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Is Zen a cult?

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Is Zen a cult?
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3/14/17 11:17 AM
I'm curious if anyone else feels that Zen centers and monasteries often time resemble a cult. Zen teachers are often overly strict and controlling. I have been to three different Zen centers / monasteries and two of them fit this description. The teacher at the third Zen center was pretty passive and let people do whatever they wanted.

One teacher did a number of things that pissed me off.

First, she told me to stand up straight during walking meditation without telling me why. I don't take orders unless you have a damn good reason for why I should be doing something.

Second, in my 6 months of practice there she would nitpick on what I said and call me out as if everything I did was egoic behavior. She didn't seem to give me or any other students the benefit of the doubt. I felt as if I was one big walking talking ego that had no right to exist. I remember one time she said, "Anger is never ok." Very strange.

Lastly, the practice often resembled self-denial. I remember one time she said, "Most people's attitude toward spiritual practice is 'what's in it for me?'" My response to that is so fucking what? What's the alternative? Blindly following orders for someone else's benefit?

I also wonder if it's common for Zen teachers to be on the not-so-friendly end of the spectrum.

I'm not sure what kind of buddhism most of the people on this board are into, perhaps Theravada(?), but I'm wondering if this is common in Buddhism in general.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/14/17 12:49 PM as a reply to ivory.
I've spent some time with zen teachers of West and Japan. There are quite big differences to their personalities that often somehow seems to correlate to their calmness and clarity. Some zen teachers are pretty poor with how they handle people, how they present their views to people. That bluntness is quite common.

Zen teachers traditionally have authority that is not questioned. I know examples where they have been questioned of reasonable matters and it pretty quickly ended up in getting the questioner getting thrown out of the concerned training center which indicates immaturity as a leader and human being to me. So it seems that those who don't have much relaxation together with their insight, are often difficult.

But when a zen teacher has his or her stuff down, he can wonderfully help others, using both wrathful (blunt) and gentle means of the zen tradition. I know also zen teachers who are great people and good teachers.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/14/17 1:42 PM as a reply to ivory.
I feel Zen training is often structured in a similar way to military training. Joining a Zen monastery might be likened to entering enlightenment boot camp, so to speak. Following that metaphor, the Zen teacher is like a drill instructor. You follow the instructions and you don't talk back, or else you'll get knocked upside the head with a big stick.

I don't think it's much of a coincidence that the Zen schools of Buddhism were popular with the samurai class in Japan. Certainly, it provides a certain gung-ho, soldier-like flavor to the path to enlightenment. That will work for some people and not so much for others. The same could be said for boot camp.

All that said, I also think that this style of training, especially in transition to the west, can be fertile soil for cultish behavior. The Zen tradition comes out of particular cultural attitudes, and when you try to insert that cultural flavor into a different culture, there's a certain artifice that's cultivated, and it inevitably gets interpreted in different and sometimes toxic ways. It would probably work better for Zen in the west if the boot camp parallel was made more deliberately. At least, it would probably translate better. As it tends to be now, I think a big part of the appeal of Zen is that it seems very mysterious, even as it grounds itself in ordinary experience. It's this mysteriousness in conjunction with the militant attitude of Zen, I think, that leads to the problems you're addressing here.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/14/17 2:49 PM as a reply to ivory.
ivory:
...One teacher did a number of things that pissed me off...

...as if everything I did was egoic behavior...

...I don't take orders unless you have a damn good reason for why I should be doing something...

...as if everything I did was egoic behavior...

...My response to that is so fucking what? What's the alternative? Blindly following orders for someone else's benefit?...

...as if everything I did was egoic behavior...

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/14/17 4:34 PM as a reply to Geoff.
@Andrew My complaint is that these particular Zen teachers don't nurture self-efficacy. As a major component of self-esteem that's a huge problem. I remember reading one guy's blog where he complained about not being ready for the "outside world" once he left the monastary. He didn't know how to make his own decisions. Later on I met a particular monastic who didn't want to leave the monastery because he likes people telling him what to do.

...as if everything I did was egoic behavior...

@Geoff You seem to have a handle on my every move. Have you been watching me sleep? You're creeping me out man.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/14/17 5:45 PM as a reply to ivory.
I would make the point that this is probably part of the point of monastic training. Monasteries don't exist to train people to thrive out there in the world. They exist to train people to be monks. It's a "safe space" designed to lessen one's exposure to all the stimulating phenomena out in the world that one is liable to get attached to, thus providing optimal conditions to attain nibbana.

Regarding the point about egoic behavior, from a Buddhist point of view, most behavior could be viewed as being egoic behavior. This needn't necessarily be an attack or a judgement on your character. A big part of Buddhist practice aims to point out how virtually everything we think and do is in some way self-referential and therefore egoic.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/19/17 6:42 AM as a reply to ivory.
Isn't the point of this type of training to become aware of the egoic behaviour you have? If you are already completely free of selfishness why would you go to a zen centre other than to help people?

