Should I stay or should I go?

If you're new to the forum or new to Buddhism, this is the best place for your questions. Responses require moderator approval before they are visible.
Post Reply
falling leaves
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon Oct 01, 2018 3:40 pm

Should I stay or should I go?

Post by falling leaves » Wed Aug 14, 2019 7:37 pm

Hi everybody,

Long-time lurker, first-time poster. I'm not sure if this is the right place to post this, but I'm hoping that someone here might be able to shed some light on a problem that I'm facing as I try to move forward on the path.

I'm in a bit of a bind where I feel torn over whether to stick with a teacher and practice that I've become familiar with or whether I should go elsewhere. Here are some of the details of my situation (sorry for the length):

For a few years now, on and off, I've been practicing zazen as taught to me by an American lineage of Soto Zen. Initially my involvement was based in large part on convenience and availability: a local group affiliated with this lineage is one of the few credible options for practice available to me within a 100 mile radius.

Although I obviously am not opposed to the idea of Zen practice, as I've continued my journey I've come to see practice within Tibetan Buddhism as a more appealing option. I feel like the "vibe" of Japanese Zen isn't the best fit for me. For one thing there's the cold, militant, individualistic feel one gets from the Zen style of teaching and practice, as seen in the injunction to "kill the Buddha" and all that. Along with this there's the way in which Zen seems to appeal to and attract more of those who are of a skeptical, secular humanist bent, whereas I am more of an open-minded, some might say "credulous," romantic. It bothers me when Zen students and even teachers seem not to take certain aspects of the Buddhist teachings seriously because they're "superstitions," or supposedly don't jive with what we know as educated moderns, or are supposedly ancillary to the path. By contrast, the way in which faith and devotion play a large role in TB is more appealing to me and seems better suited to my temperament. I could go on and flesh this out more, but hopefully this gives a clear enough sense of why the fit seems off to me and why I'm drawn more to TB.

Despite this desire to change traditions, I've begun to think that I might be in too deep at this point to change. I've been, as I said, practicing on and off for a few years, and in that time I've gotten to know one of the teachers in this Zen lineage. It seems like he and I have what you'd call a "karmic connection." I often get the sense from listening to his teachings that he's addressing me directly in a way that's uncanny. Now, the nature of this connection, which I don't understand, is such that the idea of just walking away from him and the whole situation really bothers me because I'm worried about losing whatever this connection is. I understand that in the Vajrayana there are notions about there being special bonds formed between a student and his or her guru that need to be honored, and I wonder if I'm not in a similar situation despite the fact that Zen isn't a tantric tradition and doesn't have the notion of a "guru." If there is a genuine connection, then perhaps the difficulty that I have with Zen is partly just ego-based waffling and fear of commitment, which I just need to get over. I want to honor whatever is happening between me and this teacher and not break it off for superficial reasons, but I also want to commit to a practice that resonates with me and that I can embrace fully and without reservations.

I understand that what I'm asking about is something deeply personal, and so I don't expect anyone to have any pat answers for me. I'm just hoping that someone with more experience might be able to offer some insight. Also, I should mention that I don't intend this to be taken as a criticism of Zen per se; if it works for people then that's great. I don't want to get into or provoke an argument over which tradition is better or worse in absolute terms.

Thanks for reading my long post, and thanks in advance for your comments!

User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
Posts: 9780
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA
Contact:

Re: Should I stay or should I go?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Wed Aug 14, 2019 8:38 pm

Your story mirrors mine closely. If you look closely you can probably find posts about it early in my history here.

I would go check out a Tibetan teacher/center and do what appeals to you. American Zen in particular has it's own flavor, and if it's not sitting well with you there is no reason to continue with it.

If your experience ends up being anything like mine, time spent in the Tibetan traditions will actually give you -more- of an appreciation for what Zen is.

I still maintain a good relationship with my old Zen teacher, though I don't see him often. He was never the clingy type anyway, and I wasn't as close to him as it sounds like you are to your teacher...so ymmv.

Also keep in mind, it is normal for people to come and go a bit before they find a place to call home, there is nothing wrong with meeting new people.
despite the fact that Zen isn't a tantric tradition and doesn't have the notion of a "guru."
I think American Zen people project a lot of their cultural values onto Zen. Factually, the Zen tradition is traditionally pretty heavily focused on the relationship between teacher and student, even if it is not in the Guru/disciple sense.

My sense is that a lot of American Zen is simply leaving out large chunks of context and content that is there in more "traditional" Zen. Whether the current form stands the test of time is unknown at this point. It's worth considering that you have experienced one specific flavor of Zen, and that is certainly not the whole picture of that tradition,
His welcoming
& rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
Knowing the dustless, sorrowless state,
he discerns rightly,
has gone, beyond becoming,
to the Further Shore.

-Lokavipatti Sutta

User avatar
Miroku
Former staff member
Posts: 1695
Joined: Fri Jul 24, 2015 11:18 am

Re: Should I stay or should I go?

