Open Forum ~ Engaging Ignorance in Buddhism

From the Second Precept of Engaged Buddhism ~ The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.

When we are surrounded by suffering and ignorance, what is expected from us as Buddhists?  Should we remain solely focused on our own path and progress?  Do we let the suffering others just pass through our thoughts fleetingly and then continue with breath?  We can confront, engage or ignore.  Which is trully the mindful middle way the the Buddha teaches. 

I struggle with this.  When I see ignorance, I feel that it needs to be addressed in some way.  Whether it is the Evangelical leanings of Senior Fox News Correspondant Brit Hume, the objectifying Pastor Rony Tan, the eviction of Thich Nhat Hahn’s monks or the tongue-in-cheek commentary of Bill Maher – there are misconceptions of Buddhism that run rampant and can spread.  These obviously pale in comparision with the tragedies in Haiti, Chile and Mongolia but where should we stand up for ourselves as well as show compassion?

How do you address the events that occur around us?  What is worth it and what isn’t?




28 thoughts on “Open Forum ~ Engaging Ignorance in Buddhism

  1. It has often been said that what we experience in our “external” world is a reflection of something out of order within us.

    I think that applies to the sangha as a corporate body as well.

    There is so much pettiness, misrepresentation of the truth, divisiveness and sectarian bullshit within the Western Buddhist community — especially in the blogosphere — that I saw the media drama as a reflection of the kinds of baseless attacks, for example, that I faced from folks in a previous blog here… and that continue on some of the less mature and sophomoric folks blogs to this day.

    Just as inadequate research, lack of respect and open-mindedness were lacking in that situation (and just as the facts were ignored when answers to their questions were provided), we saw Hume, Maher and others do the same thing with Tiger Woods and Buddhism.

    It’s sad. It’s disgraceful. And it’s disgusting. But sadder still is that some have gone so far as to distance themselves from others, worrying about the effect friendship would have on their “popularity”, rather than doing their due diligence and standing up for what is right.

    As Faulkner notes, “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth. ”


  2. His name, as far as I can tell, is Dharmacharya Gurudas Sunyatananda(aka Dr. F. Gianmichael Salvato) and is founder of just countless financial and spiritual “organizations”, and goes by various titles such as His Eminence, Khenpo, Arch-Bishop and “new mentor to the millionaires.”

    I won’t go any further to explain what exactly this guys M.O. is, as I think the information below more than adequately covers this subject. However, I believe you will see from the literally dozens of websites he has created, the words wealth building, money making, internet marketing, financial planning, bankruptcy, debt relief etc etc etc seen over and over and over again. Just a warning to wise, do yourselves a favor and check out anyone claiming grandiose religious titles, as you maybe in for a big fucking surprise. A DESCRIPTION OF YOUR BUDDHIST TEACHER SHOULD NEVER INCLUDE THE WORD MARKETING.

    God damn, I think I’m just going to go ahead and throw up now.

    The Sites is some info on him) (Read the part about his buddies getting arrested for fraud) (here is where you can “donate” money)
    (Hint on this one:Lambda Net: the largest global network of Gay Men & Womyn worldwide.
    Seeking serious folks in EU to extend business. Unlimited financial
    opportunity. No investments required. e-mail: or
    write: Dr. Gianmichael Salvato, DMSc, PhD, Cellular Dynamics Worldwide,
    6131 N Sixteenth Street Suite B-206, Phoenix, AZ 85016-1720, USA.) (Interesting!)

    Jesus Christ, I give up, I just don’t feel like listing them all out. It’s like cleaning out my spam box one message at a time. Just Google both his names and enjoy “WEALTH BUILDING, MONEY MAKING, INTERNET MARKETING, FINANCIAL PLANNING, DEBT RELIEF BUDDHISM.”

    Namasté you motherfucker.

    • In the tradition of all the vitriolic cowards, you post lots of innuendo, with neither substance nor substantiation. Yet I have continued (for thirty years) to provide all of the documentation, substantiation and evidence to the contrary.

