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|Subject: Zen Skin, Zen Marrow - another Steven Hein book -- deep investigation - am reading this now Sat Jan 14, 2012 4:12 pm|| |
ZEN SKIN, ZEN MARROW: Will the Real Zen Buddhism Please Stand Up by Seven Heine –
"As we enter the 21st century and western Zen Buddhism develops the roots and branches of its second and third generations, the time has come to reflect on what aspects of this ancient tradition we are importing. What are the Zen myths and realities we are disseminating throughout the West? Most importantly, does Zen address the moral and ethical issues unique to our time and place? Steven Heine is eminently qualified to crack open this Pandora's box and help us sort out the real from the apparent. With its critical reflection, deep investigation and outstanding scholarship, Zen Skin, Zen Marrow is a step in the process allowing Zen to take the shape of the container that holds it. This book belongs on the shelf of every Zen center in the West." --John Daido Loori, author of True Dharma Eye: Master Dogen's Three Hundred Koans and Sitting with Koans
"This book provides a valuable and insightful effort to clarify the conflict between two competing streams of Zen scholarship: the Traditional Zen Narrative and Historical and Cultural Criticism. Steven Heine is among the world's leading scholars of Rinzai and Soto Zen, and this latest work will make an extremely valuable contribution to such fields as Zen/Chan studies, East Asian Buddhism, comparative mysticism, and other related areas." --Steve Odin, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa
"This book makes an extremely valuable contribution to Zen studies, general Buddhist studies, and comparative studies of mysticism. ...Highly recommended." --Choice
"For the scholarly community, Heine's work contributes to the possibility of healing within the field of Zen studies...Only a scholar of Heine's stature in the field could offer such an invitation." --Journal of Japanese Studies
From Amazon.com: Hats off to Steven Heine for risking a [banned term] nose by interposing in an ongoing quarrel. What quarrel? Well, the more you delve into Zen Buddhism, the more you probably start noticing a gaping disjuncture. Some portray Zen as a pure, individualistic pursuit of an unmediated experience of enlightenment through meditation minus all the usual trappings of religion such as scriptures or rituals--an ancient form of eastern wisdom with profound answers to our modern ills. Others would take this apart as a recent, ideologically-driven reinvention if not a plain big fat lie, uncovering evidence to show what they take to be a much more down-to-earth and monastically conformist tradition very much steeped in scriptures and rituals, with prayers and worship often eclipsing meditation--just another interesting variant of the Buddhist religion in Japan, and one that has ethically compromised itself through the ages by actively contributing to social discrimination and fanatic militarism. Often these two sides ignore each other. Other times they collide in acrimonious argument, merely talking past each other to no avail. Heine attempts valiantly to break this impasse in "Zen Skin, Zen Marrow" by bringing the two approaches into some sort of fruitful dialogue and mutually beneficial compromise.
And nobody's more qualified. The author and co-editor of many fine scholarly studies of Zen (some of my favorite, in fact) that quietly test the boundaries of what we consider Zen but with fair even-handedness, he brings both his vast store of knowledge and his fine diplomatic skills to the fray here, along with a long and intimate familiarity with the ups-and-downs of the controversy (as well as its prehistory) over the years. And he does so with a healthy dose of humor extremely unusual and highly refreshing in a book by an academic press. Nothing breaks the ice like a good joke, after all. All the better when the joke fits, as with his titling the three main chapters so as to indicate what he convincingly identifies as the three main bones of contention: Zen Writes, Zen Rites, and Zen Rights.
Unfortunately, each chapter is weaker than the last. Heine is on home ground when discussing the issue of Zen's much-vaunted slogan of not relying on words and letters versus what the critics point out as its prodigious literary output. His discussion is on-target and his recommendations compelling. When it comes to Zen ritualism he starts faltering a bit by framing the issue as one of varying degrees of syncretism with "folk religion"--which problematically assumes the existence of a "pure Zen" undergoing various levels of admixture. This ends up misrepresenting the critique in question: it is not that the critics denigrate pure Zen for lazily giving in to folk religion, their target is this false and ahistorical image of a non-ritualistic, iconoclastic "pure Zen" in the first place. Indeed, what exactly is "folk religion" but a dead category in religious studies? Heine identifies Inari worship as "folk religion" even in about the same breath as he describes the role of Kukai and Toji Temple in this aspect of Japanese religiosity as well as the extensive patronage it received from the imperial court. How can anything involving both the apex of political authority and the foremost levels of the official Buddhist hierarchy be "folk" in any meaningfully conceivable way?
When it comes to Zen Rights, Heine does a fabulous job of outlining the contours of the debate. And with much honesty, objectivity, and good will he attempts to do justice to both positions. But then the solution he offers is daft as can be, that Zen Buddhism as an organization(s--Rinzai? Soto? Obaku?) engage in some form of deeply subjective if sincere (meaning not liturgical, because we all know that's a bunch of bunk, right?) form of repentance for its many wrongdoings a la the Kyoto School philosopher Tanabe Hajime--who incidentally was not a Zen monk and was not even primarily inspired by Zen, so why the Zen Buddhist religious establishment should dance to his tune is unclear. Furthermore, the supposed result of this repentance would be a wonderful synthesis of Zen and Pure Land, Mahayana and Theravada, Buddhism and Christianity (p.171)--i.e. institutional suicide, the self-erasure of Zen's own particular identity. Don't hold your breath. The underlying assumption that it's a scholar's role to prescribe what Zen should do rather than carefully and accurately explore what it actually does and has done also troubles me, at least when taken to this level. And overall it just seems a quixotic gesture unlikely to win over either apologist or detractor.
At least you can't say he didn't try, though. As a whole this is an interesting and thought-provoking book, not so much about Zen as about what we think about Zen (though one learns quite a bit about Zen itself in the process), and it strikes close to the heart of a pervasive rift in viewpoints that isn't going away overnight.