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Thread: Naked Zen

  1. #1

    Naked Zen

    I've been wrestling with something ever since I started sitting (which I don't do with any great consistency), and I was wondering if anyone else ever felt this way. I can't help but feel like a poser at times. Like someone playing at zen, rather than practicing it with an earnest heart. See, I was raised in Los Angeles and Utah to a Mormon family, and being the Wonderbread poster boy that I am, I've always been fascinated by this Eastern zen stuff. But that's part of the problem. It's "Eastern," "Japanese," "Exotic." There are ceremonies where monks with shaved heads parade around incense-clouded rooms, and devotees chant in Japanese and sit for hours or days to attain something (or to drop something away).

    There's a disconnect for me. Don't get me wrong, I think some of the ceremonies are beautiful, and I'd love one of those robes, and I think a new dharma name would be really cool. But again, that's the problem. I understand why a practitioner in Japan chants in Japanese, but why should a person in Spokane, who most likely wouldn't understand a word of it, chant in Japanese?

    Everything about Japanese Zen makes sense when taken in context; that is, when it occurs in Japan, or when someone who identifies him or her self closely with the Japanese culture chooses to follow that type of practice. But does it make sense for someone born in a Western country?

    I'm not saying it's wrong, or that anyone who does adhere to the Japanese customs is inauthentic, but at times I personally feel that there's a wall between me and organized zen because organized zen is either Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, or Chinese, and I am none of those. I'm just a guy in L.A. who presently feels that all the cultural ornaments hanging from the zen tree are keeping me from seeing the tree, or else enticing me away from the tree so that all I see are the ornaments (if that makes any sense to you).

    Has there ever been an attempt to strip down zen to its acultural core? To create a truly Western Zen?

  2. #2

    Re: Naked Zen

    "Has there ever been an attempt to strip down zen to its acultural core? To create a truly Western Zen?"

    I have no idea how this works but if you practice long enough - could be months or years - it becomes Doogie Zen. Then the cultural background doesn't matter. Japan zen, Chinese zen, Korean zen, American zen, no problem. Its just that the teacher brings the culture with him and that needs to be respected. But I agree with you that it would be nice to have a more American zen. The most important thing is to sit twice a day for 30 minutes or however long you can do, to establish your zen culture.

  3. #3

    Re: Naked Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by doogie

    Has there ever been an attempt to strip down zen to its acultural core? To create a truly Western Zen?
    I think a conscious attempt to strip things away might be counter-productive. Zen has been in the West for a very short period of time, so my current view is that it will gradually grow and adapt and change into something that fits Western societies more snugly than it does now. But I think it needs to be a natural process where each teacher keeps and discards the practices of his/her teacher so that it may take several genearations before something changes dramatically. That's the way it has happened in past migrations, as far as I know.

    As Geddy Lee said to Bob and Doug McKenzie, "So like, slow down, eh." It will change, just not so much in the immediate future I suspect.

    Peace,
    Bill

  4. #4

    Re: Naked Zen

    It's not the situation, it's the practice. We can practice with ego, or we can practice without.

    I Could careless about Japan. Zen is not Japan. Bowing and chanting, or reciting, is not restricted to a culture.
    When I see Japanese Fukanzazengi, I don't see Japan. I see Dogen and his expression of how to do this practice.

    It's hard to explain. Like Taigu said, Compassion is a part of this practice. A lot of these practices nuture that or express it. There are some Zendos where people don't do much of anything but sit.

    No one "cares" about Japan. It's only the practice.

    I'll post something here from a Japanese Zen teacher:

    Yasuda Joshu Dainen roshi

    Question: It is often said, for example in Daisetz Suzuki's works and in all of the books of his many imitators and admirers, that Japanese culture has been shaped by Zen. All of the various arts that we associate with Japanese culture such as flower arrangement, tea ceremony and so on, stem from Zen. What do you think about this?

    Joshu Roshi: It is very hard for me to comment on things like Japanese culture. I am Japanese. So things like chado (tea ceremony) and so on, these are things I almost cannot speak about because they are so much a part of my culture. My feeling is so deep. I could try to show you though.

    If you brought me a tea bowl, one of those fine, very very expensive tea bowls... You know that most of them have names? Like people's children or pets, they have names... If you brought me one of those tea bowls then I could show you my feeling. I would first have to drink some water. Yes, very much water. And then I would pick up the tea bowl and look at it from every angle. I would sit in seiza before it and admire it, how much it cost. And then I would piss in it. And then I would drink more and more water and piss in it again and again. I would have to drink the Pacific ocean and the Atlantic ocean to be able to truly show you my feelings about Japanese culture and what it has to do with Zen.

