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Buddhadharma : Fall 2007
buddhadharma| 61 |fall 2007 they didn’t like the cover design, but if we would change it, they would up their order. That’s a lot of influence over how books are presented. buddhadharma: If publishers respond to these pressures and make changes to their books, does this mean that teachings are being edited by the marketplace? amy hertz: That’s up to the author. The author has a say in it. The editor does not have free rein to do whatever they want. The author has to approve every- thing, and if the author decides to cross that line, the responsibility falls on the author’s shoulders. buddhadharma: In ancient India, Mahayana commentaries needed to receive royal assent before they could be broadly pub- lished, which served as quality control. Do publishers exercise any such quality control? amy hertz: We don’t have any kind of qual- ity control in publishing these days. James Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces, which contained material that he admit- ted he exaggerated, stands as an example. There’s nobody refereeing anything. reed malcolm: That’s not the case for an academic press. amy hertz: Yes, in that case, you’re referee- ing everything. tim mcneill: Most of the people making decisions at Wisdom have real experience of Buddhism, and we also don’t have to make all the judgments on our own. We have an excellent advisory board of peo- ple in the field to help us make decisions. We’re somewhat orthodox in the sense that we kind of cling to the belief that you need to nurture the source, the traditions for the work, where real transmission of the dharma comes from. However, we will also look for books that could be more accessible, that might have a unique angle or voice, like Hardcore Zen or The Dharma of Star Wars. We will not publish anything we feel distorts the dharma or mixes and matches tradi- tions. In general, we look for authentic Buddhism, but we don’t shy away from Buddhism Lite, if you will. buddhadharma: What effect do publishing decisions have on Buddhist teachers and how they’re perceived? robert sharf: One of the trends that con- cerns me is how authority is conveyed in today’s world. In traditional Buddhism, the authority of the tradition lay largely within the celibate sangha. In North America, we’re scrambling to figure out new modes of authority. One of those modes is the marketplace. Dharma teach- ers no longer have an institution to sup- port them and allow them to do their practice and teaching. Instead, they are forced into a situation where they have to market themselves. reed malcolm: What establishes the author- ity of the Buddhist teacher in America is the book. The income derived from the book typically supports the teacher. I can’t say for sure whether that is good or bad, but let’s at least be honest about it. robert sharf: I think back to the good old days when there were major Buddhist teachers in this country who hadn’t pub- lished a book. Now, I’m having a hard time thinking of anyone today who hasn’t published a book. Without it, per- haps you are not really regarded as an authoritative Buddhist teacher anymore. reed malcolm: Publishing is the way to establish credentials. amy hertz: Is it credentials or simply vis- ibility? robert sharf: Good question, but there is an assumption on the part of the reader that if a book gets published by an estab- lished publisher, then that teacher is someone worth investing in, someone who has the credentials, and that is not always the case. I don’t think there is a conspiracy of evil editors or corporate interests, but there has been a massive amount of publishing of a few key people, and that has had a powerful influence on popular perceptions of Buddhism in this country. Teachers now must feel that if they’re going to make a living as a teacher, they have to publish and follow the formulas of publishing laid out by the industry. It reminds me of what Donald Lopez wrote about in Prisoners of Shangri-La, where he made the point that Tibetans teachers found themselves working to fulfill the expectations of their Western disciples. amy hertz: From the little bit I understand about Tibetan culture, I’m not so sure that situation is all that different from how Buddhism developed in Tibet itself. robert sharf: You are right. The Buddhist sangha has always had to make a living, and if you look at the prefaces to monas- tic codes in China, they frequently say it is essential that monks strictly adhere to these monastic codes, because if they don’t, the laypeople won’t make dona- tions to their monasteries. amy hertz: And so begins marketing. 1993 1993 1994 1998