In its long history, Buddhism has repeatedly adapted
to different cultures and fresh circumstances. The lore of every major
lineage honors pioneers and pilgrims who journeyed to new lands, semi-legendary
figures who still serve as archetypes of spiritually motivated exploration.
The "first ancestor" of Zen, Bodhidharma, is said to have
traveled all the way from India to China, reaching his goal by crossing
the Yangtze River on a single reed. Padmasambhava trekked the Himalayas
to bring Buddhism to Tibet. The Chinese master Chien-chen endured
dangerous shipwrecks and other reversals to transmit a monastic lineage
to Japan; by the time he arrived, he had gone blind. The first Westerners
to seek Buddhism in once exotic places like Lhasa, Kandy, and Kyoto
endured physical and emotional hardships in order to taste the wisdom
of cultures that were profoundly foreign. The luminous courage of
these pioneers is another attribute of bodhisattva mind.
What are the contours of terra incognita for
engaged Buddhism today? Significant elements are new: methods of inner
practice, forms of outer involvement, the ever-growing fields of application,
even the forthright affirmation of engagement itself. As lines of
inquiry go off in different directions, some quests bear fruit, and
others do not. Individual and group explorations intertwine. Any map
of the movement will accordingly have areas where only the coastlines
can be sketched, like maps of the New World in the age of Magellan.
don't think that we have too much sense of how to practice
with a partner, a group, a community, or an ecosystem.
A Zen teacher has described Zen practice as "a
lonely trek through winding canyons of shame and fear, across deserts
of ecstatic visions and tormenting phantasms, around volcanoes of
oozing ego, and through jungles of folly and delusion." Although
those words point to an inner spiritual journey, they also apply to
engagement in the world, where a sensitive person similarly struggles
with shame, fear, folly, hopeful and bleak visions, and an ego that
oozes forth incessantly. Meditators who assume that mindful participation
in society is relatively well-marked territory are surprised to stumble
into a samsaric wilderness not very far from the meditation room.
New models are needed for personal transformation and for social transformation.
Today, exploration may call for reinhabiting the land rather than
leaving it, and crossing disciplinary boundaries rather than crossing
Reflect on some of your past explorations.
Which were especially fruitful?
Is there unfamiliar terrain in your current life situation?