Friday, December 24, 2010

Buddhadrama

The Year of our Lord 2010 looks all set for a rockin' finish, on the Buddhadrama front anyway. Not that there's been any serious shortage of it earlier on, between the Bill Schwartz-Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo/Alyce Zeoli-Waylon Lewis battle of the titan(ic ego)s,1 Wilborg2 popping up with their Green Memes and Lower Quadrants organizing webinars involving a broad range of highly-paid gurus left and right but mostly right, and any amount of fragile egos trading bitchslaps couched in ever-so-polite covert-aggressive language (usually) or bacon-flavored macho chest-beating (sometimes).

Oh, and there was that little affair of Eido Tai Shimano handing out kensho for handjobs. For forty years or thereabouts. Still roshi-ing along, I hear.

You insensitive clod!
One of the Wilborg, a guy named Tom Armstrong, started this thing called the Blogisattva Awards a few years back. That was picked up by one Kyle Lovett, aka The Reformed Buddhist, best known for poopie jokes, repression, and threatening to publish people's email, with his sidekick Nate de Montigny, bearer of many tattoos and aficionado of Web graphics incorporating Dharmic elements presented in a garish but kitschy fashion just this, er, that side of good taste, earlier this year. Their stated mission was to "build community and recognize excellence in Buddhist blogging."

Yeah!

This did not go across entirely without a hitch, even from the start. A few haters who saw them rollin' started hatin'... well, not exactly hatin', but expressing some reservations about the egoic and competitive aspects of the exercise, as well as its apparently heavy North American slant. You know, that a competition and awards might not be... helpful. Not for blogging, nor Buddhism, nor spiritual practice, not even community-building. I was among those naysayers, one of "the Finns" the inimitable Kyle later insinuated were responsible for most of the hating (even if I did backpedal a bit later, stupid me).3

Fucking Finns. Always hatin'. Bastards.
Nevertheless, the awards went on. The days ticked along, the clock produced ever more time as it always does, and in due course the winners were announced. Bill Schwartz got a nomination, lately upgraded to Finalist, and Robert Aitken Roshi, who was a brilliant dude in all respects only he barely blogged at all, was given a Lifetime Achievement Award. Most of the other awards went to various milquetoast bloggers, careful never to ruffle any feathers nor upset the sweetly cloying scent of loving-kindess interspersed with fart humor that constitutes the anal-retentive face of the "mainstream" Buddhoblogosphere. Gassho!

They got a couple right, though. One of those was the award for Best Engage the World Blog, which went to Marnie L. Froberg of Enlightenment Ward. She writes a lot of seriously interesting and always carefully thought-out stuff about social and political and generally 'engaged' things, and not in a let's-go-get-photographed-with-poor-people-in-Africa kind of way either. Nor like Bernie Glassman. I don't know why, but I can't stand Bernie Glassman, he rubs me the wrong way.4

She, however, sadly, was one of the "haters," and, unexpectedly (to the Blogisattva organizers, at least), refused to be bought off with a blingy golden Internet badge with WINNER! on it. Instead, after giving the matter due consideration, she wrote a long and thoughtful post about Buddhist blogging, the community of Buddhist bloggers, the possible consequences—intended and unintended—of introducing official(ish) awards for that pursuit, and her own mixed feelings about being awarded one, despite the reservations she had expressed earlier (not to mention the delightful piece of snark pointed at Tom of Wilborg back in 2008, before he was assimilated). She also thanked her nominators for the nominations and the judges for their hard work.

She finished off with a creative solution: neither declining nor accepting the award, but passing it along, to another blog and another blogger who, she felt, deserved it. This blogger—one Bhante Sujato—accepted the recycled award with good humor. Very gracious, and a class act in all respects, both from Marnie's and Bhante Sujato's side.

In other words, she did exactly what she was (supposedly) given the award for: she put an intelligent, thoughtful, and creative twist on a social issue, and produced a top-notch blog post about it—and did something concrete to build community too, all in perfect accordance with Buddhist principles of nonattachment, generosity, and careful consideration of causes and effects. With all due respect, Blogisattva dudes, that seems like just about as much work as you put into the exercise.

