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Friday, November 20, 2009

Are (Some) Buddhist Magazines Behind the Times?

Lately there has been a lot of tension between Buddhist magazines and the online Buddhist community. These magazines sadly are missing the point behind the rise of the Buddhoblogosphere. It being a representation of how popular Buddhism is becoming in America but more importantly with how it's becoming popular with others besides the traditional American Buddhist core -- rich, white academics on the two coasts.

And it's popular not because we proselytize but because people investigate it and find it helps them. They are missing this bigger picture that America is quite well suited for the reason and rationality of Buddhism. Americans are trained in the scientific method. So it is refreshing to many of us to find a way of life (Buddhism) that is not only o.k. with questioning authority and the truthfulness of things -- It encourages it (as is seen in the Kalama Sutra), which I see becoming one of the root sutras/suttas for many American Buddhists. However, many (not all) in the American Buddhist establishment do NOT like the spirit of the Kalama Sutra when it involves them. They do NOT like to be questioned, debated or challenged.

A lot of times the articles printed in these magazines are deeply cerebral dissections of esoteric sutras and discussions around issues that rarely touch the average Buddhist practitioner. And while I actually do like digging through sutras/suttas, I'm using it as an example to show that many of these magazines aren't getting the average man's point of view on Buddhist practice. I'm not saying one way of learning is better than another but I just wish that the elitists didn't look down their nose at those of us who respond well to online interactions. It has helped a lot of people and broadened Buddhism a great deal. Is it perfect? Of course not but it deserves more respect than it is sometimes given.

Buddhist blogs tend to be (not always) more approachable and easier to relate to as we discuss how the Dharma affects our direct, day-to-day lives. We might not always have the glossy pictures, so-called experts and titles before and after our names but we live in the real world where we don't have time on our hands to spend hours and hours at the temple or sangha (if we so lucky as to have one near-by in the first place). We are just average people like most people in this world including those looking into Buddhism for the first time. A recent article wrote that seeing the Buddhist community discuss their disagreements isn't flattering and might turn away practitioners. I think that's disingenuous at best but at worse betrays a desire to scrub Buddhism of the "dirty peasants" that are apart of Buddhism as much as peaceful, smiling monks.

Addendum:

The "Question Authority" picture is in part in response to the idea espoused by some in Buddhists circles that we Buddhists are to just sit down and shut up and follow our "leaders" regardless of what they say. This is called the, "Argument from authority logical fallacy" which says, "Source 'A' says, 'p'. Source A is authoritative. Therefore, 'p' is true." This is a fallacy because the truth or falsity of the claim is not necessarily related to the personal qualities of the claimant, and because the premises can be true, and the conclusion false (an authoritative claim can turn out to be false).

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22 comments:

6p0120a6be5697970b said...

My comment is not meant to be taken as a flame or a harsh put-down, even though I understand it will be hard not to take it that way. Anyway, what I wanted to say is: this blog post sure reads like a classic example of ego masturbation. Sleep on it tonight and come back and read it tomorrow with dispassionate eyes, and I think you may see what I mean. Our side good, their side bad, projection, projection, projection. Somebody somewhere hurt my feelings and now I am imagining a whole scenario where I am on the righteous side and they are elite, outdated, oppressive, horrible people who are consigned to the dustbin of history. Etc.

zendirtzendust said...

I don't know, 6p0120..., I didn't feel that this post was masturbatory. It is personal and their is no reason that it shouldn't be since he was quoted and defined without the common decency of a rebuttal or even a conversation.

Also pointing out the faults of a publication isn't labeling it as "bad".

@ James - I do agree that teachers should be question but respected. For the most part they deserve it. The popular media (including Buddhist rags) barely deserves that respect. We get spoon-fed a version of the Dharma that sells paper and that is it.

I am all for us being represented for what we are - a bunch of folks that practice and like to talk about it. The disclaimer of not being an expert is proudly waved on most of our sites or at least inferred in our conversations...when is Tricycle going to wave the same disclaimer?

