No Ads on No Zen?

We need your advice – do you think No Zen in the West should stay as it is, with no ads and hosted at wordpress.com, or do you think it should move to a new host, patheos.com, where it will display ads, generate some small income for Jiryu and Hondo, and be part of a large religion website?

We wanted to bring this question to our readers because we really feel that you all are part of this No Zen project, part of its life. Hondo and Jiryu both have feelings about the issue, but our conversations haven’t feel complete without hearing from some of you. Please take a minute to let us know what you think.

The situation: In the last few months, we’ve noticed that a couple of our favorite Zen blogs have moved to a large ecumenical religion website called Patheos. Part of the vision of Patheos is to consolidate and make available a wide range of religious teachings, and one of the ways it does so is by hosting a variety of blogs organized by religious affiliation. By being on Patheos, blogs theoretically become more available to readers either browsing across religions or browsing featured blogs within a particular religion. Blogs on Patheos also display ads, and the sum of these ads brings revenue to Patheos, some of which they pass as small payments to the individual bloggers.

No Zen in the West now has the opportunity to move to Patheos, and before making our decision we wanted to hear from you.

Hondo’s take: In my twenties, my favorite band was fugazi. Part of the appeal was the music itself, of course, which I’m happy to go on and on about in a separate post, but there was also something about the vision of punk-rock integrity that was inspiring to me as a more-or-less lost and struggling young person. The idea of carving out a space free from the insidious pressures of our culture’s corporate machinery resonated very deeply with me, and served as a kind of refuge, actually, in the years before I found another refuge in the Dharma. For me, then, part of the resistance to having No Zen surrounded by a bunch of ads (okay, probably an overstatement—but with an ad or two on the page, certainly) has to do with honoring that un-commodified space.

Another favorite from that same time in my life is Lewis Hyde’s book The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (the first edition of which had the much cooler subtitle Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property.)  At any rate, the book speaks to the difference between a market economy and a gift economy, and to our intuition that some parts of our life simply don’t make sense in the marketplace. Two dollars worth of thumb-tacks is a coherent amount; two dollars worth of music, or of love, or of wisdom, isn’t coherent at all. The Dharma is a gift, freely given and received, and only makes sense as a gift.

Having said all that, I deeply appreciate the wisdom of not falling into a kind of purity trap, as if the Dharma were so fragile that it could be sullied by even coming near commerce, near money. There can be a weird relationship to money in spiritual life, which I think comes partly out of a very old and very strange dualism between the life of the spirit and the life of the body in our Western tradition. I don’t like it; I don’t think it’s helpful. In the final oxherding picture, the fully awakened sage walks straight back into the mess and greed and beauty of the marketplace.

So: I’m open to experimenting with the Patheos site if it seems worthwhile to Jiryu, or to all of you–with some hesitations.

Jiryu’s take: Part of my intention as a Zen priest has been as much as possible to keep my livelihood connected to the Dharma. At the same time, the spirit of the Dharma is that it is freely received and freely given. These two views – or even vows – don’t always harmonize so well, and the present issue gets right at it. When I don’t assert that I rely on my priest function for livelihood, I can feel taken advantage of; when I do, I can feel like I’m selling out the Dharma. In this case it’s the same – ads on this blog that I see a real part of my Dharma life commercializes it in a way that seems disharmonious; but passing up the chance to have my blogging acknowledged as “valuable” misses another need I have. How can I (and others) acknowledge the value of my Dharma work without reducing it to that “value”? So far in my life, I feel I’ve made more mistakes under-valuing than over-valuing my life and functions as a priest – not asking others to acknowledge its “value” and then ending up feeling unvalued. I see this blog move opportunity as a chance to take a small step the other way. I also see it as a way to gain some exposure for the blog, to have a platform that’s a little more professional or supported, and perhaps to be stumbled upon by readers using the Patheos portal who would not otherwise have come across No Zen.

At the same time, though, I don’t think that moving to Patheos is the only (or even necessarily the best) way to assert my need to be valued. I could also, for example, ask No Zen readers who see my work as “valuable” to donate to support it – rather than to assume for them (or for you if you’re one of them!) that they’d rather my support come through ads than directly from them. That is, maybe some of you would rather the blog stay ad-free, and feel enough about it that you’d like to contribute to keep it that way? Maybe to frame the issue as a choice between Patheos and being un-valued isn’t exactly accurate. But it is the opportunity arising now to explore the issues, which is why we’re taking it seriously and trying really to engage with the questions it raises.

Your take: In one word or as many as you’d like, please weigh in!

About Jiryu & Hondo

This account is used for No Zen in the West posts written collaboratively by Jiryu and Hondo.
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19 Responses to No Ads on No Zen?

  1. Merrill says:

    Thanks for introducing me to Patheos. Quite a website. I say go for it. Perhaps it will help give you two fine disciples of the Dharma the platform you so richly deserve.

  2. Amy says:

    Can you have it in both spots? So that you can reach people outside your immediate community, but still preserve a distraction-free space for those of us who find advertising problematic? Or is that cheating? Because I really love the intimacy of an ad-free space, and how spacious it feels to come here and just read the thoughts/insights/dharma of the two of you without interference, extra mediation, or other demands on my attention. Could you have links from Patheos that lead here? Are there alternatives to just having one or the other?

