Questions and doubts started popping up in my head as I signed up for Big Mind seminar in Stockholm in the end of April. For starters, I am always suspicious of any methods that offer shortcuts. Brad Warner’s blog on SuicideGirls made me wonder what I make of this what sounds like a crush course in enlightenment and how I should go about forming an opinion of my own.
Buddhist Geeks interviewed the Big Mind process creator Genpo Roshi in three episodes and of course I listened to them all. It is hard to avoid reading about Big Mind these days. Genpo Roshi claims that one doesn’t have to spend years doing zazen but can achieve enlightenment (called satori or kensho in Zen tradition) by mastering this specific technique that he developed. The Integral guru Ken Wilber received the method with enthusiasm while Brad Warner used words as “scam” and “horse shit” in respect to it. Coming from a Zen priest it is quite a serious accusation but the situation offers an opportunity to think about what actually happens when something new, radical and provocative appears on the Buddhist horizon and how each of us takes a stand towards it. Who do we listen to? Buddhist community which is extremely diverse has no Pope or Politburo to say what is right and what is wrong.
In the past few days I have been reading the sutra on the Kalamas’s dilemma in which the Buddha is asked by the inhabitants of the place called Kalamas for some guidelines on how to tell teachers who speak truly from those who speak falsely, which seems to fit my situation perfectly. (I so understand those guys!) The Buddha’s answer immediately made me see that I was approaching the issue from the wrong side and therefore had no way of actually seeing it what it was: I was from the start blinded by a number of ideas and perceptions and – this is actually a scary insight if I think of how often I apply this kind of reasoning for making important decisions in my everyday life – none of them was actually truly and genuinely mine! It goes like this:
“You should decide, Kalamas, not by what you have heard, not by following convention, not by assuming it is so, not by relying on the texts, not because of reasoning, not because of logic, not by thinking about explanations, not by acquiescing to the views you prefer, not because it appears likely, and certainly not out of respect for a teacher”.
Then the Buddha adds that when they would know for themselves and see that those teachings were taking them on the path leading to greed, hatred and delusion, they should reject them. Basically, the Buddha says: “Go and see for yourselves”!
At the moment my own ideas of the Big Mind concept are all influenced by what I so far know of Zen and Buddhism and my own understanding of it (it is hard work and takes years and years of training), my expectations (for example as to how high the fee for a seminar that has anything to do with Buddhism can be) and by what I know so far about the ways to achieve some high goal (“No pain, no gain” I guess would sum it up), and of course by what I heard and read on the blogosphere – well, all the stuff that the Buddha said we need to let go of when making a decision of this kind, I got it!
The seminar fee is somewhat high for me but not prohibitively high and if I don’t go and see for myself I will have no proper ground (at least in my eyes) for saying this is a bunch of crap as Brad Warner did. The guy has been seriously practicing Buddhist meditation and this alone makes one extremely biased: it cannot be easy to accept that there is an alternative and easier way to the hardships of zazen. (I would not expect the Catholic priests to be allowed to have sexual relationships sometime soon because this would be unfair to those generations of priests that did live their lives in celibacy.)
So in the end I decided to give it a try (wonder if Brad did or if he discarded the idea because it sounded so simple and different from what he has been doing for decades) and … see for myself. What I have always appreciated in Buddhism is the idea that nothing is worth clinging to. Including Buddhism itself and the idea of enlightenment. I can imagine that even the Soto line of Zen was at some point considered revolutionary and radical and probably frowned upon by the traditionalists. Besides, if anything, this opens for bringing to the surface my own attachments to believes and this is always welcome.