Two Years of No Zen!

Happy Birthday No Zen!

I wanted to share my joy with you all at the two-year anniversary of No Zen in the West and to thank you for coming along.

In the spirit of celebration, I can’t resist a little retrospective, some reflection on what No Zen has been and will I hope continue to be. In these two years the blog has far surpassed my expectations — we’ve published 45 posts, and in 2011 we’ve had 3,500 unique visitors! (I don’t know how many of them were robots, but at least a few of you are most likely actual people!)

When No Zen in the West first kicked off, even before the pixels had dried on the first post (now a dedicated page introducing the project) I was already hearing about people pissed off by it. Success!

Oh yeah, that guy Jiryu — he’s one of those assholes who say there’s no Zen in the West…

The truth is, of course, that though I have long flirted with being just such an asshole, that has never been the point for me personally or for this blog. As I said in that first post, it’s just that I think these irritants — these obnoxious bugs who won’t let us rest in our confidence in our Zen — are super-worthwhile. The “No Zen in the West” bugs aren’t the only ones I value — I also appreciate the “no one cares about Zen” bug, the “Zen is for old people” bug, and really any other bugs I can find that will buzz us out of whatever satisfied complacency we may harbor about the excellence of our Way.

I don’t raise the challenges so that we abandon something vital and deep — I don’t think bugs can make us do that. Their buzzing around — like they do in monks’ ears and eyes at Tassajara during the five hot days of September Tangaryo — just drives us deeper. It doesn’t drive us away from our faith but into our deeper faith. That deeper faith can’t be about the institution or the ancestral tradition or the relevance for our time or any of that — it’s just a deep faith that this is how we must live, how our hearts long to live.

You may not believe me, but whatever bugs we summon here are to encourage us to go deeper than the bugs. What refuge can we find when the refuge we’ve settled for turns out to be termite-infested? We have to go deeper. And then deeper again…

At the start of this second year of No Zen, I was joined by my blood-and-Dharma brother Hondo Dave.  A fellow bug-catcher, bug-tamer, bug-bringer, it’s been a real joy to collaborate with him on this forum.

On top of a passion for bug-parading, Hondo and I share a commitment to and curiosity about the ways that what we think of as “practice” can be made real in the lives that we have, in this culture we have, in the midst of the values and responsibilities we have.  Along with that inquiry, that insistence that practice stay “real,” we’re also both drawn to Dharma study — in its devotional and academic flavors alike — and push to explore whether and how that study, too, has relevance for our lives of practice.

It may turn some people off when Hondo and I use this blog to reflect on and process our intellectual study, citing obscure ancestors and sketchy ancient schools to fill out our understanding of Buddhism and Zen, or drawing on the work of Western intellectuals to sort out what this “West” is that the teachings are adapting to, and the resources it too brings to the table. But we go into these more abstracted realms because both of us are clear that these are all gates, are all openings into the lived Dharma.

Also, we think it’s fun. (It turns out Dharma gates are everywhere — so why not play in the ones we find fun?)

We rely on you all, though, to help us to keep it “real,” to hold us to our task of translating our musings into a whole life of Dharma practice.

In fact we rely on you for more than that — we rely on you for it all, for giving us this platform and for joining us here to keep it rich and full. Thank you all for thinking and wondering and sitting with us in this midst of this Zen and this West and this No Zen and this East and this tangle that’s exactly our life.


4 thoughts on “Two Years of No Zen!

  1. Thank you for this blog. I honestly don’t get why people are so upset by “No Zen in the West.” (actually, I do.)

    Dogen did not refer to his way as “zen,” just the Buddhadharma.

    All characters and letters are dharma gates.

    I agree – let’s have fun!


  2. Mark, thank you very much for bringing this blog to life. It’s refreshing to have such open dialogue on Buddhadharma, to question it and our practice straightforwardly and with a good mind. I suppose the basic question is, “Are we practicing authentically? Is this the real deal or are we kidding ourselves and just going through the motions.” I read one time in a recent Tibetan manual (I think it was by Tsongkhapa – or maybe Gampopa – one of those guys) that one should have the “thought of enlightenment” at least once every three hours in the day. By “thought of enlightenment” he meant the moments when we remember, “Oh yeah, enlightenment… I made a vow to cultivate and manifest that in this human life.” And we get back in it, into that understanding and mind-space.

    I found it amusing and realistic that this advice was framed in terms of “at least once every three hours.” I was trained with much higher expectations! But these days, I live in Brooklyn, I left temple life to engage with the world. Perhaps I’m a lay practitioner, but I prefer to consider myself a tantric adept. And, if I’m smart, I do have the thought of enlightenment multiple times throughout the day. I meditate while smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. Listening to music and being thoroughly immersed in it. This is not classical zen. And this is the west.

    Thank you for providing a forum in which the thought of enlightenment can arise a few more times a day.

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