To be fair though, I think that some other Buddhist rags seem more willing to engage on equal terms. Buddhadharma has been engaging with online community and I can't wait to see what the results are.

Mumon said...

I think there's another aspect: these publications derive revenue from specific sources & traditionally one does not pee off one's benefactors. Google, oddly enough upended this situation - bigmind.org has no qualms putting in Google ads on my blog. That does not bode well for traditional media, ironically.

NellaLou said...

A disclaimer then a denial of the disclaimer:
"projection, projection, projection."

And a whole imaginary story to go with it including a psychoanalysis.

Can I get some free Psych101 on my blog too?

Rooster said...

hey james, which buddhist publications are against buddhist blogs? i am not aware of this.

Jamie G. said...

James,

I think this is a great blog post. Well done.

One teacher I greatly respect is Gil Fronsdal, because I have never really picked up any ill-will from him against other practitioners. He always seems to come from an angle of compassion for people where they are at.

I just don't see why any one must feel the need to denigrate those who are sincere about there practice, who are really truly trying to remain humble and follow the path of the Buddha. If they get a few things that I may feel aren't as skillful as they should be, so what. We all have our own path up the mountain. Eventually I may get to the place where I do develop skill in a certain area. What we all need to show is more compassion toward each other as we make the journey to the top together.

We can discuss issues, but the personal attacks got to stop. That is what makes us look bad to those watching closely.

6p0120a6be5697970b said...

Sure NellaLou, you can have as much as you like--haven't you noticed there's always plenty of cheap psychoanalysis to go around on the Internet?

Re-reading James's post, it still strikes me as whiny and melodramatic. But that's what blogs are for, right? It's foolish to expect Buddhist blogs to be otherwise, which is probably the largest mistake that the Tricycle author made!

NellaLou said...

"We can discuss issues, but the personal attacks got to stop. That is what makes us look bad to those watching closely."

I agree Jamie G that personal attacks and attributing motives to others and the like is unnecessary.

I don't agree though that we have to "perform" according to other's expectations. I am not a dancing bear.


@6p0120a6be5697970b

Yes I too am astounded at the generosity of folks on the Internet. Opinions for everyone. What a banquet to sort through.

"It's foolish to expect Buddhist blogs to be otherwise,"

Buddhists are not some special sub-species of homosapiens with a specific catalog of personality traits.

"which is probably the largest mistake that the Tricycle author made!"

He made quite a few bigger mistakes which I have chronicled elsewhere.

sharencress0309 said...

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Mumon said...

Addendum comment:

It is one of the strongest things I say on my blog: that you've got to "kick the tires" of your teacher, and ultimately it's you who authenticates whatever transmission or teaching he has.

Just as only you can authenticate your own self.

Lee said...

as you all work through your training remember there are many admonitions from wonderful teachers to refrain from to much intellectual study and discourse ... in the beginning we all want to show what we are learning or what we have learned; we want to share our little jewel with others .... in time however we learn there is a great responsibility in that sharing and the weight of that responsibility tends to close the mouths of sincere trainees and they just get on with training...

They call him James Ure said...

6p0120:

If you're comment is not meant to be a put-down then why do you use such a derogatory and labeling accusation as "ego masturbation." And then you go on to put me down further in the thread by calling my writing and by extension, me, "whiny and melodramatic." What was that you said about "projection?"

That's a total invalidation of my feelings regardless of whether they may be skillful or not. It tells me that you're just as much victim to emotions as the rest of us whom you seem to be looking down your nose at because we are honest that we still fall prey to emotions.

I'm not going to pretend I don't feel heavy emotions and put on some air of a serene Buddhist monk when I'm not there and I suspect you're not there either. I have many moments when I am serene, peaceful and balanced but I never hear people like you compliment me. However, when I'm supposedly being a bad Buddhist people like you are oh so quick to judge. It's always lecture, lecture, lecture. Where's the positive reinforcement?

