Luke wrote:There are many people around the world who are very interested in Zen Buddhism, but who have no access to a good Zen teacher where they live. My question is "What should these people do?" (Assuming that they can't move to where a good Zen teacher is for the forseeable future.)
In the old days you had no other choice but to give up the home life (in Japanese zaike
在家 which literally reads "at home") and leave it (shukke 出家 or "leaving home").
If you think that is unrealistic, then you simply don't have enough resolve. That's basically the way people approached it.
One thing to understand is that Zen
as it was practised in Japan was either in the realm of a few aristocrats or career monastics and the occasional hermit up in the mountains. If somebody can prove otherwise I'll listen, but as I understand it almost no laity up until fairly recently would have been doing zazen
. Of course in places like Kyoto especially a few aristocrats or samurai would have had consultation with zenji
禅師 (zen teachers), but it wasn't something the average commoner could realistically engage in unless they ordained.
So what did most Buddhists do? They made offerings and prayed.
Today in Japan it is quite different. You can go to a number of Zen, both Rinzai and Soto, temples in Tokyo alone for weekly zazen meetings and lectures.
If, however, you are not in such a position and you live far away from a Zen temple, then if you really want to do it, then sacrifices are probably necessary. Historically that was the case as well. You gave up your home life. No spouse, no kids.
Is reading Zen books worthless without a teacher? Some people have this view. I remember that back on E-Sangha Nonin-roshi often said that "Reading about Zen is like eating a menu."
I think Zen is like Buddhism 401. Before you take the fourth year course, you need Buddhism 101 (the core sutras, a bit of abhidharma, history, etc...).
If reading books about Zen without teacher is of no value, then which other Buddhist books should the aspiring Zen student read? Should he or she just read the Prajnaparamita Sutra and leave it at that?
This is just my personal opinion (so take it with a grain of salt): if someone should want to, for example, do Soto Zen because they are attracted to Dogen's writings, then they should do much background reading in what Dogen would have read. That means having a well rounded reading in all manner of core Buddhist texts (which are not necessarily "Zen") as well as East Asian literature. Dogen was a well educated man and would have been well read in Chinese Classics. It might not seem initially germane, but I feel reading the Chinese Classics (Confucius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Menicus, etc...) and having a good grasp of the core ideas of those individual textual traditions is essentially if you want to understand the context in which East Asian Buddhism developed. Keep in mind many Buddhist masters of the past in East Asia were given a traditional Chinese education which didn't necessarily focus exclusively on Buddhist texts.
I'm especially interested in hearing responses from Zen Buddhists who have practiced under the guidance of an experienced Zen teacher for many years.
Here is a pertinent question: how do you judge who is an experienced Zen teacher? Moreover, how do you tell if someone is actually a legitimate teacher of Zen or not?