american idiot zen

i just want to briefly share some personal practice changes.
i decided recently to stop wearing robes and using many of the formal forms of my lineage and tradition while offering teaching.

i now wear casual clothes and prefer sitting outside in chairs to the formal Daisan/Dokusan setting for teaching, no bells or bows or incense.
this to me comes out of much of the disillusionment i experienced around all the abuses of students and sanghas in the name of hierarchy or patriarchy or whatever name is meant to mean fucked up shit by asshole teachers.

i want to practice the way as an american idiot, not a japanese soto priest.

i feel many of the forms required in traditional zen training reinforce the hierarchy/patriarchy and any projected separation between ‘real’ zen students/teachers and ‘other’ commitment to awakening for myself and others is as strong as ever, but the forms the patriarchy/hierarchy have evolved seem to me to undermine awakening and imply there is a “real” way to do things.

if new students are more afraid of making mistakes than they are of sharing their hearts then something is wrong with this for me. this is my experience so far personally and of many students. if new students are nervous because of a perceived separation between teacher and student then there is something wrong for me. teachers are messed up, and being enlightened simply means accepting how messed up we are, not overcoming being messed up.

i am very grateful to my tradition and my teacher and the forms i learned from, and i don’t believe all form is bad or teachers who maintain them are bad, only the ones who use form to manipulate power or suppress awakening/questioning.

it’s too easy to hide perfectionism and power tripping in the forms, and it’s too easy to convince the whole group to buy into it. it’s hard to live without the reassurance of form and hierarchy, but this is where i want to live, for now.

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4 thoughts on “american idiot zen

  1. Ron Wilkinson

    Does it have to be either or? You can be an American idiot in robes. I don’t think you’re doing something wrong but I think you have to provide another frame work(?). There are a ton of things in Zen that are rehashed Japanese culture and I know that that is something that is discussed and debated from 30 years ago. And you are right about ceremony and chanting. I never really stayed with it long enough to remember those things. Even as an obvious novice I felt like an idiot. But when you want to become a Boy Scout you have to start as a tender foot. Isn’t hierarchy sort of inevitable? The master and the student?
    Way back in the 80s I was at ZCLA I was sitting (weekday) and noticed I was going to be late for work, I got up quietly and Genpo or maybe Bernie yelled at me and I was very humiliated. During some weekend sittings I would not go to interview with those guys. Shishin and Roshi were it.

  2. Anne Wayman

    Hmmm, more food for thought. Recently at Sweetwater Zen Center they’ve hugely reduced the amount of incense used because of my breathing problems. Love that flexibility – happened because someone noticed me leaving in the middle of a ceremony and asked why..

    Love the responsiveness and flexibility that change indicates.

  3. Mike Carter

    You signed up, why not wear the uniform as well – on some days? I don’t dress up but I haven’t signed up either.

    Many students need the dressing up and the form to make it all real. It’s part of the dance. You pretend to be a teacher, they pretend to be students. If the forms are getting in the way maybe that’s something to explore in Dokusan.

    Ordinary Joes do not dedicate their life to priesthood. Are you pretending to be something you are not by not dressing up?

    Do you start to become something you are not when you dress up?


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