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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Throwing Mud.

I was recently mentioned in Tricycle magazine in not the best light and since I wasn't given a chance to respond to these charges in the article, I'll do so here. I was criticized for defending myself when attacked by commenters -- especially when they level that criticism with rudeness. I can listen to advise and criticism but not when it is done with rudeness and anger. Here is the article, Dharma Wars. Below is my response to the article:

I am the author of "The Buddhist Blog" mentioned in the article and I would have hoped for the author to have contacted me before using my words. As well as ask me for a comment on his article. Anyway, I have never claimed to be a teacher, master, monk, rinpoche, ordained or enlightened. If you read in my profile it states that I'm just an average practitioner trying to travel the path on the middle way.

The reason I reacted to Twisted Branch was because of the aggressive manner in which he leveled his criticism. I don't mind criticism but since I'm not a Buddha or Bodhisattva I still get hurt when people I don't know attack me for being something that I am not. So of course I'd do what any red blooded person still struggling with samsara would do -- defend themselves and their blog. I have worked hard to establish my blog as one of the top blogs addressing Buddhism today. That said this doesn't make me an expert but a kind of "Buddhist columnist." I don't appreciate being attacked and my integrity as a Buddhist questioned just like you probably wouldn't like it either.

We Buddhist bloggers are often attacked by mainstream columnists for Buddhist magazines but what makes our columns any more controversial and misinformed that some of the ones I've read in these magazines? I've read editorials and articles in your magazine and in other places that are debatable. So this isn't just a blogosphere thing.

I titled my blog, "The Buddhist Blog" not because I think it is the last word on Buddhism but frankly because I couldn't think of anything else as a title!! I didn't realize that it was causing such a stir amongst people. I guess I should change it to "A Buddhist Blog" so as not to offend anyone but I have had that title since the beginning and changing it would only confuse my readers. I honestly didn't think it would be that big of a deal to people. Maybe I should put it to a vote on the blog. I try really hard to be a fair minded but passionate blogger and I try hard to write posts that show the peaceful side of Buddhism but I will defend myself when attacked. And being still human I will say some controversial things from time to time.

I feel as though you misrepresented my blog is adding this quote after the exchange between Twisted Branch and myself:

“People who purportedly are teachers—whether they’ve been given transmission or not—are seen as Zen authorities online,” she says. “Sometimes students get swept into currents of basically malevolent speech. How can that be what the Buddha taught? I’m very concerned about it.”

Again, I'm not purported to be a teacher. I go to great lengths to say this in many of my posts as people who regularly read my blog know. I can't be responsible if people consider me an authority because I don't claim such a title. I simply put forth what I'm thinking about on issues involving Buddhism. As well as how my practice is going, etc. "If ego is wrapped in opinion" which it might be to a degree then aren't you just as guilty as you claim some of us bloggers are? We're not Bodhisattvas in the Buddhosblogosphere -- we're just average folks trying to figure out the Dharma in our day to day lives. We don't always represent the Dharma best but then again neither do many who write in your magazine and other Buddhist magazines. We all just try to do our best.

Post Script: But hey!! At least my blog is being advertised!! They say that bad press is good press so let them say what they'll say. It just seems like this author wasn't familiar with my blog as they took one exchange with a rude reader and made it appear as if I argue with every commenter on my blog. They also make it sound like debate is bad in Buddhism. One can debate and still do it with love and respect. It doesn't always mean people hate each other. However, that said I'm about to vent a bit since the author of this article cited didn't give me the common courtesy to tell me I was being featured in a major publication.

I'm a bit tired of what I see as, "Marsh mellow Buddhists" who think the Buddhist community should always just smile and agree on everything. They are practitioners who seem to believe that "true Buddhists" don't still struggle with samsara. These people sometimes give off an air in my opinion of fake peace and tranquility. They wear these pseudo smiles thinking that you have to just force yourself to be happy, o.k with everything and everyone. In other words, "fake it until you make" it -- make it meaning Buddhahood. I don't get that logic but these fakers make all the right postures, say all the right things but look like cult members with their artificial smiles, textbook answers and elitist posturing that they are better Buddhists because they supposedly never get angry or say a bad word. That's at least what it appears they are trying to portray to me and Zen history isn't devoid of some serious debates within monasteries even.

