1. Why do Zen Buddhists strive to break the language barrier? Have you had an experience where language has gotten in the way of something intrinsic?
(a) Buddhism becomes an inclusive religion when it is shared with people who desire something better in their lives. The various sects within the religion appeal to different types of thinkers, as any great religion should. The capacity for expansion of wisdom attracts people who are compassionate, creative and practical. Practical Buddhist Masters have an urge to enlighten and save as many people as possible to ease their suffering. This universal compassion makes it inevitable that the teaching of how to become a Buddha extends across territorial and linguistic challenges.
(b) I spent some months in a government program called Katimavik where language became a big issue. It was part of the main sources of many of our group's problems. The actual problem was the attitudes of the participants towards teaching each other how to speak the other langauge. We would have group meetings in Quebec where I would function as a translator from French to English, during which I only understood most of what was being said and had to rapidly translate it to English for the people who didn't understand all the French. The result was that over time the French resented those of us who were English because we could not integrate enough of what they were saying to the experience. I am told the U.S.A. has a similiar program called the Youth Corps. Inevitably much of the group decisions we voted on were determined by the attitudes between les Francophones and the Anglophones, or the Vegetarians and the non-vegetarians etc. The intention behind the experience was to provide the opportunity to learn the other language while in a part of the country where the locals spoke that language. In that it succeeded, I learned to know French. However eight years later I do not listen to French, watch French or even speak French with others even though I live in a city with a relatively large French population.
2. Why do you think the text compiling koans is called the Gateless gate?
Gates do not necessarily require keys, in fact a gateless gate implies there is no barrier at all. koans, not having a specific answer, are like a gate with no lock. You can climb over it, you can go around it or you can walk beneath it: any way you get through it though you have to pass it. With this design there is no barrier except the wrong answer which a tool to think with, and so brilliantly it becomes a foolproof path through a challenge of understanding that which is not known and a window into clarity.
3. Why do you think Zen is so appealing to Westerners?
Zen has grown as a sect to such an extent that it has succeeded in developing many Masters. The appeal of a religion with many teachers, unlimited wisdom and few ritual requirements lends itself quite ideally to the Western way of life. Zen Buddhism can be a riddle in the morning, a path through the day and a home for the spirit at night. This, in a fast-paced, get ahead, multicultural and sarcastic society which oftens blames religions for causing problems rather than seeing them as a method to solving them. In this respect Zen is a very good religion for the majority of people in Western life, regardless of their amount of free time, money or life challenges.
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