Knocking Down Monastery Walls III - by Jundo

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I'd like to offer
 the next installment of ... "POINTS FOR POSSIBLE IMPROVEMENT" in the traditional monastic model.

Before I do, however, I wish to emphasize again that one man's "magico-supersticio hocus pocus, baseless invented myths, and incantation and mumbo-jumbo filled rituals" is another man's "wondrous miracles, sacred wisdom stories and beautiful timeless traditions". To each his/her own, and no one has a monopoly on how to interpret these facets of Buddhist practice. May all find their own road, and find the meaning thereof in their own heart and life. 

So, on to ... 

POINTS OF POSSIBLE IMPROVEMENT IN THE MONASTIC INSTITUTION - No. II -
 Have traditional monasteries become egregiously loaded down with superstition, hocus-pocus and folk beliefs, worship of bizarre or hyper-exaggerated images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas added on as Buddhism evolved through the centuries, coupled with quasi-magical rituals and arcane Sino-Japanese cultural customs which are not necessary and which need a real cleaning out? 

NO! Because to some folks, these things mean something, are a place to find and manifest the Teachings. If some fellow finds all Time and Space in a mote of dust ... while enough fellow just sees a "mote of dust" which might best be swept into the dust bin ... more power to the first fellow! Good for him or her! 

But ... YES! 

Because for some of us in the Buddhist and Zen worlds, monasteries and traditional practices are like an old, dusty attic filled with some real treasures (eye of the beholder for some, others truly manifesting the Buddha Eye for all sentient beings), but also stuffed to the rafters with piles of rotting junk, old newspapers, musty moth-eaten clothes and seemingly ridiculous souvenirs picked up as Buddhism traveled through the many exotic lands it did. For some of us, the monastic attic could use a pretty thorough Spring cleaning.

Again, much of this is in the "eye of the beholder", and collectors will vary in their tastes and needs. To treasure hunters and pickers, one person's "ridiculous souvenir" may be a profound reminder of a visit to the Pure Land or Atlantic City!. To each his or her own, and his or her heart, and we celebrate and support each and all in keeping their own attic! Someone's silly or dusty magic-spell and mumbo-jumbo filled ceremony (like the ceremony asking for the kind benefaction of the Earth Protector Deity as I recently participated in during a brief stay at a Soto monastery in Japan) is a lovely dance filled with endless significance. (By the way, when at the monastery, I threw my "self" through and through into the ceremony with all my body and heart ... for when in Rome.)

But for some of us, "Grandpa Buddha" is now dead, and we need to make room for the real, living Buddha which is still here in each of us. We might do without the "Earth Protector Deity", and perhaps 1000 other boxes of "gathered by Grandpa over the years" stuff. 

The question then becomes, if so ... if some of us do clean out "Grandpa Buddha's attic" ... doing away with perhaps a large portion of the elements of Buddhism, Zen, Soto or Rinzai or something else (while seeking our own vision of Buddhism, Zen, Soto or Rinzai or something else ... maybe even a "Truer to us and our times Buddhism, Zen, Soto or Rinzai or something else.") ...

... what might remain that need look like an Old Chinese Monastery at all? If we burn the Chinese robes, the Chinese furniture, the funky legends and funny beliefs ... replacing them with equally wonderful and durable clothing and tables from Sears, Ways and Teachings more suitable to the place and time ... would it resemble "an Old Chinese Monastery" ... or even "a Monastery" at all?

I feel not. 

Oh, I am NOT AT ALL FOR TOSSING THE BABY OUT WITH THE BATH WATER! I often write this on that subject ...

In making such changes in the West, perhaps we need to be very honest and say that we are really making a "new Zen", very different from the ways it was practiced traditionally in China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea, in Buddha's time, Dogen's time, Hakuin's time or later. What many westerners think of as "Zen" or "returning to the heart of Zen" is a modern western fantasy, and unlike anything before. 

In doing away with things that have been part of the tradition for hundreds of years, thousands of years, we must realize that ... in many ways ... we are making a completely NEW tradition that is nothing like "Zen" as traditionally practiced.

But ... remember that different folks have different needs. Also, do not throw out the baby with the bath water. Many completely "Japanese" or "Chinese" etc. practices which seem silly at first are worth keeping. ... 

... other things, like some of the arcane incense, bell & drum filled rituals to the "Earth Protecting Deity", take them or leave them. 
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To each his own, and I also know the great value and Teachings found in some practices such as extended times of silence and retreat, bowing, chanting, even Oryoki eating ... and, of course, lots and lots of Zazen! Some can be kept, some recycled, some put out with the trash. But would the vessel for such practices resemble anything like the Sino-Japanese image of what that institution is/was? I think it might be very different (precisely the same, but very very different). Some may not even be located as and when or where "traditionalists" might locate theirs. 

To each his own, but some of us make very new vessels to hold timeless flowers ... boundless vessels that barely resemble the containers of old. 

Gassho, Jundo

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