By John Author
“We’re here, we drink beer, get used to it.”
In a conversation with Brent Oliver on a social media outlet, which shall remain nameless, I casually referred to people like him and me as “The New Buddhists.” In a way, we aren’t new at all. We find fellowship with the Ikkyus, ferals, and hermits. So the newness isn’t an intellectual or accurate label, it’s a feeling.
We’re independent, foul-mouthed, and strong-willed. Many of us aren’t part of a formal lineage, or we’ve dropped out of—or been kicked out of—said lineages. Those of us who are part of an institution tend to see it as arbitrary, and they rarely flash their credentials around.
What do we do? As far as I can tell, we create. We’re writers, orators, poets, painters, performers, and photographers rather than traditional teachers. Most of us would shudder and retch if someone slapped the label “teacher” onto us.
It seems that many of us have found a home at the Tattooed Buddha.
What is it that’s made these “New Buddhists,” what forces or conditions have birthed this miscreant movement? I’d say we’ve just to look at the dry, stifling, dependence-fostering machine called “The Institution” for an answer.
We are because it is; if it wasn’t then we wouldn’t be. We are what happens when self-righteous dogma meets the highest of secular Western virtues: autonomy, empiricism, and self-determination.
We enjoy being talked with and not talked at (we don’t need to be ‘splained to). We don’t need the kind, quiet condescension of, “Aw, I wish you were closer to an official temple or teacher.” We don’t need to be coddled, cajoled, or fed soft-soaped reproofs.
That said, we aren’t uniform.
Ty and Strib tend to give voice to the pragmatic side of things whereas folks like Daniel and I frequently tour the mystical. Together, these two poles can culminate into something wondrous. The inspiring motions of the Middle Way.
Many of us are also children of the web. Zendos and temples tend to flock among big cities, but most of the US population is rural or suburban. The internet has given us the keys to the Dharma vaults. All the teachings, with the exception of the untranslated ones and secret Tibetan techniques, are available to us. Yet there’s a lack of strong virtual Sanghas, so we are forced to practice like a Pratyekabuddha: to, “Be a lamp unto yourself,” and, “Wander alone like a rhinoceros.”
Not everyone’s a fan of these loosey goosey New Buddhists. Odds are, the more traditional and theologically conservative your leanings, the more you’re going to hate our guts.
I’d like to sit on the fence and consider traditional and secular Buddhism to be equally valid and valuable. Yet the aggressive winds of marginalization are pushing me to the, “Down with the institution!” view.
I don’t believe in teachers. I don’t believe in certificates or hierarchies, or that there’s any inherent value in credentials.
I’m not gonna suddenly become the wise man on the hill by graduating Buddha school. I’m not gonna learn anything from a teacher; I’ll just get mundane pointers that I inevitably have to actualize myself. I don’t need a teacher to get pointers; I could just crack open a book and read it meditatively.
I also don’t need to be a certified teacher to serve all beings.
The teacher title only gives a shallow validity that entices spiritual materialists to, “Come hither!” To buy water by the riverside. What knowledge can I get from a teacher that can’t be found in a book? What support or criticism can I get from a teacher that can’t be found in a great Dharma friend?
Why do I need to witness someone manifesting the Dharma in everyday actions to be inspired to do the same? Am I truly so far gone that I need someone to parrot, a living template to emulate?
A group starts to fling its elbows around when it feels marginalized. A feverish claustrophobia seems to set in, and the fight-or-flight mechanism is engaged. It’s the old Darwinist drama, the struggle for resources and the need to breathe.
LGBT, feminist, and Black Lives Matter movements are examples of marginalized groups elbowing for space. Those with seats at the dinner table seem unable to understand the plight of those who eat on the floor; they feel threatened when the marginalized start building their own tables.
“All Lives Matter” is a horrific example of such ignorance, fear, and lack of empathy.
Anyway, I guess my message to you is: “Don’t sell yourself short.”
You are capable of much more than you realize and you don’t need someone to hold your hand. You can be confident without being prideful. You don’t need to debase yourself into petty Guru worship. You don’t need to turn over the reigns to a backseat driver.
The New Buddhist: Autonomy, Equality, Affirmation.
Photo: Derivative of Smoking Buddha/Flickr
Editor: Dana Gornall
John is a Caodong Ch'an student in the Empty Cloud Lineage of Hsu Yun. His Dharma name is Feng Dao which means "Wild Way" or "Windy Way." He originally wanted to become a social worker, focusing on preventative mental health care, but writing is his passion. “Above all else, I’m just a writer. Words come, I write them, I drink coffee.”
Oppression and marginalization are key issues for John. “I was forced out of mainstream society at a young age by my peers. So I will always stand up for the underdog and criticize bullying, coercion, and any institution that relies on those tactics.” Asked about what the most pressing issue of our time is, he replied, “The environment. We’ve bullied the earth so much that it could almost be called marginalized.”