously. As students of the Buddha, we should dispense with Buddhism.
This is not to say that Buddhism has nothing to offer the world. One could surely argue that the Buddhist tradition, taken as a whole, represents the richest source of contemplative wisdom that any civilization has produced. In a world that has long been terrorized by fratricidal Sky-God religions, the ascendance of Buddhism would surely be a welcome development. But this will not happen. There is no reason whatsoever to think that Buddhism can successfully compete with the relentless evangelizing of Christianity and Islam. Nor should it try to.