December 02, 2009

Dharma Wars revisited

In its winter 2009 issue, Tricycle published an article titled “Dharma Wars,” which reported on the Buddhist blogosphere, and described an online exchange among Dogo Barry Graham, Rev. Kobutsu Kevin Malone, and Rev. Gomyo Kevin Seperic. In that article, among other things, Tricycle printed a comment by Mr. Graham that one of his "accusers" had been convicted of assault, and that the other’s teaching credentials had been fabricated. Both accusers remained nameless. By printing Mr. Graham's comment, Tricycle merely intended to provide an example of the type of exchange that led the author of the article to become concerned about the sometimes acrimonious online exchanges among Buddhists. Tricycle did not intend to state or imply that either Rev. Kobutsu Kevin Malone or Rev. Gomyo Kevin Seperic had been convicted of assault or had fabricated teaching credentials. Tricycle likewise did not intend to weigh in on the validity of the charges against Mr. Graham. It was the nature of the exchange that was at issue.

Rev. Kobutsu and Rev. Gomyo contacted Tricycle and were—and remain—invited to respond, as are any of the parties mentioned in the article.

It is not unusual for people to vociferously disagree with an author’s point of view, and Tricycle has weathered many such storms in the past, although more often for being controversial than for being a "corporate behemoth." We are not the latter; if we were, we’d be walking a little further downtown, to Goldman Sachs, for our H1N1 flu shots. Alas, we remain among the uninnoculated.

We remain open to all points of view.

The Editors

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Tom Armstrong's picture

I continue to be greatly disappointed with Tricycle's failure to properly edit its articles.

Jake's picture

A disappointing original article followed up by a lame backhanded excuse of a followup.

The People Magazine of Buddhism sinks to National Enquirer values.

James Shaheen's picture


We do take ethics seriously, and we always have. Of course, you may differ with regard to what is ethical. I do not believe that publishing "Dharma Wars" was unethical, for instance, and clearly, you do. On the other hand, many felt that what we published in an essay that mentioned the circumstances of Maezumi Roshi's death was unethical—and believe me, I heard about it—but you thought it was a good thing. I think we can both live with these differences of opinion, and I appreciate hearing yours.


Not a bad idea. If this is an idea you would like to pursue, submit a query and we'd be happy to consider it.

We have, in fact, had bloggers write for us. Off hand, I can think of three. All three we came into contact with through reading their blogs, so it's not an aspect of dharma discussion and practice that we have ignored or one we lack respect for. We ourselves have presented opportunities for digital dharma teachings and practice for nearly 15 years. Naturally, the tone of a not-for-profit organization will be quite different from an individual blogger's, but this is only to be expected.

As it is for all of you, this has been an experiment for us, the relative merits of which we'll be able to assess more accurately with time. One writer pointed to the online world's potential pitfalls. I don't think that's a bad thing, but I certainly understand why you'd want to point out that there is vast potential here as well. I think James Ishmael Ford said as much in the article.

Our online effort is not something we can do alone, and there are plenty of people we learn from online. We see ourselves as a part of the online community, not at odds with it.

My best to you both,


Mumon's picture


As for conflicts of interest: we have, in fact, lost advertisers because they were unhappy with what we printed. Some came back, some did not. In at least one instance, the subject of an interview argued that Tricycle should not run ads at all.

You're welcome; what you wrote here of course still does not abrogate the need for ethical behavior in all contexts in regard to material your organization publishes.

I encourage you to continue to take my suggestion seriously.

nathan's picture

Hi James,

In some ways, it's irrelevant to me whether the article attacked bloggers or not. There's debate on both sides of that fence on the blogosphere itself. I never took it as an attack, even though I seriously question the author's approach.

My point is that the Buddhist blogospehere has developed into another arena of practice, as even well known teachers are now diving and attempting to see what happens. So, why not do a feature article on that? Why not have a dialogue with some of us in the magazine? Offer some space to the idea that digital dharma practice is worthy of being examined, both positively and critically?

