October 26, 2014

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Coming Down from the Zen Clouds

Zen Buddhism became widely known in America through D. T. Suzuki's writings, which promoted a non-traditional, modernist interpretation of Zen. Suzuki was a Japanese writer and intellectual who had experienced Zen training as a layman, and who, writing in the nationalistic intellectual climate of early twentieth-century Japan, emphasized a Zen freed from its Mahayana Buddhist context, centered on a special kind of "pure" experience and without the traditional Buddhist concern for morality.

A Critique of the Current State of American Zen

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Copyright © 1994 Stuart Lachs
Reprinted with permission from the author
pdfComing Down from the Zen Clouds50.79 KB26/01/2012, 12:42

Zen Buddhism became widely known in America through D. T. Suzuki's writings, which promoted a non-traditional, modernist interpretation of Zen. Suzuki was a Japanese writer and intellectual who had experienced Zen training as a layman, and who, writing in the nationalistic intellectual climate of early twentieth-century Japan, emphasized a Zen freed from its Mahayana Buddhist context, centered on a special kind of "pure" experience and without the traditional Buddhist concern for morality. This view, represented today by Abe Masao and the "Kyoto School" of religious philosophy, accentuated those aspects of Buddhism that are both most different from Western traditions and most distinctively Japanese. This view has fostered in the West a widespread conception of Zen Buddhism as a tradition of exclusively cognitive import, inordinately preoccupied with the ideas of Sunyata, non-duality, and absolute nothingness but with little talk of karma, Marga (the path), compassion or even the "marvelous qualities" of Buddhahood. Such a view fails to give adequate attention to the positive disciplines, including morality, that comprised the actual lives of Buddhists, and easily leads one to think that Buddhists are unable to treat the ordinary world of human activity seriously.2 This view has also placed extreme emphasis on the suddenness of enlightenment with the accompanying idea that to cultivate "correct views" is considered as self-improvement, i.e. gradualism. Read more ...

pdfComing Down from the Zen Clouds50.79 KB26/01/2012, 12:42