True Dharma “I”: 21st Century Zen from a 26th Century View

A deep thanks to Koun for his wholehearted, uncompromising effort to express his impersonal heart here in the last two posts.

I enjoyed having Koun guest blogging and hope that he’ll offer more in the future – like any time.

Or maybe he’ll do his own blog. Clearly, Koun has an important perspective that is not usually heard or seen in the blogging world and although reading blogs is not training in authentic practice, at least bloggers can serve by sharing information about it.

There is quite a lot of mental practice and misinformation in this cyber realm, after all, so a little variety is nice too from time to time.

Speaking of variety and whether what we’re doing in the US is “Zen” or a misappropriation of the term (see No Zen in the West for more), I received the beautiful catalog from Tassajara Zen Mountain Center this past week. Tassajara’s San Francisco Zen Center is in it’s 5oth year so the question of whether Zen has successfully been transmitted seems fitting.

In the fall and winter, Tassajara offers a couple 90-day practice periods that I understand are still pretty rigorous – so more power to ’em for all of that. I might even apply to participate as a little retirement gift to my impersonal person, sometime in the next decade.

In their more public season, early May – mid September, the oldest Zen monastery in the West offers fifty-three retreats.  Imagine staffing and managing (and grunting out) fifty-three retreats in just over three months. I’m tired just thinking about it!

Imagine that in 500 years, a rather tormented reincarnate of Steve Heine (click here for his 2012 Dogen book) discovers this catalog and seeks to discern through careful historical procedures if authentic practice had been transmitted to what was then known as the US in 2012. He might classify the retreats, give a couple examples, and then calculate the percentage of that type (11% are just too hard to classify even in the 26th Century) – in reverse order of frequency, of course, so the drama could build:

Food: “Breakaway Cooking with Tea,” “Dragon Greens: A Cooking and Gardening Summer Solstice Celebration,” 6%

Nature: “The Nature of Zen,” “Wildflowers and Birds of Tassajara,” 8%

Zen: “Dogen Zenji’s Mountains and Waters Sutra” (this is one of two study weeks, descriptions on p. 57, the last page), “Presenting Suzuki Roshi’s Teachings,” 9%

Art (usually the written kind, usually paired with Zen): “Words under Words,” “Brush Mind,” 11%

Psychology and Zen (usually an adult adjustment disorder): “The Well-Fed Woman,” “True Person Retreat: Discovering the Life You’re Meant to Live,” 17%

Body: “Zen Mind, Zen Yoga,” “Breath of Fire, Breath of Peace: Breathing Practice in Zen and Yoga,” “Healing with Qigong and Zen,” 38%

Now don’t you think Steve’s incarnate would think, “Wow, that’s kinda curious!”

“Why would a 21st Century Zen Monastery offer only 9% of its sessions on Zen? Maybe they didn’t think Zen had much to offer,” Steve might think.

But he wouldn’t stop there – Steve would keep thinking. “Why would a Zen monastery bury the teaching of Dogen on the last page? Maybe ‘Zen’ as a commodity in the last remnants of state capitalism, could only sell when fused with other things, especially other ‘Eastern’ body practices, but other stuff too, like how to be comfortable in your own skin. Hmmmm. Maybe the people who came to those retreats were just really desperate for some kind of relief. Or maybe they were so into denial about the ecological and economic crisis about to unfold that they were just looking for a good time to escape and had exhausted the puny online archives (having watched everything on Netflix twice) available in that early day, so they desperately distracted themselves on themselves.

“Or just maybe there was an error in translation! Maybe they had confused ‘True Dharma Eye’ (as in essential What is It?) with True Dharma ‘I’ (as in obsessed with the self).”

Your speculation welcome as well, fellow 26th Centurions!

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