From Bodhgaya to the Cuyahoga:
Intellectual and Creative Expressions of Spiritual Culture
A Welcome From The Editor, Tim McCarthy:
“Don’t Be Fooled by the Title”
The person versed in geography and religious nomenclature will correctly conclude from this journal’s name that it is the product of Buddhists who live in Northeastern Ohio. After all, Bodhgaya is the place in India where Siddhartha Gautama is said to have come to his complete enlightenment as to the nature of existence, the significance of life, as well as the remedy for the ills that come from being a conditioned creature. From that place his message spread all over the world eventually finding its way to the Cuyahoga valley in the Cleveland area. The Kent Zendo, a Soto Zen Buddhist group in Kent, Ohio of which I am a part, is but one of the results of that transmission. It is that Buddhist organization which has decided to pursue the path of publication. But such facts are deceptive in conveying the intent and purpose of From Bodhgaya to the Cuyahoga (FBTTC). For that, one must look beyond these particulars to a more essential meaning.
Here, Bodhgaya symbolizes the place where spiritual insight originates. Chinese Buddhists called this place shin, or the mind/heart. This womb of potential awakening is found within each individual. But insight without praxis is a horrible waste. In fact, it could be argued that without praxis there is, in truth, no insight. To be of value, insight must be brought to where people live and put into practice. In my case, that place is the Cuyahoga valley. But with the inception of this journal, it is hoped that “Cuyahoga” will extend everywhere. We also insist that insight need not, and at times even should not, be called “Buddhist,” or “religion.” Even so, language demands that we deal in particulars. Hence, the subtitle: Intellectual and Creative Expressions of Spiritual Culture.
A Multi-Genre Expression of Ultimate Concerns
The life of the mind and spirit, then, joyfully intermediates between the absolute and the particulars that so imperfectly express that truth. It makes use of the full arsenal of written expression, often mixing genres that might, at first glance, seem at odds with each other. Hence, in From Bodhgaya to the Cuyahoga, you will find academic articles along side memoir, fiction, and poems, all of which share an underlying intent: to both inform and inspire; to stimulate the maturation of the mind and spirit for the purpose of finding ways of serving others; to explore what Paul Tillich famously called “ultimate concern” (7). From this unity of intent comes a diversity of voices, from the humorous to the serious, from the creative to the academic.
Originally, interest in starting this journal came from the Kent Zendo’s own evolving spiritual thought and practice. For example, we found ourselves in agreement with Rita Gross when she writes,
Buddhism is [often] regarded as a foreign intellectual and spiritual system, to be studied as such but not to be utilized in making decisions about our own direction. Even Westerners who regard themselves as Buddhists and live by its orientation often regard Buddhism as a complete, finished work which they attempt to assimilate rather than as an evolving system whose developments they can influence and for which they are responsible. (ix-x; emphasis mine)
But this idea can be applied to all religions, and the extent to which one engages in the spiritual life as an evolving process is the extent to which we identify with that person’s “religion.” FBTTC seeks writing by individuals who take responsibility for their psycho-spiritual evolution and which is capable and worthy of influencing the future of religion and philosophy of the spirit.
Giving Voice to Interfaith Radicals
Paradoxically, to take responsibility for one’s spiritual evolution often seems an act of opposing the religion which gave birth to the process. People who take responsibility for themselves in this regard are in danger of being called radical. Yet, as David Brazier notes,
…people do not see the extent to which Buddhism is radical. It is common for people to think that a little bit of tinkering with the status quo will accommodate Buddhism quite nicely. This is, in turn rooted in the assumption that most of what the status quo consists of is inevitable. Once you can persuade people to believe that something is inevitable, they will generally accept it, no matter how immoral or inappropriate it may be. (64)
As all major world religions take pride in the radical nature of their founder’s original messages during their respective times and cultures, this idea is not unique to Buddhism alone. Religious culture the world over is in need of much more than “a little bit of tinkering.” As such, FBTTC seeks to give voice to those of the “loyal opposition” of the various religions and spiritual philosophies which do not seek to “oppose” so much as to restore and advance. In others words, we are looking for radicals.
We are also in agreement with Akizuki Ryomin who, as part of a program of renewal within Buddhism suggested, among numerous other things, that Buddhists “enter into dialogue with other religions and cultivate the ideal of a religion of humanity” (40). Once again, this is not a unique idea. There are movements within each of the major world religions which feel that an appropriate contemporary approach to one’s own religious practice must include dialogue with others as world citizens.
New thinking about theism within Christianity, once a major wall between that religion and Buddhism, is now claimed to present an avenue through which Christianity and Buddhism can find common ground. In fact, John Shelby Spong, author of Why Christianity Must Change or Die, feels that “Christianity and even the spirituality of the future will require the opening of every life to the exhilarating new humanity that is being born as the theistic God is gradually dying” (59).
Education for World Citizenship
Of course, it is naive to immediately assume equivalence between religions because of similarity in certain of their expressions. Even so, the mere act of dialogue is an expression of concern for others and, thus, is a spiritual practice in and of itself. It is, in fact, a manifestation of the golden rule. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, who advocates a “world theology” from a Christian standpoint, writes that in order to understand faith “at the deepest, most personal, [and] truest level” one must first “recognize the faith of other men.” But once one has done this, one must also come to realize that “there are no other men” (103). Thus, even while holding to diverse perceptions and ideologies, the responsible religious radical is a world citizen, immersed with everyone in a single spirituality.
