The Enlightenment of Ghouls

I fear that I am beginning to resent Buddhists.  In a most unbuddhist like manner, those drawn to cults of personality and isolated practice are by far the most limiting individuals I have met.  Reverent and harmful.  This may not be the same experience for most but in my case there is a scent of truth to it.  The lingering sweetly foul odor of stagnation and ire – of decay and death – desire and stale incense.  I’ve no wish to participate in the traditional Buddhist expressions of practice, to take the precepts, sit in a group or to present myself to a teacher.  The essense of these practices have an appeal – a strong one- but ultimately it is without any real substance.  I am content with the amount of attachment that I currently have and do not wish to color it with more religion and spice it with devotion.  Spoiled meat is, of course, spoiled meat.  A splash of devotion does little to the feast of maggots.

While Buddhists display some of the most desirable traits and some of the worst; I do not want to imitate much more than a small portion of it.  I am content with my struggling householder existence and will leave the filthy robes and stale chants to those that wish to pretend that filth is ambrosa.  Both are equally empty and I am fine abstaining from both.  My practice is bland and stable; a movement from one moment to the next with some joys and struggles thrown in for color.  I don’t want to broadcast my abilities or successes like a spoiled toddler.  I can only channel this life and not past or future ones.

There is no need to collect objects and trickets as they are just small ornaments without meaning.  While beautiful and desirable to gaze at; they pale in comparison to the beep of a dime-store egg timer and the lumps of a handmade cushion.  The bleached bones of practice – ugly but sterile – grinning in the desert heat.  While it would be an honor to be given a Buddhist name and swaddle myself in the warmth of self-importance and acheivement; I think I will stick to my bad poetry and poor prose. 

The rumblings of titans and devas. 

faded mural

a hero of old

The dance of ghosts

and the enlightenment of ghouls.



26 thoughts on “The Enlightenment of Ghouls

  1. i like your poetry. “The bleached bones of practice – ugly but sterile – grinning in the desert heat.” That is a beautiful line! And I also like your sentiments. They put my feet on the ground again.

  2. I understand and empathize with many of your points here. I use treeleaf’s online meditation timer when meditating at home. When our new daughter arrived we received a brand new Boppy (one of the few baby products I whole-heartedly endorse) so I took the old one we had bought a couple years ago from a consignment shop and it is my zafu. I’m fine with using my juzu instead of buying a mala since I’m focusing on Zen now. Beads are beads. The only objects I collect are books. My son has a small Hotei that he likes to hold and that is fine with me (he thinks he is a super hero like Spiderman and Optimus Prime). However, I do desire to at least try out the experience of sitting in a dharma hall, meeting a teacher and such. I’d someday like to take on koan study, and think a teacher that I was face-to-face with would help in that capacity. But the groupthink and guru worship? No fucking thanks. I’d rather go the way of Layman Pang.

  3. “Those who follow tantra and the vehicle of the paramitas, the vinaya, the sutras,and the various teachings of the Buddha with an attachment for their individualtextual traditions and their individual philosophy will not come to seeluminous mahamudra, because the seeing of that luminosity or clear light isobscured by their intention and attitude.The conceptualized maintenance of vows actually causes you to impair themeaning of samaya. Without mental directedness or mental activity, be free ofall intentionality.”Tilopa

  4. @flylikeacrow @Buddhabadges I appreciate the skillfulness of both Layman Pang and Tilopa, while more familiar with the former. Been reading Hakuin, Torei and Huang-po lately and find that all three were presenting similar topics.