This is the real world -- my practice isn't all gumdrops, unicorns and rainbows. It's often tough, ugly, gritty and a bit messy but that's the real world isn't it? If we don't get down in the mud of our lives then how are we ever going to find the lotus seed of enlightenment to water and experience unfold? It's easy to put on a show that makes you look like some Hollywood version of a Buddhist practitioner who rises above the fray of the messiness of samsara but rare is the being who truly encompasses such a state. I'd rather be a bit rough around the edges at times, on the fringes of accepted, elitist Buddhism but real and true to who I am then use Buddhism as a costume to try on once a week to wear about other costume clad wannabes. I'm not enlightened, I'm not perfect and I do get pissy sometimes but so do you -- even if you don't show it in the social circles you frequent. So spare us the "holier-than-thou" lectures Zenshin Michael Haederle. I find it sad and hypocritical that you misrepresent me as claiming to be an ordained teacher and then insinuate that I'm leading people astray but then you go on to tell us all how to behave in the Buddhoblogosphere!!!

---End of Transmission---

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Adam said...

Well, of course you weren't contacted. We bloggers don't matter, and aren't credible enough to bother to contact anyway. We and our posts are barely worth mention..... unless it's fodder for those at the more respected magazines and ezines to fill the pages between their ads.

Your response was dead-on.

Tom Armstrong said...


Hooray your comment! Haederle's article was a tangle of illogic. How the exchange between you/Twisted Branch/Forest Wisdom came, somehow, to be the example of preoccupation with self and crafting a false personae is ridiculous. The exchange speaks for itself: Twisted Branch went way overboard and ended up accepted that she had. Where's the self cherishing?

Neither The Buddhist Blog nor James Ure misrepresent his-/it-self. I don't know what Haederle is talking about re all this supposed misrepresentation. He would need to give some examples. TBB isn't one.

I hold Tricycle responsible here. Where are the editors!? The article is hypocritical and a tangle of muddled logic to the point of being untrue on the face of it. [NellaLou has an EXCELLENT piece on the curdled thinking in Dharma Wars in her blog, Enlightenment Ward, btw.]

Also, being one of the most devoted Buddhoblogosphere readers on this planet, myself, I would not say anything has happened "in the past few years," as the article claims, to cause any explosion of nonRight Speech in Buddhist blogging. Buddhist blogging is as wonderful as ever; explores interesting and important topics; and, as in the past, confronts controversy. Yea!

Dharma Wars' writer seems to have stirred up a crisis out of mild waters to justify a long article that doesn't have the facts to support it. Despite the "Zenshin" that precedes his name, Haederle himself engages in false speech and the Tricycle editors, by their nonfeasance have let their readers down by allowing the article to appear in print.

Shame on you, Tricycle. Shame on you Haederle.

James said...

As the source of the line regarding "ego.. wrapped in opinion" I want to note that when I was interviewed it was about Buddhism on the web in general terms, and I was not asked my opinion about this blog in particular.

I am in fact quite fond of "The Buddhist Blog" and include a link to it from my own site...

They call him James Ure said...

@Adam and Tom:

It's sad because they are missing the point behind the rise of the buddhoblogosphere. It being a representation of how popular Buddhism is becoming in America. And it's popular not because we proselytze 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.

I wonder what my friend Philip from Tricycle has to say about all of this. He knows that my blog is pretty well respected by online Buddhists. I just felt kind of blind sided by the article.

I wish he would have told me I was going to be in this article ahead of time. Especially given what a popular and mainstream magazine it purports to be.

They call him James Ure said...

@James, thank-you for clarifying your comment. It seems you too were quoted out of context. Zenshin didn't even tell readers what post those comments stemmed from!! I'm really disappointed in Tricycle.

Tom Armstrong said...

James Ure,

There is a post in Tricycle Blog that Phillip wrote that merely directs attention to and links to "Dharma Wars" online. BUT, it has an interesting comment thread, especially so Jaime McLoed's, which give evidence of error in Haederle's representation of the incident Haederle writes about at the beginning of "Dharma Wars."

zendirtzendust said...

