Innovation in North American Zen

Innovation in North American Zen

Postby MuMun » Sun Apr 15, 2012 11:10 pm

I am not looking to change the subject or hijack the thread, and if this merits an independent thread, by all means we could start one. There is an interesting sidebar to this conversation, a question that is not new and will probably come up more frequently moving forward: the role of creativity and innovation in developing new zen organizations in the west.

Let's suppose there were no questions about this teacher's credentials, and he decides, as a fully-authorized teacher, to found a new organization so that he could innovate and find a distinctive teaching and practice style, while preserving the dharma and the integrity of his own training. In other words, something that Zen Master Seung Sahn and other teachers did, to varying degrees, when they moved to the United States and began teaching American students: change traditional forms, adapt, and even incorporate elements of different traditions.

In the early days of what would become Kwan Um, Seung Sahn adopted zafus and some aspects of more familiar Japanese Zen. We even use the Japanese word "zen" because it is so much more familiar than the Korean word (soen). Very little Korean terminology is used. Mostly we use English words, and occasionally Japanese terms if the audience is familiar with better-known Japanese-derived zen. It's code-switching, for sure, and needs to be done with care and clarity. But the code switching exists and has a function. We have Korean dharma names but rarely use them outside of precepts ceremonies. (I use it as a signature, some consider me a little weird for doing it.) I sometimes imagine they might quietly be dropped from the precepts ceremony altogether, as there seems to be so little interest in them.

And then there are things that Seung Sahn plainly invented. He put laypeople in the long robes traditionally worn by Korean sunims. To this day, some Korean Buddhists get thrown by this. Seung Sahn created positions like "dharma teacher" and "senior dharma teacher" and "bodhisattva teacher," with incremental precepts ceremonies and temple responsibilities. The ceremonial kasas worn by high-ranking laypeople and their various colors were also adaptations by Seung Sahn. He used elements of Korean tradition, yet invented an original tradition. I could well imagine that traditionalist Koreans might look at this and think, "This is awful."

Dae Gak Soen Sa started his own organization, and there is some Japanese-Korean code switching within his organization, as well as modifications to the robes and kasa (J. rakusu). I don't know what their formal practice routine is, whether they use the same Korean chants Kwan Um uses, or how similar they are.

What if an American teacher with authentic transmission wanted to take steps like more English-language chanting, and aesthetically moving away from Asian styles to explore a more european-american style? Or to incorporate styles from other traditions? Is there something proprietary about a Korean-trained preceptee wearing a kasa that looks Japanese?

This is not just limited to aesthetics. In the wake of a catastrophic leadership scandal, San Francisco Zen Center ardently sought to create a more participatory and less centralized authority structure for its organization. Teaching hierarchies are being reconsidered. Cultural traditions are being parsed from formal practice. Translations of texts into English are expanding and improving.

It's a question that will continue to come up as new generations of transmitted teachers exercise their creativity. There will be criticisms, maybe valid, of watering things down, popularizing them, parting from solid traditions; on the other hand, what helps people connect personally to practice and realize the teachings in their life? What helps people make the commitment and find the faith to keep at it?
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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby Jikan » Sun Apr 15, 2012 11:27 pm

I split this important post into an independent thread.
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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby Jikan » Sun Apr 15, 2012 11:54 pm

It seems to me that the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, founded by Jiyu Kennett roshi, may be pointed to as one example of what you're describing, MuMun. The liturgy is in English, and a lot of the forms and functions (titles, liturgies, and so on) seem as Anglican as they are Soto to an outsider looking in.

I'll leave it to someone with a better knowledge of that context to speak further on it.
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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby MuMun » Mon Apr 16, 2012 12:09 am

Yes, Jikan, very much so!
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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby Wesley1982 » Tue Apr 17, 2012 12:38 am

I'm an American with obvious Western cultural influences. I would say some authentic teachers had the duty of trying to "import" Buddhism into the paradigm of Western culture.

