In Buddhism self and individuality are not the parts of objective reality. They are the parts of human nature, which can be expressed only through social interaction. Self is rejected by Zen as an independent reality. That is why Oriental hostility towards self and identity meets fierce resistance in the West. Western people are not ready to leave their identities so easily. Very careful attitude to self becomes a great disadvantage and even obstacle for the practice of Zen. Using psychotherapy as a part of spiritual practice also has become Western innovation.
Psychotherapy is a very popular system of healing in the Western culture and it took some time before Zen masters recognized possible profit they could get using it. Western Zen students have psychologically oriented minds and this fact can not be neglected. (Suzuki) Moreover, psychotherapy became a part of Zen practice in some Western centers and monasteries. Zen, which became a symbiosis of Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, is often accepted as hostile religion in the West. Christian religion controversies many principles of Zen and this controversy creates additional difficulties.
Gradually, Zen is being adapted to Christianity same as it was adapted to Asian religions earlier. Different books, which study relations between Zen and Christianity, appear. Christian elements appear in traditional Zen practices. Zen is more tolerant to other religions. Buddha neither rejected nor affirmed the existence of God. At the same time Zen teaching is based on the idea that there is a source, which precedes all religions. These ideas are closely connected with ideas in Christianity. Coming in terms with Christian doctrine is easier than introducing Christian rituals to Zen.
The very idea of enlightenment, which is a central idea of Zen, is difficult for Western mind. It is necessary to remember that the idea of enlightenment is basic for the most Oriental religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and many others. This idea is not as widely developed in Western religious tradition. This fact creates additional difficulties for Western practitioners, as they create additional false expectations and hopes connected with the idea of enlightenment and they get frustrated when their expectations do not come true.
Widespread of Zen Buddhism in the West has another interesting effect on Western Society. This effect was achieved when the Zen principles, developed for individual practice, became applied for resolving social and political problems. Western Zen Buddhist does recognize an importance of individual practice as a way to help all living beings. At the same time they stress that social environment has extremely important influence on the human life and that is why they take active part in it in order to improve these fields of human life.
Western Zen practitioners take active part in social and political lives of their countries. They become engage in resoling environmental issues, taking part in the development of educational programs and taking active part in different social movements. This innovative approach and social activity are new for Zen Buddhism. “The promise of the contemplative life that has characterized Asian Zen is that selfless meditation is, rather than an escape, the most essential way of healing the so-called world that is nothing other than Mind.
Still, the need for social and political activism has never been more pressing. Never before have systems and institutions held such global power, thus extending the repercussions of human greed, anger, and delusion to threaten the very biosphere” (Kholhede,345). The most serious difference between traditional Zen and its Western variant is a lay nature of Western Zen. It is hard to trace real number of Zen practitioners in the West because most of them do not belong to Zen monasteries or Zen centers. Many people practice Zen at home. They lead normal way life and bring Zen to their everyday routine.
Western Zen practitioners can have families, be successful at their work places. They do not make any restrictions in eating and drinking. This has become one of the main reasons of popularization of Zen in the West. So, moving away from traditional monasticism, traditional and customs became the distinctive feature from Western Zen Buddhism.
1. Geertz, Clifford, The Interpretation of Cultures New York: Basic Books, 1973. 2. Kornfield, Jack, “No Enlightened Retirement,” Inquiring Mind 16, no. 2 . Spring 2000. 3. Seager, Richard Hughes, Buddhism in America New York: Columbia University Press,1999.