This morning I got to visit and sit with the folks at the Berkley Zen Center across the Bay Bridge. I also had the great honor to have breakfast with Mel "Sojun Roshi" Weitsman, one of the first whiteys in this country to take up the Soto style of Zen practice. How did I get so lucky in this lifetime? Plus the breakfast was really good. As soon as I get back to Los Angeles I'm never eating again. I've had enough delicious eats for a lifetime.
They do things differently at Berkeley even from the way they do them at SFZC, which surprised me. Apparently the style at Berkley is closer to what Suzuki Roshi did with his first students. It's just little things. The verse for putting on your robe is a different translation, and they don't do kinhin (walking zen) but instead make a little "clunk" on the big bell at which time people readjust their positions or leave if they have somewhere to go. A couple other things were different.
It's good to see these variations, especially in two temples that are very closely connected. There needs to be a lot of variety in Zen practice. But that doesn't mean that each teacher should not insist upon his or her own way. I don't think a lot of people get that. I mean when I instruct people on shikantaza and say that's the only true way to do zazen, it does not follow that I want to send everyone who doesn't do shikantaza to the gas chambers. It may be that because of the terrible things committed in the names of our Western religions in their quest to destroy all unbelievers, we Westerners tend to read intolerance where it does not exist. It is important for a teacher to be strongly committed to his or her own way. Teachers that try to be too P.C. do their students a great disservice. Insist upon your way and let the students decide if that's the way they want to pursue or not. But always insist.
In the Lotus Sutra the Buddha gives a talk and a bunch of people who don't like what he's saying turn and walk out on him. Somebody, I think it's Ananda, says, "Hey Buddha, everybody's walking out on you!"
Buddha says, "That they leave is also good."
If you leave my place and I think you're a butt-face for doing so, ask yourself why you even care if a guy whose teaching you don't like thinks you're a butt-face. It's an important question. If you don't care, fine. If you do care, maybe there's a reason for that. As there was a reason I cared about Nishijima even though I hated his teaching when I first encountered it. As Shunryu Suzuki once said, "Any teaching that doesn't seem to be forcing itself on you is not good teaching."
Just some thoughts for the day. Now I'm gonna go write that book some more.