I don't normally write posts like this but even I eventually snap and need to vent. As well as defend myself. I'm sorry I still fall prey to samsara oh enlightened one.

It does sound like you expect people not to have any emotion in life. We're all human and emotion does get the best of us sometimes and sometimes things DO need to be said. Especially when my integrity was in question.

So in other words you're saying be emotionless to the point of letting people walk all over your integrity and good name as a writer (this, blogging is my profession as well as hobby).

I'm not allowed in Buddhism to question someone who misquoted me? Do you always act the way you expect of me and others here? Do you never react to criticism in a human way?

If so you must be enlightened but if you're not then you're just as stuck in samsara as the rest of us unenlightened "ego masturbators." I know how to deal with anger and I will but until then I don't appreciate the "Dharma Police" giving me a lecture.

You're doing your own bit of ego masturbation by coming on here and wagging your finger at all of us as if you are some Great Master. I don't know who you are -- you just give me a number.

It's easy to sit behind an anonymous name and throw bombs from the side lines. I put my full, real name on my blog and thus take full responsibility for what I say. I'm not going to apologize because I am defending myself because while ego is meant to be overcome in the long run I'm still human.

I deserve not to be abused and walked over. Am I just to roll over every time someone wants to misquote me and drag my reputation through the mud of a major publication?

I guess you're just better than the rest of us. Oh wise one...teach us and tell us how stupid and misguided we are and we'll bow down to your great authority.

See, I get tired of people coming on here and saying that we should never feel upset, feel ashamed when our anger gets the best of us and see the world through rose colored glasses. I've done enough of the guilt train rides when I was a Christin.

I'm not always angry but I'm not going to deny my anger and just shove it down into my gut. That's not dealing with it. Yes, it's important to eventually let it go but my teachers don't say to ignore the anger. Rather to accept it, watch it and eventually when the time is right, let it go.

Every thing in it's own time. Just because I feel angry doesn't mean that I'm flawed as a Buddhist, which is what I feel you are saying.

It's one thing to respect your others but another thing to take abuse with a smile.

They call him James Ure said...

Zen Dirt:

I agree that not all mags are bad. I like Buddhadharma too. As well as Shambhala Sun for the most part. I use to have a lot of respect for Tricycle but now I'm starting to wonder about their professionalism.

Mumon:

Yep. It's easier to blow off and insult the average Buddhist blogger than have to criticize or reprimand one of their benefactors. As well as their "distinguished and esteemed" writers. Not all writers, editors and others like like this of course but many are it seems.

They really seem to look down their noses at non-traditional writers. And finally when I saw my name being misrepresented this normally docile person had to say something.

Rooster:

I don't necessarily think they are all against Buddhist blogs per se but they often seem to ignore our efforts. As well as marginalize us and our contributions to the Buddhist literary community. They do so at their own peril. I'm tired of the only recognized outlets for Buddhist thought and opinion be the magazines. There is a lot of good things being said on the blogs.

Jamie:

Thanks. I need to look into Gil. You're exactly right that we all have our own path to follow and for people to sit up in their ivory towers and basically call us bloggers a bunch of angry whiners isn't very compassionate. Then we we obviously react to such misrepresentation we are accused yet again for "letting our emotions get the best of us."

Lee:

I'm confused with your point. Can you word it in a different way? I'm just wondering how it pertains to this post. Are you saying we're being too intellectual? I would agree with you--and I do. It's important to not get too wrapped up in the brain but this is one post out of hundreds I've posted.

I don't normally write pieces like this so I think I deserve to defend myself now and then. No one wants to be walked over and have their words misquoted and taken out of context.

Lee said...

