Frank wrote:I feel pretty much the same. I think mainly in the west people get fooled into thinking Ch'an and Zen is illogical babblings and not so much in the east since it comes from there and has only taken hold in the west in the last hundred years. So many here are uneducated or mislead about it.
I've noticed Japanese Zen teachers tend to focus on their own sect above the greater pan-Buddhist teachings, whereas Chinese Chan teachers will make use of everything and even advocate Nianfo practices alongside Chan. Japanese Zen is based heavily on the exegeses of records of Chan masters rather than on sūtra or even śāstra, which is where maybe the illogical babbling comes from as they're attempting to emulate what they see in the Chan records.
Japanese Zen has seemingly always had a strong attachment to sectarian literature and it determined the direction it took from the beginning up until even today. The word zengaku 禅学 doesn't refer to the practice of Zen meditation, but to the study of Zen literature. On the other hand, Chinese Chan never existed as a sect the way it did in Japan, so people were free to study and pursue anything they wanted without concern for sectarian divisions. This is why in Chan nowadays you don't see any incoherent babbling. Things are thought out. In modern Zen they're just towing the line found in the literature without relying on more reasonable ways of thinking like you find in pan-Buddhist literature.
I have argued elsewhere that Zen was and still is largely a literary movement rather than being a practice lineage. That is a potent and volatile statement to make, but there is the prescriptive and then there is the descriptive. Dogen and Eisai were both literati and their descendants within both Rinzai and Soto likewise continued with studying the Chan records as a mainstream pursuit. In modern times there is great emphasis placed on meditation and perhaps in the English speaking world anyone affiliated with Zen will feel that way, but this betrays the historical reality as well as how Zen exists in Japan today.
Like Japanese Buddhism in general nowadays you will find a hereditary priesthood that performs archaic rites as a commercial entirely for-profit enterprise. However, a minority of priests will pursue academia, which is where zengaku thrives. This is where they get down to the fine details of what every little thing in a massively nebulous Chan record means. Finally, you will find a few eminent Zen teachers who are popular with foreigners and emphasize zazen above all else. However, they are the minority and do not represent Zen as it exists today nor as how it ever existed.
This is why if you are interested in Zen and are not overly attached to Japanese culture, I recommend you find a Chinese Chan teacher or even just begin to read the modern literature coming out of Taiwan. You will get logical and well-reasoned arguments and minimal bullshit. No weird language. A lot of compassionate concern for humanity and the environment.
Some people might not appreciate the seemingly conservative stances some Chan teachers take on marriage and sex, but at the end of the day they want the best for everyone and you are not obliged to agree with everything they say.
In my experience both in Taiwan and Japan I can say hands down Taiwanese Chan as it exists now has a strong element of practice and discipline while in Japan it is just lacking. In Japanese Zen people might enjoy the liberty to go have drinking parties and joke about everything being "one flavour", but that kind of behaviour leads nowhere. In Taiwanese Chan drinking is frowned upon and discouraged, but you'll get sincere and genuine teachers (many of whom speak English) who have cultivated true bodhicitta and live a very moral well disciplined lifestyle.
In other words, in my experience I've not encountered incoherent rambling or nonsense either in the living Chan tradition I've met or in the contemporary literature that spawns from it. Japanese Zen as it is sold and marketed in the English speaking world on the other hand has little to offer someone wanting a means to overcome suffering in a coherent and disciplined way.