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 Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?

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Diana



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PostSubject: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sat Jun 19, 2010 9:57 pm

First topic message reminder :

Note: this was previously posted under another topic sometime last week:

Is the OBC/Shasta Abbey a cult? In my personal and professional opinion the answer to that question is “yes”. Let’s start by giving the most often quoted and accepted useful definition of the word cult:

“A cult is a group or movement that, to a significant degree, (a) exhibits great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, (b) uses a thought-reform program to persuade, control, and socialize members(i.e., to integrate them into the group’s unique pattern of relationships, beliefs, values, and practices), (c) systematically induces states of psychological dependency in members, (d) exploits members to advance the leadership’s goals, and (e) causes psychological harm to members, their families, and the community” (Langone, 1993, p.5)

Now let’s break it down:
(a) Devotion to person, idea, or thing.
In general: It is obvious that in the early days, devotion to Jiyu was absolutely necessary. She is the central figure as founder of the organization. After her death, it could be stated that any of her disciples, abbots, abbesses, or priors who were in a position of power and authority, would also demand devotion. Apart from people, devotion to ideas or things is also central when one looks at the goal of training being enlightenment or becoming one with the Buddha himself. It is obvious that devotion is central to this organization to anyone who has ever attended a ceremony or morning service.
In my experience: I was taught early on at the Abbey to devote myself to the masters and later on that intensified as I became a lay disciple. Through many means and circumstances such as meditation and thought-reform, I did submit and take on the learned-behavior of bowing, devotion, contrition, etc… The Buddha, the Abbey, and my master became central to my life and I became dependent upon them.

(b) Thought-reform as a means to persuade, control, and social members.
In general: The term “thought-reform” must be defined here. There are certain conditions that a thought-reform program can practice and they are:
“-Keeping the person unaware of what is going on and how she is being changed one step at a time.
-Controlling the person’s social and/or physical environment, especially the person’s time.
-Systematically creating a sense of powerlessness.
-Manipulating a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to inhibit behavior that reflects the person’s former identity.
-Manipulating a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote the group’s ideology, belief systems, and group-approved behaviors.
-Putting forward a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and cannot be modified except by leadership approval or executive order” (Lalich and Tobias, 2006, p. 40-41).

The methods used to ensure the success of the process are as follows:
“-Induced dissociation and other altered states (speaking in tongues, chanting, trance induction via repeated affirmations, extended periods of meditation, lengthy denunciation sessions, public trials, “hot seat” criticisms focusing on the individual, sexual abuse, torture, etc.)
-Control of information going in and out of the group environment.
-Isolation from family and friends.
-Control of member’s financial resources.
-Sleep and food deprivation.
-Peer and leadership pressure.
-Extensive indoctrination sessions.
-Rigid security regulations and daily rules” (Lalich and Tobias, 2006, p. 41).
In general, many, if not all, of these conditions are met by the OBC. Personally, I have been exposed to too many of them to mention.

(c) Inducing states of dependency.
In general: It is obvious that the monks are dependent on the laity, the abbot/ess or prior, and to the order. These people give up their lives; their identity, careers, partners, family, money… They have the most at stake and the most to lose. The power differential is set up to use, abuse, and exploit them.
In my experience: I was literally told to never speak of my experiences or training to anyone, monk or lay, except for my master and two other monks. I was in a state of psychological emergency when I was told this. I was immediately dependent on a few select monks for my survival. I gave up my relationship, my friends, and other things not associated with the Abbey. I barely functioned in the world. When I was “let go” by my master I was totally lost. It took me 5 years to regain the autonomy and independence I had before beginning “training”.

(d) Exploits members to advance the organizations goals.
In general: This is both a simple and complex issue. First one has to look at “what are the goals of the OBC?” It could be stated that any financial support given to the OBC and its affiliates is a form of exploitation. One example of this could be the decision of Shasta Abbey to discontinue its “Buddhist Supply Shop” with the goal that the monks had better thing to do than run a business. The local congregation took the business over and of course, continued to support the Abbey. The Abbey found other resources to support their livelihood and could therefore spend more time on their own training. At this time, the Abbey also started shutting down access to the Abbey to the laity and public for more time for their own training. So not only did they successfully get rid of having to work, they also raised more money than ever before and reduced their religious services by closing the facilities.
In my experience: Did I feel exploited? That’s a tough one. The only form of exploitation that I could have possibly been exposed to was psychological and spiritual. I do feel that I was manipulated, but it is too personal a recollection to share.

(e) Causing psychological harm.
In general: There have been too many to mention, hundreds of people, that have left the OBC that have claimed psychological harm. One person in particular comes to mind in this. If you have not heard of the physical and psychological abuse that happened at North Cascades priory, I urge you to seek out this information. Rev. Koshin is implicated as being responsible for the almost-death of a novice monk. It is also well known that some monks have become mentally ill and others have even committed suicide. I know many congregation members that are mentally ill and damaged from training with the OBC.
In my experience: I was psychologically harmed in many different ways. Many of my issues should have been addressed by a trained therapist or psychologist. At the time, I was told to take “refuge in the three treasures” and that would help me, but it was insufficient and I suffered for years.
I hope this helps everybody, and I hope to continue this discussion and hear of other’s experiences.

Peace,
Diana
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Rev. Seikai



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Wed Aug 18, 2010 10:25 pm

Hello to all,
I know or have known at one time most of the people who have contributed to this particular thread of the OBC connect forum. As I am in the unique position (so far) of being an active monk and master of the OBC, one who survived the decade of the 80s and came out the other side, I have much to say about this thread, although it might take me a while to put it out there.

For a start, I know for myself that to be a mature spiritual adult it is necessary to have the faith and courage to doubt the teaching you have been given if it is not proven out by your own experience in practice. Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett herself taught this, and so I took her at her word on this matter. If, in her actions on subsequent occasions, it appeared that she was not living up to her earlier teaching on the matter of having the faith to question the teaching, of having the faith to examine your own experience carefully to see if it tallied up with the teaching of the Buddha--or, in some cases, her teaching--then that appearance of things would put the disciple or student of hers in a position of having to sort the matter out for themselves. Personally, during the 1980s, I would often talk with Rev. Master Daizui privately to get his take on things, in other words, I took refuge in the Sangha.

Taking refuge in the Sangha was something that RMJK taught us to do. She did it herself on a regular basis with her disciples. It is a practice, within a monastic environment or culture, which enhances communication, creates trust, and gives one a broader perspective on what might be going on. Isolation defeats people, and I have witnessed many, many cases of this, a cause of deep sadness for me. In light of seeing what did and did not work within the context of monastic training, I made a strong effort to put the positive teachings that my Master had given into practice.

There were times, especially in that difficult decade of the 1980s, when I made up my own mind about things within Shasta Abbey, and chose not to be confrontational about them. Some might say that this strategy was unhealthy from a psychological persepctive, but for me, given that my practice was concerned with the cultivation of a very deep faith, I was willing to put up with a level of cognitive dissonance. Further, I loved and respected RMJK, and as time passed and I became closer to her, my own experience of unhappiness, or of cognitive dissonance diminished, and was converted into a pure, loving acceptance of things as they are (or, at that time, were). I loved and accepted her as she was, and gave up my expectations that she be a perfect Zen Master, or fit my preconceived notions of what a Zen Master ought to be like.

RMJK taught that the "truth does not insist upon the truth". To some people, it seemed that she was insisting upon her personal definition of the truth, but I sensed that it was not that simple. In my experience, as long as there was a confrontational atmosphere, and as long as any disciple thought they knew better than her, there would be no resolution to any difficulty. On the other hand, if you came to her with an attitude of wanting to understand what had gone wrong in a situation, an attitude of wanting to resolve things, and a willingness to talk about it without any insisting, she would always respond positively to such an approach.

Every one who became a disciple of RMJK had their own unique experience of what it was like to learn from her and be her disciple. My experience of that lasted 19 years, and did not actually end on the day she died; she is still with me on some sort of very subtle, spiritual level which is hard to articulate. If nothing else, her teaching is alive in my heart, and continues to teach me. In that respect, the transmission of the Dharma is alive and well in me and other monks who are still active in the OBC.

Respectfully submitted, Rev. Seikai
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Kozan
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Thu Aug 19, 2010 12:56 am

Well said Rev. Seikai!

I too went through the same process (beginning some years earlier than you report for yourself) of coming to simultaneously accept Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett's teaching--and the fact that she was who she was, with all of her occasional shortcomings. And most importantly--that whatever personal shortcomings she might have had, did not stand in the way of her deep insight or her support of her disciples. Like you, I continue to experience the essence of her presence and teaching, to this day, with enormous gratitude.

It is for this reason, that I would propose that it is incumbent upon us, as grateful disciples, to heed the horizontal tradition within the Transmission, in which, as we know (and as Kyogen pointed out previously), it is the disciple's responsibility to stand on the shoulders of the teacher--in order to preserve the essence of her teaching--without repeating her mistakes!

I think it is essential to recognize that doing so entails no disrespect--indeed, just the opposite. I would propose that the process should be one of careful, compassionate, and loving consideration of the possible fears and biases that RMJK may have introduced into the institutional culture and structure of Shasta Abbey and the OBC.

