"Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

"Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby Jikan » Mon Apr 23, 2012 3:03 pm

There's a phenomenon characteristic of motivational & self-help literature of applying a spiritual doctrine or set of practices to a concrete problem (the Tao of Leadership, the Tao of Dow Jones, the Tao of fill-in-the-blank...). Zen as presented in North America is drawn into these discourses particularly often. Here's a recent example: Ginny Whitelaw's attempt to Zen the field of management (now more popularly presented as Leadership):

By “leadership,” I’m not referring to a position on an organization chart, but rather, borrowing from Kevin Cashman’s inside-out definition1: leadership is authentic self expression that creates value for others. Even that definition has an “all-quadrant all-level” quality as “authentic self expression” speaks to our individual agency, while “value for others” speaks to the beauty, goodness and relationships we create with and for others. Moreover, “value” could mean many things, but in a leadership sense, certainly one thing it means is bringing people up in their level of consciousness, for example, in service of a worthy purpose or in connection with others.


this from an interview with Ken Wilber, here:

http://integrallife.com/member/ginny-wh ... leadership

more material here, on bringing Zen to your career path:

http://www.metro.us/newyork/life/articl ... areer-path


I'd like to know what people make of this. For myself, I'm interested in what it presupposes: that somehow Zen taken to be relevant to managing one's life for a popular readership: it doesn't take a lot of explaining.

Your thoughts?
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby Astus » Mon Apr 23, 2012 7:20 pm

With the Zen of "go beyond yourself", "be in the moment", "big mind", "focus on one thing", "be one with it" and such slogans, they could train kamikaze pilots. How is this relevant to the bodhisattva spirit? A fake emptiness is nihilism. Nihilist leaders, well, what is that good for? They should learn compassion and love, not samurai attitude.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby mindyourmind » Mon Apr 23, 2012 8:11 pm

Other than the obvious misuse of cool spiritual terms in the process of making a fast buck, I also think that this type of marketing plays into modern people's short and selective attention spans.

They can Zen-up their life without doing the hard work, a bit of Buddhist pick-and-choose, and it makes them feel more spiritual. Enlightenment by next Monday, no hard work. Superficial, two-dimensional, vacuous nonsense. Great for the masses.
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby Jikan » Mon Apr 23, 2012 11:20 pm

Astus wrote:With the Zen of "go beyond yourself", "be in the moment", "big mind", "focus on one thing", "be one with it" and such slogans, they could train kamikaze pilots. How is this relevant to the bodhisattva spirit? A fake emptiness is nihilism. Nihilist leaders, well, what is that good for? They should learn compassion and love, not samurai attitude.


Indeed: that's one of the lessons of Brian Victoria's work such as Zen At War.

I'm not clear on what it means to "create value" in this context. Organizations create value when they accumulate capital, but is that the sort of value meant here?
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby Wesley1982 » Tue Apr 24, 2012 12:39 am

Jikan wrote:Your thoughts?


Zen should have a practical application to everyday life.
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby Astus » Tue Apr 24, 2012 8:19 am

Wesley1982 wrote:Zen should have a practical application to everyday life.


Buddhism has all the practical applications with moral guidance, meditation training, and wisdom. But, one can use it in everyday life when and if one has the experience and understanding of the Dharma. It's not like applied chemistry where people can simply moisturise their face as a result of extensive research. The teaching of the Buddha changes people, and that change in one's views and acts is the application. More compassion, more peace, less frustration, less anger. More giving, less greed.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby MuMun » Tue Apr 24, 2012 3:29 pm

"Applied Zen!" This was actually the name of a workshop a friend of mine (a Buddhist monastic) was asked to teach at UCLA's Extension, as a single-day adult ed class. "Applied Zen?" Oy. She and I talked about what such a class might be, and I ended up going along with her and "helping" her.

We viewed the premise of "applied zen" similarly to Astus, more or less. The danger of the premise is that people will tend to look for a way to "apply" ideas about zen to some outside situation -- bringing us back to dualism. The eightfold path is not a self-help program. "Self-help" is a symptom of the basic problem. "Applied zen" as exemplified in the kind of books we're talking about is a dualistic approach to satisfying desire -- even if the desire is something noble like "world peace" or "being a better manager."

So we just ended up treating it more or less like part zazenkai, part discussion about practice. We stressed zen practice as a method of radical inquiry, and made the point that the inquiry was the application. Using the precepts wisely as a framework, inquiry and naked attention lead to permanent changes in how we view life and death. And whatever we wanted from "zen" in the first place.
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby Jikan » Mon May 14, 2012 6:26 pm

But wait, there's more!

http://integrallife.com/member/ginny-wh ... zen-leader

Whitelaw is essentially aligning herself directly with Ken Wilber here (AQAL is shorthand for "all lines all quadrants...," which is shorthand for the whole body of Wilber's thing). I have reason to be deeply skeptical of Wilber's approach (see his treatment of Nagarjuna in his book Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality and you'll understand what I mean); I can't help thinking Ginny Whitelaw may have fallen off the beam with this one.

So it goes.
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby shel » Mon May 14, 2012 7:18 pm

By “leadership,” I’m not referring to a position on an organization chart, but rather, borrowing from Kevin Cashman’s inside-out definition1: leadership is authentic self expression that creates value for others. Even that definition has an “all-quadrant all-level” quality as “authentic self expression” speaks to our individual agency, while “value for others” speaks to the beauty, goodness and relationships we create with and for others. Moreover, “value” could mean many things, but in a leadership sense, certainly one thing it means is bringing people up in their level of consciousness, for example, in service of a worthy purpose or in connection with others.


