Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Gandhi Meets Buddha - and the Monastery Dies

Love this new interview with Robert Aitken Roshi in Tricycle, if for nothing else than for the description of how Gandhi influenced the Nichiren monks in Japan to become engaged with the world.
...traditionally Buddhism was confined to the monastery, where the vow to save
the many beings was very abstract on the one hand, and quite confined on the
other. In the early years of this century some Buddhist monks, influenced by
Western thinking, joined in the Tokyo streetcar strike. And their bishops were
admonished that they could lose their status if this kind of radical action
continued. From the beginning, it has behooved the Buddhist establishment in
Japan to toe the political line. Now, the Myohoji sect of Nichiren Buddhism
exploded this pattern after the war, under the influence of their teacher,
Nichidatsu Fujii, who had studied with Gandhi. Today the Myohoji monks chant at
trouble spots all over the world. In Sri Lanka two Myohoji monks were
assassinated as they walked along chanting. The Myohoji monks have put
themselves on the line as active peacemakers.

This is how it should be: the best ideas from the great traditions crossing boundaries and interpenetrating one another.

Aitken Roshi also believes the monastery is dead. I'm inclined to agree.
Yeah. It doesn’t fit our culture. It’s time to move out. Certainly, as religion
evolves, certain things are lost or dropped and certain things are gained. I do
not want to convey the Japanese Buddhism that I learned. What I am seeking to
do, as best I can, is to convey what realization is for us in the Americas and
in Europe and in Australasia, without losing the fundamental points. When
Yun-men said, “Every day is a good day,” he was saying something that completely
transcends Zen. Completely transcends anything cultural. And if you really see
into what Yun-men is saying, nothing is lost. A certain cultural accretion or
cultural clothing is dropped off because when I say that to you now, I’m not
standing on a podium with my monks standing before me, with the expectation that
someone will come forward and make three bows and challenge me.

He also thinks we're living in dark, degenerate times, and is pretty pessimistic about the fate of the world. I don't agree, but neither do I blame him.

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