I'm just saying we all should be careful what we say... and compassion does not mean to roll over and let people piss on us ...it is not unbuddhist to defend oneself ... in fact I think you must carefully defend yourself... and I'm saying that when I first began training I wanted to share all with everyone and later learned that not all are even willing to hear and that each of us has a great responsibility in telling others 'the truth' because misleading (even with good intent) can be costly to both... so i say we should be careful what we say and who we say it to. I did not read all the stuff you have reacted to but can certainly feel your emotion ... and even the enlightened get mad... anger and being human does not go away ... sometimes masturbation is fun...

Tom Armstrong said...

The Dharma Wars article in Tricycle continues to chafe my hide. Barbara at About.com and the Buddhist Geeks both, rather automatically embraced it, and I think we can read the psychology in that: The Geeks and Barbara all see themselves as part of the elite. And a Gaia Community forum just assumes the article is true.

The problem I most have with the article is, simply, that it is a mess, coming to conclusions that are unsupported and, from my expertise as a buddhoblog reader wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

But while the failure to seek what's true irks me the most, weirding me out is what this blogpost touches a bit on, the scurvy apparent motivational factors for Tricycle to have published the vile hit piece.

Tricycle never grew to reach beyond its always-shrinking core audience, old rich white people. Now, I'm three of those four things -- old, white and people -- so, of course, I'm not prejudice. But Tricycle is a dying thing. What lashing out there is is Tricycle flailing at the moon and ranting at this new thing that's digging its grave, the Internet. HOOOOOOOOOwwwwwlllllll.

Jamie G. said...

I've been thinking over this for the past few days, and I'm wondering if all the diatribe against those like James by the establishment has more to do with arrogance and a superiority complex. The article in Tricycle isn't the first time someone from institutionalized Zen has made denigrating remarks about "lowly" Buddhist bloggers.

I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that many of these teachers feel that they have been through the process up to, and past, ordination, and so they should be getting the followers. They write the books and make the podcasts, but no one is paying more attention... almost like they feel they deserve the attention. They don't understand why any real practitioner would be interested in bloggers like James and the rest who are up front about what they are not.

Personally, I've come to the place where I don't need a teacher or guru. I'm tired of all the ego and someone trying to break me down to build me up. I'm looking for spiritual friends. Maybe they are way ahead of me in the game, but they don't treat me like I'm third string to them being the team captain.

I think this is why many in the blogosphere have banded together, because they, too, are looking for camaraderie, someone to share their ups and downs with, with complete honesty and without judgment.

If anything, we are the dharma underground, but I hope that institutionalized zen will pull their heads out of their butts and wake up. If they really want to set the example they are going to have to quit being jerks about their status and achievements (being the elite) and be more skillful in their approach. Otherwise, leave me the hell alone.

6p0120a6be5697970b said...

No James, I don't expect you, or anyone, to be perfect. None of us is a Buddha, and there's little evidence that any of us are ever going to get there either. We all get whiny, self-righteous, and engage in ego masturbation, as Shakyamuni pointed out. Good luck to you on your journey (online and off), be well.

tinythinker said...

I still don't see what all this fuss is about. One person wrote something that some others either didn't appreciate or disagreed with. How that suddenly becomes representative of Tricycle, its view of blogs, the Buddhist magazine industry in general, or the generic and ill-defined Buddhist "establishment" is beyond me. If James has a beef, let him refute the perceived slight on his blog. If he wants to take it further, it's his blog to write whatever he wants. And the responders can criticize that. So, OK, now what else is there to make of this? We're getting lots of smoke and heat but to what end? What am I missing? There seems to be some other set of frustrations that is being tapped into here which the "Dharma Wars" article has attracted like a lightning rod, which is fine, but something doesn't add up. Maybe someone more clever than I can put their finger on it. Be well, everybody.

They call him James Ure said...

Feel free to keep commenting everyone and maintain the conversation if you'd like. However, I feel that personally I need to move on. So I will no longer be commenting on this thread or the other I wrote about the Tricycle dust up.

Kyle said...

Excellent post James. I'm sorry you had to be the one that guy singled out for bloggers.

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