Post by Miroku » Wed Aug 14, 2019 9:49 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Wed Aug 14, 2019 8:38 pm
My sense is that a lot of American Zen is simply leaving out large chunks of context and content that is there in more "traditional" Zen. Whether the current form stands the test of time is unknown at this point. It's worth considering that you have experienced one specific flavor of Zen, and that is certainly not the whole picture of that tradition,
Seems to me (based on my observations from afar) that this pretty much sums it up.

As for the OP:

I am not a zennie, but I get how you feel. I have practiced for years withing Dzogchen Community and listened to teachigns from late Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, however I always craved a slightly different style of teachings/practice. It just was not for me and my practice mirrored it in a certain way. I was veeeery lazy and irregular. Then few years back I discovered my connection to Drikung Kagyu and Garchen Rinpoche and quite frankly it hits the spot.

You don't have to discard your teacher or what you have learned. Quite contrary. I believe that zazen can be a great preparation for Vajrayana as many students lack this down to earth experience of proper sitting.

So as Johnny said. Go and look around. Read some books, explore and you will see what fits you the most. Maybe you can also try Rinza zen. Meido seems to be quite a good teacher and Rinzai has some things that soto either does not have or it didn't get into the US. Also Kwan um Zen has a bit more variation. In the end it is your path so go and explore which vehicle suits you the best.
“Observing samaya involves to remain inseparable from the union of wisdom and compassion at all times, to sustain mindfulness, and to put into practice the guru’s instructions”. Garchen Rinpoche

User avatar
明安 Myoan
Former staff member
Posts: 2398
Joined: Thu Feb 09, 2012 7:11 am

Re: Should I stay or should I go?

Post by 明安 Myoan » Wed Aug 14, 2019 11:28 pm

Remember the Four Great Vows, or at least bodhicitta, and you'll find the right fit somewhere :heart:
I changed traditions several times. The time spent in each was very precious and taught me a lot, although at the time, I was often a bit preoccupied :smile:
With a heart wandering in ignorance down this path and that, to guide me I simply say Namu-Amida-Butsu. -- Ippen

The Fundamental Vow [of Amitabha Buddha] is just for such people as woodcutters and grassgatherers, vegetable pickers, drawers of water and the like, illiterate folk who merely recite the Buddha's name wholeheartedly, confident that as a result of saying "Namu Amida Butsu" they will be born into the western land. -- Master Hōnen

katz_in_the_hat
Posts: 8
Joined: Thu Jul 04, 2019 1:16 am

Re: Should I stay or should I go?

Post by katz_in_the_hat » Thu Aug 15, 2019 2:06 am

I'm a Zen practitioner and honestly you sound much more suited for Tibetan Buddhism than Zen, or at least American Zen. Most of things you mentioned not liking about Zen are actually the reason I chose Zen over Vajrayana. I like having a teacher that's more secular and doesn't emphasize things like rebirth. It makes me feel like I'm not crazy for believing that awakening is real and trying to "attain" it (with all the caveats that come with that word). If you like the more mystical and devotional elements of Buddhism, you'll probably fit right into Tibetan.

Maybe you feel you have a connection with this Zen teacher, but you'll probably find plenty of Tibetan Gurus who you feel the same way about. Awakened teachers tend to have a way about them.

I've never practiced in Rinzai, but I have practiced in Kwan Um, and it's the same thing with the group attracting more secular people.

User avatar
明安 Myoan
Former staff member
Posts: 2398
Joined: Thu Feb 09, 2012 7:11 am

Re: Should I stay or should I go?

Post by 明安 Myoan » Thu Aug 15, 2019 2:25 am

It also occured to me. Try looking for a Zen place that has Avalokiteshvara ceremonies weekly or monthly, attend and ask questions about compassion in Zen. I found Dogen's Instructions to the Cook to have valuable teachings on compassion (such as Nurturing Mind) and concern for one's daily life.

Plenty of places to look for those in Zen with an interest in the compassion of emptiness in addition to the emptiness of compassion.

:thumbsup:
With a heart wandering in ignorance down this path and that, to guide me I simply say Namu-Amida-Butsu. -- Ippen

The Fundamental Vow [of Amitabha Buddha] is just for such people as woodcutters and grassgatherers, vegetable pickers, drawers of water and the like, illiterate folk who merely recite the Buddha's name wholeheartedly, confident that as a result of saying "Namu Amida Butsu" they will be born into the western land. -- Master Hōnen

User avatar
seeker242
Posts: 1463
Joined: Sat Mar 17, 2012 2:50 pm
Location: South Florida, USA

Re: Should I stay or should I go?

Post by seeker242 » Thu Aug 15, 2019 4:01 am

You don't have to leave behind the zen teacher in order to go to a Tibetan teacher. There's no good reason why you can't have a good relationship with both. :smile:
One should not kill any living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite any other to kill. Do never injure any being, whether strong or weak, in this entire universe!

User avatar
Matt J
Posts: 858
Joined: Tue Aug 03, 2010 2:29 am

Re: Should I stay or should I go?