Participating in this unity is to actively contribute. We actively look for articles which explore the future of religion and philosophy, as expressed above. Beyond this, FBTTC seeks expressions of concern for social justice and the religious and philosophical person’s relationship to social justice in general. FBTTC seeks academic articles which significantly develop understanding about feminism, animals as objects of ethical concern, sexual orientation, the relationship of religion to politics. We seek writing which significantly expands on our understanding of ongoing atrocities committed against the common people of other nations as in Burma and Tibet.
Articles must follow standard academic citation methods and should be no longer than 10,000 words. We prefer MLA style but will consider other recognized modes of presentation. Articles must be submitted using the Submission page. Include a cover letter and contributor’s statement including credentials and publications.
We welcome submissions of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction on virtually any subject or style that in any way addresses the above concerns.
Accepted authors receive 2 hard copies of the issue in which their piece appears.
A Note on Our “Affiliation”
As students inspired by the later Kobun Chino, Otokawa, we practice the Soto style of Zen Buddhism in a way that de-emphasizes the institutional, “priest craft,” aspects of that affiliation. In that regard, it might be of use to point out that Soto Zen Buddhism in this country is in the process of being “standardized” by priests who have an allegiance to the Soto organization in Japan. As part of this process, the American Soto Zen Buddhist Association was formed. This is a group of “monastic professionals,” who are forming a Soto Zen Buddhist Training Institute for the presumed purpose of implementing practices expected of the standard Soto Zen Buddhist priest. Defining priest as against layperson and delineating the expectations of the later would naturally follow from this. The first president of the Association is the Olympia Zen Center‘s teacher Frances Carney (Eido), roshi. In one of that Zen Center’s News Letters she mentions that
This year  the Soto Zen Buddhist Association’s primary concerns have been to establish guidelines for training priests in North America, to create an Institute for the purpose of providing training opportunities and continuing education for transmitted priests, and to study the implications of lay teacher Dharma transmission and their membership in the SZBZ. (1)
Angie Boissevain, one of Kobun’s successors, replied in an open letter to the proposal (which we have not seen) of founding the Soto Zen Buddhist Training Institute. Her answer is an excellent statement of how we, at the Kent Zendo, approach the practice of Soto Zen Buddhism. Menju means “face to face transmission,” while the word ryo refers to those practices sometimes called “priest craft.”
I know I’m not the only one to see that the Institute Proposal is focused on training priests for an institutional career where learning the “skills of ryo” is indeed a means of conditioning students character and self-understanding. However, for those of us whose training was in small groups outside Zen institutions, and who are continuing to teach in that tradition, this emphasis is not so useful. From my own teacher, Kobun Chino Otokawa roshi, besides zazen I learned two modes of being with students, menju, and ryo. Menju took precedence and was the criteria for all levels of transmission from beginning to end. Ryo as an expression of menju, applied to every action and gesture made in relationship.
He taught ryo mostly by his own example…in the way he handled a single stick of incense, the way he sliced a squid, drove his car, wiped his child’s face. Also, he taught ryo/menju by encouraging anyone who was interested to take on one of the many sesshin jobs during the five week-long sesshins held each year that were our primary formal training ground.
In our lay sangha where home was as much a training place as the zendo, there was no signing up, no public commitment, no membership, no criteria. The emphasis was on zazen, and included sesshins, dokusan, ango, workshops and classes on nearly every aspect of Zen. One was free to learn any amount of what was on offer. As some of Kobun’s students found themselves willing to take more responsibility, some were eventually ordained, one at a time, in an intimate ceremony particular to each. If a priest wanted further training, Kobun signed them up for practice periods at Tassajara or sent them to Japan to train with his brother at the family temple. There was a number, though, who weren’t interested in teaching Zen and whose further training became pursuit of an art or craft, or helping establish a retreat center (Hokoji in New Mexico and Jikoji in California), or continuing with regular work in schools or industry.
Out of this tradition, a few of Kobun’s students who were further transmitted by him are teaching in his style and tradition of menju/ryo, with most emphasis placed on zazen practice itself, and providing a completely open door policy that anyone can come, can study, can sound the bells, etc. What those of us practicing this way in the lay world could benefit from in the proposal more than “priest craft,” is training in both, individual and group psychology, conflict resolution, and Buddhist history and philosophy. Also, one of Kobun’s unfulfilled dreams was to establish a study center where visiting scholars and teachers from Japan could stay and work with students for 6 months to a year at a time. Something like this would certainly be useful and interesting.
Though I know the institute proposals are not intended to suggest that they be requirements for “authentic” Soto Zen training, the truth is, as way leads on to way, our human tendency is to solidify and commodify our intentions into requirements and leave out what doesn’t fit current criteria. My hope is that great care will be taken to allow as much flexibility as possible to inform this new effort to create “appropriate” Soto Zen training in America, and that institutional training be only one of several possible avenues that we offer to the many beings.
Brazier, David. The New Buddhism. New York: Palgrave, 2001.
Carney, Frances (Eido). Olympia Zen Center News. Number 48: Fall 2006.
Gross Rita M. Soaring and Settling. Buddhist Perspectives on Contemporary Social and Religious Issues. New York: Continuum, 2000.
Ryomin, Akizuki. New Mahayana. Buddhism for a Post-Modern World. Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1990.
Smith, Wilfred Cantwell. Towards a World Theology. Faith and the Comparative History of Religion. New York: Orbis Books, 1981.
Spong, John Shelby. A New Christianity For a New World. Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How New Faith is Being Born. San Francisco: HarperSan Francisco, 2001.
Tillich, Paul. Dynamics of Faith. New York: Harper & Row, 1957.