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!