Sunday, February 20, 2011

Silence = Death

Martin Niemöller was a German protestant pastor with balls. Niemöller is probably best remembered for the following quotation:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Over time, the quote was embellished to include Jehovah’s Witness, Catholics, Communists, and homosexuals. Niemöller was late finding his balls, because during the rise of Nazism in Germany, he remained silent and eventually spent 7 years in a concentration camp. But his quote is instructive nonetheless to show how ignorance and persecution gains strength and influence when good people remain silent.

Eighteenth century Irish writer and historian Edmund Burke famously made two very prescient observations: First, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” And second, “Among a people generally corrupt, liberty cannot long exist.”

Both Nathan at Dangerous Harvests and Kyle at The Reformed Buddhist have brought to light a bill under development in Arizona that seeks to ban the use of “foreign law” within the state under the penalty of impeachment. Among the usual suspects in the litany of “foreign law” is Sharia law. As if that wasn’t stupid enough, the bill also seeks to ban “karma.”

That’s right – they want to ban “karma” and anyone citing “karma” or allowing it to be introduced as a legal strategy could be impeached.

Who are these people? Do they really think that karma is a statute written on paper somewhere and that it has legal precedence in certain “foreign” courts? Karma is no more a statute than the “law” of gravity. The sheer ignorance of it all would be laughable if it wasn’t so fucking scary!

Then Arun at Angry Asian Buddhist, as well as John Pappas with an article at Elephant Journal, reveal how residents in Johnson County Kansas are seeking to block a Buddhist group from moving its temple because they fear animal sacrifices will go on there. I’m not kidding – animal sacrifices!

Again, the sheer ignorance of these people would be hilarious if it weren’t for the fact that they scare the shit out of me. That they believe or even think they can get away with lying that Buddhism includes animal sacrifices among its rituals is so astounding that I wonder if the end of the world really is coming soon. Because the tide is evident when you consider that the governor of Wisconsin is trying his damndest to gut the unions in that state and set back more than 100 years of labor law and advances that began in Wisconsin to the benefit of workers everywhere in the country.

I’m all ears. Someone guide me on what to do. Who do I need to send a letter to? Who do I email?

Silence = Death.


  1. I would crack jokes if it weren't so freaking crazy. The karma thing is just off the wall but it seems (and I have little experience with temples) that Buddhist groups have to literally jump through hoop to allow their sangha to grow. Wlanut CA, Utica NY and now Kansas just block them in an overly racist attempt to game the system.

    Now I would not be so uppity if the same standard was applied to all religious practices but it simply isn't. In the cases of Utica, argument over the size of the statue of Kwan Um should have been moot since a statue of the Virgin Mary was larger and in the same neighborhood.

    Statements in Walnut stated that crowds would be a concern but when the Buddhist group reapplied with those considerations accounted for they were denied again. This time they took it to state supreme court and it was ruled in their favor.

    And this hogwash in Kansas over animal sacrifices and parking is just blatant racism. Other churches in the area have larger congregations and I am sure the local Catholic pig-roast is more of an animal sacrifice than anything you may find at a Buddhist temple.

    The worst part, the absolute clincher, is that when people (Buddhists) speak up against it other Buddhist tell them to STFU!

    I don't know if letters to state or community legislators matter if you are not a member of the community. I recall that Kyle got some threatening letters back from Walnut when he asked and I had all of my comments removed from the Utica paper's website b.c I questioned the racism that was blatant in their community.

    Best thing to do is to blog, tweet, facebook and stumble. It gets the awareness out there at least...before it walks into our own backyard.

    Our own little Rapid City sangha is small but growing, I have little doubt that we would hit some grassroots opposition if we started to suggest building an actual zendo.


  2. You know, my first teacher at the temple near Lansing, Mich., actually told some visitors arriving at the temple, "don't worry, we don't sacrifice animals here." I thought it was kind of a joke, but ferchristsakes, now I see this ignorance and bigotry is fer real.

  3. It's all pretty amazing. Seems like these ugly shadows are coming out of the woodwork at the same time. The zoning cases are getting commonplace, which is pretty sad. And it seems like these posts are generating some attention from people who support these bigoted, racist efforts. Kyle's gotten some shit. I've had an uptick in dealing with push back myself.

