American "Zen"

American "Zen"

Postby dzogchungpa » Fri Feb 08, 2013 9:23 pm

When pondering the state of American "Zen", the following passage from Conze's "Recent Progress in Buddhist Studies" often comes to mind:
Zen was designed to operate within emptiness. When coming
West it is transferred into a vacuum. Let us just recollect what
Zen took for granted, as its antecedents, basis and continuing
background: a long and unbroken tradition of spiritual
"know-how''; firm and unquestioned metaphysical beliefs, and
not just a disbelief in everything; a superabundance of Scriptures
and images; a definite discipline supervised by authoritative
persons; insistence on right livelihood and an austere life
for all exponents of the Dharma; and a strong Sangha, composed
of thousands of mature and experienced persons housed
in thousands of temples, who could keep deviations from
Buddhist principles within narrow bounds. As I have said elsewhere,
the Chan sect "found a situation in which the fervour
of the faithful had so multiplied the means of salvation, in the
form of Sutras, commentaries, philosophical subtleties, images
and rites, that the goal itself was apt to be lost sight of, and
the spiritual life was in danger of being choked by the very
things which were designed to foster it. In their reaction against
the overgrown apparatus of piety they advocated a radical
simplication of the approach to enlightenment. They never
tired of denouncing the misuse of this apparatus, which could
so easily become an end in itself". It is the fundamental error
of many Europeans to mistake these denunciations for a desire
to do away altogether with traditional spiritual practices.
Suzuki could not possibly have foreseen that. Likewise, when
he condemned the intellect as inhibiting our original spontaneity,
Suzuki took it for granted that, once the intellect is
eliminated, the Tao will take over. He was unfamiliar with
Western irrationalist philosophy, where the elimination of the
intellect makes room for nothing more than the uninhibited
assertion of self-willed instincts. When speaking of spontaneity
he meant the spontaneity of Sages, and not that of overgrown
schoolboys.
ཨོཾ་ཏཱ་རེ་ཏུཏྟ་རེ་ཏུ་རེ་སྭཱཧཱ༔
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby LastLegend » Fri Feb 08, 2013 9:37 pm

McMindfullness? :rolling:
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby dzogchungpa » Tue Feb 12, 2013 9:45 pm

ཨོཾ་ཏཱ་རེ་ཏུཏྟ་རེ་ཏུ་རེ་སྭཱཧཱ༔
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby Jikan » Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:52 pm

It does not take much time to find many examples of mistakes made by Zen practitioners (and teachers) in North America. Episodes like the finding a dead body in Golden Gate Park and failing to report it to police, meditating on its decomposition instead, business is just one among the more memorable.

It would be worthwhile to discuss some instances in which Zen teachers, students, and sanghas are doing the good work and do not correspond to the problems in doctrine or conduct that have been alluded to so far.

I'll pitch in with some examples later on, when I'm not at work... :namaste:

***

Have any of you read Peter Hershock's book Liberating Intimacy? It seems a very good antidote to the problems presented in this thread. It's very much worth a careful reading. I'm re-reading it now.
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Feb 12, 2013 11:02 pm

I think there's a lot of truth in Conze's observations, but it is hardly news. (Besides which, it can easily become the basis of yet another 'whose is the Real Dharma' rant, which is becoming endemic in modern, particularly electronic, Buddhism.)

Aside from posting here, I am also a member of Zen Forum International. They are fully cognizant of the kinds of issues raised in this thread, and have a thread that has been running for some years on scandals and abuses in American Zen. US Zen teachers have formed a formal association with a code of conduct, specifically to address the issues which have come up in American Zen. Furthermore the quality and standard of debate on ZFI is just as good as on this forum. In my experience, American Zen teachers are not interested in covering up anything or gilding the lily. They are open to debate and to self-criticism. (In fact I'm pretty sure that same passage, or parts of it, has been quoted on ZFI in the time I've been there.)

So let's look at 'the finger which points at the moon', rather than pointing the finger. :smile:
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby dzogchungpa » Tue Feb 12, 2013 11:08 pm

Jikan wrote:It does not take much time to find many examples of mistakes made by Zen practitioners (and teachers) in North America.