      Never have I hidden the fact that I am an openly-gay man. Never have I hidden the fact that for 18 years, I supported the work of six monastic houses (five dharma centres), a meals program that fed hundreds of people on the streets of multiple cities, all of the insurance, utilities, food and shelter costs for 54 monastics, rental subsidies for a number of disenfranchised and dying persons, and all of the expenses normally associated with the operation of a ladrang out of the money that was generated from my work as a respected consultant to several top direct sales companies.

      The companies were all legitimate. When two of the individuals who hired me were arrested for a completely unrelated stock fraud case, I not only walked away from their program (with them owing me thousands of dollars), but immediately reported it in the blog YOU listed above (remember, clown, I OWN!)

      In times past, monastics begged from door to door — something that is illegal in 90% of the towns in which our Order operates. And since I have never ONCE accepted pay for my work as a cleric or monk, including never taking a dime of the monies earned from marketing (since I live by the same vow of poverty that my brother and sister monastics live by), I chose to do something that allowed me to leverage my time, and still be able to teach Dharma six days a week.

      Yes, there continue to be cowardly claims that because our community welcomes people from diverse spiritual traditions that we are somehow a cult. But here’s a newsflash… I live WELL BELOW the federal poverty level guidelines… on $700/month. So this is FAR from a money making scheme… and I welcome ANYONE to come to my door and come in to see the conditions I am forced to live in.

      Perhaps in your narrowly defined idea of what a monk should or should not be it’s impossible for one to be a semi-retired bishop-exarch and Buddhist… perhaps in your narrowly-defined (hungry ghost) mentality, it’s wrong for a recognised lama to have to engage in marketing… but I am neither interested nor seeking your approval.

      I will continue to do all I can to support this work, because I DON’T have the wealth of a parent organisation, and won’t play sectarian politics to gain that kind of support.

      Now, unless you want to find your lying ass in court, I would suggest looking up the word LIBEL — and knock off the unsubstantiated bullshit claims and innuendos.

      Put up or STFU. Plain and simple.

      Namasté to you too, Ken.

      • “…perhaps in your narrowly-defined (hungry ghost) mentality, it’s wrong for a recognised lama to have to engage in marketing…”

        There is a vow about handling money. And one about chastity… and not bragging about yourself. Did you take those vows, or were they not to your liking?

        Have you considered that you have simply designed a monastic life around your personal preferences?

        • I have to ask again, without evidence of real wrongdoing, what is the purpose of this “investigation” into Dharmacharya?

          It is one thing to present reality–especially if someone else is being hurt or swindled–quite another to foment distrust and anger just because someone’s spiritual pedigree might be spotty.

        • Grow up, Robert. A little common sense is in order here. The archaic vow about not handling money is applicable when a monk has all of his needs provided for, and is able to beg with a food bowl from door to door. Frankly, I don’t give a flying f*ck whether you or anyone else approves of the fact that I provided for 54 monks by working. This is the West, and the Dharma is made relevant in every age.

          The vinaya may have been a useful set of guidelines for a primitive people, but they need to be adapted for the West and for the postmodern ethos.

          And the vow I took is chastity, not celibacy. What’s more, if you do your homework, you’ll find the Rule of Life, the Charter and the precepts according to which the Contemplative Monks of the Eightfold Path live.

          I don’t get to make the rules, override them or issue directives. I am a simple monk, who happens to function as the Order’s principal Dharmacharya, Abbot and retired Archbishop. The Order is governed like any Sangha, by consensus.

          Bragging? Nope… not for me. I responded to accusations, and of course, since that doesn’t fit your agenda, you’ll call it what you like.

          How many homeless people have you fed today? How many people did you visit in hospitals, or hospices today? What have you done to advance the work of compassion, service, reconciliation and peace today? Or is attacking a monk and cleric the extent of the work you do?

        • Who has ever heard of a so-called Khenpo that runs 30-40 different websites, all different, all mixed with religious jargon, money making scheme’s and yelling and screaming at anyone who questions him.