I am convinced that this is precisely what she would want us to do--what all teachers hope their disciples will do! There is no better way to honor one's teacher than to act on the best of what she taught in order to continue the Transmission.

This matter gains increased urgency, in the light of the many heartfelt postings on this forum, by people who have experienced distress and trauma in the course of pursuing spiritual practice within the OBC.

Once again, I would emphasize that this is not an issue of adversarial confrontation--but of basic acknowledgement!

I think, Rev. Seikai, that you may have (however implicitly) already tendered a basic acknowledgement of the root issue.

I would love to hear your further thoughts on this matter!

With deep respect,
Kozan
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Oshin



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Aug 24, 2010 10:53 pm

Greeetings friends,

This forum is a little unsettling. Jiryu and I were recently advised by several friends to take a look at it and it’s left us a little perplexed and with a lot of questions. Like: it's interesting to see all the perspectives, but is the re-hashing and speculation on definitions what it's all about, or is it going, going, going on from our own experiences? Do we take responsibility for our choices? Do we stick with appearances?

It seems evident to me that if you want to solve a problem it’s not the best idea to keep the same mind-set that created the problem. If it’s a Buddhist issue, maybe it’s not best to come at it from the modern culture righteousness point of view. Might as well complain that the Shasta Abbey monks didn’t live up to Christian ideals.

And who is it that is being so offended? If we just look, as the Buddha might have suggested (probably a staunch, disciplinary, my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy, considering all their rules), we can ask: Are we the person to whom all these slings and arrows are attaching, or are we the Awareness that is conscious of that person; the Awareness (Buddha-Nature) behind it all? That to which nothing can stick. All it takes is a stepping back one more step.

And when and where did this all happen? In the past, or course. Now there are no problems, and there never is in the Now. "Problem" translated to Buddha-speak is "opportunity." Stories are a good way to communicate and entertain, but they're just a memory. The only thing all stories have in common is that they are about the past. And the trouble with stories is that sometime we start to believe that's who we really are, instead of the awareness of them. So why not simply choose to let go of that memory and baggage and move on to create more memories Now?

And what do people think religious training is if not an assault, gently or forcefully, on the self/ego? Listen, no one had it harder at Shasta Abbey than I did (and no one suffers as much as me; and no one has such a huge load of karma in this life as me; and no one gets cut off in traffic as much as I do. That's my story...). But all I had to do was pay attention--not get caught up in judgment, attachment or aversion; or at least notice when I did. And learning and growth just seemed to come about on their own, regardless of the person, process or content involved. Paying attention still seems like a successful way to navigate these days in the "real world."

And isn't Buddhism and Zen history full of miscreants and screw-ups (humans)? Even in WWII there were Japanese Zen masters and abbots who had attained a high state, but were at such a lower growth stage that they willingly offered up their centuries old temple bells to be made into ammunition for an ethnocentric war. Shasta Abbey had its share of monks who had experienced a high spiritual state, but still had a lot of spiritual growth to do to reach the stage that many other monks were at. So is there any wonder that there was so much stumbling, fumbling, and grumbling by senior monks? With such unrecognized and unacknowledged confusion because of this in their lives, it seemed at the time that the only course of action was compassion towards them. Ditto for now in the real world.

We have a friend, also connected to the Abbey, whose whole life's work was trashed by two top monks because of a silly, outdated but popular
prejudice. But he's carried on with greater understanding and compassion, and has become outstanding in his field.

I'll probably be criticized for defending Shasta Abbey, but that is certainly not my intention. What do I know to defend? During our 4-5 years total there in the 70's and 80's. I would grow more senior with time, but never was I considered a "senior monk", in the loop, in the know. (I can probably blame most of this on my wife, Jiryu. Because of her I was a "married", a category not too highly regarded at the time. [Just kidding, honey.]) And it seemed like I was always getting reprimanded for my approach to things. Then it became time for us to move on, and we stressed moving on more than leaving. Nevermind that I learned more Buddhism and had my spiritual experiences after the Abbey, I will always be grateful to Jiyu Kennet and Shasta Abbey for keeping me on the path during that phase of my evolution, despite all the missteps and other things that come with humanity. (That too is my story...)

...And I'm sticking to it. Just wanted to present another view. Gotta get off this soapbox...

With loving kindness,
Oshin & Jiryu

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Kozan
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Wed Aug 25, 2010 12:32 am

Oshin and Jiryu,

You have made my day, month, year--and perhaps decade, by posting here--WELCOME!!

And GREAT COMMENTS!! As you say, "Paying attention still seems like a successful way to navigate these days in the 'real world' ".

I would love to hear how you have been, and are doing now--either by public post and/or private message.

(Hint--I know that there are many others viewing this forum who I, and many others, already here, would LOVE to here from!!!)

Best Regards,
Kozan
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Sophia



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Wed Aug 25, 2010 7:58 am

Dear Oshin and Jiryu,
I remember you both from my early days at the Abbey. Wonderful post. Thank you.
Sophia
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Isan
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Wed Aug 25, 2010 3:06 pm

Oshin wrote:
Greeetings friends,

This forum is a little unsettling. Jiryu and I were recently advised by several friends to take a look at it and it’s left us a little perplexed and with a lot of questions. Like: it's interesting to see all the perspectives, but is the re-hashing and speculation on definitions what it's all about, or is it going, going, going on from our own experiences? Do we take responsibility for our choices? Do we stick with appearances?

With loving kindness,
Oshin & Jiryu

First I want to say Hello! It's been a long time since I saw you both and I hope you've been well and getting on with life.

Regarding the general thrust of your post I'd say we all had unique experiences at the Abbey (and affiliated centers). Many people here feel they have unfinished business with the OBC and one important reason for that is the OBC simply excludes people and turns a deaf ear in response to conflict. This forum provides an opportunity for people to find their voices and say for the first time things that they wish could have been said long ago. They can also get a "reality check" by discussing their experiences with others who understand because they were there. That's what some people need to move on. You are fortunate in having been able to integrate your experiences as monks and not having lingering issues that cause you unhappiness. You could be helpful to others by sharing how you handled situations, etc. There is unhappiness and grieving going on here though, and empathy is needed. I hope you will stick around. You might be pleasantly surprised at how many of your old friends show up.
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Richard



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PostSubject: Letting Go   Thu Aug 26, 2010 6:18 pm

I have known the OBC in the UK for about 25 years. I never met Rev Master Jiyu.

I am extremely grateful to the OBC and to the monks I know and have known.

In my opinion its nothing like a cult and anyone who wants to find out about the OBC can do so for themselves quite simply and make up their own minds.





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Isan
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Thu Aug 26, 2010 8:55 pm

Richard wrote:
I have known the OBC in the UK for about 25 years. I never met Rev Master Jiyu.

I am extremely grateful to the OBC and to the monks I know and have known.

In my opinion its nothing like a cult and anyone who wants to find out about the OBC can do so for themselves quite simply and make up their own minds.

Your comment makes an important point, which is although there are many centers under the umbrella of the OBC they are not necessarily all run the same way. Daishin Morgan is the head of Throssel Hole Priory, and based on what he wrote in this forum I would say he runs things quite differently compared to Shasta Abbey where I studied. You are grateful for your experiences with the OBC and that's a good thing. Just realize that many people have had different experiences in different centers and unfortunately they have not been as positive as yours.


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Carol

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Fri Aug 27, 2010 1:25 pm

Oshin refers to "the modern culture righteousness point of view." I'm curious about what you were referring to there. I suspect that I'm a creature of that "modern culture righteousness" point of view. For sure, my every day life is located in the modern culture with all its flaws. But I was taught that Soto Zen is about every day life and I don't want to separate myself from what is here and now in every day life.

Oshin also said: "We have a friend, also connected to the Abbey, whose whole life's work was trashed by two top monks because of a silly, outdated but popular prejudice." Again, I'd like to know what "popular prejudice" you're talking about. It seems that "popular" is used as a pejorative. I think that we are creatures of our culture and that "popular" is not necessarily bad.

