last post of the year

I had hight hopes. I had hoped to write a grand and sweeping assessment of 2009 (perhaps this whole decade), a look back at the terrifying highs, the dizzying lows. But to hell with it. I don’t have time. And, really, I’d rather look ahead, to 2010, to a year for which I have even higher hopes than I do for writing a reflective blog post.

In lieu of that, I give you the following paragraph, in full and without (much) commentary. It’s from Jeff Wilson’s book, Mourning the Unborn Dead. I’m quoting this paragraph because, it seems to me, incredibly appropriate in the context a good number of conversations we’ve had in this blog (and elsewhere) in 2009. If it’s appropriateness to this blog is lost on you, you must be new or weren’t really paying attention (which, in some cases, was probably pretty smart!). But I’d also like to point out that, despite this decontextualized paragraph, this book doesn’t really have anything to do with the conversations on this blog over the past year, at least not directly. The book is really about a post-pregnancy loss ritual, mizuko kuyo, and how it is being practiced in American Zen Buddhist communities (both the Japanese- but especially the non-Japanese varieties). It’s an engaging read, one I recommend (especially the footnotes), and Dr. Wilson is certainly going to be someone to keep an eye on in years to come.

So without further ado:

Stories from these communities suggest that acculturation of Buddhism (and perhaps other religions as well) in America is a never completed project, a process that continually slides back and forth along a spectrum rather than one that moves confidently forward from a beginning point called “tradition” toward a destination called “American innovation.” One reason for this is that transnational ties continually introduce foreign innovations and practices to American religious communities, even those that settled in the United States prior to the twentieth century. These stories also reveal that Americanization is often the product of ignorance rather than conscious adaptation, and that the Buddhist contribution to rituals and ideas in some Zen communities is rivaled or even bested by influences from psychotherapy, feminism, and other elements of white middle-class American culture. This points to potential weaknesses in our typologies. The “ethnic” in the category “ethnic Buddhism” seems justifiable when it refers to how certain practitioners understand themselves: as Buddhists by ethnicity, rather than by individual belief. But when it becomes a racial signifier — as in “ethnic” versus “white” Buddhism — it breaks down, for how can we allege that Japanese ethnic influences are greater in Japanese-American Zen than European-American ethnic influences in convert Zen? What is whiteness if not yet another ethnicity? Convert Zen is not a return to the Buddhism of Shakyamuni (or Dogen) as some scholars have suggested but yet another flavor of ethnic Buddhism, one created largely by and for Americans of white cultural background.

thoughts on teaching

So a few weeks ago I tried writing a post about teaching. We’re about half way through the fall semester right now which means that teaching is the one thing that’s occupying most of my time. But what I tried to write didn’t come out right, so I threw it in the old File of Forgotten Blog Posts that seems to be rapidly filling up my hard drive.

I thought I’d revisit the issue because two of my favorite blogs, Angry Asian Buddhist and Enlightenment Ward, both posted commentary about a recent Brad Warner post over on Hardcore Zen. It seems everyone’s favorite punk rock Zen master has closed the comments down on his blog, and in the process he’s added to a litany of critiques about the value of the Internet in the practice of Buddhism.

we’re all inside the burning house

The estimable Arunlikhati over at Dharma Folk has recently created an Asian Meter to track the instances of Asian voices in the mainstream Buddhist press. (Props all around, by the way.) His post has generated a few comments that are, well, let’s just say interesting. But they prompted me to finally get around to write a post about diversity in Buddhist communities and practice, what that means or what it would look like (to me anyway), why it’s important, and how the mainstream Buddhist press sometimes fails and sometimes does an okay job in this regard.

on being ruffled

But I think we need to understand that anger, that being offended, that being ruffled or riled, is okay. “Offended” is, at the end of the day, an emotion. It is essentially no different than “happy” or “in love” or “light-hearted” or “sad” or “jealous” or, dare I say it, “enlightened.” And this knee-jerk reaction against being offended isn’t any more “Buddhist” than a calm or equanimous reaction. In fact, when you judge “offended” or “self-rightous” as “bad” and “calm” or “letting it go” as “good,” isn’t that nothing more than discriminative thinking?

long time no see/academic quotes

His separation of Zen from Zen Buddhism gave rise to the impression that Zen might hold the answer to the search for pure, unfettered experience. From this it followed that Zen’s connections with aspects of Buddhist doctrine that were more problematic to the modern, relativistic Western mind—such as the teachings on karma and rebirth, the seeming nihilism of nirvana, and the role of ethics on the Path—were simply cultural baggage that could be dispensed with at will.

can’t we all just get along?

Actually, there are no superior and inferior Dharma doors. Furthermore, Dharma doors are interconnected. all are perfect and without obstruction. For example, when one recites the Buddha’s name to the point of one-mindedness, is this not investigating Ch’an? When one investigates Ch’an to the point of no separation between the investigator and that which is being investigated, is this not reciting the real characteristic of the Buddha? Ch’an is not other than the Ch’an within the Pure Land and Pure Land is not other than the Pure Land within Ch’an. Ch’an and pure Land are mutually enriching, and they function together.