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 An Example of a softer more open Zen culture

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Tue Jun 26, 2012 11:57 am

I just saw this very sweet short essay, obituary written by David Chadwick, a long time Zen student in Suzuki roshi's community. The reason I am posting it is that it shows a softer, kinder, more open approach to Zen training. We need to remember that the culture at Shasta was not traditional or standard or "the way it always was" - but much more an expression of Kennett, her personality and insecurities. There were and are zen communities and teachers that allow, even encourage questioning, doubt, independent thinking - that are far less authoritarian and cultic. Some even allow criticism!!! Shasta / Kennett was an extreme example of suppression of inquiry and the demand for subservience,blind obedience and forced adoration - above all else.

Farewell dear friend’ by David Chadwick
Posted on: Jun 25th, 2012
- from Sweeping Zen

By David Chadwick, Suzuki roshi biographer and Zen priest

Katherine Thanas died yesterday. I met Katherine when she first came to sit and practice with Suzuki Roshi and the rest of us in 1967. She was older than many of us, late thirties, was quiet and curious. Katherine always questioned assumptions, not in a contrarian way, really sincerely. Sometimes she’d say things that challenged the general group assumptions. And she remained this way. She went to the talk of another Zen teacher in Santa Cruz where her zendo is located and when his talk was over and he was taking questions she asked, “Why doesn’t the dharma work?”

She had such questions and had criticism of some of the teaching she received from Suzuki Roshi, yet she continued to be practice and teach in his lineage.

As a student and a teacher she never assumed a higher status or pretended to know anything more than whom she was with including a new student off the street. My agent and friend Michael Katz says he felt especially close to her, that she met everyone on level ground.

Poet and friend Jane Hirshfield wrote recently, “When I feel my way toward Katherine right now, what I feel inside myself, without any foundation but there, is her strong practice spirit. That it is all right to live and it is all right to die.”

I’m sorry Katherine won’t be there in Santa Cruz to look up when I’m in town. Farewell dear friend.

- David (cuke.com)
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polly

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PostSubject: Re: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Tue Jun 26, 2012 6:16 pm

Thank you for addressing a question I have had about Zen. Recently I read the Kessai training info from Dai Bohatsu in New York and they stressed total obedience to anyone senior without any backtalk or questions. It made me think that Zen in general was too foreign (literally) and too political for me to ever connect with again. It may be that this is true but it is heartening to hear that there are some (probably very few) Zen organizations that are approachable for someone who will never agree to blind obedience for any imaginable reason.
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mstrathern
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PostSubject: Re: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Tue Jun 26, 2012 10:02 pm

Your right Polly. One part of Zen that needed to be left in the Orient and not imported was it's authoritarianism, which over here, and probably over there too, has led to many abuses. Hopefully someone can prosper who has thrown it off and a truly western Zen can develop.
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Howard

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PostSubject: Re: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Tue Jun 26, 2012 10:43 pm


For what it's worth Polly

I've met Chinese Zen Buddhists, who have said that authoritarian Zen is just city Zen. When I questioned them about that they said just as folks in big cities tend not to be friendly compared to country folks, so it was in Zen.

Another Zen Buddhist agreed and added that authoritarian Zen teachers tend to stay in the citys because the country folk will show there disapproval over a a teacher's lack of respect with a corresponding lack of alms which can mean starvation.

They also cheerfully informed me that what the West gets is citified Zen scouts whereas country Zenists tend to stay where they can practise unmolested by the business of Zen.


Cheers
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polly

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PostSubject: Re: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Wed Jun 27, 2012 12:14 am

I love the idea of country Zennies staying home to practice unmolested. But I wish a few of them would mosey on over to this country. It amazes me that any Zen orders get away with authoritarianism in the West, until I remember the Catholic church. What's the big deal with obedience anyway? Does it have a catchy tag line I missed somehow? That glorious political hierarchy within some (most?) organized religions since inception that sadly includes, in spades, our Oriental brethren; why have we allowed it I wonder? Are we so unsure of ourselves, us humans? Must be. Funny...
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Carol

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PostSubject: Re: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Thu Jul 05, 2012 12:16 am

Howard's post brings up the business of alms. I never questioned the value of donating money to SA and NCBP. I have always wondered how they survived financially. Rev. K more than once gave us lectures on contributing more money. I wish there were some way for lay people in these "city Zen" situations to show "disapproval over a teacher's lack of respect with a corresponding lack of alms." If we just leave (which I did), the money message is not really expressed since there are plenty of other followers who still give them money to live on.
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polly

