Every once in awhile I come across some Zen related books that I feel are worth examination by most folks. I happen to have come across two just in recent days.
First, I would like to say that David Loy's "Money Sex War Karma" is truly unique.
Loy is a long time Zen practitioner, Buddhist historian and scholar, and a well known social critic and figure in "Engaged Buddhism". The first half of the book is a presentation of many traditional Buddhist Teachings in a modern, stripped of much of the jargon and superstition, relevant for the 21st century way that I found very well done, well written and wise. Here is a sample from a review I will link to in full (http://www.westernbuddhistreview.com...war-karma.html), which will give a taste ...
The second part of the book is a strong criticism of much of our present economic and social system from a Buddhist perspective. What he has to say may not appeal to everyone, and not all people may agree (not even all Buddhists), but I think what he has to say is pretty "right on" and is worth hearing out by all of us. Again, a sample from the review ...In ‘How to Drive your Karma’, Loy faces up to the apparent contradictions between traditional models of Karma and the contemporary scientific world view, which for many modern Buddhists results in an experience of ‘cognitive dissonance’ (p.53). In traditional societies, belief in Karma has led to passivity on the part of laypeople, who defer the challenge of self-transformation to a future life, and a slavish rule-following on the part of the monastic Sangha, as monks are reduced to merit-machines offering opportunities for lay people to gain merit through giving them donations. For Loy, ‘many Asian Sanghas and their lay supporters are locked in a co-dependent marriage where it’s difficult for either partner to change.’ (p.54) More sinister is that Karma can be used to rationalise all kinds of injustice and suffering because they can be interpreted as the natural consequences of previous evil conduct.
Loy argues that Karma, like all Buddhist teachings, must be seen as a product of social and cultural conditions, rather than as some freestanding, absolute revelation. In doing so, he draws on an apposite passage from Erich Fromm: ‘The creative thinker must think in the terms of the logic, the thought patterns, the expressible concepts of his culture...The consequence is that the new thought as he formulates it is a blend of what is truly new and the conventional thought which it transcends.’ (p.57)
Loy emphasises Karma as a forward rather than backward thinking principle. In other words, rather than necessarily seeing one’s current situation in terms of one’s past karma, he emphasises ‘how our life situation can be transformed by transforming the motivations of our actions right now.’ (p.61) For him, karma is not something the self has but what it is. ‘People are ‘’punished’’ or ‘’rewarded’’ not for what they have done but for what they have become’ (p.62).
Highly recommended, even as food for thought (and non-thought) for those who may not agree with all his conclusions. I personally think his assessments are about right.In ‘The Three Poisons, Institutionalized’, Loy takes a novel approach to the basic Buddhist teaching of the three poisons and explores how they can be applied to organizations. He concludes that ‘Our present economic system institutionalizes greed, our militarism institutionalizes ill will, and our corporate media institutionalize delusion.’ (p.89) As a consequence, the three poisons have taken on a life of their own independent of individual wills. Importantly for Loy, gaining insight into the operation of the three poisons at the collective, institutional level is just as important as recognizing these forces at work in ourselves, which once again emphasizes the linkage between personal and social liberation. ...
‘Healing Ecology’ applies an understanding of anātman to our relationship with the planet. Loy argues that in the same way that we, as a self, feel estranged from others, we, as a species, are alienated from nature. Rather than feeling part of the planet, we regard it as a resource to be controlled and exploited. In doing so, we try to build a sense of collective security through consumption, but this strategy never fully succeeds because the self can never be made secure. For Loy, recognising that we are part of nature, not separate from it, is central to resolving the ecological crisis.
In ‘Why We Love War’ Loy draws on the thought of the war correspondent Chris Hedges who argues that war ‘can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living.’ (p.132) In Loy’s terms, it becomes another way of dealing with our sense of lack. Religious fundamentalism in particular is a response to this sense of lack and its sometimes violent manifestations express the need to create a sense of meaning and purpose in a world where secular narratives dominate. For Loy, ‘War offers a simple way to bind together our individual lacks and project them outside, onto the enemy.’ (p.138)
The other book I wish to recommend is Living Zen: The Diary of an American Zen Priest by a very powerful and unique Soto Zen Teacher, wounded war veteran and social activist Daiho Hilbert. I am please say the DAIHO WILL BE HERE TO LEAD A ZAZENKAI AND OFFER A TALK AS A GUEST TEACHER AT TREELEAF THIS WEEK! I HOPE MANY OF YOU WILL COME SIT WITH HIM (DETAILS HERE).