So thank you, Oshin, for your post. Kozan and Sophia remember you fondly from Shasta Abbey days, but I don't think I ever met you. Anyway, thanks for joining the forum.
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Henry

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sat Aug 28, 2010 2:14 pm

Hello Sekai,
What is an upstanding monk like you doing in a dump like this? I feel a little funny using my monastic name, Kaizan, given my present circumstances: I schtup my wife whenever the opportunity arises (no pun intended), and slap her on the butt when she passes by. I use profanity, eat meat, and have no religious practice worth writing home about. To refer to myself as Kaizan is an epic stretch of the imagination at best. Nonetheless, here I am, ready to bestow my opinions, like an unwanted hail storm on an innocent citizenry. I couldn’t resist sticking my two cents in when your last post referencing your previous post mentions the cognitive dissonance you’ve experienced. When I read your previous post I was on the verge of writing a post myself to lecture you on cognitive dissonance, but you stole my thunder by impugning yourself first. I would like to add something anyway. Though you recognize the cognitive dissonance itself, it is possible that you don’t fully recognize either the extent to which that which precipitated your cognitive dissonance affected others or how it reflected a dysfunction that perhaps should have been addressed more thoroughly. Cognitive dissonance can be dealt with through denial, minimizing, justifying, blaming others, and rationalizing. It can also be dealt with through meditation. In meditation, the dissonance is irrelevant. But if those who live their lives in meditation are to help those who don’t, they need to look at how their actions affect those who have not yet been able to find the place where cognitive dissonance is irrelevant, where it does not exist. And if their actions create enough cognitive dissonance in others who are under their care, perhaps that is worthy in itself of some introspection. One could posit that the Zen Master will purposely create cognitive dissonance in order to get the student to look within and get past it. However, whether all the cognitive dissonance that is so abundant on this web site was indeed purposely created as such an opportunity would be an interesting conversation in itself. A large part of the reason I left the abbey was that after years of considering that topic, I believed that this was not the case. And the injustices I saw, which at one time created cognitive dissonance, was at the time of my leaving, a grave matter to my own health. As you know I had been bed ridden for years, and if I was to have a life outside of bed, I had come to a place where I knew I would have to go elsewhere to achieve that. I think my suffering could have been greatly reduced if that which caused so much cognitive dissonance in me and others was not such a prevalent aspect of Shasta Abbey. Thank God (no I haven’t become a Christian) there were quite a number of monks like you who showed kindness to me through years of pain. It does not surprise me that you are the one active OBC monk (so far) on this website. We both know the other monk that would have been here, probably even before you: Daizui. I knew him as a staunch supporter of the kind of openness that Shasta Abbey needed more of (at least at the time I was there). Not to mention that I loved him as a dear friend. Unfortunately, there were those in power at the abbey that caused me great suffering and angst at a time I was terribly ill. According to them, of course I was not ill, I just wasn’t training deeply enough. And then there were also those who just thought I was faking. Which brings me to this question: why is skillful means of such enormous importance in Mahayana? I would say that it is because it is incumbent upon the teacher to adjust their teaching to help others. The truth of a teaching is useless if it helps no one. Even if it helps many, a bodhisattva strives to do better. To speak to Oshin’s comments about the need to just realize that, in reality, there is no one to be hurt, I would say that this is exemplary on one level, but irrelevant to the bodhisattva who’s vowed to save all sentient beings. Who are these sentient beings?? They’re sure not sitting on a lotus. Many have got their heads in the toilet and a hot iron up their [admin delete]. Should the teacher criticize them for not realizing the truth, or should they look within to see where they have failed them. Though both of these are in the realm of skillful means, in my opinion, during my stay at Shasta Abbey, it would have been more advantageous if there had been less of the former and more of the latter. I personally don’t think that the best way to deal with the errors made by Rev. Kennett is to simply say, “she was human and had flaws.” For those to whom those errors caused considerable suffering this smacks of the four horseman of cognitive dissonance: denial (of the degree of suffering), minimizing (come on now, it wasn’t that bad. After all I dealt with it!), justifying (there is in reality, no one that is hurt), rationalizing (this isn’t a democracy), and blaming others (it’s the students fault if they don’t cut it). Congratulations astute readers, this is five not four horseman. Cut me some slack please, I’m not a mathematician. Some poetic license please. At some point I think I might write on this website of the circumstances of my leaving the abbey. It is, I believe, a graphic example of there simply having been something very wrong going on there. One just does not undergo this sort of experience in a place that does not have significant dysfunction. That this website exists today attests to that dysfunction never having been addressed sufficiently. With that said though, I would like to place my vote with the OBC not being a cult (Can the side with the most votes claim to have the correct answer?). Though I’m not very familiar with cults (or am I?), my assumption is that the crux of what they offer is essentially delusional. I would beg to differ that this is the case with the essential teaching of the abbey and Rev. Kennett. Even though there are a pack of disgruntled curmudgeons on this website, I have read much attesting to the truth of our teacher’s teachings and the depth of experience she imparted to us. What has been also been a common thread that binds us, is the fun (please excuse my cognitive dissonance) we past and present monks, and I guess laity too from what I’ve read, have had sorting the wheat from the chaff. Perhaps a place of commonality for the majority of us on this site would be to say that there was a hell of a lot of truth to be found there, and that things could get a little more than a little weird at times. Thanks, Sekai, for the sneaky push to onto this site. Getting into my mind with your cognitive dissonance comments was unfair, but effective.
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Isan
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sat Aug 28, 2010 5:13 pm

Kaizan wrote:
Perhaps a place of commonality for the majority of us on this site would be to say that there was a hell of a lot of truth to be found there, and that things could get a little more than a little weird at times. Thanks, Sekai, for the sneaky push to onto this site. Getting into my mind with your cognitive dissonance comments was unfair, but effective.

Hello Kaizan - look time no see! I don't remember you being quite so colorful back in the day Very Happy You did a very good job of speaking to the matter of "skill and means". When offering teaching to a student it seems to me that the only measure of its' validity is whether it helps or harms. If a teaching breaks the primary precept - which RMJK characterized as "Do no harm" - how can it be true for the student? It seems that the injunction to do no harm has been replaced. Instead students are expected to accept unconditionally whatever is sent their way. The fact that such teaching sometimes causes emotional and physical trauma - has even precipitated psychotic breaks on occasion - is apparently not important enough to warrant reconsideration.


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Kozan
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Aug 29, 2010 1:30 am

Welcome Kaizan!

As Isan says, you seem to have gained some expressive "color" over the years! And good to see that it sounds like you are no longer hampered by the excruciating back pain that I remember!

I also think that you have done an exceptional job of describing the critical tell-tail signs of cognitive dissonance--and the four...er...five horseman that ride in its wake!

And Isan, although your ease and brevity make it sound almost like a throw-away line, I think that your observation that, "If a teaching breaks the primary precept - which RMJK characterized as "Do no harm" - how can it be true for the student?"--actually identifies the crux of the issue--and the principle and means of its transformation.

All of this can be absurdly easy to see in retrospect (as evidenced by many posts on this forum)! But it was also hard for many of us to see when we were caught up in the sometimes subtle complexities of the causal dynamic itself.

So, the question that I bring to this forum is: how can we facilitate the healing and transformation of what appears to be an institutional dysfunction--a dysfunction that remains largely invisible to the institution itself--and in a way that benefits everyone involved?

It seems to me that the answer lies (as both of you have already demonstrated) in taking back a more accurate understanding of the precepts and principles involved in spiritual practice itself.

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Henry

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Aug 29, 2010 10:16 am

P.S. My apologies, Seikai, for misspelling your name. Perhaps it was unconscious petty revenge for you reading my mind without my permission.

And thank you Isan and Kozan for your replies. I've enjoyed reading your posts.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Sep 05, 2010 9:02 pm

This thread has taken an interesting turn. I'd like to make a point about cognitive dissonance. In normal parlance it usually refers to the feeling we get when two inputs don't match, like someones facial expression not matching the words spoken, or when the fine words and teachings don't match the behavior done in the name of said teaching.

That is very different from the essential nature of a koan, which is often about paradox. When we come up against this in our life of practice and investigation, the feeling, at the core, is one of mystery, although it can begin with cognitive dissonance. I think too much bad behavior and poor teaching has been passed off as koan. Of course, that in itself is a kind of koan, but we should know it for what it is.

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Sep 05, 2010 10:54 pm

Cognitive dissonance is the result of paradoxical "teachings" or double-bind messages. It used to be that Schizophrenia was thought to be caused by constant exposure to double-bind situations. I was told when I was training, that it was okay to not fully understand what I was being taught and to put it on "the back burner." This causes two things: cognitive dissonance and dissociation. This is one of the key tools used by cults in recruitment and when a trainee shows signs of dissociation and experiences cognitive dissonance it is a sign that he or she has been converted or recruited into the cultic system. Either a trainee continues on in training or leaves at that point. It all depends on the person as everyone is an individual. We have seen this on this forum; some people have become senior monks and others are casual attendees at local priories. It doesn't matter where we are at, we are all exposed at some point or another to "putting things on the back burner" and at some point we all decide when to reject the dissonance and assert ourselves and leave.

Very few therapists use paradoxical or double-bind interventions or techniques because they are so unpredictable. If zen masters had to defend themselves in court like a therapist, maybe the "poor" teachers would be weeded out because I am certain there would be several successful cases of spiritual abuse that would show cognitive dissonance, dissociation, and many other mental disorders/illnesses that were caused by the said master's teachings. Unforunately, there haven't been many cases against buddhist teachers to set a standard for teaching, but in other groups, there have been many succesful cases.

This all ties in with the question of whether or not mentally ill people are more susceptible to problems with meditation or buddhist training. So far, there are not any conclusive studies. The most recent study that came out this summer showed that people who are mentally ill are no more susceptible to entering into a cult than anybody else. There are also no conclusive studies that show that meditation causes dissociation or is harmful, however there are many studies that show that involvement in a cultic system or thought reform system CAN cause mental illness including PTSD, dissociative disorders, and depression.

