Sunday, February 11, 2007

on western Zen, and Buddhism as a whole

One of the difficulties of transmitting a way across cultures, is that there are things that do not transfer. We westerners are terribly myopic...what happens here and what we think about it is all that is important....we wandered into a recent war because we could not see beyond our own borders to what would happen if we set off alone to persue something most of the rest of the world found abhorent.

There are Buddhists in the world today who do still think the medical professions are indeed not right livelihood. There are more Buddhists in the world who feel the highest ranking woman should bow to the lowest ranking man than there are who think there should be equality between the sexes...My fellow monks in Japan could not comprehend the fact that there were women in the west who wanted to be nuns....Japanese nuns tend to be orphans who are raised by a temple...few women in Japan would seek to be a priest or a monk...and they certainly would not be encouraged by the Zen community to seek such an ill fitting path...In Japan the group is more important than an individual to this day..the group just looks funny if female forms are underneath the robes...there is a small minority that feels differently ..but this is still the prevailing attitude..... There are probably as many Buddhists in the world today who still think it is impossible to be enlightened while in a female body as there are who think the sex of one's body does not matter......these are the facts........pretending they are not true because we do not see them does not make them go away...

This being said, not every so called "good" solution we in the west have attempted is in fact an improvement. Some of the quaint things we have discarded have in fact been part of the baby that has been discarded with the bathwater.

Saying the sex of the body does not matter does nothing about adapting methods and teachings that have primarily been for one sex to the new way.......there is not a lot about how to handle sexuality in the sangha (an issue the Buddha tried hard to avoid)in what has been brought to this shore.... and not addressing this in the new way will lead to a whole new set problems as we move forward.......witness all the problems of a sexual nature that have occured here in the west...that just do not seem to be that much of an issue in Japan........should men and women practice together an how is not a question that can really be anwered by "of course" without developing some kind of definintions of what is appropriate and how to actually bring this "of course" into a real functioning sangha.

One of the teachings I was exposed to in Japan was about begging and offerings......there is a basic teaching in Buddhism from the first about begging....which was dismissed as "difficult" in America for example.....since the practice is fairly unpleasant for the one really tries to hard to find a way to incorporate this practice in the west.....and many excuses as to why it cannot be done are offered.....there are things you learn while begging..especially if you are taught to beg in the traditional Buddist way...that you stop at every house..not just the rich or likely to respond ones...that you accept every offering.....nothing is spurned....if you are given a shot of knock it back...sometimes this is a source of entertainment for some less than respectful people in force the monk to compromise the vow not to drink intoxicants and to throw them into conflict with the precepts and the practice about drink....but when the shot is just swallowed a lesson is presented to all who are there. It also breeds a less....well rigid and less easy to understand and interpret view of the precepts...In begging we are taught to sacrifice our honor, our face, our pride, our expectations and our beliefs for what is considered a greater good...there is no such training in most of the Sanghas I have visited in the west. No one wants to go is intersting to me that when I found a way to actually go begging in experience of begging was virtually the same...about as many of the people gave..about the same average amount..about as many drove me away, about as many taunted me...about as many appreciated what I was doing ...and about as many were led to approach me and ask about what was going spite of all the logic offered as to why we could not do this practice in America....I found it not all that hard to accomplish...when I wanted to.

In the west we practice according to our preference...and style triumphs over substance. I do not know how you become egoless doing exactly as your ego wishes you to Japan we did things we did not want to do at all....all the time....and it was good for us...and we learned we did not need to indulge our egos in every moment....I am waiting to see this idea transfer to the far the effort seems feeble, and the way more about feeding our ego rather than slowly starving it.

It seems to me this is the very baby of Zen.....and it has been tossed with the bathwater. Perhaps it is time to look again beyond the front door of our countries borders, and see if the baby on the ground there is still alive enough to bring back into our lives.

Maybe it would be better to examine some of the conflicts and resolve them to pretend they do not exist. One of the practical problems presented in the modern world presents itself in choices I am offered right now...I have two teachers who have offered to transmit teacher's robes to me...One is respected in Japan, but has problems with many here in America. One is a man and one is a woman. One is fairly well respected in a tiny community in the West, but will never be respected by the establishment in Japan. One is condsidered a respectible member of a long and well established is considered a less than desireable member of an old lineage. One would be an international bridge to help bring the old ways to the west..and in the short term an advantage to the idea of planting the dharma in a wide way in the I think really has it...and is going to plant deep the roots...that will take generations to earn respect, and likely be leader of a very small group for a very long time...and if they ever gain will be long after they are dead..

Interestingly ...both have begged with a bowl....for hours in hot robes and straw the hot tropical humidity.

I have recieved the precepts in two I can choose which shade my teacher's robes will be......"once basic approaches are determined...then there are guiding rules"....I am a metaphor for Zen in the west....we too have yet to determine our basic approach....I am grieved that many seem to be choosing an approach that indulges ego in order to raise the funds necessary to earn a living in the west. An approach that feeds the ego, rather than working to bring it under our control, one where style triumphs over substance, and one where only offerings of sufficent quality and quantity are acceptible.

Be Well