There are also other excellent reasons to do a spiritual practice that aren't about "whats in it for me?" such as "how can I become of better service to others?". Nothing to do with following other's orders - but following ones own wish to benefit others.

I think her comment is a great clue and insight and I've heard other good teachers say the same.

It sounds like you got some good fuel for your practice and navigating your mind. What's most important I think is to pay attention to how you reacted to the things she said - the anger, the personal offense - those aren't intrinstic in what she did, they're part of your own mind. For example she could have told another person to straighten up and they might have responded with a grateful nod for offering the advice... if she was indeed particularly rude in that moment, then that is also fuel for practicing patience, and understanding that we are all humans with human minds and flaws, and that greatly developed teachers are hard to come by, and perhaps even harder to recognise even if you do find one.




Then again, you find cults all over the world, its something people do, and there are certainly buddhist-flavoured cults as well, so if you've managed to escape this cult after being trapped there for 6 months then that is a good thing.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/19/17 1:13 PM as a reply to ivory.
The stuff that started comming up in this thread is part of why I so dislike the narratives that involve the word "ego". Throughout my exchanges with other meditation practitioners, I have seen:
  • A famous teacher claiming that one meditates to be free from ego while describing himself as the person who returned the true teachings of the Buddha to the world, and that this was in accordance with a prophecy by one of his teachers.
  • A less famous teacher claiming to be free from the emotional self, including libido, while using his position of authority to convince his married female students to have sex with him.
  • Myself comming to believe a very simplistic "anti-ego" narrative to explain why the world is in such a poor state. Then covertly or overtly pitying and/or blaming those around me for not seeing it. And pitching it to others like a good zealot.
  • All kinds of people getting worked up about ego-related notions, often in neurotic, disfunctional, ill-defined ways (like I did). For example by acquiring an "ego"-related vocabulary and using it to describe every situation, or to put themselves on a pedestal, or as a means to assert their own authority.
  • A few people who have attained significant perceptual changes incurred by various practices, but who are assholes notwithstanding.
  • The impression that most people who have attained significant perceptual changes incurred by various practices, are nonetheless pretty normal, and behave mostly as is expected of someone in of their age, origin, life experience.

I came to the conclusion that for me, personally, and for the time being, meditation is about changing the quality of my perception, to make abiding it a more peaceful experience. I nowadays refuse any narrative that involves notions such as "ego", "self", "true self", etc. 

I don't expect meditation to make me a great guy, or even a better person necessarily.

I really am convinced that this change in perspective made me a much nicer person to others, in all things concerning and surrounding my meditation practice.

Is Zen a cult? I think this is most definitely partly true, in some places.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/19/17 3:42 PM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
A less famous teacher claiming to be free from the emotional self, including libido, while using his position of authority to convince his married female students to have sex with him
Damn, how did you not get disillusioned by this? Or did he turn out to be unenlightened and posing in the end?

RE: Is Zen a cult?
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3/20/17 7:49 AM as a reply to D..
Deepankar:
A less famous teacher claiming to be free from the emotional self, including libido, while using his position of authority to convince his married female students to have sex with him
Damn, how did you not get disillusioned by this? Or did he turn out to be unenlightened and posing in the end?


I did get extremely disillusioned by this. The first few days after I found this I had several episodes of acute anxiety.

And when I looked back to the past, I could then see myself emulating this man's (his name is Richard) modes of thinking and speaking and interacting with others. A close friend of mine had decided to break contact with me because of this behavior (and told me so), and I had consciously decided to let our friendship go, so I could pursue that path.

So it could be said that I was heavilly invested in this Richard's teachings (take a look yourself link).

I undertook many months of deep reflexion: how was it that I got so duped?

One would think that Richard intentionally lies to others to get them to do his bidding, but it's actually much more sinister than that. I am completely convinced that Richard believes his every word (that he is free from emotion etc)... and yet the external description of his behavior makes this seem so completely unlikely. His interpretation of his own motivations is severely skewed towards thinking of himself as completely harmless and carefree, yet it would be more accurate, from my point of view and knowing the stuff he has done, to describe him as a sex-obsessed, borderline personality with a messiah complex.

So it wasn't just me who was duped by Richard, but also that he was duping himself. Then I realized that I myself was emulating this behavior. I could suddenly remember multiple instances when I was being extremely generous in interpreting my own intentions. Situations when I had acted out of self-interest, but which I had, at the time, classified as acting out for the greater good.

Some of these situations involved me telling people that their emotions were the cause of all of humanity's problems, probably for the feeling of superiority that afforded. The post above by Geoff reminds me of the kind of discourse which I had at the time... just take "egoic behavior" and replace with some emotion. I would point out to people that they were being emotional, as if that would rob their view of all legitimacy.

And seeing that I had been doing this (and more) was terrifying. I could practically project my own path towards Richardhood into the future. I was very lucky to have come accross someone who had an entirely different story to tell about Richard, than he had about himself.