This book is a compilation of his short diary entries (I believe most were once published on his blog) a few years ago, but he is a beautiful diarist. He short daily entries are on the mundane face of life ... a visit from his son, getting the kitchen counters redone, dealing with war memories and his painful war injuries ... yet each lesson packs a wallop. The man speaks with Wisdom and Compassion throughout, and pulls no punches. Thus, the book is somehow light and pleasant to read, yet powerful and profound at once. It is amazing how he does it. I must say that I am only half through the book as I write this (I am taking it in small bites), but have no hesitation to recommend this to everyone. The book is available in paper or Kindle ...
Who is Daiho Hilbert (sounds like a Koan that Daiho often asks himself!). Well, here is a bit about him from SweepingZen ...
Daiho is in the Lineage of another great (if not so often mentioned for some strange reason) Japanese Soto Priest very important to Soto Zen in America. Soyu Matsuoka Roshi (1912-1997). Daiho touches on some of the reasons he is not better known in this from Daiho's webpage. In a nutshell, although Matsuoka Roshi was sent here originally by Soto-shu, he was a reformer and critic who went out of the mainstream and somewhat turned his back on "back home" ... and the mainstream thus ignores him to. However, being "outside the mainstream" is often a good place to be (our Nishijima Roshi is also such a type) ...Harvey Daiho Hilbert (born February 13, 1947) woke up to Zen after being shot in the head in combat in Vietnam in 1966. In spite of the resulting disability, Daiho went on to obtain a Masters and PH.D degree in Social Work and spent nearly thirty years offering contemplative practices to his clients. Daiho took up formal training in 1998 at Dharma Mountain Zendo in Cloudcroft, NM. He was ordained in 2000 and was given Dharma Transmission in 2005 by Ken Hogaku Shozen McGuire roshi.
In 2000 he was installed as abbot of Daibutsuji Zen Temple and re-established the Zen Center of Las Cruces. In 2005, he retired from his clinical practice and left Daibutsuji to establish the Order of Clear Mind Zen. The Order is based at Clear Mind Zen Temple in Las Cruces, New Mexico and currently has affiliates in northern California and west Texas. His practice includes street practice, daily blog postings of his teaching, as well as a fulltime monastic practice. His Temple offers daily Zazen, monthly Zazenkai, and quarterly Sesshin. In addition, it offers many educational group activities, as well as selected workshops specifically focused on recovery from war and violent trauma. Daiho is in a loving relationship with Kathryn Soku Shin Masaryk are working to establish a monastic residence together.
I will be adding both books to our recommended book list.Rev. Dr. Soyu Matsuoka-roshi (1912-1997) was a priest in a family of priests going back six centuries. He came to the United States in 1939 as an emissary of Sojiji Training Monastery first to Los Angeles, then to San Francisco. Matsuoka-roshi soon left San Francisco to go to New York where he worked with D T Suzuki at Columbia University. He then went to Chicago and established the Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago in 1949.
Matsuoka taught everywhere he could: high schools, karate dojos, living rooms. He was relentless in his effort to bring the living Dharma to the United States. He wrote letters to newspapers, was a strong supporter of non-violence and de-segregation, and wrote letters in support of Rev. Martin Luther King’s civil disobedience.
Matsuoka-roshi taught Zazen. He taught basic forms. He chanted only the most essential sutras. He streamlined the training and progression of students so that they would have an opportunity to practice in roles and take on responsibilities they would not have been entitled to in an institutionalized context. His was a homegrown Zen, a practical Zen. He used Japanese terms sparingly and tried to make his Zen accessible to Americans.
Those who actually take the time to make a study of Matsuoka-roshi’s written record in two collections of his writings (“The Kyosaku” and “Moku-rai”) will soon discover the truth about this pioneer. He was a genuine Master and a fine teacher who held his students in higher esteem than they, themselves apparently did.