  5. I always enjoy your writing Jack, and this one is no exception, but I thought maybe this one needs some follow up. All in all, I think our practices are more than a little similar, but I’ve often wondered – have you had a negative experience at a large temple or Buddhist order? Often your writing appears this way and I’ve been curious. Not all who have “taken precepts, sat in large groups, or dress filthy robes and stale chants wish to pretend that filth is ambrosia.” 😉 Some do all of those at times, take them for what they’re worth, or throw them out once they’ve completed them. Not all are negative experiences, not all are positive experiences. And, though I have done some of these things, I, like you would also say my practice is bland and stable; hell, that is practice. 🙂 Now, if you were to say the less than stellar example of some of these experiences were from what we read on these social networks; I’d be the first to agree with you. Always enjoy the dialog with you. Kris

  6. Hi Jack. I also enjoy your posts, but like Kris wonder what has spurned this post. While all of our practices see’s highs and lows, it is all of our responsibility as Sangha members to prop each other back up and point the way back down the path to Enlightenment at any cost.I myself shared your sentiments as a member of a Zen community and really got a bad taste in my mouth about the elitism and the collective segregation that you touch upon in your words. My point here is NOT attacking Zen, but at the same time, when my family moved to New England, I could not find a local Zen Sangha and found a Nichiren Shu temple. At first reluctant, I attended a service and have since taken Jukai under the resident teacher. What was most surprising in the initial stages of accepting new practice and change was the new understanding of boundaries that some sects put around themselves severely hinder the core of the practice itself which is to attain Enlightnement for ourselves to ultimately benefit all living beings. Sometimes change is good and necessary to invigorate our Buddha Nature. Most of the time its not our ‘chants that are stale’, but our own ego telling us that things are stale. This is when we come back to our cushion, our Sutra or mantra of veneration, and re-learn everything there is to appreciate exactly as it is.I thank you for your post and for its ability to spur my practice for you and for all other beings.Namu Myoho Renge Kyo!Drew Kairen Warren

  7. Hi JD,I’ve had a few different descriptive/defining labels knocking around my head that may be used to describe some subtly, and not so subtly, differing behaviors in myself and others:There’s Buddhism (practicing what the Buddha did… or so they say).There’s Buddha-ism (the cults of ‘what the Buddha said’).There’s Buddhistism (the cults of ‘buddhists don’t do that’ and/or ‘buddhists do this’ etc etc).The last one seems pretty strong at the moment what with the whole US ‘Engaged Buddhism’ malarkey.If we put our mind to it I’m sure there’s more to be spotted. Regards,Harry.

  8. Hi Warren. It is a long, complicated and unfortunate story. I do appreciate the comments from yourself and (as awlays) Kris. Consider this a low in my experience with organizational Buddhism. As such, I do feel that a loosely knit community of practitioners is more appropriate to my practice at the time.The chants, sitting, temple and mantras are empty of meaning. What we bring to the practice is important. My run-in with some indidividuals that have a hollow practice (no matter the color or condition of robes) instigated this little post.”My point here is NOT attacking Zen, but at the same time, when my family moved to New England, I could not find a local Zen Sangha and found a Nichiren Shu temple”I did not take it as an attack towards me or towards Zen (even if it was an attack towards Zen, it is your attack to make if needed). I agree that whether Zen, Nichiren, Shin or “other” what we bring to the practice is more important than what the practice brings to us.Cheers,John

  9. Well stated my friend.Just maintain faith that no matter what happens in your practice, however you practice, you will never lose the jewel of Buddha Nature that you possess. ~Drew

  10. An excellent post, thank you very much. Some times I sit and wonder whether I’m alone in my view of the Buddhist world. It’s very reassuring to learn that at least one person (and probably many more) share a common opinion. Actually, I know a lot of people share this view, they just don’t make a fuss about their practice. I’m happiest not belonging to a particular group, not putting a label on myself, not following a ‘guru’. I’m doing the best I can, making mistakes and finding my own way. I’m trying to be a light unto myself as someone once said. Too many people in this community seem to want to bask in the light of another. They want to believe and to venerate, to introduce divisions between people, to assert a hierarchy and to make claims for their version of ‘the truth’. They’re cling to the exoticism of a new Tibetan name or a Japanese robe when they could be building a practice appropriate to this time and place. It’s the only one they’re ever going to have. Some of the online controversy I’ve witnessed recently has just reconfirmed to me that it is more important to be a buddha than a buddhist. Buddhists as a group don’t seem to be any more mindful of the destructive effects of greed, hatred and delusion than other other group. Sectarian has never been a good thing to be…

  11. Thanks to Peter and everyone’s comments. I find that when I open myself up like this I tend to find many that feel the same way. Unfortunately that same trend of openeness can leave one exposed to abuse. So I am so very pleased with everyone’s input, concern and comments.Cheers,John

  12. Very nice post and I’ve enjoyed the comments thus far. This is the reason I don’t get involved much in the Buddhist communities. I prefer to do my own thing and not stick my head out. There’s so much drama out there and it just really turns me off whenever I even consider joining a community. I have no real desire for communal religion either and I don’t think it’s really necessary to follow the path. For some people it’s their thing, but I’m not really drawn to it at this point in my practice.

