Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby BuddhaSoup » Sun Nov 04, 2012 3:09 pm

I've spent some time these past weeks studying Tendai, it's stellar history in Japan and its limited migration tot he West.

I have this sense that Tendai really could (or should) be one of the leading practices in the West. Zen arrived first in the West, and there were many charismatic Zen teachers that set a template for Zen. Maybe if some of those teachers during the American Beat period were Tendai, we'd have a very different landscape in the West.

Anyone have any ideas how to expand Tendai in the West (America, Europe, Aus, etc)?

Are there Zen practitioners who might find Tendai a better fit?

Has Zen in the West become so new=agey California-ized that it no longer resembles the traditions and practices of ancient Japan? Is it time for a reformation, or better, yet, a reversion back to Tendai (the original garden from which all of these others grew) ?
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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby Jikan » Sun Nov 04, 2012 4:08 pm

Thanks for the kind words. I happen to agree... :cheers:

Interestingly, some of the very first Americans involved in Buddhism at all were involved in Tendai-shu. These guys:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Fenollosa

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Sturgis_Bigelow

I think the best way to make this Dharma available in the English-speaking world is to participate in the institutions that are available (the Tendai Buddhist Institute, Ganshin Rock's group in the UK, the California Tendai Monastery), support them materially, and of course practice your guts out. Attend a retreat. If you can't yourself, perhaps you can send a friend (help cover their travel expenses). These communities grow organically, and as the communities grow, they must deepen in practice. As they deepen in practice, they become more stable and therefore of more benefit to all involved.

Most of the constraints are material. For instance, in DC, our sangha is growing but we are limited by the space available to us and our finances; we can't just buy a building, though we wish we could.
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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby BuddhaSoup » Sun Nov 04, 2012 4:35 pm

Jikan wrote:Thanks for the kind words. I happen to agree... :cheers:

Interestingly, some of the very first Americans involved in Buddhism at all were involved in Tendai-shu. These guys:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Fenollosa

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Sturgis_Bigelow

I think the best way to make this Dharma available in the English-speaking world is to participate in the institutions that are available (the Tendai Buddhist Institute, Ganshin Rock's group in the UK, the California Tendai Monastery), support them materially, and of course practice your guts out. Attend a retreat. If you can't yourself, perhaps you can send a friend (help cover their travel expenses). These communities grow organically, and as the communities grow, they must deepen in practice. As they deepen in practice, they become more stable and therefore of more benefit to all involved.

Most of the constraints are material. For instance, in DC, our sangha is growing but we are limited by the space available to us and our finances; we can't just buy a building, though we wish we could.


Thanks for the reply, Jikan. It's amazing that such brilliant and honorable men as Fenellosa and Bigelow remain somewhat anonymous in the discussion of Japanese religion/culture in the West ( I say anonymous only because I'm not familiar with them...how's that for a self centered view?).

On a personal note, I've struggled to find a path in the US that feels a good fit to me. I was fortunate to have ordained in Thailand for a brief time, and study the suttas and remain close to Theravada. Yet, within the US I've tried Zen sanghas, with some nice pluses and some disappointments, in part relating to my own sense of discomfort with some of Zen theory and practice. Some weeks ago, I researched further Tendai, and it seems to me a possible good fit...it's traditional, it seems to embrace a wider and more thoughtful spectrum of study and practice, and seems to have as its representatives in the West some very strong scholars and teachers...albeit just a few compared to the sheer numbers of Zen teachers in the US. I researched the gyo training, and it resonated with me strongly.

Already I've written too much about myself. I'd be very interested to hear your story, Jikan, and hear more about your practice in DC.
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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby Jikan » Sun Nov 04, 2012 5:59 pm

Excellent! I hope you find a situation in which you can learn and practice with all your energy.

My story isn't very interesting. If you'd like to get together for coffee sometime, I'll be happy to give you all the details you could want. The relevant bits: I was invited to TBI for a retreat by a friend I'd met at the old e-sangha site many years ago. While there, I was struck by several characteristics of the place and the community: there was strong local support of all activities at the temple, the members of the sangha from the top down seemed to unobtrusively but very earnestly put the teachings into practice directly (and the treated each other warmly... no "dharma drama" in sight), the temple & the rest of the center were inspiring in design and construction, and the teachings were utterly clear and pure. I felt as though I'd found my home. I regard my friends and teachers at TBI as family, and I'm not the only one.

