Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Racism, Political Correctness, and Non-Racism

Several close friends of mine are of Jewish descent. If any of them have been following this blog and have been offended by my racist insult of James Cohen, I offer my apologies to them, and to anybody else I have unintentionally offended. It was not my intention to offend anybody other than James Cohen.

For years in Japan I suffered from being seen through the prism of Japanese stereotypes. One or two individuals in particular seemed to see me as a representative of HAKUJIN NO BUNKA (“white-man’s civilization”) against which Japanese soldiers in WWII were told they were defending Asia. I found it very irritating and frustrating that some Japanese didn’t seem able to relate to me as an individual human being.

As a general rule, I subscribe to the view that racism is wrong. But my attitude to rules is often ambivalent. And I struggle to understand the principle that development often hinges on our preparedness to be wrong, to feel insecure, uncomfortable, unsure of our moral grounding. Marjory Barlow took pains to teach me: "We are all going around trying to be right. It is death and destruction. Being wrong is the best friend we have in this work."

I am not actually sure what my own racial heritage is -- although I am obviously not black, at least on the outside. Whatever half mine is, my sons have inherited my half, together with another half from their Japanese mother.

If one of my sons was subject to a racist insult along the lines of that which I directed at Cohen, i.e. “Fuck off, Jap,” how might I react or respond to that?

I think it would depend very much upon the context.

If my sons, who are enthusiastic members of the local cricket club, vehemently insisted not only (a) that they be allowed to bow to the batsman before bowling each delivery, (b) that the batsman must always bow back; in that case, a response like “Fuck off, Jap” might have meaning other than simply being a racist insult. It might represent a strong refusal to be coerced into conforming to the norms of somebody else’s culture.

The context in which I wrote to Cohen was, as I see it, as follows:

A few years ago, James Cohen began to make his presence known, imposingly, via the internet, to me and other of Gudo Nishijima Roshi’s Dharma-heirs. He has never met me in person. He was not involved in any way with the Shobogenzo translation and publication process -- although he became involved, as Gudo Nishijima’s legal representative, in Gudo Nishijima’s effort to reclaim sole control of the publication process from the original publishers, Windbell Publications. In the course of that process I heard that Cohen severely antagonized one or two people who had worked unselfishly for Windbell over the years.

In the course of this email correspondence between Cohen and other Dharma-heirs, Cohen assiduously ended every missive with some flowery expression of his desire for world peace, or other empty bullshit, interspersed with copious use of punctuation marks to show smiley faces; he then always ended with “Gassho.”

To British tastes, that kind of correspondence smacks of insincerity. It may be essentially just a cultural difference. Many Brits don’t like to hear waiters tell us “Enjoy!”; or to hear “Have a nice day!” parrotted at us as a polite formula -- especially if we sense that the person who says it doesn’t really mean it.

The problem was that, not content to recognize a cultural difference as such, Cohen began an email campaign to coerce other Dharma-heirs to conform to his criteria for politeness. If anybody is interested, I will post up one of Cohen’s emails as evidence.

My instinctive response to such pressure to conform, especially coming from somebody who is many years my junior in Gudo Nishijima’s order, has been to go out of my way not to conform -- for example, by being extremely rude.

This is the historical background going back a number of years.

The more recent background is a controversy in Britain surrounding a fly-on-the-wall TV show called “Big Brother.” It seems to me that millions of gullible Brits, guided dually by the media and their own herd instinct, have been falling over themselves in recent weeks to manifest their anti-racist credentials. We pride ourselves on being a society that respects individual rights -- but just look at us. What a bunch of mindless morons we are.

Where does the pressure to conform to the anti-racist viewpoint come from? It seems to me that it comes largely from the media. I really do not know whether it is fair to talk of “the Jewish media” or not. I have no real evidence to go on, inductively.

From a deductive viewpoint, however, the mirror principle would lead me to think that those who are most commited to the anti-racist viewpoint are like that because they are projecting onto others a tendency which they fear in themselves. And who could defend Old Testament Judaism against the accusation that it a seminal racist ideology.

