Wednesday, December 28, 2011

“Next Question” please


about being gay and Buddhist

originally publsihed October 23, 2006


Here is the remnant of a tired, oppressive conversation that just refuses to die. It runs something like this: despite what anyone says and despite any appearances to the contrary, we queer folk are really OK. Believe me--I really, absolutely, don’t have to wear a dress.


I went to the website of the Gay Buddhist Fellowship in Singapore a few weeks ago, and clicked on a link to a talk by the Venerable George. There we were, stuck again, and this time nailed by the authority of the Dalai Lama:


“When the Dalai Lama was in the US, a lot of journalist likes[sic] to ask him about his views on gay monks and gay Buddhists. He told them, ‘Some are monogamous and some are predatory, just like heterosexuals, next question?’”


And then I was subjected to some pious words about how great it is to have bad karma because it gives us so many opportunities to practice. My heart sank.


There’s nothing objectionable in the short quote from His Holiness, or George’s answer--I am certain George exactly matched the nuance of the questioner. I’ve met George and found him an engaging, balanced, and well trained monk. But the sole focus on the prohibitory precepts leaves so little room for the expansiveness of practice that a gay person’s spiritual life could die before it begins to breathe on its own. The reality is that, for most queer folk, being predatory has never been a concern--being subjected to a peculiar set of sexual judgements, however, seems to be part and parcel of our lives.


This myopic view is frustrating, and if I take it to heart, I could be outraged or offended. The never-ending cycle of sexual considerations is never satisfied which is not surprising. But more troubling, it does not point to liberation.


It really is time for a “new question,” and let’s get creative and redirect our energy and practice to re-frame the entire conversation.


I want to step back and try a different portal -- Art!


Watching Ric Burn’s PBS documentary Andy Warhol, I felt that I understood Warhol, his gayness, his art, his insight, in an entirely new way. And in the same moment, I also saw one of my Buddhist heroes, Issan "Tommy" Dorsey, as never before--again unexpected. Although I had known and lived with Issan in the last three years of his life, confident that I had fully experienced his zen, art opened another door.


And this became the place where I began to dig into myself to explore sexuality and practice.


At eight Warhol wrote a fan letter to Shirley Temple, she returned a signed photograph, and he wanted to be Shirley. The commentator said this began his fascination with ‘fame’ -- not his homosexuality. He began his Marilyn Monroe series on the night she died. His self-portrait in drag shows a connection so deep that we begin to see how his portraits of Monroe allow us to see her in an unexpected way, a glimpse that would have remained hidden without his art.












[I spent the better part of two days in 2002 at the Warhol Retrospective at MOCA LA. It was almost overwhelming to see so much of his work together. I am going to post some of the work I saw here. Online can only give a taste of its power.]










Was there ever a question that Warhol was not gay? Of course not. Was there ever a possibility that he could be other than gay? I’m not going to waste time with a really dumb question. Can this apply to gay men who aren’t effeminate and don’t do drag? Of course. Just sit down and begin to see who we really are, say who we really are, and we won’t waste the Dalai Lama’s time either.


In the “real” world, “passive” men, a word often used to describe Warhol, get chewed up and spit out. At major openings where he was definitely the star, he tended to fade into the background. But he missed nothing, observing, recording, understanding who people were, what made them tick, seeing their deepest needs. Then he used the simplest, most straight forward means that he’d mastered--photography, silkscreen, printmaking--and we saw a depth and detail to the people and objects in our world that we never would have noticed if left to our own devices.





Issan Dorsey was no wall flower. He loved to perform, to make people feel at home, to laugh-- far different than the reports of Warhol’s being stand-offish. Warhol’s drag was an artistic, perhaps personal, experiment. Issan loved drag as a spectacle, even beauty, though undoubtedly it was connected to understanding himself.



I knew Issan’s spontaneous humor first hand. It was genuine and infectious. We are told that Warhol could be funny at times, with friends. I have a feeling that Andy was guarded, or that the people around him as he ascended the celebrity ladder protected him in much the same way that they protected him from drugs. Issan too had a small army of fierce protectors. I know several of the temple guards personally. He welcomed their good intentioned efforts when he needed them, but he kept a large arsenal of one liners to fend them off when best intentions became meddlesome and oppressive.



