The sequel

2009 December 13

dharmawars– A new hope

James Shaheen, Editor and Publisher of Tricycle Magazine left a few comments on one of my earlier posts and I do wish to thank him for taking the time to provide his perspective on a few things I tossed out here in cyberspace.

I may have chimed in a bit to harshly on a few of my accusations of their motivations in writing their “Dharma Wars” article, namely that they did so out of a desire for more readers or out of a lack of understanding of the Buddhablogopsphere.

You see, I’ve grown up with the internet. I love the internet to an unhealthy point. I spend much of my time on it.  It’s easy for me to posit the argument that big print publications don’t get the new digital philosophy when I work mainly to try to encourage traditional media to move towards the shifting demographic trend of digital acceptance. My excitement over the potential of digital can sometimes get in the way of recognizing the reality of the composition of the sangha. When I look to the sanghas I’ve run with, I’m somewhat of a valuable commodity in the sense that I possess design skills, know how to edit web pages and speak of these online talks and podcasts that they never knew existed. For many people, this ease of accessable teachings on demand is so different than the days in which they needed to wait 4-6 weeks for a VHS tape of a talk by the Dalai Lama to arrive to their doorstep.More often than not, I need to step back and realize that not every person is as connected and digitally savvy as I am. That extends to the Buddhist landscape as well.

So back to the point of all of this. Admittedly, I was a bit harsh in applying a lens of ‘the other – the dinosaur of old media’ to the folks at Tricycle. I’m happy to see that James is reaching out to bloggers like me and think this is quite admirable. The work that Tricycle is doing in their online community is also worth commending as they are taking steps to engage in the digital space so I can’t really fault them for trying and perhaps I was a bit to hasty in doing so.

I’ve come out of all of this having learned a bit more about the power of right speech, or in this case ‘right type’. If anything, it’s made me more curious about my own attitudes towards the internet as such, I’m  more interested in mindfully participating within online communities (Buddhist, multifaith or “multipurpose”) rather than being so quick to hit the <ENTER> button.

After rethinking my post, I think that the intention of the article by Zenshin Michael Haederle couldn’t have come out of the desire for gaining more readers, more subscribers and the like.  If anything, it may have caused Tricycle a bit of harm given the unforeseen backlash that came their way.

As mentioned in my earlier post on the topic, I have been a reader since the early 1990’s and pour myself into each issue that I purchase. On many occasions, I’ve posted links on this blog to material I found interesting in the magazine, have shared and discussed articles with members of my sangha and have taken recommendations on books, videos, retreat centres and the like from their editorial staff. While not every article piques my interest, while some articles may rub me the wrong way, I really don’t wish to throw the baby out with the bathwater and don’t call for a boycott (as some buddhabloggers have suggested). If anything I think we need to all work together to continue to spread the dharma and all of the bad and good that goes along with our experiences on the path.

12 Responses
  1. December 14, 2009

    So you are retracting your criticism? Did he offer you a free subscription?

  2. TMcG permalink*
    December 14, 2009

    Ouch! No free subscription was offered. Give me a bit more credit please?

    This exchange came as a complete surprise to me as a non-prolific blogger checking her comments one evening. No one asked me to write any follow up posts. No one asked me to accept comments from Tricycle on my blog.

    After a bit of reflection on my post and the comments that ensued, I came to realize that some of issues I’d posted about as criticism (ie: the article was written out of a desire for more traffic/ the lack of understanding of online media) were a bit unfounded and come from my own leanings towards online media vs. that of traditional print.

    I greatly appreciate your dedication to carrying on the discussion related to this issue. I only hope that James and the Tricycle crew engage with you to discuss this further. I’m somewhat removed from the politics and the history that you have delved into and I must say that you do make some compelling arguments.

    If I was retracting my criticism, would I not remove the blogposts and have everyone forget that I said anything?

  3. December 14, 2009

    Well, T. , if I may call you by your first initial, what struck me most about the two posts was almost an about face in both your opinion and attitude. A modicum of snark snuck into my comment. You know I like your blog a lot and have said so a few times on my blog and in comments here. Sorry I’ll chill it out a bit.

    It’s a bit of a surprise to a few people I think that this has appeared here. More than a month after the fact and right after my comment. There is a strategy involved here.

    Rather than deal with the particulars of the article we get

    -a thumping with a mention of “Right Speech” in the first paragraph, and repeated several times
    -a justification for belittling people with something that sounds a lot like “Well everybody else is doing it”, (“It’s pretty standard fare” is the exact wording)
    -“not-for-profit” doesn’t exactly mean at the poverty line. It can mean anything from actually a shoestring budget to offices as well appointed as one would find on Wall St and budgets that rival them. There are a whole range of “not-for-profit” contexts. Consider the TED organization for example, “a small not-for-profit” group. They have conferences with rock stars like Bono and stay at 5 star hotels.
    -“the significance of web 2.0, we wouldn’t have launched the Tricycle Community.” The significance of Web 2.0 for who? It certainly has the attention of the commercial realm. That’s what all the articles in the business magazines are about lately. Leveraging Web 2.0.
    -name dropping. Brad Warner, Rod (Meade Sperry) who wrote an article on this issue for Shambhala Sunspace, Huffington Post for whom we all must realize he contributes. Thus we are dealing with someone of great importance here!
    -a speech about corporate responsibility
    and so on.

