Part 1 is here.
One of the reasons I decided to locate Sanshinji in Bloomington is that before I moved here I lived in California and worked for the Sotoshu International Center, established in 1997. One of the tasks of that center was to build a bridge between the Japanese Soto Zen tradition and American Soto Zen communities. At that time in American Soto Zen there was no sense of community. Different lineages like those of Suzuki Roshi, Katagiri Roshi, Maezumi Roshi and Kennett Roshi were independent and they didn’t have a sense of community. Another task of that center was to promote the sense of community with American Soto Zen centers, so I visited many Zen centers from all those lineages and met many American teachers and practitioners. When I had a clearer image of American Zen, I felt I didn’t want to establish my practice center on the West or East coast because there were already so many Zen centers there and I didn’t want to make another one to compete with American Zen teachers. It seemed that Indiana was a frontier, and Uchiyama Roshi always expected us to be pioneers. I knew there was no Soto Zen center in the state of Indiana, though there was a small Zen group in West Lafayette. I thought that if Buddhism or Zen can survive in Indiana, it can survive anywhere in the United States. That was one of the reasons I moved to Bloomington.
On the West coast there are many people who never went to a Christian church, so to practice Buddhism was very natural them. But here, Christianity is still alive and for many people, Buddhism is something strange -- at least, different from their spiritual tradition -- so they have more resistance. I think that it's a good thing for us to to have an exchange or relationship with traditional American spirituality. That is another reason I intentionally moved to the Midwest.
I think that because of the hippie spirit or generation, Buddhism or Zen on the West coast -- and probably East coast too -- became Americanized too rapidly. They transformed Zen practice into an expression of their idea. In the Midwest there is no such mentality, so Buddhist practice here can have a relation with more conservative traditional American spirituality. It might have been difficult if I had created my sangha or practice center in California. I might have had more people, but I thought when I considered the history of Zen Buddhism in this country that to have a dialogue or conversation or exchange with more traditional conservative American spirituality would be meaningful instead of too easily or rapidly creating an Americanized form of Buddhism. It takes more time, but Buddhism can learn from and be influenced by traditional American spirituality, I think.
Of course, American people cannot practice like Japanese people, so there must be some transformation. This transformation happened when Buddhism was transplanted from India to China and from China to Japan. Some changes happened, so likewise there’s no way Japanese Buddhism can be transplanted in America or other Western countries without changes or transformations. My hope is that change happens in a gradual, slow process. Buddhism was transported from China to Japan in the 6th century and it’s said that Buddhism really became Japanese and a part of Japanese culture in the time of Dogen in the 13th century, six or seven hundred years later. The same thing happened when Chinese Buddhism really became Chinese. Because of the development of transportation and communications, many things have been too rapidly transported to this country and some American people already think Zen is an American thing. I hope this transformation goes slowly and that making an American Buddhism that’s different from Japanese or Chinese or Indian Buddhism doesn’t happen too soon. Eventually that will happen, but I hope the process can be slow.