Research in cultic studies has grown in past 5 years or so and there are some great findings out there. But there is a gap in buddhist studies and for some reason buddhist studies have infiltrated the field of psychology. Most of the studies consist of the use of mindfulness in treatment and most studies in meditation cover vipassana or theravadan meditation techniques with some dzogchen thrown in there too. Of course, Jon Kabat-Zinn's mindfulness stress-based reduction is the most well researched and it seems like the leader in scientific studies has come out of Stanford.

Personally, I will go off into trance states when I practice zazen, but not when I do vipassana meditation. I was certified by Noah Levine to teach Vipassana and had my own group going for a while. I do not currently teach, but I do practice vipassana. I also have to maintain some protein in my diet and I'm a distance runner. I do not recommend zazen or zen practice as I think it does lead to many problems for westerners. I do not support koan studies or any paradoxical teachings. I know what is harmful for me and has been harmful for many other people, some of whom are on this forum.

I be will participating in a study soon and have many research studies that I will be soon writing proposals for. I would like to study the prevalance of dissociative disorders in zen students among many other things.

I admit that I resent being called "anti OBC" or a curmudgeon on this forum, but I understand where that is all coming from, so in a sense it's not a big deal. I am now free. I have well developed critical-thinking skills and I use them. When a system claims that your critical or intellectual mind is an obstacle to training and forces you to sumbit, you should run as fast as possible in the other direction. Unfortunately, I do not see zen giving up their centuries-old traditions. Zen has to be done a certain way and even though it can soften in this (western) culture, it will never take hold because of simple societal and cultural differences. We are an individualistic culture, not a collectivistic one. I could go on and on about this, but I think this is long enough.

Peace,
Diana
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Sep 06, 2010 3:05 am

Diana wrote:
Zen has to be done a certain way and even though it can soften in this (western) culture, it will never take hold because of simple societal and cultural differences. We are an individualistic culture, not a collectivistic one.
Diana

I wonder which specific 'simple societial and cultural differences' you refer to here? Why would the process of training within the form of a master-disciple relationship be particularly affected by what you refer to as 'collectivism'?

in gassho

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Sep 06, 2010 3:50 am

Great post, Diana. Can't wait to hear more from where that came from!
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Sep 06, 2010 10:24 am

Iain wrote:

I wonder which specific 'simple societial and cultural differences' you refer to here? Why would the process of training within the form of a master-disciple relationship be particularly affected by what you refer to as 'collectivism'?

in gassho

Iain

I understand this to refer to the differences between Japanese and Western/American culture. Historically the Japanese put significantly less emphasis on the freedom of the individual. They are much more about letting go of personal desires and obediently taking a predefined place in a hierarchical society. Japan is probably less so today, but the culture of Zen is very old and reflects that older paradigm. The master - disciple relationship is just a specific context in which that paradigm plays out. In the old Zen stories the disciple abandons self and the master benevolently points the way. Those stories have a happy ending, i.e. the disciple becomes enlightened, but in real life there have been quite a few less than happy endings as documented in this forum.


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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Sep 06, 2010 6:18 pm

Quote :
Cognitive dissonance is the result of paradoxical "teachings" or double-bind messages.

I'd like to clarify what I mean by paradox and mystery. I'm not talking about things that people do to each other, although that may be where this mystery arises. I'm referring to the mystery that is inherent in existence. A mathematician wrote a proof for a set theory problem that proved the problem could not be solved. In effect, it is a proof that paradox in inherent in the universe. In Buddhism it comes down to the fact that things are both perfect and complete, and imperfect and incomplete at the same time. We are both right and not right in how we see things. Holding this paradox and learning from it is one way koans work. It was the essence of the question that brought me to study Zen. There is a story in which a monk asks a master what he learned in his many years of practice. The master said, "One stick is as long as it is. One stick is as short as it is." That story opened a door for me. Things just are as they are. Long or short is not an issue. Both are sticks completely.

With palms joined,

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Sep 06, 2010 7:48 pm

Thanks Isan,
This is a complex issue that deserves another thread (the issue of cultural differences). As I thought about it more, I realized that I'll have to expand on that thought later when I have time, but basically, your post helped to clarify things, so thank you.

Kyogen,
No offense, but your response made my head hurt! Cognitive dissonance, cognitive dissonance!!!
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Sep 06, 2010 9:10 pm

Diana,
Some very good points in your post discussing the issue of congitive dissonance! I too think that the appearance of cognitive dissonance is not a good sign. I also believe that reality, at every level, is inherently paradoxical. For these reasons, I would like to explore the difference between the nature of the contradictions that trigger cognitive dissonance--in contrast with the seeming contradiction between two facets of any given paradox.

My fourth edition copy of Webster's New World College Dictionary defines paradox as:
1: (Archaic) a statement contrary to common belief
2: a statement that seems contradictory, unbelievable, or absurd but that may be true in fact
3: a statement that is contradictory and, hence, false
4: a person, situation, act, etc. that seems to have contradictory or inconsistent qualities

And cognitive dissonance as:
the confused mental condition that results from holding incongrous, often mutually contradictory, beliefs simultaneously

The way that I (enthusiastically) use the word paradox is based entirely on definition 2. A condition that seems contradictory (with respect to common belief) but is actually true. Forinstance, after much resistance, physicists now accept the fact that a photon of light is simultaneously a point, and a wave. (Before Relativity theory and Quantum Mechanics, this was incomprehensible.)

The nature of the kind of apparent paradox that I think triggers cognitive dissonance, are definitions 3 and 4. Contradictions that not only seem contradictory, but are contradictory--and are passed off as true. A classic example from the novel, 1984, by Orwell is: "War is Peace". War is not peace. War is never peace. The statement, "war is peace" is a contradiction that is making the claim of truth. And as you say, this kind of cognitive dissonance is a classic strategy of mind control.

It seems to me that a central issue of the problems of abuse and trauma that have been and are being reported on this forum, is the use of harsh teaching methods that abuse and traumatize--and which are then passed off as an expression of great compassion, and necessary for training and enlightenment.

There is a very long history of the use of harsh teaching methods in Zen, and in Buddhism itself. It seems to me that this stems from cultural beliefs (that predate Buddhism) that view spiritual practice as an inherently adversarial struggle against attachment, the ego, and the very nature of that which is desire itself. And that therefore, similarly harsh teaching methods are necessary and appropriate. I think that this view of the nature of spiritual practice is a serious misconception--and that harsh teaching methods are never necessary for training and enlightenment within the Zen tradition specifically, or Buddhism in general.

(More on these thoughts and issues in the upcoming Institutional Trauma topic thread, the first post of which I'm still working on :-).

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Sep 07, 2010 9:49 pm

Hi again all.

I think the important thing to look at with regards to paradoxical teachings and dissonance is the motivation or purpose behind them. It could very well be that a skilled teacher can use koans to help a trainee break through a major obstacle. My concern is, is the teacher absolutely sure it will not cause harm? And also, is the student completely aware of the possible risks (c. dissonance, psychosis or spiritual breakdown, mental and personal anguish, social isolation)?

A paradoxical teaching, in the religious sense, is supposed to break a persons "normal" or conventional way of thinking or perceiving. So it has a purpose. But this is never disclosed at say, the Abbey, where one can receive a number of incongrous messages within a single dharma talk that could result in harm or dissonance. Here is a classic example:

One of the last dharma discussions that I attended was led by Eko. I noticed he was in a bit of a "mood" that day. I was sitting close to him and the sangha was sitting in a big circle. At one point, he looked around the circle, he seemed to be peering into the very the soul of us, and said slowly and sternly (this is how I remember it), "You know what the problem is. You know who caused this, right?" Every face mirrored a different answer to that question; some people were smiling, others looked puzzled, and others a little scared.

At that point, it could have gone either way; he could have been leading up to a great joke or a profound declaration. We waited with baited breath....Then he offered the answer that none of us seemed to be able to grasp: "Jesus Christ." He picked out each face in the room again, scanning it for what I don't know. Each face had a different reaction; some where disgusted, some scared, some in a strange in-between state waiting for him to retract his obviously discriminative statement. We waited...But it turned out he was serious and he was very definitely not joking. One person got up and left. Others looked tortured. I broke down laughing (at him, because I thought, "oh my god, he has totally lost it, what an [banned term]").

This is where the cognitive dissonance shows up-- on the faces of those tortured people. You could see the thoughts going through the minds of those folks. In cognitivie dissonance, a person is in a state of conflict if the message being taught can not jive with the persons' basic belief system or values. The mind can not help itself at this point, it has to try to resolve the conflict. In a paradoxical teaching, there might not be an easy intellectual way out of this, so it creates a heightened state of anxiety. The mind can only take so much and if it can't work out the problem, it will "put it on the back-burner/shelf." This is called dissociation and in some cases, depersonalization and derealization.

Each person in that group dealt with that "teaching" in a different way. If I would have heard that while I was still his disciple, I would have been greatly damaged. As it so happened though, I thought it was funny/sad. I did feel very sorry for all the confused people though.