Both men had complicated relationships with drugs, their own drug use and that of their addicted friends. Warhol said publicly that a half of a diet pill was enough for him. Issan loved drugs, but took great care to check that appetite for the sake of his practice. Both were comfortable with drug users and did not shy away from any part of the drug scene. Both men saw lovers and important people in their lives overdose and die. Both, in some ways, preferred the downbeat company of druggies to the polished world of art collectors, museum curators, high-church Buddhists, or the “A-Gay List.” I saw Issan totally at home in both worlds, with anyone and everyone in the room, blending discordant personalities, and invisibly negotiating ancient animosities. I talked with him on several occasions where I felt as if he were walking with me through the dangerous mine fields of my own mind, easing my own fears.



Paying attention to details, being interested in others with no judgment or preconceptions, all point to an ability to get inside someone else's skin with compassion and love (and I am thinking particularly of the dark places that we try to hide). Does it come from sharing a deep sense of being an outcast? Does it originate in “passive” observation? Is it transmitted by the gay gene as well as working with skilled teachers?


I have no answers. There are no easy answers. But this exploration is far more interesting to me than checking myself against standards of sexual conduct which prejudice gay men and women.


I will sit, I will look at art, and I will make art.


No matter how repetitious they may appear, each can of Campbell soup is a unique experience. What can be more Buddhist?








For those with eyes to see, let them open to our ordinary world.
































To read more reflections about the life of Issan, see some photographs, read his dharma talks, go to my Record of Issan page.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Robert Baker Aitken Roshi (June 19, 1917 – August 5, 2010)

Originally published August 14th, 2010

I would like to add my name to the list of Bob’s former students who are paying tribute to him. I would also like to extend to his son, Tom, my deep sympathy. I remember so well the time we first met, Tom. Your dad took Ken MacDonald and me aside after sesshin and said, “Do you two have time to fly out to Big Island and meet Tom, my gay son.” Ken and I did just that. I have a picture of the three of us standing on the fresh lava flow that stood about 3 or 4 feet high along the edge of your driveway in Kona. Though I never visited your dad in the cottage you built for him close to that same flow on the ocean side of your property, I knew that it had to be beautiful and fit his needs perfectly—as did your care for him during his last years.

But getting back to tributes, for me the most enduring way to memorialize Aitken Roshi is to honor and carry on his teaching. And so, Roshi, I thank you first for faithfully passing on the traditional koan Teaching to my teacher, John Tarrant, and the other teachers in your lineage. This is a great gift to the world, and in itself would be more than enough to command our admiration and respect.

But there is more. I also want to thank you for stepping outside the tradition where you saw the need, where the “System Stinks” as your sign proclaims. Your testimony in support of same-gender marriage before the Hawaiian Commission on Sexual Orientation and the Law in support of same-gender marriage (October 11, 1995) showed me your very down-to-earth understanding of the Way and its expression in our world. And when you agreed to allow me to revise your remarks and publish them during the “No on 8” campaign here in California not quite two years ago, with Tom acting as our intermediary, I learned another essential lesson—I had to make the dharma my own before I could embody and articulate it. Bob, I promise you that I will continue that work.


To honor your teaching, I have republished the piece we worked on together, “A Zen Master looks at Same-Gender Marriage.” (I am also including a link to the Spanish translation, Un Zen Master Enseña sobre el mismo Género Matrimonio). It is, as far as I know, the only published dharma teaching about same sex marriage by a Buddhist teacher of your stature. Thank you. We are all in your debt.


I know that you would have been delighted to know that your student Ian and his spouse Trevor were married on July 10th of this year in Canada. The ceremony they designed was very much in line with the form that you used for marriages in Diamond Sangha for years. Ian and Trevor may also be the first of many legally married same sex couples to pledge their love in the tradition of the Buddha Way that has been handled into our care. Your stand for the equality of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people is a part of your legacy that has touched all of us deeply.


