Ultimately, however, it is indifferent whether the herd is commanded to have one opinion or permitted to have five. Whoever deviates from the five public opinions and stands apart will always have the whole herd against him.

– Nietzsche

Back when I was first in punk rock, the thing that irked me the most, and finally drove me out of punk rock altogether, was the fact that the philosophy we espoused was all about questioning things. And yet you were not allowed to question punk rock itself. It was great to question Reagan and nuclear proliferation and the cops and school. But if you started asking things like, why do we all have to wear leather jackets, or why can’t we have vocal harmonies in some of the songs, or why can’t I grow my hair long if I want, that was taboo.

American Buddhism as it stands today is pretty much the same way. Buddhism isn’t that way. But the stuff that lotsa people call “Buddhism” is. It’s a subtle distinction, I know. But an important one.

So when I started calling bullshit on the idea of mindfulness, and skillfulness and “dharma talks,” the reaction was almost identical to what used to happen when I’d go onstage at hardcore shows in the early 80s with long hair and bell-bottoms. You can’t do that! We can challenge everything in the world, but don’t you dare challenge us!

If Buddhism can’t be challenged it isn’t Buddhism anymore.

I grew up with heavy metal myself, but it’s the same story. I’ll always be grateful for what that music did for me at that juncture of my life, but gods above, you couldn’t find a more cloistered, homogeneous group of people than my fellow metalheads. Unless you count the goths. Or the punks. Or any others who form a group identity based on their marginalization from mainstream society and proceed to become more xenophobic than those who provoked their rebellion.

That kind of strong identification with musical genres, like with Buddhism-as-an-‘ism’, served as a raft for me. I’m on dry land now and don’t need them anymore.