REBLOG: “Buddhism in the West Today” an opinion piece by FMZO Founder

Hello Friends!  This is a reblog of a post I saw on my Facebook thread and I felt it was an appropriate one to share.  The piece was written by Wonji Dharma, founder of the Five Mountain Zen Order and Provost/Dean of Buddha Dharma University.  The article below is part of the Five Mountain Zen Order Newsletter; the newsletter can be viewed in its entirety here.   I found many good points in this article and encourage you to give it a read at your convenience.  As always, take what works for you and leave the rest behind.


First and foremost we must all understand that Ahura Mazda, Buddha, Krishna, Yahweh, God, Muhammad, The Dao, Jesus, Universal Consciousness, or whatever you conceive your higher power to be, created no religion. There is one religion and it is beyond all speech, sometimes referred to as before thinking or Beforethought. The teaching of before thinking is that, the truth is about the appearance of phenomena in this world. One of the great sages of the middle 20th Century, Jiddu Krishnamurti, called it the fact of the situation of this moment. 

As a society, we have become a very profane bunch, choosing rather to feel superior to all things which also include our planet, our environment, and our fellow inhabitants of this planet which we might label as not human. Advaita Vedanta, Chàn Buddhism, Mystical Christianity, Sufism, and the Kabbalah are all based in non-duality.

In our modern society, silence and solitude are avoided like the plague. When out for a walk in the park, people wear earphones and listen to streaming audio or mp3s, because many find the sounds of the real world too boring. Who wants to listen to birds and squirrels, leaves rustling in the wind, or footfalls made by one’s shoes on a path? While driving in our autos, we turn on the radio. Who wants to listen to the hum of the car engine, the air rushing past the windows, the honking of horns, or other traffic sounds? The Christian Bible may say, “Be still and know that I am God”; however, most have no idea what this verse means or what this verse demands. As a culture and a society we have no experience of the depth that lies in stillness or the world that only mental silence can reveal.  

Sadly, all organized religions eventually form factions that ignore the living wonder of the present moment and focus upon the idea of some heavenly future or nirvana that dislodges the focus from being here in the very moment. Millions of us hunger for spiritual depth, but mainstream temples, synagogues, and churches do not have a clue how to provide it. Much of the blame for this sad state of affairs is due to our western world’s unconscious adoption of a philosophical perspective that might be called hard-core dualism. 

Although different groups of early Greeks had opposing views about the nature of reality, the philosophical battle between those who conceived the universe as empty space filled with chunks of matter (the dualists) and those who saw the universe as a unified field (the monists) was won by the dualists. Today, the western world bears the terrible consequences of that philosophical battle’s outcome. As Westerners, we automatically assume that the universe is composed of objects that we, as subjects, observe. We perceive the universe in terms of form and void and automatically assume that reality is empty space littered with independently existing things. Beyond these basic dualistic perceptions of subject–object and form–void, we are further attached to a wide range of other dualities, such as life–death, inside–outside, up–down, good–bad, right–wrong, etc. 

Because we focus so strongly upon these abstract sets of polar opposites we never realize that we, ourselves, are creating and then projecting these ideas upon reality—that the things we perceive are not separate from one another but are aspects of a unified field abstracted “in here” and projected as if they were “out there.” In fact, when the concept of gestalt perception is explained to those of us unfamiliar with it, we often cannot grasp the underlying unity of figure and ground—so strong is our mental indoctrination and ingrained patterns of thought.

Chàn Buddhism emphasizes, “Great Love, Great Faith, and the Great Bodhisattva Way!” Constant introspection into our lives is the key of each and every moment of our lives unfolding before us. Faith is put to the test when the situation is most difficult. Chàn Master Dàhuì Zōnggăo (1089 – 1163), who was the primary disciple of Chan Master Yuánwù Kèqín, (the Author of the Bi Yen Lu “Blue Cliff Record,” noticed that his practitioners were beginning to attach to the words of his late Master with blind and superficial understanding. Consequently, and without hesitation, he attempted to destroy the “Blue Cliff Record” printing blocks, such that the book subsequently became out of print. It was certainly an unusual event for a disciple to do such a thing to his master. In the eyes of contemporary people what the disciple did was outrageous. At that time, Master Dàhuì Zōnggăo destroyed all the printing blocks, nevertheless, years later, later disciples cut new ones, and the book came into circulation once again.