  13. @mzskeptica I don’t mind sticking my head out but when you bring a knife to gun fight, you need to know when to back down. I joined a small grassroots community of pracititioners. It is diverse and open but not falsely “LaLALAAA!” like many places. We face our difficulties and help each other out. A very healthy form of practice. Many of us, like myself, only pop in rarely but still feel that connection of practice. Others are their everyday, every week and take a more active role. Thanks for commenting.John

  14. Ashe,I would love to inform you that while you say you do not care to get involved in the Sangha, you are. That is exemplified by your input to this discussion. How did you find this post in the first place? Unless you are a close personal friend of Jack’s and subscribed on the merit of supporting his cause, did you find his blog via Buddhist searches in Twitter, Facebook, web, etc?My point being is that when someone follows the path of the Buddha, you take the precepts of taking refuge in the Buddha (teacher), Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (global community of practitioners regardless of sect). You coming on here shows that you ARE a very special and important member of the greater Sangha. It does not mean you have to be at a temple, or a center, or sitting with a guru, etc. Our practice does not neatly fit into the periods of time that you sit on your cushion. Our practice is at all times. Take away all concepts of ‘Sangha’ and know that it means you are engaged with other people who want to truly understand why we all suffer and how can we alleviate that suffering in this world and in this lifetime. So as a fellow Sangha member, I thank you deeply and bow in your direction.Gassho,Drew Kairen Warren

  15. Drew,I knew I should’ve clarified a bit! But you are correct – I just do not wish to join a temple, center, or follow a guru specifically at this point in my practice. I recognize the greater Sangha and interact with others online and such but in a less formal manner than what would entail joining an official group. Thanks for your response, I appreciate it.

  16. Hey Jack, rGyatso here,As an old war-horse of Tradition and Lineage, I AGREE with everything you say. I am in with the “filthy robes and the sterile chants” now, but I wasn’t so for much of my Buddhist Practice. Picky I am. And I wouldn’t be here now, if I did not feel that the virtue and precepts were being strictly followed with infinite compassion, but with no mercy …. And the Dharma taught freely and openly. The points you raised, this discussion is not new, it is the argument between the Monastic model and the Hermit-Yogi model. In the end, there is not a practical shred of merit in either (although each intrinsically may be meritorious), their success hinges totally on the purity, goodness and virtue of the individual practitioner and the individual and unique teacher. Some schools have achieved an uneasy truce in this regard. I often make the riddle to people who have viewed Little Buddha. “Who is the most pivotal and important character in the Film, in the Buddhist sense?” Few get the answer, which is:The dirty long-haired smelly yogi that comes to the monastery to give the Lama Dorje’s bowl to the Lama. HE has the complete transmission of Lineage, NOT the monastery. There alone is the transmission to the new generation. Most of the ones who are bellowing and gibbering on the eWebs have had only an instant of genuine practice. Their “devotion” is usually ego and selfishness. Tribalism and politics. Buddha actually has admonitions on how to approach, how to find and analyze, teachings and teachers. And how to reject them. Certainly there are recommendations on how a refugee or an initiate should BEHAVE. One might think that these writings had not been translated into modern languages, but sadly, they have, and it seems seldom read or followed. Civility and fair speech (which I find you practice), would be a help too.Harry makes a cogent observation on the “whole US ‘Engaged Buddhism’ malarkey.” But it is as prevalent in India, China, Tibet, South Asia. The model will have to change, it is changing. Respect will have to be earned rather than automatically given, Asian ceremonial ass-kissing is changing in the west to a firm handshake and a hug. And I think even most of the young traditional Chinese practitioners in NA are starting to like it too. When you find a place that you “fit,” you will know it, it may, for now, be just your own closet or your own cushion. The chief admonition to follow is: to Learn, to Serve, and through this, to be Happy.And that is what it looks like you are doing here, Jack Raven !! with the electronic sangha. We happy few. Blessings to All of you !!rGyatso

