Thursday, December 16, 2010

American Neo-Buddhist Polemics in the Information Age

"There are two things I know to be true: there's no difference
between good flan and bad flan, and there is no war in Albania."
                                                              --Wag the Dog (1997),
                                                                           David Mamet

Our masthead -- long may it wave -- proclaims Buddhist Polemics as an integral ingredient of our fare. The word "polemics" is derived from the Greek polemikos (πολεμικός), meaning "warlike, hostile." In contemporary American English, it is used in reference to heated theological argument or controversy.

I am acutely aware that some readers do not like it when we engage in the practice. Such readers prefer our translations, our mildly interesting news items, or our colorful pictures. Some are even willing to tolerate our occasional rabbit-interest story, and can smile patiently when we blather on about the desert. They wait us out, hoping for stories about wise, old lamas of the past, who say wise things, and witty, young lamas of the future, who say witty things.

I fear such readers fail to appreciate the sometimes challenging, mercurial character of Vajrayana as a lived-through experience.

Indeed, one of the fondest memories of my youth is accompanying a now very famous lama -- at the time, nobody was famous -- to the theater, to watch a Japanese samurai film. The battle scenes were graphic and bloody. One character was horribly and repeatedly sliced, yet kept on fighting until he vanquished his opponent. When the hero finally succumbed to his wounds, his eyes were wide open, and his sword was still firmly in his hand.

Upon witnessing this, the lama began vigorously punching me in the arm, saying, "That's what I want you to see! That's what I want you to remember! That's Vajrayana! That's what it takes!" He made such a ruckus, that the people seated around us told him to shush.

The other day -- and it was Pearl Harbor Day, if I recall -- we published passing notice of a heated theological argument or controversy surrounding [take a deep breath -- hold it] a  militant, quasi-religious, Not-So-New Age cult with a fingernail grasp on a mish-mosh of Buddhist-in-name-only, idiosyncratic beliefs meaningful only to themselves, [exhale] and an on-line journalist with all the savoir faire of a lion upon the Veldt.

Stated briefly, the journalist threatened to write about the cult, and the cult threatened to sue the publisher. 

Thus, it seems, did a lion's heart come to suffer at the quaking hands of a  large yet woefully timid soul. The publisher, who has adopted "walk the talk" as brand rhetoric, came a cropper, managing only to stagger and stutter. He searched in vain for the courage of conviction, and finding none, shot his own messenger.

The journalist was fired, and the cult's already swaggering bellicosity swelled to even greater proportions.

So, then... what to make of suffer, stagger, stutter, swagger, and swell.

I am told -- by canny circus folk, who make keen study of such matters -- that if an elephant farts rather terribly, and makes a fool of himself, a concerned care-giver of infinite compassion must actually crawl in the elephant's ass to locate, and if need be, hose out any poorly digested artifacts that may be festering in the poor pachyderm's bowels.

Giving enemas to elephants is the work of those who, if they are not bodhisattvas, will surely do until those who are bodhisattvas happen to come along. Oh, churlish is he who calls the man with hose warlike or hostile, given the intimacy of the ministrations, and the absolute imperative to keep one's head firmly upon one's shoulders even whilst being squeezed by a sphincter of epic proportion.

Inspired by this image of compassionate activism, I set out to research the matter at some depth.

I found out it was a put-up job.
“All the universe depends on the love that you are at this very moment.”
There's sophistry for you, and just what we need to hear, right? Didn't Amy say something like that to Gully when they were with the aliens?
 
Yet, when the door is closed and the elephant is steadied, it seems as if all the universe depends on spin doctoring. The cult in question has formed an alliance with the publisher in question, who has wittingly allowed his staff of authors to be infiltrated with the undigested straw of cult members, sympathizers, fellow travelers, and what Lenin always referred to as govnoed -- this last, useful Russian slang that could in theory be applied in the vicinity of the elephant's asshole.
 
Seems that while the publisher was crying that he feared the cult's lawyers, he was simultaneously publishing the works of a member of the cult's board of directors. Naturally, public demand was made for the "lawyer's letter" the publisher claimed to have received. To stagger and stutter we may now add stammer. After a considerable interval, something rather specious was cobbled up on cult letterhead. There was a little hue, a little cry, and here came yet another excuse to fire the lone hold-out in our tale, the long-suffering lionheart.
 
