Be weary of the pantomime: you can stupidly lose your life

Reflecting on the future of zen Buddhism not only in Europe but, I fear, in the whole of the West, one cannot but form a pessimistic view of the present situation and future prospects on account of one observation in particular: with very few, and, generally, little known, exceptions, European Zen has become an attempt to imitate a fiction: the image that the West has built of Buddhism in general and of Zen in particular. What is worse, this fiction is not even homogenous. Building on a widely shared perception of what Buddhism is, a perception that coagulated in the course of the past century, individual fiction-builders have sprung up all over the place, first in France, and then in Italy, Germany and Spain, everywhere.
We are speaking of the fiction that Buddhism has produced and has elaborated about itself, in order to create a certain image and form, an ideal out there to achieve; something about which one could say: “this is it” and which one could then start imitating. Things being the way they are, much as the Western practitioners and faithful might engage themselves in this pursuit, at most they will be able to arrive at a good imitation of a fiction: that special fiction which is cultivated by each School. They will not be able to go beyond this, because this is the limit that Buddhism, and Zen in particular, sets to itself almost everywhere.
If you think I am insane or that I am overdoing it, let me ask you to reflect on this: where is it written that Buddhism, and Zen in particolar, require “centers” to be learnt? Beginning with the texts of the Prajñāpāramitā down through China and Japan, the meaning of transmission is never dependent on the existence of a place built expressly to teach. On the contrary, in the Diamond Sutra it is said (at § 10) that building such a place contradicts the goal it is supposed to serve: who believes he has anything to teach, is creating a fantasy, and he will be able to teach only that, indeed a fantasy.
Or, again: where is it written that it is necessary to open centers in which someone makes others sit in zazen, or does things for the others or tells others that they need to practice for so long and in this way… In these centers, nobody practices Buddhism: they represent the most updated and, in general, the most japanized fiction there is of Zen. In them practitioners are told to imitate us while we play that fiction. Or we are among those who are only allowed to imitate, who do not take part in the play and wait – in vain — on the wings to be able to do it themselves.
But, someone may ask: won’t this be the end of Zen? Won’t it be the euthanasia of Zen? Who will pass on the baton to the next generations?
It is easy: it is enough to stop opening up and managing centers to teach and to make people do Zen. It is essential to put an end to this pantomime, which only serves one’s own vanity, and, sometimes, one’s own purse. Then, if there still are people that keep sitting in zazen, anonimously, far away from the din of gatherings, and will not do it because they hope to constitute an example to imitate, well, the next generation is already there.
To ask, to search, sometimes to sit next to for a while, all this allows one to start again, every time anew. Picking up again and again, while trying obstinately to confront ourselves with those who have already trodden it, let’s each of us try and discover this subtle an deep road alone.

Yūshin, December 2009
(translated into English by Mr. Carlo Geneletti)