The training I've experienced is quite unique. You have to commit completely; if you hold back, you waste energy and you can't make it through. There's no time or fuel for negativity so you have to keep presence and stay focused on the practice at hand or risk a meltdown. You put your body and your mind into it without reservation, with the consequence that you learn quite a lot about yourself: emotional knots come untied rapidly, you open up spiritually, you make connections, you commit to the practice to your bones. Very intense.

If this is something that is of interest to you, BuddhaSoup (but also anyone else who is reading this), then I suggest you find a way to the Betsuin for a retreat. While there, ask about it. After that, reflect on it seriously. There is an application process. This training isn't for everyone, but it *might* be for you, and therefore, it is worth investigating.

Here in DC, we are a branch of the main temple in upstate NY. This group has been at it since 2006 or so, meeting in various places (a fire hall, different rooms in the basement of the Unitarian Church, coffee shops, a bowling alley, an art museum...). Tuesday night is for meditation and discussion of the teachings. We're going through the Lotus Sutra chapter by chapter starting in about a week.

Doko, if you're reading this... what was your experience?
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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby BuddhaSoup » Sun Nov 04, 2012 6:45 pm

Jikan, I will try to get to DC to hear more of your story over coffee, a good idea. Chances are good I'll make my way to Canaan New York this year for a retreat.

I appreciate your detailed summary in your last posting. I have the sense that your experience with Tendai at the New York Institute is intense, and very positive.

It's interesting to me that Tendai in Japan is the most popular form of Buddhism, and that from many Tendai-focused youtubes I've seen, the Japanese people draw so much of their sense of honor, discipline, and perseverance from the example of the Tendai monks.

Maybe there is a correlation as to why Tendai reaches the hearts of so many in Japan (where high craftsmanship, sacrifice, and interdependence still matter), while Zen resonates with Americans so well. I have a theory that part of what ails American Zen is the Americanization of Zen....it seems willing to drift into new agey ideas, happiness courses, and away from traditional practices, ascetic practices, to the point where Zen may go the way that yoga (in some corners) has gone in the US...a feel good, ego-stroked happiness vehicle.

I apologize in advance if my comments offend anyone....I'm just being honest with my expressions, and don't claim to have any remarkable insights. Ven. Saicho's story is compelling, and has resonated with me, and I have the sense if his story were more widely known in the West, his path would (and will be, with some effort on our parts) be widely followed.
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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby Jikan » Sun Nov 04, 2012 7:33 pm

Excellent! I look forward to our crossing of paths.

Just for clarity: to the best of my knowledge, Tendai is not the most popular form of Buddhism in Japan. Jodo Shinshu is.
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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby jikai » Mon Nov 05, 2012 2:36 am

[quote="Jikan]I think the best way to make this Dharma available in the English-speaking world is to participate in the institutions that are available (the Tendai Buddhist Institute, Ganshin Rock's group in the UK, the California Tendai Monastery), support them materially, and of course practice your guts out. Attend a retreat. If you can't yourself, perhaps you can send a friend (help cover their travel expenses). These communities grow organically, and as the communities grow, they must deepen in practice. As they deepen in practice, they become more stable and therefore of more benefit to all involved.
[/quote]

Dont forget, The Hawaii Betsuin under Ara Sensei and his student branches in Australia, as well as Matsumoto Sensei's temple in Palolo. we are Tendai institutes in the west too! :)
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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby BuddhaSoup » Mon Nov 05, 2012 6:13 am

But I would also submit that the "single-practice" schools that emerged from Tendai (the Nichiren schools, the Pure Land schools, Soto & Rinzai Zen...) bear a number of hallmarks of Tendai. I can go into that a bit if anyone's interested.


I'm interested!
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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby Seishin » Mon Nov 05, 2012 10:34 am

Wonderful stuff :twothumbsup:
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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby Jikan » Mon Nov 05, 2012 12:17 pm

jikai wrote:Dont forget, The Hawaii Betsuin under Ara Sensei and his student branches in Australia, as well as Matsumoto Sensei's temple in Palolo. we are Tendai institutes in the west too! :)
Gassho
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Yes! My apologies for the omission.
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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby Jikan » Mon Nov 05, 2012 12:34 pm

BuddhaSoup wrote:
But I would also submit that the "single-practice" schools that emerged from Tendai (the Nichiren schools, the Pure Land schools, Soto & Rinzai Zen...) bear a number of hallmarks of Tendai. I can go into that a bit if anyone's interested.


