Zen in the Balance: Can It Survive America?

We must ask ourselves if the Americanization of Zen now under way is a necessary cultural adaptation or a justification for the co-optation of Zen by secular materialists. Helen Tworkov

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This essay has been adapted for Tricycle from the afterword that has been added to the forthcoming edition of Zen in America. Written by Tricycle's editor, Helen Tworkov, the book follows the movement of Japanese Zen to the United States through portraits of Robert Aitken, Jakusho Kwong, Bernard Glassman, Maurine Stuart, and Richard Baker. Zen in America was originally published in 1988 by North Point Press and will be reissued this spring by Kodansha America.


© Richard SerraIn 1983 there were seven American Zen teachers who had received teaching authority from their Japanese teachers and, at that point, had established independent centers. Today, no selection of seven teachers would represent all the expressions of Japanese-derived Zen in the United States. Some teachers have broken off long-term apprenticeships with their own teachers whose ethical behavior became too problematic for them to support; cut off from the face-to-face intimacy considered critical to the traditional ideal of transmission, they subsequently sought accreditation from other teachers, who, in certain cases, were outside their own lineages. On the one hand, teachers with proper credentials have been publicly criticized for having sex with students.

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