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PostSubject: Re: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Thu Jul 05, 2012 10:51 am

I sure would like to hear the names of some Zen/Buddhist Orders that exemplify Josh's "softer more open Zen culture". Anybody?
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Thu Jul 05, 2012 11:13 am

it would be helpful if there was a guide with groups rated by how cultic they were - one star for very cultic, 5 stars for less cultic. Like Zagat or Michellin does with restaurants. Or like YELP does on line. But no such luck. Also, since everything including organizations, leaders are always changing..... If you want to be involved in any Buddhist group - Zen, mindfulness, Tibetan or otherwise, my advice is similar to -- let the buyer beware - or more appropriately, "let the seeker be aware." Appearances can be deceiving and it takes time, sometimes a lot of time, to really get a deeper sense of an organization and a teacher. It is not about what is said but what is lived. And you need to pass through the honeymoon stage......

For example, there are a few Zen groups here in NYC and they seem kinder and gentler than some others, but I really have no first-hand knowledge, so it is just appearances, -- from a distance. But if a friend asked my advice about going, i would say keep your eyes open, ask questions, see how the group handles criticism or challenges, what can't be addressed or discussed, do they say one thing and do another, maintain your adulthood, and don't say yes when you feel no. Is there open communication? And it is always good to talk to former members and/or do some on-line research to see what people are saying. Also, how is the teacher viewed? If there are secrets or issues that can't be addressed, move on.
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polly

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PostSubject: Re: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Thu Jul 05, 2012 10:44 pm

Thank you Josh. I appreciate that input. All of it, but I think especially "maintain your adulthood" resonates with me. Because that can be a struggle for me when someone is presented as a "superior" or "senior", and I accept them as such. And of course, how they handle a challenge is key. It's what lost me my place at the right hand of a monk at OBC, challenging a teaching. Anyway, the whole thing is tricky and I thank you for pointing out some points to consider. One tends to doubt oneself after a run-in with the OBC. Well, this "one" does.
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Carol

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PostSubject: Re: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Sat Jul 07, 2012 11:39 pm

Polly, I would be interested in what teaching you challenged that so upset the monk that you lost your place at the monk's "right hand." Something someone said on another thread resonates with me. The thought (more eloquently expressed in that thread) is that the true dharma has nothing to fear from criticism, questioning, challenging. No harm can come to That which truly Is. So I wonder what could have upset that monk so much. What harm could come from questioning? Perhaps the feared harm was not to the dharma but to the monk's own ego or belief in his/her own superior knowledge and understanding. Anyway, curious minds wonder about your experience if you are willing to share it.
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Carol

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PostSubject: Re: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Sun Jul 08, 2012 12:12 am

On a different thread, Bill kindly posted the interview with Kyogen Carlson. It is well worth reading. Thank you, Bill. The part relating to this thread is Kyogen's comment,"Dharma does not depend on belief, it depends on investigation." That strikes me as a profound commentary on any monk's belief that challenging a teaching is so inappropriate or improper that the questioner is somehow banished.
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cmpnwtr

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PostSubject: Re: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Sun Jul 08, 2012 9:49 pm

Carol wrote:
On a different thread, Bill kindly posted the interview with Kyogen Carlson. It is well worth reading. Thank you, Bill. The part relating to this thread is Kyogen's comment,"Dharma does not depend on belief, it depends on investigation." That strikes me as a profound commentary on any monk's belief that challenging a teaching is so inappropriate or improper that the questioner is somehow banished.

Thank you for the kind thought, Carol. I'm not entirely sure what people are looking for in a "softer" Zen. But as a long time member, with episodic attendance, I would say Dharma Rain Zen Center is an example of a healthy Zen community that has integrated the understanding that true practice is inquiry, investigation, "to live the question" as Rilke states it. (The story Kyogen shares in the interview intersects in places with my own story.) I don't always find myself in accord with the direction that it takes, but it's not a requirement that I or anyone agree with those decisions. From the beginning Kyogen and his wife and co-leader of the community have cultivated a humility about their own role and authority, while not hesitating to assert that authority in the name of providing a sanctuary space for practice to take place. My wife has been more active than I and was the chairperson of the governing board for many years, but I think she would agree. My view is that the joint leadership of Kyogen and Gyokuko and the health of their marriage, their shared partnership of service, had a great contribution to making it a healthy community. Some members have come and gone, sometimes out of disagreement, but it is possible to leave DRZC and not be demonized or rejected, which is a good marker for me of the health of a community. It is also possible to participate at the level of commitment that each person desires without any negative judgment.

