Discourses on the relationship between Zen, Buddhism, and culture
At the beginning of the year 2011 a group of our clergy decided to tackle the complex subject of Zen as it relates to Buddhism and to culture through a series of loosely interconnected essays. The idea was inspired by a dialogue I had several years ago with a Chinese monk who I have known for many years. We were discussing some of the differences between Buddhism as it is practiced in China and as it is practiced here in the Western world. Considering the differences in our cultural backgrounds and personal experiences with Buddhism, it was not surprising that our viewpoints were strangely malaligned at times. While we could agree on all the fundamental and most important basics of Buddhism, a chasm opened when the conversation moved to things like the color of robes, methods for almsgiving, devotional practices, the role of the "Zen Master", Buddhist mythology, the significance of the rules of conduct a monastic takes vows to uphold, among other things.
The objective of this essay series is to consider the Nature of Zen Buddhism from different angles and different focuses of attention; to engage in an exploratory meditation of Zen as perceived through the eyes of various Western Zen practitioners. Some of the topic ideas originally considered for the series included: Zen’s Heritage Zen as seen through the eyes of Buddhism, Buddhism as seen through the eyes of Zen, Buddhism without Zen, Zen without Buddhism, Seeing 'the Forest for the Trees', Buddhist methods of Zen training, and Zen Mind.
-- Chuan Zhi, March, 2011