Thus, as the tale progresses, we have something very much analogous to what the United States government presumably has in mind for WikiLeaks. It is being perpetrated in the name of Buddhism, in sub-rosa fashion, accompanied by plausible denial, for the purpose of fraudulently manipulating public opinion.
 
Why would people do such a thing?
 
A circus employee who regularly crawled inside elephants, eventually developed an almost paralyzing depression. Unable to bear the anguish, he sought out a doctor who asked him to explain his problem.

"I don't have any friends," the circus man cried. "I try to have friends, but people seem to avoid me."

"I see," said the doctor. "Well, can you tell me... what is it that you do for a living?"

"I crawl up inside an elephant's ass with a hose," the man replied, "And I hose out his bowels. That  elephant shit splashes all over me. It ruins all my clothes. It gets in my hair. It gets in every pore of my skin. I stand in hot showers, and I soap myself over and over again, but I just can't get rid of the smell of that liquified elephant shit!"

"My word!" said the doctor. "Well, let me ask you this... have you ever thought of trying another line of work?"

"What?" cried the man, incredulously. "And give up show business?"




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8 reader comments:

Anonymous said...

maitri and compassion will turn your ominous ill omened polemic into a forward moving dialectic
curses and ominous omens from either side are just
artifacts and stains from the origin of the Tibetan lineage. No time like the present to wash the dishes and clean the latrines. The issues in America are and are not of another energy/activity entirely...

Waylon Lewis said...

Thanks for the poetic polemic. Unfortunately, just about every point is off. Perhaps it's fortunately, as we're not the ball-less enemy you imagine.

From twitter, my rebuttals to your above this morning:

1. Actually, the letter—which does exist, indeed—is published on KPC's site.
2. and the journalist was never fired. He's welcome to blog on any other subject. I don't have $$$ or legal representation, and I don't want to continue to get between KPC + Bill. He can blog all he likes about them on his own blog, which he could create free in 10 minutes, and he's still messaging about them on twitter.
3. As for KPC's article, we're an open forum. I offered them an article after they were upset about Bill's stuff. Their article on ele happened well before—not after, as you say—any threats of legal action. Every key pt of this "article" is off.
4. ele's "show business" is our mission: fulfilling our bodhisattva vow. Can't do that if we're out of biz. We have no $ 2 pay 4 legal defense.
5. He's still all over elephant, and is welcome to keep writing. We love "Uncle Bill," as I call him. Have u checkd if all his articles were removed? At least a dozen r on elej right now.

Pardon the twitter abbreviations, but the above is expanded from my tweets this morning.

Yours in the Vision,

Waylon Lewis

Bill Schwartz said...

Waylon,

Public participation is a right, not a privilege, not a favor bestowed by a publisher to a contributor, but instead an obligation of a publisher to there readers.

On Tuesday afternoon you notified me via email that you had terminated our relationship and that all my blogs were to be buried in an archive of drafts until you saw fit to return me to my previous status as a contributor.

Forever appreciative of our relationship I chose to say nothing of the matter in public until someone informed me that they wanted to subscribe to Elephant Journal to specifically read my blogs which he informed me were behind a pay wall.

I of course felt obligated given the circumstances to inform them that I had been terminated as such and the reason they could not access my blogs was that they were archived in drafts and not because they were behind a pay wall.

Of course I did this via Twitter so I was restricted to 140 characters.

Imagine my surprise to read your response on Twitter in which you proclaimed to all that our relationship had not been terminated the day before by you.

Our relationship was terminated. The reason given was that you had read in a KPC blog that they were going to follow through on their threat to take legal action against you.

You removed your blog in which you had posted KPC's original threat against Elephant Journal and your offer to moderate a debate between myself and KPC on the subject of a Free Buddhist Press in Elephant Journal, which I immediately accepted.

Based on nothing more than what you had read in a KPC blog, this was your response as a publisher.I have your email in which you terminated our relationship. All can see that you removed your blog offering to host a debate between myself and a KPC representative.

Furthermore, this morning, on Elephant Journal you posted screen shots of irate tweets directed against you for what you have done, and attempted to characterize me as some disgruntled trouble-maker that had betrayed your trust.

