Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Uninvited To The Buddhist Party
Jun 2011 09

Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Uninvited To The Buddhist Party

Posted In Blog,Books,Entertainment,Love,Relationships,Sex,Society

by Brad Warner

About a week ago I saw a posting on Facebook regarding a big Buddhist gathering in upstate New York. The post read as follows, “Next week, New York’s Garrison Institute will be hosting some 230 Buddhist teachers for a conference on a range of topics concerning the future of Buddhist practice in North America, including legacy, succession, lineage, ethics, and ‘how to preserve and adapt the Dharma in new conditions without losing depth.’ The conference, known as the Maha Teacher Council, is by invitation only.”

I reposted this link on my own Facebook page with the following comments, “Oh nice. A self-selected group of important Buddhists get together to decide what’s best for the rest of us. Gatherings like this worry me a lot. The intent is to create a unified sense of what Buddhism ought to be. It’s like trying to create a unified sense of what art ought to be. Very Soviet sounding to me.” This generated a lot of commentary and crosstalk that’s still going on even as I type this.

One of the initial comments asked if I was “butt hurt” at not being invited. I’m not sure if “butt hurt” is how I would describe my feelings. But the commenter was correct in assuming I was not invited. And he was on the right track in thinking that my not having been invited was part of my problem with the event. But it wasn’t because I was “butt hurt.”

If I understand the term “butt hurt” correctly, the person who made the comment seems to have been implying that I was offended or insulted at having been snubbed. But it’s not really that. It’s more that I feel that their not inviting me says volumes about the event and its actual purpose, as well as about the future of American Buddhism that they’re planning.

I need to be careful here because there is no way I can address this subject without sounding either defensive or egomaniacal. In 1966 John Lennon got in trouble for saying The Beatles were more popular than Jesus. If he’d said rock and roll was more popular than Jesus he might have been forgiven. But he chose as his example of that phenomenon the band who were inarguably the biggest. It just so happened that he was in that band.

While I am not really The Beatles of Buddhism — that would be the Dalai Lama — or even The Rolling Stones (Thich Nhat Hanh), I think I am arguably The Who or maybe The Kinks of Buddhism, at least in America. That is to say, by any measure I can come up with, I am well within the top 230 most popular and influential writer/teachers of contemporary Buddhism. I have four books out through two major publishing houses, and those are available in pretty much any Eastern Religions section in any bookstore anywhere in the country. I’ve even seen my books in airport bookstores. I’m not saying this is necessarily a good thing. But it’s a fact.

So, without any inside information into the selection process for this event, I can say with complete certainty that the organizers are aware of my work. I wasn’t passed over merely because they didn’t know who I was or because I didn’t make the cut in terms of being recognized by the community. I think it’s safe to assume that I was at some point considered for being invited but then rejected. I wonder why.

James Ford, author of Zen Master Who? and other books on American Buddhism commented on the uproar following my post. He said that there was, “quite a bit of bile here. What’s the worry that someone invited a bunch of Dharma folk to palaver? Does someone think that a grand council is going to be writing legislation that other people are going to have to obey or go to jail? Best I see it, just a bunch of gassing by people with some things in common.” Then he added sarcastically, “Ooops. I’m wrong. Turns out it is a conspiracy. I’ve just been assigned to the What the Fuck to Do About Brad subcommittee of the We Gotta Get Control of the Loose Cannons committee of the New World Order Dharma Cabal.”

Cute. But taking the very minor criticisms I made of the event and blowing them out into ludicrous proportions for comedic effect deflects attention from the questions being asked about this gathering and others like it.

I’ve often said that what first attracted me to Buddhism was that it was the most punk rock thing I’d ever come across. It was far more punk rock than even punk rock itself. By this I mean that Buddhism is a philosophy that doesn’t just question the prevailing view of the mainstream. It openly and often even aggressively questions itself. In punk rock the attitude seemed to me to be, “Question everything… except punk rock.” It was cool not to follow accepted mainstream fashions, just as long as you followed the accepted punk rock fashions. Buddhism, I felt, took the punk rock stance to its ultimate conclusion.

My fear is that Buddhism in America is going exactly the same direction as punk did when it became codified into a single prevailing fashion and sound. There is an accepted group of tastemakers and trendsetters within American Buddhism. They are entrenched as such and seek constantly to reify their positions and to expand their influence.

Look. There are conventions like this for all kinds of businesses. There are bankers conventions, filmmakers conventions, even pornographers conventions. Being invited to “invitation only” events establishes one as a member of the elite and assures that one will be viewed as important by one’s peers in the industry.

Why does anybody go to an industry convention? They go there to network with others in their industry, to build new business, and to chase tail. Do you really believe that because people label themselves as Buddhists they can’t possibly be motivated by the same things that motivate other people in similar situations?

James Ford has said that nobody should be concerned about this event because, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not really all that important. But I don’t agree. Nobody spends the time, effort and cash to hold a three-day event with 230 people unless they think what they’re doing has some kind of significance.

