[UPDATE: Ted Meissner immediately wrote me to say that it’s a technical problem. I wish I could give him the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, the post still stands as a general reflection on a real phenomenon in the x-buddhist internet world, including the Secular Buddhist Association. I stand by the post. Also, I want to make it clear that I did NOT receive the usual message you get when a site has trouble loading, the one about technical difficulties. The message I got read:]
YOU ARE BANNED.
That’s the message I get when I try to access the Secular Buddhist site (links at bottom). I checked: it’s a blanket IP ban. You may wonder: what does it take to get banned from a Buddhist site? I wonder the same thing. After all, aren’t x-buddhists always telling us how they embody compassion, mindfulness, and equanimity? These values, you would think, serve even the most discordant conversations. Couldn’t banning someone just be an admission that your claims to (ostensibly) pro-social dispositions like “non-reactivity” and “non-judgmentalism” are a bit shabby?
Ted Meissner, the founder of the Secular Buddhist Association and its Facebook page, generously sprinkles his sites with words that, I suppose, are designed to signal serious thought and a willingness to engage others with dialogical vigor, words like critical (critical thinking, critical eye, critical examination, etc.) naturalism, pragmatism, science, secularism, evidence, and so forth. Meissner adds to such good habits of thought a rigorous ethics of engagement. We can glean his ethics from such recent Facebook nuggets as the following (Meissner signs all of his sayings “TSB.” TSB = The Secular Buddhist = Ted Meissner. Why does he use quotation marks to quote himself? Does it makes what he says appear more important?):
“I would rather be shown wrong and have the opportunity to correct my understanding, than maintain a comforting delusion.”
“Our practice is neither avoidance nor suppression of suffering, but direct and sincere engagement.”
“Today — respond with a heart of friendliness, rather than react with a knee of jerkiness.”
*Today* — Decide to be an enthusiastic participant in this moment, every moment.
“Only a weak faith is intolerant of questioning. A strong faith encourages it, sincerely, without an underlying requirement that you find their own answers.”
*Today* — That lightness of heart you may have after meditation? Bring that with you as you encounter the very next person.
“To question is to demonstrate a desire to find the truth. And that quest can only strengthen *us*, however much it may weaken our cherished *views*.”
Meissner does not practice what he is preaching here. He is in fact very quick to cut off critical discussion. He does in fact react to “questioning” “with a knee of jerkiness.” I don’t know why. Is he really unaware of the gulf between what he says and what he does? Is he insecure? Paranoid–a for/against mentality? Is he protecting his readers? Or is it a case of blatant hypocrisy–of purposefully saying the “right” thing but just as purposefully doing the opposite? It often looks to me like hypocrisy. But maybe I am wrong. Perhaps the problem is even more serious than I believe it is. Maybe Meissner genuinely believes that he is engaging others in the way he says he is. Maybe it’s really an issue of tolerance. Is it possible that he just cannot tolerate the degree of robustness, vigor, and critical dialogue that some of us bring to the table? If that is the case, his failing is not hypocrisy. It is egoism. Egoism is “the habit of valuing everything only in reference to one’s personal interest.” The logic of egoism is straight-forward: if being “shown wrong” risks your personal interest, just hit the YOU ARE BANNED button. Just shut out the self-interest-conflicting voices. Now, you are once again free to bask in your comforting post-meditation delusion–you know, “that lightness of heart.”
Ted Meissner is not alone in this failure. It is endemic to the entire group of current x-buddhist internet gurus. I mean people like Vincent Horn and his Buddhist Geeks, Kenneth Folk, Ken McLeod, Stephen Schettini, Brad Warner, Lodro Rinzler, and Noah Levine. God knows I could mention so many more. At the core of their egoism is the fact that they have product to sell, whether literally, for good ol’ Amerikkkan $$$, or figuratively, for community building or a seat at the Feast of Latter Day Buddhism.
But these individuals, too, are not alone in their ego-driven quest. In fact, they are just the most recent players in the great American x-buddhist I-help-you-help-yourself game. Contrary to their claims of innovation and post-traditionalism, every single one of them is locked onto the tracks forged by the x-buddhist thaumaturges of old. The failure, in short, is structural. Self-serving egoism is at the core of the contemporary x-buddhist system. Anyone who comes even close to pointing out that fact will be banned from the discussion. But please don’t take my word for this. I am speaking from my own experience. Visit their sites, ask your hard questions, make your pointed criticism, point out the contradictions you see, be irreverent, and watch what happens.
The system protects itself with indignation against a challenge to deceit in the service of power, and the very idea of subjecting the ideological system to rational inquiry elicits incomprehension or outrage, though it is often masked in other terms. –Noam Chomsky
Or it just bans you.
As disheartening as the current crop of x-buddhist figures are, I recently saw a sign of promise. The site of Tutteji Wachtmeister is a beacon of light in the platitudinous murkiness of the bodhiblogosphere. Tutteji’s x-buddhist/neo-Vedantin atmanistic transparency illuminates the others’ opacity. I hope you’ll visit this great guru’s site (link below). And then, maybe, go to, say, Lodro Rinzler’s site, and compare. That should be fun and edifying!
Anyway, I look forward to the day when the strategy of avoidance that is increasingly practiced by x-buddhist figures today is seen for what it is: evidence of a bogus product.
I look forward to the day when intelligence and integrity are valued–no, insisted on–in x-buddhist communities.
I look forward to the day when x-buddhist figures like Ted Meissner have the courage to practice what they preach.
UPDATE. For the record. Ted and Dana of the Secular Buddhist Association, like all good business people and politicians, admit to banning while not admitting to banning. Ted’s two Facebook posts following this post:
“Accepting the Buddha as a human being means accepting the possibility of his fallibility. That’s part of being human.” — TSB
*Today* — Take a moment to embed yourself in gratitude for the good friends who help us up when we stumble.
Then Dana Nourie adds these remarks:
Yes, sorry to those who received the You are Banned when using the url with the www. That issue is resolved, and all urls are in working order.There is civil disagreement, and healthy two-way conversations, where people don’t agree but varying opinions are offered. There there are people who defend their view obnoxiously, with insults, and anger. The latter does not help move dialogue or enrich thinking. And lastly there is obvious trolling, where people are just being a**holes because they enjoy it. Banning is justified in the last two cases. To foster and help a healthy community grow, we can’t have people who just want to be jerks and spoil conversation for those who truly want to share and understand.
See also Patricia Ivan’s post “Tweet your own Horn.”