Jul 16th, 2011
One thing my mother always used to tell me is "don't discuss religion with people, cause people get too easily defensive and offended about their personal religion.". It's true. Of course, that's a little hard to avoid when one is posting on an internet forum devoted to religion, Zen Buddhism in this case. People tend to take any criticism of their religion ... no matter how couched in "it's just my opinion", and no matter how small and reasonable the criticism ... as an affront. That's especially true when the critic is not an outsider, but someone inside the religion ... and maybe most especially clergy of the religion like Taigu and me.
This recently happened when I posted my last Sit-A-Long talk supportive of "out in the world" practice, and critical of some aspects (emphasis on "some aspects among many good points") of monastic practice entitled Knocking Down Monastery Walls, at ZFI, a sometimes surprisingly conservative place. People began to really jump on me and Taigu (who also added some comments very critical of monasteries and some of the institutionalized religion-ness that often accompanies them), accusing us sometimes as if we really wanted to rent bulldozers and do a sneak attack on helpless monks!
Taigu and I were taking our usual stand about how, for some or many folks (emphasis on "some or many" not "all"), training out in the world to be a priest might be a good path, and monastery life not possible or the wrong soil for that individual (emphasis on "for that individual"). The substance of the attitude of some folks can be symbolized by a typical post ...
There are many life situations which make someone not a proper candidate for ordination. Parents of small children, people in deep financial debt or legal difficulty, pregnant women, people in the armed forces... they have other obligations and are not proper candidates for ordination. They are also not proper candidates for the space program, a traveling circus, etc. This is not about "who is good enough." ... It's called home leaving.
To which I would typically respond with something like ...
Perchance, if one truly knows how to look ... some particularly wise folks can overturn the delusions of life right in the heart of life, shining in/as/right through life. Radical transformation can manifest where we stand. Buddhas can be seen in our small children, and freedom from the shackles of life are in the key of financial debt and legal difficulties. Pregnant women have Buddha Nature too (for one? for two?), and people in the armed forces serve in places where the "rubber meets the road" of the Precepts in action. Is not Enlightenment something even vaster than space, and is not life just a wondrous (sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly) circus?
And again, my point is that monasteries may be right for some people, but wrong for other people. "Out in the world" training may be right for some people, but wrong for other people. To each his own, and many good paths up the mountain suited to different people and needs.
I also became a bit hot under the collar at one point in one post with one guy, but generally kept my cool. However, I did notice a tendency of folks in such religious discussions to completely ignore how a statement is couched and hear what they want to hear, a kind of Cognitive Dissonance. For example, I pull no punches in my criticisms of certain small aspects of Buddhism and Zen, calling them "superstitious" and the like, or "abusive". But I typically do it in the following way ... in effect, pulling my punches!
In my humble opinion, and that is all it is (for one man's "made up legends" is another man's "sacred stories" that he has full right to believe) ... Buddhism does, among the many many very good things, contain much "superstition, bull-crackers, hocus-pocus and made up legends, baseless claims, funny hats and dusty rituals, institutional church-iness" that we could often do without, in my limited view ... and some situations which, among the many good situations, are sometimes occaisionally abusive, disfunctional, even cult-like
... but which, I fully recognize and respect, may be very beautiful and precious to others, interpreted quite differently by them. Lovely, and many paths up the mountain for different folks (anyway, ultimately, what mountain?) We cherish and honor the right of such folks to practice their religion as they wish in their Sanghas ... just as we cherish and honor the right of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Scientologists, Hari Khrisna's, Atheists, Agnostics of all stripes to practice their beliefs as they wish ... and we will practice as we wish in our little Sangha.
... which some people seem to hear in their minds as ...
You think Zen is bullshit, monasteries are all abusive and Buddhism is like Scientology!
I'll have more on this topic in a future post ... including how people became very upset when I once turned into Bro. Brad and typed "bullshit" instead of "bull crackers". That became a more important topic than the monasteries!