For more information about Robert Aitken Roshi, his life, family and workhis Buddhist practice, the teachers in his lineage, or his writings, please visit the Robert Aitken Official Site, and the site of the Honolulu Diamond Sangha.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Kindergarten Theater of the Absurd

By my rough count, two years after Benedict's overture to disaffected Anglican/Episcopalian priests, about a 100 US Episcopalian parishes, priests, wives and congragations now affiliate with the church of Rome. There are another 50 priests in England, and 3 bishops.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Is there anything else behind Vatican’s announcement of a no-fault path to the one true church for disaffected Anglicans?

Bishop John Shelby Spong, who is one of my heroes, in what he calls Ecclesiastical Kindergarten Games in the Washington Post, October 22, 2009, put these words in mouth of Rowland Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury:

"Your Holiness,… we are very pleased to transfer to you these fringe members of our church who still define women as subhuman and who regard homosexual persons as deviant and abnormal. We hope they will be happy in a church like yours. We Anglicans, however, must move on to engage our modern world. In the spirit of our new relationship, in which each church is free to offer solace through an invitation to those in our respective communions whose consciences are disturbed, we offer this new ecumenical initiative. We invite all gay Roman Catholic clergy who are tired of hiding in dishonesty to become Anglicans. To ease their transition we will allow some Roman liturgies to be used. We also invite all those alienated Roman Catholic lay people who can no longer twist their minds into first-century pretzels in order to assent to dogmas that the intellectual revolution of the past 500 years has rendered unbelievable to come now into a Church where they can explore truth with minds not fettered by the myth of "divine revelation." We invite those lay people who believe in sexual equality and who have long favored both the marriage of clergy and the ordination of women to the priesthood to come to us so that they will no longer have to live with spiritual schizophrenia. We invite those Roman Catholics who choose to practice birth control as a moral choice in an overpopulated world and who can no longer tolerate being told that family planning is evil and therefore condemned by God, especially since they have no intention of refraining from doing it, to consider becoming Anglicans, which would mean that they could stop living a lie. We will also receive your clergy without the indignity of re-training or re-ordaining them. We might require them to undergo some classes in thinking for themselves, since they have had little experience in that, and we might ask them to undergo sensitivity training in human relations. In the western world we have learned that this kind of training is necessary both in business and in such things as police instruction to deal with entrenched prejudices."

I love Spong’s fire, and think he’s right on. But, trying to keep an open mind, I would love to see a transcript of last Saturday’s friendly chat between Ratzinger and Rowan. Other than the obvious power grab and numbers game that has overtaken compassion, love, and forgiveness as the principle focus of our ecclesial institutions, is there something worthy of interest?

In the run up to the meeting, Williams asked: "Is there a mechanism in the church that has the clear right to determine for all where the limits of Christian identity might be found? … Is the integrity of the church ultimately dependent on a single identifiable ministry of unity to which all local ministries are accountable?"

I don’t pay much attention to the high-sounding arguments of theologians of any bent. But the evidence on the ground answers Williams question with a resounding NO. Most of the compassionate work, listening to the inspiration of the Jesus teaching, caring for people in poverty, looking after people with HIV, happens outside Rome, outside the spooky voodoo of Papal oracles.

As a gay man, I find it somewhat interesting that Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, and the Anglican Oxford movement, seem to be at the center of the controversy coming to a head. John Henry, perhaps the patron saint of Benedict’s Anglican rehabilitation program, became a catholic, and eventually supported Pius IX’s aspirations for infallibility. Most commentators agree that Newman was gay, though most certainly celibate. Although arguments about higher authority have to happen outside the sexual context, they never do. In that sense I am firmly Freudian: Love your Daddy.

Oh Blessed John, you’d have had a hell of time getting a cardinal’s hat in this day and age if you ever showed any emotional interest in your younger men friends–which you did. Maybe you might not have even been ordained if you had not dedicated your considerable intellectual gifts to the support of the Papacy.

I doubt that Benedict played footsie with Rowland under the table in Rome last Saturday. Both are far too straight-laced. But make not mistake: being gay, or not being gay, or staying in the closet, is the background of all their high-minded theological debate.