Interestingly enough, when I was finally able to see it in myself, suddenly the whole world of seekers, monks and gurus was full of it. People interpreting their own intentions very, very generously. People propping themselves up by way of their attainments or path-related concepts. This is what I see now in Ivory's description of the female Zen teacher bitching about the "self".

That said, the conclusion that "these people are not enlightened" seems unlikely to me. Some of these people (e.g. Goenka, the famous teacher I was mentioning) spent thousands upon thousands of hours meditating. I myself had been meditating for long, and the benefits were undeniably there. The way that meditation is able to change perception is a fact that I cannot dispute, for I see it for myself first hand. It stands to reason that the people who have practiced hard, have indeed changed their own perception very significantly.

Even the Buddha refused that his former friends call him "friend", because he was oh-so-enlightened and really worthy of a more important title. Think about it, this is the most undisputadly "ego-free" person in history, and after again meeting people with whom he had shared extreme hardship for several years, and who call him "friend", he insists that he should be called "noble one" instead, or some such honorific... Ha! What an asshole!

So instead, I have come to the conclusion that meditative attainment is no warranty of good behaviour. So far I see that it leads to calmer abiding, and that can help, if I make use of it, but while it may have made me a marginally better person, it surely failed to make me into a good person. I now think that this latter pursuit is better served by doing something other than meditation (e.g. experience, restraint, listening to feedback from your friends). And that it is much, much harder to do.

Sorry for the long rant.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/20/17 11:33 AM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
Bruno Loff:

Even the Buddha refused that his former friends call him "friend", because he was oh-so-enlightened and really worthy of a more important title. Think about it, this is the most undisputadly "ego-free" person in history, and after again meeting people with whom he had shared extreme hardship for several years, and who call him "friend", he insists that he should be called "noble one" instead, or some such honorific... Ha! What an asshole!
This sounds like an awesome story to disturb lots of people (:
Do you have a source for this?

So instead, I have come to the conclusion that meditative attainment is no warranty of good behaviour. [...] I now think that this latter pursuit is better served by doing something other than meditation (e.g. experience, restraint, listening to feedback from your friends). And that it is much, much harder to do.
There's also Brahmaviharas. Which it seems Zen doesn't really do. Too bad.

Sorry for the long rant.
I love them long rants. Very appreciated.
Also, it is a great example to recognize how no one is safe from this kind of skewed thinking.
I guess that meditation has such a big impact on the mind that somehow it often kicks out most of common sense, which I find highly amazing.
If one does not have the disposition to work agains that or good friends who steer you back on the path of reason, then bad things happen.
If, instead, one goes to some Zen center, which serves as fertile soil for confused thoughts... good luck, you'll need it o_O

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/21/17 2:26 AM as a reply to bernd the broter.
bernd the broter:
I guess that meditation has such a big impact on the mind that somehow it often kicks out most of common sense.


This is also how I see it!

Here is the source for the buddha's story: link.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/21/17 6:12 PM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
Hey Bruno, what you described is the reason I have removed the word spiritual from my vocabulary and no longer associate "spritual practice" with self development. After a falling out with my first Zen teacher I turned to modern psychology for self development. I wanted to know what it meant to live an authentic life (aka a life worth living). There are some really amazing models that promote a healthy dose of self-esteem and self-efficacy while removing anything that remotely resembles self-denial.

In my experience, spirtual practice is nothing more than a means of slowing down the mind a bit to get clear on the ways we bring suffering upon ourselves. Once we get clear on the way we bring sufferingup on ourselves, we are less likely to let others do it to us, so we set boundaries. From there, we are less likely to treat others crappy simply because we know it sucks.

Spirituality has nothing to do with morality. Morality is some ass hole sitting at the top of a mountain saying, "Hear ye, do exactly as I say." 

Fuck that guy.

The only true teaching is "know thyself"

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/22/17 7:47 AM as a reply to ivory.
ivory:
Hey Bruno, what you described is the reason I have removed the word spiritual from my vocabulary and no longer associate "spritual practice" with self development. After a falling out with my first Zen teacher I turned to modern psychology for self development. I wanted to know what it meant to live an authentic life (aka a life worth living). There are some really amazing models that promote a healthy dose of self-esteem and self-efficacy while removing anything that remotely resembles self-denial.

In my experience, spirtual practice is nothing more than a means of slowing down the mind a bit to get clear on the ways we bring suffering upon ourselves. Once we get clear on the way we bring sufferingup on ourselves, we are less likely to let others do it to us, so we set boundaries. From there, we are less likely to treat others crappy simply because we know it sucks.

Spirituality has nothing to do with morality. Morality is some ass hole sitting at the top of a mountain saying, "Hear ye, do exactly as I say." 

Fuck that guy.

