61. Should a seeker not find a companion who is better or equal, let him resolutely pursue a solitary course; there is no fellowship with the fool.
–The Dhammapada, trans. Acharya Buddharakkhita
It has been about 3½ months since I wrote this post about shopping for a new Buddhist temple. I’ve had plenty of ups and downs since then, but gradually I’ve been narrowing down my choices to two: Follow Zen or give up on Buddhism entirely.
Some might be shocked to read that since I’ve been following Buddhism since 2005 (now 8 years), and have spent a lot of time and energy putting it into practice. However, I’ve become very frustrated at the lack of community support, especially family support, for Buddhists in the West. If I lived in Japan, this wouldn’t be an issue. If I don’t like one temple, I can just go visit the next one around the corner. I can do the same thing with churches here. But with Buddhist temples in the US, it’s often a different story.
For years, I attended a certain Jodo Shinshu temple here in Seattle, both before and after moving to Ireland. However, I gave up on that temple 2 years ago after I became frustrated with the politics and conservatism there. Recently, my brother-in-law wanted to learn more about Buddhism, so I brought him to the temple. It was an opportunity for me to give the temple another chance. It was a nice service, and it was good to see old friends again, but I realized that in 2 years, it hadn’t changed a bit for me and there was no point in coming back again.
After I left that temple, I decided to try following Buddhism on my own, similar to the quote above. Of course, I wanted to join another community if possible, but there aren’t that many, even in Seattle. You’re often forced to chose between New Age communities (sometimes cults) or immigrant communities who may or may not welcome you. Within both extremes, there are healthy and friendly communities, but it’s always a gamble. Plus I do know of several “cult” temples around here. If you remove them, the number of temples are even smaller. Also, after the years spent trying to make the last temple work, and getting frustrated, I decided I want some “fresh air” away from a community.
But I realize now that without a community, it is lonely. As the Buddha taught in one sutra, the Upaddha Sutta (SN 45.2, Pali Canon), it’s actually really good to have a community:
Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, and comrades, he can be expected to develop and pursue the noble eightfold path.
I’m fortunate to meet and talk about Buddhism online with various readers, and that has helped sustain me for years. Also, yearly trips to Japan help, but it’s kind of far away and expensive just to see Buddhist temples. ;)
In the end, I want to find a community (preferably Japanese because of my background) closer to home, that encourages positive Buddhist habits, and isn’t a cult or excessively New Age. Basically good “ol’ fashioned Buddhism”. I enjoyed visiting a few other temples recently, but I just didn’t feel that I could commit to them. Giving up on Buddhism may seem drastic, but sometimes I think I might have better community support if I consider religious communities other than Buddhism. Something more mainstream in the US where there are more options.
But when it comes to Buddhist communities, there’s no denying that the largest Japanese-Buddhist presence in the US is Zen, especially Soto Zen (sōtōshū 曹洞宗 in Japanese). Zen in the US is something I’ve avoided in the past, because of its tendency toward “neo-orthodoxy” you see among some Zen converts, and its anti-intellectual streak.
However, my interest in Zen began when I had the nice visit to the temple in Arizona (Rinzai, not Soto) and I’ve been kind of hoping to find a similar community here in Seattle.
There are, for me, a few advantages to exploring Zen:
- Zen tends to have an austerity that is refreshing. I was impressed by my visit to Sojiji temple years ago.
- Zen has connections with mainland Asian Buddhist groups (Chinese “Chan”, Korean “Seon”, etc). They speak a “common language”, even if there are some differences. This also means closer affinity with people like the late Ven. Yin-Shun whom I admire.
- Zen focuses on meditation and mindfulness. These are two things the Buddha emphasized.
- It’s one of the few Buddhist communities in the US that is growing steadily, not declining, and isn’t a cult of personality (mostly).
I don’t want to become one of those Zen people who argue online with each other. I’d prefer to lay low, visit the temple once a month, and otherwise, just be a good ol’ fashioned Buddhist in general (precepts, meditation, etc).
So, at this point, I have decided that I will give Zen a sincere try. I had a nice experience once, and hope I can find a similar community here in Seattle (possibly Rinzai, not Soto). However, if I can’t, I just might give up Buddhism for good. We’ll see.
P.S. I hesitated to write something regarding the Boston tragedy for a lot of reasons. In the end, I have nothing useful or clever to say, and I fully believe trust law-enforcement to get to the bottom of this. I don’t want to add to the sense of hysteria or anything, so I felt it was better to just be silent. Still, I hope that the families affected will find peace, and that “rule of law”, not mob justice, will prevail.