The Golden Age of Zen in the 21st Century
Last Monday after morning zazen, several of us met at the local Starbucks for some social time. During the conversations, Manish asked if Zen people these days talk about “The Golden Age.” He was referring to Zen in China in the 8th and 9th centuries, which produced such famous teachers as Ma-tsu, Nan-chuan, Huang-po, Lin-chi, and Chao-chou. Many of their stories and teachings - in the form of koans - are available today, in publications such as the Blue Cliff Records and the Book of Serenity. These stories are from over 10 centuries ago. They are interesting to reflect on and keep in mind - they can help us penetrate the meaning beyond words of spiritual practice and of the nature of Reality. So we do study them from time to time. However, we are more interested in how to practice in the industrialized, post-modern world we live in.
Zen has changed over the centuries. No longer is it restricted to monks devoting themselves to practicing in monasteries, temples, and hermitages, with the rest of society supporting them. The traditional Zen image is a profile or shadow of a monk in the cross-legged posture. We may consider even consider this image the “Zen Brand.”
But today, the face of Zen is less dramatic. It is of ordinary individuals expressing awareness and care in whatever they are doing, wherever they are. More and more, people are learning how to be mindful, and discovering what it means to practice in the “real world” outside temple or hermitage. Increasingly, over the past fifty years, people engaged in a variety of life styles and occupations have changed the nature of Zen practice by making it relevant to their daily lives.
In our 21st century, materialism, technology, and vast amounts of information and ideas have become integral in our lives. They bring us great benefits, but there is a danger that they can become too dominant. We have to be careful not to lose connection with what is vital. Zen practice enables us maintain touch with our spiritual nature, to be mindful, to understand how to balance these recently acquired personal benefits with thoughtfulness for each other.
Individuals in today’s world are seeking community with one another, to free themselves from the isolation that comes with mobility and a speedy, stressful environment. So part of our mission is to provide a welcoming atmosphere for ourselves, as well as for others who we have not yet met.
Our vision at Kannon Do is to continue the integrity of Suzuki-roshi’s way and the way of all true spiritual teachers: patience, morality, humility, kindness, a strong work ethic, and the wisdom that comes from continual mindfulness. He constantly gave whatever he had to offer, without fanfare. And he was very happy doing it.
We are very fortunate to have Kannon Do as a supportive place to practice. Our center provides all of the facilities we need. Its spirit comes from the energy and generosity of its members and friends. I hope you are able to be part of what Kannon Do offers, today and in the years ahead.
- From the closing statement at the Kannon Do Annual Meeting, March, 2012