    Some people think that Japanese culture is the same as Zen and that Zen is a Japanese thing. These people understand nothing. Zen is originally Indian. It is also Chinese. And then it was practised in Japan when Dogen zenji opened Kannon-dori-in. There is also Korean Zen. Now Zen is in Canada, America, Europe. Zen is about the art of being human, not any culture. Mind and body have no culture. Zen has no place because all places, all lands, nations, mountains and rivers are in the Mind of the Buddhas and this Mind is Zen.

    Zen and Japanese culture have become all mixed together. Japan was held hostage for hundreds of years by crazy army people, dictators called samurai and shogun. When I was younger, Japan was still being held hostage by the army and there was a big war. This is craziness. These army people and rich people, lords and ladies and emperors wanted to play with Zen. Some lazy monks played with them and painted pictures for them, taught them how to eat and drink tea. But the army people and the lazy monks made a big game out of tasting tea. They sat around making moon faces and doe eyes about "simplicity" in little tea huts. These tea huts were built especially for them to sit around like that. This cost a lot of money, being "simple" like that.

    In Zen sodo (monks hall) we eat oryoki. Careful, careful. Clear and calm. Just eating. Taking care of the bowls, the cloths, the food, each other. In the mornings the monks share tea with the teacher. From this style of doing things, came things like tea ceremony.

    Tea ceremony can be beautiful. Can be wonderful. Meditation while moving, but not real zazen because you cannot look deep with insight. I do chado, hai? Sometimes. Sometimes.

    And Zen brush, Zen sho is beautiful. Stark. Very clear practice.

    But Zen arts are only Zen arts if you do zazen and study with a teacher. Then they will help to make your practice round and full.

    Zen arts without Zen study is just cultural junk.

    Hakukaze-ji, 1976

    Gassho

    W

  5. #5

    Re: Naked Zen

    Hi Doog,

    Allow me just to echo some of the comments by others.

    First, pursue your own Practice. Ultimately in Zazen, we sit with ourself and ourself alone (literally, with our "self"), and wrappings, bells and whistles are a sideshow. Ultimately, it is a matter of Doogie exploring and sitting with Doogie's "me myself and I"

    This practice is not limited to any place or time ... we drop all thought of place and time. It certainly is not Indian, Chinese, Japanese, French or American. But, of course, we live in place and time, so as Buddhism traveled over the centuries from India to China, Japan, Korea etc. it naturally became very Indian/Chinese/Japanese?Korean etc.

    But what of the cultural trappings?

    Must we bow, ring bells, chant (in Japanese, no less), wear traditional robes, have Buddha Statues, burn incense? ... All that stuff besides Zazen. Are they necessary to our Practice?


    No, not at all!


    We don't need anything other than Zazen, any of those trappings. In fact, they are no big deal, of no importance, when we drop all viewpoints in sitting Zazen.

    On the other hand, we have to do something, to greet each other somehow, read some words, dress some way. Why not do such things? As I often say, for example, we have to do something with our hands when practicing walking Zazen ... why not hold them in Shashu (I mean, better than sticking 'em in your pockets)?

    viewtopic.php?p=24626#p24626

    As well, there are parts of our practice which we do BECAUSE we resist (for example, when visiting a temple for Retreat, I usually put my heart fully into ceremonies and arcane rituals BECAUSE I resist and think some of it silly or old fashioned). Ask yourself where that kind of resistance is to be found (here's a clue, and it is right behind your own eyes).

    What is more, there is method to the madness, and many (not all) customs have centuries of time tested benefits ... embody subtle perspectives ... that support and nurture Zazen Practice at the core. Many parts of our Practice, though "exotic", are worth keeping, even if they strike someone as strange at first. Bowing, statues, rigid decorum in the Zen Hall and, yes, weird talks about Koans all fit in that category. They may seem like unnecessary "Japanese" or "Esoteric" elements at first, until you understand the role they serve. I have given talks on all these things recently, for example ...

    Bowing ...

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/treeleafzen/2 ... eat-3.html

    On the other hand again, it is okay to abandon or reject many practices. However, KNOW very well what you are rejecting before you reject it. For example, I wrote this to someone awhile back about which of the "Japanese trappings" are worth keeping and which can be discarded. I wrote him:

    Absorb what is useful and discard the rest. For example, I think Oryoki [formal meal ritual] is a great practice, and worth keeping.. Same for bowing.