          I mean come on, its the classic internet scam, hiding behind layers and layers of false websites and shady business dealings.

          Believe Gurudas if you all like, but I think his words, his actions and just the sheer magnitude of his “web presence” speaks for themselves.

          How did you know it was me Frank?

  3. It ry to do this with my own blog. We ahve to draw the line and say to our selves: is what I’m saying mindful?

    You’ve told me that you can’t argue with a zealot, and you are right.

    I think the key is to put out as much truthful information as possible and build our credibility by not engaging in dsiputes with believers.

    We’re followers of a non-theistic, non-eternalist path and that’s pretty scary stuff to our Eternalist friends and neighbors who are mostly of Abrahamic Tradtions but even the Asturar or Wiccan or what have you bleeive in an Eternal component of Self that most Buddhist reject. Westerners, other than flat-out Atheists, have a hard time wrapping their mind around the concept that the essential “you” isn’t really there but is an illusion caused by craving and attachments.

    To misquote Portal:

    The Self is a Lie.

    Peace, Brotha’!


  4. I think with most of these examples you have to first take a step back, collect your thoughts, and look at the issue’s ‘bigger picture’.

    What is the causation of the ignorance & what harm is the ignorance causing?

    Most of the time, we will see at least one of the following:
    – Uneducated about the Dharma
    – Fundamentalist
    – Generally just angry at the world

    Each of these may require a different response, but, the point is – it should always be a mindful response. The response each of us gives, further shapes the impression that opposing party has of the Dharma. If we can be an example of level-headedness and answer or educate in a proper manner then who knows, maybe we can help form a positive impression.

    …and I’ll be the first to admit; this is really hard sometimes.

  5. What can we do when misinformation about Buddhism and the Dhamma is spread? What should we take seriously and what should be ignored?

    The first sutta in the Digha Nikaya explains how one should respond pretty clearly. But the more difficult question is should we respond? I think there are times when silence is the best reaction. But if we decide to respond, I think the next thing to determine is how to respond, followed by, “is my response skillful?”

    I think the Buddha provided us with some pretty clear and simple guidelines. It’s just a matter of us following those guidelines to act mindfully. Goodness knows that I have reacted mindlessly at times. But if we can be mindful and skillful with our response, then I say by all means we should respond.

  6. Part of me wants to say it’s best not to defend or even bother with ignorant statements about Buddhism, and to simply let one’s actions and writings do the work. But then, there are times when opportunity presents itself – as the Brit Hume situation did – where the lines crossed were ones that called for engagement of some sort.

    Most of the time, though, I’m more interested in efforts that might directly benefit people in really difficult places. “Educating” a misguided TV personality, or helping to set a few terribly wrong ideas might be useful to do, but if it becomes too much of a focus, we’ve clearly lost sight of the practice.

    Even though I’m always talking about being engaged in the world, and actively looking at social (or collective) dukkha as well as one’s own life, it’s still clear that the precepts always end up pointing back to each of us.

    (p.s. I didn’t find myself getting worked up at all about Bill Maher, or Pastor Rony, or even Pastor Robertson whose site I commented on after you posted his Tiger Woods article. One could spend a life chasing after public figures spouting off stupid, ignorant comments, but in the end, it just means you’ve spent your life doing so. Hume was different because he was in the role of a journalist, even if it’s Fox News, so I felt compelled to say something more substantial. But after a couple of posts and a letter, I’d said enough, and felt that anything more was me being attached to “proving my point.” That what concerns me about a lot of the dragging these guys across the coals kind of writing going on. I agree what they are saying is ignorant and probably is having some kind of impact on how people view Buddhism in the general public. But so, too, does every response we make. I’ve seen nearly a dozen posts on Maher in the past four days, and all of them with comments from other Buddhists on them.
    It seems like a dukkha magnet if you ask me – frustrated with general views of our practice, some people are dropping that frustration on Maher, as if his lousy set of jokes were coming from a political leader who was about to outlaw Buddhism or something. In other words, the reaction has been way out of proportion to the offense – man, I’m sounding like Marcus, but you know, sometimes Marcus is dead on. )

  7. The tough thing is to avoid fighting (their) ignorance with (my) ignorance. That usually means taking a big step back and examining the story as broadly and as objectively as possible; then laying out facts as well as I can, allowing for my own mistakes, and evaluating those facts.