Its an interesting POV to learn and study.
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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby Indrajala » Tue Apr 17, 2012 6:31 am

MuMun wrote:And then there are things that Seung Sahn plainly invented. He put laypeople in the long robes traditionally worn by Korean sunims.


There are similar parallels with what happened in Taiwan. Lay people in organizations such as Foguangshan and Dharma Drum Mountain are given black haiqing 海青 not unlike what monks and nuns wear.

Keep in mind that what is now "traditional" robes in East Asia is really just hanfu 漢服, the traditional style of garment worn by people in much of East Asia for the last two thousand years or more. When you see a Chinese or Korean monk wearing such robes it looks rather traditional and sanctified, but in earlier centuries it would have been equivalent to wearing a business suit nowadays.

Monks and nuns wearing hanfu was something of an innovation in itself given the fact in Central Asia and India they would not have worn such things.

In theory monastic garments are supposed to reflect renunciation, which is why they are supposed to be stitched together with discarded rags. However, this is clearly not the case anymore. Monastics garments are designed with a dignified image in mind. It is the complete opposite of the Buddha's intent.



What if an American teacher with authentic transmission wanted to take steps like more English-language chanting, and aesthetically moving away from Asian styles to explore a more european-american style?


This should happen regardless. In order for a tradition to be transmitted to a new culture the process must be organic and flexible. Few in Asia really understand this and just expect a copy and paste process will suffice. If it works for them, it should work for everyone else. However, that is quite myopic.


It's a question that will continue to come up as new generations of transmitted teachers exercise their creativity. There will be criticisms, maybe valid, of watering things down, popularizing them, parting from solid traditions; on the other hand, what helps people connect personally to practice and realize the teachings in their life? What helps people make the commitment and find the faith to keep at it?


With few exceptions, a tradition that is not adapted to local circumstances will not appeal much to locals. You will get a large following of expats (as is the case with most Chinese temples in the west for example), but it won't appeal to the locals.

On the other hand, it can go to extremes and before long you have fools teaching a consumer-friendly version of Buddhism that rejects rebirth and karma along with any sense of monastic discipline.
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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby Huifeng » Tue Apr 17, 2012 10:09 am

Huseng wrote:
There are similar parallels with what happened in Taiwan. Lay people in organizations such as Foguangshan and Dharma Drum Mountain are given black haiqing 海青 not unlike what monks and nuns wear.



Lay people (and monastics) wearing the haiqing is a pan-Chinese Buddhist tradition, not restricted to (or begun in) Taiwan, let alone a couple of organizations in Taiwan.

Moreover, it is more a case of monastics wearing robes robes like lay-people, because, as you state, this is originally modeled on Han (etc.) court attire; rather than lay people wearing monastic (like) robes.

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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby plwk » Tue Apr 17, 2012 10:18 am

There are similar parallels with what happened in Taiwan. Lay people in organizations such as Foguangshan and Dharma Drum Mountain are given black haiqing 海青 not unlike what monks and nuns wear.

Yeah but DDM (and if I am not mistaken, Amitabha Buddhist Society under the Elder Master Jing Kong, where it is a requirement to wear the haiqing in their shrine halls but no man yi) has done away with the traditional dark brown & plain precept sash/robe (man yi) worn over the shoulder on top of the haiqing, which is a common feature for all laity in Chinese Mahayana who have received 5 Precepts and above (like Bodhisattva Vows) in favour of a Japanese ribbon like and colorful kesa worn over the shoulders with tassels for those who have taken the Bodhisattva Vows rationalising that practice of wearing the man yi would confuse the appearance of the laity and monastic (their version of the same dark brown colored man yi has the rice field stripes) yet in the Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra, it mentions on appropriate robes for both laity and monastics, so I don't see what's the confusion about other than being a feature practice of becoming a member of DDM. On top of that, they also did away with the laity's black Arhat shoes, which again is another common feature with the haiqing and man yi (for an adorned appearance for the laity) on the same grounds.