What I actually wrote to Cohen was as follows:

“Further to my rude email earlier on, and having reflected on it, I have a question about politeness in Buddhism. As a rude non-Buddhist non-monk, I would like to ask my question to the polite very Buddhist monk Jundo James Cohen:

Venerable Master Cohen! In Buddhism, is to be polite a choice, or is it an obligation, like a commandment?

If you say that it is a choice, then I would like to say to you, Venerable Master Cohen: Fuck you, you poser.

If you say that it is a kind of commandment, then I would like to say to you simply: Fuck off, jewboy.

I feel extreme anger to you, Cohen, because of the mirror principle. You represent everything that is unnatural, pretentious, insincere about the human condition, about my condition.”

That was the context of my racist insult.

In the end, racism is a view, to which people conform en masse. Anti-racism, political correctness, is also a view, to which people conform en masse. But non-racism, as the abandonment of both those views, cannot be a mass movement. It is the effort of one individual, in one chunk of existence-time, to get the whole body free of views.

When I was working closely with Gudo Nishijima in the 1980s, he was of the view that world history was moving inexorably in the direction of Jewish hegemony, and that the realistic Buddhist attitude in these circumstances might be to seek peaceful accommodation.

I don’t know if his view has changed since then, but I suspect that what he wrote in his Dogen Sangha blog last year about the United States being the world’s policeman, may be understood in the above light.

If that is Buddhist realism, Gudo can keep it. If that is Buddhist realism, I’ll strive to follow a different way: the way of non-Buddhist, non-realism.

I bow not to the pressure to conform, but to one real individual.

[To the One] who, as the giving up of all views,
Taught the Straight Truth,
Using compassionate means:
I bow to him: Gautama


Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...

It is a custom over here to add things to a signature line.
Some times they are jokes or sometimes a poem we like or another type of thought provoking quote or statement. On my military e-mails I have a quote from Hellen Keller:

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”

I think this statement suits the things I do in my job quite a lot. It is not the big picture I regularly concern myself with, but all the little details.

If my correspondence is addressed to another Marine I will often write “Semper Fi” before my signature block with my contact info. Or sometimes “thanks” is I am asking for or receiving something.

When writing to a Buddhist teacher or someone else on the path I often write “Gassho” as a show of gratitude and respect. If I write”Be well and happy” I really mean it.

I am not James Cohen, but their remains the possibility that he is sincere. Or he may be trying, as I do, to make the words in Shobogenzo, Bodisatta-shishobo part of his practice, in which case I say, good for him. I think that if we have compassion in our words it will help soften our hardened hearts. I hope that if we practice kind speech it will become a part of us and help develop the seed of compassion. This may smack of idealism to you, but I think it’s realistic. Right speech is part of ethical conduct that is well worth putting effort into. I think Right speech can overcome the duality of political correctness and political incorrectness.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you Jordan. Sincerely, thank you.

The thought that you, and people like you, might be reading this blog inspires me to keep writing it.

It is a dangerous game to play, trying to discern people's sincerity from what they write.

But I can't help jumping to the conclusion that you are a straight and sincere person.

Cohen may be trying, in his own way, to be sincere. But I can't help feeling that he is not sincere and not straight.

The fact that your straightness and sincerity inspire me, whereas Cohen's attitude angers me, highlights the fact for all to see that the issue of straightness and sincerity is one with which I am continuing to struggle.

As you indicate, it is our chief duty to be satisfied with small victories, not to expect to win the war all at once.

Thanks again.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007  
Blogger gniz said...

This is an interesting topic and one I've very much struggled with as well. Right speech, like anything else, has value and also can be misused.
Here's my take on it as of now. I need to be cautious in adopting something like "right speech" in which i am constantly trying to say things which are kind and nice and harmonious, and leaving out all elements of anger, impatience, etc.
Why? Because if those feelings are within me, I WILL find ways to act on those feelings. Perhaps what Mike senses from Jundo Cohen is just that--someone struggling to maintain an outer appearance or facade while inwardly they have anger boiling and overflowing.
It may be that Jordan is at a point in his practice where much of his anger and pain is being seen for what it is, and let go of. Therefore he no longer feels pulled toward making insensitive remarks.
But if we simply become "right speech" robots, i think we've truly missed the point. This isnt about the outer. Its about the inner experience and how that shapes the outer actions.
Sometimes we certainly need to curtail our behavior, but if we dont cultivate depth of understanding than it is a truly empty (and in my opinion) destructive impulse to simply force ourselves to "play nice."
Seeing our own anger and finding where it arises is the goal, is the place where we can learn to let go. Get at the root.
Rude behavior and nasty speech are not the root, not even close.
So although i admire Jordan and I find him to be an inspiration, I dont think that my path is to model myself after his behavior.