So what is the intended significance of this event? The Garrison Institute says, “As Buddhism becomes established in the West, one of the new developments is a rich cross-fertilization among the great traditions. This 2011 multi-tradition meeting will be 3 days of a Maha Teacher Council of 230 Buddhist teachers from centers across the West.” Events will include, “a visionary consideration of the promise and the pitfalls as the Dharma spreads more widely into medicine, science, healing, education, the arts and all aspects of Western culture,” and meetings about “how to preserve and adapt the Dharma in new conditions without losing depth.” Finally, “50 teachers under age 45 will join the council to consider together how the current teachers can best support and empower the next generations.”

OK. Fine. Although given the age of most of my readership and my stated views on allowing younger dharma teachers a voice one would think I might be given a pass for being slightly over 45 and invited to that last bit. But it’s up to them who they want to have at their shebang.

That doesn’t worry me as much as the fact that this conference “further consolidates a power base for a select group of individuals to determine the mainstream Buddhist message” in the words of Marnie Louise Froberg in her blog Mudhashala. It’s not that these people can enact any sort of legislation that is in any way binding. But they do have the power of their magazines and their institutes to push their version of the American Buddhist status quo.

I’m actually happy to be both a popular Buddhist writer and not part of the entrenched American Buddhist establishment. That’s precisely where I want to be. So “butt hurt” is not the proper term for how I feel. Yet I can’t help but believe that I’ve upset the elite in some way, which is a kind of vindication of what I’ve been trying to do all along. I know that my last two books have not sat well with the prevailing tastemakers in American Buddhism and I’m glad for that.

Yet, as happened with punk rock, I am deeply disappointed. When I was shouted at by supposedly non-conformist punk rockers for having long hair I felt terribly let down. I wanted the movement to be braver than it really was. I wanted to find non-conformists who really believed their own philosophy.

And so once again I’m disappointed. I had hoped American Buddhism would be better. I had hoped that their stated beliefs about questioning everything including themselves were more than just a pose.

Ah well. Maybe next time.

***

Brad is on tour right now and may be in your area. To see where Brad will be speaking next visit his blog.

Brad Warner is the author of Sex, Sin and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between as well as Hardcore Zen, Sit Down and Shut Up! and Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate. He maintains a blog about Buddhist stuff that you can click here to see.

You can also buy T-shirts and hoodies based on his books, and the new CD by his band Zero Defex now!

***

Related Posts:
Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!!
Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End of the World As We Know It
Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Meditation, Depression and the Sense of Self
Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: How To Make A Zen Monster
Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Living Simply
Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: I Resent My High School

19 comments
guest
guest

Would I be terrible to imply that this is also my beef with joining a sangha, then trying to become a monk just to get a stamp on my head that says "certified master". I guess I have a problem with the idea that only a monk will ever properly understand Buddhism, and that laypeople will always be dum dums unless someone above them grades their homework. The Garrison Institute can do whatever they want, and it will always be my job to sort out the bullshit for myself in this world. 230 people can tell me how things should be done, but if 230 are wrong then why should I care?

Sozan
Sozan

Don't sweat it. The Buddhist non-conformists are doing just fine. We don't always get noticed because we generally don't join things like this. The dogmatics can call me a dilettante 'til they're blue in the face. I'm still on the cushion.

jay weik
jay weik

The conspiracy theories are just conspiracy theories.  I was there.

Ray
Ray

Dear Brad, Isn't there something deeply ironic about the badass punk poster boy for nonconformity in Buddhism becoming upset because he wasn't invited to a conference where the Buddhist Vatican promulgates official Buddhist dogma.  In your blog post relating to Osama Bin Laden's death you made the following statement: "Whatever viewpoints/emotions you have are just your viewpoints and emotions. It's not as if the Zen Committee is out there somewhere deciding which viewpoints are acceptable and which are not." Brad, why the fuck are you upset about not being invited to a meeting of the Zen Committee? Sincerely, A confused fan

Brad Warner
Brad Warner

It does seem as if the post from Ms Koch is authentic.  Whether I was invited or not, I still feel the same about these kinds of gatherings. I used my not having been invited as an angle from which I could comment upon the many other problems I have with these types of events, and with the direction Buddhism is headed. So I will be apologizing to the Garrison Institute for misrepresenting them in so far as my invitation is concerned. I'll do that once my computer is repaired and I no longer have to use one at the local Apple Store as I am doing now. But my feelings towards such events haven't changed. Nor have my feelings about the matter of a self-appointed elite within Buddhism who wish to set the agenda for the rest of us.

Anonymous
Anonymous

It does seem as if the post from Ms Koch is authentic.  Whether I was invited or not, I still feel the same about these kinds of gatherings. I used my not having been invited as an angle from which I could comment upon the many other problems I have with these types of events, and with the direction Buddhism is headed. So I will be apologizing to the Garrison Institute for misrepresenting them in so far as my invitation is concerned. I'll do that once my computer is repaired and I no longer have to use one at the local Apple Store as I am doing now. But my feelings about such events haven't changed. Nor have my feelings about the matter of a self-appointed elite within Buddhism who wish to set the agenda for the rest of us.