Yeah, it does seem that they lump all Buddhist bloggers into one little tidy, bitchy category.

NellaLou's response was spot on. That lady has got far too much time on her hands but I love the results.

As far as any press is good press; live it up but it seems that Tricycle should have contacted you before-hand. Just to be neighborly. In an interesting vein, it seems that Buddhadharma Magazine does take steps towards engaging (rather than railing on) the Buddhoblogosphere. I look forward to the results in their next release.



James said...

I very much agree that Zenshin's article wasn't his best work.

His first example was unfortunate in that it was, as NellaLou points out over at Enlightenment Ward, about allegations of fraud. So it was a bad choice to illustrate over the top and often violent language we do encounter here and there in the Buddhist blogosphere.

Sadly, as he went on, it didn't get better.

My read was that he did have some unacknowledged assumptions if not a full blown hidden agenda, which marred what could have been a thoughtful examination of the wild and woolly aspects with some significant shadows of the Buddhist blogosphere.

Nathan said...

It was a poorly constructed article filled with baseless generalizations. Just keep on truckin' James! You're blog is doing it's work.


tinythinker said...

I missed the part where James was characterized as egotistical or unfair...? It read to me that Twisted Branch's first reply was being used as an example of misguided authority expressed through aggression.


karmicdragonfly said...

I had a visitor to my journal once who tried to correct me...or teach me or something...all it did was annoy me, lol!

So, I played devil's advocate, and he ended up calling me wack or something, lol!

NellaLou said...

Great response James. I read your blog regularly and you always seem reasoned and compassionate even with the harshest critics.

One thing I do note in the Buddhoblogosphere is the supportiveness of the community. And it is a community whether Tricycle or anyone else thinks so. We may all practice in different ways and in different places and have varying opinions about some things but the level of discussion and the depth of commitment is outstanding. I've not found that on an on-going basis at any lay sangha I've encountered in a couple of decades. Though I do hope that changes for everyone's sake.

Being DIY Buddhists requires diligence, critical thinking, honesty and work. I'm not saying those with nearby Sanghas and good teachers don't work but having to build that community of checks and balances on-line adds to the "sweat-factor" of practice. But it also makes all of us stake-holders in the endeavor. By being here and doing whatever we can is community building.

It is a bit ironic that Tricycle has an on-line "Community" at their website yet would publish an article so disparaging of on-line community and so praiseful of the on-line websites of various institutions. One guy quoted in the "good half" of the article has "the eight different websites connected with his Unfettered Mind organization" That's more than McDonald's has.

PS.Thanks for your kind words about my article everyone.

@John "That lady has got far too much time on her hands but I love the results. " What better use of my time than in service to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha?

I take the following kind of seriously.

The passions of delusion are inexhaustible.
I vow to extinguish them all at once.

The number of beings is endless. I vow to help save them all.

The Truth cannot be told. I vow to tell it.

The Way which cannot be followed is unattainable. I vow to attain it.

Spiv said...

Well, I know it sucks to be insulted, quoted out of context, played down, and or whatever else; especially by forces much larger than yourself. I don't agree with what they did, and I don't expect everyone to be agreeable with me always. Even among Buddhists.

In fact I guess I was always taught that fiery and passionate discussion was good; after all we are at the core passionate beings if we are to be compassionate at all. But at the end of the debate, whether the two sides have come to an agreement or not, it was always important to step back, bow to each other and make sure both knew the other was respected as a fellow spirit, thinker, teacher, and student.

They do make a good point that it's hard for this to be done publicly where people who do not really understand will see it in the wrong light (possibly thinking Buddhist teachers and practitioners to be petty arguers), but I think we can do it in a way that is still respectful and mindful. To bitch about it in an article is tabloid level stuff though, and unprofessional as well as not particularly mindful.

That said, I read your blog not because you're some brilliant teacher (though you may be), but because you're a fellow struggler in this world. I don't always agree with your ideas, but I do always appreciate the perspective and ideas involved. You're a good, mindful person. It's not a magazine's job to decide otherwise.

Lawrence Nosan Grecco said...