I would be inclined to dismiss the whole sham as real theater of the absurd except for one issue that they avoided. Their manufactured crisis shifts the focus, and scrutiny, away from the racism, homophobia, and horrendous violation of human rights underway across the globe, but especially in Uganda where it is aided and abetted by the arch-conservative, catholic-leaning Anglican hierarchy. I wonder if these men—they are mostly men—have even read the testament of Jesus, much less taken it to heart.

If we are to avoid a repeat of the Rwandan tragedy in Uganda, this time with gay people being the scapegoats, the rest of the world has to be vigilant, ready to apply pressure and step in if necessary. A strong case can also be made that the reactionary Anglican clergy in Nigeria are turning a blind eye to corruption in that oil rich country. Benedict and Williams’s sideshow is distracting the world’s attention from these real situations. Because Rome and Canterbury are from rich countries, wear fancy clothes, and are so self-important, the press’s is not giving full attention to the dangerous situation in Uganda and Nigeria. I hope that these potentates aren’t intentionally malicious, but being self-centered and stupid is hard to excuse in dire circumstances.

All the self-identified Christians I know would answer to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s rhetorical question this way: there is no clear, ultimate authority to decide who can follow the teachings of Jesus and who is disqualified, especially by being gay or a woman priest. The real question that’s going to tell the Pope that he is not what he says he is, that he makes no real difference in any positive way. A strong case could be made that his myopic, narcissistic focus allows great evil to be sanctioned by some of G_d’s men.


Follow up

21 November, 2009, 4:26 PST BBC News
“The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope agreed to seek closer relations between Anglicans and Catholics at a meeting in Rome, the Vatican has said.”

Translation of the double speak: Williams backed down, at least publicly, and decided that it was probably the Christian, and no doubt gentlemanly, thing just to make nice, be polite and not ask embarrassing questions. The Pope didn’t give an inch and might have said something like, “Well Bill, lets see how many “souls” I pick up for the RC side come January after Levada finishes the final details for immediate, penalty free conversions. Oh, and by the way, are you free for drinks and dinner when I come to London to elevate Newman to sainthood?”

Another possible scenario was sketched out by Damian Thompson of the Telegraph.co.uk, “… They both know that it’s all over.” Given that this high level meeting to discuss the momentous challenges that face Christians today lasted a mere 20 minutes, Rowan might have, in a polite and gentlemanly way to be sure, blew off the pope and delivered something like Spong suggested. “Thanks for taking these meddlesome priests and bishops. Good luck.” I doubt if there was any appeal to a higher authority. Leave that to high-level apologists, who these days are all much less gifted and thoughtful than Newman who at least tired for cogency and clarity in his thinking.

A final note: A Rogue Gallery

A quick glance at the results of the photo ops: really bad haircuts and goofy outfits. Goggle Images filled out the gallery. These guys are out of central casting, or the same gene pool -- hard to figure with celibate clergy on the Roman side. Do these guys inspire anyone to obedience to a higher authority, or G_d forbid, some connection with the transcendent (or at least a Hollywood version of spirituality)?



Rowan, honey, you need to see your barber; really, you’re a mess. You look like you live in a cave. But the public certainly won’t think you or your hairstylist is gay, which is a plus, I guess.





Does Newman in old age look as unhappy as I imagine or is it the gravitas imposed by Sir John Everett Millais?

The sketch of him as a young man is postitively handsome.







The photograph just shows an old man.

Please don’t blame me—I didn’t take the pictures. And no excuses—I won’t hear that poor Ratzinger just takes a bad picture. He’ll die with that odd sneer unless you believe in miracles.


All’s well that ends well – or badly. Pray!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Duane Michals, a fortunate man

The Work of Duane Michals, an appreciation
November 16, 2011
[Originally posted November 16, 2008]


“To photograph reality is to photograph nothing.”

Today I discovered the photography of Duane Michals. I was startled, but I suppose not really surprised--very often the work of artists leads the way, shapes the way that we see the world, and well in advance of the day-to-day understanding of the majority of people.

I had been thinking a lot about the discrimination that gay and lesbian people feel, especially when attacked as we were when California Prop 8 passed. Here was the work of a gay artist who was dealing with being cut off from the mainstream honestly, boldly, creatively in 1965. Though only a decade older than me, he was deep into his work before I had even come to terms with my own queerness.


