- Touching The Earth -

Newsletter for The Detroit Street Zen Center



Zen In America

A big issue in many Zen centers in the United States is the question of the Americanization of Zen i.e. making it relevant to our society and culture.   However Dharma, the true authentic transmission of the Buddha is transcendent - it transcends culture and ideation.  "Making" something relevant is imposing our way on things not the Buddha Way.

The Americanization of Zen is slowly happening despite our efforts.  It comes about through the authentic transmission of the Way (digestion and functioning of true Dharma) and time.  The issue Zen centers should be addressing is the authenticity of the transmission as well as the patience and settledness to fully digest Dharma - to embrace the cultures it came from i.e. not to throw the baby out with the bath water.  We are already Americans, and through the complete digestion of the authentic transmission of the Dharma, the Americanization of Zen happens organically - it is not contrived or forced; it evolves or happens prior to our  conceptual framework, because you are the conduit, the transmission, the Americanization of Zen itself.
   True transmission has not happened yet in this country.  Zen has been in America for a little over 150 years and is in its infancy, but growing.  When Dogen decided to go to China to answer the question no one in his era could (if we are already enlightened why do we have to practice), Zen had already been in Japan for over 400 years and still they were "using" it as a method "to"  resolve the Great Matter of life and death.  In going to China and studying with Tendo Nyojo, Ru Jing, he had a full realization (the complete dropping off of his conceptual framework).  

  So doing zazen was not a means to an end, but enlightenment itself (the very arising of a "means to" had dropped of completely).  So true transmission or Sho, in Japanese, is the complete identity with an object , with all things.  It is the realization that things have always been this way;  there is no comparison to before or after or the thought "I have done it", but a deep familiar realization, like an old memory, "Oh yes...things have always been this way"  - that is all one sees.  It is called waking up, it is called "I am enlightened along with all sentient beings".  It is completed - gate, gate.... So when the question of using chop sticks in oryoki sets comes up, you aren't caught by throwing out chop sticks because they are Japanese, nor are you caught by hanging on to chop sticks because they are Japanese - it is OK to use chop sticks - it is a gift from the past;  students can be given leeway in how they use them.  Another example is chanting in Japanese or Korean.  As long as the English translation is also present,  chanting in these languages is also a gift fro the past.  There is something more present than just our not understanding the words - chanting the Heart Sutra in Japanese or Korean is much more pervasive and deep;  it comes from a culture steeped in Buddhism for over a thousand years.  Our conceptual mind can't see this pervasiveness, these non-conceptual influences or aspects, but they are there.  So completely digest the teachings, the Dharma from the culture in which it came, and because you are already American, an evolutionary process occurs organically - very smoothly, almost without thought - just daily processing of life.  So when the issue of the Americanization of Zen comes up, this "as a means to end having dropped off mind" or non-conceptual mind, is the mind that can truly transmit, can function the Americanization of Zen.

This process requires time - time for it to seep into or permeate American culture, American society.   This is not an overnight process - there is no McDonald's Zen, no little handbook of instant enlightenment.  Our society has become very expedient  and impatient.  But, no matter how much we may want this process to happen quickly, it is irrelevant - it will happen in its own time.  This country is only 250 years old - so we are young - other cultures thousands of year old revere time,  revere something taking twenty five years to master, revere the desire to be willing to wait in order to master an art or a profession. This is something we don't know how to do yet, something not really a part of American culture yet - but I believe, we have to embrace this more mature way of approaching and living life.  This is the issue Zen Centers should address and can address and can give as a gift to America and the world as a whole.





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