-Aaron (Gniz)

Wednesday, January 31, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Aaron. Thank you for staying with me this far. Stick with it -- don’t be discouraged by what I am going to write to you.

I think you are correct that what I sense in Cohen is a mismatch between inner and outer. And probably seeing it in him makes me angry because I fear the same mismatch within myself. That mismatch between inner and outer may have a lot to do with what Master Dogen cautions us against in the second part of Fukan-zazen-gi: “If, however, there is the slightest gap, heaven and earth are far apart. If the slightest discrepancy arises, we lose the mind in confusion.”

So I agree with you on that. BUT, if we take a position, as you have done, biased towards the inner, neglecting the outer, that might be a view that is off the middle way.

If, conversely, we take a position, as is taken in the formalistic approaches favoured by the Soto Sect and other groups in Japan, biased towards the outer, neglecting the inner, that also might be a view that is off the middle way.

I revere Jordan’s approach because I recognize in him the true attitude of a non-monk: he doesn’t take a position; he won’t take sides, either for me or against me; he is not a politician; he is seeking his own freedom, as an individual. He manifests himself on the blogosphere not in formal Buddhist attire, as if he is somebody in Buddhism, but in a military uniform which seems to say that I am nobody in Buddhism. He is not interested in being seen as somebody soon. He is interested in his own slow search. He is a true seeker, a seeker after the true Buddha-nature.

What is the Buddha-nature? It might be a bit of freedom in action. Not a bit of something. A bit of nothing. For example, a bit of dropping off of a long-held view.

You pronounce, Aaron, as if you know, that rude behaviour and nasty speech can’t be it. Fuck you, Aaron. Who do you think you are? What do you know about it? What have you given up for it?

The conclusion to Master Dogen’s chapter in Shobogenzo on the Buddha-nature, if I translate it freely, is as follows:

When we teach it in the state of ascending beyond, what is the Buddha-nature? Have you fully understood? Just rude behaviour and nasty speech!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007  
Blogger Aaron said...

Mike, well said.
I'm impressed, seriously.
I'll tell you this, I dont know much about anything after all. But I do so like to talk. Ha,ha.

I'm certainly interested in what you have to say, Mike.

Looking forward to the next post.


Wednesday, January 31, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Aaron.

Gudo Nishijima sacrificed a lot of his precious time to teach me how to think about things like the Buddha-nature. When I phoned and asked to go to his office to ask questions on Shobogenzo, the answer was never rude or nasty. It was invariably: “Oh, please come!”

But this thinking about the Buddha-nature that Gudo taught me is not the same as the thinking that Master Dogen recommended us to practice, in order to realize the Buddha-nature.

What you think, Aaron, cannot be it. And what I think cannot be it, either. And yet, to realize it seems to require us to make an effort of thinking, of will, of conscious volition... “Think that state beyond thinking!”

Thinking that one’s original state is the Buddha-nature is very far from actually manifesting real confidence in one’s original nature in everyday life. I witnessed Gudo Nishijima manifesting that self-confidence, unwaveringly, over many years.

It seeems to me a kind of tragedy that Gudo, having manifested the Buddha-nature so relentlessly over the years, still seems unable to see clearly what might be wrong with attaching to the Buddha-nature the reductionist label of “balance of the autonomic nervous system.” Again, it seems to me tragic that Gudo seems unable to affirm, in pursuit of the Buddha-nature, any kind of role for willing, wishing, thinking.

Maybe some day somebody out there brighter than me, whose practice is deeper than mine, a Master Dogen of the future, will be able to make some sense of it all.

