Wed Jun 30 17:38:44 MDT 2010
hagiographies themselves, but rather, their disciples and later generations
wrote and rewrote the hagiographies. But more interestingly, according to
Albert Welter and his "The Linji lu and the Creation of Chan Orthodoxy" the
tradition itself wrote the hagiography. That is, as the self understanding
of the tradition changed, so did the hagiography of the protagonist change
to match the new self understanding. I would think this is true for more
than just Linji. Along this line, who was and was not included as being a
Chan master also changed with the times.
What is not so common I think is that Sheng Yen's biography "Footprints in
the Snow" is to my mind an autohagiography. Which is to say it shows a level
of intentionality on the part of SY and how he wanted to be remembered. Of
course, one can only speculate on what those intentions are and they
certainly may be mixed, as I say in the paper. But I can also make educated
guesses based on long term contact and observation, which I also do in the
paper. I also consider his hagiography as a form of ritualized writing, "a
staged production of timelessness," and as such, perhaps unconscious, an
attempt to create his own immortality.
> You're showing the problems of this hero worship in the Chan/Zen context
Yes, creating immaculate people on paper, that is perfected Chan masters out
of people with some good and with some not so good qualities has
consequences and some of the consequences in American Zen have been very
troubling, for 45 years now. Overempowering the Chan master with the
reflected consequence of disempowering the disciples in my opinion is one of
the engines driving the trouble in American Chan/Zen.
> But do you know Joseph Campbell's "The Power of Myth"? Campbell there
> shows some very deep rooted psychological archetypes, notably the
> "adventures of the hero". I think we cannot eliminate these deep
> psychological patterns - we have to live with this stuff, trying to make
> the best of it.
I read Campbell's "The Power of Myth" too many years ago to remember much.
However, I think whatever psychological archetypes or patterns we have, have
to be dealt with in a way that fits
our times. That is, the great perfected Chan master can be contextualized to
be a useful notion while pointing out the historical roots of the idea and
making clear that not every, if any master/roshi with the title is
definitely not like the iconic figure; that these figures are indeed iconic.
It should be clear that the Chan institution cannot turn out perfected
people cookie-cutter style to meet the needs of its institutional form. My
guess is there are somewhere around 200 masters/roshi in America today with
a large number in Europe.
> Another point. You ascribe the many scandals in the US-Zen communities
> to the rank difference between 'enlightened' Roshi with
> 'Dharma-transmission' and 'unenlightened' disciples. This is evidently
I think what I say is that setting up unrealistice disparities between the
master and the student
puts in place a situation that allows or even encourages trouble and abusive
behavior. I would like to add, that this situation in many cases, is quite
harmful to the master/roshi who buys into the idealized notion of the role.
I think in some cases at least, the become delusional.
Because of my papers, I get a fair amount of email from people around the
world involved in Zen.
Recently, I heard from a fellow in Europe having trouble with his teacher,
who was upset that this student questioned him about style of practice,
among other issues. The teacher screamed at him, "I represent the Buddha,
you represent ego."
> But in this context I miss in your paper another relevant topic - the
> deficiency of ethics-teaching in the Zen-Tradition (here Aitken was an
> exception). If all Zen-teachers and Zen-disciples would sign from the
> very beginning of their schooling the 5 Silas and would regularly
> discuss and renew their vows, I'm sure there were much less problems.
Yes- I did not mention "the deficiency of ethics-teaching in the
Zen-Tradition." This was
a mistake on my part. I think part of the problem here is that in Zen,
ethics is studied, at least in the Rinzai sect and I believe the Sanbokyodan
sect too. They are considered as a koan of sorts and examined in meditation
and in dokusan where they are viewed from a Zen perspective of emptiness and
the relative, interpenetration, host and guest... where the down to earth
straighforwardness is not so clear. I have heard the same about Seung Sahn's
group but I have not studied them. I am not sure how the Soto sect handles
Though Aitken in his writing, at least post early 1980's dealt with
"ethics-teaching in the Zen-Tradition," he completely covered up the Eido
Shimano troubles that occured in Hawaii in the 1960's, most certainly knew
of the troubles occuring in the 1970's yet still acted deferential and
bowing to Shimano into 1975 and 1976 while he attended the opening of Dai
Bosatasu monastery in 1976 bringing along two students. See Aitken's letter
It was not until the 1980's that he changed. Near the end of his life he
tried to rectify this. All of this is available at
Thank you for reading my paper and for your comments,
> with kind regards,
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