The half moon is orange in the clear evening sky in the south. The crickets are chirping and the summer heat persists.
Elja has a regular industry of jam and syrup making going on in the kitchen and fruits continue to ripen.
Inside we work on editing and translation.
Sunday morning we have our regular service and Dharma talk with discussion to follow afterwards over coffee sitting under the walnut tree.
Saturday evening we watched a film about the life of Zen Master Dogen. It made me cringe, but also made me think.
The cringe element came partly from the pious over dramatisation - somewhere between kitsch and gothic - but more the historical distortion. The great majority of apparently historical elements in the film are not historical but have been manufactures or grossly distorted in order to eulogise Dogen and entertain a modern audience. Worse, several rather wounded individuals in the film actually get no real help and the picture of Zen that actually emerges is of a repressive regime lorded over by a know-all 'master' whose actual philosophy does not amount to much. Depressing. It would have been much better to have depicted something closer to reality.
Nonetheless, it made me think about various issues, such as 'what is the best way to run a community for dedicated Buddhist practitioners in the 21st century?'
At the same time I have read an article based on a research study of Zen nuns in Japan which showed how the typical novice today is completely different from that of even half a century ago. Before the second world war the typical Zen novice nun was a 17 year old girl from a farming family in which there were maybe 7 or 8 other children, a family with a long standing relationship with the temple. Farming life was hard so the hard temple life did not come as a shock. The senior nun would be a kind of mother figure for the girl. The typical Zen novice nun today is in her mid-forties, as had a college education, been married and had children, knows quite a lot about life, is used to a much more luxurious and comfortable lifestyle and has no family connection with the temple. The gap between temple life and modern city life is much greater than between temple and old style farm.
In Buddhism in the West we are all experimenting. We have a different environment, a different outlook, different expectations, different problems from those who practised Buddhism in the past. What are we really trying to do? How? Why? What is best?
I have lived the Dharma in a diversity of traditions, temples, sanghas. Over the years I have adapted and absorbed. I have gradually come to some kind of integration that is not always easy to talk about. I do what i do. I am sure that more reflection upon all this could be valuable to us all. How much do we or should we change to fit models of community that were evolved in completely different circumstances? When are we corrupting the system by hanging on to our soft modern ways or our progressive psychologised ideas?
Dogen ran a very tight ship, but then he probably had a population of people half of whom were there because in a monastery there was a fair chance of getting a square meal reasonably often. They were hard times and some of the characters he had to deal with must have been quite a challenge. Was his making them all sit in regimented lines much different from drilling soldiers on a parade ground?
Those who were there with a strong religious vocation were probably also very different from typical modern Buddhists. Thry were frightened of going to hell when they died. Discipline to make one strong enough to face what one might be going to encounter in the bardo after death made sense to them. Most modern Buddhists in the West are not really thinking about death at all - they are preoccupied with life-worldly psychological problems that those earlier trainees probably did not have time for.
We live in a different world and we are different people. I would certainly not want to live in the kind of community depicted in the film, but the issue of how best to live the Dharma in the contemporary world is one that concerns us all and will go on doing so.