The reason why Western Buddhism has failed is the reluctance of those who engaged in the Asian and Far-eastern Buddhism to understand the core Buddhist values, the culture that they attempted to learn Buddhism in, and lastly, failed to understand the point of Buddhism altogether.
A prime example is the Western Zen centers that imitate the Japanese cultural religion, even in the dress code and the ceremonies that are spoken in Sino-Japanese, a temple language in Japan. There is a belief within the membership that “these forms are holy and enlightened” in that they have been brainwashed to believe that the Japanese culture is superior to the western culture in all ways.
When looking at the history of Zen in the West, it is clear that many Japanese World War 2 ultra-nationalist escaped Japan after the surrender, because they knew that if they remained they would be jailed by the Allies, or worse, killed by their own people for ‘war crimes’ that they may have engaged in while in their government/military positions during the war. Such are Deshimaru and Taizan Maezumi
Westerners who learned from these ultra-nationalistic men did not learn Zen or Buddhism, they learned Japanese culture and the ultra-nationalism that they still cling to and teach today.
These Western Zen centers claim to be of the Soto-lineage, stemming from the Caodong school in China, where the myth is that the Japanese monk Dogen went to China to bring back ‘Authentic Buddhism’ to Japan.
Research, however, paints a different story, in that what Dogen brought back to japan was only his own invention of Zen, and the claimed Dharma Transmission from Rujing was in fact a forged document, that was commonly sold in the Chinese market places at the time.
The likelihood of Dogen, a Japanese foreigner who spoke at best a pigeon Chinese, to gain access to a prestigious temple and to a well known celebrated priest Rujing, is absurd. To claim to be given Dharma Transmission in such a short time is also absurd.
If we where to use the Rules of Rational Thinking, and bring out Occurs Razor, the more likely story is that Dogen made up the entire trip to China and an ordination document that was either stolen or forged was brought to Japan for him to use. Dogen was not a low birth Japanese, he had friends in the high positions in the Imperial regimes and with the Shogunites. It is very likely he had a lot of help with bringing a New Religion to Japan to iron grip of the Tendai, as well as to shape Japan in its very turbulent times.
Dogens ministry is based on the aspect that Zazen, a holy posture, is that of becoming a Buddha. This style fits with the Shogunites, who simply saw it as a serine Martial Arts. There they can ‘become Buddha’ through the holy posture, gain holy powers to defeat their enemies. Dogen capitalized on this relationship, where the Shogunite financed his temples and his missions.
Fast forward to 2020 here in the West, the importing of ‘Soto Zen’ is just a beard for what is truly known as Dogenism, that is simply a religious cult started by Dogen for the Shogunites who where rebelling against the iron grip of the Tendai, and their supporters in a time when Japan was gong though a very turbulent political revolutions.
Today, if one was to venture in to a Western Zen center, one quickly sees the Japanese medieval culture displayed, that perhaps of imperial Japan during the wartimes. Where you will see westerners who idolize the Japanese men who brought over this Ultra-nationalism from wartime Japan, and who taught them the cult teachings of Dogenism.
The big question then becomes: This this Zen?
The answer is no. Dogenism is not Zen, Japanese ultra-nationalism is not Zen, Japanese imperial culture is not Zen.
What Zen is, in the short answer is Intuition, or what some Japanese scholars would call “no-mind”. Simply, a knowing without cognitive thoughts.
Though this sounds so simple, it is in fact not an easy thing for those who are educated in the cognitive thinking world. Artist, musicians, and even actors seem to grasp the Intuition naturally and express it in their crafts. For this has been celebrated though all of human history, even in Japan with the Zen paintings, flute playing, tea ceremonies, and performance arts.
So, why then have we in the west utterly failed to even bring over one bit of Buddhism to the west?
The Zen cults of Dogenism is not, and never has been, conducive to our western cultural or values. Only a very small handful of people venture in to Dogenism, and most quit and leave Dogenism because of its cult like structures, and that they don’t teach Buddhism but teach Zazen, a fabrication of Dogen in where one becomes a Buddha Statue – living Buddha, by simply mimicking the posture.
But what of this Soto stuff?
Honestly, the Chinese Soto school is simply the belief that enlightenment is a slow process liken to a lotus growing in the pond, or an oak tree growing up. Where as in Rinzai the belief is that enlightenment is a sudden experience, liken to a downpour of rain or a thunder clap. This is also known as the Northern School (Soto) vs. the Southern School (Rinzai) and has been a long debate well before Dogen ever showed up on the scene.
Is Dogenism then a cult?
Absolutely it is. In Japan, cults are common, but the Japanese culture does not take them seriously and become just another opinion and expression of spiritualism within the greater Japanese culture, that is very diverse and vast.
However, in the west where we mostly have a monolithic spirituality, limited to just one expression, the importing of Japanese Dogenism becomes a destructive cult to the westerner who does not understand Japanese culture, Japanese Neo-imperialism, or the feudalistic nature of post-wartime Japan, nor even the Japanese mind itself. To the westerner, Dogenism becomes a consuming cult where they believe they are enlightened by performing the practice of Zazen, where they believe they are infallible with the post feudalistic ‘Dharma transmission’ that is a Japanese cultural ceremony of alliance to a Family, and in Imperial Japan families ruled everything though the Imperial system, and those who did not belong to any family where often used a surfs, slave labor, and fodder for the battle fields.
Solutions to bring Buddhism and Zen to the westerner
First of all, we have to ditch the cultural baggage, and ultra-nationalistic views that has come over from the Asian and Far-east countries. For those who cannot see Zen beyond these cultural values, then they simply never understood Zen and should be called out and asked to step down. Refusing to, only shows they are a cult leader in it for their own power and prestige.
Second, those who know the fundamentals of what Zen is, and what Buddhism is, need to strip it down and build it all back up in a Western format. This probably means wearing the collar, church pews, congregational meetings, and all things in where westerns consider as a Spiritual arts and practice.
Third, we have to call out Dogenism as a cult, not-zen, and those that engage in them as cultist.
Forth, we have to denounce the Neo-feudalistic religious dynasties aka Dharma Transmission, the elder worship and lineage worship. This is not Zen, and only breeds suffering in where those who are not invited in to the dynasty family vs those who are in the dynasty family.
Fifth, we have to renounce any practice, methods, or traditions that create suffering for the members and the greater community.