Saturday, November 20, 2010

In Response to Yeshe Samten

I was wondering when the "Dharma Police" would make an appearance.  I knew it would be only a matter of time before they would swoop down from their high horses in Tushita Heaven to put their two sense in about how I'm not Buddhist enough.  (Not that I go around even really identifying myself as a Buddhist, mind you.)  

So, Sergeant Yeshe Samten stopped by for a visit the other day to "bust" me on my views and comment on my blog.  I've copied the text of his comments below in BLUE, along with my responses in BLACK.  

Please, please, please, all you mighty Orthodox Buddhists out there... feel free to stop by and tell me all about how the things I'm saying are going to lead me down the wrong path to becoming a Hungry Ghost.  I welcome the challenge!  

Sgt. Samten:  

Please tell me that you're an actual Tibetan person and not just some conceited white guy masquerading behind a name that you thought was cool and made you sound more wise.  Also, please tell me that you're NOT the same Yeshe Samten that posted a comment on about how some guy's OM MANI PADME HUM tattoo was done in an "unapproved" place on his body.

Actually... it would be better if you WERE this guy.  More fuel to the fire, I guess.  

You give an impression in your comments that you are some authority on Buddhist practice and that you have spent some time in "realization" yourself... but I wonder how you find the time to "go to the cushion" as you put it, when you spend all your time trolling the internet looking for people making Buddhist Faux Pas.

Before I launch into my full-scale rebuttal of your comments, I'd like to say that my intended audience for this blog is people who are sick of or unattracted to traditional Buddhism.  

Maybe they've had experiences like me with pretentious Americans who worship an imagined mystical Asian race, or maybe they're just looking for a fresh view/interpretation of Buddhism.  Whatever the case, I think that most of the people who comment on my blog understand where I'm coming from.  

My use of humor to deconstruct cultural Buddhism is merely a tool to attract this kind of audience.  

Now, for your comments.  

You said:
I'm sorry, not to cast to dark a shadow on your blog (it seems like a fun way to connect and blow off steam)-- but your comments on Buddhism, emptiness, and "nothingness" sounds more like nihlism than Buddhism. That's all very cute if you are into Nietzsche, but as far as Buddhist practice and philosophy goes, nihlism, just as in eternalism, is an untenable point of view.

My Response:
Thank you very much for assuming that you've cast a dark shadow over my blog.  What's "cute" is your assumption that I'm a nihilist.  You MUST have either done your reading in Madhyamika OR watched "The Big Lebowski" a hundred thousand times.  (Kind of like mantra recitation, huh?)

Let me just set your mind at ease.  The big, bad Nihilists aren't going to jump out of the dark and piss on your rug, they don't live in your closet, and I, my friend, am NOT a Nihilist.  (I tried to get into Nietzche for a while in high school, but his association with Hitler was a bit of a deterrent for me.)

Seriously though, I haven't made any serious mention of "emptiness" or "nothingness" in my blog other than as a play-on-words to make a joke about a cultural stereotype.  Since I've only made like five posts in total, I think it's amusing that you already can peg me as a Nihilist.  You must be a good cop.  

I DO agree with you on one point.  Nihilism is an untenable point of view.  

You said:
I agree that mass-maketed Buddhist stuff can be found in everyday life these days... images of "enlightenment" and "Buddhism" are used to market consumer products, and that's actually kinda icky. Even sincerely practicing Buddhists can get caught up in buying fancy things instead of trying to just open their hearts and minds. But it's also easy to forget that we all live in samsara-- just because we are Buddhist, doesn't mean we are enlightened.

My Response:
The reason I spent some time talking about "mass-market" Buddhism is because I believe it to be a terrible tragedy and a source of great confusion to those of us out there who are attracted to Buddhism, but then have to wade through all the garbage just to get there.  

It's kind of like standing on the banks of a beautiful lake.  There's a cool-looking island floating off in the middle, but to get there, you have to jump in the lake and swim through a thick film of green, stinky algae, bob past floating tires and hypodermic needles, and swim around barrels of raw sewage just to get there.  

Plus, to me, all that shit is really, really FUNNY! 

I never made that claim that all Buddhists are enlightened.  Far from it, my friend.  I posit that since "enlightenment" is such a prominent concept within the framework of Buddhism, there might be even LESS enlightened people that identify themselves as Buddhist then those who don't.  