You have this huge blog roll on the this page here, and yet when have any of these folks appeared in print (and featured as bloggers) in your magazine before the Dharma Wars article?

I'm not an intellectual gadfly with some philosophical bone to pick - I've been practicing for close to a decade, and am both a member of a "real life" sangha and a Buddhist blogger. I see value and challenges in both. How about you?


Joseph's picture

@Monica, when you advise @Jamie to be mindful of his anger you come off like a Cali-uber-alles style crypto. In fact a lot of Buddhists and new agers who use renunciate language to silence debate and control the free expression of others end up coming off that way, sorta cultish and scary. Just FYI.

James's picture

@Linda: Thank you for your reasoned comment. But I differ here. The specifics of the exchange, which played out in public, would have to be discussed in order for the reader to understand what the writer is talking about. Others have objected more strenuously to the choice of example because they felt that in this particular exchange, public accusations had to be made and that the accusations were therefore appropriate. They differ, however, as to which accusations, depending on whom they support.

@Nathan: The story was not an attack on Buddhist bloggers. It did, though, question the tone of some Buddhist teachers and students online, both on blogs and in discussion forums.

@Mumon: As for conflicts of interest: we have, in fact, lost advertisers because they were unhappy with what we printed. Some came back, some did not. In at least one instance, the subject of an interview argued that Tricycle should not run ads at all. Thank you for your suggestion.

I appreciate your comments,

James Shaheen

Mumon's picture

We remain open to all points of view.

And what about facts?

Are you, Tricycle, in fact open to publishing critiques of those from whom the magazine accepts advertising?

I used to enjoy this publication, and thought it highly ethical when they published work originating from Brian Victoria, or when they showed Maezumi Roshi warts and all.

I have a suggestion: why not publish prominently and adhere to a code of ethics that comports with the ethical obligations of Buddhism coupled with a Western awareness of potential conflicts of interest?

I'm just sayin', as they say.

nathan's picture

If you are open to all views, as you state that you are, I'd love to see a feature article interviewing Buddhist bloggers and examining the contributions we are making to the practice, as well as the challenges of blogging with integrity and in-line with Buddhist teachings.

gene's picture

Thanks Tricycle staff for reporting on an issue relevant to practical Buddhism, even though the material is controversial or not-so-nice.

Ed's picture

... and yet more miscommunication and misunderstanding on the Internet is created by an article about miscommunication and misunderstanding on the Internet.

Yet another example of why I'm choosing, more and more, to "go off-line" -- or, as we used to call it, live in the world.

Al Billings's picture

Tricycle has to generate readership somehow. Creating controversy is always one approach.

Kyle Lovett's picture

Don't you think some "on-line diatribes" when we are blowing the whistle on crooks, sexual predators or religious intolerance. I'm one of those bloggers they are talking about, and sometimes I found compassionate speech is making a huge fuss about some awful things that happen inside our Buddhist community. That is the part they don't tell you.

Monica's picture

Jamie, be mindful of your anger. Your response is exactly the kind of online diatribe Tricycle was highlighting as being a cause for concern. Call them out for errors, if you must, but have compassion. Take care, my friend.

Jaime McLeod's picture

Defensive much? Your magazine publishes a highly inflammatory, poorly-researched, holier-than-thou piece of yellow journalism that slings mud on the names of teachers and well-meaning lay bloggers alike. Then, when the content of said piece draws ire from countless readers and Buddhist bloggers, rather than addressing the actual issues that many of us raised, you publish this limp, smarmy, winking bit of self-justification. Way to keep it classy, Tricycle ...

Linda Alvarado's picture

The problem with the article, from my perspective, was giving details of the dispute, rather than simply outlining the nature of the problem. I don't think I needed the details to see that engaging in cyber warring is antithetical to my practice. By giving details, the article felt gossipy, which I am sure was not your intent.