I hope you can see that for me, this is about individuals and harm and suffering, not an interesting intellectual assignment to be researched and uncovered. I have experienced c. dissonance and trauma first hand. This is not about whether the "institution" is traumatized or needs healing. This has to do with people. To look at the "institution" needing help is just diverting attention from individuals. If you really want to look at the institution and want to heal it, you have to look at what caused it to abuse it's members. In cultic systems, the individual doesn't matter; only the doctrine or it's sacred science and its leaders matter. The cultic system's message to people who left is often "you are the problem, you are damaged, you just don't get it." But it is not our fault. We were taken advantage of and abused. We are excellent human beings and deserve a life full of love and friendship and prosperity.

I hope that everyone out there who has felt dissapointed or has left the OBC can see what I'm saying here. We all deserve a voice. For me, once I regained my confidence and learned to rely on my own intuition and critical thinking, paradoxical situations no longer resulted in dissonance and I became immune to mind control. But I no longer seek out the koan or paradoxical teaching either. Studies about dissonance have shown that the heightened state of anxiety caused by disonance can create a big release of endorphins and they can be addictive. This is some interesting research I'm doing right now and I'm looking at how I used to feel that high and walk around in a total state of dissociation and derealization. I have seen others go through this too. It's like we all drank the cool-aid, if you know what I mean. It might have been totally groovy at the time, but it unfortunately had some negative side-effects later on such as isolation and depression.

That's all I have for now...

Peace,
Diana
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Sep 07, 2010 9:53 pm

One more thing, I just posted this and noticed a term I used was "banned." Just wanted you to know that it was not a "cuss word." I had no idea i-d-i-o-t was a banned word! Lol!
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Sep 07, 2010 11:40 pm

Diana, you said:

"To look at the "institution" needing help is just diverting attention from individuals. If you really want to look at the institution and want to heal it, you have to look at what caused it to abuse it's members. In cultic systems, the individual doesn't matter; only the doctrine or it's sacred science and its leaders matter. The cultic system's message to people who left is often "you are the problem, you are damaged, you just don't get it." But it is not our fault. We were taken advantage of and abused. We are excellent human beings and deserve a life full of love and friendship and prosperity."

This is precisely my point as well.

And I especially agree with your observation of the importance of understanding what causes abuse in the first place, in order to heal. Without healing the institution, there is little possibility of ending the cycle of abuse. And in this cycle--everyone is affected--and the collective community itself becomes traumatized.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Wed Sep 08, 2010 12:32 am

Three weeks ago I submitted a post to this thread, in which I spoke of being willing to tolerate a "level of cognitive dissonance" in my practice at Shasta Abbey, which did not prevent me from cultivating a very deep level of faith at the same time. Following that post, Kozan wrote one thanking me for what I had said, including the following:

Once again, I would emphasize that this is not an issue of adversarial confrontation--but of basic acknowledgement!

I think, Rev. Seikai, that you may have (however implicitly) already tendered a basic acknowledgement of the root issue.

I would love to hear your further thoughts on this matter!

With deep respect,
Kozan


I do have a few further thoughts. My first contact with the concept of cognitive dissonance was reading a book about the American Civil War, in which the authors made reference to it existing in the South during the conflict. What stands out for me in this regard is that the dissonance is so much more likely to appear in the context of conflict, or a struggle of wills. American society is steeped in conflict, actually, and all of our print and visual media tend to operate on a basic assumption of there being a conflict inherent in any issue; left v. right, right v. wrong, good v. evil, Democrat v. Republican, ad infinitum. My point is that if we stop to look, there is actually a huge amount of cognitive dissonance all around us: the basic message of society does not square up to the reality of what actually is.

One would hope that Buddhism would be a vehicle for us to be able to recognize--same root word, cog--that we live in a world of paradoxes, a world of dissonance between the ideal and the actual. I did tender a basic acknowledgment that the problem is one that we bring with us into the monastic environment, to lesser and greater degrees. And I think Kozan is absolutely right that the solution lies in moving away from framing things in an adversarial way, but rather to find ways to harmonize ourselves with our environment, to harmonize ourselves with each other. We humans are always struggling with this. It is not easy to "cut the cat in one", as Kozan suggested in another post (maybe in the thread of my introduction to the web forum). But what else can we do that will ultimately reduce the suffering that we all experience?

The basic thrust of this entire web forum revolves around teachings methods used in Zen Buddhism. People have pointed out that the old teachings methods go back eons, perhaps to pre-Buddhist times, and often seem to focus on an approach of defeating the self, which is viewed as the bad guy in the spiritual life. If life were actually a Western in its basic plot, that would be a valid way to go about things, but it isn't, and we all need to find effective ways to teach and practice in the here and now. What worked in China and Japan clearly has very limited value for Americans in the 21st century. I hope the day will come when it will be widely recognized among those who teach religion that converting and letting go of the self is not achieved by force of will, but through a harmonious blend of compassion, which is acceptance and love, with diligence to discontinue indulging in things which are, by nature, self destructive.

When I read a story like Diana's account of the Dharma talk at Shasta Abbey, my heart cringes. It is difficult to be an effective teacher of Buddhism; you can say things which hit the nail on the head for one person, and leave the person sitting next to them flumoxed. There is no way to please everyone, and the best you can do is to give voice to the teachings of the Buddha as much by your attitude and demeanor as by your actual words. This was true even in the time of the Buddha, when lay people came to him and complained that Shariputra was too deep and intellectual in his teaching, another monk was too brief, and a third one spoke for too long. If acceptance and harmony are what come across, as opposed to blaming someone, the Nazarene for instance, it is much more likely to hit the mark for a wider number of listeners. And until you are in the position of actually giving voice to the Dharma, it is hard to fully sympathize with the difficulty inherent in doing it well.

I am following this thread with interest, and in case anyone wonders, I think there are valuable insights being offered in it. I would hope, again, that in the OBC the occasions like the one described are decreasing in frequency. I personally vowed that, should I ever end up in the position of teaching disciples, I wouldn't do certain things that my Master did, or look for a more effective way to do certain things. Kozan and Isan have made reference to teaching from the ceremonies of Transmission in the Soto Zen tradition, specifically the need for the disciple to "stand upon the shoulders of the master" i.e. to improve upon what they received from the master if they possibly can. I definitely took that to heart, although whether or not I ever actually ordain and train anyone remains to be seen.

The cultic system's message to people who left is often "you are the problem, you are damaged, you just don't get it." But it is not our fault. We were taken advantage of and abused. We are excellent human beings and deserve a life full of love and friendship and prosperity.

I understand the point you are making, Diana, which is a valid one; however, I get a warning flag with regard to a few of its implications. One, it is a bifurcation to paint a black and white picture of people leaving organized religion and assume that there's a big problem, and that it is the fault of the organization. People leave for all kinds of reasons, many of them completely valid; even if there is a problem, it is generally very complex, and for either party to put all the blame or responsibility on the other one speaks to a human shortcoming of being unwilling to recognize that we all make mistakes. As soon as we do admit to being fallible, and that we have erred in various ways, however subtle, we can set foot on the path back to living in harmony with each other. I agree that we are excellent human beings, but to make a blanket statement that we deserve a life full of love, friendship, etc. does not take into account the Law of Karma, which is an inexorable factor of human existence. Good people often suffer a lot; I suffer a lot and I happen to also be cognisant of why: inherited past life karma from people who did horrific things. The point I am making is that any description of human life that does not take into account the working out of basic cause and effect, is likely to veer off into something truly dangerous, such as a religious cult based on "love and light." It might well be that you are making a study of exactly that, in which case, more power to you. But if you think of yourself as a Buddhist, please don't forget the basics: there is impermanence of the self (anatta); there is suffering (dukkha); there is constant change (anicca); there is cause and effect (karma).

I have sometimes thought to myself that one might teach Buddhism by essentially reciting the above four truths over and over, along with all their ramifications. And if one were to add the Four Noble Truths, which include the very positive and joyful recognition that we can bring suffering to an end by means of treading the 8-fold Path, then you've really got something worth exploring.

Respectfully submitted,
Rev. Seikai
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Wed Sep 08, 2010 3:10 am

In my experience, with the exception of one teacher, critical thinking was thoroughly encouraged at Throssel Hole Abbey. For the first time I learned how to disagree without engaging the nagging despair of conflict that shadows academia etc.

Individuals are the collective, surely we need both? As for the 'back burner' - all I interpreted it to mean is that it's important to keep an open mind.

And yes, "the koan appears naturally in daily life." It's what brought me to practice. Early on I used to wish that we were Rinzai and not Soto so I could "practice faster" but thankfully Rev. Master Daishin recovered himself from laughter and encouraged natural unfolding over deliberate dissonance.

Prior to practising with the OBC I interviewed cult leaders, members and survivors in the course of my research. While there do appear to be issues which need to be addressed, the OBC is most definitely not a cult.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Wed Sep 08, 2010 12:34 pm

Rev. Seikai wrote:

I do have a few further thoughts. My first contact with the concept of cognitive dissonance was reading a book about the American Civil War, in which the authors made reference to it existing in the South during the conflict. What stands out for me in this regard is that the dissonance is so much more likely to appear in the context of conflict, or a struggle of wills. American society is steeped in conflict, actually, and all of our print and visual media tend to operate on a basic assumption of there being a conflict inherent in any issue; left v. right, right v. wrong, good v. evil, Democrat v. Republican, ad infinitum. My point is that if we stop to look, there is actually a huge amount of cognitive dissonance all around us: the basic message of society does not square up to the reality of what actually is.

