“Zen 2.0” is a way of speaking about the development of Western Zen. In Japan, Zen was shaped by the students’ relationship through the teacher to the tradition. The social structure was a pyramid, though informally there was often a lot of kindness and warmth within that shape, and the transformation that occurred in the students taught the teachers how to teach.
At Pacific Zen Institute some of us are experimenting with an openly collaborative culture; we develop our understanding of Zen by practicing our spiritual methods and sharing our experience. As a teacher I’ve been very interested in the two way process—how koans open our lives and, in the other direction, what our lives teach us about what is effective about koan work.
This way of doing things has allowed us to take Zen out of the monastery and into Wall Street, the school classroom, the cockpit of a plane, the operating room, the engineer’s office and the children’s soccer practice, and the unemployment line.
When you keep company with a koan, your discoveries give us examples of how the koan can transform us. How the koan appears in your life is the important question. Zen is practical, it changes your life.
Conversation is its own spiritual practice; it help us to appreciate of the way others live and share what we have discovered. In turn this helps us to be more present with the range of our own lives. Mistakes and epiphanies, losses and triumphs—whatever is really so is the material of the koan work.
This can be tricky because one of the natural things that the mind does with a koan is to take it on an elevator to the top floor and find the shelf such things go on and to compare it with other things on that shelf and then to talk about it. The experiment here is not to do this. Instead the practice is to let the koan into the body and to sink down with it and see what effect it has on you and how it might change your life even if it doesn’t at first offer you insight. You let it come to grips with you, you take the ride it offers.
David Parks-Ramage, a UCC minister interested in koans, and Rachel Boughton, who currently directs and teaches at Santa Rosa Zen Center, and I developed a small group approach to a course for koan study. The Zenosaurus course in koans is my offering of koans for this conversation.