I recall reading on how the late Ven Master Xuan Hua was describing how the black haiqing was a waste of cloth with butterfly sleeves and a legacy of the Tang Dynasty and instead he favours more for the wearing of the precept sash/robe. That's why in CTTB/DRBA centres, one can see how their monastics do not wear haiqing anymore but just the monastic habit which includes the precept sash. I have not seen that implemented for the laity tho. And one curious development is that in CTTB for their evening liturgy, it's mainly in English instead of exclusive Chinese. So far, I have not seen that happen in their Chapters in my country. But they are known for their strict orthodoxy and monastic ascetic practice.

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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby kirtu » Tue Apr 17, 2012 5:03 pm

MuMun wrote:This is not just limited to aesthetics. In the wake of a catastrophic leadership scandal, San Francisco Zen Center ardently sought to create a more participatory and less centralized authority structure for its organization. Teaching hierarchies are being reconsidered.


This is what happens when you have people deemed leaders who have shallow realization.


What helps people make the commitment and find the faith to keep at it?


Deepening realization.

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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby Jikan » Tue Apr 17, 2012 7:05 pm

kirtu wrote:
MuMun wrote:This is not just limited to aesthetics. In the wake of a catastrophic leadership scandal, San Francisco Zen Center ardently sought to create a more participatory and less centralized authority structure for its organization. Teaching hierarchies are being reconsidered.


This is what happens when you have people deemed leaders who have shallow realization.


I've been thinking about this matter, but it's not easy to be specific about it: frankly, SFZC has had enough leadership changes (at least two of which might be considered catastrophic) over the years that it's not at all clear to me where one would begin. Perhaps turning the question around: does mediocre or worse leadership indicate shallow realization? is capable leadership a necessary correlate to deepening realization?

Or from another angle: we can make failed attempts at innovation pay if we attend to the causes and conditions of their failures, and refuse to repeat them, and further, if we identify what is helpful and promote that.
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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby Astus » Tue Apr 17, 2012 7:35 pm

kirtu wrote:This is what happens when you have people deemed leaders who have shallow realization.


Not really. It is a religious hubris to believe that just because one has strong faith/deep realisation, that makes the person superhuman and perfect in everything. Enlightenment doesn't qualify anyone to drive a train or govern an organisation.
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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby Wesley1982 » Tue Apr 17, 2012 8:25 pm

Why can't buddhism be reflected in wearing plain & casual clothing? . .
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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby Malcolm » Tue Apr 17, 2012 10:30 pm

Wesley1982 wrote:Why can't buddhism be reflected in wearing plain & casual clothing? . .



It can, but a lot of people like wearing ridiculous clothes. I guess it makes them feel more spritual.
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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby Infinite » Wed Apr 18, 2012 4:07 am

Namdrol wrote:
Wesley1982 wrote:Why can't buddhism be reflected in wearing plain & casual clothing? . .



It can, but a lot of people like wearing ridiculous clothes. I guess it makes them feel more spritual.

The bigger your robes and hat the closer to Enlightenment. It is similar to the Southern Christian Hairstyles the bigger the closer to Jesus. :tongue:
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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby kirtu » Wed Apr 18, 2012 4:43 am

Jikan wrote:
kirtu wrote:
MuMun wrote:This is not just limited to aesthetics. In the wake of a catastrophic leadership scandal, San Francisco Zen Center ardently sought to create a more participatory and less centralized authority structure for its organization. Teaching hierarchies are being reconsidered.


This is what happens when you have people deemed leaders who have shallow realization.


I've been thinking about this matter, but it's not easy to be specific about it: frankly, SFZC has had enough leadership changes (at least two of which might be considered catastrophic) over the years that it's not at all clear to me where one would begin.


I am only personally aware of one catastrophic leadership problem. That was a sex scandal (or more accurately developed into a sex scandal). Zen adults should never have sex scandals to begin with if they are acting just responsibly. Former lovers might get upset but an actual scandal? It should be impossible.

