<< back to Teachings by Norman Fischer

San Francisco Zen Center at Fifty

By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | Aug 27, 2012
In topic: General Topics in Buddhism
A Forum with Zoketsu Norman Fischer, Zenkei Blanche Hartman, Myogen Steve Stucky and Mary Morgan, with an Introduction by David Chadwick, published in the fall issue of Buddhadharma Magazine. The PDF is available here as a download.

 

Buddharma: On the occasion of San Francisco Zen Center’s
fiftieth anniversary, we thought it would help to hear how Zen
Center, as one of American Buddhism’s most important and
thoughtful institutions, is addressing the important issues that
all Buddhist communities face as the dharma makes a true
home in the West. The first issue I’d like you to discuss is the
tension—one that of course can be very creative—between
Buddhist tradition, with its Asian roots, and the values and
culture of modern Western society.


Blanche Hartman: At Zen Center there is a dynamic tension
between those two things. To me, what is important is that
people continually look at it. There are people who ask why
we chant all these things in Japanese since we’re not Japanese.
We don’t even understand the words. Other people say these


Norman Fischer: The lure of Zen Center was always that
Suzuki Roshi carried this very tension within himself. He was
faithful to Soto tradition—he wore his robes, he transmitted
the rituals very carefully, and when he didn’t know the rituals,
he brought in Japanese experts to help us. He was conservative
in that sense, but at the same time he wanted Zen Center to be
independent of the Japanese Soto establishment. He wanted
Zen Center to find its own way, and he was attentive to the
needs of Western students. This is why, I think, he turned Zen
Center over to an American as his successor. He had Japanese
priests who were very good, whom he could have turned to,
but he chose an American.
So the tension between the traditional and the modern, the
East and the West, was there from the beginning. Zen Center
is very conservative, and yet very open and non-conservative
at the same time.

<to read more, please download the pdf>>