American Zen - A Brief History

Discussion of Zen Buddhism.
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Re: American Zen - A Brief History

Post by seigan » Tue Sep 03, 2019 3:56 am

Is there a distinct “American Zen”? And if there is, how would you describe it?
For what it is worth, you can find the precursors to any of the forms that you see emphasised more in America in Japanese Zen. For example, the lay practice you could be compared the Ningen Zen movement/organization in Japan. For social activism, there have been many examples of individual monks who took strong social stands.

The flavor of Zen in America can't be pinned down to a single set of attributes because it is a fluid activity done by people who are also changing. Yet, the environment is different so the form adapts to the environment in some common ways.

In my not strongly held opinion, the following factors help give American Zen its flavor:
  • Large lay practices
  • Social activism
  • Little budget for "Zen" architecture like the historical temples in Japan or China - meaning much practice is utilitarian
  • Few Americans have a Buddhist studies background which many (most?) new monks have before starting their training in Japan
  • Few Americans have a knowledge of Chinese characters which makes directly accessing Chinese texts more difficult
  • Blending with other age practices is commonplace
  • Sanghas provide a social network much like a Church
  • Practice is not as physically demanding and is thus far more accessible (and this is valued)
  • More permissiveness in discipline
This all could be totally wrong, so I'm a little hesitant to be putting it out there as I'm no expert...

Honestly, I think the form of American Zen as much as I can articulate it is refreshing and I am appreciative of the American Zen ancestors who worked so hard to bring Zen across the water.

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Re: American Zen - A Brief History

Post by desert_woodworker » Wed Dec 04, 2019 2:19 am

We've barely seen the beginning, and have long to see the end, of what western cognitive psychology and consciousness studies will do, in their continuing and eventual influence on Zen Buddhist practice in the west, I'd say (not just USA).

Neuroscience will probably advance and others will catch up on its revelations and models. I think this will influence how Zen Buddhism is practiced. Is it happening already? I think so. More that a few western teachers are also neuroscientists and psychologists.

It's early days, 'both" for neuroscience, consciousness-studies, and Zen Buddhist practice in the west.

Meanwhile, practice is just what it is to those who practice. Maybe, as it ever was.

But, models of what's-what and what's-why are changing.

Scripture doesn't quite have the bottom line anymore, nowadays. Or, maybe new slants show that it's been "right" all along.

Main thing, is to wake up, so true Wisdom may inform and motivate true Compassion and skillful means.

As far as history goes, we're in the middle of it.

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Re: American Zen - A Brief History

Post by Spike » Wed Dec 04, 2019 2:28 am

desert_woodworker wrote:
Wed Dec 04, 2019 2:19 am
Main thing, is to wake up, so true Wisdom may inform and motivate true Compassion and skillful means.
This is backwards. Skillful means can and often does spark the wake-up.

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