After all... was Buddha a Buddhist?  Was Christ a Christian?  

And thanks for throwing in the Samsara reference.  How very "Orwellian" of you.  

You said:
You keep mentioning head-shaving and celibacy, as if those are the keys to attaining enlightenment. That's a sweetly naiive view of Buddhism, sort of like saying the fat laughing dude at the Chinese restaurant is the historical Buddha (he isn't). There are plenty of non-celibate non-monastic practicioners who attained full enlightenment (take Vimalakirti, or Padmasambhava...). So while it's perhaps useful to a degree to feel upset that one's non-monastic non-celibate life doesn't "jive" with the lives of some living Masters (such as the Dalai Lama or the Karmapa), that doesn't mean it doesn't "jive" with Buddhist practice or enlightenment.

My Response:
If you had actually READ my posts, you would have been able to infer that my references to "head-shaving" and "celibacy" were quite the opposite of what you're supposing.  I never said that those were "keys" to enlightenment.  Actually, I was saying quite the opposite.  People who get caught up in the outward symbols of Buddhism like: robes, bald heads, and in-tact hymens are in DANGER of being led down the "wrong" path.  Those symbols have NOTHING whatsoever to do with the inner-goals of so-called Buddhism.  

Thanks for mentioning the Buffet Buddha.  I had no idea that he wasn't the "historical" Buddha.  (In case you hadn't caught it, this statement was made using a device called SARCASM.) 

I know that there are/were plenty of non-monastic practitioners of Buddhism.  Please excuse me for feeling frustrated that many of them lived centuries ago.  I guess I'm just bitching about the fact that as "Buddhists", WE have few common-day non-monastic role models.  

Padmasambhava was a great guy, I'm sure.   But, his influence rose to prominence in a country that was not unlike Europe in the dark ages.  I think it would be useful to have some role models that we can actually identify with!  Some people that don't just regurgitate the same old philosophical garbage that they heard their teacher say or read in a book somewhere.  (Sound familiar?)

I never said that my non-monastic lifestyle doesn't "JIVE" with Buddhist practice.  On the contrary, it's my belief that people like me, with open minds to a new way of looking at practice, can offer a rejuvenating look into this belief system and maybe HELP some people.  

There are some people out there who are not college-educated, white, middle-class intellectuals that may want to study Buddhism, but can't because it's not very accessible to them.  

That's why I'm using this language.  

You Said:Last, and this might sound a little harsh... but if you life is so busy/stressful/hectic that you can't meditate or pratice, when did you expect to practice? When life gets easy/simple/peaceful? You'll never ever practice at that rate. This is precisely when you SHOULD go to the cushion, not run from it. If you claim to write or speak from some level of wisdom or authority on what is or is not authentic practice (which your blog claims to do), you should at least DO the practice... othwerise you are just as superficial and full of shit as the guy who markets your cola or your designer jeans with a picture of the Buddha.

My Response:
I NEVER said that I didn't have time to practice.  Re-read my words, dude.  (I'm an English teacher.  Most students make mistakes because they haven't read and comprehended.)  I said that I haven't WRITTEN on the blog because I was busy.  I guess I could've just said that in a sentence or two, but I decided to make the post a but funny... Ok?  

Did you want to have a "who meditates more" contest?  
I can post my weekly meditation schedule if you'd like.  

Part of my "busy" schedule involves teaching meditation to 100 inner-city, mostly impoverished, hispanic students in Manhattan.  Not a day goes by where I don't "practice."  

I find that whenever someone points their finger at another person and says something like, "run to the cushion," I get a strange feeling.  Like maybe... they don't know what the hell they're talking about.  

"So-Called" Buddhists: 0
"So-Called" Nihilists: 1

Wanna go another round?  

For the rest of you... I'll be back to writing my post on meditation now!  


  1. LOL! Nothing I say could improve on what you've said, I only hope to see more of this kind of thing.

  2. Cool! Glad to see you back blogging. Finally, someone who can take away my title as most hated Buddhist. hehehe

  3. I enjoyed reading this way too much. Thanks for brightening up my Saturday.

  4. Thanks so much for your support, guys! I really love this shit. It's keeping me so motivated.

  5. Hmmm, I really like your blog John, but you really took that personally, it seems. So this person didn't really get your point, and came across looking naive and a little silly for trying to give you advice on meditation, big deal. I mean, he wasn't being that confrontational. I totally get where you're coming from in your previous posts, but this one gave me the impression that you're kinda angry at "Buddhism" for letting you down. It's your blog though, so do what you want. Don't get me wrong, like I said, I am loving the blog, so please keep it going.