  17. @rGyatso It reminds me of a story about the poetic old Zen battle-wagon, Ikkyu. When commenting on his lack of respect towards monastic settings and monks, it is easy to forget that his irreverence was born of a long practice of actual reverence. Zen isn’t about irreverence it is about not attaching too much the reverence to the point of it being a crutch. All aids to practice can eventually smother you if you let them. I don’t really see it as Monastics vs. Hermit/Yogi as I see both of those platforms as contrary to a householder lifestyle (not all mind you but for the most part). “Their “devotion” is usually ego and selfishness. Tribalism and politics. ” Yes. I agree completely. “What are you devoted to and why?” are salient questions and at the center of any contemplative practice. Cheers,John

  18. (writing from an aging laptop in the chilly Cariboo-Chilcotin wilderness)Or conversely Reverence born on long irreverence, also about non-attachment.I can see your view re House-Holder vs Hermit-yogi and Monastic. Either of the latter paths can be used improperly to oppress or abuse. And it seems that the House-Holder may have the least power in the mix. But greater influence can be taken. I have been looking at it a little differently, from the Indian-Tibetan view. I have been composing a commentary about how Gampopa worked to meld the Mahasiddha yogic traditions of Marpa, Milarepa, Rechung, with the more stable monastic model of the Khadapa.I was considering House-Holders and Hermit-Yogis in more or less the same boat, as they have identical precepts, on the face of it. Just different chosen obligations and responsibiities.I don’t consider them to be actually separate from each other, or one superiour, as Marpa the House-Holder taught Tilopa’s realization to the Yogi Milarepa. And then Gampopa the Monastic had to sythesize and teach the multiple mahamudra realizations of both Milarepa and Rechunpa in order to preserve them in a stable environment of monastic lineage. Also, Mahayana Sutras like the Vimalakirti shows the support and the recognition that is given to House-Holder accomplishment. Done properly, the whole sangha can be a very powerful and inclusive force.All this is history of course. Right now Dharma-Drama manifests, in the centres, on the web. Anonymous mischief and sly sardonic statements, people who never knew or forget all civility and virtue. Dharma does not have a score-card attached, and it never did. It is just a program to remove the 84,000 ways that human beings have invented to screw themselves and each other over.Like I humorously commented on twitter, I thought you were “drunk or nuts.” But I think it will work out well in the end. Eventually others, like yourself, will express their disquiet and disagreement (I did it back in the GEnie list services, Olde I am). We are becoming Ripe for the Fourth (or is it the Fifth) Great Council. I have seen the signs in some of the moves that HHDL and others of influence have been making over the last few years. New views on interaction and discipline, and handling of rumours and slander.When I get home, Jack, I will take up your earlier invitation to guest on your blog, and take some time to send you a short side discourse HHDL did on the hazards of Guru-Devotion and teacher worship back in 1993 that I had the fortune to hear. As I later had access to the tapes, I made a transcript. You will decide if it is appropriate to the venue.Blessings and Auspicious Good Fortune, The Blessings of the Noble Sangha to you all !!Rob the rGyatso(I will try to be shorter, honest!)

  19. Count me as another person who tries to keep the trappings of organized religion at bay as best I can. I keep what is useful and leave the rest. I know that Buddha meditated–that’s the core despite all the beautiful sutras. So, I sit–just sit. I too like the bleached bones metaphor. Great post.

  20. <tr><td> LinkedIn I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn. – Drew <tr> <td> Drew Warren IT Manager at AT&T Technical Services Co. Greater Boston Area </td></tr> </td> </tr> Confirm that you know Drew © 2011, LinkedIn Corporation

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