Mistakes? If you are implying that Sasaki and his enablers merely made some mistakes, I find that a bit curious.
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby dzogchungpa » Tue Feb 12, 2013 11:11 pm

jeeprs wrote:Furthermore the quality and standard of debate on ZFI is just as good as on this forum.

:lol:
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby shel » Tue Feb 12, 2013 11:23 pm

dzogchungpa wrote:
jeeprs wrote:Furthermore the quality and standard of debate on ZFI is just as good as on this forum.

:lol:

I've read the discussion at ZFI about the Zen scandals. Kobutsu Malone no longer posts there because of the 'quality'. Besides him and a few others everyone else there, including the admins and mods, seemed to be dealing with their cognitive dissonance over the scandals. Fascinating, if sad.
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Feb 12, 2013 11:31 pm

I was just reflecting that you will find statements in the Zen (Ch'an) corpus to the effect that Buddhism is a steaming pile of s***. This seems shocking, but it is making a point. Maybe its this: we need only need to do or practice anything as an antidote or a remedy. This actually comes across in the very early teaching, in the Parable of the Raft:

"Suppose, monks, there is a man journeying on a road and he sees a vast expanse of water of which this shore is perilous and fearful, while the other shore is safe and free from danger. But there is no boat for crossing nor is there a bridge for going over from this side to the other. So the man thinks: 'This is a vast expanse of water; and this shore is perilous and fearful, but the other shore is safe and free from danger. There is, however, no boat here for crossing, nor a bridge for going over from this side to the other. Suppose I gather reeds, sticks, branches and foliage, and bind them into a raft.' Now that man collects reeds, sticks, branches and foliage, and binds them into a raft. Carried by that raft, laboring with hands and feet, he safely crosses over to the other shore. Having crossed and arrived at the other shore, he thinks: 'This raft, indeed, has been very helpful to me. Carried by it, laboring with hands and feet, I got safely across to the other shore. Should I not lift this raft on my head or put it on my shoulders, and go where I like?'

"What do you think about it, O monks? Will this man by acting thus, do what should be done with a raft?" — "No, Lord" — "How then, monks, would he be doing what ought to be done with a raft? Here, monks, having got across and arrived at the other shore, the man thinks: 'This raft, indeed, has been very helpful to me. Carried by it, and laboring with hands and feet, I got safely across to the other shore. Should I not pull it up now to the dry land or let it float in the water, and then go as I please?' By acting thus, monks, would that man do what should be done with a raft.


(Alagaddupama Sutta, trs Nyanoponika)

So note that in this passage 'the vehicle' - the one we're all so attached to here, it would seem - is actually a handful of reeds, sticks, branches and foliage, thrown together for the sake of an emergency, and then later discarded.

Seems to me of all the branches of Buddhism, Zen is the one that knows this best. But maybe it is also the case that many of its exponents have lost sight of it, become 'attached to the raft'.
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby Huifeng » Tue Feb 12, 2013 11:40 pm

"The state of American Zen" will of course require a much broader perspective than a scandal here and there, and also have to take into account the majority which is not beset by such problems. Praise should be given for what is done well, just as problems should be shown and dealt with. It's a healthier balance.

Keep in mind that Conze was known for his temper and criticism. I have heard this personally from a number of scholars and practitioners from the older generation that personally knew him very well. Even he admitted that he had a problem in this regard (check out his Memoirs of a Modern Gnostic, vol. I and II, if you haven't already; vol. III being so vile it never made it to print...). Which is rather unfortunate, because he was otherwise a very brilliant scholar, translator and practitioner, too. He himself pointed it out, in Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga terms, as the two sides of the intellectual / angry temperament. It's a knife edge.

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Re: American "Zen"

Postby dzogchungpa » Tue Feb 12, 2013 11:42 pm

Huifeng wrote:vol. III being so vile it never made it to print...).