    Am tempted to go on but won’t. It seems rather contrived and disingenuous.

    He has been asked to reconsider both the content of the article and it’s publication. In response he asks you to reconsider your criticism. It’s called turning the tables, deflecting the issue etc.

    In my opinion he is trying to use you to pacify some of the criticism. And in a very passive-aggressive way, divide the on-line critics by labeling some of the harshest with words like “bizarre rants” and “everyone in print and online has to tolerate tirades although I doubt most get through them”. He is appealing to your ego as a “good girl” as opposed to certain others who won’t accept such patronizing labels.

    You said:

    “After rethinking my post, I think that the intention of the article by Zenshin Michael Haederle couldn’t have come out of the desire for gaining more readers, more subscribers and the like.”

    Why not? And if not then for what other reason? (She asks rather rhetorically because some criticisms she’s made postulate possible other reasons)

    This man is a professional journalist with many years of experience. Why would he put such a poorly written, slanted piece of work out to the public? That’s what’s bizarre.

    You didn’t ask to be put into the fray of this. Your piece was well thought out and really good. That’s why I commented there. Jeez now everyone’s going to delete my comments because they won’t want the Tricycle dude following behind writing his blog in everyone else’s space.

  4. TMcG permalink*
    December 14, 2009

    No worries NellaLou. I very much appreciate your side of this issue too as you have much more information and knowledge than I do and it has been on your radar quite a bit longer than on mine.

    I might be a serial ‘flip-flopper’ (see a post a while back where I eat my previous words on Brad Warner). Maybe I weighed in on a topic that I was ill-informed and should have stayed out of in the first place.

    I think that in all honesty the comments from James didn’t come out of a desire to win someone over to “the dark side” but rather out of him seeing that when someone did a search for ‘Dharma Wars’ this blog is 5th on the list of referring links. Maybe I’m naive in thinking this, but the amount of traffic that this blog gets doesn’t warrant him going out of his way to try to get me as an ally in the cause.

  5. December 14, 2009

    I don’t know about win over T. but it does get some attention. Scott has made an interesting post on fame at his blog with a mention of this post already (here http://www.djbuddha.org/?p=1695 ) and so have I. There may be others I’ve not seen yet or stuff on Twitter and Facebook . It’s a cumulative effect of all those connections. Nothing we do is done in isolation or to the limited audience that our stats reflect. The ripples in the pond metaphor might be apt.

    I know what you mean about Brad. In general I like his stuff and I trust his intentions but I quibble with specifics there. So it’s a slightly mixed review.

    There’s no reason not to weigh in on anything that you feel moves you. Something reaches you, you reach out and it reaches someone else. It’s the way the whole big system works. (I don’t just mean the Internet) No one, anywhere has ALL the information about anything. If we sit around and wait for that it would be an absolutely silent world. (which some days I’d like actually but not today)

    Just keep on posting.

  6. December 14, 2009

    Hi There,

    I honestly don’t know what prompted James Shaheen to choose your post to comment on, when so many of us wrote about this article and other issues that he easily could have said something about. From the bloggers in my blogroll, very few of those posts could be reduced to simply angry rants or “bizarre” commentaries. People have important questions and critiques about the “Dharma Wars” article specifically, and about Tricycle magazine in general.

    I agree with your desire for all of us to work together, and yet part of the issue here – maybe the main issue – is that Tricycle published a terribly sloppy article that really does nothing more than divide us. The tantalizing details of the lineage debate that plays out in part of the article do nothing to address the issue of abuse of titles and authority. The quoting of bloggers without permission does nothing to bridge the gap between digital practitioners and “in the flesh” practitioners. And the general snarkiness of the author towards “outsiders” – i.e. Buddhist bloggers, teachers like Brad Warner, etc.) – does nothing to create community.

    I’d like to continue to have dialogue with Tricycle, and do not have a desire to simply dismiss their work as that of “dinosaurs.” And yet, I continue to see mostly a defense of publishing this article, and beyond that, not a lot of awareness about the potential for giving some focus to digital Buddhism and practice. I think Mr. Shaheen has some interest in us, and maybe is learning a bit through all of this, but I still get the sense that we’re seen as a curious novelty – not unlike the freaks at a circus. Not exactly what I’d call for working together in my view.

  7. December 15, 2009

    Nathan,

    Thank you for your letter to the magazine. We appreciate it.

    Why did I respond here? Because I thought someone had a question, or a few doubts, that I felt I could address. There are others who do, too, but for a time after we published the article, emails suggesting we’d hear from lawyers constrained any response (talk of lawyers has a chilling effect on speech). Since then, however, we have good reason to believe that there will be no lawsuit (among other reasons, because there are simply no grounds) and in past days I have felt freer to respond online.

