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Buddhism, China, Zen, Japan, and California

One of the interesting things I noticed whIle I was at Tassajara is which of the conventions are from Zen itself, and what are just Japanese. Are all the robes and bowing really Zen or is that just Japanese culture? And what’s the difference between Buddhism and Zen anyway? How come we can’t walk directly in front of the Buddha? Is that a Zen thing? And what would be the difference between being in a monastery here in California versus in Japan? In search of some answers I requested a meeting with the head master of the forms, the “tanto,” or head of practice, of the monastery, Greg Fain, and was granted one. It was a beautiful meeting and I learned all kinds of things about the distinctions between these different disciplines. According to Greg, the goal of the monastery, or at least the reality, is that a Zen monk who spent time here would or should feel as comfortable and familiar as if he were in Japan. That said, there were many things that had evolved as a result of this version that we now enjoy being here that now have diverged or have been added from how things were or are in Japan. For example, a Pali chant is made at the end of the evening meditation. And of course women are allowed to be monks. So we really are in California. 

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  • Jeanne K


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