Saturday, September 26, 2009

Wild West Zen

I just finished reading the comments section on a recent post by Zen Teacher Brad Warner (Bye-Bye Tokio). It's probably been two months since I have looked at his blog, primarily because it was easier to find drama and pissing matches than dharma discussion. Of course, you can learn a lot from drama and pissing matches, but they're everywhere, so why go looking for them in dharma blogs.

Opening the post above, though, and seeing the lengthy exchange below it - 185 comments to date - was like stepping into a wild west movie. I say movie because it's hard to tell what's real and what's not, and the whole thing unfolds so much like a movie script, complete with chattering extras adding their two cents to the drama.

Some of you may know that there seems to be a long standing conflict/drama between Brad Warner and another dharma heir of Gudo Wafu Nishijima, who is known for, among other things, his excellent translation of Dogen's Shobogenzo (which he completed with fellow translator Chodo Cross). This conflict is at the center of the comments made on the post by Brad Warner above.

The drama unfolds complete with a set of letters that supposedly were exchanged between Warner and Nishijima, during which Warner resigns as head of the Dogen Sangha International(Establishment of Dogen Sangha). The kicker is that Jundo Cohen, the other dharma heir, was cc'ed on all the messages, and decides to make them public by posting them on Warner's blog.

I can see it now: James Bond as Dogen 07. As the camera pans in on the squabbling zen students and their teachers, Dogen 07 leaps into the center of the screen, wearing a Dogen Sangha International t-shirt, and pointing his trusty gun at the villainous zen teacher (you pick which one). The villainous zen teacher drops his incense, and throws his hands in the air, clearly scared. Dogen 07 cocks the trigger of his gun and says "You forgot, venerable one, to forget the self!"

Throughout the months I have been blogging, I have noticed how much people seem to gravitate towards drama, myself included. A few conflictual comments can easily turn into a full scale, online fight in a matter of hours. This is true in real life as well, which makes me wonder if people struggle to actually enjoy peace. Most all of us talk about wanting peace, and yet how easily we seem to get bored with it. Quiet, beautiful sunsets, or everyday chores like sweeping the floor, are just fine for awhile. But if a car crash, domestic dispute, football brawl, or loud action film is available, how quickly many of us (zen teachers included) will drop the calm and peaceful and run straight for the drama.

It's something to look into, this desire to stir up the shit, instead of staying with what is present. And in the meantime, maybe I should start writing the Dogen 07 screenplay, just in case the quiet sunset doesn't hold up.


Arun said...

I was really disheartened by what I read in those comments. I could never study under anyone who engages in such pettiness. I’m a master at that already!

ZenDotStudio said...

This is very funny Nathan. And I'm definitely getting out the popcorn for this movie!

I have watched myself with drama in the past and see how it's kind of like being a moth drawn to a flame. You know you shouldn't but before you can practice any restraint, there you are in the middle of it! It's sobering and instructive and allows us to feel compassion when we see others drawn in that way.

Yes you do have to wonder about our desire for peace, don't you? Man we love those soap operas. I think the craving for them is burned into our brain.

spldbch said...

I'm still reading the Eckhart Tolle book -- it's taking so long because I'm taking notes and re-reading parts I really want to remember -- and he talks about pain bodies. He says it's a person's pain body that is attracted to conflict -- in fact, it needs the negative energy created by conflict in order to survive. Your post made me think of that.

Algernon said...

Kwan Seum Bosal... I just went and read the comments you are referring to.

Coming from a sangha that has seen some drama and dealt with it in a variety of ways (skillful and unskillful), the process was very familiar even though I know nothing about the personalities or the events referred to.

I don't think unmoderated comment sections, as at Brad Warner's blog, are beneficial for promoting mindful speech, deep listening, or practice centered in zazen. A lot of noise, and no one wielding the sword of Nan Ch'uan to silence the western and eastern halls and restore them to the bone-deep immediacy of don't-know.

I thought of posting as much there, but that was just a fleeting vanity. Those folks don't need my opinion; they certainly didn't ask for it.

I came away appreciating my tiny group here in Deming: six of us sitting in my garage, all students, no one in the guise of master. We receive the teaching of tight knees, hummingbirds, and the freight train that passes through Deming.

Nathan said...

@Algernon Our sangha went through a lot of drama about 5 years ago, so I know that feeling - I, too, am grateful to be in a nice, well functioning sangha again.

@Arun Yeah, it's certainly a mess occurring over there at Warner's blog. I wish for peace to manifest for all those who commented.

@Spldbch I think the pain body is a good way see these things. I remember hearing Tolle talk about the pain body for the first time, and thinking - yes, this is so true.

Nathan said...

@Carole - Dogen 07 as International Sangha Man of Mystery, coming to a theater near you :)

Kyle said...

Nathan, yea I agree with most of these comments, it was petty all around. Usually I think being petty is something that should be left to a blogger like me, not by Zen professionals.

Thank you for yet again for writing about something that is important and relevant!