  6. luke.jmo,

    You are 100% right. I totally didn't have to respond to him the way I did... but, it was so MUCH FUN! I'm not angry at "Buddhism" per say, but I don't like it when people like that (who are often perceived as the "face of Buddhism) think they can just go around saying whatever they want to without any consequences.

  7. Why would anyone perceive this Yeshe Samten as the face of Buddhism?

    Just because some tattoo artist from California says he's "the voice of Buddha" doesn't make it so. There's plenty of guys on street corners who claim to talk to some personal God as well.

  8. And just because Yeshe Samten aka Michael Donnoe doesn't agree with what you say doesn't make it not worth discussion. OK he's not a tattoo artist but someone with tattoo issues.

    Is there anything more irritating than those who want to write your blog for you? Some will find anything to complain about-form, style, tone, vocabulary, grammar, spelling, length and content. And the most complaints tend to come from those who either skim the posts, don't bother to read them at all or who get all hung up on what they thought you said rather than what you actually said.

    Am enjoying your perspective in any case.

  9. Wonderful sacrilege! Keep it coming. But this blog's grey background with blue and red fonts is torture for this old man's eyes. You need to consult the art teachers in your school for some "color therapy" !

  10. So happy you're back. It made my weekend. I have SO added you to my blogroll and am Following intently. Keep it up. We irreverent Buddhists have to stick together against the barbarian hordes.

  11. Thanks John! I'm really enjoying of your blog. Keep up the good work!

  12. when a good time turns around
    you must whip it
    you will never live it down
    unless you whip it
    no one gets away
    until they whip it

  13. John,

    Thank you for your cool response to my bitchy post on your blog. Look, I recognize that I touched a nerve and likely offended you and your readers, and I do apologize.

    Some commenters here have said that I claim to speak from some authority, but I never said that... I'm just an opinionated guy who sometimes needs to put his foot in his mouth. Consider my foot firmly planted there now, and again, my apologies.

    For NellaLou (Marnie Louise Froberg) finding my "real name" woooh... that's some good detective work. Yep, I'm a white guy and I use my dharma name to post. If that makes me an arrogant no-good so-and-so, then so be it. I used to have a blog myself, and posted by my dharma name, just as Marnie uses her blog name NellaLou. So what? Marnie's name is right on her blog - no biggie. Mine wasn't... you had to go find a eulogy for my dead Aunt to find my real name. Tacky, Marnie, tacky.

    Again John and all assembled readers, I apologize. I was in the wrong to post a bitchy post - but really, yor response was pretty cool (and on the plus side, you got a good blog post about it!). I actually do read your blog, and I like it, even though we have different opinions on some things.

    Take care,


  14. WOW!

    That was the last thing I expected, Michael. Thank you so much for your comment. I didn't mean anything personal by what I said in response to you in my post. Actually, all in all, it was a fun dialogue. Please never hesitate to call me on my shit or challenge me to a debate on these issues. That goes for everyone. We're doing cool stuff here.

    Thanks again,


  15. So what's your answer?

  16. Couple details on Nietzsche:
    1. He was strongly against anti-Semitism. His anti-Semite relative created the association when publishing his works after his death.
    2. Nietzsche's work was not nihilistic, at least not in the usual sense (oh woe life is nothingness bla bla bla). Much of his work had to do with diagnosing the contemporary problem of nihilism and determining precisely how morality of the time had developed to that point.
    3. He criticized Buddhism, based on his mentor Schopenhauer's interpretation of it. Which was basically the common misunderstanding that it involves retreating from life, from strong emotion and the "physical" world. Schopenhauer thought that everything led to suffering and the best you could do was escape for a little while.
    4. Look up Amor Fati, the love of fate. This was a thought experiment regarding acceptance of the world, of history, of your life as it is without judgment. Taking an aggressively positive stance towards the good and "bad" elements of life.

    Short version: There are a lot of suprising overlaps between Nietzsche and Buddhism. Just a lot of unfortunate misunderstandings out there.