From the beginning the Carlsons made it clear they did not wish to have any inordinate elevation of power or authority. They dropped the title of "Roshi" or "Rev. Master" and asked simply to have the title of "Sensei" or teacher. They have been an inclusive community welcoming gay individuals and couples, people of diverse background and orientation, and sexuality is accepted as a normal dimension of being human. At times I have wondered if they might indeed be too tolerant of some of the immature behavior and outlook of some members. But they seem to find a way to meet people where they are and support them in the practice of the dharma. When they make mistakes, they acknowledge them openly and try to correct them. And they seek accountability from members and from their teacher peers throughout the country. I felt comfortable enough with the community that I accompanied my daughter when she was age 15 through Jukai classes and through the Jukai retreat and ceremonies where she received lay ordination. She is now 36, an oncology nurse, with a husband and daughter and her practice and the precepts have significant meaning to her. Like us she lives at a distance, but when she can she does attend the center and its associated group where she lives.

Just recently a long time member of DRZC died. He was always questioning and criticizing, sometimes to the point of exasperation, and seemingly possessed a kind of adolescent rebelliousness despite his middle age. (He was even known to deposit gum on the underside of his meditation bench during group zazen.) As this man's health deteriorated from liver cancer he was taken into the center and given hospice care by other members. He died surrounded by love and care. To me he was a symbol of the acceptance of our humanity accorded each member by a generous and compassionate leadership. In some way I could feel because this person was welcome, so was I.
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PostSubject: Re: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Sun Jul 08, 2012 11:18 pm

Bill, this is a beautiful, accurate (in my opinion), and compelling comment on the Carlsons.

I too count Gyokuko and Kyogen as good friends.
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Carol

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PostSubject: Re: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Sun Jul 08, 2012 11:31 pm

Thank you, Bill, for your picture of a wholesome, healthy Zen community. I was struck by your comment that your wife was chairperson of the governing board for many years. In my past experience of a very different community (which I have written about at length), the notion of a "governing board," much less one chaired by a lay person, would have been unthinkable. We were informed regularly that the organization was "not a democracy" and that all decisions rested in one person's hands. I am beginning to understand that the kind of open, accepting leadership practiced by the Carlsons can result in a caring and supportive religious environment. This is like a warm wind blowing through me!
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PostSubject: Re: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Mon Jul 09, 2012 11:31 am

Kozan wrote:
I too count Gyokuko and Kyogen as good friends.

Kyogen and Gyokuko? Yeah, they're OK sunny I moved to Portland sometime in the mid 90s (hard to remember precisely) and they invited me to live at DRZC for a few months until I found a place - thanks K & G!

Something that hasn't been mentioned is they also cooperate with other groups of different faiths in various ways. While it may be hard to believe (it was for me) they interacted with a fundamentalist Christian group for a time, exploring (and apparently finding) common ground - very ecumenical.
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PostSubject: Re: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Mon Jul 09, 2012 11:45 am

Isan wrote:


Something that hasn't been mentioned is they also cooperate with other groups of different faiths in various ways. While it may be hard to believe (it was for me) they interacted with a fundamentalist Christian group for a time, exploring (and apparently finding) common ground - very ecumenical.

Isan, they have actually continued and renewed that dialogue even this year. They had a series of weekend encounters with members of this group (Multnomah Bible College), member to member. I believe Kyogen and Gyokuko made friends with the pastor/director through an interfaith group in Portland and started this process a few years back. Kyogen asked me to participate in this latest process because of my background in both worlds, but the time commitment was more than I wanted to make. From what I learned it went well.
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PostSubject: Re: An Example of a softer more open Zen culture   Mon Jul 09, 2012 2:50 pm

Am glad to hear such positive things about a center relatively close to me. I will be investigating.

Carol, you asked what the disturbance was between myself and my "Reverend Master". I respectfully (I thought) told them that they had given conflicting teachings on a particular topic that was troubling me. That's the short version. I also expressed some frustration that I had never been given any sort of guideline as to what was expected of me as a student. Sometimes I was a "spiritual friend" and equal, and other times I seemed to be breaking unwritten/unspoken rules all over the place. So then the blank hit the fan.
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