Fortunately, with me and Brad ... it is quite unlikely that we will mount armies against each other. :|
I would like to say that I have long been one of Brad's strongest defenders, and I still am. I know that may sound strange, but it is true. (Brad also, I am sure, would not care or want anyone to defend him ... but I get asked about Brad so often that I defend him, plus I truly mean what I say in his defense). In fact, I wrote the following just the other day to some other Buddhist clergy who are very critical of Brad. It also hints at why I feel I must criticize him so strongly about some things.
Over the last few years, I have grown more and more critical within the Sangha of some of his activities. In fact, I even went so far as to ask my teacher to declare my own Treeleaf Sangha as independent, because I was not happy with the situation (Nishijima Roshi granted me that last year). Brad and I have butted horns a few times. But, in order to explain that, I would actually like to defend him here a bit ...
-- Brad was always first and foremost, I think, in the mold of those fiery, wrathful Tibetan Dieties who turned their power against ignorance. He is as serious a Zazen teacher as you will encounter, and rarely if ever has turned his words or actions against people (he has been a critic of some other Buddhist teachers, and in the strongest terms ... but almost always for doctrinal reasons.). If you look closely at his fire, it is almost always directed at what he considers to be the fake, hypocritical, deceiving or harmful in the Buddhist world or in society, and his wrath is emitted in the cause of hard Zen practice. If you ever met him, he is gentle, soft spoken and kind ... very unlike his written persona. If you look at his writings very closely, he is using vitriol and ugly language against falsity and ignorance, not against people. (His most recent article was in no way in support of the lifestyle he described, if you read it closely).
-- As was noted by someone (I cannot find the quote right now), he speaks to a generation that is completely different from the generation of 'old codgers' and ex-hippies that are most current Zen teachers. I can see in my own Sangha that I have trouble relating to many folks in their 20's (and younger) or early 30's, and Brad succeeds. His first book attracted hundreds and hundreds of people to Soto practice who never would have started and so many of those folks have stuck with it and gone deeper (I have a bunch in my Sangha, and others probably do too). One of his recent projects has been to write for an online magazine aimed at the folks with the body piercings and tattoos ... Brad makes a darn good argument that folks like that need to hear about Buddhism, that Brad is one of the few teachers equipped to talk to people like that, that in order to do so he needs to speak their language. If you look closely at his writings, he is not approving the lifestyle (certainly, he is 100% anti drink and drugs), and is preaching Buddhism to folks it is hard to preach to. If you want to talk to folks, you have to go where they hang out.
That being said, I have been a strong critic of Brad very often. I think he sometimes forgets his real intent and falls into shock for shock's sake. I thinks he often overdoes it and comes across as petty and mean. In fact, this week, I publicly let loose on him with both barrels ... certainly I myself forgot "Right Speech" in the process, something I regret. I described the way he runs his website as resembling the "Jerry Springer" TV show or a circus... shock shock shock and dirty words wrapped in a fishwrap pseudo moral talk (at least, it comes across that way even if he is sincere). I am disgusted because I feel he has overstepped a line several times in recent years. The teaching has sometimes become secondary to his need to get the "F-word" in somewhere in his essays. Whatever his intent, it does not come across well.
Even if not one's real intent, it is just not proper to be spreading a message that it is okay to be a cursing and insulting, angry against people (even if he just comes across that way and is not like that inside) Buddhist. You cannot be an "insulting and angry against people Buddhist." Sorry. It is like being a doctor who advocates cigarette smoking, a peace activist who shoots anyone who disagrees with him. It does not compute.
On the Precepts, I agree with Rev. Nonin. and Anders. I could not have said it any other way myself. I do not manage my own Sangha in any other way, and we treat each other with kindness and dignity. The Buddhist concept of right speech is not just an "old tradition", but a darn good teaching. We take the Precepts as being at the heart of our Practice, hand in hand with Zazen.
Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline ... which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: ... not to use words maliciously against others,. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others. ... , Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.