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, “… 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 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.


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.

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.