Let me say again that different human beings, Buddhists and Zen Buddhists may benefit from different paths. I am pointing out a path to those folks who may be skeptical, questioning or rejecting of certain traditional aspects of Buddhism and Zen Buddhism, yet wonder if they thus "can still practice Zen Buddhism in a sound way." I want to show them that they can.
What is more, I think that Buddhism has passed through 2500 years of traditional societies with traditional beliefs. Now, we are entering a time when science, historical research, and changes in social values are casting great doubt upon, or placing great pressure on, many of our traditional tenets and beliefs. I then ask myself whether, without those elements, the Buddhist/Zen Way is still viable and worthwhile. I believe, beyond doubt, that it is.
What are examples of the areas that some skeptical students doubt and/or modern times are challenging? Here are a few examples (no surprises in the list):
The reality of (and need to believe in to be a "Buddhist") literal, mechanical models of 'post-mortem' rebirth and "1-to-1" cause-effect views of Karma.
Idealistic hagiographic biographies of Buddhas and Ancestors, often filled with super-powers, super-human feats, fantastic creatures and settings, and the like (except for their figurative or psychological meanings, as in many myths, pointing to truths of the human condition
The infallible nature of "Sutras" as the "word of the Buddha" (when all were written by human authors of varying insight and talent, though religiously inspired, from their own imaginations and philosophizings
The "magic" effects of such things as protective talisman, Dharani or ceremonies and the like (literally, and not limited to their psychological effects on the hearer
Those are just examples.
I am in no way a critic of anyone who believes in those things as part of their Buddhism. I just speak to those Buddhists who do not believe in such things ... and, themselves, are often criticized by other Buddhists as "not being Buddhist enough" because of their skepticism or rejection of such "core" beliefs.
What is more, I do not share your view that such is a "given of modern life, and not controversial" among Buddhists. I think they are incredibly controversial still among Western Buddhists, as the controversy surrounding folks like Stephen Batchelor shows. What is more, in a Europe and America where often sometimes the majority or a great plurality of the population in polls profess to believe in any manner of things from ouiji boards to crystals to God's having planted the dinosaur bones to trick us ... I would not be so sure. I have found many Buddhists to be, perhaps even more than the general population, attracted to what I personally believe are questionable New Agey beliefs of various sorts.
Add the many corners of Buddhism such as Shugden (if this is bashing anyone from another corner of Buddhism, moderators, let me know and I will remove it) and the like, "prosperity teachings" of a certain Buddhist group very popular in the West and, in the Zen world, the apparent wildness over at OBC, and I would challenge your assertion about how "down to earth" and non-superstitious we are.
http://obcconnect.forumotion.net/t142-o ... planations
http://obcconnect.forumotion.net/t68-fi ... e-buddhism
There's definitely a greater acceptance of "mythic-magical" thinking among Buddhists in Asia (as compared with Western Buddhists) in my opinion. And it's probably very helpful to most people. This is especially true in regards to beliefs about an afterlife, the Pure Land, and the spirits (souls) of departed ancestors.
Oh, I believe that it can be helpful and comforting to people to be told these stories even if "made up". What is more, some people may need to be told such stories, and that is right for them. And what's more, they may not be "stories" and might be true and not "made up" (and my belief that most are probably not literally true might be mistaken.). However, I tend to believe that it is helpful in the same way I told our 7 year old that his beloved pet bird who died "surely went to heaven to be with grandma". It was a way to comfort him, let him maybe have a small taste of something more subtle. In other words, it was okay to "fib" to him (fib to him though I was not so sure the bird went to be with grandma ... and, well, who knows ... it might have! In fact, it surely did from the viewpoint of Emptiness!