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thezensite:
critiques of zen
Although this page is called "critical Zen" and includes many essays and articles critical of Zen practices, history and ethics, it also includes essays on "engaged Buddhism" ; however, I am not inferring that "engaged Buddhism" is in any way criticizing Zen Buddhism.Essays are listed alphabetically by author. Questions, broken links, suggestions, etc, please .
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Dr Sandra Bell: Scandals in Emerging Western Buddhism Bell briefly outlines two well-known scandals that have hit two Buddhist centers — the San Francisco Zen Center and Chogyam Trungpa's Vajradhatu center. from Westward Dharma: Buddhism beyond Asia  by Charles S. Prebish and Martin Baumann (2002)

William Bodiford: Zen and the Art of Religious Prejudice: Efforts to Reform a Tradition of Social Discrimination Since the so-called Machida affair, the Sõtõ Zen school has become embroiled in controversies over traditional institutional practices that foster prejudicial attitudes and social discrimination. An academic look at a Soto controversy. from the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies


John H. Crook: The Place of Chan in Post-Modern Europe. Professor Crook takes a close and critical look at D.T. Suzuki and how Zen is being taught in the West. Also has a nice simple explanation of shi and li, the meaning of emptiness and other basic Zen concepts. Crook is a student of Master Sheng-yen. Recommended reading. from Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal

Dharmachāri Nāgapriya: Poisoned Pen Letters? D.T. Suzuki's Communication of Zen to the West; a scathing look at Suzuki's Zen teachings. Nāgapriya sees Suzuki's teachings as "both highly sectarian and fatally flawed". Suzuki's reputation has been under considerable attach in the past decade or so. You'll find other articles on this page re-evaluating Suzuki's contribution to Zen Buddhism. original source: Western Buddhist Review, Vol 5

James Ishmael Ford:

Holding the Lotus to the Rock: Reflections on the future of the Zen Sangha in the West An outline of Western Zen and where it may be heading.



A Note On Dharma Transmission And The Institutions Of Zen: Although Zen transmission sometimes brings problems, Ford argues that it is essential to know where your teacher came from and who authorized that person to teach. Also, gives suggestions on what to look for when chosing a teacher. original source

Nelson Foster: one of the founders of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship asks whether Buddhists can save all beings in his essay: How Shall We Save the World? David R. Loy responds.

Peter N Gregory: Is Critical Buddhism Really Critical? While Gregory sees value in Matsumoto and Hakamaya's critique of thathagata-garbha and hongaku shiso, original enlightenment, he questions whether any search of "original" or "true" Buddhism is a fruitful exercise.      see also Why They Say Zen is Not Buddhism: Recent Japanese Critiques of Buddha-Nature by Paul Swanson which summarises Matsumoto and Hakamaya's argument.

Sueki Fumihiko: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War While authors such as Brian Victoria have focussed on the actions of Japanese Zen leaders during the war, Fumihiko looks at two Chinese Buddhist leaders, Taixu and Leguan, to see how they viewed the Japanese imperialists and Japanese Buddhism. from Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 37/1: 9–20

Ralf Halfmann: Zen in the West: A Critical Review of the International Zen Association Halfmann, a former member of Deshimaru's International Zen Association, gets stuck into Deshimaru in this essay.

Christopher Hamacher: "Zen Has No Morals!" - The Latent Potential for Corruption and Abuse in Zen Buddhism, as Exemplified by Two Recent Cases The two cases referred to in the title are the Eido Shimano scandal and the German Zen teacher, Dr. Klaus Zernickow (Sotetsu Yuzen). Hamacher reviews the two cases and then goes on to catagorise eight behaviours he believes indicate problems with teachers and are warning signs for students. see also: Gregory Wonderwheel: A Response to 'Zen Has No Morals' and The Aitken-Shimano Letters by Vladimir K. and Stuart Lachs

Steven Heine:

After the Storm: Matsumoto Shirõ's Transition from "Critical Buddhism" to "Critical Theology" Although nominally a review of Matsumoto Shirō’s Dōgen shisō ron (Studies of Dōgen’s thought)Heine covers much more ground, giving a good outline of the Critical Buddhism debate and history.

Role of Repentance--or lack of it--in Zen Monasticism   Mysticism, morality and repentance in Zen.