THE UNFORTUNATE MAN

The unfortunate man could not touch the one he loved
It had been declared illegal by the law
Slowly his fingers became toes and his hands gradually became feet
He began to wear shoes on his hands to disguise his pain
It never occurs to him to break the law.




I'll post a selection of some of his work that is available online with some transcriptions--if possible.


Salvation





A FAILED ATTEMPT TO PHOTOGRAPH REALITY
How foolish of me to believe that it would be that easy.
I had confused the appearances of trees and automobiles,
and people with reality itself, and believed that
a photograph of these appearances to be a photograph
of it. It is a melancholy truth that I will
never able able to photograph it and can only fail.
I am a reflection photographing other reflections
within a reflection. To photograph reality
is to photograph nothing.





THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PART OF A MAN’S BODY
I think it must be there
Where the torso sits on and into the hips. ...



Things are queer






Duane Michals, born February 18, 1932 in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, is a poet, philosopher, and a photographer. I have found some of his work available online. His books are also available for purchase.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What is the "Real Work" of the Enneagram?

Claudio Naranjo in Berkeley 1971-1976

I have been personally engaged in the study of the Enneagram since 1972 when I began four years of intense personal work in Claudio Naranjo’s SAT group. Until now I have only spoken privately with friends about the proliferation of books, teachers and controversy about the Enneagram. In all the hubbub, I hope that the real value of this work is not lost or diluted to the point that it becomes no more than an interesting curiosity.

This was the first of a series of articles about the Enneagram, its history and use as well as its spread among the Jesuits.  I created a database, An Enneagram Bibliography, using online resources as well the recommendations of Enneagram students. I have included books, studies, DVD’s, tapes and other materials that deal primarily deal with the Enneagram as it is presented in the West plus materials from the Gurdjeiff sources which contain information of interest to the Enneagram enthusiast.


 
One current myth about the Western transmission of the Enneagram runs something like this: in the early 1970’s, Claudio Naranjo, fresh from his short and incomplete training with Oscar Ichazo in Arica Chile, begins a tentative conversation with a select group of therapists and teachers in a Berkeley living room. He distributes crudely mimeographed nine pointed figures to the experienced self-observers he has called together to flesh out the sketchy outline of personality characteristics that Ichazo had developed for each point. Then these highly trained psychologists and teachers set about the task of connecting Claudio's and Ichazo’s fragmentary notes with well documented psychological research and the best diagnostic tests.

As someone who is devoted to the study of ideas and the ways in which they shape culture, I love stories of discovery and invention. Some of the stories are obviously self-serving while others have the ring of real experience. In either case, still filled with many assumptions, obvious and hidden, they are rich in information.

Sometimes it is very clear that the myth itself is part of the teaching method—for example, a great Japanese Zen Master copied a key koan collection the night before he secretly left China. His teaching emphasized the immediacy of zen insight, diligence of practice and the spontaneous breakthrough: stay up through the night and enter a new world before the sun lights your ordinary one.

In other cases the myth supports the domination of one school over another. Elaine Pagels and others have shown convincingly that the Council of Constantine authorized only the Jesus Teachings that supported the authority of the bishop of Rome as opposed to the Gnostic teachings that were equally prevalent in early Christianity. This move was so successful in suppressing an idiosyncratic teaching that we only knew about these sects from the polemical literature written to brand them as heretical until the remnants of a Gnostic library were discovered in the Egyptian desert in 1948.

I think that both these motivations can be found in the Enneagram myth: an early substantiation of the early link between Enneagram study and serious, scientific psychological investigation, and secondly, that the basic elements of Helen Palmer’s “authentic” narrative tradition come from the “Source” itself and were somehow misplaced.

I do not wish to sound mean-spirited, but this smells like either a carefully crafted version to promote Palmer’s teaching or, at best, her followers over-simplified reading of history in the light of their experience and what they have been told about her oral teaching method and her sources in Naranjo’s work. Any myth, distortion or fabrication that is in the public record or published materials is fair game. I would like to describe that seminal period from my own experience.