Respectfully submitted,
Rev. Seikai

I agree. In fact I think the First Noble Truth could be restated as:

Suffering is the cognitive dissonance (CD) that arises in our experience of the inner truth of Love Vs the outer world of endless conflict.

The conflict and the CD permeate all relationships. When we understand that we also understand that trying to escape it is impossible. One time at the Abbey I was making another of many attempts to the find the perfect zafu (mediation cushion). RMJK saw this and commented that at some point I was going to have to choose one and just sit on it. It was obvious she wasn't referring to only the zafu, but to life in general. You don't solve the koan of suffering just by changing external circumstances. But there is still the matter of free will and choice. We have to make choices and doing so is an important part of being adult. The basic problem I had with training as implemented by RMJK is the extent to which it was contrived. We used to repeat the phrase from the Zazen Rules:

To live by Zen is the same as to live an ordinary daily life

but we weren't living ordinary daily life. We were living in an artificial, intentionally manipulated environment meant to make life much more difficult than it would have otherwise been. That manipulation was an aspect of RMJK's "teaching" which we were never allowed to question because it was presented as an absolute. But as an adult you had to question it, in the same way you question every other aspect of life around which you're responsible for making choices. If you don't question and choose freely then you're not functioning as an adult, and I contend you're not actually training in the Buddhist sense.

If doubting and questioning and choosing freely are not only allowed but actively encouraged in a Buddhist community is Buddhism even being practiced?



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Wed Sep 08, 2010 7:29 pm

Isan wrote: "Suffering is the cognitive dissonance (CD) that arises in our experience of the inner truth of Love Vs the outer world of endless conflict."

We were taught that when the master says that black is white, the master is using "skillful means." But a supposedly compassionate teacher who tells a confused disciple that black is white invites the kind of suffering Isan refers to.

An artificial teaching situation is quite different from confronting the real contradictions that arise in everyday life (like those Rev. Seikai mentioned, e.g. good v. evil, Democrat v. Republican, right v.wrong, etc.).

When we encounter the inevitable dualities in daily life, we are forced to try to deal with them. We either live with the opposites or we somehow reconcile them. We don't have any choice: life just lays these conflicts on us.

But why should a teacher intentionally create cognitive dissonance (e.g., saying black is white)? This creates the unnecessary risk of psychological harm that Diana explained so clearly.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Thu Sep 09, 2010 11:30 am

violet wrote:
Isan wrote: "Suffering is the cognitive dissonance (CD) that arises in our experience of the inner truth of Love Vs the outer world of endless conflict."

We were taught that when the master says that black is white, the master is using "skillful means." But a supposedly compassionate teacher who tells a confused disciple that black is white invites the kind of suffering Isan refers to.
I love that quote of Isan's, it encapsulates my experience beautifully. Thanks Isan.

Re. "when the master says that black is white", I interpreted that part of scripture differently from you Violet. It probably has pointed to punishing traditional koan practice in the past, but surely it can also point to how the teacher "meets the student where she is", tailoring his/her explanations to the particular student and moment in time. I.e. if the absolute truth (white) is unpalatable to that student in that moment, it could add to despair and it would be uncompassionate to state it. However, stating a subjective picture/ relative truth (black) which is palatable could help lead the student towards greater understanding (i.e. towards white)...
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Thu Sep 09, 2010 12:07 pm

Quote :

But why should a teacher intentionally create cognitive dissonance (e.g., saying black is white)? This creates the unnecessary risk of psychological harm that Diana explained so clearly.

@violet
I don't think it is even intentional a lot of the time. The kind of conflicting messages that for example Robert mentions, you're in but you're out, you're welcome but you have to leave, etc. are very typical, as anyone who has been on the inside knows. In my case it was even more extreme, my teacher first telling me I was having a massive kensho, then saying I was possessed etc.

What I observed during all of this was that the seniors were in no way doing anything intentionally. Or saying anything intentionally, black or white. I believe that the seniors that I knew well as a novice are all three off their rockers. So far gone that they don't even know that they are constantly contradicting themselves. I can not speak for the other seniors, and what DM was doing at Throssel or Jiyu at Shasta, but I would presume they are all suffering from some similar mental disfunction.

The training there makes people crazy. CD is the beginning of schizophrenia and many of the seniors may well suffer from it to some degree more or less. I am not a doctor so I don't know, but I did get that something is really, really wrong with these folks.

@mia
how wonderful that you can declare it is not a cult! as if any fully converted member of a cult would ever , ever say the organization they are a part of is a cult! You are on the outer surface of the OBC. This surface is very carefully constructed and maintained so that the laity continues supporting them in all the ways necessary so that they can continue their lives comfortably and without having to earn a living. You were never on the inside. You have heard from those of us that were, and still you believe that only ".1%" is perhaps a problem. As if a cultishness was a mathematical equation. Or a black and white answer, "it is a cult/it is not a cult". It is dialectical in that as we pose the question, the question and answer continues to develop, in reaction to past events as well as to this discourse itself.

See for example Seikai, who as reasonable and rational as he sounds, still cannot for one sentence stop preaching, pressing his opinions and convictions on the rest of us as if it were a talk after a meditation period. This is part of the dynamic: the "deeply satisfied" senior, who has found peace with all things, through his compassion for all things even being willing to go as far as post on an internet forum to help us poor sentient beings hear the dharma. That is all they ever say, the three crazed seniors I know also talk constantly like that. What they say has nothing to do with what they do, it is simply the doctrine they have devoted their lives to talking about. Not doing. Sorry if I offend you Seikai, I don't know anything about you and what you do, but I am rather allergic to your dogma. BTW a lot of the world does not believe in the inexorable law of karma, was never proved in any physics or sociology class I ever attended. Try the Book of Job, my personal cure for the belief in it.

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Thu Sep 09, 2010 1:10 pm

Hi Amalia,

to clarify, the ".1%" I mentioned related entirely to my experience at Throssel (requoted below for reference). Sorry if it wasn't clear at the time. I have no idea about your experience, and have no reason to disbelieve you.

Mia wrote:
During my time at Throssel, and training with monks from many other temples, more than 99.9% of their conduct and teachings have been absolutely exemplary.

Edit: By "I have no idea about your experience" I mean that while I have read much of what you've written, I obviously wasn't there, don't personally know anyone involved, and am therefore not in a position to judge.


Last edited by Mia on Thu Sep 09, 2010 2:34 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : see above)
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Fri Sep 10, 2010 2:05 am



"After such painstaking study of the empty-gate dharma everything life plants in the mind has dissolved away, There is nothing left now but that old poetry demon. A little wind or moon, and I'm chanting an idle song."
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Sep 12, 2010 10:00 am

Sugin, I quite like that. Is it a quote from one of the old masters?
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Sep 12, 2010 10:05 am

Watson wrote:
Sugin, I quite like that. Is it a quote from one of the old masters?

http://www.light-mission.org/Light/ejlightbb41.html

(Google-Fu sunny )
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Sep 12, 2010 12:36 pm

Yes, I love the old sages. It always brings me back to the eternal. I think that quote was Po Chu-I but they have different names for the old Chinese poets so I am not sure if that is his true Chinese name. Our bamboo company is "The Empty-Gate Bamboo Co.". Sorry, LIse, I know this is in the incorrect topic thread.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Sep 12, 2010 2:26 pm

hi Sugin -- if you were referring to your quote from Po Chu-I, I took it as your subtle way of commenting on what's left after the debate on "is it a cult or not?" subsides (if and when it does). Maybe I'm reading too much into your post or ascribing meaning you didn't intend -- if so my apologies.

"After . . . everything life plants in the mind has dissolved away, . . ." To me this means, I can listen to the discussion about cultism, try to consider it, evaluate it, etc., but unless it is what I knew for myself, it is outside information that life "planted" in my mind. What I know to be true for myself is the stuff that I think doesn't dissolve away . . .
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Sep 12, 2010 5:13 pm

You got what I was trying to express but I was concerned that I was drifting away from the topic into more literary realms. I have a habit of being off-topic or maybe off kilter Rolling Eyes
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Sep 26, 2010 12:10 pm

This has been an interesting thread and study for me.

Our little community here is not the only one who struggles with the word "cult." That word has been replaced in most circles with "New Religious Movement." The OBC is most defintely an NRM and if one simply looks at the regular old "Webster" definition, most "religions" would also fit the definition of cult.

The term New Religious Movement is considered less pejorative, and so that is the best defintion to use when describing an orginization. However, when one starts to look at certain patterns such as trauma and abuse, things change a bit, at least for me this is the case and it is also the case for many others like me.

Cultic studies exist or were created to help to understand how organizations harm others and to help those who suffer from abuse and trauma. If there was no abuse, exploitation, or trauma, cultic studies would not exist.

I realize that many of you do not agree with my views or opinion that the OBC is a cult. But as long as there continues to be abuse and all the issues raised on this forum are unresolved, I will continue to use the pejorative. You certainly don't have to.

We are no different here than in other circles; the debate over this hot-button word continues on. It is really interesting though, from a Buddhist perspective, how just one word can conjure up so much debate. It is just a word, afterall.