For my next post, I will come back to the main issue: how to practice Zazen. Thank you again for your encouragement.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007  
Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...


Maybe you and Gudo will both brand me a heretic. But reading your last comment I thought:

Balance of the autonomic nervous system, and the role of willing, wishing, thinking.

Seems clear as a bell to me.


Wednesday, January 31, 2007  
Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...


Just to clarify, parts, just parts.


Thursday, February 01, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...


When it all seems as clear as a bell to you, you cease to be the seeker and become the one who knows.

I know this very well, because it is a pit into which I frequently fall.

When your two-year old daughter asked you for apple juice, which part of her was wishing to drink?

Thursday, February 01, 2007  
Blogger JundoCohen said...

Dear Michael,

I do wish you peace. I was told by a friend that you are writing about me again. I do not care. Please use me as your punching board if it brings you a small comfort. I am sorry that, with all the problems and suffering in this world, I should become more for somebody.

My wife and I are in the middle of picking land for our Zen Dojo, about an hour from Tokyo. Like the Dojo kept by Nishijima Gudo for decades, it will be a place where people from all over the world are welcome to stay and practice. I am very busy with that and other projects, so please excuse me if I do not write, and if I do not follow your blog regularly. I prefer constructive endevours.

However, I sure did want to write today just because someone reading your words might think the anger, confusion, racism, resentment, emotional disturbance and all the rest that fills your words are the teachings of our Way. They are not. I think you are spreading some shadow seen in a cracked and twisted looking glass, the world as seen through suffering eyes. Simply, hate and jealousy of other people are never a manifestation of compassion. The inability to drop all conflict cannot be wisdom.

Every human being has within him or her the things you see in yourself: greed, anger, lust, pettiness, vindictiveness, etc, etc. (I do too, as you seem to like to point out as if it were a great discovery). The only difference is what we do with those emotions. I am here to say that, if you are trying to teach people that giving free reign to their anger, pettiness, and other destructive emotions is the meaning of "freedom," you teach a perversity. Porno-Zen.

Thich Nhat Hanh has a lovely book called "Anger". You should buy it and put to the test the practice he recommends (I just had a nice discussion with Nishijima Roshi about the book last week, and he likes it. Balance cannot be angry!) It might help you.

Michael, our way is about dropping all idea of "wrong" and "right," but you are never doing Zazen right if you arise from the Zafu flooded with self-righteousness, filled with venom toward anyone who disagrees. If there is any "self righteousness" or "self loathing" remaining, then you have never learned what it is to drop your silly little "self." If you are angry at some other, filled with rage, then you do not understand what it is to be beyond all concept of "other."

I try to be nice to other people (as much as I can be, as I am just another fool prone to weakness and stupidity) simply because this world is already filled with so much ugliness and violence. Why bring more into the world? When I was twenty and just starting on the road of Zazen (like some of your readers), I still "boiled with rage" within. Now, nearing 50, I write as a man who is comfortable with his place in life and knows the peace within and without himself ... the peace that does not give thought to either "within" or "without." At least, for the most part and except once in a long while. I just don't give thought anymore to unimportant things about which lotsa folks become enraged in this silly silly world. All is vanities, vanities! When all concepts of "self" "not self," "me" "universe" and all the rest are dropped well away, who is there remaining to feel conflict, to have conflict wth? Add a good dose of Compassion, and who have found a healthy way to live!!!!

Yes, when I lead a Zendo, I have people treat each other with kindness, politeness and respect. It facilitates the Practice, and let's people find out what the real meaning of "freedom" is in this crazy, cruel world.

So, I do wish you peace with sincerity. I came to Dogen Sangha, and Nishijima Roshi several years ago, after I had already been doing the Zen thing about 25 years, mostly in Japan with other teachers. I don't know your past history with him, except that you are a gifted translator who seems to have some thorn inside him beyond anyone's reach to remove,

I hope you are someday and somehow able to find that way of living free of anyone or anything (or any group) to fear or hate or resent, that wonderful experience in which all conflict with self & with other is dropped - and all anger too. Until that time, please do not teach people that it's okay to live life with hate. Do not fill their heads with confusion.

