Zen in America
Zen has been studied with increasing interest in academic circles since the early twentieth century, attracting public attention in the 1960’s with the arrival of Zen teachers from Japan, China, Korea, and Viet Nam. Their presence created enthusiasm to learn the teachings and messages of Zen, and to personally engage in the practice itself. The result was the development of Zen Centers and monasteries on the west and east coasts of the United States.
In those early days of Zen in America, a number of English-speaking Buddhist and Zen writers caught the attention of a small group of thoughtful spiritual seekers. They were fascinated by stories and parables of the “Golden Age of Zen,” the Zen of China in the 8th and 9th centuries, known for its iconic, often eccentric, teachers and personalities. These accounts of incidents from over ten centuries ago were understood as the way to penetrate the meaning of Zen practice and the nature of Reality. They were studied, analyzed, and discussed at length.
Zen has changed since “The Golden Age.” No longer is it restricted to monks devoting themselves to practicing in monasteries, temples, and hermitages, with the rest of in-the-world society supporting them. The traditional Zen image has been a profile or shadow of a monk in the cross-legged posture. Today, the face of Zen is less dramatic: it is of ordinary individuals expressing awareness and care in their everyday activities. Increasingly, people are learning the meaning of mindfulness, and discovering what it means to practice in the “real world” outside temple or hermitage. For over the past fifty years Americans engaged in a variety of life styles and occupations have changed the nature of Zen practice by finding ways to make it relevant. They are concerned with the meaning and expression of spirituality in the industrialized, post-modern world.
In the 21st century, materialism, technology, and vast amounts of information have become integral in our lives. They bring us great benefits, along with the risk that they can become overwhelming and distracting. Our challenge is to retain connection with what is vital, to not overlook our spiritual well-being while we take care of daily responsibilities. Zen practice offers the opportunity to awaken and explore our spiritual nature, to understand how to balance recently acquired personal benefits with thoughtfulness for ourselves, each other, and our environment.
Individuals in today’s world are seeking freedom from the isolation that comes with continual change and a speedy, stressful environment. Part of the mission of Kannon Do is to offer a welcoming, supportive atmosphere for its members, as well as for others who have yet to arrive. Its vision is to provide opportunities for individuals to explore Zen practice, to discover their interconnection with one another, and to reveal their inherent wisdom.