Critical Buddhism the Debate Concerning the 75-fascicle and 12-fascicle Shōbōgenzō Texts  Heine evaluates the views of Critical Buddhsim on how the two Shobogenzo texts illuminate Dogen's perspectives on original enlightenment thought in terms of his attitude to causality and karmic retribution. from Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 1994 24/1
Nam-lin Hur : The Sõtõ Sect and Japanese Military Imperialism in Korea Hur traces the imperialist and racist history of the Soto sect in Japan between 1905 and the defeat of Japan in WWII in 1945. from Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 1999 26_1⁄2

Stephen Jenkins: Making Merit through Warfare and Torture According to theAccording to the Ārya-Bodhisattva-gocara-upāyavisaya-vikurvana-nirdeśa Sūtra Jenkins looks at what religious resources Buddhist kings had at their disposal to dispense punishment to wrong-doers — a situation at odds with the pacifist stereotypes of Buddhism. from: Buddhist Warfare by Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer, Oxford University Press, (USA), 2010
see also:
Michael Zimmerman: Only a Fool Becomes a King: Buddhist Stances on Punishment

Ken W. Jones : The Zen Of Social Action "The importance of anchoring social action and service in a strong and mature monastic tradition cannot...be over– emphasised. Engaged Buddhism is a 'radical conservatism' in several senses, not least in that the more radical and potentially disturbing the action, the stronger and more conservative does the monastic support need to be."

Stephanie Kaza: Finding Safe Harbor: Buddhist Sexual Ethics in America Kaza looks at the perennial problem of sexuality in sanghas and teachers. She discusses how sanghas have handled this hot issue. A worthy essay for any sangha facing issues of sex among the sangha/teachers. from Buddhist-Christian Studies 24 (2004)

Miscellaneous:

letter to Richard Rudin, President of Board of Directors, Zen Studies Society, 1995, by eight American Zen masters regarding Eido Shimano Roshi

Kubota Ji'un: Apology for What the Founder of the Sanbo Kyodan, Yasutani Haku'un Roshi, Said and Did During World War II: the 3rd abbot of the Sanbô Kyôdan Zen sect offers his apologies. You be the judge.

The Aitken-Shimano Letters by Vladimir K. and Stuart Lachs: based on letters held in the Robert Aitken Archives at the University of Hawaii, this article explores how Eido Shimano, abbot of the New York baseed Zen Studies Society, has been accused of sexual misadventures for over 30 years yet has never been investigated and continues to recieve support from some American Zen teachers.

Ken Knabb: Strong Lessons for Engaged Buddhists : A critique of the so-called "engaged Buddhist" movement. Is it true that "engaged Buddhists' social awareness has remained extremely limited. If they have begun to recognize certain glaring social realities, they show little understanding of their causes or possible solutions"? Following on from this 1993 essay, Knabb returns in 1999 with Evading the Transformation of Reality: Engaged Buddhism at an Impasse, continuing the call for a more radical engagement by Buddhists.

Jiun Kubota, who calls himself The 3rd Patriarch of the Religious Foundation Sanbô Kyôdan offers an apology for Haku'un Yasutani Roshi's support of WWII and his anti-semitism.

Stuart Lachs:

When the Saints Go Marching In: Modern Day Zen Hagiography: Stuart looks at two biographies of contemporary Zen masters, Sheng Yen and Walter Nowick. Stuart has personal knowledge of both masters and discovered that hagiography is alive and well in modern Zen biographies.

The Zen Master in America: Dressing the Donkey with Bells and Scarves Lachs looks at the myth of Dharma transmission in the context of American Zen and asks, Does the reality of modern Zen match the traditional view of what a Zen master should be? This is an important essay by Lachs and should be read by all Zen students.

Coming Down from the Zen Clouds A Critique of the Current State of American Zen
: this is quite a controversial article dealing with Dharma transmission in Western Zen. Well worth reading,

as is Means of Authorization: Establishing Hierarchy in Ch'an/Zen Buddhism in America


My own reply to this article is here.
Stuart replies to my critique here.

Richard Baker and the Myth of the Zen Roshi: Lachs continues his criticism of Western Zen. You may not agree with everything Lachs says, but he does make some valid points. All his articles are worth reading and discussing, especially in Western sanghas.

Interview with Stuart Lachs: This lengthy interview was coducted by Non-Duality Magazine on August 26, 2010. Stuart discusses his early days in Zen and then spends quite a bit of time talking about Dharma transmission. An interesting insight into Stuart's thinking.