In the Fall of 1971, Claudio Nanranjo began to teach a small number of students in Berkeley (beginning with 25 to 30, SAT grew to more than 100 by 1975). He had recently returned from Arica where he had been part of another group of 50 Americans, self-selected from the vanguard of people who represented the new thinking centered in Esalen California, the first Americans to work with Oscar Ichazo. Aside from Nanranjo, John Lilly was the most prominent, and the most steadfastly insistent on maintaining an independent stance.

I estimate that Naranjo spent more than two years connected to Ichazo and Arica, whether in preparation, traveling, conversations with Ichazo, participating in all the exercises in that first Arica Training as well as experiences where Ichazo directed him personally. (Claudio, for example, did live in a solitary retreat for 40 days in the Arican desert - his only contact with other humans was Ichazo driving out to see him everyday). I will let Naranjo speak for himself about these experiences as he has done in his teaching and writing and will certainly continue to do in the future.

When I joined SAT in September of 1972, I found myself in a more ordinary group than the Arica pioneers from Esalen. We were relatively younger, perfect students for Claudio’s teaching, spiritual idealists of the 60’s generation, liberated in our attitudes towards sex and drugs, deserted by the faiths of our collective fathers, holding strongly to the idea that spiritual practice could overcome the ills of society that was becoming increasingly materialistic and egocentric, aggressive and greedy. There were a few Ph.D.’s, several Ph.D. candidates, two priests, a Jesuit and a Franciscan, medical doctors, school teachers, a designer, several carpenters, a sprinkling of licensed therapists, but far more therapists in training. A good cross section of ordinary, highly educated, college town Berkeleyites.

We worked together at general meetings on Tuesday or Thursday eveningsthese were shock points, times according to some Sufi tradition, when real change was possible. At other times during the week, we also broke into small group meetings. Most of us meditated for at least a half hour everyday, wrote in our journals, focused our work, our self-remembering, through directed exercises that were suggested, or “indicated,” by Claudio and delivered by either Rosalyn Schaffer or Kathy Speeth (who as a child sat in the lap of Mr. Gurdjeiff and taught us the sacred dances, the “movements” of Gurdjeiff).

Frequently on Saturdays and Sundays, Claudio sat on a tattered sofa in the front of a large living room of an old fraternity house on Hearst Avenue while we sat on the floor. Claudio would begin saying, “Let’s do zazen,” and we sat in meditation for an hour. Then Claudio began to talk informally, exploring points on the Enneagram, asking questions, telling Sufi teaching stories about a character called Mullah Nasrudin, even stories about cats. (I can remember that Sunday very well because by the next Friday I owned two stray cats). There were many references to G.I. Gurdjeiff, the trickster; Claudio was very familiar with the work of Gurdjeiff though he never claimed that he had ever been trained or authorized by any of Gurdjeiff’s successors.

It was always a lively conversation. Claudio drew on his expertise as Fritz Perls's foremost disciple and explored conjunction of meditation and psychological practice. There was always psychological work. It was also creative and challenging; for example, as a classical pianist, he created mediation experiences with Beethoven symphonies.

One thing was clear to all of us: Claudio Naranjo was, during that period of time, an inspired teacher. Something of a momentous spiritual nature had happened to him in Arica, and we were present while he was unpacking that inspiration. We were part of a great experience, willing guinea pigs in a psychological spiritual experiment.

This first use of the Enneagram as a teaching tool for spiritual growth and inner work was not delivered on crudely mimeographed diagrams although there were copies of Enneagrams that we used to make our own notes and observations. Claudio Naranjo developed and tested his work in real situations with a group of bright people who were dedicated to self-understanding and deep inner work. It felt more like a crucible than a study group. It certainly was not just the intellectual exercise that is portrayed in the literature that began to appear about 10 years after Claudio finished his initial work.

In the next post I will try to probe the muddied origins of the Enneagram, looking for signs of its descent in psychobabble.