Post by Matt J » Thu Aug 15, 2019 7:14 pm

I have also been in a similar situation regarding going from Zen to Tibetan Buddhism. However, I did not leave one tradition for another. It was more organic. I started by reading and gaining insight into Tibetan Buddhist books, then followed up meeting with teachers. Over time, I practiced less and less in the Zen tradition and more and more in Tibetan Buddhism. However, it was a long process of visiting many teachers until I found one I could really trust.

It need not be this way: I usually see many local Zen teachers at various Tibetan Buddhist teachings, including my own former Zen teacher.

I think you are properly struggling with the issue, and trying to figure out what is really best and what is just mental chatter/desires. But there is no reason to take it so seriously--- checking out other schools does not involve a commitment and you may not like what you find. I totally support finding a teacher that you can commit to, because if you don't feel it deeply, you'll often find more excuses to avoid practice. I see more of an exploration.
falling leaves wrote:
Wed Aug 14, 2019 7:37 pm
Thanks for reading my long post, and thanks in advance for your comments!
"The essence of meditation practice is to let go of all your expectations about meditation. All the qualities of your natural mind -- peace, openness, relaxation, and clarity -- are present in your mind just as it is. You don't have to do anything different. You don't have to shift or change your awareness. All you have to do while observing your mind is to recognize the qualities it already has."
--- Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

PSM
Posts: 224
Joined: Sat Feb 17, 2018 1:15 pm

Re: Should I stay or should I go?

Post by PSM » Thu Aug 15, 2019 8:22 pm

You're allowed to study any dharma teachings you want. The Buddha taught 84,000 teachings for a reason.

FWIW I moved from Zen to Tibetan teachings for a variety of reasons, including several you've mentioned. Doesn't mean I don't have a huge amount of respect for the Zen/ Ch'an schools.

User avatar
Nicholas Weeks
Posts: 3711
Joined: Mon Apr 06, 2009 4:21 am
Location: California

Re: Should I stay or should I go?

Post by Nicholas Weeks » Thu Aug 15, 2019 8:47 pm

falling leaves,

Everything is impermanent - move on.
Glorious one, creator of all goodness, Mañjuśrī, his glorious eminence!
Manjushri-namasamgiti

markatex
Posts: 381
Joined: Fri Nov 06, 2009 1:33 am

Re: Should I stay or should I go?

Post by markatex » Fri Aug 16, 2019 2:58 am

I’m a former Soto Zen practitioner, now a Nichiren Buddhist. Part of the reason I switched has to do with the issues you expressed. Although I think Soto Zen does have a fairly strong devotional aspect, it is unforgivably downplayed in America.

falling leaves
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon Oct 01, 2018 3:40 pm

Re: Should I stay or should I go?

Post by falling leaves » Fri Aug 16, 2019 11:12 pm

Thanks everyone for your replies. I'm encouraged to hear that other people have had similar experiences in finding their way.

I'm starting to think that I may be seeing this too much in black and white, and that I just need to be patient and go with it as a process. Like people have said, I can still value the time I've spent with Zen and continue to have a relationship with this teacher even if I decide to pursue other things.

Johnny, your point is well taken about Americans projecting their values onto Zen. That's not unique to Japanese Zen, though it seems to make for a better projection screen than other traditions do, for reasons that don't necessarily have to do with the "substance" of Zen teaching.

I actually think that the "substance" of Zen is pretty much the same as that of other branches of Mahayana Buddhism (which I guess could be summarized in one way as "wisdom and compassion"). This wasn't really clear in my first post, but I don't want to say that American Zen teachers definitely don't teach, e.g., about things like karma and rebirth. The teachers that I'm familiar with actually do. It's just that they tend to package it in such a way that people who lean towards doubt won't reject or shy away from it, or they hedge it in certain ways, emphasizing that you can still practice whether you believe in it or not. It seems like a kind of "skillful means," and I don't doubt that it allows some people to get into practice who otherwise would have been scared off by a different approach. But it's part of an approach that doesn't quite speak to me. So it's different strokes for different folks.

Also, I gotta say, I just find the practices of the Vajrayana really intriguing, from what little I know.

markatex, I might add some more thoughts along these lines to your thread about the Shushogi, since it's definitely related to this whole question of the American reception of Zen.

User avatar
SonamTashi
Posts: 241
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2017 7:30 pm

Re: Should I stay or should I go?

Post by SonamTashi » Sat Aug 17, 2019 8:59 am

I practice in the Nyingma tradition. My main teacher was a Zen nun for 15 years before switching to Tibetan Buddhism. By all means test the waters and see if you can find something that fits you better than where you're at, and as others have said, even if you find something else it doesn't mean you have to let go of your relationship with your current teacher. Also see if you can find a non-Japanese Zen group that has services/teachings in English. A mainland Zen group is less likely to be as secularized as American Soto Zen.
:bow: :buddha1: :bow: :anjali: :meditate:

Post Reply

Return to “Discovering Mahayana Buddhism”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 14 guests