Anyway, I sincerely wish you peace and hope that you find these sweet fruits of life.

Gassho & Shalom, Jundo James COhen

Thursday, February 01, 2007  
Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...

I woke up thirsty from a dream.

In my dream I was leading a formation run somewhere hot. Seeing the weather flag had gone black, I knew I had to cool my Marines down before they started dieing from heat and thirst. Still running around I finally spot a hose. I spray them all down to cool them off and encourage them to drink. One marine refused. I order him to drink! He still refuses!
I say If you don’t drink you will die, why are you refusing? “I want to know where the water comes from.” It’s coming from the hose, I say. No, he says, before that. . Uh, The reservoir I say. No, no before that. Now I am nearly stumped. The rain… Finally I say. And where was it before it was rain? Now I am really stumped as I see this Marine dieing of thirst before my eyes. The air and the oceans and rivers, DRINK! No! Before it was in the air and oceans and rivers, where was it then…but before I can answer the Marine dies from heat and thirst.

Mike, I am drinking some water right now. It came from the tap in my sink. Beyond that what is important is that it is re-hydrating me so that I don’t die.

To answer your question, it came from her five aggregates. Beyond that, I hope she just drinks the water.


Thursday, February 01, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

The “Apple Juice” of a two-year-old girl is completely unclouded by anatomy and physiology, utterly empty of the five aggregates and the like, and totally untainted by the putrid stink of sham Buddhahood. What she wants, with her whole being, is deliciously clear and simple.

Thursday, February 01, 2007  
Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...


Utterly empty of the five aggregates and the like,
Material organism, sensation, conception, volition, and consciousness.

As I try and blunder through your thought process, I get confused.
Please clarify the eternal.


Thursday, February 01, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

For example, a black turtle at the bottom of murky pond.

Friday, February 02, 2007  
Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...

Smells like Indra's Jewels.


Friday, February 02, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Jordan.

In my experience, leading others in martial practice tends to make a person very sincere.

How can we ask others to put themselves on the line without being prepared to do that ourselves?

When a so-called Zen master preaches peace and compassion to me, I remain skeptical as to what motives the stinking hypocrite might unconsciously be hiding, primarily from himself.

When you quote to me your motto “semper fidelis” I am inclined to believe that it is coming from your heart.

In Master Dogen’s teaching, sincerity is absolutely the foremost thing. Even when we are wrong, we are sincere. If people of Buddhist peace and compassion do not like that attitude, as far as I am concerned, they can take their dislike and shove it where the sun does not shine.

Sunday, February 04, 2007  
Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...


Thank you.

When I think of peace and compassion I think that it has to start from within.

On Indra’s jewels, if you paint a dot on one it is reflected on all of the others. You can’t tell them apart.

A lot like your Mirror principal. And also like a Black turtle at the bottom of a murky pond. You cannot distinguish where the turtle starts and the pond begins.

Sincerity is absolutely the foremost thing when you are trying to keep people alive.
I try to work that same sincerity into every aspect of my life, Zazen,Suizen, even brushing my teeth. I have faith in my practice, even if it has a certain stink.

I asked a question of Master Gudo and would also like your view on it. If you don’t mind answering:

Are you were familiar with Keido Chisan Koho Zengi’s commentary on the five types of Zen; Gedo, Bompu, Shojo, Daijo, and Saijojo? If so would you share your interpretation?

Do you completely disregard Daijo Zen as a means of practice?

Or do you believe it has a place in training secondary to Saijojo Zen?

Thank You

Monday, February 05, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you for the question, Jordan.

No, I am not familiar with that commentary and I am not interested in it at all.

In general Japanese people are very much creatures of Japanese habit. Three individuals who conspicuously bucked the trend, in my view,are Eihei Dogen, Kodo Sawaki, and Gudo Nishijima.

As Gudo wrote on his own blog, what is necessary to write about Zazen is written in Fukan-zazen-gi.

For example:


If I translate off the top of my head (maybe Gudo will say without sufficient sincerity):

“Regardless of the myriad distinctions and thousands of differences that people discuss, we should solely pursue the truth by practicing [Za]zen.”

Monday, February 05, 2007  

Post a Comment

<< Home