To review my Enneagram bibliography, please follow the link.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Science vs. Spooks

Skepticism, scientific research and the Nostradamus effect
[revised 8.10.11]

In certain quarters here, in New Age California, it is believed that the uniquely western contribution to "spiritual" efforts will be the application of the scientific method to the eandeavor. Perhaps this is just another chapter of the age-old science vs. religion debate, or even a new path to understanding. But I would like to examine a shadier side of this undertaking, the bias of those who sponsor the research: who's buying and why, and what does any of this have to do with science? I call it “Science vs. Spooks and the Nostradamus Effect.”

In the mid to late 70's, there were a few straightforward attempts by serious practitioners to use standard tests, psychological and psysiological, to measure the effects of meditation. A second wave of this type of objective investigation was to apply standard psychological instruments to measure changes in persons who did some workshop or training -- were the “benefits” real change that lasted, or just a kind of workshop high?

And it was not long before the producers of the various trainings and workshops saw that positive results would be a great marketing tool. These were people connected to the world of psychology, some professionals and some who had transformative experiences, and they wanted to present them to a larger audience. Of course it takes money to support these projects.

I worked on staff at two human potential companies, Landmark Education and the Hoffman Institute, when “scientific” studies undertaken. I participated in the creation and execution of one.

This was the scenario: The company found money, just as drug companies do when testing a new product. Then in the case I know best, a PhD psychologist on staff shopped around university graduate psychology departments for grant-hungry professors willing to design and execute a study. The instruments of measurement, assessment of the results were negotiated. The size of the sample and a time table were set. A fee was paid. There was also a promise to have the results, if they are positive, published in a professional peer-reviewed journal.

Though the usual requirements to insure that the results are impartial and not stacked were in place, there are three areas where, in my view, the participation of the company skewed the “scientific investigation.”

The researchers were charged to look for the positive psychological results and determine if they were lasting. As a 'graduate' of the course I was one of several people who pre-tested the instrument that the researchers designed. Then, through the in-house psychologist, there were 'adjustments' in what was measured with an eye to the marketing.

The testing began. At some point, perhaps three months into the process, the researchers began to worry that the sample would not be large enough to support “significant results,” and staff members began telephoning participants, using a carefully designed script to encourage them to complete the questionnaires. Though I was not asked to make any calls, I overheard them, and to be totally honest, I did not detect any kind of coercion other than to complete and return the questionnaire. But there were also a series of support' calls to graduates at specific intervals, so the plea to return the evaluation was not extraordinary. Now if I got a support call, reinforcing my positive experience, and then, a few weeks later, another making sure I completed a questionnaire for the study, well, you get the picture.

Though this kind of action might be ethical -- falling within the conditions of impartiality -- it seems to me that if I did not feel strongly enough to send my report back to the researchers, my lack of enthusiasm indicated something.
,
And the final, and most flagrant area of manipulation was in publication of the results. It bordered on out-right deception. Although the researchers themselves were to write up the final results submitted to professional journals, perhaps even a presentation at some conference (I left the company before it was complete), there were interim reports: "After six months, participants report more confident and loving conversations with their spouses and children." This assessment of initial data was written by the in-house psychologist to “report” the results of the study to graduates. But when the president of the company read the report, he claimed that this was just too much scientific “jargon.” In my view it was not the overwhelming positive result he thought he’d paid for. I actually stood around his desk with a group of staff as he reworked every sentence, striking any word or phrase that seemed too guarded, asking us as witnesses, "I think that this (his punched-up phrase) says the same thing, doesn't it?" When I asked the in-house psychologist himself about the revisions, he was non-committal, "I suppose that could be said about X," and turned the conversation to the cost of his new home in the foothills.

There is nothing criminal or even terribly important in this manipulation of scientific inquiry--drug companies do it all the time and we pay for it when you factor in the cost of their malpractice insurance. And what has this to do with our friend Nostradamus, a 17th century French seer and astrologer whose puzzling riddles have a cult-like following? In 1654 he wrote: "In the City of God there will be a great thunder, Two brothers torn apart by Chaos, while the fortress endures, the great leader will succumb. ... The third big war will begin when the big city is burning." Well, obviously he predicted the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers.