David Loy:

Can Buddhism Save the World? A Response to Nelson Foster A response to Nelson Foster's essay How Shall We Save the World? from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship

Is Zen Buddhism? Loy looks at the perplexing question of how D T Suzuki and others used Zen to justify killing and war. If Zen is used to sacralize war, can it still be called Buddhism? from The Eastern Buddhist   Vol. 28, No. 2 (Autumn 1995)


Koichi Miyata: Critical Comments on Brian Victoria's "Engaged
Buddhism: A Skeleton in the Closet?"
Miyata argues that Victoria's claims that Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, founder of Sokka Gakkai, was an active supporter of the Japanese wars of aggression, rest on the highly selective use of quotes, and ignore key interpretative issues associated with Japanese imperial fascism and its underlying belief structures. from Journal of Global Buddhism 3 (2002): 79 - 85

Daniel A. Metraux
: A Critical Analysis of Brian Victoria's Perspectives on Modern Japanese Buddhist History Metreaux analyses Brian Victoria's two seminal books, Zen at War, and Zen War Stories from: Journal of Global Buddhism, Vol 5, 2004

Daniel Palmer: Maseo Abe, Zen Buddhism and Social Ethics. Do Zen's ideas of karma, nirvana and sunyata undermine the possibility of social critique by Buddhists? Palmer looks at how Kyoto School philosopher Maseo Abe interpreted these three fundamentals to enable social action by Zennists. Excellent essay.


John Peek: Buddhism, Human Rights and the Japanese State: Peek looks at some core Buddhist teachings and relates them to "the proper nature of political, economic, and societal relationships". An interesting essay justifying political/social Buddhist activism. from Human Rights Quarterly 17.3 (1995)


Mike Port & Kyogen Carlson-Sensei: The Role of Authority in Dharma Practice: two short essays here from Still Point, the publication of the Dharma Rain Zen Center in Portland, Oregon. "The question of authority, particularly in something that sounds as intimidating as the "Master-Disciple relationship," bears very close examination."

Kemmyō Taira Satō: D. T. Suzuki and the Question of War; Translated in Collaboration with Thomas Kirchner Brian Victoria's Zen at War (see book reviews here and essay here) created quite a stir in Western Zen circles. One of the criticisms by Kemmyō Satō of Victoria's book is that Satō accuses Victoria of claiming that D. T. Suzuki was a supporter of the Japanese military during WWII. Satō has taken another look at Victoria's sources and comes to quite a different conclusion. This is an important rebuttle of Victoria's accusations about Suzuki. Well worth reading. from The Eastern Buddhist 39/1: 61–120 Also, Gary Snyder and Nelson Foster have written about this in Tricycle.

Brian Victoria replies to his critics: The "Negative Side" of D. T. Suzuki's Relationship to War from: The Eastern Buddhist 41/2: 97–138

Sato offers a rebuttal to Victoria's above article: Brian Victoria and the Question of Scholarship from: The Eastern Buddhist 41/2: 139–166


Patricia Sherwood: Buddhist Contribution to Social Welfare in Australia. The article "outlines the contribution of Buddhist organizations in Australia to education and social welfare. It is argued that ... Buddhist organizations in Australia, ... have always been concerned with social welfare and education issues." from Journal of Buddhist Ethics, 8, 2001


Robert H. Sharf:

Whose Zen? Zen Nationalism Revisited   After briefly outlining traditional monastic Zen, Sharf looks at modern Zen, including some scathing comments about D.T. Suzuki. from: Rude Awakenings: Zen the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism, James W. Heisig and John C. Maraldo, eds., pp. 40–51. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press

Sanbõkyõdan: Zen and the Way of the New Religions. A discussion of Yasutani's Sanbokyodan sect which "diverges markedly from more traditional models found in Sõtõ, Rinzai, or Õbaku training halls. In fact, the Sanbõkyõdan displays many characteristic traits of the so-called New Religions." Sharf concludes by arguing "that there is an overtly ideological dimension to the rubric of "old" versus "new." From the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

The Zen of Japanese Nationalism: a long essay covering much of the same material as the two above but in considerably more detail. Essential reading.

On the Buddha-Nature of Insentient Things (or: How to Think about a Ch'an Kung-an) Sharf looks at the Buddha-Nature of Insentient Things philosophy and claims, "not only were Ch'an masters active and passionate participants in this quintessentially discursive controversy, but, as we will see, the BNI doctrine was the immediate context for the most famous kung-an of all, "Chao-chou's dog."