Here's where it turned out that the misgivings of the "haters" turned out to be even better-founded than at least I would have expected.5 The Blogisattvas dropped the ball big-time. Marnie had given them a great opportunity to do some real community-building and further recognition of quality blogging. Sadly, it was not to be. Such nonconformism was not to be tolerated. We can't have people seizing control of things like that, can we? No, people must stay where they're put and do what their generous benefactors, in this case Nate and Kyle, tell them.

Nate, speaking on behalf of the Bogi... oops, Blogisattvas, replied with a curt "You can't do that."

So Marnie declined the award (or "disqualified herself," as the Bogi... er, Blogisattvas put it), and Bill Schwartz got his "Finalist" badge, which he duly trumpeted to all and sundry.

Unpopular opinions. Yeah. You go, Bill!
True to its culture of openness and inclusiveness, the Blogisattva site promptly shut down discussion of the situation on its website, Kyle clenched his sphincter tight as David Carradine's cock ring, and wrote a big WHAAA! of a post where he whined about the lack of appreciation he was getting for his selfless work on behalf of the community, as well as patting himself on the back for being such a good Buddhist and not going all aggro on poor defenseless unnamed Marnie even though it was All Her Fault.6

I wish Marnie had gone "Neener neener, I'm giving it away anyway, and you can't stop me." I wonder what Clenched-Sphincter and Tats would've done then.

I am the emuSoooo... Since, during the course of this drama, Kyle said that the awards are no big deal and graciously let me know that nobody's stopping anyone from declaring themselves a winner, I'm hereby declaring myself a Blogisattva WINNAR!! in All Categories with Golden Ears of Corn, plus also an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (and two more for Best Special Effects and Best Emu Handling so he won't be all lonely-like). You may behold my award collection at the top of this very post, as long as you don't scuff anything. So there.

Does any of this matter? Not in some cosmic sense, perhaps, but it does matter to the people involved. Blogs are a labor of love for many. They're personal things. Bloggers—perhaps especially Buddhist bloggers?—can be a sensitive bunch, putting a lot of themselves into the effort. If a couple of random dudes set themselves up as arbiters of taste of the Buddhist blogger community—such as it is—they're in a position to cause a lot of hurt. In this case, their actions have not conformed to their stated intentions. They keep saying that "it's not about them," but their actions—such as Kyle's WHAA! [link dead as of 2010-12-25] and Nate's "that's not allowed" letter—show that at this point at least, it is all about them and their fragile egos. A gift—of time, effort, or anything else—is no gift if it comes with strings attached. If the strings involve expectations of the recipient behaving in some particular way, it's just a crass attempt at manipulation.

So score one for community-building. Right on, boys, and Merry Christmas!

Oh, and, I only linked to the sites involved that don't suck (and Kyle's WHAAA! because it was so sweet). I liked it so much I even saved a copy offline! Google the others if you're interested. I did take screenies, in case the conversations referenced mysteriously disappear, as such things sometimes do. At this writing, the most relevant threads are here, here (blech, yuck) [link dead as of 2010-12-24], here, and here.

And, one more thing: my editorial policy regarding comments is suspended for the purposes of this post. I figure it might get ugly, and I have no pretentions of being some kind of neutral territory here. That I leave to someone more... enlightened than I. So comment away, but don't expect to be treated fairly. I'm not in a fair mood this Christmas.

Edit: Looks like the relevant post on Blogisattva.org mysteriously disappeared—the one with discussion about the situation. Can't have dissent scratching the façade, now, can we? I knew Kyle likes to revise the record on his own blog, but it's good to see that he's upholding such high ethical standards on a community one entrusted (by himself to himself) as well. Tsk tsk... Screenies of the post and comment thread here:



1Ask me some other time.
2That's Sanskrit for "a once-individual who has been assimilated by the Integral Institute."
3The other one is Uku. I'm not aware of any others. Also, in case you're curious, Uku and I only know each other online; he does instruct a sangha here in Helsinki, but it's the wrong one, and he does it all wrong. My sangha is much better. We have both kinds of Buddhism, Soto and Rinzai, but he does only Soto. And we have robes. So there.7
4That's a great name, by the way. It's a pun, too—it can mean a ward for enlightened people, or going enlightenmentward. I wish I was that clever.
5Sorry, Uku. I was wrong.
6That's known as "sarcasm," for you of the American persuasion who don't have it. That's not the same as "irony," at all, although you often confuse the two. Poor Americans.
7I hope that wasn't too subtle. Was it too subtle?

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