Zen Ranting & Raving Buddhists
I've got to comment on all the drama happening in this corner of the blogosphere. I think everyone that reads this blog is also reading Brad Warners's blog, as well as Gudo Nishijima's, and perhaps Mike Cross'.
Nishijima's last entry created quite a stir, and is worth reading, if you haven't done so already. Be sure to check out the comments by Mike Cross and Michael Luetchford, both former students of Nishijima's:
Following so closely on the heels of the "eyes wide shut" debate and the very emphatic but contradictory views expressed by various experts on Zazen, I have linked these two debates in my own mind.
What I find interesting is not that such disagreements occur, but rather that they seem so controversial.
It has really been an education in the rigidity and politics of "traditional" Zen.
Let's face it, if you ask the same question of 10 different Zen "masters," you are likely to get 10 different, contradictory responses. And each Zen "master" is likely to insist that his answer is The Truth. And no, don't even think about questioning it, because "Reality does not bend in order to please you and neither does the philosophy and practice of Zen."
Well what about when all the Zen "masters" disagree? Which one reflects the REAL Reality?
You always hear, "Find a teacher, and stick to that teacher's teachings." Personally, I think the danger of wasting time on dogma and cults of personality may outweigh the potential benefits of having a teacher.
I think the Buddha himself might have been a pretty good teacher, though. Problem is, I haven't come across the Buddha on the road lately. And if I did, doesn't Zen philosophy tell me I would have to kill him?
And while I'm being critical...
A problem I see in Zen Buddhism is a general pride in ignorance. To be more specific, the little sound bytes that practitioners cling to, such as "Just Sit," "Sit Without Intention," and, "Zazen IS Enlightenment." The problem is not the 'pearls of wisdom' in themselves, but rather the thinking that such pearls are so important, at the expense of all other knowledge, and definitely at the expense of critical thinking.
I think an unintended consequence of this attitude is wrong thinking, and gullibility. Practitioners think they know what they are talking about because their "teacher" told them, or because they had some "feeling" during Zazen.
Even some Zen "masters" seem to take pride in their ignorance of Buddhist teachings other than that of their personal teacher.
I think the Zen tradition of not placing so much emphasis on the teachings of the Buddha (is it a Zen tradition?) may have made more sense historically in Japan, because the teachings of the Buddha were already culturally integrated... Here in the West, though, we do not have the luxury of that context...
A master/student relationship of blind faith and obedience at the expense of critical thinking makes me shudder. Reading accounts of sexual misconduct and financial scandals perpetrated by Zen "masters" while their students accepted the behavior as the unfathomable and unjudgeable "in-the-moment" action of an enlightened being, makes me think... cult.
I don't think that is what the Buddha had in mind.
Don't get me wrong. I am not down on Buddhism, and I am not down on Zazen. I just think that as students of both, we must be critical and vigilant in our thinking.
There is a tendency to put the "master" on a pedestal and revere him, because he is called "master."
I say the measure of a man is his actions--master or no master--Dharma Transmission or not--lineage, SCHMINEAGE.