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Buddhism without Borders: Contemporary Developments of Buddhism in the West

at the Institute of Buddhist Studies
Berkeley, California
March 18 - 21, 2010

Panel VI: Interpreting Buddhism in the West, 9:30 -12:30

The Borderless Borders of the White Plum Asanga

Franz Aubrey Metcalf, The Forge Institute

There is no question that Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi Roshi was a seminal figure in the transmission and the transition of Zen Buddhism from Japan to the United States, as well as Europe and Latin America. In this paper I examine the legacy of Maezumi Roshi as it expands through the teachers and centers of the White Plum Asanga (henceforth, WPA), the umbrella organization of his dharma successors.

I have chosen the WPA—and that which the WPA attempts to place beyond its borders—because it tells us not only a central story in the history of Zen in the West, but also presents us with a microcosm of what that Zen has been, is, and may become. Further, it presents us with examples of what at least one central Zen lineage may *not* want to be or become. Tracing the paths of Maezumi's dharma successors and the development of their visions through their institutions and their tribulations brings into focus issues of authority historically central to Zen, but called into question by the proliferation and diversity of Zen institutions in the West. Naturally, these issues have parallels in all the traditions of Buddhism represented in the West, but are especially prominent in Zen, given Zen's freedom in teaching style and simultaneous institutionalization of teaching authority.

For example, there are 83 persons currently listed on the WPA website as being WPA teachers. But this list is in itself problematic as it does not list Charlotte Joko Beck or William Nyogen Yeo Roshi among its teachers, despite continuing to count Beck and Yeo as the third and the last of Maezumi's twelve dharma successors, respectively. We can attribute Beck's non-listing to her retirement from teaching, as her own successors continue to be listed (though she herself stopped using the title "Roshi" long before she stopped teaching). Yeo's non-listing, on the other hand, is surely due to his estrangement from the WPA after being accused of (but not admitting) sexual impropriety while serving as Maezumi's successor as abbot of Zen Center of Los Angeles in 1996. Yet Yeo retains his status as a dharma successor and his authority to teach Zen. What does this teach us about the the borders of the WPA? What does it teach us about the borders of Zen practice? Examining this case and other cases in the WPA that stretch or call into question the self-definition of the WPA, and of Zen, and of Buddhism itself, suggests a fluid future for Buddhism in the West.

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