Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Problem with Always "Getting Along"

Nella Lou posted another very thoughtful commentary related to the recent Tricycle article "Dharma Wars" and it's not so subtle bashing of the online Buddhist community. Among her comments are the following lines:

There is an old saying “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything” If one is unaware of what they stand for, what their ethical limits are, then all manner of atrocity is possible.

If one does not “draw a line in the sand” sometimes then one is tacitly accepting and even collaborating with that which occurs. I have made my stance very clear here. I have asked to be detached from that which I am aware has caused harm. At this point I want no commercial relationship with the Tricycle establishment. Even if this distancing is only symbolic it is my position. And I stand by it.

That does not mean that there is no future for a relationship, once a dialogue between Tricycle and it’s readership occurs, if it occurs.

Now, let's move beyond the whole Tricycle issue, which a fair number of the readers here probably don't care that much about. I think there's a tendency amongst many of us Buddhists to try and "play nice." We seem to lean too much towards what we believe are the compassion teachings of the practice, and this leaning means we're simultaneously leaning away from the prajna, or wisdom side of the teachings, which don't always look so nice and friendly on the surface. My guess is this is reinforced by images of popular teachers like the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh as these always peaceful, often smiling figures that should be emulated. But really, isn't it foolish to believe such images? Do you really think that the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and others like them are always gentle, soft, and friendly?

It's pretty reductionist to place such dynamic people into a soft, warm-fuzzy box like that. But beyond that, how often do you the same with yourself? How often do you eliminate the wisdom side by leaning too hard on some false definition of compassion?

The most compassionate thing to do with a situation like the one currently going on with Tricycle magazine is to communicate very clearly why you think what was done went over the line. For us in the Buddhist world, if we don't hold our publications accountable to our own ethical teachings, the backbone of our practice, then we aren't really practicing that well.

We're all in this life together, whether we like it or not. No one lives in a vacuum, and everyone's actions are like drops of water in the ocean - each drop may be small, but it is inseparable, really, from the entire body of water.


ZenDotStudio said...

I hesitate to wade in here but .... I am surprised by the vehemence with which people have talked about Brad Warner and now the commentary on the Tricycle piece. To me it feels like people are taking the Tricycle thing so personally.

I thought the article was not well thought out and used a lot of generalizations. Did Tricycle not think about it before they published it or was it designed to attract attention?

And in a strange way all the on line who-ha makes me think again about the commentary regarding on-line communities. If all the parties were sitting in a room, wouldn't there be some inclination to work it out, as Danny Fisher suggests. On-line it's more difficult. I know from dealing with neighbour issues, it is easy to grumble about them but then when I talk to them over the fence there is usually some communication.

It's true and I agree that taking a Buddhist point of view doesn't mean always being nice. It is about doing what seems good to do after some "soul searching". And that does mean sometimes we call people on their stuff. That being said it gets complicated. But these things always make me wonder, if I can't get along with my neighbours, if the Buddhist community can't mend their differences, what hope is there for peace in this world? Today I have been thinking about the 4 immeasurables (in my post) compassion, loving kindness, joy and equanimity. Does that make me a bleeding heart Buddhist?

Nathan said...

Hi Carole,

Ive been trying to take this whole Tricycle issue as a point to examine different aspects of practice. You're very right that some of the reactions to the article have been too ramped up. And as I wrote in my letter to Tricycle, I do hope this is an opportunity to have a dialogue.

I, personally, feel that the article was just a trigger point about a much larger discussion and conflict over the way practice occurs, what it "should" look like, and how it unfolds. I honestly didn't react that much to the article itself, but then began to see how others' reactions were really tapping into bigger issues that we need to keep looking at.

So, I keep bringing it up, partly to examine places where we get stuck, and bigger issues that might be getting missed. I get the sense that Nella Lou's last post was also doing that, as have some other posts about the article.

As for sitting around a table in a room, it all depends on how far and how long things have gone on. Think of the major conflicts in the world, or even longstanding conflicts in families that haven't been addressed for years. Maybe it's more difficult on-line in some ways, but it can also be very difficult in person, just in different ways.

May something beneficial come from all of this.