So much for "Walk The Talk" apparently. You are publisher. Act like a publisher. This isn't an exercise in marketing, but journalism. It is your obligation as a publisher to expose what KPC has done for all to see. Otherwise they will continue to dictate the limits of public participation for all of us interested in the pursuit of transparency in Buddhist life today.

You have abandoned your position under fire, given aid and comfort to those whom wish to keep what they have done from public view, based on nothing more than what KPC posted on a blog.

Please correct me if any of this is not true. I will stand corrected here.

Otherwise I expect that all be returned to as it was before concerning my status as a contributor and all my previous blogs be taken from Elephant's draft archive where they are at present languishing.

Bill Schwartz

TENPA said...

Young Mr. Lewis:

I have some advice for you.

(1) Check your email. The write@ account.

(2) Don't tell different versions of what happens at your shop to different people. The journalist in question continues to assert that he received a certain email from you severing your relationship. Advertisers who are very unhappy with you right now tell a little different story. There are some folks who like to dine down on Pearl Street who have yet another version.

(3) The letter to which you refer is a fiction. If, through inexperience, you genuinely regard it as anything other than a fiction, show it to an attorney. In Boulder, in the old days, Bill Gray knew publishing law better than anyone. I think he's over on Arapahoe -- but, better get to him quick, before he has a conflict.

(4) If you want to see a letter that is most assuredly not a fiction, providence may indeed lend a hand. Since you have proved, beyond any doubt, that you can be pushed around, people will be lining up to sue you.

(5) You are not an "open forum." You are an edited forum, and by your own admission, you can be persuaded to edit with your thumb. The article to which you refer was "offered" in consequence of back channel maneuvering between you and a former Colorado resident now masquerading about like a malicious Peter Pan.

(6) While not particularly gifted, educated, or devout, and thus unable to do more than pretend to your lofty view, I have nevertheless tried to become at least reasonably familiar with Buddhist vows. In this, I have probably failed, so please excuse me if, through ignorance or innocence, I offend you with my small ideas. The keeping of such vows does not seem to require much effort if one proceeds from deeply awakened bodhicitta; indeed, it comes naturally, as an extension of one's understanding of emptiness of which compassion is the essence. Regardless of the exigent variations, all of these vows flow from a quiet heart. Business and money do not have a thing to do with it. As Patrul Rinpoche taught, "It is no use taking all the vows, from those of refuge up to the tantric samayas, unless you turn your mind away from the things of this world."

[7] I do not see a certain photograph among the photographs of your columnists and contributors. Where have you buried this journalist you mention? Are his writings disconnected from him in some dull archive?

[8] I do not have any enemies in this world. If I want to check and see if that is true, I do not look outside. I look within. Similarly, whether you have balls or not is something best known through your own examination, rather than another's imagination.

[9] Do not go a'fishing for a legal defense fund, nor mourn your misdemeanors up on felony street.

[10] If you want to thank me, make good decisions.

Most sincerely,

The one who carries the burden of the name Tenpa.

Bill Schwartz said...

Waylon,

I expect nothing less than the immediate return of all as it was regarding myself and my blogs before you emailed me Tuesday notifying me that you had terminated our relationship and buried my blogs in an archive of drafts.

Public participation is not a privilege but a right that as a publisher you are obligated to honor and defend.

You have failed to do so. This is unacceptable. What KPC has done must be made public or they will continue to go on to threaten other publishers as they have done to you.

Bill Schwartz

me said...

Vows are just words until they are tested.

I encourage all concerned to give thanks for this test, this intersection of Karma...and thus realizing the true nature of this phenomenon, to summon the courage to rise to the occasion.

It is rare that we are given these opportunities to TRULY see our practice as something indelibly....real.

I pray for all involved to use this situation as an opportunity to rise to their full potential.

Anonymous said...

The world around you is a reflection of your reaction to the world around you.

Anonymous said...

I laughed until I peed. This post doesn't take itself or the subject too seriously but manages to be serious just the same ... mainly because the involved parties take themselves way too seriously, and the post plays them out just enough rope... er, hose. LOL. Brilliant job, Tenpa.