The only true teaching is "know thyself"

I agree that the notion of "spiritual" is very silly and superficial, but it is not as insidiously deceptive as the notion of "self".

E.g. the idea that the only learning worth undertaking is "knowing yourself" to be about as silly as the notion that the only learning worth undertaking is "getting rid of the ego". First, because there are thousands of things worth learning that have nothing to do with notions of "self". E.g. cooking, names of plants and animals, playing ping-pong, etc... Second, because the very notion of "self" is highly dubious. It doesn't really mean anything very deep; or rather, and much worse, that deep meaning which it implies is actually false.

---

You seem to be hastily discarding the possibility that an appeal to ethical behavior can be anything other than self-righteousness. And although I understand why you are tempted to think that way (preachiness really sucks), I cannot agree with it absolutely.

To me, morality is the choice of forgoing one's own gain if it results in others' loss. Immorality is the reverse: disregarding others' loss when it results in one's own gain.

There are many actions that result in both one's own gain and that of others (e.g. working certain jobs). Deciding to do these actions may be beneficial, but not necessarily moral, even when deciding not to do them would be immoral (e.g. not working to sustain oneself). There are also many actions that result in one's gain and come at no expense to others. So I don't think that it is necessary to make every decision a moral one.

But I do think that morality is extremely important. The world is in dire need of restraint. The fact that your Zen teacher had silly notions about what that restraint may entail, that should not allow you to disregard anyone and everyone's suggestions of how you can behave more ethically.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/22/17 10:35 AM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
I've heard people talk about ethics and morality in Buddhism but it really doesn't make sense to me. It could be how I was raised but I don't understand why anyone would want to hurt anyone else. This is so deeply rooted in my psyche that it makes no sense to even make a thing out of morality.

I am a white guy. Telling me to practice morality or to be kind is like telling me to practice being white. It literally doesn't even compute.

Maybe I am missing something about morality training.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/22/17 12:35 PM as a reply to ivory.
ivory:
There are some really amazing models that promote a healthy dose of self-esteem and self-efficacy while removing anything that remotely resembles self-denial.

Could you say more about this? Which models do you mean and what has your experience been with them?

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/22/17 12:40 PM as a reply to ivory.
There's a great Shinzen Young quote something like "You will be optimizing until the day you die."

He's talking about the First Training there - which you can call ethics, morality, virtue, values, or just living life in the best way you can.

Whatever you call it, it isn't just about not hurting others. It's about how you want to live your life in the way that's most meaningful to you. It's about how you spend your time, what you value, what you focus on, how you cultivate relationships and closeness with others.

Hurting others is inevitable. If you take the last muffin at brunch, someone else misses out on it. If you tell someone what you think, it may hurt their feelings. If you don't tell them, it may hurt them when they find out you concealed what you think. Everything you do has some amount of hurting others to it.

I certainly feel the temptation to hurt others for my own gain, and I don't even think that's always a bad thing - it's a balance. Win-win outcomes are best but not always possible.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/22/17 1:39 PM as a reply to Jigme Sengye.
Jigme Sengye:
Could you say more about this? Which models do you mean and what has your experience been with them?

There are a few books and therapists that I really resonate with: How to be an Adult by David Richo, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden, and Mastery by George Leonard.

I also resonate with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Existential philosophy.

The focus is on living a full life filled with meaning and intention.

Get clear on what you value, remove distractions, cultivate confidence, courage, and remove self-doubt and complacency.

J C:
Whatever you call it, it isn't just about not hurting others. It's about how you want to live your life in the way that's most meaningful to you. It's about how you spend your time, what you value, what you focus on, how you cultivate relationships and closeness with others.


This resonates. Again, I turned to modern psychology for this sort of thing. I didn't resonate so much with Buddhism simply because I couldn't understand the terminology.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/23/17 8:24 AM as a reply to ivory.
ivory:
I've heard people talk about ethics and morality in Buddhism but it really doesn't make sense to me. It could be how I was raised but I don't understand why anyone would want to hurt anyone else. This is so deeply rooted in my psyche that it makes no sense to even make a thing out of morality.

I am a white guy. Telling me to practice morality or to be kind is like telling me to practice being white. It literally doesn't even compute.

Maybe I am missing something about morality training.

Another way to look at morality is like this: Is this action helping me to become enlightened and end craving and suffering? Yes or No?

So for instance, last night I went and saw the movie Get Out (fun movie!). But I could have spent those two hours meditating and that would have been better for my goal of ending suffering. So under this rubric, going to see the movie was bad morality. 

The traditional Buddhist 5 precepts are:

1. No killing living creatures 
2. No stealing
3. No sexual misconduct
4. No incorrect speach ( no lying, no gossipping, no idle chatter, no harsh words towards others)
5. No drinking or drugs

And then 3 more for periods of intense meditation

6. No eating after noon
7. No singing, dancing, music, or going to see entertainments
8. No sleeping on a luxurious bed

Now in my daily life I break all of these except for stealing and sexual misconduct depending on your definition (sex outside marriage? masturbation? Porn?), but I can see how following them, which I do on retreat, is helpful to meditative practice. 