    Bill Maher’s recent comments are fairly simple and clearly off-base. His intentions or background knowledge are unknown to me though, so I’d be a fool to assume malice on his part. Similarly with others.

    The ignorance can be clear though and I agree we have a responsibility, in our own limited capacities, to counter that ignorance. My advice would be to:

    1. look at yourself, are you angry? Calm down first.
    2. don’t get personal – name calling is unnecessary
    3. stick to the issue – no ‘and another thing….’
    4. be nice – being smart and fancy is appealing, but being nice is better in the long run
    5. stick to the facts – don’t assume things that aren’t there, don’t put words in another’s mouth.

    There’s probably more, but that’s good for a start, eh?

  8. Hmmmm, do I have anything constructive to add to this thread? No, not really. Though I openly admit I’ve on more than one occasion broken all five of Justin’s principles, on purpose too, usually for my own entertainment. 🙂

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  10. What I am struggling with is how, regardless of your spiritual path, character assasination is responsible or edifying? The freedom we have today to write blogs is both a freedom and a responsibility. The joy of it is that we can freely express our opinion. That having been said, as folks with journalistic training well know, when our opinions cross the line into character assasination we have gone too far.

    It is easy to attack those with whom we don’t agree spiritually. I think the most important question we can ask ourselves is why we are so threatened that we feel a need to attack? Again, regardless of our spiritual path, the more important question is why we feel threatened. What in us is the person we desire to attack triggering. The real suffering occurs because of those unresolved issues in our past that keep being triggered – not whatever we perceive as offensive in the person we attack.

    As a clergyman in the Independent Sacramental movement I would just offer this – there is no institution paying our salary. We have to make a living in order to be able to do our ministry. This is something that folks who have only been exposed to Institutional Religion don’t easily understand. You don’t have to like that truth- if it bothers you, you are free to associate wherever you like. I would ask you this: If someone told you that you had to quit your job to follow your spiritual path and trust in providence or luck to feed you, would any sane person do it? Would their partner and/or children be happy with their decision?

    I think these sorts of exchanges are most unpleasant and don’t really leave anyone in a better place than they were before the exchange started. For my part, I always ask my self if I would be willing to say to someone face to face what I am about to write about them. If not, then I don’t write it. The Internet can be an easy place to say things we otherwise wouldn’t because the other can so easily be relegated to a non-person, a faceless entity we will never encounter. That is indeed unfortunate.

    For what it’s worth, my two cents.


  11. Where is this person’s name? He has the temerity to call Gurudas Sunyatananda a “motherfucker” and imply that because Gurudas Sunyatananda operates in the contemporary Internet economy, that somehow spirituality and making money are incompatible. Could you prove this statement?

    “GuruDas swindles people out of money and uses fake titles.”

    IF you could you would have cause for complaint. But you haven’t. And I don’t think you can. Until you can, you should SHUT THE FUCK UP!

    Only a sniveling weasel would attack another person the way you have attacked Gurudas Sunyatananda in a public forum such as this. If you are so deeply concerned that he’s trying to rip people off somehow, bring some real evidence, not your weasel opinion. Until then do us and yourself a favor and follow my advice.

    You have some serious personal issues you need to work out. I think that you are threatened by the fact Gurudas Sunyatananda is openly gay. Work out your issues and get back to us in a few years.

    If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.
    – Hermann Hesse

    W.G. Johnson

  12. Truth is within everything open your heart do not run walk slowly and feel your own oneness with everything in the world.Everything is one.Love other humans war is not for you.Harm no one live in harmony with everything.

  13. What a great forum only here today first time if any one wants to exchange views on the teaching leave your point i will reply when i am online.

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