    It's been fascinating to watch people defend Genpo's decades of misbehavior, raise the fake specter of a radical Islamic takeover, and also be personally called "divisive" for stating what should be an obvious racist energy behind that Arizona bill. All in the past two weeks.

    Puts all the more clearer Buddha's emphasis on ignorance. It's truly endless and bottomless it seems.

  4. It's more than just ignorance, it's willful ignorance, it's an intentional act to avoid understanding and to find ways to remove the deceit. And unfortunately, Buddhism and Buddhists is and are not immune. The gay community has its apologists as well. Thanks for digging this stuff up Nathan.

  5. Part 1

    "The worst part, the absolute clincher, is that when people (Buddhists) speak up against it other Buddhist tell them to STFU!"

    This is my issue right now. A stand has to be made. We each do it in our own ways according to our abilities. There is no problem for me to stand up against any sort of organized or unorganized idiocy by bigots, misogynists, homophobes etc. and that is because it is their ignorance talking. And when borderline newby Buddhists suggest "not right speech" that is also not too difficult to deal with.

    And I don't expect other Buddhists to agree with my opinion, set of actions or world view. I explain my attitudes, ideas and the issues as I know them to the best of my ability. And they are not set in concrete. If someone has reasons why they disagree I am happy to hear them because I don't believe I have all the information in the world on every single subject or issue there is. That would be stupid in the extreme. Obviously.

    But when I see those who've had decades of practice advocate exactly this same thing, that STFU approach, it becomes disheartening. And even moreso when they make it personal.

    As a woman on the internet too there is an added misogyny that is all too recognizable as well. Let the men take care of this little lady-some asshole "Buddhist" actually called me sweetheart at the end of such a diatribe on Twitter a while back.

    There is often just as much ignorance in Buddhaville (or should I call it Hooterville?) as there is in the general public.

    Those who try to alleviate that, by one means or another, get shot at with everything from anti-intellectualism, misogyny, homophobia veiled as crass humor, twisted interpretations of anything and everything they've written, unfounded classist remarks, faked up accusations and all manner of personal smears. And not by one or two people but by a mob. Example-I made a point with which several people disagreed. 11 good "Buddhist" men immediately began mocking not only the point but myself personally. They did not deign to question me personally or even consider that I might have wanted to discuss the matter. Instead I became an "object" of their derision. Some of these I had never interacted with at any time and didn't know me from Adam (or is that Eve). And some of these I had interacted with on quite friendly terms many times. The term for that kind of activity is an Internet gang-bang. Many of these were experienced practitioners, some with blogs we all read, you know ... the good guys. But I'm not out to name and shame.

    Now I don't expect everyone to agree with me, nor do I expect congratulations of any kind. I do expect some amount of flak every time I express myself. (and I know I'll get it for what I've written here too--just watch and wait for it) In fact I am sometimes deliberately inflammatory in my remarks. I will push the envelop. And I've taken the time to think long and hard about where those boundaries are with everything I say. But there are some lines I absolutely do not cross.


  6. Part 2

    But back to the point. Buddhists need to stand up for themselves. And not have to constantly worry about getting fragged by their own ranks because of personal grudges.

    The Genpo situation is a case in point. Many who signed that letter are blatantly hypocritical in their opinions. Some have offered Big Mind workshops at their own facilities to help pay costs. Others have had affairs with him that went sour and they are vindictive. Others have stood by for years and simply done nothing while it all unfolded. And now they issue this list of "demands" for that is how it is worded, that he must comply with to be readmitted into their esteemed ranks as if their effluvium don't stink to the sky. And they are trying to make some psychotherapist an arbiter of morality which is utterly ridiculous. But then again since they have all abrogated their responsibilities in that arena they need to set up a scapegoat in case of future problems.

    If they really cared about helping they'd have done something a lot sooner, not profited over his efforts, however dubious they may be and they wouldn't be making en masse public demands that have such a belittling tone to them. They want to humiliate and punish him, not correct his behavior, not to serve the dharma, not to assist the victims...none of that has any bearing nor is it even mentioned but as a sideline. It's all about intent there. And the intent is pretty clear-personal revenge. They don't call it the "Zen Mafia" (John Tarrant's term) for nothing.