We can also add more to the list -- spend too much time on the internet or your smart phone? Is that helping you meditate or is it rewiring your brain for instant gratification? Arguing about politics? Helpful or hurtful to your meditation practice? 2 cups of coffee? Helpful or hurtful?

As you can see morality is a huge topic, and why it is called the first and last training. Because it is a practice that you will spend your whole lifetime trying to perfect. 

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
3/23/17 11:44 AM as a reply to Jinxed P.
The precepts make sense from a practice perspective, a health perspective, and a "don't be an asshole" perspective.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
4/1/17 3:29 AM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
Hi Bruno, coming late to the thread; I am sorry for the hardship you had, I had something similar many years ago. I think you'd enjoy reading Bill Hamilton's (Daniel's and Kenneth's teacher) excellent book Saints & Pyschopaths, if you have not done so yet (out of print, http://www.buddhistische-gesellschaft-berlin.de/downloads/saints-and-psychopaths.pdf has PDF), he describes his own experience quite well and has the clarity to reflect on it. I'd think something like this is less likely to happen with internet and the possibility to find references of other people easily, but it is apparently not so. Good luck.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
4/1/17 3:30 PM as a reply to Eudoxos ..
Heh, yeah, funnily enough I read Saints and Psychopaths after the events described above, precisely because the title made me think it would be useful. It was somewhat useful. As I recall, I recognized the feeling of having been taken for a ride, but I wasn't completely convinced about the "saints" part of the book. Though I have to admit my memory is somewhat dim.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
4/3/17 2:17 AM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
There are real saints in this world. I have had the good fortune to meet and work with some of them, both in India and in the US in some of the ER's I have worked in. Truly kind, truly humble, truly dedicated to the service of others and to making this world a better place, word by word, deed by deed, and day by day. They are not always that noticeable, though some definitely are.

I have worked with a few of them for years at my current job, and never seen them be anything but kind and helpful regardless of the degree of adverse circumstances, and we see some pretty adverse circumstances here. We get screamed at, attacked, spit at, vomited on, harrassed, and the like on a daily basis. We see death and distruction. We see severe suffereing both physical and mental, as well as some terrible reactions to that suffering. The saints I get to work with handle it like superstars, though, again, were you not paying attention, you might miss it, as they don't all stand out.

I also worked with a few true saints at Calcutta Rescue during my 5 months there, as well as in Bodh Gaya and the outlying villages during my 7 months there.

These are the living examples I try to emulate and learn from for my own training in Morality.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
4/4/17 6:07 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Sorry Daniel, this turned out to be rather long reply, but it lead to an issue that I really care about.

Some more personal history

I do know of some people who seem to be naturally and effortlessly benign. I am not such a person.

I have in the past tried to be a good person, but it seems to lead to me becoming a self-righteous asshole. I started thinking that I was somehow superior to others, maybe because of making such a big effort to be good. I started emitting this weird holy-man vibe, and as a result people would come to me for relationship and life advice (!), which I would "generously" provide. At the time a recent acquaintance would say, of me, that it seemed that I didn't belong to "this world", that I was somehow "above" the drama of real life. I started doing twisted rationalizations of my own emotions (which didn't seem like rationalizations at the time, obviously).

I.e., it was a ghoulish mimicry.

After realizing I was doing this, I could see that other people in the meditation world were doing similar things (e.g. Goenka). Somehow it seemed to me that, looking at the people with a naturally benevolent nature, they didn't get there by practicing. That is certainly true in all the examples I know from experience.


I became a much better and saner person when I stopped trying to be a good person. I concluded that, at least as far as I am concerned, morality is mostly a matter of coercion and restraint: forcing myself down a professional path where I must inevitably contribute in some positive way towards society; verbally and publicly comitting myself to doing something which I don't feel like doing, but which I know will help some other person; not taking what I want if it hurts someone else in the process; not abusing someone just because I don't like them. Stuff like that. I have come to appreciate how morality, for me at least, is borne more out of sacrifice than out of spontaneous action.

Although of course this is still working on morality, it feels more like cutting my losses, and trying to do the best I can in a shitty situation, than trying to emulate the people I know who are naturally benevolent.

And maybe you can understand, given my personal history, how I would be naturally suspicious of the idea of trying to emulate that kind of thing. Maybe this is also a concern for you? Or maybe you are not wired for narcisism like I seem to be?

With less friendliness, but perhaps more incisiveness (which I hope you can handle), I could sarcastically ask: So, did you succeed in emulating these people? Are you now also a saint? Maybe after 10000+ hours of practice you will finally become a saint?


The magickal trap problem

I get the feeling that there are many problematic issues around this topic... but here is one that worries me a lot: let's call it the "magickal trap" problem.