What exactly is supposed to be wrong with this?
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby Jikan » Mon May 14, 2012 9:26 pm

In that passage? Nothing particularly objectionable to me there. It's also true that the content or the claim of that passage you quoted could have been just as easily expressed without recourse to Wilber's patois. Which is to say, she's using Wilber's words to make a fairly straightforward point: leadership should be at once inwardly reflective & self-critical, and also oriented outwardly toward service to others.

My comment was directed more broadly at the assumption that any one of the all-religions-are-the-same religions (Wilber's is a good example) is unproblematically fungible with Buddhism. I think a more cautious approach is warranted. More specifically, I think Wilber tends to make a mess of Buddhist thought, as in the reference I gave earlier; he tends to use Buddhist terms and categories to describe an approach that is actually a form of shaktism. I don't disapprove of shaktism, or Kashmir Shaivism, or German Idealism (among the many traditions Wilber draws on). They're fine paths in themselves. I don't think they are reducible to one another in the way Wilber presents them to be (e.g., that capital-E Emptiness is somehow to be equated to Spirit in Schelling & Hegel or the "I" of Meister Eckhardt).

Some Buddhists appreciate Wilber's work and his approach; perhaps more of them did prior to 2006 (google the "earpy" episode). Evidently Whitelaw is one. I disagree with her on this move, and that is the extent of my criticism of Whitelaw. That's it.

Here's a more detailed critique of Wilberism from nose to tail if that topic is of interest to anyone:

http://www.integralworld.net/meyerhoff-ba-toc.html
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby shel » Mon May 14, 2012 9:45 pm

Jikan wrote:My comment was directed more broadly at the assumption that any one of the all-religions-are-the-same religions (Wilber's is a good example) is unproblematically fungible with Buddhism.

Can you show where this is assumed?
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby Matylda » Tue May 15, 2012 8:34 pm

Astus wrote:With the Zen of "go beyond yourself", "be in the moment", "big mind", "focus on one thing", "be one with it" and such slogans, they could train kamikaze pilots. How is this relevant to the bodhisattva spirit? A fake emptiness is nihilism. Nihilist leaders, well, what is that good for? They should learn compassion and love, not samurai attitude.


What do you mean by this? do you think that in Japanese zen there is no teaching on compassion and that they exercise nihilism? How this idea came to your mind?
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby Astus » Tue May 15, 2012 10:09 pm

Matylda wrote:What do you mean by this? do you think that in Japanese zen there is no teaching on compassion and that they exercise nihilism? How this idea came to your mind?


I meant a limited understanding of Zen. Its not related to any specific nation, but only the human tendency of grasping at words without seeing the context.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby Matylda » Tue May 15, 2012 11:20 pm

Astus wrote:
Matylda wrote:What do you mean by this? do you think that in Japanese zen there is no teaching on compassion and that they exercise nihilism? How this idea came to your mind?


I meant a limited understanding of Zen. Its not related to any specific nation, but only the human tendency of grasping at words without seeing the context.


Well if you speak of samurai or kamikaze that is pointing out certain connotation. Just this... maybe it comes from some misunderstanding about the role of zen in the Japanese history and attaching it to anything Japanese. i do not think that in japan was limited understanding of zen which we can point...

I read the article mentioned in the original post, but sorry I cannot understand anything of its claims, but I do not criticize just it is something specifically American I think. Maybe it has some particular value for people but I would not call it zen, or zen related. It is just sort of new phenomenon, unrelated to zen Buddhism as it is known for centuries in Japan.
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby Astus » Tue May 15, 2012 11:58 pm

Matylda wrote:Well if you speak of samurai or kamikaze that is pointing out certain connotation. Just this...


There is a quite strong idea in the West that Zen and martial arts are closely connected, if not inseparable.
A good example for this is Ginny Whitelaw herself who is both a Zen master and 5th degree black belt Aikido master, who studied in the Chozen-ji Rinzai line where they practice both sitting meditation and martial arts together.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby Matylda » Wed May 16, 2012 7:24 am

Astus wrote:
Matylda wrote:Well if you speak of samurai or kamikaze that is pointing out certain connotation. Just this...


There is a quite strong idea in the West that Zen and martial arts are closely connected, if not inseparable.
A good example for this is Ginny Whitelaw herself who is both a Zen master and 5th degree black belt Aikido master, who studied in the Chozen-ji Rinzai line where they practice both sitting meditation and martial arts together.


I see the point. But then if someone is whatever or does whatever then it is also possibility that we conncet one with zen. Policeman would make strong connection with zen if practices zazen, a sexoholic or alcoholic would suggest that both activties have strong connection with zen if by chance is practicing zazen etc. etc. etc. I cannot see any sense in this logic.

There are some monks in Japan who practice kyudo or kendo, and I have never heard them saying of conncection with zen. It was just their hobby or whatever. Otherwise zen could by easily turned into something bizarre.
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby Jikan » Mon Dec 16, 2013 10:21 pm

I'm bumping this thread because it seems relevant again, given that Ms. Whitelaw has been regularly writing and publishing brief pieces on these themes online. The most recent is called "Embodied Leadership and the Future of Buddhism."

http://integrallife.com/integral-post/e ... e-buddhism

I would excerpt some relevant selections, but I couldn't find the part where she describes the future of Buddhism (this may be behind a paywall, so please understand this is not intended as a personal criticism).
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Re: "Applied" Zen: Ginny Whitelaw on Leadership

Postby Kim O'Hara » Tue Dec 17, 2013 12:11 am

Not my cup of tea. Her rhetoric seems to assume that materialism, consumerism and corporatism are, and should remain, our primary orientation.
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