Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Our Inner Threat

The following article is excerpted from a talk given by Laura Bridgman and Gavin Milne in their upcoming Tricycle online course, Beyond the Inner Critic. Find out more about this six-week exploration of the inner critic and how to disarm it through mindful investigation and contemplative exercises at learn.tricycle.org.

The inner critic is a term for an inner voice that can target anything about you—how you function, how you work, how you relate, how you communicate, how you look or come across to others, and even how you meditate. It can show up as a stream of negative comments often with the word “should,” casting aspersions on you, dictating how you ought to be, and leaving you with a sense of deficiency and inadequacy. In the Buddha’s teachings, this inner critical narrative may be understood as the hindrances of greed, aversion, and doubt.

This critical narrative differs from a constructive objective critiquing of our experience in the way it takes a particular incident, evaluates it, but then turns that judgment into a global assessment of who we are as a person (a sense of self we take to be valid). It takes something we said or did and frames it as a personal flaw or failing.

For instance, you lose your car keys. The inner critic then tells you: “You’re useless. You never remember anything.” Or, you say something that was misinterpreted or accidentally hurtful. The inner critic makes that an unambiguous assessment of your capacity to communicate and be understood: “You always say the wrong thing. You’re so insensitive.” 

The effects of the inner critic can be slight or really harsh, and the more we’re under the impact of these criticisms—felt, or in words and thoughts—the harder it makes it for us to get a clear sense of how to respond to the situation and discern what is true, and what is an add-on from the critic.

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Delusions of Victory

Although they accomplished nothing, white supremacists will see this week’s occupation of the Capitol as a victory. It’s frustrating, but they see all of their actions, however trivial or counterproductive, as victories. That delusion is their core belief: they were born winners.

It’s a logic that turns all of their flaws into virtues and failures into successes. But as Jean-Paul Sartre argued in his Anti-Semite and Jew and Friedrich Nietzsche before him in the Genealogy of Morals, this inversion is meaningless. By turning their losses into wins, they make their victories empty. In Hitler’s Germany, the Nazis got what they wanted, but their vision was so perverse that they could never be satisfied. They continued their conquest until it led to their own destruction. In America over the past four years, the hate groups again got what they wanted, but it did not make their lives any better. They may gleefully smile as they tear apart our social contract, but their glee is not joy. Their schadenfreude will never satisfy them.

The eightfold path begins with right view. Buddhist teachings stress again and again that only when we see reality clearly do we have any chance of ending our suffering or the suffering of others. I doubt that I see things clearly. At this moment, everything I see is red. But I know that a worldview cannot be correct if its central truth is the superiority of one person or group.

The supremacist must twist the whole world to conform with their belief. Since they are born winners, all of their failures must be only apparent failures. The president’s disastrous response to COVID-19 must actually have been perfect. His landslide defeat was actually the opposite. All of these mental gymnastics have to take place in order to avoid the simple reality that the “natural-born winners” have lost, their “best and brightest” are incompetent, and in making America great, they have made it smaller and weaker.

Still, they insist despite all evidence to the contrary that they have won, will continue winning, and are winners by birthright. Although this belief has become toxic for them, I think it is something we all believe to be true to some degree. We can look at our lives and wonder how it is that, even though we try our best, things don’t turn out quite right. We behave in ways that we are ashamed of, the deeds we can control have unforeseeable consequences, and bad things happen to us and the people we care about for no discernable reason. We believe that we are essentially good, so there must be some other explanation for why we can’t fully control ourselves or what happens to us. Someone or something else must be to blame.

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Buddhism Panel Discussion at 2017 International Cultic Studies Association Conference

GUEST POST
 
In 2012 I presented an essay called Zen Has No Morals! at the annual conference of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) in my home town of Montreal, Canada. The paper discussed student abuse in Zen Buddhism, and compared the cases of Eido Shimano in New York and Klaus Zernickow in Germany. The paper was generally well received, though it was criticised by some and has even become the subject of litigation where I currently live in Germany.

The experience of writing that paper, and the reactions it prompted, really opened my eyes to the fact that, despite all the rhetoric about Zen being “beyond words and letters” or “free of dogma”, there were indeed a number of dogmatic beliefs in Zen that were considered off-limits for discussion. This hypocrisy has only increased my resolve to continue working with other critical Buddhists to expose abuse.

Two of the most prominent people I met during those years were Stuart Lachs, an American Zen critic, and Tenzin Peljor, the creator of this blog. Their valuable work and support led me to suggest that the three of us host a panel discussion about cultic abuse in Buddhism at the ICSA’s 2017 annual conference. We all felt that Buddhism as a religion was still held in unrealistically high regard by the public imagination.