I am still frightened at the following prospect: Suppose my holyness-trip would have gone far enough, that I had labored hard enough within my mind, that I had established within it the firm perception that "yes, indeed I am saint", or, to put it in terms that made sense at the time, that I had established within my mind the firm perception that "I am free of malice and sorrow".

I believe that, had that point arrived, I personally, being who I am, and not necessarily making such a claim in the name of anyone else (but not denying the innuendo, either), I would have become an irrecoverably worse person. Whatever my actions might be, I would always be able to interpret them as coming from a place of friendliness and good intentions, which would make me immune to various forms of external criticism. I have come close to this point, as I described by now several times on this thread, so I know that this is an actual danger for me. The reports I've obtained of Richard's behavior seem to indicate that this is his everyday reality. 

To put it in terms which you are currently fond of: if I were ever to believe myself to be well-meaning in such an absolute sense, that would be an extremely powerful act of magick, and as such could well ensure that the events happening in my life would do nothing but confirm that very same view, leaving me trapped in a place where I think I am a great guy, either solipsitically, or together with the poor souls who are going along for the ride, and made me their object of veneration. From my own experience, I am sure that many people who are called 'saints' are doing precisely this. I only dipped my toe around this territory and already my friends started treating me like a guru.

I am reminded of a thread here where Tarin maintained that he is free from malice, despite his own friends being of the opinion that he sometimes was selfish or cruel. He managed to hold on to this view, despite external observations to the contrary, by way of a mental trick: the people who were telling him that he had had feelings, had themselves feelings, and (quote) an account concomitant with those factors is deeply unreliable. I.e. they weren't capable observers, but he was, so his own view was necessarily the correct one. A magickal act if there ever was one. 


This problem is one of the reasons why I like to think of meditation as being purely about causing changes in perception. If we want to use meditative techniques to change other things, which I suppose is legitimate, then I feel that the above magickal trap problem needs to be addressed. I have never managed to address it satisfactorily myself, so nowadays I avoid any approach to morality that isn't based on common-sense.

Like I said, I care deeply about this topic. I understand it may be a bit of a niche interest within the meditation community itself, but I really think it's important and should see more light. I think that the consequences of not addressing this are widespread.

I would welcome any insight on this from anyone who understands what the problem is.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
4/4/17 8:56 AM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
That's a thought-provoking post, Bruno.

As I see it, socialization creates a split in us. There's the way we "should" be (loving and generous and so on), and the way we "shouldn't" be (hostile and selfish and the like). This split happens naturally in early life.

But if you reinforce this split with spiritual practices, you get this phenomenon of the saint with the psychopathic shadow. And no doubt that "saint's" thought processes would exemplify your "magical trap" problem.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
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4/4/17 10:45 AM as a reply to Derek2.
Yes, that is the direction it felt I was going. This is one reason why I generally am more fond of authors (such as Daniel Ingram and Kenneth Folk) who are clear and explicit about the existence of their own shadow side. And why I would be very hesitant in embarking on a quest to get rid of it.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
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4/4/17 11:29 AM as a reply to ivory.
There was a really good reply posted it but it was deleted. I saw the reply in my email but didn't get a chance to respond. Bummer.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
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4/4/17 12:00 PM as a reply to ivory.
Sorry, that reply might have been mine... as a noobie I suddenly saw myself posting with my full name and panicked a little ;)

Here it is again:

Zen is a bit of a special beast, and it lies in its nature that the development of cult-like qualities is nurtured a bit more in this tradition than in others. On the other hand, it can also be easy to be mislead to regard some aspects, which are simply aspects of Zen practice, as cult like qualities.


Book recommendation: https://www.amazon.com/Empty-Mirror-Experiences-Japanese-Monastery/dp/0312207743 That's the first book in a three part series about a Zen practicioner of the first hour, experiencing it all. Authentic Japanese Zen in the 60s in Japan from the perspective of someone who barely speaks the language, a cult like Zen lineage in the US in part two (I somehow skipped that one), and reflections on a history of failed practice in book three. Anyone interested in Zen should give those books a go, they are excellent (and I will give the one I missed a go as soon as I find some time).

After reading your post, and your experiences, and how you relate them, I personally come out in full support of Zen in this particular case: What you describe here does not resemble a cult, it resembles classical Zen teaching, done in a Japanese manner. Few words, and quite a bit of "figure it out for yourself by banging your head against the wall"

That's just what Zen is. When you go into the practice expecting something else, then you will have a bad time. Which it seems you had. That is regrettable, but seems more like an issue of compatibility, lack of good communication, and mistaken expectations than one of "cult issues".

>One teacher did a number of things that pissed me off.

And? That is something which is usually not indicative of a cult.

>First, she told me to stand up straight during walking meditation without telling me why.

Which is not indicative of a cult. Proper posture is important in Zen practice though. If you are interested, you yourself can research why that is the case, or I can give you an explanation. What happened here was typical Zen teaching. Terse, confrontational, and right to your point of strongest resistance.