    I appreciate that this blog deserves a wider circulation, that you both have a tremendous amount to offer a wider audience in terms of your practice and teachings, and I sincerely agree that you both deserve financial support in your vocations. But I do feel like there’s something a little insidious about the capitalist model when it comes to art and spirituality, and that advertising is incredibly distracting, hard to contain and that it tends to co-opt even the best intentions. That’s a huge blanket statement, and unfortunately we seem to be locked as practitioners in the capitalist model–but I think finding creative ways to resist it is incredibly important.

    I realize this isn’t particularly helpful, but I wonder if you’ve explored other possibilities. I can understand the reluctance to getting hung up in “purity”, but at the same time I wonder how we can tell the difference between maintaining uprightness and not getting hung up. The reactionary in me wants to immediately shout NOOOO, but she’s kind of a loud reflex. Still, I have seen blogs that I enjoy growing every more popular and then getting ever more hideous pop-up and splash pages or whatever they’re called until the text is dwarfed by so much color and movement and advertising that I can’t even see what they’re saying anymore. So probably that won’t happen, but aren’t there alternatives to hoopla?

    On the Patheos front page I already saw rolling ads for books, a mention of the shitty YA novel “The Hunger Games” and in the lower left hand corner a sad-eyed starving child with flashing text. To me, that much movement and babble is distracting, and I want to give you all’s writing my full attention and not do the yukky compulsive clicking and scanning that happens when you go bigger–I don’t want to hippity hop from site to site, browsing the shop, and basically engaging in the shallow-pated self-distraction that I already do too much of in the online world. So there’s a larger question here, too, of the platform itself. I love seeing the FB updates telling me when there’s been a new post here. I read it eagerly and think about what I read, and then go back to my other work. On Patheos I’d probably wander in circles. And I don’t want to think about the Hunger Games when I’m reading Jiryu and Hondo.

    So ultimately this is a long winded way of coming down on the side of RESIST RESIST RESIST or seek a creative alternative.
    I love you guys.

  3. Mike Haitch says:

    Be clear about what you want and go with your heart.

    If you talk to others who are doing this with ad revene you’ll probably find it doesn’t bring in much cash. If you _need_ more money then a donate button will give you an opportunity to ask for money. Some monks also have conventional jobs, some do not. What choices are right for you?

    Go and look at various sites yourself and listen to your thoughts and your emotional responses. The messages you will convey will arise from the total page content.

  4. James says:

    I’m happy at Patheos. I’m pretty sure you will be, too…

  5. Joseph says:

    I really like Amy’s initial idea of having it in both spots, though I recognize that this might be kind of a pain. What if you made the first word in every patheos entry a link to this sight? I didn’t like the Patheos site. I found it more of the same mind-scattering blechity that is everywhere else online. AND when I clicked someones post I got a pop-up ad about winning $500,000 instantly!

    I wouldn’t mind the patheos site too much if there were a few selected adverts that were well researched and supported the intention of such a site. but a pop-up ad about winning $500,000 instantly…ugh. Plus the word patheos…I think pathos… sadness/pity.

    I guess it’s a no for me too. I feel very refreshed coming back to wordpress after looping around patheos for 5 minutes. wouldn’t it be cool to make your own site that had sponsorship, but they sponsored the site to be ad-less? They could even be home-grown conscientious companies. Everyone who knew your site, would know it’s ad-free… and here’s the page (not-NOT front and center) that you can go check out our sponsors with…pop-up-free… ok…that’s my 2 cents.

    Falling Awake,

    Jos.

  6. jennifer says:

    I would just like to add that some of the blogs that I folllowed, when they moved to Patheos I no longer read them mainly because it meant having to connect to the website and not getting the content delivered directly to me.

    So, if you decide to make the move, make sure your first couple of lines are really catchy otherwise people might not bother to continue reading.

  7. David Clark says:

    I’m a regular reader of both Monkeymind and Wild Fox and I haven’t found their move to Patheos disruptive, but I was already highly motivated to read them whenever a new post appears. I also follow this blog and try to read any new posts here, so I guess I would continue to do so. I’m not wild about the ads, and really dislike screaming pop-ups, but what the hey!

    I found this site by reading the previously mentioned blogs and I like to explore Buddhist/Zenish links, but don’t do much with other religious traditions. Would non-Buddhist readers tune in to you from links on Patheos? Good question. I’d say give it a try for a while and see how it feels. If it doesn’t feel like a good fit after a few months, cut loose.

    David

  8. qayyum says:

    I vote no. I’d ask Rick Hanson how much $ he is making posting once/month. Seems he’s the only other buddhist blogger on the other site. A DANA button where readers can support NoZen seems a sensible idea. Linking to/from other buddhist bloggers & interfaith sites as a means of garnering a wider readership also seems like a possibility. Is there a link to NoZen on the sfzc.org website, from BPF, from SZBA, Sotoshu? And what about pitching some of the buddhist glossies on a regular NoZen column? The content is certainly good enough.

