Saturday, January 19, 2008


This afternoon I picked up the latest issue of "Shambhala Sun" and browsed through an article by someone named Brad Warner. I suppose he's somehow important or meaningful in some way, but, since I am all but oblivious to most popular culture, I don't quite know what. He wrote an article entitled, "That's not very Buddhist of you," which contained several thinly disguised put-downs of Judaeo-Christian practice.

This certainly helped the article to live up to its name; the fact that the author appears to know a good deal less about both Buddhism and Judaeo-Christian practice than he thinks he knows was a different issue.

C'est la vie, c'est vrai--certain great World Religions just aren't good enough for some people.

The dismissals got me to thinking, in the larger context, about the fact that Buddhism in America has developed a corporate arm almost as strong as Catholicism's: a pope (The Dalai Lama), flashy magazines, articles about celebrity Buddhists (K.D. Lang is the star attraction of this month's issue) and a merchandising push that makes me think that soon someone will be inspired to cut through all the crap and open an honest web site called "stuff that makes you look like a"

All of this begins to look and sound like one more chapter in the "form versus form" contest, where the adherents of various religions compete with each other for validity, membership, and supremacy. Over a lifetime, I've listened to impassioned explanations from Muslims in Pakistan and Sufis in Turkey as to why Islam is the only true faith; had born again Christians in Georgia witness their faith and demand I accept Jesus as my personal savior, else be condemned to hell; had other Christians advise me that their little Baptist church (on the left corner of Peachtree street NE) was the only heart of the only true faith; had devoutly orthodox Jewish friends firmly advise me that the world is only 5,000 years old, and so on.

Over the past two years, I've plowed through the entire text of Dogen's extensive record and almost all of his Shobogenzo. In the process, I discovered that even Dogen--whose work I admire and stand in awe of--habitually indulges in contemptuous put-downs of other Buddhists and, even more so, non-Buddhists. Leading us back to my perpetual concern about 99% masters.

It's easy to be negative--I do it all the time myself. But where are the unifiers? Where are the religious people who build bridges instead of walls?

I think we need a few more of them. Contempt for other people's practices builds nothing; instead, it creates divisions, nurses suspicions, breeds animosities. When I get prominent publications from Buddhists expressing snotty, dismissive viewpoints, I worry.

I worry because I see this tendency in myself--I see it in all of us-- to dismiss, to go against the other, to reject them, instead of making the much more difficult effort to find acceptance in my heart.

We must make this effort.

The future of the planet depends on all of us finding a way to bridge the divides that face us, to open our hearts and close the gaps.

We're never going to achieve that through a path of dismissal.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

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