NellaLou has a great post on the continuing saga at Madhushala, and hits all the right notes, in my opinion, about Merzel and what his Sangha and Board should do.
But in writing about that, and doing some stuff at work related to my company's business as well as searching for temples in which to visit in my upcoming trip to China this summer, I became aware of a few things, not all of which appear to be immediately related to the subject at hand, at least at first:
- I was still wondering why this Rube Goldberg financial structure existed that to the casual visitor's mind, conflated "Big Mind" with "Kanzeon Zen Center." It was, I think, clear enough in retrospect: "Big Mind" served as Genpo Merzel's way of introducing "Zen-like" things into non-Buddhists. It would end up to be a case of the tail wagging the dog here.
- Ditto for this "Integral" stuff: It still appears - to me - that this whole "Integral" thing is nothing more and nothing less than a clumsy attempt to try to "make Buddhism better" by blending it with pop-psychology and New Age woo.
- In Southeastern China, there is a plethora of Zen temples; some of which are undoubtedly brand spanking new (like the one in North East China I wrote about in 2009) but many of which are remnants and regrowth of the original temples. And there's an obvious reason for the original temples and the growth of Chan in this part of China if one thinks about the realities of that part of the world: Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu provinces are a melting pot of dialects/languages, more than a few of which are not mutually intelligible in any meaningful degree; look up each of the places on Wikipedia if you want more information about that. If ever there was a place that needed a doctrine of "no reliance on words or letters" it was this place. And if there was any place here that was "the right" place to see Chan Buddhism in China, it would be here. But exact temples and locations might not matter all that much, eventually; it was the practice itself that mattered.
- Introducing Zen Buddhist concepts to non-Buddhists is not in any way an easy task facilitated by "dialogues" with other "gurus" or creating meta-concepts in order to "bridge" or "transcend" ideologies. It took Japan over a thousand years to come up with the concepts of Ma ( 間) and Wabisabi (侘寂 ) - not to mention the application of Zen to the martial arts the like. And they're still struggling with what kind of a culture they want to have!
All of which is to say that Zen Buddhism is about the cultivation of skill of Buddhism. It took folks a long time to figure out a whole bunch of things related to how we live, including, but not limited to why it's good to boil water, how to get to eat rice, vaccines, karma, how much sleep to get, and 10,000 other things. Ditto for how to cultivate the skill of Buddhism. And we have to practice it, even when it's painful or not what we "like" or what others "like."
It is true we take vows in Mahayana Buddhist to save all beings, but we do that through living our own mundane little lives which briefly flicker in this place in the blink of the blink of an eye in the life of this small speck of iron in an unfashionable part of the Milky Way galaxy. And there are no shortcuts in our own little mundane lives. If there were, we'd be cutting out the profundity of it all along with the mundaneness.
Zen Buddhism is about the cultivation of skill of Buddhism. That means that our lives are crafted by us, slowly but surely, imperfectly, impermanently, and surely incomplete. As NellaLou points out, there is an infusion of doubt (and I'd also add faith) in this. This skill may be passed to others in the way a craftsman passes his skill to an apprentice; in the same way it's folly to think that one can pass the gist of any highly refined skill to just anyone without emphasizing that diligent training is needed to be able to make any fruitful use of skills.
Temples and sanghas are good of course, but there's a time and a place for everything, and if the "sangha" in question is more devoted to something that goes against the way in which a life is rightly to be lived, it's time to re-examine what that sangha is all about, just as in finding "the" historical temple of Chan Buddhism overlooks the Much Bigger Thing.