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Monday, October 15, 2007

The Opinion of the New President of Dogen Sangha International

Dear all members of Dogen Sangha International

Recently I have received an email letter from the new president of Dogen Sangha International, Ven Brad Warner. And reading it I have felt that there is a new tendency in Buddhist organizations, which is sincerely thinking of the future situations of Buddhist organizations.

Therefore, receiving the writer's permission, I would like to show the contents of it to all members of Dogen Sangha International (DSI). I think that it is very important for us to think about the problem of promoting Buddhist organizations more and more in future.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

(Ven Brad Warner's e-mail letter)

Dear Nishijima Sensei and Dogen Sangha Members.

I’ve received a number of e-mails in the past few months regarding various peoples’ concerns about Dogen Sangha International (DSI) and its future under my leadership. It is obvious that some members of the group have a very passionate interest in what DSI is to become. But it is just as obvious that the majority of the members of DSI are far less emotionally aroused by the matter. I’ve received more e-mails of support than of condemnation and many of you have not written at all. Which is fine. There is never any necessity to voice an opinion if you don’t wish to do so.

Among the various proposals I’ve received, there is one characteristic that stands out. All of the proposals I have received thus far for the future of DSI have suggested that the group should become more institutionalized, more ceremonial, more formalized, more bureaucratic, more hierarchical, and more political. I understand that some of you have spent a lot of time, effort and energy to formulate such suggestions and write them down, often in a language that is not native to you. I appreciate this effort. My own job with Tsuburaya Productions requires me to write numerous business proposals in Japanese and I know how much work it takes just to put your thoughts into words in a foreign language. However, I am sorry to say that I must reject all of these suggestions entirely. I do not do so lightly, though. So I would like to explain why.

Dogen Sangha has never been a bureaucratic, formal, hierarchical, political institution. It is vital that it never become one. I entered Dogen Sangha specifically because it was not a rigid formal institution. I had seen such formal and bureaucratic religious institutions and I had no interest in them whatsoever. Had I wanted to join the type of Buddhist institution that emphasized ritual and rank I had many others to choose from. But there are very few like Dogen Sangha where the emphasis is purely upon practice.

I didn’t begin my study of Buddhism with the intention of ever becoming the leader of a Buddhist organization. I have no interest in politics or bureaucracy. I am not in this for power or money. I have no desire at all to convert others to my way of thinking or to impose my will upon anyone. I didn’t even want to become a monk. I didn’t like the robes. I didn’t like the ceremonies. I still don’t. I just wanted to practice. That remains my only interest in Buddhism. Just practice. Only practice. Nothing more than practice.

I began my study of Buddhism not because I wanted some position within an organization but because there were burning questions I needed to know the answers to. To a large extent, my practice has helped me resolve these issues. Because the practice is useful and beneficial, I would like to make it available to others. And that is all.

I assume many of you share similar sentiments and that your reasons for joining this sangha were something like mine.

Institutional position is not Buddhism.

If DSI were intended to be an organization of people who could memorize and perform complex Buddhist ceremonies flawlessly, Nishijima Sensei would have spent his time and energy teaching us those ceremonies and drilling us on them until we could do them perfectly. But he has never done so. In fact his attitude towards the ceremonial aspects of the practice has always been very casual, almost indifferent. "It's just a hobby," he says. It is perfectly OK for our own attitude to be the same. We need to take these ceremonies seriously, of course. But even taking something seriously has a variety of meanings and expressions. Hobbies should be enjoyable.

If DSI were intended to be an organization of people of various ranks who voted on issues and played politics, Nishijima Sensei would have established this many years ago. He has not. Nor will I ever establish anything like this in the future. Never.

Although all of us are deeply committed to our practice, we are not an organization of professional monks. Nishijima Sensei has always emphasized to all of us that Buddhist teaching is not to be a career, it is not to be used as a source of income. Most of us have regular jobs in secular society, just as Nishijima Sensei had until his (very late) retirement a few years ago. Few of us have the time or energy to put into maintaining DSI as a bureaucratic institution. I certainly do not. Nor do I plan to make the time.

DSI will always be a very loose organization with very few rules. We are devoted to the daily practice of zazen and to the teachings of Master Dogen. That’s really all there is to it.

It’s not necessary to worry too much about what others think of our group even if those others call themselves Buddhists. If there is anything I’ve learned from my work as a musician and writer it’s that any time you create something, there will always be someone to say it’s not good enough, or it’s not what they wanted or expected. On some rare occasions these critics have something valuable to contribute. But for the most part they are only expressing their opinions and such opinions are often ill-informed and have little value. It is far more important to find our own true and balanced way than to try to conform to the unbalanced expectations and desires of others — even when more people seem to disagree with you than to agree with you.