What is the core issue here? How does this word make you all feel? Is it threatening? Does it make you feel like it takes away your personal power or degrades you in some way? Does it make you feel ashamed? If your family and friends, or employer, knew you are or used to be "in a cult", would you feel embarrased? Or worse? Does this have to do with the ego or self? Are we just trying to cover up our own inadequacy? Are we striving for recognition in the face of failure, only to be constantly rejected by the organization that we put our lives and hearts into? There are so many things to look at here.

I have dealt with many of these questions and looked deeply at them. I felt all kinds of things. I was embarrased and ashamed. After I left, I was so isolated. I had left a whole life behind to pursue my religion. I tried to rationalize my way out of it and blame everybody else. I went through different stages of grieving. I was very angry and wanted retribution. I was weak and vulnerable and wanted validation. I felt completely abandoned. I thought it was all my fault. I felt like I would be judged and rejected by any other Buddhist community because I had failed. I felt emabarrassed and inadequate because of this. I felt like I had lost my direction in life. I was in an existential crisis to say the least.

At some point, I was able to separate from all of this and see that it was a lot of self and ego and the wounded victim that was reacting. But the key difference and change occured when I actually had a ton of compassion and acceptance for myself. I went on my way and things were good for a long time when the trauma reared its ugly head again. But at least at this point I could be more objective. I dealt with it in therapy. We used the trauma model as a guide and since the trauma originated as spiritual trauma, we used the methods taken from the "cultic studies" paradigm.

I was going to go on with my life and deal with what I needed to, when I started hearing of other peoples pain and was moved by it enough to actually try and help. This is around the time I heard Amalia's story. This forum also emerged around that time. I can't just go on with my life without following through with what needs to be done here. I feel deeply that we are all one and this is what needs to happen. I feel like I need to at least try and make the effort here and I fully accept all the karma and take responsibility for my actions and words.

Peace,
Diana
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Sep 26, 2010 12:44 pm

Thanks for providing those questions Diana, I found it useful to reflect on them.

Diana and Amalia, I'm sorry I'm still not clear on what it is that you would like to see happen? (I mean that as a genuine question, rather than a challenge.)

For what it's worth, I'd like to add to Diana's thoughtful post that the thing that concerns me about cults is 'do they manipulate people's minds with harmful intent and/or consequences?' If 'yes', what can constructively be done about it?
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Sep 26, 2010 1:17 pm

Hi Mia,

I know this is a very difficult subject to take on and it brings up so many emotions, but that in and of itself is part of the process of "doing something about it." Another part of the process is education and information for all of those involved, not just for the people who feel that they have been abused.

It is important for organizations to know that they are harming people as well. Amalia was significantly harmed, but the OBC has refused to acknowledge this and in so doing refuses to see the effect they have on people. I believe, we are obligated to tell our stories and educate and inform the OBC and its members so that it can change, so that it will stop harmful practices, so that it/they will wake up!

If you are asking what my motivation is here, the above sentence should cover it. I really don't seek to gain anything or want anything for myself here. We all play a part in this and so we need to look at ourselves as well.

As far as your question, "what can constructively be done about it" goes, that is a huge question and if anyone here can figure that one out, then I guess part of the problem will be solved. But don't you see? That question of yours might not have ever come up if all the conditions and words and posts, etc..., were not put out on the forum here. We are all tied together here. (if a monk abuses a trainee, we are all abused, and we are also the one who is doing the abusing. if there is no separate self, then we cannot separate out "your story" with "my story")

I do think one thing that can be done as far as your question goes, is that the OBC can re-vamp how they go about teaching. There needs to be some standards in place for the way they teach their teachers and for the way the handle their ethical problems. Transparency would help. Better lay relations would help. Better relations within the international community would help (there seems like such a difference in practices and such in England, for example). There's a lot to be done.

As far as manipulation goes, I really don't think they know they are doing it for the most part. It is a learned behavior. I think they need to look at it and consider seriously how what they say, model, teach, and do, affects everyone else.

All this will take time and energy, but most of all, willingness. But there is hope. And we can start with ourselves. If you, Mia, can reflect on some of what is here on the forum, then I'm sure others can too.

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Sep 27, 2010 7:32 am

Mia, I think Diana already answered your question very well. For me personally, this website (and in particular my own website) is an exercise in freedom of speech. This is a right that is taken away from serious trainees within the OBC, and I think learning to find our voice and use it is a critical step in overcoming the internal and external suppression of it that the OBC system demands.
I recognize that for many, this passionate, intense exercise of the First Amendment will be hard to stomach. But I will not apologize for it. Jimyo writes that it makes her ill. And I believe that it would have made me ill, too, 5 years back, when my thinking was so wholely dominated by the OBC's interpretation of the Buddhist precepts. Which is why I don't think I would have been reading this forum or participating.
I am curious why you are here.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Sep 27, 2010 11:11 am

Hi all -- in posting this, I'm not attempting to answer for Mia nor sidetrack the dialogue, but I fet moved to reply. Sometimes it's helpful to jump in and refresh certain ideas, mostly for the benefit of new members who may be reading only the most recent posts.

People come to the forum for many reasons; curiosity, to connect with old friends, share memories & experience both good and bad, defend the OBC, indict the OBC. It's an information hub where a lot of things can happen, but it's ok to lurk as well, or post for any reason, or none. at all.

Now, back to our regular programming.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Sep 28, 2010 8:48 am

Amalia wrote:
I am curious why you are here.
Curiosity is always good Smile I'm here because of my nature. As a curious middle child who grew up in extremely differing cultures and lifestyles, my main interest for as long as I can remember is how all the possible forms of communication can be learned and used towards dispute resolution. To give an idea of where I'm coming from, my professional work has been in international law and development, teenage art projects, "spiritual intelligence" (sorry if that sounds silly - it's currently the phrase used in UK "self-development" organisations for developing wisdom), and journalism; my personal work has been to simply be a comforting presence for friends and family when they are hurt or confused by conflict.

I post here when I think there is something to be said which nobody has covered yet, or a different way of saying the same thing which I think might help shed light on the subject for another reader out there. Like placing an extra plank on a bridge we're all building. I often hear people speaking as if in different languages, wanting the same thing but frustrated that they are not understood by each other. With human nature being what it is, it isn't long before they assume stupidity or mal intent of each other, and misunderstandings snowball into conflict and real harm (or increase harm where it existed already). Sometimes I speak both languages and am able to interpret.

Needless to say, the wise thing to do is usually to stay out of the way. I've learned that there isn't usually much I can do that will help, and there's nothing more patronising than somebody trying to help when you didn't ask for it. But this time I felt that at least I wouldn't be adding to the harm by saying something. To this end, I'm more interested in asking questions than reinforcing opinions. Asking questions and listening to each other is like loosening a tight knot. Stating an opinion, while I'm as guilty as anyone else, tightens the knot and doesn't seem to resolve much. Stating facts, on the other hand, is good, but I'm wary that people who are in pain often mix up fact and opinion, which weakens their case. Much of my work is to do with sorting fact from opinion to help clarify what needs to be done.

With less experience in the OBC than most people here, I'm obviously no expert. It also means however that I am less likely to have an emotional agenda, which helps me see things differently and hopefully in some cases more clearly. I'm a pragmatist, constantly coming back to 'what can constructively be done here?' For example, I found the following quote from Diana particularly helpful. I wonder if an elaboration on the practical "how-to" details of this might be helpful to the OBC. I'd like to acknowledge that some of it, such as transparency and better lay relations, are things that I've already seen being increased at Throssel. Other things, such as reviewing the behavioural teaching model, and for example reviewing confidentiality agreements and feedback loops together with laypeople, I think are good things which can come out of this forum.

Diana wrote:
I do think one thing that can be done as far as your question goes, is that the OBC can re-vamp how they go about teaching. There needs to be some standards in place for the way they teach their teachers and for the way the handle their ethical problems. Transparency would help. Better lay relations would help. Better relations within the international community would help (there seems like such a difference in practices and such in England, for example). There's a lot to be done.

As far as manipulation goes, I really don't think they know they are doing it for the most part. It is a learned behavior. I think they need to look at it and consider seriously how what they say, model, teach, and do, affects everyone else.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Sep 28, 2010 1:17 pm

Addendum - in the frenzy of morning coffee I forgot to disclose my other reason for posting here. I was concerned that when this forum was read by beginners who were considering studying at the OBC, they would see only one-sided arguments against going there. I would like them to read about the positive experiences of studying there too, so they can make as informed a choice as possible.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Wed Sep 29, 2010 6:43 am

Apologies for having gone off topic. To return to the subject of cults, on the one hand I think there's a need for a more nuanced argument than "it is/ it is not a cult". On the other, I'd bear in mind how far arguments about terminology are going to help us.

Further to the information that Diana has provided, I'd modify my initial statement "the OBC is definitely not a cult" to look at a variety of definitions. One is "a system of religious beliefs and ritual" (Merriam Webster) - yes I would agree that the OBC is that. Another is "A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false" (thefreedictionary.com) - personally I don't agree that the OBC is that.