I support you and your blog 100% Jaes. I saw that article in Tricycle and thought it was a poor excuse for journalism. I'm much more impressed by what I read from you and the many other fine Buddhist bloggers.

Jayarava said...

Hi James

It's weird. When I read the Tricycle article and sent you an email about it, I was under the impression that the intention was not to criticise you, but to show the kind of shit that we often get in comments from people like Twisted Branch. I thought that by showing how you responded to the flame, you came off looking like a sensible person who wasn't going to take that shit. Perhaps I got the wrong end of the stick?

I'm a bit surprised that Tricycle would quote you without asking permission - that seems very impolite. You should be paid for things like that.

There are plenty of serious Buddhist blogs, and serious Buddhist bloggers who can't or won't find a voice in more mainstream media which relies on selling advertising to stay in business. And after all a popular magazine is hardly a peer reviewed Journal now is it!

As you say there is no great need to proselytise since people are beating down the doors of Buddhist centres the world over clamouring for what we have to offer.


Shinzen Nelson said...

I just got around to this confirms my reasons for no longer purchasing certain magazines.

Keep on blogging James.

Perri said...

Dude, I feel ya. I would have responded the exact same way you did.

Nathan said...

James, I wrote Tricycle an e-mail. The text is on my current blog post. I'll be interested to see their response.


Was Once said...

From my old ad days..there is no such thing as bad P.R. ..Rock on, James!

Mumon said...

Tom Armstrong! Good to see you!

Tricycle has gotten long in the tooth; I remember the days when it published interesting stuff on Buddhism...of course that was just before the internets took off.

It is sad that Tricycle has no grasping of the diversity of the Buddhist blogosphere, and in their own microcosmic way imitate the attitude of major media outlets to political blogs.

In short, they seem still frustrated that they can't coopt us, but in a magazine that never actually explored, for example, the Genpo Roshi controversy, it comes across as hypocritical to criticize bloggers who do call Ven. Genpo Merzel to account - especially given that Tricycle once published work by Brian Victoria about Yasutani's antisemitism.

Decline. Sigh.

They call him James Ure said...

Zen Dirt Zen Dust:

Yeah I really wish they would have given me the common courtesy to let me know I was being quoted.


It wasn't a very well written article. It just seemed like a hit piece than an expose or whatever it was supposed to be.



Tiny Thinker:

Perhaps he wasn't attacking me or misrepresenting me but the way it was constructed made it sound like I was being lumped in with Twisted Branch. Just for defending myself.


A lot of people come along and claim all kinds of crap and want to tell us all where we are wrong but I need more than a screen name before I respect someone in that way.

Nella Lou:

I appreciate your support and response. I agree with you on the community of followers and that it is stronger, more successful and helpful than the elitists understand. I haven't found the close knit, supportive nature that is found online in physical sanghas either.

If these traditionalists don't want us meeting together online then they need to change the way they structure and carry out their sangha practice.

At this point in time they are too rigid when it comes to things that don't really matter and their elitist attitudes and actions turn a lot of people off.


Well, it's day 2 and I'm feeling less irritated. I'm convinced that it is Tricycle that is missing the boat on the rising of "Blue Collar Buddhists" in America.

The elitists in their ivory towers have had their control over American Buddhism for decades and don't seem to want to work with us "newbies." They're missing the boat.

I don't expect everyone to agree with what I write -- in fact I welcome discussion as long as it's done with compassion and respect.

Yeah to call people out like this in a highly visible journal is pretty low brow it seems. I find it better to address the person in question in private.

A Buddhist magazine shouldn't be in the business of settling scores. Unless there is a major infraction but I failed to see how that occurred on Kobutsu Malone's part. It seems to me that Kobutsu was being very respectful in his defense. Is he not allowed to defend himself especially when publicly attacked?

As for newcomers being turned-off -- Well, that's their problem. Buddhism doesn't encourage showing one face but denying others to "protect the image of Buddhism."

One of the reasons I believe that people are attracted to Buddhism is because we reflect reality whether it is happy or a bit ugly. We don't hide and pretend things are fine if they aren't.

They call him James Ure said...