>I don't take orders unless you have a damn good reason for why I should be doing something.

A teaching whose intent seems to have flown right over your head. Zen consists exclusively in doing things without having a good reason for doing them. That is the point. Why do you sit down on a cushion and stare at the center of the room (or the wall, if you do that other kind of Zen)? Why to you make nonsense-stories the center of your life? Why do you walk while some other guy claps with sticks? Why do you recount syllables whose meaning you might not even know?

With ongoing practice, one can get good answers to those questions. But those are achievements you unlock, not something that benefits you when it is explained. At least that seems to be a common Zen stance on that matter. When you go into practice expecting something else... that is not going to work out well.

> I felt as if I was one big walking talking ego that had no right to exist. 

Again: That is the point. That is why Zen is so full of rules and regulations that will consume and dominate every moment of your practice. It is supposed to be that way. You are meant to swallow them, chew on them, resist them, fight them, eventually drop all resistance, and in dropping that drop yourslef. When practricing Zen you have no right to exist. That is the heart and soul of this particular tradition.

>Lastly, the practice often resembled self-denial.

As you might have seen from my previous comments: That's putting it mildly. The center of Zen, as is the center of most Buddhist traditions, is attainment of selflessness. In order to attain that, you attempt to drop desires and aversions while you practice,  and ultimately drop yourself in the process.

When you are annoyed, then that points toward desires or aversions. And when rules annoy you, then that problem is not with the rules. The problem is with your resistance against them. Luckily, when sitting on a cushion, there is a lot of time to work through all of that, bang your head against it, and then stop doing that once you have done that enough.

>"Most people's attitude toward spiritual practice is 'what's in it for me?'" My response to that is so fucking what? What's the alternative? 

Do the practice, then you will find out. That's the only good answer. That annoys you? Good. Locate the resistance and let it go. That annoys you even more? Great, so many opportunities for learning!

Okay, okay, brefore I get banned during my fist post, I should be more reasonable I suppose. "Compassion", is one common answer. That's a good, common, and productive motivation for spiritual practice. Not to get something for yourself, but to finally figure out why there is a lot of shit in this world, and how you might be able to help out.

My personal personal one, in case of Zen, is a little different: Universal respect for all that exists. I think Zen very much breathes this kind of attitude, and when you breathe the practice and the atmosphere, I think it's rather easy to "get it". Spiritual practice is just an expression of that attitude toward everything, which you deepen and cultivate, in order to be able to do a better job at expressing it.

>I also wonder if it's common for Zen teachers to be on the not-so-friendly end of the spectrum.

Probably. Though that might again be a mix of Japanese culture, and Zen in particular: Even excessive friendliness is stripped away to the bare minimum of what is necessary. That avoids confusion. It doesn't allow you to be lax, or slack off on form, because the teacher is friendly and mild about their criticism. You don't get the impression that they don't really mean it, or that form is not that important. But it can turn you off, when you don't have a clear idea about what to expect.

That being said, I have not met many Zen teachers personally, but all of those few were extremely friendly.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
4/5/17 9:27 AM as a reply to Wollff.
Heya Wollff,

I hear people apologizing for my bad experience and my response to that is don't. I didn't have a bad experience. I question the way they did things and sometimes they pissed me off. No big deal.

You can call my anger resistance if you will, and sometimes I recognize it as such, but other times I let my resistance be until the unconscious becomes conscious. That can take a while. Also, not a big deal.

I'm not sure I articulated my primary complaint very well. This particular Zen center was unique. They put a lot of emphasis on developing strong, healthy egos.

However, a strong healthy ego requires boundaries and self-efficacy. How can you have a strong, healthy ego if you let someone tell you what to do?

When I say, "hello no" to an authority figure. That's where this is coming from.

One other thing I've wondered bowing, incense, robes, and altars? First of all, we live in the west (at least I do). Second of all, what does that have to do with waking up?

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
4/5/17 9:42 AM as a reply to Wollff.
Wollff:

Again: That is the point. That is why Zen is so full of rules and regulations that will consume and dominate every moment of your practice. It is supposed to be that way. You are meant to swallow them, chew on them, resist them, fight them, eventually drop all resistance, and in dropping that drop yourslef. When practricing Zen you have no right to exist. That is the heart and soul of this particular tradition.


Sounds like a teaching style designed to emulate what reality is already doing. Reality is always showing you that you have no control. Why would one need a teacher to kick them around when reality does a fine job of that anyways?

I personally have been through dark night. And that was essentially the lesson I learned. To surrender.

Wollff:

Proper posture is important in Zen practice though


I'd like to hear more about this.

Lastly, I'm not saying that Zen has no merit. I find a lot of similarities between my own practice and what one would learn from a Zen teacher. I'd like to have a teacher but Zen is a "hell no" for me. Unfortunately, Zen is the only option in my area.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
4/5/17 12:27 PM as a reply to ivory.
I hear people apologizing for my bad experience and my response to that is don't. I didn't have a bad experience. I question the way they did things and sometimes they pissed me off. No big deal.