Re. brainwashing and mind control, it's possible to find an element of that in all communication and teaching endeavours should you so wish. But what is the intent, and is it harmful? When training long-term at Throssel, it did feel like I was allowing my brain to be "washed": however with a couple of very small exceptions, my will was not overruled, violated or manipulated without my permission. It was far more overruled and manipulated in ordinary schools as a child. At Throssel on the other hand I felt like the majority of teachers were inviting me to a great fount of 'knowledge', and I was allowed to drink as much or as little as I was able to.

I don't want to get into pointless drawn-out academic arguments so will try to keep this short. To take some aspects of cult mind control, which I have witnessed first-hand when interviewing members of the generally acknowledged cult "Children of God" (this list is from Carole Wade et al., Psychology 101, 2005):

People are put in physical or emotionally distressing situations
I would say yes, there seems to be no doubt that this happens in the OBC.

Their problems are reduced to one simple explanation, which is repeatedly emphasized

Again I would say yes, this happens.

They receive unconditional love, acceptance, and attention from a charismatic leader or group
This is a major difference between my observation of cults and my experience in the OBC. You will be familiar with the term "love-bombing", which is typical of cults. It is not typically my experience in laypeople's Zen practice, although there are charismatic leaders.

They get a new identity based on the group
True, although it is obviously true of any group of conscious beings. Again I would come back to the intent of those who are more powerful, and is the phenomenon helpful or harmful?

They are subject to entrapment (isolation from friends, relativesand the mainstream culture) and their access to information is severelycontrolled.
As you'll know this happens in the OBC to varying degrees depending on your stage of training. Personally I experienced that immediate access to information and socialising was limited for the purpose of focussing on what we were there to do, but that when trainees had a genuine need for contact and information outside this format, they were generously assisted with finding it. I felt focussed but never shut off, and never penalised when deviating from the usual code.

I would add the point of 'public humiliation'. In a year at Throssel I saw this practice on occasion by one or two teachers, but it was very far from the norm.

The opinions above are based on my limited personal experience only, and are not intended as absolute facts to blanket the whole of OBC through all time. I am aware that many others have extremely different experiences, and I am glad that they are being aired here.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Thu Sep 30, 2010 5:46 pm

If the OBC is a cult, it's not exactly in the same league as the Scientologists is it? (In fact I'm a bit worried about mentioning them in case they come to get me).
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sat Oct 02, 2010 7:02 am

sianabelle wrote:
it's not exactly in the same league as the Scientologists is it?
That's why I pooh-poohed the suggestion to begin with, but failing to take genuine concerns seriously is what got us into this mess in the first place.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sat Oct 02, 2010 4:38 pm

This is just a thought on the fly. It might only be possible or relevant for people whose relationship with the world is meditation based as opposed to those who approach it through the master/disciple relationship, but I thought I would throw this out there.

It's easy to agree with you that" not taking things seriously got us in this mess to begin with" .
but is there space to consider that the opposite is also true. I don't mean to diminish the pain and suffering expressed on this forum by all sides but was it not our terribly earnest desires and beliefs that also brought us to a place of pain and suffering. Humour seems like another way of saying you've got to be kidding when faced with beliefs that people refuse to question.

People behaving badly through unquestioned conditioning can hurt themselves and others whereas humour is a tool that can allow for other possibilities. You could just as easily say that we were hurt by our lack of humour. Humour often arises for me when I catch a glimpse of our vast insignificance against an backdrop of ego that screams of self importance. I mean the great reverence placed on the colour of robes, the mystical ceremonial turnings of this way or that, a paint by numbers kensho or merit system and on & on. I'm sure we all have our (you've got to be joking) list. Humour often softens the polerized positions of the evangelical and the self righteous. Pedestals are much harder to climb in the face of humour. There is a commonalty to humour that speaks more to our connections with each other than our separateness. Without it we will soon be hemmed in from all sides by sacred cows.

I'm obviously not saying everything is a joke or that humor should be used to disguise mean spirited intent but humour doesn't seem to get much airplay on this forum considering how much grace it's probably added to all our lives.
This posting is pretty rough but I'm wondering if other folks feel this way as well.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sat Oct 02, 2010 8:56 pm

Spot-on as usual Howard--just like your dancing elephant metaphor!

(For those not yet familiar with the dancing elephant reference, see Howard's very insightful and humorous reply, on Rev. Seikai's Introduction thread, posted on September 2nd.)
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Wed Oct 27, 2010 3:59 pm

Hi all.

This has been a very interesting forum for me to come across. This year i have been to Throssel Hole 2 times. I have not had any hints of brainwashing directed at me. So far the monks have just been very honest and just left me to it.

However, ive read a lot in the past about 'fake buddhists' and the like, so i have a big trust problem. I doubt things a lot, and i think this leads me to doubt the so called spiritual claims of people. But like i say, thus far, i have had no real problems...but early days still.

I also know that there has just been a big conclave between Shasta and Throssel, and i know Throssel is looking maybe to have a much more inclusive and open lay training, with perhaps a better system in place for people to air and discuss any troublesome matters? Also im sure many other things have been discussed too.

Im very sorry to hear of the problems people have had, its something i dread happening myself. Thanks for being brave and talking about it!

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Fri Nov 05, 2010 8:07 pm

No.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Jul 12, 2011 4:44 am

When I arrived there, I could immediately feel something was off. The campus was extremely different than what the website "showed" it to be. Before I even opened the gate, I was considering leaving. I stalled and made several trips back to my car pretending to get more stuff, while I was actually trying to collect myself to go in. Several women greeted me with smiles inviting me to come inside. They were very polite and I could not understand these feelings I had. After about 10 minutes I finally decided to step through the gate... but I hit an invisible wall and could not continue. By all means I wanted to have a budhist experience... But my body could not continue. (If anyone knows what i'm talking about it is a strong feeling that can't be confused by any other.) I hurried back to my car almost crying. I wanted to leave very badly. Even now I get shaky and my eyes tear up.

One thing is certain, I know nothing about what happens behind that fence, nor do I want to.

I will seek to crave my knowledge elsewhere, and i'm glad to have found this forum. It will forever give me closure.

(By the way, this was Shasta Abbey 3724 California.)
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Jul 12, 2011 12:18 pm

Hay there Howard!

I know what you mean about humour being useful at giving us a true perspective of ourselves amidst this vast world and universe around us. I sometimes imagine animals doing what humans do, such as in placing importance on the finer details of grooming. Jealousy looks pretty funny when viewed as one cat feeling superior to another because she has a softer, longer, full mane. For me, imagining animals thinking their breed is superior to other breeds, makes human prejudice based on race, intelligence, looks, appear truly ridiculous!

I don't know if I'm making myself clear here about this animal analogy business but, for me, it's helpful and makes me laugh.

Humour has a way of de-fanging the beasts of greed, hate and delusion which we deal with on a daily basis in one form or another. In my experience, there is definitely a time and place for humour & this is quite often! Thanks Howard for your insight on humour. bow, claire
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Jul 12, 2011 12:39 pm

Hi Josh,
I had a similar feeling about visiting Shasta Abbey. Most everyone I knew at our local Buddhist Priory had been to Shasta Abbey on retreats yet I could not bring myself to go.
I was content to attend my local Priory but, for me, there was also a gut instinct telling me to not physically visit Shasta Abbey. I read the newsletters and went to the site on the net to browse their shop of Buddhist supplies. It all looked good. Thought I'd let you know there's someone elso, who over the course of 23 yrs., could not bring myself to go to Shasta Abbey.

I know people who've attended retreats there and felt good about going there. I'm not saying it was wrong for people to go to Shasta Abbey; many came away with positive experiences. I'm only sharing my reaction, that which kept me from visiting Shasta Abbey. For me, maybe it was best to stay away.

I think listening to one's gut is usually a good idea. There have been too many times, re. other matters, where I have not listened to my gut instincts and I've ended up in a tangled mess!

Thought I'd let you know I also balked at the prospect of entering those gates. Bowing, claire
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Jul 12, 2011 1:23 pm

Hi Josh--I've said this before, but as a lay guest I have never found Shasta Abbey to be anything less than welcoming. I'm speaking as one who has visited only a few times: they've hardly had much opportunity to "brainwash" me, and I am obviously not a spiritual dependent of theirs because I rarely visit. I say this so you know a bit about where I'm coming from.

It is good to trust one's intuition. Sometimes that feeling that something is off can be spot on. However, I have also on occasion spooked myself when it turned out that there was nothing wrong. Our emotional states color what we see, sometimes to the point of unreason. Have you ever taken an instant dislike to someone (because of their clothes, manner, etc.) who turned out be a person of depth and wisdom?

From the many posts I've read, and discussions I've been involved in, I'm guessing that very few--maybe none--of the people on this forum can report being harmed from visiting Shasta Abbey once, or even a few times, as a layperson. The monks there can teach you about basic Zen doctrine and how they do serene reflection meditation. I think it's very unlikely that anyone's going to demand that you become a disciple and shave your head on the spot.

No one at Shasta has ever even tried a hard-sell on me (i.e., tried to convince me to hand over my spiritual life to them). But of course you can feel that come-on if you're sensitive to it, and then run away as needed.
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