Did that phrase about the two giants collapsing really 'foretell' the attack on the World Trade Center towers? I bet we could find a rich paranormal enthusiast to fund a study that proves--beyond a shadow of a doubt--that a certain percentage of the American public, after hearing those sentences read to them in a carefully scripted phone survey, believe that Nostradamus really predicted 9/11.

This is one way to defend against the terror of the unpredictable. I choose to remain skeptical.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Meeting of the Buddha and the Goddess


























The Very Short Sutra on the Meeting of the Buddha and the Goddess
by Rick Fields





We dedicate any merit that might come from reciting, posting, and spreading this sutra to Bonnie Johnson, who now bridges the worlds of both the seen and unseen. In your presence, Bonnie, we were so aware of who we were that we saw the possibility of being so much more--extending love's embrace. You showed us the way of Jesus through your kindness, gentleness, the care with which you treated us, all your friends, family, doctors, caregivers, yes, even the care with which you treated your disease. May your teaching go on and on thoughout all the worlds to come. May you be with the saints forever.


Thus I have made up:

Once the Buddha was walking along the
forest path in the Oak Grove at Ojai, walking without
arriving anywhere
or having any thought of arriving or not arriving

and lotuses shining with morning dew
miraculously appeared under every step
soft as silk beneath the toes of the Buddha


When suddenly, out of the turquoise sky,
dancing in front of his half-shut inward-looking
eyes, shimmering like a rainbow
or a spider's web
transparent as the dew on a lotus flower,


--the Goddess appeared quivering
like a hummingbird in the air before him


She, for she was surely a she
as the Buddha could clearly see
with his eye of discriminating awareness wisdom,


was mostly red in color
though when the light shifted
she flashed like a rainbow.


She was naked except
for the usual flower ornaments
Goddesses wear


Her long hair
was deep blue, her two eyes fathomless pits of space
and her third eye a bloodshot
ring of fire


The Buddha folded his hands together
and greeted the Goddess thus:


"O Goddess, why are you blocking my path.
Before I saw you I was happily going nowhere.
Now I'm not sure where to go."


"You can go around me,"
said the Goddess, twirling on her heels like a bird
darting away,
but just a little way away,
"or you can come after me.
This is my forest too,
you can't pretend I'm not here."


With that the Buddha sat
supple as a snake
solid as a rock
beneath a Bo tree
that sprang full-leaved
to shade him.


"Perhaps we should have a chat,"
he said.
"After years of arduous practice
at the time of the morning star
I penetrated reality, and now..."


"Not so fast, Buddha.
I am reality.


The Earth stood still,
the oceans paused,


the wind itself listened
--a thousand arhats, bodhisattvas, and dakinis
magically appeared to hear
what would happen in the conversation.


"I know I take my life in my hands."
said the Buddha.
"But I am known as the Fearless One
--so here goes."


And he and the Goddess
without further words
exchanged glances.


Light rays like sunbeams
shot forth
so bright that even
Sariputra, the All-Seeing One,
had to turn away.


And then they exchanged thoughts
and the illumination was as bright as a diamond candle.


And then they exchanged mind
And there was a great silence as vast as the universe
that contains everything


And then they exchanged bodies

And clothes

And the Buddha arose
as the Goddess
and the Goddess
arose as the Buddha


and so on back and forth
for a thousand hundred thousand kalpas.


If you meet the Buddha
you meet the Goddess.
If you meet the Goddess
you meet the Buddha.


Not only that. This:
The Buddha is the Goddess,
the Goddess is the Buddha.


And not only that. This:
The Buddha is emptiness
the Goddess is bliss,
the Goddess is emptiness
the Buddha is bliss.


And that is what
and what-not you are
It's true.


So here comes the mantra of the Goddess and the Buddha, the unsurpassed dual-mantra. Just to say this mantra, just to hear this mantra once, just to hear one word of this mantra once makes everything the way it truly is: OK.

So here it is:
Earth-walker/sky-walker
Hey, silent one, Hey, great talker
Not two/Not one
Not separate/Not apart
This is the heart
Bliss is emptiness
Emptiness is bliss
Be your breath, Ah
Smile, Hey

And relax, Ho
And remember this: You can't miss.


from: Dharma Gaia: A Harvest of Essays in Buddhism & Ecology