No worries. It's the empathetic kind of "It's a bit of a bummer that you were pissed off as a result"-sorry, not the "accept my excuse, because I kind of feel responsible in some nebolous way"-sorry.

I'm not sure I articulated my primary complaint very well. This particular Zen center was unique. They put a lot of emphasis on developing strong, healthy egos.

However, a strong healthy ego requires boundaries and self-efficacy. How can you have a strong, healthy ego if you let someone tell you what to do?

When I say, "hello no" to an authority figure. That's where this is coming from.

I think that's just a question of time and place. I think a good Zen teacher should not demand of you that you lay down your personality all the time. A healthy personality which is carried by strong boundaries and self-efficacy is a really useful thing to have, which you need in your everyday life. The fact that the Zen center you visited seemed to recognize that need, seems also like one more point on the "not quite that culty"-side of the scoreboard to me.

Where Zen practice comes in, is in the view that such a personality becomes even better when you can freely lay it down whenever it is necessary. In Zen you practice that. That opens the door to all sorts of cultish potential, and for abuse of authority, while at the same time being strong practice.

In the Zendo, can you freely just follow the order which the Zen master gives and be done with it? Or, even in the Zendo, can you freely just not follow the order the Zen master gives you, and be done with it? If you can do either, that is probably an okay answer from a Zen perspective. Bonus points for any answer you can come up with in which you can embody respect and compassion at the same time (hint: when it disturbs other people's practice and gets you thrown out, it is not a good answer).

One other thing I've wondered bowing, incense, robes, and altars? First of all, we live in the west (at least I do). Second of all, what does that have to do with waking up?
They are tools for practice. There is a certain attitude which is practiced in Zen in regard to bowing, incense, robes and altars. It's not so much the objects or the activities that are important, it's the attitude of respect and worship in which you face them that is the point of the practice. Practicing with this kind of attitude is easy to do with symbols that are easy to respect, like an altar with a Buddha statue, or an activity which symbolizes devotion, like bowing.

The point is that this is an attitude you should carry outward: Ultimately everything you do is worthy of the same attention, and everything you face is worthy of the same devotion and the same respect as the altar in the Zendo because, as the Zen people might put it: "Everything is Buddha"

Sounds like a teaching style designed to emulate what reality is already doing. Reality is always showing you that you have no control. Why would one need a teacher to kick them around when reality does a fine job of that anyways?
But every style of practice that has any sort of practice is doing exactly that. If reality is always exactly showing you everything you need to know anyway, why practice anything? If, from birth to death, you always perfectly well know that you have no control, why are we here talking about Zen? Why have you visited a Zendo? Why do you sit down to meditate? Or pay attention to a meditation object? Why any practice at all?

Do you see the problem? We are in a forum full of gals and guys who regularly sit down in order to give their minds the kick they need, in order to recognize reality a little more clearly and in order to get that little reminder that we really really are not in control. Reality on its own does not always reliably manage to get through, especially when we are too comfortable. Then you feel in control. And free. And joyful. Until someone gives you a gently nudge, tells you to get out of your slouch and practice properly. The bullshit card house crashes down, and you feel pissed off. Sometimes it's the job of a distinclty uncomfortable reality in a monastic lifestyle (or a retreat) to help with that, which is a reality with lots of silence, lots of meditation, and, maybe, a teacher thrown in to add some spice to the mix.

I personally have been through dark night. And that was essentially the lesson I learned. To surrender.

For me that is a lesson that needs a lot of daily repetition. I wouldn't say it's a lesson I learned. That sounds like something that you do once, and then are done with. It's less of "a lesson I learned" than "a practice I found" for me.

Wollff:

Proper posture is important in Zen practice though


I'd like to hear more about this.

Maybe I nurtured too strong expectations here, but it's the same spiel all over again: Posture as a symbol of facing practice with respect, and as a means of letting go of any discomfort that arises within that rigid formal framework.

In Zen that finds its culmination with Shikantaza, where posture and the act of "just sitting" is basically your meditation object.

Lastly, I'm not saying that Zen has no merit. I find a lot of similarities between my own practice and what one would learn from a Zen teacher. I'd like to have a teacher but Zen is a "hell no" for me. Unfortunately, Zen is the only option in my area.


No worries, it didn't come off like that. I have a deep love-hate relationship with Zen. My main point is that what you have experienced, at first sight at least, sounds more like a typical example of Zen practice, than a "cultish" variant of practice, which Zen certainly has, and is very open to.

And I can fully understand anyone who says: "Hell no", to Zen. It's a very strange beast, that one.

RE: Is Zen a cult?
Answer
4/5/17 2:16 PM as a reply to Wollff.
Thanks for the response. You articulated that very well.