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?