  9. The thing I don’t like about Patheos is not so much the advertising, which is kind of a necessary evil unless one wants to pay out for hosting (even WordPress serves up occasional ads unless you pay to opt out), but that the grouping of blogs under various portals projects a misleading sense of community, and also the high-profile of Patheos sometimes leads to a low signal to noise ratio in many comment threads. Another thing to consider as bloggers is that the more of a platform you take up on the web the more pressure you are likely to feel to serve up regular content.

  10. I like the way you are handling this conversation here. About six months ago, an editor from Patheos asked if I would like to move my blog, http://dangerousharvests.blogspot.com/
    over there as well. Being financially challenged these days, I was torn. As a writer, I want my work to be read, and hope that it might offer some benefit to some folks out there. In addition, I want to be less dependent on fixed day jobs, so that I may focus more on spiritual practice, activism, and building community.

    However, I couldn’t get over the idea that Patheos wanted my entire archive, which is over 700 posts at this post. And that the compensation being offered really didn’t account for the volume of quality writing I have poured hours and hours of my life into on Dangerous Harvests. In addition, I wasn’t sure what to make of the portal issue Kyoshin mentions above. In fact, I specifically told the editor that my writing doesn’t fit neatly under any single banner at all. Another issue which hasn’t been discussed here yet is the manner in which Buddhism is being represented in terms of blogs Patheos has selected. Choosing blogs written solely by white male Buddhists presents a skewed image of what Buddhism in “the West” looks like. The editor did say that he was trying to contact blog owners of different backgrounds, but the last I checked it was still white guys being featured.

    There are other ways to gain exposure. I have had guest posts on blogs like Buddhist Geeks that have brought interest to DH. And I have done a lot of networking work on Twitter, Facebook, and other venues to increase my readership. And I’m starting to discover more paid venues for the writing that aren’t as large (and perhaps as commercial) as Patheos seems to be.

  11. Taiyo says:

    I vote no.

  12. Bryan Chiho says:

    Thanks for putting this issue to the readers. Shows a great sense of respect and being on the level.

    I recently read a translation of the buddha’s description of his ascetic years, pre-enlightenment. He called the practice “self-torment.” This is probably an anachronistic translation, but as a 21st century American buddhist I’m okay with that. And I really like it. I resonate all too well with the concerns you both expressed with regard to achieving some ideal of what a disciple of buddha should be. It seems to me that this is what shakyamuni was referring to when he called his early practice self torment. I spoke about it with Reb and he said that, even in his later years, Shakyamuni wasn’t trying to avoid self-torment or self indulgence, but yielded to either as his life presented them while moment by moment giving up the addiction to one or the other to help encourage others. Reb intimated that such practice is the discipline of the middle way.

    It seems to me that it’s a hard to feel uncomfortable with the relationship between capitalism/advertising/et al and dharma offerings without, oneself, already feeling icky about capitalism/advertising/et al and their own relationship to same. I feel strongly that you both are committed to examining and taking responsibility for your stories and feelings of ickyness both in personal conversation and your daily lives as I have had the privilege of living with both of you and becoming your friend. I feel strongly that your writings would continue this mature and compassionate exploration regardless of where they are hosted.

    To Joseph’s comment, I was struck and pleasantly surprised when I read that the etymology of pathos is that it was originally an antonym for ethos. Ethos meant eternal and pathos meant impermanent. So maybe pathos would be a bad thing to associate with a buddhist blog :)

    Also, Dave, thanks for bringing Fugazi in to the discussion. I have felt that “no zen in the west” in akin to “this is not a fugazi shirt.”

  13. Km says:

    My first response (on Facebook) was simply “no ads”. Now that I’ve actually looked at the potential new site I feel that even more strongly. As someone put OT above, the signal to noise ratio is dreadful. As a reader, I would not willingly go to that website. Add a “donate” button, using PayPal please, and kept this simple.

  14. Andrés says:

    Just a story to share:

    I just came from a “Yagé” Ceremony. The “Taitá” (Person who directs the ceremony) was not really happy with letting people know about him and his rituals through social networks and different kinds of advertising. So the natural question was: “How will people know about Yagé? How will people know about your teaching?”

    The “Taita” was just confident about the fact that “Yagé” will call people, and by different other means people will be involved, and just when the right moment arises, and the correct circumstances appear, then, the teaching will be offered.

    When the right moment arose, and “we” the people that was called to the ceremony came, they asked for a donation.

    I feel the same way Hondo´s about “The Dharma is a gift”. However, maybe money is also Dharma, and can be also a gift? :) I think qayyum has a good point.

  15. just took a look at Patheos … aesthetic response confirms my admittedly karmic anti-commercial gut feeling … voting no…

  16. Pingback: No Livelihood in Zen | No Zen in the West

  17. Jiryu Mark says:

    Started a comment of my own here… it turned into a new post and I just published it. Thanks so much for all of these great comments.

  18. Pingback: Nothing Ugly in Our Practice? | No Zen in the West

  19. Abbywords says:

    No Zen needs no ads.

    I recommend you say no to aggregators like Patheos, especially if they want your entire archive.

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