I am not terribly concerned with the present state of communications among the membership. It’s fine as it is. I would like to put together a database containing the names and contact information of all members. When someone performs jukai or dharma transmissions I think it would be best to let me know about them so they can be included in this database. But I will not make even this a requirement. As far as members telling each other their current whereabouts or activities, that is strictly up to the members themselves. If they wish to share that information, they may do so. If they wish to withhold it, that’s also fine. If they just forget to mention it, this too is fine. There is no problem.

I will never require Nisjijima Sensei’s dharma heirs to meet. It is an unrealistic expectation and would be a logistical nightmare. There would never be a time or place when and where everyone could attend, so only those privileged enough to be able to make the trip would be represented. It would be ridiculous. If such a meeting is ever proposed, I will strongly oppose it and I will not attend.

There will be no board of directors of DSI. There will be no voting on any issues. There will be no members elected for limited terms. There will be no ranking of members. In registering the group legally I have found it necessary to name a treasurer and a secretary. These are just provisional appointments to fulfill legal requirements. Beyond that no more such appointments are necessary now, nor will they ever become necessary. I’m afraid that DSI has never been and will never become a democratic institution. I know that doesn’t sit well with some members. But please consider that DSI has never been democratic in the past, so the organization you’ve been involved with up until now was not a democracy either. This doesn't mean it's a dictatorship, though. I do not plan to dictate anything to anyone. There may not be a word yet for what it will be. But democracy and dictatorship are not the only options.

As for unity within the community, I’m afraid this is impossible to enforce. So no attempt will ever be made to do so. There may be extreme cases in the future in which someone presents him or herself as a teacher in DSI yet teaches something that is radically different from what Master Dogen taught. If something like this happens, it will be dealt with in an appropriate manner. I hope such cases will be rare or non-existent. In the case of someone who deliberately disrupts the peace of the membership, this will also be dealt with. Again, we hope such things do not happen. We are a very diverse group. Not all of us teach the same way. Nor should we attempt to do so. Any attempt to standardize our ways of teaching would be counter to the very core of what Dogen Sangha has always stood for. I will not force or even expect anyone else to teach Buddhism my way. Anyone who expects me to teach Buddhism their way will be disappointed.

Please forgive me if any of the foregoing seems confrontational or negative. It is not intended to be. Nishijima Sensei has asked me to become his successor. I take the appointment seriously. He has made this appointment because he believes I am the best one to lead the organization. You may not agree. In fact, I don’t even agree sometimes! But I accepted his appointment and this is the way I will handle it. It has only recently occurred to me that perhaps he chose me specifically because I have such a strong aversion to making the group more democratic, bureaucratic, formal and institutionalized. Perhaps he trusts me to firmly resist any attempts to do so.

There is a lot of trust involved in this kind of structure. I trust that we are all committed to zazen practice and the teachings of Master Dogen. I trust that in your role as teachers in DSI these will be your main criteria for action. I hope that you trust me as well.

I suspect that a few of you may be itching right now to dash off a clever, sarcasm-laden response to this e-mail so that all members can enjoy your witty put-downs of my pitiful ideas. But please note that this e-mail is addressed Nishijima Sensei with CC to you. So it may be best to wait for his response first. Certainly I will not read any other responses before I read his.

Take heart, though. There is always a chance he will say that everything I said here is wrong, declare that I am no longer his successor and appoint someone else. That person could be you! This would certainly be a tremendous relief for me. I’m not joking when I say that either. So why not wait and see what Sensei has to say?

Vegetable rights and peace,



Blogger Mysterion said...

Nishijima Sensei:

Thank you for sharing this communication from the new leader of DSI.

Ven. Brad:

This was a most excellent, clear, and well penned communication.


Lest we all forget.


3:55 AM, October 17, 2007  
Blogger PhilBob-SquareHead said...

Dear Nishijima Sensei and Brad Sensei:
I look forward to all information on the practice of zazen and teachings of Dogen that you can give.
Thank you.

Philip Proffitt

7:31 AM, October 17, 2007  
Blogger Mysterion said...

PhilBob-SquareHead said...
"...information on the practice of zazen and teachings of Dogen..."

From Stanford (Palo Alto, California) see:


Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma: Principles of Zazen
(Shôbôgenzô zazen gi)

Notice that Carl Bielefeldt refers to Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross, Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, vol. 3
(1997), pp. 167-169

In that page I linked to at the top, there are four more links:

Introduction <--link to PDF
Translation <--link to PDF
Notes <--link to PDF
Supplemental Notes <--link to PDF

Best regards,

10:02 AM, October 18, 2007  
Blogger PhilBob-SquareHead said...

Thank you for the link, Mysterion.


7:33 AM, October 19, 2007  

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