A Small Hope that the Western Zen Community Will Grow Up & A Couple of Signs it Is

One of the signs we’re seeing our Western Zen community growing up is how our Worcester Zen temple has launched a capital campaign to purchase the property that has been our home there for the last few years. I love how it is being done, the thought and effort as well as the transparency for a Zen community that continues to respect our inheritance of spiritual directors in lineage together with an increasingly flattened organizational structure.

I see in this the best of what we are becoming.

As part of that there was an email sent to the list of folk who’ve over the years have requested they receive notifications. Mostly, of course, this is a list of people involved in the project at one of our near dozen Zen sanghas in New England and Ohio. But it also includes folk who’ve just asked to be added on, who’re interested in what we’re up to.

One of those later folk felt compelled to send not one but two notes in response, listing the immorality of building buildings and supporting institutions dedicated to spiritual projects when people are hungry.

This sort of misdirection is not that uncommon when someone does not want to support a project. This is not unlike the story of the Mulla Nasrudin who when asked if he would lend his donkey to a neighbor and replied I’m sorry, but I’ve loaned it to my nephew, to have it pointed out by the neighbor that he can see the donkey tethered by the side of the house, to which the mulla responds, If I don’t want to loan you my donkey, any excuse it good enough. Of course, throwing in the hungry elevates the argument for the person who isn’t interested in support, it makes him not interested, but rather morally superior. A position I know I always like, so, I guess I shouldn’t be annoyed.

But, I have to admit I am.

I take it as part of the swirl of what I’d call immaturity perhaps too many on the Zen path indulge way past an age where that’s something attractive.

People who are trying to put together systems of accountability within our Western Zen sanghas are accused of building empires. Training expectations for Zen teachers are assaulted as interfering with the sacred autonomy of teachers in naming successors. And communities trying to build lasting institutions are accused of stealing bread from the mouths of children.

Fortunately for the sake of the Dharma in the West, and for all those for whom it opens doors of wise hearts, I think these naysayers are increasingly a web-fed fringe, having less and less to do with what is actually going on.

For me the good part of this, I think, has to do with the emergence of a distinctly Western Zen.

I believe we in the West have long had a wonderful intuition that the individual is something precious and wonderful. The wisdom of Buddhism is that the self is a construct, a meeting of many things within a moment.

Western Zen, at its best, sees the preciousness of the individual, knowing that precious individual is a construct, that moment in time, a bubble in a stream, a flash of lightning in a summer cloud.

Bringing both a sense of connection and a sense of urgency.

So, the desire to feed the poor is right. As is the desire to build institutions of care and support over some long haul. Or, at least, some longer haul…

The mature way is to know this world in all its hurt and loveliness, calls for many things.

It calls us to notice.

And it calls us to action.

Each in its time.

Being grown up is about making choices and living with the consequences.

While I can be annoyed, and am, at the silliness I often encounter, I’m glad to see more of those mature decisions being made, and serious work being done.

And on this gray morning, I am hopeful…

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