Master Dàhuì is known as the functional founder of our modern method of practice, mainly the huàtóu and kongàn method of insight and transcendence. Dàhuì attained enlightenment at an early age and was assigned as the principle teacher to the Lay Students who were practicing under the tutelage of Chàn Master Yuánwù. Because of this, Dàhuì wrote many of his treatises with the Lay Student in mind. It is because this great teacher stepped out of the normal function of a monk and spent his time almost exclusively with the Nuns and Lay Students in his early years of practice, that we today have a methodology that can work within the life of a householder.

“To attain enlightenment, it is not necessary to abandon family life, quit your job, become a vegetarian, practice asceticism, flee to a quiet mountain top, or enter a ghost cave of dead Zen to entertain your subjective imaginings. If you have been practicing quiet meditation but your mind is still not calm and fee when in the midst of activity, this means your haven’t been empowered by your quiet meditation. Furthermore, if you have been practicing quietude just to get rid of agitation, then when you are practicing quietude just to get rid of agitation, then when you are in the midst of agitation, the agitation will disturb your mind just as if you had never done any quiet meditation.

When you are studying Zen, as you meet with people and deal with situations, never allow bad thoughts to continue. If a bad thought arises, immediately focus your attention and root the thought out. If, however, you just follow the thought unhindered, this will not only make it impossible to have any insight into your own true nature it will also make you a fool.

Good and bad come from you own mind. But what do you call your own mind, apart from your actions and thoughts? Where does your mind come from? If you really know where your own mind comes from, boundless obstacles caused by your own actions will be cleared all at once. After seeing that, all sorts of extraordinary possibilities will come to you without your seeking them.”

It is clear that Great Faith becomes impotent when it ventures into matters pertaining to logical discursive thought! As my great teacher Seung Sahn often said, “Understanding will not help you.” Additionally, the great teacher Shunryu Suzuki Roshi said, “Usually when someone believes in a particular religion, his attitude becomes more and more a sharp angle pointing away from himself. In our way the point of the angle is always towards ourselves.” Religious practices point to the other and attempt to control the masses, spiritual practices point to the individual in the great round mirror! 

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi also said about religious attempts to control the masses, “The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in its wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them is not good; that is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without trying to control them.” I believe in the fundamental truth of all great spiritual traditions of the world.

A spiritual leader is useless when he or she acts within the confines of political authority. Spiritual authority is never limited by popular government or causes. In all matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place for a spiritual practitioner. It is about equanimity and compassion, once we sell ourselves to any political machine, we limit our ability to connect with the masses. Śakyamuni Buddha railed against the Caste System which existed in what is now known as modern day India and Nepal. He sought to also elevate woman, who had no place in society, to that equivalent to that of a man. Had he worried about being politically correct he would have never followed his heart. The power of Śakyamuni Buddha was just that, he followed what he “observed” to be true or factual. 

It seems that we have a growing movement in the United States which is supporting increasing bifurcation of the Buddhist community. Groups want to separate themselves from the whole to deal with specific issues, or backgrounds, or even tastes. Many years ago I asked Soen Master Seung Sahn in an interview about the difference between Korean Buddhism and Chinese Buddhism, he answered me this way, and I will have to paraphrase what he said, “It is not correct to say Korean Buddhism, or Chinese Buddhism, or Theravada Buddhism or Mahayana Buddhism. To speak in this manner is a mistake. There is only one Buddhism, yet it is alright to refer to a Korean style of Buddhism or a Theravada style of Buddhism, just realize we all practice only Buddhism.” 

This is a point being lost today, as groups try to form Secular Buddhism, or Against the Stream Buddhism, or Generation X Buddhist Teachers, and on and on and on….ad infinitum. Buddhism at its core is transcending all thoughts, and labels about who you are and who everyone else is. 

There is much cultural baggage that goes with each of these “Styles” of Buddhism, and we as United States practitioners (if I said American I am afraid I would be chastised for not being politically correct) need to find a practice free of, primarily our own cultural baggage, and secondarily be wary of importing too much of the Eastern Culture into what will eventually evolve in this country.

The following is purely my own opinion and not a fact in any sense of the word, take my words into your own heart and see what appears for you.

Wonji Dharma


About Lightning Heart

Nomad. Poet. Philosopher. Teacher. View all posts by Lightning Heart

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