Puppies and Buddha Nature and Zen Fundamentalism



I bought a French Bulldog puppy 9 days ago. What a 9 days it has been. I don’t have any children, but I’m pretty sure this is at least 5 times more difficult than raising kids. But damn, he is such a cute puppy! And I can tell you for certain, Joshu was wrong, a dog, well at least a French Bulldog puppy, definitely has Buddha-Nature. Although he seems to be trying to poop it out of himself all the time.

During an email exchange with another prominent blogger whom I admire but seldom agree with, he called me a fundamentalist. I wasn’t insulted, but it did cause me to really examine the meaning of the word in a Zen context. I think it’s safe to say that in America, when the term is applied in a religious context, it has a negative connotation. Christian fundamentalists are very inflexible when it comes to their beliefs. Same for Muslim fundamentalists. But does it really have the same negative connotation when talking about a Zen fundamentalist? Or am I just hoping it doesn’t?


I can see why he would call me that. However, I think (hope) the tone of my emails to he and others in the American Zen world have been one of compromise and not holding tightly. My blog may seem otherwise, I know. But this blog is mainly one big rebuttal of what I see as American Liberals and Progressives trying to make sure their politics get shoehorned into Western Zen. I don’t think that is right for many reasons and I’m obviously pretty vocal about it. But in my correspondence with the same people I rail against I’m pretty centrist and if not gentle, at least a little gentler than I am here.


Now I’m not really a fundamentalist. Not in the strictest sense of the term anyway. One Zen group I sit with has a small circle used to discuss koans in a group setting. Although I was very skeptical of this at first, I have quickly come to see how valuable this can be. One of my main issues with Traditional Zen is its lack of fostering any intimacy other than the teacher-student intimacy. The group discussions of koans can go into interesting, and often emotionally deep places. But they are definitely not traditional.


I’m also for dispensing with a lot, although not all of, the forms that we have inherited from our ancestors. I understand why we have some forms, but to me Zen should be mainly meditation and if there is any time left over, study some sutras or practice the precepts. The sanghas I sit with aren’t big on elaborate forms, but take a look at some of the ceremonies on YouTube. Do we need all that? Yes, you can practice using those ceremonies. But you can also drive yourself and others crazy from attempting them.


So I am only a “fundamentalist” when I am against the injection of politics into Zen. And ironically it seems that it is the Liberals and Progressives that are the political fundamentalists. They will make sure you feel unwelcome in their sanghas if your political beliefs don’t align to theirs. Never mind that you just want to practice Zen and sit quietly with them. If you are not already indoctrinated with their political views, or open to being indoctrinated, they will excommunicate you. It might be a subtle excommunication, such as bashing Trump and his supporters during every Dharma Talk they give. It might be using the sangha and its resources to support politically liberal causes and if you don’t participate, well, you get looked down upon. But you will feel “other” and you will stop coming. And they will stay insulated and pat each other on the back about all the good they are doing for the world. Never mind that your opinions are different and just as valid. You are just not as “enlightened” as they are.


My puppy is trying to chew my laptop as I type this. I have asked him several times if he has Buddha Nature. He only cocks his head, looks at me quizzically and starts chewing again.