Innovation in North American Zen

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Sara H
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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Post by Sara H » Wed Nov 21, 2012 1:50 am

Jikan wrote: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.
Yes that was the idea in the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives,
To make the Dharma more accessible to an American and western audience, so that people could practice it in English, and it seem less Japanese and less foreign.

Making it "ours" so to speak.

As Huseng pointed out this happens anyway, and other Zen organizations in the west are following suit, some more slowly and some faster.

Also, in Asia, there is the thing where most of a continent can read written Chinese, so even if they don't speak the same language, they can often read the same newspapers.

So from there view, maybe it's why don't we just use the Chinese?
Everybody uses the Chinese? Even the Japanese use the Chinese...

But that just doesn't work for us.

Some western cowboy farmer doesn't want to read Chinese or Japanese to do Zen practice.

That just "ain't American".

It ain't British either. Or German, or French, or Swedish, or what have you.

Sooner or later these Buddhist texts will be translated in to good translations into English and other western languages.

We're already making good progress with this.

Other "asian-specific" cultural aesthetics that are not necessarily dependent upon Buddhism may and will likely also change.

We tend to use western architecture for instance, and don't use much lacquer, or curved, tiled roof tops.

For us, eating with chopsticks is a novelty, something one does at a sushi bar, or with noodles for fun, not something we do every day.

Things like that will slowly or quickly depending on the organization change, for practical reasons like cost and money, and availability.

It's just kindof the natural way Buddhism is settling in to our culture.

In Gassho,

Sara H
"Life is full of suffering. AND Life is full of the Eternal
We can stand in our shadow, and wallow in the darkness,
We can turn around.
It is OUR choice." -Rev. Basil Singer

" ...out of fear, even the good harm one another. " -Rev. Dazui MacPhillamy

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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Post by Dan74 » Wed Nov 21, 2012 9:00 am

It's the ol' baby and bathwater problem. Who decides what is what?

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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Post by floating_abu » Wed Nov 21, 2012 11:10 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.
Interesting collorary but was that even implied?

Oh well, poor Gautama, off to do some farming then...


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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Post by floating_abu » Wed Nov 21, 2012 11:14 am

MuMun wrote: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?
I see no issues with this, if the practice is genuine, and the teacher authentic in realisation and actualisation.

Best wishes,


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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Post by floating_abu » Wed Nov 21, 2012 11:18 am

Malcolm 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.
Hi Namdrol,

Spiritual organisations and people do and can play a role. Sometimes a uniform is part of this. For example, a monk friend of mine recently conducted a funeral liturgy. The appropriate semblance was the ceremonial robes out of respect for the family, and in the spirit of the role and function, which was served out of respect and service.

Whilst it can be easy to make fun of people whom choose certain paths, and roles, as a Buddhist practitioner let's hope we don't do it out of such showmanship, and have respect for those that choose to take their roles sincerely and with an open heart.

Well wishes,


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Re: Innovation in North American Zen

Post by Seishin » Wed Nov 21, 2012 12:31 pm

Dan74 wrote:It's the ol' baby and bathwater problem. Who decides what is what?
Indeed. And many arguments are started because of it.


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