Our presentations and the ensuing discussion at the panel “All Life is Suffering – Cultic Tendencies and Student Abuse in Buddhism” was recorded, and the video has now been released for the public by the ICSA

In the first talk, Stuart highlighted the aspects of Zen Buddhism that facilitate student abuse. Taking examples such as the famous Rinzai teacher Joshu Sasaki, Stuart showed how Zen masters have exploited the institution of “dharma transmission” and its accompanying mythology to deflect serious criticism, sometimes for decades. A written version of his talk can also be found here.

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Karma Is Individual

One of the Buddha’s major accomplishments was to establish a religion that doesn’t depend on who you are or where you come from. His teachings were for everyone—regardless of tribe, caste, or nationality—who wanted to put an end to suffering. Since his time, those teachings have managed to spread throughout the world, transcending boundaries and divisions, because they treat people as responsible individuals, rather than lumping them into groups. They recommend that we evaluate ourselves by our own current actions, rather than by the actions of other members of the group into which we’re currently reborn.

We may be interconnected, but it’s not through what we are—or through the categories that other people would use to define us. It’s through what we, as individuals, choose to do to one another. In the Buddha’s terms, we’re “karma-related,” related through karma, for good or for ill.

That’s how we find ourselves born into particular groups of people. It’s not the case that first you’re born into a group and then, after joining that group, you assume the karma of its earlier members. The causal pattern actually goes the other way: First, through your own individual intentions, you develop a karmic profile. Then you’re born with people who have similar profiles in their individual backgrounds. 

So, if a particular group—such as a family or a nation—suffers hardships, it’s not because the long departed members of that group created bad karma. It’s because the individuals currently in the group have similar bad karma in their own past. Even then, though, their karma is individual—as shown by the fact that hardships suffered by a group are rarely distributed evenly. Some people suffer greatly; others are barely grazed.

And remember: People are not always reborn into the same family, ethnic group, nation, gender, or even species. Sometimes you go from a class of oppressors to a class of the oppressed, and sometimes back. The Buddha’s image is of a stick thrown up into the air: Sometimes it lands on its base, sometimes on its tip, sometimes smack on its middle. We’re slippery characters, changing roles all the time. 

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: COVID Relief Bill Contains Dalai Lama Guidelines

Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.

COVID-19 Relief Bill Contains Dalai Lama Guidelines

The 5,593-page government funding bill that includes the COVID-19 stimulus contains some surprising legislation pertaining to the future of Tibetan Buddhism. According to Newsweek, Section 342 of the new COVID bill outlines the US government’s approach to the reincarnation and succession of the next Dalai Lama. “Tibetan Buddhism is practiced in many countries including Bhutan, India, Mongolia, Nepal, the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation, and the United States,” the bill states. “[Y]et the…People’s Republic of China has repeatedly insisted on its role in managing the selection of Tibet’s next spiritual leader…through actions such as those described in [the 2007] ‘Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas.’” The section describes how China has interfered in the succession process of reincarnated Tibetan lamas, even mentioning the then 6-year-old Panchen Lama who was detained by Chinese authorities in 1995. It also directs the Secretary of State to establish a US consulate in Tibet, which would likely be seen as a direct challenge to China, and states that the US government can implement sanctions against Chinese officials who interfere in the Dalai Lama’s succession process. Newsweek reached out to press representatives for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for comment, but did not immediately receive a response. 

It is unclear whether the terms of Section 342 are identical to the Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA), which was lobbied by members of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), the Tibetan Government in Exile, and passed in the US Senate, according to the CTA. TPSA formally acknowledges the CTA as the legitimate institution representing the aspirations of the Tibetan diaspora and Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay as President of the CTA.  

Dalai Lama and Greta Thunberg Team Up for Online Event 

The current Dalai Lama plans to team up with climate activist Greta Thunberg for an online event early next year. His Holiness will join Thunberg and leading scientists for a conversation on “The Crisis of Climate Feedback Loops,” according to the CTA. Organized by the Mind & Life Institute, the free event will be streamed in Tibetan, English, Chinese, and other languages on the official websites and Facebook pages of the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and will start at 9:00 am IST on January 10, 2021 (10:30 pm EST, January 9). 

“Black and Buddhist” Featured on NBC News

The new anthology Black and Buddhist: What Buddhism Can Teach Us about Race, Resilience, Transformation, and Freedom from Shambhala Publications was featured in the NBCBLK section of NBC News. The idea for the book began at a gathering for Black Buddhist teachers at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City before the murder of George Floyd, but the book’s introduction is written in his honor. Pamela Ayo Yetunde, the anthology’s co-editor, said the book’s intended audience is African Americans curious about Buddhism, white Buddhists who want to know “how the teachings land on African Americans,” and religious scholars who can use the included essays to better understand Buddhism as a whole. Contributors include Lama Rod Owens, Sebene Selassie, Lama Dawa Tarchin Phillips, and Ruth King.

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