Sunday, November 11, 2018

Forget about your butt. Where is your mind?

One of the most disappointing aspects of Zen is how ossified it has become in many organizations. What originally distinguished Zen from other Buddhist schools was its reliance on mind-to-mind transmission between teacher and student. Rather than some esoteric, mystical experience, this process is simply the mirroring of two minds--the recognition that each mind is already Buddha.

Yet, many Zen schools, especially those in Europe and America, have (in my opinion) lost sight of this guiding principle. Institutions have grown to protect what they see as the integrity of Zen, acting as a kind of self-appointed litmus testers to determine who actually has the Zen mojo and who doesn't. However, in doing so, they have fallen into the very trap that Zen itself was a response to--namely the rigid authoritarianism of tradition and dogma.

Zen has always been iconoclastic. The famous Sixth Ancestor, Huineng, was an illiterate lay person in his teens when he was given the mind-to-mind transmission ceremony from his teacher. Talk about a slap in the face to authority, tradition, and ritual!

Nowadays the yardstick for good Zen teachers is how many retreats they have attended (i.e., how many hours they can prove their ass has sat on a cushion) and how long they have been practicing Zen. But this reductive formula--designed and approved by the American Zen Teachers Association--defies the central tenet of Zen, namely that it's about awakening, not how much time someone has put it in. It's not about seniority, age, race, gender, sexual orientation, how many koans someone has answered, or even about how many Buddhist miles someone has accrued/earned.

It's about mind. That's the Dharma Seal.

Personally, I am much more concerned with the state of students' minds than I am with how many hours they have sat on their asses or where they stand in some koan curriculum.

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