    Some things I keep out of respect for TRADITION [the robes, the ways of doing some ceremonies]. It is important to keep ties to where we come from. Some things also have a special symbolic meaning if you look into them, so worth keeping [for example, a Rakusu]

    But other stuff, no need to keep: For example, I usually avoid to chant in Japanese or Chinese [except once in awhile, out of respect for tradition]. Tatami mats and Paper screens have nothing to do with Zen practice particularly [but I happen to live in an old Japanese building, so ... well, tatami and paper screens!} Some things I think are just dumb (except symbolically), like the Kyosaku stick. Incense is great, until it was recently shown to cause cancer. Many beliefs of Buddhism are rather superstitious things that were picked up here and there. I abandon many of those.
    The outer wrap of Zen Buddhism is changing greatly as it moves West. The greater emphasis on lay practice over monastics, the greater democracy in what was a feudal institution (arising in societies where the teacher's word was law ... oh, those were the days! :wink: ), giving the boot to a lot of magico-supersticio hocus-pocus bunkum, the equal place of women ... heck, the use of the internet to bring teachings that were once the preserve of an elite few into everyone's living room.Those are good and great changes to the outer wrapping (you can read about them in books like this one (author interview here: http://atheism.about.com/library/books/ ... anChat.htm ). The coreless core, however, remains unchanged.

    Do not throw out the baby with the bath water. Many completely "Japanese" practices which seem silly at first are worth keeping. ...

    ... other things, like some of the arcane incense, bell & drum filled rituals, take them or leave them.

    Gassho (an Asian custom), Jundo (a Dharma name)

  6. #6

    Re: Naked Zen

    I think I'll say anjali from now on

    Gassho (anjali in Sanskrit) is considered one of the most beautiful of gestures... In ancient India, there were twelve forms of the Gassho. In the Shin sect of Japanese Mahayana Buddhism, only the first of the twelve forms is used, which is done by simply placing the palms together at chest level and at a 45 degree angle. Gassho is a symbol of the multitude of different things also being at the same time One. Among Buddhists the world over, Gassho is used as an expression of hello, goodbye, and as a gesture of highest respect and gratitude.

    W

  7. #7

    Re: Naked Zen

    No one that I see face to face daily Gasshos. So, all I can do is just give a tap on a shoulder or say "hey" and "see ya" and perhaps smile.


    W

  8. #8

    Re: Naked Zen

    Hi,

    Fyi, there is the Still Mind Zendo of New York. They chant in english only and don't wear robes.

    http://www.stillmindzendo.org/

    FYI, the chants which seem to be in Japanese actually are not in Japanese. They are sanskrit texts transliterated by Japanese people (so one is chanting sanskrit with a sort of Japanese accent). Chanting is the way that texts were preserved and orally handed down (when books were scarce).

    But I can certainly understand your wanting to sort out the foundation of buddhist practice from all the beautiful accoutrements. My life is a 24 hour process of sorting out reality from illusions (the second vow is a big one for me).

    As for feeling like a poser, since you notice it I would think it is really not a problem, we all have attitudes, delusions, fantasies, etc. Do you feel overwhelmed by this poser-ness such that the delusion is severely clouding your understanding? If so maybe this might be a problem that needs urgent attention? You of course know what you need to take care of.

    But of course there is the question of boundaries (geopolitical ones) and where we draw them. I live in Northern California which is a very different culture than other places in the US (robes here really should be tie-dyed in organic cotton).

    thank you for your time,
    rowan/jinho

  9. #9

    Re: Naked Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by doogie
    Has there ever been an attempt to strip down zen to its acultural core? To create a truly Western Zen?
    I'll add my humble answer. I think one example of this has been Charlotte Joko Beck through her Ordinary Mind Zen School.

    Before retirement, Joko Beck had done away with all titles and no longer wore her okesa. She had distanced herself considerably from her roots in the Soto school, and much of the ceremony had been abandoned in favor of informality.
    (citation=wikipedia)

    http://www.bayzen.org/
    http://www.ordinarymind.com/

  10. #10

    Re: Naked Zen

    Interesting. Thank you all for the replies.

  11. #11
    Treeleaf Unsui Dosho's Avatar
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    Re: Naked Zen

    There is also the Springwater Center run by Toni Packer, who was formerly the dharma heir to Philip Kapleau.

    http://www.springwatercenter.org

    She left the Rochester Zen Center in part because of her dislike of Japanese ritual, but also to embrace the ideas of J. Krishnamurti.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toni_Packer

  12. #12

    Re: Naked Zen

    Some moment you just do what you gotta do or "do what you do". Just keep practicing. That's it. Here and now.