I'm interested!


here you go...

viewtopic.php?f=64&t=10715
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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby Son of Buddha » Mon Nov 05, 2012 12:57 pm

I think the problems Buddhism has in the west is we are so decentralized.
We have more indians than we do chiefs.
To be very honest most Buddhists I know dont have a Sangha,they dont have a "monk" teacher,or even a laity teacher for that matter.communities of Buddhists seem very spread out.with less "community" outreach.
Also it seems many think it is wrong to spread the Dharma to others.

Simply said if you want Tendai to grow,then you have to water it.
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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby Jikan » Mon Nov 05, 2012 1:22 pm

Son of Buddha wrote:I think the problems Buddhism has in the west is we are so decentralized.
We have more indians than we do chiefs.
To be very honest most Buddhists I know dont have a Sangha,they dont have a "monk" teacher,or even a laity teacher for that matter.communities of Buddhists seem very spread out.with less "community" outreach.
Also it seems many think it is wrong to spread the Dharma to others.

Simply said if you want Tendai to grow,then you have to water it.


Indeed. In my opinion, the best water, soil, fertilizer, and sunlight are disciplined practice and study, building institutions to last, building meaningful communities of practice for lay people, and communicating clearly (but not shouting) in public who we are and what we do.
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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby BuddhaSoup » Wed Nov 07, 2012 3:02 pm

If this is something that is of interest to you, BuddhaSoup (but also anyone else who is reading this), then I suggest you find a way to the Betsuin for a retreat. While there, ask about it. After that, reflect on it seriously. There is an application process. This training isn't for everyone, but it *might* be for you, and therefore, it is worth investigating.


Jikan, what might be the best way to contact the Canaan Betsuin? I have emailed with no response just yet. I understand that there is the Gyo in June (which I would love to do), but are there retreats or regular meetings each week?

Sorry to trouble you with this request, but thought I'd reach out to try to make better contact with the Canaan Betsuin.

Many thanks in advance.
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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby Seishin » Wed Nov 07, 2012 3:24 pm

Don't worry Buddhasoup. The Betsuin is a busy place. Someone will get back to you at some point. :smile:

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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby Jikan » Wed Nov 07, 2012 4:31 pm

BuddhaSoup wrote:
If this is something that is of interest to you, BuddhaSoup (but also anyone else who is reading this), then I suggest you find a way to the Betsuin for a retreat. While there, ask about it. After that, reflect on it seriously. There is an application process. This training isn't for everyone, but it *might* be for you, and therefore, it is worth investigating.


Jikan, what might be the best way to contact the Canaan Betsuin? I have emailed with no response just yet. I understand that there is the Gyo in June (which I would love to do), but are there retreats or regular meetings each week?

Sorry to trouble you with this request, but thought I'd reach out to try to make better contact with the Canaan Betsuin.

Many thanks in advance.


If you're in the US, try a phone call and ask about retreat. That's the best way.

There are at least three retreats annually, plus gyo. The next one will be in January; the following, in spring (these coincide roughly with the solstices & equinoxes). Once you're on the emailing list for the newsletter, you're always in the know.

If you have general questions you can reach me at: JikanAnderson at gmail.com
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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby Astus » Wed Nov 07, 2012 5:18 pm

What I'm missing from Tendai are translations. Zen has most of the major sutras and masters translated to English, and there are many studies on the history and teachings. As for Tendai, there's not much one can study.
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Re: Why isn't Tendai popular in the West?

Postby BuddhaSoup » Wed Nov 07, 2012 9:13 pm

Thank you, Jikan and Seishin...I will make the phone call when I get back to my desk. It's also good to know about the newsletter.

I checked flights from my city (Chicago) to Albany, and it looks like it's fairly convenient and not too costly. I am glad that being able to attend the Betsuin regularly is in the realm of probability, due to frequent flights and the relative ease of cost. I have reviewed carefully the Betsuin website, and the history of the Betsuin there is very interesting. It really seems like there's a very strong and dedicated sangha in place, lead by some very serious and accomplished teachers. So interesting about Tendai practice, that it encompasses (in my view) so many positives, it seems such a broad umbrella yet maintains tradition so well, yet it is still somewhat lesser known, certainly than Zen, with Zen's myriad centers in almost every American city or town.

Again, thanks for the feedback. It's great to have such a thoughtful group on this forum, where a person with questions can get such good guidance. How difficult and solitary a journey it must have been to be a walker of the Path before the internet, when finding practice information was limited to dusty books at a bookstore, tucked away on the Eastern Religions shelf...
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