Ecclesiastical Authority in Zen

I was listening to a podcast in which the speaker was explaining that the only difference between Protestant and Catholic Christians is the ecclesiastical authority. What this means is, “does the Pope and those that server under the Pope have “ex cathedra”, the throne of Peter (The King), the successor of Jesus.’

This ‘ecclesiastical authority’ was broken by the Protestant reformation with the adoption of the ‘Sola scriptura’, a belief that posits that the bible is the sole authority of the Christian faith.

Now, when we turn to Zen, especially what comes from Japan we find ‘ex cathedra’ in the Soto-shu and Rinzai-shu, in what westerners who have studied Zen in Japan describe as the ‘worst aspects of the Catholic church’ as the norm. Japanese Zen Priest who came to the West to start their own schools, such as Sokei-An, based on their own interpretations of Zen, describes Japanese Zen as a ridged inflexible, totalitarian regime that demands absolute obedience.

According to Mary Farkas, “Sokei-an had no interest in reproducing the features of Japanese Zen monasticism, the strict and regimented training that aims at making people ‘forget self.’ In these establishments, individuality is stamped out, novices move together like a school of fish, their cross-legged position corrected with an ever-ready stick.”

Japanese Zen teachers who came to the west and took on Western students were not intending to setup another Soto-shu, actually quite the opposite. The Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki never taught the Soto-shu forms or methods to his students according to Ananda Dalenberg, and it was only after his death that those who desired power and control over the Zen center brought in a Japanese priest to teach them the Soto-shu ways of monasticism.

Western Zen under the guidance of other Japanese men, namely Harada Daiun Sogaku and Hakuun Yasutani, who found themselves ostracized from the Soto-shu due to their War Time activities during WW2, started their own ‘New Religion’ that they called Sambo Kyodan (Sambo Zen) that the ‘White Plum Asanga’ teaches that they claim is a hybrid Rinzai/Soto training.

The many waves of abuse ranging from sexual to financial scandals from this school of Zen is seeming to stem from the ‘ex cathedra’ view that they indoctrinate the students within that their Priests and functionaries “can do no wrong”.

The apparent dangers of ‘ex cathedra’ is apparent and obvious; that it leads to corruption of the individual, and the entire organization can be exploited by the corrupt.

The Buddha never left a successor, and never created an ecclesiastical authority for the disciples to adhere to. Only hundreds of years later were such things as Lineages created to install an ‘ecclesiastical authority’ creating a “ex cathedra” that otherwise never existed. Only those who are ignorant of the Buddhist scriptures and just rely on the words of Priest fall into this obedient authoritarian regime of Zen that we see in the West today.

As for those who take a more Protestant view, ‘Sola scriptura’, rejects the notions of any ‘Buddha successor’ and church authority. This is the view of the Dark Zen school, a group of Zen practitioners who are loosely organized, recognizing no authority above them, and no Buddha-successor.  

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Non-aligned Zen Teacher currently living in Las Vegas, Nevada USA Youtube Channel Website

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