    I mention “bizarre rants” and “diatribes” because, in fact, they’re there, both online and in my in-box, some pretty personal. I did not say they were prevalent, and I apologize if it sounded that way. What I’ve concluded is that it doesn’t make sense to respond to attacks that are are based on assumptions made by people who don’t know me or anyone at the magazine. If someone ascribes motives to us that we don’t have there is little we can do to convince them otherwise. I’m responding to you because you make a fair point–that we can give a fuller picture of the online Buddhist world in the magazine. James Ure mentioned the same, and I would be happy to speak with either or both of you. It is ironic that in the office Phil Ryan and I have been the ones who have pushed hardest to put our efforts into the web, so it’s a new experience to find myself on this side of things.

    I haven’t defended the article because I don’t speak for the author. I did feel, though, that if he didn’t take online speech seriously, he wouldn’t have bothered. The only thing I regret is that that the article did not engender the very dialogue we’re having now.

    There is one more thing that I feel I have to address–you did not ask about it although others have: The Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism. First, there are no strings attached to the grants and we are not beholden to any teacher affiliated with Lenz. Second, the people who made the decision to give us the grants are not Buddhists and not even former students of Frederick Lenz, and we’re grateful for the support, as are many Buddhist organizations. As for Genpo and George Birch: We never approached them for a Lenz grant; our former executive director approached the foundation and she knew neither Genpo nor George Birch. Further, I don’t know what role the latter two have in making grant decisions; I’ve never once spoken to them about it. I understand the perceived conflict of interest, so it’s important to respond, because there is none.

    And by the way, I don’t know why you think I have a problem with Brad Warner; I don’t. I think it was the sock puppets that won me over.

    All best,

    James

  8. December 15, 2009

    Hi James,

    “mention “bizarre rants” and “diatribes” because, in fact, they’re there, both online and in my in-box, some pretty personal. I did not say they were prevalent, and I apologize if it sounded that way. What I’ve concluded is that it doesn’t make sense to respond to attacks that are are based on assumptions made by people who don’t know me or anyone at the magazine.” Yes, I can imagine there have been some nasty e-mails, among other things. I, also, wouldn’t spend my time trying to convince those folks.

    I’ve done my best to present my views without becoming inflammatory, and feel it’s important that I stay away from issues I know nothing about, such as the Lenz grant situation. I saw a few bloggers post on it, but still don’t feel I know enough to comment.

    In the end, you and I could go back and forth about the article itself, but at this point, what’s done is done as far as the article being published. The article has spurred a worthwhile discussion, though, and I continue to have interest in seeing the complexities of the diverse online Buddhist community be given a fair shake. It sounds like you share that interest, even though there has been some conflict to get to this point.

    I just do hope that you can understand why many of the bloggers who have read the article are upset, and that even though their words may not always have been skillful, that they have brought up issues worth considering beyond the article itself, or even Tricycle magazine itself. As members of a very minority religion in most of the countries we live in, our words can be magnified quickly, and conflicts can be viewed by members of the majority in ways that might impact us all. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be honest and struggle with tough issues, but it does mean, I think, that we need to do our best to be patient and respectful with each other.

    Best,
    Nathan

  9. nathan permalink
    December 15, 2009

    p.s. I appreciate that you’ve been willing to continue to talk about all this.

    and to TMcG – thanks for allowing the space for these comments.

    best,
    Nathan

    • TMcG permalink*
      December 15, 2009

      Oh no problem Nathan. I’m happy to be able to play the role of “somewhat neutral” Switzerland in all of this discussion!

      I really appreciated that James stepped forward and responded to my initial post and set straight many of the assumptions that I had made about him, the author and Tricycle. I really don’t have all of the facts in this whole discussion so some of my claims came from my digital-bias whereas there’s no disagreement that I’m not a big fan of the article itself.

  10. December 17, 2009

    Mr. Shaheen:

    Thanks for the reply & dialogue. I mean that seriously. I realize that you do say that the grants from the Lenz Foundation come with no strings attached & ditto for Genpo.

    However, from my standpoint, where I am, it has the appearance of being problematic, and reminds me of when the Pat Buchanan presidential campaign accepted contributions from “Abortionists for Buchanan” in a prank executed by the now-defunct Spy Magazine.

    The very appearance of acceptance of money from the Lenz Foundation, has the effect of lending legitimacy to Lenz’s “work.” It is a conflict of interest, just as it would be if you accepted a grant “with no strings attached” from some organization with aims of raising funds by engaging in activities diametrically opposed to the Dharma.

    Naturally, then people might reasonably conclude, that despite the de jure “no strings attached” there might be “human behavior” that might lead one to be open to things one would not be otherwise, such as giving a friend of a benefactor a break editorially. It’s not conscious, often enough, but that’s why in life it’s good to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

    In the business world, at least in the US, we strive mightily to avoid such appearances of conflict of interest, because the real-world ramifications of this often cost way too much.

    I know these are serious words, and in no way do I wish to lay any kind of blame on you, personally, for the financial decisions made by Tricycle.

    But these appearances are how they appear to much of us, who only have to use Google to find out who’s who in this US Dharma world.

  11. December 17, 2009

    i of course think it’s cool to have all this dialogue going on but right now just wanted to clarify:

    I don’t write for the Huffington Post! Nor am I someone of importance!

Comments are closed.