In this case it is clear to me that the major person involved seems certain to have had some degree of authentic realization. Nonetheless his personality seems to have developed in the direction of some degree of abuse. He should have caught that and put an end to it on his own. And once he realized that his sexual liaisons were causing problems he should have put an end to that too.

Perhaps turning the question around: does mediocre or worse leadership indicate shallow realization? is capable leadership a necessary correlate to deepening realization?


No and no. Realized people might have no leadership talent off the cushion (and away from constantly living the life of the Buddha). Their administrative talents might be counterproductive. But they shouldn't actively create suffering by egregiously violating the precepts. That's my point. It is clear that different Arhats and Bodhisattvas around the Buddha had different talents.

Or from another angle: we can make failed attempts at innovation pay if we attend to the causes and conditions of their failures, and refuse to repeat them, and further, if we identify what is helpful and promote that.


That's true but people with some realization should be able to make legitimate innovation pay off at least for some people. Different people have different inclinations and over time a teacher should be able to see what they need (although this may not be true for all teachers but nonetheless a realized teacher should be able to reason about a particular student that they are in a relationship with and reason about how to get them closer to realization).

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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby kirtu » Wed Apr 18, 2012 4:49 am

Astus wrote:
kirtu wrote:This is what happens when you have people deemed leaders who have shallow realization.


Not really. It is a religious hubris to believe that just because one has strong faith/deep realisation, that makes the person superhuman and perfect in everything. Enlightenment doesn't qualify anyone to drive a train or govern an organisation.


I never said anything like that and it is true that realization does not qualify someone to administrate an organization. But realized people will not egregiously violate the precepts and overtly cause precepts scandals (although they might still inadvertently screw up taxes or something and their interpersonal leadership might suck but they will always be compassionate and be led by some degree of authentic wisdom).

Realization is the only real medicine. Everything else, including well-developed administrative or teaching skills, is at best a band-aid.

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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby Indrajala » Wed Apr 18, 2012 6:44 am

Huifeng wrote:Lay people (and monastics) wearing the haiqing is a pan-Chinese Buddhist tradition, not restricted to (or begun in) Taiwan, let alone a couple of organizations in Taiwan.

Moreover, it is more a case of monastics wearing robes robes like lay-people, because, as you state, this is originally modeled on Han (etc.) court attire; rather than lay people wearing monastic (like) robes.

~~ Huifeng


When did it become a pan-Chinese Buddhist tradition?
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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby Jikan » Wed Apr 18, 2012 3:50 pm

kirtu wrote:
That's true but people with some realization should be able to make legitimate innovation pay off at least for some people. Different people have different inclinations and over time a teacher should be able to see what they need (although this may not be true for all teachers but nonetheless a realized teacher should be able to reason about a particular student that they are in a relationship with and reason about how to get them closer to realization).

Kirt


:good:
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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby Wesley1982 » Fri Apr 20, 2012 4:46 am

Infinite wrote:
Namdrol wrote:
Wesley1982 wrote:Why can't buddhism be reflected in wearing plain & casual clothing? . .



It can, but a lot of people like wearing ridiculous clothes. I guess it makes them feel more spritual.

The bigger your robes and hat the closer to Enlightenment. It is similar to the Southern Christian Hairstyles the bigger the closer to Jesus. :tongue:


Not at all.

Often, the enlightened individual -(someone who found their path)- has no need to attract attention to himself.
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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Postby Huifeng » Fri Apr 20, 2012 6:01 am

Huseng wrote:
Huifeng wrote:Lay people (and monastics) wearing the haiqing is a pan-Chinese Buddhist tradition, not restricted to (or begun in) Taiwan, let alone a couple of organizations in Taiwan.

Moreover, it is more a case of monastics wearing robes robes like lay-people, because, as you state, this is originally modeled on Han (etc.) court attire; rather than lay people wearing monastic (like) robes.

~~ Huifeng


When did it become a pan-Chinese Buddhist tradition?


Not too sure, but apparently about a couple of hundred years ago, maybe in the Qing.

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