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Religion Library: Zen

Community Organization

Written by: Julia Hardy

Minor forms of misbehavior are sometimes ignored, so that there is also a safety valve that relieves the pressure of this intense regulation. One of the challenges of the head monk is to strike a balance between strict regulation and these small gifts of laxity; he must be able to discern when to push harder, and when to let go. Again, this is an ideal, not always met in actual practice.

Dogen said that this harmonious practice of community is itself enlightenment. In other words, rather than being a series of activities designed to enable one to reach enlightenment, these activities are themselves a manifestation of enlightenment. Life for one who is enlightened would not change, but would continue to be exactly the same as before.

The rigorous practice of the Zen community of monks also generates merit for the community at large. For example, the efficacy of the elaborate funeral rituals, which are seen as a guarantee of a kind of salvation after death, depends upon the rigorous practices—meditation and ritual purity, for instance—of the Zen monks who conduct these rituals. In a sense, as they preside over a funeral, they must transfer their own enlightenment to the deceased, and must also demonstrate fearlessness in the face of death as well as a deep understanding of the meaning of Zen Buddhism.

Study Questions:
1.     How are monasteries structured?
2.     Why do rules create a sense of community?
3.     How are monks disciplined?
4.     What is the relationship between the monastery and the community?


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