Reprinted with permission of Greg Eichler
July 7, 1998
The purpose of this letter is to withdraw my request for ordination and to explain the reasons for my withdrawal.
Although I am withdrawing my request for ordination, I am not abrogating my Taking Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. I have merely chosen not to do so within the context of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. This decision is rooted not only in witnessing the conduct of order members [OMs] but also in pondering certain FWBO tenets.
The FWBO teaches that spiritual hierarchy is a relationship whereby not only does the "spiritually lower" party "reach up" but the "spiritually higher" party also "reaches down" to pull the "lower" party up the spiritual ladder. My experience of FWBO spiritual hierarchy does not uphold this determination. I often witness OMs not practicing what they teach. Although some OMs do grasp the Dharma intellectually, they do not in fact practice It in their daily lives. As a teacher, I well understand that a child learns from actions not words. One's actions are the true tests of one's beliefs. To be fair, an infrequent number of OMs do seem to embody these teachings; however, nearly all of those whom I've met do not.
I observe selfishness and ethical blindness on the part of OMs. I observe OMs often not considering the impact their actions have on others. It is not inspiring to be weary of contact with an OM because one cannot be sure what his mood will be that day. I hold that a spiritually advanced person could not be so emotionally unpredictable: that would contravene his nature.
A further example of the deficiency of the spiritual-hierarchy principle relates to sex. Because of the power variance, sexual activity between a spiritual teacher and his students dare not take place. Yet, at the San Francisco Buddhist Center it has been routine. In light thereof, I ask myself whether there is substance to the recently much debated Guardian article.
Another instance relates to intoxicants. I feel that an OM is not living the Precepts when smoking tobacco and marihuana or imbibing alcohol. As a mere public school teacher, substance abuse is not an example I would set for my students; much less so, is it appropriate for spiritual teachers.
My last illustration is admittedly intuitive. Spiritual authority is either apprehended or not. I did not perceive an aura of spiritual authority on meeting Sangharakshita. I merely felt that I was meeting the author of books I had read. Yet, when I met Thich Nhat Hanh and U Silananda I sensed being in the presence of mahatmas. I trust that intuition, which has consistently served me well.
OM mentorship is markedly lacking at the SFBC. Although others and I were heartily persuaded to initiate a men's community, once it was set up, we received next to no help in maintaining it. It was we, not the OMs, who had to take the initiative. When there were discussions, apparent disinterest in the survival of the men's community reigned.
As a GFR mitra, I in no way feel "spiritually lower" than any OM at the San Francisco Buddhist Center: neither do I feel superior to them. Relying on the words of the Buddha, I am neither "greater than, lesser than, nor equal to" anyone else. My experience does not sustain the FWBO tenet of spiritual hierarchy.
Turning to another matter, my experience disaffirms the single-sex principle. The female SFBC OMs most likely would have been the more adroit mentors for me. However, the single-sex principle barred those relationships from ever forming. Furthermore, the rationale behind the single-sex principle is that one is thus free of sexual attraction: what about gay men? If this be so, the existence of gay men's retreats in England is quite suspect.
I feel that spiritual friendships within the FWBO are contrived. My non-FWBO friendships have burgeoned as naturally as a blossoming flower. Yet, my "spiritual friendships" feel affected: they are somehow inauthentic. Happily, I have formed some authentic friendships at the SFBC. I intend to cultivate those friendships further. They are sincere.
The FWBO has highlighted the arts disproportionately to their efficacy in realizing Enlightenment. Most of the art that has been exhibited at the SFBC is not particularly inspiring. Once an OM excused himself from a GFR mitra meeting, because he was to lead an art workshop. I dispute his choice.
One of the FWBO's most disquieting aspects is its promotion of dualistic thinking. The dualistic notion of Buddhist versus non-Buddhist, for example, is well chronicled by Sangharakshita's call for ex-Christians to blaspheme to "rid" themselves of Christianity. The FWBO's comes up short, when one compares its attitude with that expressed in Thich Nhat Hanh's Living Buddha, Living Christ:
"That treasure of happiness, the Kingdom of Heaven, may be called the ultimate dimension of reality. When you see only waves, you might miss the water. But if you are mindful, you will be able to touch the water within waves as well. Once you are capable of touching the water, you will not mind the coming and going of the waves. You are no longer concerned about the birth and death of the wave. You are no longer afraid. You are no longer upset about the beginning or the end of the wave, or that the wave is higher or lower, more or less beautiful. You are capable of letting these ideas go because you have already touched the water."
I find mitra study intellectualizes the Dharma. We muse over lists of lists in a way likened to that of medieval scholars debating how many angels stand on the head of a pin: entertaining but ineffectual. As the Diamond Sutra and Heart Sutra teach: Enlightenment is right here now, it is only our ego-based perceptions that prevent us from seeing it. It is beyond words. It is easy to mistake the finger for the moon. I feel mitra study groups merely dwell on the finger.
The FWBO does not encourage couples. Developing a relationship with another human being can be as challenging as any charnel ground. Frankly, a couple relationship provides a partner who is engaging. In the charnel ground, the corpses do not. I also find it unfit for the FWBO to discount the spiritual aspect of love. When I was taking care of my partner Philip as he died of AIDS, my love was based on love [agape], not sex [eros]. Self-transcendent love does indeed arise in couple relationships.
The FWBO merely tolerates children. Neither the Zen Center nor Spirit Rock here in the San Francisco Bay Area share this attitude. Both offer Dharma classes for children. The next generation must be cherished and guided along the Dharma path.
The FWBO seems apprehensive about exchanging ideas with other groups. Although the Zen Center welcomed an FWBO presentation on Dr. Ambedkar, the SFBC has never invited a speaker from another Buddhist group to speak.
Another bothersome instance of FWBO dualistic thinking is the idea of a separate East and West. The Dharma is the Dharma - just as the sea tastes of salt whether it laps upon the shores of Asia or North America. My partner is Chinese. To my delight, I see that although much divides us culturally, we are one in the Dharma.
I ask myself why the FWBO holds on to these dualities. Ultimate truth transcends these dualities: Buddhist - non-Buddhist; single - couple; straight - gay; men - women: East - West.
A final cause of concern prompting me to disengage myself from the FWBO is its promotion of rather neo-conservative thinkers in its bookstores: e.g., Camille Paglia Sex, Art, and American Culture, Allan Bloom The Closing of the American Mind and Robert Bly Iron John. Reading these writers convinces me that they want to retreat into fixed categories and are too timid to venture into a world beyond classification. As Buddhists, we undertake to abandon fixed views.
I hope that I have sufficiently explained the reasons for my withdrawing my request for ordination. I do not wish to become a member of an order that exhibits the conduct and expounds the tenets outlined in this letter. The FWBO is a shoe that no longer fits.
Freed, I happily walk barefoot upon the grassy path to other horizons.
"Believe nothing, no matter where you hear it,