I have had a lot of tangled thoughts about various things related to spiritual practice over the past week or so. Nothing terribly clear or even muddy, but writable has come however. Which explains the slight slow down in posts here.
Anyway, I found this, from a post our old internet curmudgeon The Zennist interesting to consider:
Modern Zen has not escaped the problem of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If you check in at your local Zen center, you may not be aware that your modern Western Zen center may have thrown out something resembling the baby with the bathwater insofar as seated meditation or zazen appears to be the centerpiece. But real Zen, according to contemporary Zen master Joshu Sasaki, is not about sitting (cp. Zen Notes XX, No. 8).
Looking back to the early history of Zen it was not regarded as a school based on seated meditation. During the Sung period, a number of Zennists argued that Zen or Ch’an was a synonym for the Buddha Mind (fo-hsin). Zen has nothing to do with sitting and everything to do with realizing Buddha Mind. In fact, dhyana from which the words “ch’an” and “zen” are derived is not about sitting. Sitting is not contained the the accepted Buddhist Sanskrit definition of dhyana.
I think this post demonstrates it's own throwing out the baby with bathwater experience. Precisely, that seated meditation "has nothing" to do with Zen. I have always felt that the Zennist's critique that too much emphasis is placed on zazen in modern Zen circles has some validity. And yet, at the same time, zazen can be a powerful skillful means towards awakening Buddha Mind.
Lately, I have thinking how much social/political context plays a role in the way things are, and how the choices we make around influences from the past and present are often both indicative of the current context, but also help bring forward particular trends and patterns into the future. That's a mouthful, isn't it. Perhaps an example is in order.
Many Western Soto Zen communities seem to have brought forth an emphasis on the teachings of the founder Dogen, while placing less or no emphasis on the teachings of those who followed Dogen over the next several centuries. Dogen's teachings were, at least in part, a reaction to what he experienced in 13th Century Japan, including the perceived staleness of Buddhism as it was during those times. In some degree, I can imagine that the 20th Century Japanese teachers that brought Soto Zen to the U.S., Europe and other places felt a keen resonance with Dogen, given that many of them believed that things had gotten stale in early to mid-20th century Japanese Zen circles. Because my understanding is that there was a period of time when Dogen's teachings had virtually fallen from consideration, only to rise in importance again in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Anyway, consider if the teachings emphasized by Soto Zen communities came from a different period in Soto's history. If perhaps Dogen was considered to be important as a founder, but his teachings not terribly centralized. Maybe seated meditation takes on a different role in modern Zen circles, and perhaps even de-emphasized all together in favor of chanting or bowing or textual study or some other practice form. In great part because the teachings brought forth and emphasized come from a time of reaction against "just sitting." It's happened. Go do some reading if you don't believe me.
I actually think that The Zennist sometimes misreads Dogen as well. Because Dogen himself never said that all of practice is just seated meditation. However, there does seem to be such an emphasis amongst a fair number of convert Zen folks, enough anyway that his persistent ranting has some merit in it.