Random Thoughts – Maurice Shokatsu George

Thank you, Sensei, for the invitation to write about anything on our minds. So we have total freedom to roam around the Buddhist landscape.

  1. The format of our Wednesday meetings has come down to us from time immemorial. The Zen tradition appeals to me because it’s radically different from any other strand of Buddhism. The Japanese are unique in many ways and this originality has affected every aspect of their practice of the Dharma.  We know every word, English or Japanese, of the chants and texts. This ritual is unchangeable – fixed in stone, invariable, immutable. The question which occurs to me is: is this a benefit or a limitation? Inflexibility or respect of tradition?
  2. There are always flowers, candles and incense on Buddhist altars. So what do they signify? Most of us know that flowers remind us of our impermanence. However beautiful they are in the morning, by the evening they are wilting and dying. Candles represent wisdom: hence Enlightenment. And incense spreads its aroma in all directions; it sends the message of the Buddha to the whole wide world. Together they symbolise the priorities of Zen.
  3. What does our Zendo look like to an outsider? I guess that it would appear rather meaningless. The recitations punctuated by a drum, the many bows, the items on the altar, the fast and slow walking meditations, the lengthy silences, the non-religious appearance of the room and so on. I’ve long since giving up on trying to explain so many elements of my faith. So much would seem ridiculous and mysterious. My faith is my own private realm and so there is no need to apologise for it or to ‘explain’ it. It’s not my problem – it’s theirs. But I can stand outside the Zendo and wonder what on earth is going on.
  4. The various strands of Buddhism approach the arts in many different ways. One western community* places great emphasis on visual art, music and poetry. East Asians create colourful and ornate architecture. Tibetan temples are usually full of multiple golden statues of the Buddha. Zen Buddhism has a strong tradition of formal buildings and gardens. An excellent example can be seen in Calderstones Park in Liverpool. This diversity shows how Buddhism adapts easily to local culture while maintaining its central core beliefs.
  5. Why is Buddhism always a small minority in most countries outside South East Asia? We must accept that many people regard us as an exotic faith which appeals mostly to orientalists. What can we do about this? One solution might be to follow the example of the Quakers (a.k.a. The Society of Friends). They too were regarded as outsiders. But they launched a series of very successful advertisements. Perhaps we as Buddhists could create our own adverts. Some of us might say this is too vulgar; but we live in the twenty-first century. Any ideas?

* Triratna Buddhist Community