Some thoughts and observations based on 35 years as a Western Zen and Buddhist disciple.
Buddhism is not like Christianity
In Christianity, you are to make a personal relationship with Jesus, the savior, and through that relationship you are redeemed (sins abolished) and will go to heaven upon your bodily death.
In Judaism you follow the noahide laws, the Laws of Moses and the teachings of the Old Testament – and you go with God when you die, and will be resurected at the appointed time. Disputes are solved in the Rabbinical recorded discussions.
Islam you follow the life of Muhammad and live how he lived, because he is deemed a Perfect Man. Do this, and you go to heaven when you die.
There really is no defined clergy in Christianity, or class of disciple like the Bhikkhu outlined in the Bible. The Catholic church is its own creation, they call themselves ‘universalist’ and absorbed a lot of Pagan teachings as well as holidays within their church. The whole thing with the Saints and all, has been totally declared outside of scripture.
Buddhism is ultimately the path of the Bhikkhu in where the Suttas define this classification. Mahayana viewed as the completion of the Bhikkhu path, thus the Bodhisattva path. Having stated this, Mahayana still requires that the disciple go through the preliminaries being the path of the Bhikkhu as we see in the Chinese Ch’an, Tibetan Buddhism, vietmanese Son, and Korean Zen. Only Japanese Zen Buddhism ended the Bhikkhu in 1868 and has never been reintroduced and follows the Layman Bodhisattva path.
Bhikkhus create the Sangha, you have laymen who support the Sangha though are not Sangha members themselves. For the layman it is a ‘pay it forward’ devotion in where helping the Bhikkhus now benefits oneself for the future when they may become a Bhikkhu or in a future life when they are able to become the Bhikkhu.
For the Bhikkhu, the strive is to attain Arhatship – a realization of reality of that of the Buddha. An Arhat has the same authority as that of the Buddha. Those who become the Bhikkhu, make a pledge to be faithful to the Vinaya, a code of monkhood a lifestyle of a renunciate and non-householder.
Japanese Zen from 1868 due to the Meji Restoration became a Layman path of the Bodhisattva. The classification of Zen Priest was invented by the Jesuits aka Blackships when they came to Japan, in where no such designation existed prior to the arrival of the Jesuits.
Japanese Zen since the 1868 runes in lineages, in from that time the temples where held by prominent Japanese families and passed down though the family lineage. In the case in where there is no male child to inherit the temple, a daughter would marry a selected male who would become the lineage successor.
Western Buddhism is overwhelming Laymen (99%) with a very small percentage (1%) taking the Bhikkhu path. Though there is no Buddha Law that places the Bhikkhu as teachers of the laymen, westerners generally assume that Buddhist monks are teachers, and in Japaneee Zen those who are designated at Priest by organizational assignment are also viewed at ‘teachers’ of their Zen school.
Buddhism for Westerners is often becoming the Weekend Bhikkhu, in where one pretends they are a Bhikkhu, living a temple life.
Pureland Buddhism is a devotion to Amida Buddha, Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Buddha of Limitless Life, and is very popular in China, Korea, Vietnam and Japan. There is a simularty between Christianity and Pureland, in the personal relationship that the devotee is to make with the ‘savior’ figure. However, pureland has had little inroads in Western Culture. In Japan, the pureland priest is a hereditary position passed down from father to son, or son-in-law.
My assessment is that Buddhism in the west has been a big failure. For most westerners, Zen and Buddhism is a personal development path with little to no religious value. Very few westerners believe in Rebirth, Karma, or Nirvana. Most westerners believe in scientism and are very theological when it comes to Buddhism, in thus to read and study the metaphysics and wisdom based it, and come to a secular understanding – thus the ‘Western Zen Enlightenment” that is unique to the western mind and culture.