Thank-you friend. I appreciate your kindness and I like what you write and express. I appreciate your honesty in your writings.


Perhaps I did misinterpret the article's intention but it was so poorly constructed that it's hard to tell. I think sometimes these authors take their position at a popular magazine too seriously and let it go to their head. So that they think that they are somehow indispensable to the community. At the very least they seem to take their position too seriously.


Yeah I'm not going to renew my Tricycle online subscription. I think I'll keep Buddhadharma for now and switch to Shambhala Sun. The Morning Bell, which is written by followers of Thich Nhat Hanh is decent too.


Thank-you :)


I'd be interested in hearing if they respond too. Please be sure to let me know if and what they say.

Was Once:

That's what I figure. Even though it was annoying in how I seemed to be misrepresented. If there is anything positive it's that they plugged my blog.


Yeah the mainstream publications like to belittle the blogs but we must be doing something wrong to have a lot of readers. People want to hear the nuts and bolts of average practitioners. The psuedo intellectual musings that is often found in these magazines now is so self-congratulatory and cold.

I can't connect with a cerebral article as well as I can reading a fellow who discovered a beautiful moment and insight in just staring at a gentle stream. A short blog post like that does more for me than a long ass interview on some esoteric scripture.

nihonshukyo said...

A short blog post like that does more for me than a long ass interview on some esoteric scripture.

Speaking as one who's embarrassed to admit that do blog on esoteric scriptures, I think people exist with a variety of inclinations. What works for one, doesn't work for another, but that's why the Bodhisattva is said to strive to teach and lead the masses through a variety of means. :)

With that said, Tricycle really should adhere to more professional standards, but the same applies other similar magazines. I remember a pretty terrible article in another periodical (starts with an "S") regarding the precepts. The author made no effort to back up what they said with anything other than their own opinion, and it was a weird opinion too. It was flamed pretty good (I am embarrassed to admit I flamed that fellow pretty harshly, which I regret).

Most folks who write in Buddhist periodicals (or blogs) have little or no professional training, so it's no surprise we get stuck with this kind of thing. Blogs are personal, so you can get away with it if you don't pass yourself off as an expert. I kind of did that in the past, and realized I was an idiot, trashed my blog, and started over with a new identity, new (laid back approach) and so on. When people started asking me for religious advice, I realized I had gone too far.

I am not sure everyone who writes about Buddhism in blogs or magazines is yet aware of their own limitations, and when two such people do that, conflict is inevitable.

But on the other hand, I am glad lots of hardworking Buddhists are out there spreading the word, and getting more information out there (translations, dharma talks, etc). Everyone benefits in the long run. :)

They call him James Ure said...


I should clarify that I actually do like digging through sutras/suttas but not all the time. And I used it as a point to show that many of these magazines aren't getting the average man's point of view on Buddhist practice.

I agree with you that we all have our own ways of learning -- 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.

nihonshukyo said...

Hello, replying late here, but:

I should clarify that I actually do like digging through sutras/suttas but not all the time. And I used it as a point to show that many of these magazines aren't getting the average man's point of view on Buddhist practice.

If anything, I think they don't talk enough about such things. It seems like most of the magazine articles are just personal essays and anecdotes with some vague teachings thrown in. Or interviews with people I've never heard of.

It's hard to take away anything useful from this, especially for people who are nowhere near a temple and hvae little to draw upon.

I wish they'd bring on more ordained, professional teachers, and less free-lance writers. Or a balance of the two.

I definitely hear what you're saying though about not reaching to the masses, and that's quite true. It is too cerebral, and that's a really an issue. If they could broaden the Buddhist teachings more and be "less hippy" to reach a wider audience who wants to learn Buddhist basics, I think they'd perform a lot better.

Might as well start one of my own. Sheesh. :-/

Tom Armstrong said...


Sign me up to be your magazine's first subscriber!

They call him James Ure said...

@Nihonshukyo and Tom:

I've thought about starting my own online magazine. Maybe we should take this idea seriously?

Tom Armstrong said...

James, nihonshukyo,

Let's do it! Tricycle'll quake in its paper boots.

-- tom

Marco said...

Hi James, your posts are really very interesting ha. buddha decor

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