Sunday, June 10, 2012

Brand Name Zen

Until recently, as a high school teacher with summers off, I took full advantage of my vacation time and wrote a book each July and August. They were all fiction, and alas, I was never able to publish them. Last summer I didn't write because I was busy studying and completing seminary assignments for the Prajna Institute for Buddhist Studies. But I've got the itch to write again.

So I've decided to write a book this summer about a subject that I feel very seriously about. It's one that I have not yet explored on this blog, but one that feels long overdue.

It's going to be called Brand Name Zen, with the tentative subtitle, Why are we buying it?, or something along those lines. It's going to explore what I see as the new Zen orthodoxy here in the West, which means systems of power and hierarchy both in and between Zen traditions, Zen politics, the role of digital communication as a legitimate form of Zen communication and transmission, and finally the role of Zen Masters and Dharma transmission here in America.

There are a small number of voices and media who have solidified, and are committed to establishing--although perhaps unbeknownst even to them--what I call Brand Name Zen. And so I want to offer an alternative perspective on what I think of as this new Western orthodoxy.

Brand Name Zen is not a challenge or a call to arms as much as it is a series of observations that aim to encourage and foster a creative dialogue--or conversation I should say, for dialogue implies opposites, and that's not what I'm positing here. Hopefully, this book is the beginning, not the end, of this discussion. As my working subtitle suggests, this is a book about questions more than it is about answers.

As a member of a progressive Zen organization committed to empowering its members--the Five Mountain Zen Order--I feel that I have a unique point of view on how Zen organizations operate; it's both an insider's and outsider's perspective. An insider in the sense that I'm engaged in Western Zen (I'm a former member of two Japanese Zen groups, Harada-Yasutani and Soto) and in some small ways through this blog contribute to the chorus of Zen discourse resounding through the blogosphere and mahasangha. And an outsider in that I practice Korean Son, which generally falls outside of the purview of orthodox Western Zen which tends to be Japanese-oriented, and also because the Five Mountain Zen Order isn't traditional by anyone's standards, even, or especially, Korean Son's.

I hope to have the project completed by the end of this summer, 2012. At first I plan to publish it as an e-book on this blog; we'll see where it goes from there.

Please offer your thoughts and suggestions. Thanks for reading.

Image borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: Pranav Bhatt.


  1. I think it's high time that someone writes a book like this and you're just the man to do it! I think the whole idea of unbroken transmission and lineages needs to be explored more closely because it all falls apart upon closer inspection. Yet there are many who get obsessed about who is authentic and who isn't. The standards need to change. Great idea!

  2. Thanks for your support, Lawrence. I'll keep updated as to how it's going. Talk to you soon.

  3. A very interesting project.

    Gassho, Jundo Cohen

  4. Looks like a great Idea. There was an interesting post over at Nyoho Zen on the subject of actually trademarking zen words.

  5. Thanks David for the link. It's an interesting article. I don't necessarily agree with all of his points, but he does touch on some important issues.

  6. Nice use of free time and good management of the time for exploring the skills and use of skills for other.Thanks for sharing this blog i will also explore my skills in the free time.