Wednesday, June 8, 2011

mediocrity and elitism

Received in email a critique of an upcoming meeting of unnamed Buddhist 'leaders' who may or may not be sorting out the direction Buddhism in the West may take.

The critique takes many forms. The one I found most appealing came from the rapscallion Zen teacher Brad Warner, a guy who specializes in silly and quasi-irreverent stuff right up until it's time for serious work. Warner was quoted as saying:

And yes, I will even admit to being bothered at not being invited. Because someone needs to take a stand against that attitude, which is starting to take over Buddhism in the west and will, I believe, win in the end.
The attitude I believe he was referring to was one of group-think, group-hug, compassion-talk Buddhism as the 'authentic' stuff ... if enough people/texts/tablets agree, then it must be true... mediocrity on the march.

Those inclined to gatherings at which organizational foundations can be laid for the greater, wider good see a need for such discussions. They set aside -- or more likely dismiss -- the threat seen by their critics. Somehow, in very concrete terms, people who find a resonance in Buddhism need books and centers and (sotto voce) teachers to encourage and advance their interest.

Where one side grinds its teeth about the potential for mediocrity and self-important charlatanism, the other side brings up the howitzer of "elitism" and "too much purity." It's all kind of funny, watching the merchants of goodness duke it out.

What I find myself thinking is that it might help things if, instead of drawing pistols at the first mention of "mediocrity" and/or "elitism,"  we simply acceded to the facts. Yup, we all arise out of our mediocre understandings that have left us unhappy and uncertain. Yup, we want to translate Buddhism as some emotional hug farm ... a loving and secure home. Yup, we want to be loved and happy and, goddammit, we haven't found the right formula just yet.

And having conceded our mediocre understandings, we set off on a course which is, in fact, largely elitist. We may talk the talk, but the fact is we can't do much for "all sentient beings" or some similar snuggle-bunny notion, until we take care of me. Me, the elitist.

What has the potential -- the potential if not always the realization -- to save us from our mediocre and elitist ways is a determined Buddhist practice. Honesty will not settle for mediocrity or elitism. Honesty will not settle for the views of others. Honesty cannot settle for ... anything else.

Does that honesty always come to fruition? Absolutely not. The allure of mediocrity and elitism is sometimes just too great. The robes, the rituals, the nesting places, the sense of self masked behind 'selflessness' ... lord, do not forsake me!

But Buddhists are luckier than some, I sometimes think. At least their practice teaches that it is possible to be honest and realize that under all those clothes, we are in fact naked. What someone else says, whether in secret and self-sustaining session or from the pinnacle beyond all pinnacles, means precisely squat.

Sure, let's pray for the other guy, but let us also do some honest work. Gautama was quoted as saying, "It is not what others do and do not do that is my concern. It is what I do and do not do -- that is my concern."

It's a plain as salt ... if you see a fool, just don't BE a fool. Will mediocrity triumph in the end? You can count on it. But perched inevitably on the brow of a triumphant mediocrity will be the laurels of the elitist.

Don't get tricked.

Just muttering.

1 comment:

  1. Big Mindful Fig Tree HuggerJune 8, 2011 at 10:08 PM

    I heard about that by-invitation-only-event being held at the Garrison Institute June 8 - 11.

    See 2011 Buddhist Teachers Council

    The 3-day event is being labeled as a "multi-tradition meeting," a "Maha Teacher Council of 230 Buddhist teachers from centers across the West," and as a continuance of "the past series of collaborative teacher meetings held in the U.S., Dharamsala, and in Europe."

    Who got to choose who the select 230 are?
    I never got a survey from Tricycle asking for my recommendations
    What Buddhist traditions are being represented?
    Who are the 50 "teachers" under 45?

    The key themes listed sound like this is Garrison Institute's own Special Buddhist Blend brew. See the main part of the site

    THE MINDFUL SOCIETY - a visionary consideration of the promise and the pitfalls as the Dharma spreads more widely into medicine, science, healing, education, the arts and all aspects of Western culture.

    PRESERVATION OF DEPTH AND ADAPTING SKILLFUL MEANS TO A NEW WORLD – how to preserve and adapt the Dharma in new conditions without losing depth.

    FROM ELDERS TO THE NEXT GENERATION – 50 teachers under age 45 will join the council to consider together how the current teachers can best support and empower the next generations.

    If YOU or YOUR teacher didn't get invited, what should you do?
    Should your be proud or embarrassed , if YOU or YOUR teacher was invited?

    Who got to go free?

    We should take bets as to whom among Zen Teachers who were invited actually attended.

    Still, it would be fun if someone with a couple of cameras and a press pass should stop by on the last day and does the paparazzi thing then posts the pictures on some blogs and YouTube.