Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Brad Warner, Zen 'clergy'

I am not a big fan of pilfering the works of others. Too often it stinks of raising my own stock according to someone else's effort ... lookit me, ma! I can quote scripture and put on a robe and parrot the words of others who are highly thought of, so I must be wise and worthy! It reeks of a genteel and self-serving cowardice.

Nevertheless, I do think that Brad Warner's "Why I am Not a Member of Clergy" is a first-rate exposition of what Zen Buddhist practice is and isn't. And since I doubt if I could say what Brad says as well as he says it, well ...

I think he is right on target, but read it for yourself.


  1. Over the centuries Zen has had practitioners who while ordained did not want to wear robes or do the tasks typically considered the domain of clergy. Duh! This is Zen 101.

    One thing of value in Mr. Warner's article is the bit about learning through watching and imitating. But he didn't even mention questioning these "teachings" which can be nothing more than "monkey see, monkey do."

    Another point of some value which he really just skirts is "what functions an ordained student in the West going to serve and related how will a so called monk make a living?" If not pastoral counseling or ceremonial (e.g. Weddings and Funerals) then what?

    From my observation his answer seems to be the common one in the West -- pontificating.

  2. -- "Over the centuries Zen has had practitioners who while ordained did not want to wear robes or do the tasks typically considered the domain of clergy. Duh! This is Zen 101."

    Perhaps we could say, "This is institutional Zen 101?"

    -- "'Monkey see, monkey do'"

    Apt observation. True in one sense, false in another.

    -- "Weddings and Funerals"

    Yes, there is the question of how to make a living, eat food, put a roof over the head or afford the doctor. It's a question that seems to be answered in different ways by different people ... but "pontificating," as for example from behind the shield of 'anonymity,' is an equal-opportunity employer.

  3. With restraint and respect, while Brad Warner says a lot about what Zen monks have not done in the past, like attend seminaries, they have been monks, i.e, lived in monasteries, did ango, and been held accountable for at least a period of time.

    Brad Warner was ordained a "monk" having never done full time residential practice.

    What's the problem with this?

    Well, a lot can be inferred by the way the left hand takes the kettle.

    What's presented in weekly meetings, annual sesshins, and vacation Zen is a lot different than living with the elders for an extended period and being met, in the zendo, in fields, by the dumpster, in the dish room, where our robes get dirty.

    I read this morning that Ryokan, soto-zen's favorite hermit monk, spent years living in a zen community before establishing Gogo-an.

    If it didn't seem like Brad Warner was trying to wiggle out of accountability, maybe I'd pay more attention to what he has to say.

  4. Farmer -- I hear your concerns and certainly wouldn't dismiss them. But I've never gotten a sense that Brad was unwilling to take responsibility for/be accountable for what he said or did or concluded.

    In "The Varieties of Religious Experience," William James recounts in a chapter on "conversion" the tale of a fellow of sincere spiritual conviction who had an epiphany one day and went on to become a professional gambler. Although James was a rigorous thinker, still, in the realm of "conversion," there is plenty of room for the righteous to claim this must have been a false conversion ... anyone with a 'true' conversion would have done something less mundane and conceivably evil.

    Is someone who is "ordained" set on a fixed path? I have no basis on which to make that call. One man's accountability is another man's sloth ... and vice versa. Perhaps my own take is too loosey-goosey by half, but I tend to munch on what people say and do, feed it through my filters and find out how nourishing or toxic it might be.

    Brad doesn't strike me as either toxic or evasive. But that's my problem.

  5. Genkaku-san,

    It just my opinion that Brad Warner is evasive; he wears a brown robe into places where brown robes mean something, has sex with a younger, pretty woman who abides in the place where brown robes mean something, and wants to say that it just happens, that it's something like love, and doesn't want to acknowledge a power dynamic still exists, even when you don't want it to, even when you say it doesn't exist by saying, "I'm not really a 'teacher' or 'clergy person' or whatever."

    And I like the saying Zen priest is as Zen priest does. I don't think an ordained person is on a fixed path. I'm pointing at what Brad chooses to substantiate his position with, i.e there were no seminaries for monks, with what he leaves out, i.e a monk is a monastic, does ango, or retreats from monsoons, has had a novice period of training where he or she didn't set up standards of their own.

    Here in our tradition, the term monk can be used for anyone in the ango, ordained or not. When in ango, monk. When not, maybe so, maybe not, maybe priest works better, or baker.

    My real position is: Who cares what I think- what do these numberless beings see? Not to give in to the beholder, but if some young pretty woman or man wants to have sex with me when I appear to be in a position of attainment, is telling them I really am not anything enough?

    I don't mean to argue, just clarify what I mean (that doesn't mean don't argue with me! I'm just wondering if it's coming across the right way).

    Deep bow,

  6. Kogen -- Point taken.

    I always enjoyed the movie that depicted all the training stages Bruce Lee went through. Lots and lots. It wasn't the training per se that interested me although I enjoy watching physical skill. What interested me was the fact that when he completed his training, he decided to teach his own style of martial arts -- the style of no style. And his students simply didn't get it. I can't remember if Lee decided to shift gears or not, but I liked the fact that his students didn't get it and what that implied about Lee's instruction. My conclusion was a bit like yours -- gotta tell some lies if you're gonna find the truth.

  7. Good points Kogen. The mantle of iconoclast may have gone to his head.

    I wonder how well informed he is. Is he well read or disingenuous?