adaptations of buddhism imageAdaptations of Buddhism

Adaptations of  Buddhism were introduced  some twenty-five hundred years ago by the Buddha himself. They are part of Buddhist culture and practice. He established a precedent for how Buddhism was to be taught. What he did was adjust the way he addressed an audience in order for his words to have the greatest chance of resonance. As a result, Buddhism was adapting to each culture it encountered long before it reached America’s shores.

What is American Zen?

How has Buddhism adapted to American culture? Interwoven into the story, Into Light and Shadow deals with these questions, many of which are still evolving. What to keep and what to discard when dealing with mysticism? Such questions are complex. Even the sound of the han, the wooden block that is struck with a mallet to call monks to meditation, can have deep meaning in Buddhism. Zen abounds with chronicles of enlightenment sparked by such sounds.

adaptations of buddhism

from the Ordinary Mind School

Differing Zen Communities

Like much of America, Zen communities vary widely. Some sanghas, such as the three monasteries under the umbrella of San Francisco Zen Center, are very traditional. Japanese culture is embedded in such places. On the other hand, the Ordinary Mind School is very American. Those of that school, founded by the late Charlotte Joko Beck, do not wear robes, and the culture can be considered thoroughly American.

On the very edge of American mysticism are groups and individuals that cannot be classified. For want of a better term, let us call them independent, eclectic, those usually centered on an enlightenment theme. Adyashanti’s sangha is an example, especially now that he eschews calling himself a Zen Buddhist monk. These American groups are developing their own mystic language beyond traditional Zen. For instance, a “presence” is said to be met after enlightenment is realized that others call “awareness.”  When asked why “God” is not spoken instead, one American Zen teacher replied that there is just too much connotational baggage associated with that word.

Such American groups are building their own individual lexicon, making American Zen a dynamic force that is evolving each year, taking their cue from the Buddha himself.