Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

No such thing as American Zen

This is an excerpt from an interesting essay by Norman Fishcer, a former co-abbot at the Zen Center of San Francisco. To read it in it's entirety, click on the title of this post, and you'll be directed there.

As it turns out, the idea of American Zen is irrelevant to me. I don’t even think about Zen. I have no use for experiments. I am just trying to get through the day. Whatever ideas I may have had about American or Japanese or Martian Zen are abstractions to me now, luxuries I cannot afford. I’m simply trying to keep on practicing in ways that are possible and realistic within the limitations of the life that I, and the students I am working with, are living. Certainly I have had to change some things: my robes are simpler (because I travel so much and can’t carry elaborate robes), my talks are more direct (because I am speaking to a variety of audiences, I can’t rely on traditional terminology that sometimes works against plain speaking), and their subject matter more varied. I find myself talking about child rearing, money, work, sexuality, traffic, politics, relationships – not because I think this is “American Zen,” but because these are the concerns I face on a day to day basis, in my own life, and in the lives of those around me. I don’t theorize about Zen: I am too busy figuring out how to do it on the ground, with very little institutional support.

I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as American Zen, just as there isn’t and never was any such thing as Japanese Zen, Korean or Vietnamese Zen or Tibetan, Thai, or Burmese Buddhism. Japanese or American or Tibetan or Korean Buddhism only appear to exist from the outside. From the inside there is only the effort to practice as honestly and as effectively as we can, given our conditions. This is what practitioners have always done throughout the centuries. The Chinese never tried to make Chinese Buddhism: they were just trying to practice. The Tibetans never tried to make Tibetan Buddhism: they just wanted to find happiness and liberation. I see now how much is involved in practicing, and in going on practicing. I see how one thing leads to another and institutions and establishments are set up. This is something inevitable and useful. It is what happens when people want to practice and continue practicing “suffering and the end of suffering,” which is neither Japanese nor Indonesian nor Irish.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found this to be right on. The beginning of the way has been found when all other "beginnings" are seen for what they are - someone else's beginning. They can help direct me to my beginng but are not mine. The way is both universal and personal. Each must enter on their own.