    Gassho _/_

    W

  13. #13
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Naked Zen

    As for "arcane" rituals, it's their utility that matters, not so much the form but the function that form serves. Rituals are tools to help slow the mind down. Think of a baseball player and all the ritualist gyrations he goes through before facing a pitch aimed very close to his body at 90 MPH. He needs to do those rituals in order to slow that 90 MPH down in his mind enough so that he can concentrate on hitting it. Some players refit their gloves, tap their helmet, put their left foot in before the right, etc. Different baseball players have different rituals for this, but they are always very precise in doing them. It's the same thing for zen rituals, different schools/places/cultures/teachers, etc. may have different rituals, but the personal purpose of them all is the same: to help you with your practice. I seriously doubt any baseball player has ever told someone that their ritual was bad or wrong or even not to do a ritual at all, and I am not accusing anyone here of doing so, but find what works for you while honoring what works for others.

  14. #14

    Re: Naked Zen

    Some moment you just do what you gotta do or "do what you do". Just keep practicing. That's it. Here and now.
    Not do what "you" do, but just "do".

    Gassho

  15. #15

    Re: Naked Zen

    When nitpicking, just nitpick.
    When you've got to :lol:


    Gassho

  16. #16
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Naked Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    When nitpicking, just nitpick.
    When you've got to :lol:


    Gassho
    Who has to nitpick? This "I" perhaps?
    Drop the "I" and there is no nitpicking.
    Drop the I" and there is no thought of being nitpicked.

    Bye now, says I now

  17. #17

    Re: Naked Zen

    Who has to nitpick? This "I" perhaps?
    Drop the "I" and there is no nitpicking.
    Drop the I" and there is no thought of being nitpicked.

    Bye now, says I now
    No body's perfect.

    But dropping the "I" is not something that "we" do. It is natural. It is just this. Who you are. Beyond likes and dislikes, good and bad, mistakes and stupidity. Human beings make mistakes on a day to day basis. Practice is opening to a wider view where our mistakes are included in our experience. We learn from our mistakes and sometimes fall back into them. I could say that nitpicking is who I am. I'm fine with that. I nitpick. No prob. As long as I recognize it. There's joy in discovering our mistakes. Practice is intimate, joyful, expression.

    Gassho _/_

    W

  18. #18

    Re: Naked Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Who has to nitpick? This "I" perhaps?
    Drop the "I" and there is no nitpicking.
    Drop the I" and there is no thought of being nitpicked.

    Bye now, says I now
    No body's perfect.

    But dropping the "I" is not something that "we" do. It is natural. It is just this. Who you are. Beyond likes and dislikes, good and bad, mistakes and stupidity. Human beings make mistakes on a day to day basis. Practice is opening to a wider view where our mistakes are included in our experience. We learn from our mistakes and sometimes fall back into them. I could say that nitpicking is who I am. I'm fine with that. I nitpick. No prob. As long as I recognize it. There's joy in discovering our mistakes. Practice is intimate, joyful, expression.

    Gassho _/_

    W
    "But dropping the "I" is not something that "we" do. It is natural. It is just this. Who you are." I think this is true. Don't make anything. That's a big mistake. Since doing so often is a habit, just continue practicing.
    /Rich

  19. #19
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Naked Zen

    Bow to you, Rich and Will, bow.
    Indeed, it is not something that we do.

    this





    Taigu

  20. #20

    Re: Naked Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by doogie
    I understand why a practitioner in Japan chants in Japanese, but why should a person in Spokane, who most likely wouldn't understand a word of it, chant in Japanese?
    *****************
    Has there ever been an attempt to strip down zen to its acultural core? To create a truly Western Zen?
    being from Spokane I thought it would be fun to vouch for a little known gem about the city... this city actually has a very large population from japan, and we celebrate many Japanese festivals to honour our very close and active sister city; Nishinomiya, ( our city hall even has a several hundred year old Imperial Kimono owned by one of the cities daughters that married into the imperial family as a major display). We even have a week dedicated to that culture every year around golden week, so out here it's alittle different than I even expected....I actually invite anyone to visit the city then, there are many many wonderful events, and the local Shin Temple gets some wonderful speakers from all corners of the Buddhist world, be it japan, china, Tibetan, etc to come and give lectures, and other various things.

    and the little hanamatsuri ( cherry blossom festival) at the Nishinomiya Tsutakawa Japanese Garden is just beautiful and a wonderful way to spend the day " they have lovely rock outcrops by one of the waterfalls just perfect to sit for hours.