Yamada Shoji: The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery   Shoji takes a critical look at Eugen Herrigal's Zen in the Art of Archery. Includes a brief look at Japanese archery and Herrigal's teacher, Awa Kenzo. Herrigel may have totally misunderstood his archery teacher but he did create an enduring myth. from: Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 12/1_2


Paul Swanson: The What & Why of Critical Buddhism, Part 1; Why They Say Zen is Not Buddhism: Recent Japanese Critiques of Buddha-Nature Swanson discusses the attacks by modern Japanese scholars on the tradition of hongaku shiso, "original enlightenment", and its significance for Japanese society and religion.

Moriya Tomoe: Social Ethics of New Buddhists at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: A comparataive Study of Suzuki Daisetsu and Inoue Shuten. Tomoe looks at two different, prominent Buddhists at the beginning of the 20th Century and how they contructed their Buddhist responses to the rising nationalism of pre-WWI Japan. from Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 32/2, 2005

Brian Victoria:

Engaged Buddhism: a Skeleton in the Closet?Victoria continues his probing of Japanese Buddhist masters during WWII, pointing out that some "heros of the faith" were not what they seemed. Specifically, Victoria looks at the Venerable Nichidatsu Fujii, Soka Gakkai founder Tsunesabur‘ Makiguchi and Zen master Haku'un Yasutani.
from Journal of Global Buddhism, Vol 2, 2001
(see also book reviews of Victoria's Zen at War)

Karma, War and Inequality in Twentieth Century Japan Brian Victoria looks at the socio-political role of the belief in karma played in Japan. He examines how karma was used to justify war and social oppression in Japan. from Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus 2007

Brian Victoria replies to his critics who claim he has unfairly catagorized D. T. Suzuki as supporting Japanese militarism: The "Negative Side" of D. T. Suzuki's Relationship to War from: The Eastern Buddhist 41/2: 97–138
[see also: Kemmyō Taira Satō offers a rebuttal to Victoria's above article: Brian Victoria and the Question of Scholarship from: The Eastern Buddhist 41/2: 139–166]

Brian Victoria continues exploring D. T. Suzuki's wartime writings with Zen as a Cult of Death in the Wartime Writings of D.T. Suzuki from The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 30, No. 4, August 5, 2013.

D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis: This is Part I of a three-part series on Suzuki's relationship with the German Nazis. from The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 43, No. 4, October 28, 2013
Part II of this series on Suzuki is A Zen Nazi in Wartime Japan: The Formation and Principles of Count Dürckheim’s Worldview and his interpretation of Japanese Spirit and Zen by Karl Baier from The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 48, No. 3, December 2, 2013 Baier explains the "spiritual" aspect of Nazism and its relationship to the Japanese spiritual worldview. A very interesting article that helps explain some of the thinking behind the Nazis.
Part III of the series is A Zen Nazi in Wartime Japan: Count Dürckheim and his Sources—D.T. Suzuki, Yasutani Haku’un and Eugen Herrigel Victoria rounds up the Nazis and discusses Suzuki's relationship with some, especially Count Durckheim, who spent most of the war in Japan. This is the final of the series. from The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 3, No. 2, January 20, 2013


Gregory Wonderwheel: A Response to 'Zen Has No Morals' Wonderwheel rebuts much of Christopher Hamacher's article, Zen Has No Morals. He questions whether Zen teachings have cultic qualities, as claimed by Hamacher. Read both and make up your own mind.

Thomas Freeman Yarnall: Engaged Buddhism: New and Improved!(?) Made in the U. S. A. of Asian Materials In this very long (nearly 25,000 words) essay Yarnall examines the argument between "modernist" engaged Buddhists who see a discontinuity with historical Buddhism and "traditionalists" who believe socially engaged Buddhism is grounded historically within Buddhism. A long detailed exposition well worth the effort. from Journal of Buddhist Ethics 7(2000)



Michael Zimmerman: Only a Fool Becomes a King:
Buddhist Stances on Punishment
Zimmerman explores the conundrum faced by a Buddhist king who needs to maintain law and order and protect the citizens of his kingdom but must also follow the path of non-killing and not harming others. from: Buddhism and Violence, Lumbini International Research Institute, LIRI Seminar Proceedings Series, Vol 2, 2006
see also: Stephen Jenkins: Making Merit through Warfare and Torture According to the Ārya-Bodhisattva-gocara-upāyavisaya-vikurvana-nirdeśa Sūtra