My successors have trained for close to twenty years or more before transmission. What takes so long? What’s important to me, more important than all the sutras, more important than koan study or anything else, is kyogai—the nurturing of the sacred fetus. Once you reach a certain point in your training and realization, it needs to be fully embodied. It needs to be a natural manifestation of your life. That can’t be rushed. It’s like cooking something in the oven. You can’t keep opening the door and checking on it. You’ve got to let it cook and let it cook slowly and completely. It’s at the end of that period of complete maturation of the sacred fetus that the transmission of the dharma takes place. What’s a fetus symbolic of? Conception has happened. There’s life, but it’s not a person yet. It’s got to be nurtured before it can be born. That’s what the process is. That’s what the sixteen years was about. People who do all the training and don’t receive transmission usually have not manifested or embodied that sacred fetus.
S: The Dharma Ending Age always provokes my anxiety. Maybe that’s the right idea. Can you say anything about what that means? Is it relevant to my practice?
D: As alluded to in the sutra, we’re currently living in the Dharma Ending Age, and have been for quite a while. This decline was predicted by the Buddha. He said there will be a time when the buddhadharma will completely disappear from the face of the earth. There will be no teachers and no teachings, no enlightened beings, no monks and no sutras. They will all be gone. The sages and saints will seldom appear, if at all, and the heretical teachings will increase and flourish. The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment raises the question of whom to follow during such a time.
It’s relevant to us because it is happening. I think the West is going to play a pivotal role in it. We’re a consumer society, and it’s already affecting Buddhism—the way Buddhism is taught, the way it’s understood, the way it’s transmitted—it’s all consumerism. A lot of the characteristics of this 2,500-year-old religious philosophy is being transmitted to a country that’s very intellectual, analytical, computerized, with a great deal of misinformation being passed around. We don’t know what’s real and what’s not. Everybody sounds like an expert on the internet.
The teachers who originally came here from Japan were unable to pass on many of the teachings to Westerners. First of all, there were limitations of language. Secondly, they were accustomed to teaching beginners who were already sophisticated in Buddhism. For instance, when new practitioners walked into Eiheiji Monastery, they already knew liturgy, they knew the history of Buddhism, and they understood Buddhist studies. They were ready because they already had some training. When the same teachers came to America, they came to a non-Buddhist culture. Everything they said was translated and immediately seen within the Judeo-Christian context. Buddhism began to crystallize around those concepts, such as compassion instead of karuna, wisdom instead of prajna, and that began to define Buddhism in the West. So those original teachers decided to keep it uncomplicated. They stuck to zazen. They made the liturgy very sparse. A lot of the teachings simply didn’t take place here. That’s part of the demise of Buddhism. It’s a very different kind of Buddhism than what the Buddha taught, than what Zhaozhou taught.
There are nearly two thousand teachers of Zen in America, and only a small number are recognized internationally by the International Soto School, for example. Only a handful have received dharma transmission from a recognized teacher. Most of them have not trained rigorously. It’s not the dharma of Linji or Dogen. It’s evening zazen, or living room Zen or storefront Zen. Most teachers work within centers, rather than training monasteries. They don’t have rigorous requirements for entry or training. This is all part of the demise of the teachings. And as time goes on, it’s going to get worse. Fifty years from now training in an authentic setting will be very rare. It’ll be there, it’ll always be there I think, but it will be the exception rather than the rule. The major thrust of Buddhism in America is going to be barely recognizable to most of us.
S: In terms of the International Soto School and the importance of having them recognize teachers, I’ve always been curious how you understand the importance of that recognition while at the same time you speak openly about the lack of vitality in their practice and training.
D: It’s essentially better than nothing. That’s what it boils down to. They do require training. When a Soto priest walks through the door here I know they have a master’s degree in Buddhist studies, that they’ve spent two or three years in a monastery like Eiheiji, sitting every morning and studying and learning the sutras and so on. They have some training, in contrast to someone that’s simply set up a zendo in his living room, and started expounding the dharma.
I also want to convince the Soto School that if it wants to establish itself here in America, and they expect ZMM to be involved, then it’s going to need to be on our terms, within our training. I don’t want Japanese monks to try to teach the dharma to American students when they don’t understand the problems that Americans face. The American Soto School needs to be American, not Japanese. I would be very happy to be a training monastery for American, as well as Japanese, students if they followed our training schedule, with a monthly week-long sesshin, two angos a year, fusatsu, academic study, art practice, all the things that we do. As far as I’m concerned, if there’s no sitting, there’s no Zen.