    As you said Richard "Again, the sheer ignorance of these people would be hilarious if it weren’t for the fact that they scare the shit out of me."

    This is the reason I closed my blog. The backlash I was receiving from "Buddhists",(I can take any amount of abuse from others fairly unfazed), reached such a point that I've gone to the trouble of taking much of my personal information off of various sites which I participated in as well. Do I expect too much from Buddhists? Perhaps I have been a little too optimistic. Apparently I have to use the same strategies and methods that I use for doing activist activities with blatant bigots and other outrightly willfully ignorant people. But you know I'd rather just discuss the issues and not do battle all the time everywhere. It makes you tired after a while. And it takes away time and energy from real issues that need addressing or at least need some kind of pushback such as the situations above.

    I'd rather be spending my time writing letters to politicians or organizing online campaigns against this kind of stupidity than continually being called to justify myself by those who presume some kind of Buddhist privileged authority over me, and not only on Buddhist matters but on anything I say about anything. I'm tired of being told to STFU not only by idiots but also by those who I would prefer to discuss these issues with. If I have to take them on with a full frontal assault nothing good would come of it for me, for them or for the mahasangha. There are times to do that, such as with the sexual scandals and with those in authority who show little regard for the mahasangha, Buddhadharma in general or other practitioners. And there are times to remain silent, even in disagreement, since to speak would be of no benefit to anyone. Yes there are ego kicks and lulz to be had pissing on others but they are short lived and need to be constantly rebooted at higher levels to remain effective. The addiction of trolling one might call it. I realize that so restraint has been my watchword for the past year or so very deliberately.

    All in all there are much bigger issues between Buddhists and the world and between Buddhists themselves to be dealt with. Petty ego battles aren't worth derailing that. And that's what STFU often comes down to.

    Sorry Richard this is but the edge of my frustration appearing.

  7. This is one of the reasons I stayed off Twitter. Because it's so easy to get into a personalized slam-fest on there. Blog post discussions that have the ability to be moderated or at least are somewhat time dependent bleed into Twitter, where people can zap each other over and over again.

    There is plenty of willful ignorance in Buddhist circles, and it's quite challenging when faced with so much of it at the same time. I had to stop writing about the teacher scandals because I got into a conversation with another long term member of my sangha, who went through the mess we had there. He offered the apologist "forgive and move on" line, and I about lost it. It really threw me because I didn't expect it coming. And I saw how much the denials online had impacted me.

    Nella Lou, I can understand that frustration, and also that sense of some optimism about Buddhists getting smashed again and again. It reminds me of a talk a visiting teacher once gave at our center where he spoke about swimming with the waves of life on the surface, while also having a foot touching the buddhanature energy beneath. As one with a lot of social activist energy, I keep going back to that, because when I'm out of touch with those depths, exhaustion and bitterness always come.

    But I do think some of your posts have had a positive impact on others, Nella Lou, even amongst all the noise. Is dealing with all the noise worth it? I don't know. Wish I did, but I just don't.

  8. Thanks Nathan. I was on the verge there for a moment.

    No matter where, there is noise to deal with. Trolls/griefers/haters I have really tried to give any self-declared Buddhists a pass from that categorization. Benefit of the doubt. But no longer. Not bitterness but there's a reality to be faced there for me. So I'm coming to terms with that.

    I will am writing in other venues now which are not affected by this particular blind spot of mine. Will get back to the Buddhist writing when I have incorporated that into the entire perspective. The main reason is that people have been so very kind to me in their expressions of appreciation. I helped them, they helped me and none of it from a point of view of expectation or entitlement. Simple human sharing. That's worth dealing with all the noise.

  9. @NellaLou, no need to apologize! One of the basic tenets of Buddhism is refuge. We find refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. And if you can find some refuge here in my blog, I am honored to provide it :)

  10. Thank you Richard. I kind of let this go a bit because I feel safe with you. (and with the other commenters thus far also-so you guys know too) You provide that kind of environment, accepting and open. It is really appreciated.