The Measure of the Hall

I do think some of the Western, second-generation Zen teachers are actually established in the teaching (if I may say so), even though they may not be monsters, as Kobun Chino Otogawa once described his own teacher (the Rev. Chino).

The question is really, can they teach? At least, that’s the question in my mind.

My take is that Western Zen is a family affair, like Layman Pang and company.  A return to teaching both the esoteric and the exoteric without the closed fist of the teacher (and in mixed company) is the order of the day. Really the principal shortcoming of Western Zen teachers is their inability to vocalize the esoteric aspects of their own practice in a way that is meanful to others; “just sit zazen” may be good advice, but in the end I think it was the inner happiness that Gautama experienced as a child that gave us all a seated practice. Western Zen teachers don’t mention that happiness much.

I think most Western Zen teachers haven’t read the sermons of the Pali Canon; that’s probably because the Japanese Zen heritage emphasizes a person-to-person transmission of some kind of experiential wisdom, and study can be a stumbling block to that kind of wisdom.

I won’t argue, but to me the measure of the hall is in the instruction to the total novice, and most Western Zen teachers seem out of their depth in giving meaningful instruction about the practice to first-time sitters.

I have had to teach myself. This in large part because what I need to know is not being taught, and yet I feel it could be.

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