Always now—just now—come into being. Always now—just now—give yourself to death. Practicing this truth is Zen practice.
from the 1980 album “Zen Poems: Read by Lucien Stryk”
“Ox bridle tossed, vows taken, I’m robed and shaven clean. You ask why Bodhidharma came east—Staff thrust out, I hum like mad.”
From this poem by Zen master Reito (666-760), Lucien Stryk leads us into an amazing Zen poem journey that spans nearly 1,500 years—from the early Tang Dynasty in China (618-907) to contemporary Japan. A variety of types are presented, including enlightenment poems and death poems of the Chinese Zen masters, poems of the Japanese Zen masters, poems by contemporary Japanese Zen master Shinkichi Takahashi (1901-1987), and by Lucien Stryk (1924— ) himself. Stryk is a widely published Polish-American Zen poet, translator, and former English professor at Northern Illinois University.
Affirming difference and finding a shared language
This past weekend I attended a panel discussion on the future of Zen at the oldest Zen temple in North America, Zenshuji, on Hewitt St. in Little Tokyo. (Years ago I lived just blocks away for several weeks and never stepped inside! I was far less spiritually curious then.)
Duncan Williams, chair of USC’s religion department gave the keynote address, and he argued for the need to appeal to the multicultural and multireligious identities of those who will participate in Zen’s future here, both Japanese Americans and people of other backgrounds. He talked about helping young Buddhists learn to talk to their Christian and Jewish classmates about what it means to be Buddhist and finding language that isn’t alienating. Speaking of suffering and freedom from suffering, for example, in a way that those familiar with sin and salvation can understand.1
David Ray Griffin advocates a differential pluralism that “says that religions promote different ends—different salvations—perhaps by virtue of being oriented toward different religious objects, perhaps thought of as different ultimates.”2 And this orientation is so important. The spiritual qualities and concepts we operate with can lead to very different results and ways of being in the world. I’m left with the question of how, as “deep pluralists,” we can effectively engage in this dialogue in a way that both affirms our differences and allows us to cross-fertilize, through a shared language of sorts.
1. Duncan Ryuken Williams, “Soto Zen Buddhism 2022: Aspirations, Opportunities, and Challenges” (Keynote speech, The Future of Soto Zen in North America, Zenshuji Soto Mission, Los Angeles, Sep 8, 2012).
2. David Ray Griffin, "Religious Pluralism: Generic, Identist, and Deep," in ed. David Ray Griffin, Deep Religious Pluralism (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 24.
Those who just throw their bodies and minds into Buddhism and practice without even thinking of gaining enlightenment can be called unstained practicers. This is what is meant by ‘not stopping where the Buddha is and walking quickly past where the Buddha is not.’
Norman Fischer: Zhaozhou and the Old Woman’s Obstacles
[Excerpt from Norman’s first talk at seminar. See homework assignment at the end!]