    On the whole note, I can understand what your getting at...I personally have not really felt it personally as I was pretty much raised into both cultures growing up...so I don't really see a separation culture, you can find me in a yukata/hakama combo, just as often as you will find me in a Vest and Kilt. That aside I find that chanting in japanese sometimes helps with the mindset, or demeanor...I personally can understand it, but Im always aware that those sitting with us at floating leaf may not, so most chants are in english. but the way I look at it...doing it in japanese, or in english really is all the same..however I find some of the chants " flow" better in their original form.

    I do admit though that I look for ways to " adapt" certain things into a more western way of thinking....while not really altering them, I try to atleast make them easier to relate to...certain key elements from various Buddhist holidays can be adopted, and adapted to fit the west, but still retain it's initial intent.

    in the end....Zen is Zen.....I'm sure the Shaolin felt a little thrown off a little when Bodhidharma came up from India to introduce Zen to them...and he himself may have felt curious for a moment or two on how best to introduce, and establish something of one culture, and make it natural feeling to another..

    I see it that Zen is natural..the only thing that really see's the cultural boundaries of it, are the individual people...however sometimes it's that boundary that may help others better take in what they are learning, and later adapt it to fit their personal lives better.

  21. #21
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Naked Zen

    I have been to Spokane a couple times. Although I did not experience all the wonderful things mentioned above, I found it to be a very nice city (not that anything different was ever implied by anyone).

    As to the chanting in Japanese, I equate it to poetry, which is always better in its original form. Language is SO much more than words, and translated words always lose something, some essence, in that translation. Even though I may never fully and completely understand the essence of the Japanese words I chant, that is no reason not to chant them while understanding the essence of their English translation. Ultimately, the essence is up to the practice, not the words associated with the practice.

    Zen language is its own language and seems to require its own translation, which does get frustrating. Too often I/we/whoever get lost in the words/language/translation, but don't they all point at the moon?

  22. #22

    Re: Naked Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    I have been to Spokane a couple times. Although I did not experience all the wonderful things mentioned above, I found it to be a very nice city (not that anything different was ever implied by anyone).

    As to the chanting in Japanese, I equate it to poetry, which is always better in its original form. Language is SO much more than words, and translated words always lose something, some essence, in that translation. Even though I may never fully and completely understand the essence of the Japanese words I chant, that is no reason not to chant them while understanding the essence of their English translation. Ultimately, the essence is up to the practice, not the words associated with the practice.

    Zen language is its own language and seems to require its own translation, which does get frustrating. Too often I/we/whoever get lost in the words/language/translation, but don't they all point at the moon?
    Hi Alan's response prompted me to reply so its his fault your all reading this :P

    First off, English is my native tongue and im rather uneducated in the language department. So English is convenient (for me). Chanting in any language is fine by me! i privately at home chant in both english and Japanese, I sometimes let my daughter choose. She really has no clue what were talking about but she digs the "Beat" as we go and continues on chanting long after were done. She gets it! I still get tied up in trying to "read" the thing :P Anywho I really enjoyed Han's German Heart sutra... I probably would struggle to keep up or get it right but its sound was beautiful and the meaning was still banging around in my head in my own language.

    As already said culturally there sure have been changes to zen Buddhism (hell Buddhism of any flavor) as it made its way and landed in North America (for me its best pass on saying east and west - we live on a big blue ball - east is west and north, south up down... we are all on the same chunk of dirt.) Change is inevitable. Personally, as Jundo has pointed out and others too, I try to embrace what i resist., picking up a spider to bowing to the toilet to trying not be so hard on myself and kinder to those around me. Yeah i have resisted being nice some days... to those that i thought slighted me
    As all ready stated i think do what feels right for you but dont toss things out until you give em a fair shake. Well any way this topic has already had plenty of useful replies.

    Quote Originally Posted by Alan
    [snipped]Ultimately, the essence is up to the practice, not the words associated with the practice.

    Zen language is its own language and seems to require its own translation, which does get frustrating. Too often I/we/whoever get lost in the words/language/translation, but don't they all point at the moon?

    Now Alan, Really - Thank you for putting that out there!
    Exactly what ive been bumping into lately. I want to say I'm missing something in the words i read and its experiencing directly or for myself what the words are pointing too.
    I say I am frustrated with the words but its clear its my lack of patience. The only answer to my issue is to simply go experience it. practice. sit! (of course while still reading and trying to understand intellectually). Thank you

    Gassho, Shohei

  23. #23
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Naked Zen

    My "fault"? Oh, the essence of that word scared me! I was all prepared for needing to offer lots of bows and apologies. But I guess it's OK, whatever that word means, so just bows for nows.

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