Brad Warner
Brad Warner

Also, I'm in the process of trying to find out if Erin Koch's posting is authentic. I'm having a lot of computer and email issues lately, though. So I don't know when I'll be able to get that resolved. But I *am* working on it!

Brad Warner
Brad Warner

Guest said: "You pontificate, but do not engage." What does this mean? How ought I to engage? I'm asking this seriously. I've been accused of this before. But I don't quite know what it means. I write dozens of emails each week to people who ask me questions. When I give a public talk, typically I talk for about 15 minutes and spend the rest of the time doing Q&A. And still I am regularly accused of not engaging. How does one "engage?"

Anonymous
Anonymous

ooop, Sorry. I meant 2010 above. If you have questions you may email me at erin@garrisoninstitute.org. Thanks. Erin

Anonymous
Anonymous

The Garrison Institute is a former Capuchin monastery, lived in by monks for 50 years. Erin Koch

Anonymous
Anonymous

Dear Mr. Warner, My name is Erin Koch and I am an event planner at the Garrison Institute. I just want to let you know that we invited you to the Council meeting on Dec 9,2011 but we never heard back. Warmly, Erin

Kristopher Grey
Kristopher Grey

Brad, your approach and awareness go beyond Buddhism, which is the actual point of Buddism. What use is that to this conference? There will always be more followers than those who directly see what their practices are about. Those who debate and defend the Dharma, seek to redefine it, don't understand Dharma. Leave them to their work. They can only harm fools of same mindset. Nothing new.

Anonymous
Anonymous

You're like the suicide girl of buddhism. which is ok.  the kinks and the who are perhaps classic, but they are also kind of irrelevant. sitar

Guest
Guest

Consider the source. Garrison. A fort or military place. You don't want to be there. Best to stay out!

Anonymous
Anonymous

I think you have a couple of problems here.   First, you're not The Who.   The only context in which I've heard of you is SuicideGirls.   I find what you write interesting, and occasionally insightful. I think you're a great guy.  But if I were to reel off a list of Western teachers that I think people ought to investigate, you wouldn't be on it. I don't know what you're like in person, but online you come across as being self-promoting more than interested.   You pontificate, but do not engage.   That's not characteristic of a teacher.  Maybe you're too busy; that's fine.   But that's why you're not on my list. That sounds a little harsh when I say it, but it's important to remember that you're trying to measure up to a very high bar.   I'm pretty sure my Lama wasn't invited to that talk either.   Really, it sounds like a bunch of famous people getting together.   They can make what pronouncements they want, but who's to say we're going to follow them?   Have you looked at the state of protestantism in the U.S. recently?   Is there any danger at all that an important voice is going to be shut out because of the next Baptist Minister's convention, or whatever? What this really seems like to me is a bunch of teachers having a meeting for the sole purpose of revealing to you a practice that you need to do, in a way that you can't ignore.

Stephen
Stephen

Now I want to know why I wasn't invited. 

Roger
Roger

Just as a minor point, it's been pointed out to me before that the term 'butt hurt' has a legacy stemming from homophobic slur. Not that you're using it, you're just quoting it, but figured I'd point it out.

Brad Warner
Brad Warner

Just noticed that the Mudhasala link is slightly wrong (my fault). All you need to do to read the article is scroll up from where you land if you click on that link. The link goes to the comments section of the article. The article itself is right above those.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Brad makes a blog post about this it will go here. 6.8.11 And here it is Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen: Uninvited to the Buddhist Party on Suicide Girls][In case he doesn’t you can always read [...]

  2. [...] Warner, a Soto Zen priest and author who writes on Buddhism and punk rock, also blogged to criticize what he called was “an accepted group of tastemakers and trendsetters within [...]

  3. [...] Warner, a Soto Zen priest and author who writes on Buddhism and punk rock, also blogged to criticize what he called was “an accepted group of tastemakers and trendsetters within [...]

  4. [...] on not receiving an invitation to the Maha Council, said “My fear is that Buddhism in America is going exactly the same [...]

  5. [...] Posts: Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Uninvited To The Buddhist Party Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End [...]

  6. [...] Posts: Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Secure Your Mask Before Helping Others Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Uninvited To The Buddhist Party Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End [...]

  7. [...] Hardcore Zen: Juggling Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Secure Your Mask Before Helping Others Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Uninvited To The Buddhist Party Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End [...]

  8. [...] The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Uninvited To The Buddhist Party Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Secure Your Mask Before Helping Others Brad Warner’s [...]

  9. [...] The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Uninvited To The Buddhist Party Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Secure Your Mask Before Helping Others Brad Warner’s [...]

  10. [...] The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Uninvited To The Buddhist Party Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Secure Your Mask Before Helping Others Brad Warner’s [...]

  11. [...] The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Uninvited To The Buddhist Party Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Secure Your Mask Before Helping Others Brad Warner’s [...]

  12. [...] The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Uninvited To The Buddhist Party Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Secure Your Mask Before Helping Others Brad Warner’s [...]