Thursday, 22 July 2010

If you see the nice buddhists on the road, run over them with your tank

It ain't cute
You know the Buddha was keen on the idea of the middle way. I say that, and in that way, because I think he meant it generally, conceptually, as the likely best way to go when confronted with a spectrum of possibilities.

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. 


  1. Thank you, thank you. Awesome post. You have stated what I have been thinking. And so much better. And with snark!

  2. "disembowel with a chainsaw" and "passes with an uzi"? i think you may need to reevaluate your position as being a "middle" position.

  3. I think you are right, and we are seeing a new era of Buddhism here in the West. Nice is good sometimes, but life isn't always nice, life many times sucks the will of joy right out of us. Many in the Buddhablogosphere have been writing not only about the ugly side of life for quite sometime, but the ugly side of Buddhism too.

    This nitty gritty dirty sucky dukkha we all face is now starting to surface as something of an issue that is talked about in the mainstream. Rainbows and unicorns are wonderful, but tell me how I deal with the death of a loved one, or about the inappropriate teachers in the sangha's.

    Nice post!

  4. LOL :-) I though Dharma Wars had died down... I'm sure James will be pleased you're taking up the cudgel again.

    Certainly the Buddha I read about was not a leftie liberal. He was all personal responsibility, self-reliance, hard work, discipline, and no excuses... traditional conservative values. And this shows in traditionally Buddhist cultures, don't you think?

    It's just that the Western left and counter-culture got hold of Buddhism first and have been staking it out, as their territory ever since. Bloody hippies!

    "Never trust a hippy" - John Lydon was my Elvis.

    Love and kisses

  5. Thanks for your nice - gulp - comment, Kristen. Really!

    Frank: I am playing with the problem that occurs when one complains about nice. It is a pervasive problem, and I could complain about some of my blogger friends in that, too [You know who you are! No, not you, Kyle.]

    The Dharma Wars problem persists because Tricycle takes the position of "Nice," and, like Kyle writes, the rest of life (and those that are resistant to Tricycle's charms) become "the other," to be dismissed, rejected, hated. It all devolves into something NOT Buddhist.

    And, yes, Jayarava, Buddhism in the West becomes enculturated to select that which is "in" and that which is out of fashion. Thus we are culturally protective and not in the middle, open to all things.

    Anyway. That is the realm of what's nettling me. I don't really know the specifics or answers.

  6. Nice post. I think the reason I gravitated to Charlotte Joko Beck's writing is that she isn't all about peaches and cream. Also Buddhism doesn't have the "everything is shiny" syndrome cornered. I've recently started doing yoga. Lots of sickening, looking only at the light b.s., with plastic smiles there also. -- Kent

  7. I think any spiritual pursuit is not going to be all “rainbows and unicorns.” There will be terror and fear at some point, but also bliss. There is the Dark Night of the Soul and the wrathful deities, both representative of the difficulties of spiritual practices. Thanks for this. I think people have to understand that just because you want everything to be lovely and wonderful, it will not be, but that's why we meditate and why we practice.

  8. there cannot be a ugly side of buddhism-------buddhism is for all times and the laws of the buddha are eternal

  9. Yes, Most Recent Anon. There is no ugly side of Buddhism, there are only ugly sides of false Buddhism.

  10. Very amusing. I could of done with hearing you spout your attack 15 years ago when I first came up against the horribly soft wall of Buddhist niceness. Instead I wandered alone, tolling in spiritual fields, searching for authentic human beings to cut the crap and get human. Luckily these days a sufficient number of alternative voices can be found on the Internet and they actually have very interesting things to say. How things have evolved since your wrote this.

  11. Couldn't disagree with you more, you demonstrate a total lack of practical experience. An Uzi is not useful for this, far to unrelieable. Only advantage of it is that it is small and you can hide it (there might be another one in closed surroundings, but don't want to discuss it here). As you are not hiding your agenda, I recommend an assault rifle with short barrel, preferrable HK or Steyr assault rifle 77.

  12. Matthew, I think you may have fallen in with a coven of authentic Buddhist writers/people. Honor them. Trust them, you lucky duck. They are rare and might die off and leave people like me in the utter darkness. Happily, yak_kao is supplying me with suitable weaponry to shoot in the direction of any sounds I hear. I will be safe ... but alone. -- Tom

  13. Leave those Tri-hard cyclists alone.