This was originally a series of 5 separate posts, which I’ve combined for ease of access. I’ve noticed based on stats that 90% of readers didn’t make it past the first post; while it pretty well makes my overall point, there are nuances and expansions in subsequent posts that of course I felt worth explicating, or I wouldn’t have written them. Maybe with them all in one place, a few people might find the patience to at least scan through the rest. I know we all struggle to read more than 140 characters at a time these days, but hopefully the pseudo-essay format still serves for something, or someone. – T.O.
Part 1: Jumping the Shark
As mentioned in my last post and evident in the paucity of content I’ve produced here in recent months, I’ve been somewhat pulled in, and busy with other tasks – namely a book and museum exhibit on psychedelic posters, set for January. But I continue to feel pressed to externalize a few more thoughts about the collapse of the Soto Zen experiment in America, the catastrophic failures of its major proponents, leaders, and practitioners, and some reasons why I think this might have happened. The title of this piece is floated more as a proposition than as an assured dictum. Still, I think it’s a sound premise, with ample evidence to back it up.
First of all, I would especially dissuade any young person from getting involved in it, at all. That itself says a lot. I think to gain its real benefits, it should be probably best be started in ones 20s. I’m not the only one to say so. A few years ago, I was leading Zen meditation on a college campus, and have spoken to Zen groups at colleges more recently than that and spanning decades now, so I clearly didn’t always feel this way. What’s shifted? As documented elsewhere on this site, I resigned as a “Zen priest” last year, essentially in protest of the radical leftist takeover of the entire Soto Zen establishment, as evidenced in this “repentance statement” issued by its most senior leadership, and in many other instances I won’t bother to list. Suffice it to say, the proof is extensive and damning (pick up any Buddhist magazine, for instance. They all beat the same warped “social justice” drum.) You may say, so what? Who cares? Live and let live (or you might say they’re right, in which case I’d steer a wide berth around you.) As someone who was so involved for so many years, I feel a responsibility to at least digest my own experience, sharing it publicly as record in hopes it might help even one person avoid a pitfall, and support those who might likewise have struggled. I know they are out there – I’ve heard from them. Also, this all has to be understood in a broad historical context, as an epochal event or shift, as the head of the SZBA even acknowledged with pride in the linked article. Not many people are equipped to provide this critical context, and few that do seem to have the interest or courage to speak up. This magazine article about the statement was the final nail for me; I knew before that point I would split from my own “Zen Master,” but honored the seriousness of my commitment by waiting to see if there were other options; any hope to remain within the tradition’s frameworks in this country. This statement was a definitive negatory.
Continue reading “How Zen Ended in America: A Melodrama in Five Parts”