~~ Huifeng


Was there really a vol. III do you think? I always assumed that was just a joke.
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby Wayfarer » Wed Feb 13, 2013 12:26 am

I have read his memoirs but never seen a published copy. The copy I read was photocopied and ring-bound in the Adyar Library.
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby Astus » Wed Feb 13, 2013 1:03 am

First of all, in the West Zen has its strongest basis in America. There are so many good translations, studies and teachings already and more coming. To give my personal favourites: Jeff Shore, Anzan Hoshin and Shohaku Okumura (who is Japanese but has a community in Indiana and speaks English).
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby dzogchungpa » Wed Feb 13, 2013 1:32 am

jeeprs wrote:I have read his memoirs but never seen a published copy. The copy I read was photocopied and ring-bound in the Adyar Library.

Volumes I and II are available online. Are you saying that you read volume III also?
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby Wayfarer » Wed Feb 13, 2013 1:56 am

No, from what I recall there were only two volumes. (It was a long time ago). But I do remember the concluding passages of the set I read, and it was very much a reflection on his experiences throughout his lifetime, and his disillusionment with some of the notable Buddhists he had encountered, and some concluding words. It seemed very much like the end of the story, so I was surprised to hear just now there was another volume.

When I did comparative religion at University in the early 80's, he was known to some of the staff there. They said he was quite a difficult personality and often very discourteous to those he considered his intellectual inferiors (which I understood to mean 'many people'.) But I like his books a lot, even though they are idiosyncratic and opinionated in some ways, and they were certainly on the list of standard texts at the time, regardless of those caveats. I personally think his writing has a lot more 'juice' than many of the more conventional and careful academics.
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby dzogchungpa » Wed Feb 13, 2013 2:05 am

@jeeprs Well, as I said, I don't think there really was a volume III, but who knows? I always enjoy Conze's writing, and I found his memoirs almost unputdownable.
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby Jinzang » Wed Feb 13, 2013 2:11 am

Voulune III was chapters Edward Conze removed from his autobiography on advice of his lawyer for fear of being sued for libel. It included a chapter on Christmas Humphreys.
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby Huifeng » Wed Feb 13, 2013 10:21 am

I recall a discussion I had with some other Buddhist studies people maybe a couple of years ago about the legendary Vol. III. Apparently, all the people in question had passed away, which was the criteria for publication that Conze gave in the earlier volumes. But then nobody could find where the manuscript for Vol. III had got to, and so the question arose about whether it really ever existed or not in the first place. A number of people thought that this non-publication was perhaps a good thing. That's how the conversation went, IIRC, but I can't remember where it took place. Maybe it was with the folks in the Buddhist Studies group at UC Berkeley. :thinking:

-----

Edit:

I found a discussion on H-Buddhism, though it wasn't the one I referred to above. Here are the links:

http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse. ... &user=&pw=
http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse. ... &user=&pw=
http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse. ... &user=&pw=
http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse. ... &user=&pw=

The last one from Paul is the most interesting, in my mind. I think he was one of the people in the discussion above, as he's often at Berkeley over the Bay from Stanford these days.

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Re: American "Zen"

Postby Jikan » Wed Feb 13, 2013 2:22 pm

dzogchungpa wrote:
Jikan wrote:It does not take much time to find many examples of mistakes made by Zen practitioners (and teachers) in North America.


Mistakes? If you are implying that Sasaki and his enablers merely made some mistakes, I find that a bit curious.


Of course they made mistakes, and not just Sasaki and his students. Some of those mistakes were, in my view, criminal and certainly abusive, as in the example I cited. You seem to imply I am dismissing these serious issues by using the word "mistake" to describe them. If you prefer less polite language: They ***ked up and should be held accountable. In Sasaki's case, should have been held accountable long, long ago.

My point is that Zen in America is not reducible to a gallery of disastrous errors in judgement. It is not homogenized despair and should not be generalized as such.
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Re: American "Zen"

Postby Jikan » Wed Feb 13, 2013 2:38 pm

jeeprs wrote: Furthermore the quality and standard of debate on ZFI is just as good as on this forum.


By what criteria? I'd like to know so DW can learn from the successes of others.
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